Ranked: Movies From The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Above (clockwise): Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Above (clockwise): Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Everyone likes ranking things – Top 5 restaurants, favourite albums and movies, best kisser, Chuck Palahniuk novels; you get the picture.

Now that Ant-Man puts us 12 movies deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it’s time to set these intertwined films in some kind of order from worst to first. Is this a definitive ranking? Of course not; everyone is going to have different elements they liked and disliked about each of these flicks and therefore how they line up for each person is bound to be different… except maybe for the movie pulling up the rear.

12. The Incredible Hulk

Edward Norton’s turn as Bruce Banner was the second film in the collection, but it felt a lot like Christopher Nolan’s first offering in the Dark Knight trilogy, Batman Begins. It was good, but it wasn’t complete – Christian Bale hadn’t reached peak Bruce Wayne, Katie Holmes playing Rachel Dawes skewed younger, more Dawson’s Creek than when she was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhall, who made the role feel far more grown up. The Incredible Hulk was similar, with Norton doing a solid Banner but coming up way short in comparison to Mark Ruffalo. Liv Tyler will forever be the naive girl from Empire Records and as great as Tim Roth can be, vengeful hardcore army guy isn’t the right role for him either.

A Ruffalo-led Hulk origins flick would have been awesome, but we’re too deep into the story to double-back now.

11. Iron Man 2

Yeah, this one didn’t quite work. Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard as Rhodey/War Machine was a positive switch and it was the official introduction of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow into the ensemble, but Mickey Rourke’s Russian big bad was painful and it kind of felt like Tony Stark phoned this one in a little. Conceptually, you see how that makes sense given that he was riding high after revealing himself to be Iron Man at the close of the first movie, but neurotic, obsessive Tony is always better than spoiled brat Tony, which is why this film falls so low on the scale.

10. Captain America: The First Avenger

Chris Evans was born to play Steve Rogers and the “taking it back to WWII” approach was much better than just fast forwarding to the future, but for all the good that this film sets in motion – Agent Carter, The Winter Soldier, Cap thawing out to join The Avengers – it doesn’t measure up to some of the other movies in the collection. It’s great that they spent a bunch of time covering that Cap was intended to be a propoganda tool, but chose to be so much more, however that also makes the movie drag on in spots.

9. Thor: The Dark World

The sequel was indeed darker than the original, but that did far more harm than good. Part of what made the first one such an unexpectedly fun flick was that it was a “fish out of water” story that featured a bunch of sharp, quippy performances around its titular Asgardian. Even though a lot of the same characters from the original returned, most of them felt like they were given far less to do and the movie suffered as a result. It needed more Loki, more Asgardians, more Jane Foster, more Erik Selvig and much more Darcy. Instead, we got a bad guy no one really felt the need to invest in (a constant MCU issue) and too much Thor.

8. Iron Man 3

If not for Sir Ben Kingsley killing as Trevor Slattery and Ty Simpkins stealing scenes from Robert Downey Jr. this one would probably be further down the list. It was certainly better than the middle film in the trilogy because Tony Stark was dealing with anxiety issues and not just being a spoiled rich douche, plus the Extremis-infused bad guys were a nice touch, but this kind of felt like Iron Man: Lethal Weapon because Shane Black tends to play off a lot of the same elements in all his movies and this really aped a lot of stuff we’ve seen before in his previous films. He stopped short of having Martin Riggs in the Iron Man suit, but it played like a case of going to the well one too many times.

7. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Loved that we got a little more depth from a couple different characters and enjoy the “pick up Mjolnir” sequence every time I see it, but this was a bunch of action set pieces surrounded by enough story to get us from Explosive Fight A to Explosive Fight B. The Hulkbuster fight was great, but Hulk doesn’t need to destroy the downtown core of some world city every time out. Additionally, we needed more time to delve into the dreams that Thor and Widow had when Scarlett Witch tweaked their minds because it feels like they would have helped make some elements a little more clear. Still a fun popcorn flick, but not a Top 5 entry for me.

6. Thor

Kat Dennings’ Darcy and Tom Hiddleston as Loki are the real stars of this film, even though it’s about Thor. This movie did a great job explaining who the titular hero was and putting a quality problem that needed to be solved in his path without spending too much time on the backstory elements that can lose an audience. The balance was just right and the strong performances from all the supporting players elevated this movie beyond expectations.

5. Iron Man

While it too has some Batman Begins to it – good, but not as good