It’s been just over ten years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, and back then nobody knew just how big it was going to be.
Producer Kevin Feige wanted to create a universe that satisfied both mainstream audiences and long-time fans of these iconic characters, and ever since it started, the series has become a worldwide phenomenon, surpassing the successes of both Harry Potter and Star Wars.
With Avengers: Endgame a week away, now is the perfect time to look back on the previous 21 instalments and rank them from worst to best:
21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
By far the shallowest MCU film to date, Thor: The Dark World feels like a film that went through several re-edits, rewrites and reshoots, and yet the end result still feels too rushed out of the gate. Whether that was the result of some behind-the-scenes feud between Alan Taylor and Marvel Studios remains to be seen, but it just feels as though this film wasn’t thought through properly, and tonally, it’s just all over the place; it feels as though it wants to be a dark film, yet it has a lot of silly, light-hearted moments. None of it stood out, from the action sequences to its wafer-thin characters to its boring villains, plus it commits the unforgivable crime of having Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in it but not utilising him very much.
20. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Sure, Iron Man 2 does have a lot of problems, and in the end, probably doesn’t really work as a whole, but some of its issues can be forgiven since this was only Marvel Studios’ third entry. Back in 2010, they probably didn’t know whether or not the prospect of the Avengers or having a cinematic universe, in general, would be successful. However, they set up a potentially formidable adversary in Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash in the beginning only for him to be barely used in the last two-thirds of the film, replaced by Sam Rockwell’s extremely hammy Justin Hammer. Plus, it was a miracle that Black Widow would be tackled much better in the future since she was pretty wasted here. It does have some really enjoyable moments and Robert Downey Jr. still kills it as ever, but it doesn’t manage to reach the heights of the first Iron Man.
19. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
After the first film and Ant-Man’s brilliant inclusion in Captain America: Civil War, the potential was there for a truly great sequel, and what we got with Ant-Man and the Wasp was just passable at best. While it was cool to see Paul Rudd as Ant-Man again and to finally see Evangeline Lilly become the badass Wasp, there’s still the nagging sense that something just wasn’t quite there. Ghost was undercooked, Sonny Burch sucked, there was no palpable sense of danger or stakes whatsoever, especially in the last act, and in the end, for the story they were telling, Ant-Man’s inclusion feels pretty pointless in hindsight. It just felt like a sequel for the sake of a sequel, and hopefully, Ant-Man will have a much more important role in Avengers: Endgame.
18. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
In a lot of ways, The Incredible Hulk feels like the odd one out in the MCU since a lot of it feels pretty disconnected from the other entries, apart from some references and cameos here and there (such as General Ross’ inclusion in Captain America: Civil War). As it stands, the film feels too edited down, and while Mark Ruffalo truly nailed the part of Bruce Banner later on, it’s still a bit of a shame that Edward Norton refused to return and interact with the other Avengers. Plus, none of its loose plot threads get resolved in future movies: what happened to both Samuel Sterns and Emil Blonsky? We’ll never know! Will Bruce be reunited with Betty once again? Nope! It has its fair share of character moments, but it struggles to stand out from the rest of the MCU.
17. Captain Marvel (2019)
Unfortunately for Marvel’s first solo female hero, Captain Marvel doesn’t feel unique enough to stand out from the rest of the MCU. We’re treated to a haphazardly choppy origin story that suffers from having lackluster editing, far too brief flashback sequences, and Captain Marvel herself might be one of the less interesting MCU protagonists to date. Despite Brie Larson doing the best with what she’s given, the character rarely shines thanks to some bland characterisation, but on the plus side, the basic concept for the story is not bad, it has some solid production design, Goose the cat was awesome, and the shapeshifting Skrulls helped make an impact. Hopefully, the Russo Brothers will make Carol awesome once Avengers: Endgame arrives.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
After scoring big the first time around, expectations were extremely high for Joss Whedon’s sequel to the original phenomenon, yet it somehow managed to collapse under the weight of its own ambitions. Age of Ultron was just too bloated for its own good, cramming in too much set-up for future movies to answer, having horrendous pacing that was far too quick (almost like movie-making for the ADD generation), and having several misfiring elements (Ultron, Quicksilver, the forced Hulk/Black Widow romance, etc.). However, there’s some great action, great iconic moments, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye got some much-needed development, and both Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision proved to be excellent new additions to the MCU roster. Nevertheless, this proved to be the straw that broke Joss Whedon’s back, and frankly, with the Russo Brothers excelling massively with their Avengers stories, he made the right call to leave when he did.
15. Ant-Man (2015)
Ant-Man was an unexpected delight. But it was also one of the MCU’s biggest missed opportunities. Originally, Edgar Wright was attached to write and direct the film, and if he stayed on, this could’ve been one of the biggest shakeups in the whole MCU, so it was a real shame to see him booted off the project. What we got with Peyton Reed’s version was enjoyable enough, but nothing more than that. Paul Rudd proved to be a charismatic lead; his chemistry with the supporting cast was highly entertaining, the action sequences were creatively inventive, and Falcon’s cameo was fun. These positives do help elevate the film beyond forgettable and it was an appropriate palette-cleanser to witness following the bloated escapades of Avengers: Age of Ultron, but overall this film does feel like an ant-sized blip in the grand scheme of things.
14. Doctor Strange (2016)
Out of all the MCU instalments, Doctor Strange is probably the most visually creative. Benedict Cumberbatch embodied the arrogance, the determination and broken nature of the Sorcerer Supreme, while the rest of the cast provides solid support, especially Benedict Wong as trusted right-hand man Wong. If there are any problems to be had, it’s that the villain in Kaecilius feels like a generic stooge in someone else’s plan, and while the film can be inventive with its sorcery, it never goes far enough with it, to the point where, at times, the film feels too safe. Hopefully, when the time is right for a sequel, the filmmakers are allowed to go full-on insane with Doctor Strange and his weird, magical world.
13. Thor (2011)
When Thor arrived in 2011, this film had an especially hard task of trying to fit the Norse God of Thunder into the rest of the MCU, especially since it introduced the concepts of outer space, different worlds and various creatures before even Guardians of the Galaxy did. Mixing that with a ‘fish out of water’ story worked to the film’s advantage, and all of this made Chris Hemsworth’s Thor a worthy addition to the MCU lineup. Also, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki stole the show instantly in his introduction, and this film cleverly laid the groundwork of where his arc would eventually end up. Sure it plays a little bit too safe at times, but this film brought the hammer down in a big way.
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Much like Thor, Captain America was always going to be tricky to adapt thanks to his old-fashioned roots, but Captain America: The First Avenger made everyone fall in love with the hero and Chris Evans nailed this character from the get-go. He captures the character’s sense of heroism and the courage perfectly, allowing us to connect with him in a way that’s both fresh and heartfelt. Sure, it’s occasionally hokey and both the Red Skull and his HYDRA organization are woefully portrayed, but this film embraced its knowing sense of humour while also maintaining its sense of nostalgia in terms of its style and tone, bringing the Star-Spangled Avenger into the MCU with aplomb.
11. Iron Man Three (2013)
The most divisive entry in the MCU to date, Iron Man 3 split audiences right down the middle and continues to do so to this day, but there’s no denying the risk and ambition Shane Black had undertaken. It manages to be both a funny buddy-cop flick and a Christmas movie, making it a whole lot of fun and every bit the sequel Iron Man 2 could only dream of being. As for the controversial twist involving The Mandarin, it’s intelligently well-handled and gives the MCU one of its most Earth-shattering twists yet (face it, nobody cared about the comic book Mandarin!), even though the true villain pulling the strings, Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, is a gigantic, abysmal letdown. While it’s true that this movie hasn’t been well received by everyone, this is still one of Marvel’s boldest outings.
10. Iron Man (2008)
The film that started it all, Iron Man was a massive gamble for the newly-formed Marvel Studios since their entire future rested on the shoulders of this film, and boy did it all pay off big time! Once regarded as a B or C-list hero, Iron Man became the face of the MCU, all thanks to the outstanding Robert Downey Jr. Its sense of pace is pitch perfect, the humour was precise and Iron Man’s adventures are exhilarating throughout. Yes, Terrence Howard was a charisma vacuum and the emergence of Obadiah Stane as the villainous Iron Monger was incredibly silly and rushed, but eleven years on, this film stills succeeds on so many levels and it’s all thanks to this film that the MCU exists and thrives to this very day.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
It was always going to be hard to match James Gunn’s original film, and it’s understandable why someone would think of this as being inferior. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a sloppier movie that does take a while to get into the swing of things, however, the emotional and dramatic beats of this film are some of the boldest seen within the MCU, especially as it focuses on Peter Quill’s journey of reconnecting with his father. Speaking of which, Kurt Russell’s Ego proved to be a turning point when it came to MCU villains, proving to be a worthy adversary for the Guardians to face. This film fully explored these characters personalities in more depth than before, and instead of giving us more of the same, the sequel gave us a film we didn’t realise we wanted in the first place.
8. Black Panther (2018)
A hit that smashed the box-office, won critics and audiences over, and managed to snag several Oscar nominations on top of everything else, Black Panther succeeds thanks to its rich lore and environments, as well as its wonderfully diverse cast. Chadwick Boseman continues to make Black Panther a loveable character, while his supporting cast is also especially memorable, particularly Shuri and Okoye. However, the strongest element of the film is Killmonger, and Michael B. Jordon manages to make him feel identifiable. Even though he goes through some major extremes, you somehow still manage to root for him. The film perhaps relies too heavily on its CGI and not all of it looks properly rendered, but hopefully, Ryan Coogler will be able to iron out the kinks with the forthcoming sequel.
7. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The Thor movie everyone was waiting for, Thor: Ragnarok was an absolute blast from start to finish. Hemsworth is allowed to bring his comedic chops for this one, and he just shines whether he’s by himself or whenever he’s with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk or Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, the latter of whom proves to be a great addition to the MCU. Both Cate Blanchett’s Hela and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster are some of the best villains to inhabit the MCU, Doctor Strange’s cameo was great, and Taika Waititi manages to bring forth the zany yet creative style and panache that Thor really needed. While the quick dispatching of the Warriors’ Three was poorly misjudged, everything else is an absolute rollercoaster of a ride.
6. The Avengers (2012)
One of the most ambitious films to have been pulled off in the whole MCU, The Avengers was the film that finally brought our heroes together for the first time, and the results are spectacular indeed. It cleverly ties together the four different franchises that came beforehand, yet still stands on its own to be unique enough from the other films, as well as being a solid first outing in its own right. The leads all have perfect chemistry with each other, and you can clearly see here how much they work together as either friends or frenemies, even if Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is kind of wasted here. As for Loki, Tom Hiddleston chews the scenery left and right, brilliantly blurring the line of menacing and entertaining. It’s no surprise that this film would have a long and impactful life beyond its release, and it still proves to be highly rewatchable all these years later.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
One of the biggest surprises in the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy was a real gamble before its release, yet somehow the film quickly became beloved by both fans and critics alike, being emotionally intelligent, crazy as all hell and armed to the teeth with real charm and a killer soundtrack. The characters here may be outcasts and losers, but Gunn somehow manages to make them oddly endearing, and they quickly became some of the best characters in the MCU. This is all helped by the charming cast tasked with giving these characters life, including the likes of Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. God bless James Gunn for crafting a perfect jumping on point for casual audiences. It’s one hell of a ride.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
One of the best entries in the MCU, Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved to be a real surprise seeing as no anyone had anticipated the praise it has received since its 2014 release. It felt like a real ensemble movie as much as it was a Captain America movie, and it aimed at being a grounded action thriller with an espionage vibe, which paid off in spades. Plus, it proved to be an important game-changer for the whole universe. Most importantly, it introduced the Russo Brothers to the MCU, who would both go on to redefine the Avengers in a massive, game-changing way. Whilst the titular steel-armed antagonist was somewhat underused, this proved to be an intriguing and exhilarating entry in the MCU.
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
After the critical and commercial embarrassment of the two Amazing Spider-Man movies, Sony decided to partner up with Marvel Studios to make the best Spider-Man movie they can, and Spider-Man: Homecoming focuses on what made Spider-Man so beloved to begin with. We get to see the trials and tribulations of a young, inexperienced Peter Parker thrown into the deep end after his big introduction in Captain America: Civil War, trying to stop his first major supervillain in the Vulture, while also managing his personal life in high school. Tom Holland is the best actor to have played the wall-crawler to date as he captures both aspects of the character perfectly and the supporting cast is some of the very best in the MCU; Michael Keaton, in particular, proved to be a worthy adversary as the slightly-unhinged Vulture. Hands down one of the very best Spider-Man movies.
2. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The biggest movie in the MCU to date, Avengers: Infinity War was the ultimate culmination of ten years worth of build-up and anticipation. Not only did it meet expectations, it exceeded them. It smashed box-office records, was universally-acclaimed, and left many fans blown away by its scale. This film manages to perfectly balance its multitude of characters, storylines, action, and humour, while also delivering the best Marvel villain out of any of these movies in Josh Brolin’s emotionally complex Thanos. This film was a gamble that paid off big time, delivering on its promise to be something that feels entirely different to what has gone before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while its traumatising ending will likely be reversed in Avengers: Endgame, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the risk and ambition it took to pull off something this epic. The Russos accomplished something great and this movie could’ve easily grabbed the top spot, but that honour goes to one other film that came out two years earlier…
1. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe started out, they did things differently to what had come before in the superhero/comic book movie genre, but after a while, they developed a repetitive pattern and audiences caught on to the formula Marvel had set out. Yet, every once in a while, there’s always a film or two that manages to subvert expectations, push the envelope and take things to the next level. Captain America: Civil War is exactly that film and is still the reigning, undisputed champion of the whole MCU since its release in 2016. This felt more like a true sequel to the first Avengers film than Avengers: Age of Ultron was, yet also stands as a great sequel for both Captain America and Iron Man as well.
We focus on these different heroes and their different, varying ideologies, and yet you completely understand where both sides are coming from. Both sides are right and wrong in equal measure, so you can relate to them, be emotionally conflicted, yet still love them all the same, and that’s because all the characters here are perfectly established, likeable, charming, fascinating and distinct. At the same time, we’re also introduced to two new characters in Spider-Man and Black Panther, and their introductions are handled flawlessly, which is amazing considering how many other characters inhabit this film.
On top of all that, the airport battle is astonishing and the final fight between Cap, Bucky and Iron Man is one of the most emotionally powerful sequences in the MCU. It’s deep, complex, uplifting, sad, suspenseful, and leaves you wanting to know what happens next after it finishes. What the Russos accomplished here is nothing short of phenomenal, and this feels like a first chapter in their own Avengers trilogy in many ways, which continued in Avengers: Infinity War and will conclude in the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame. Not only is this the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also one of the greatest superhero/comic book movies ever made.
Avengers: Endgame hits cinemas April 24th 2019.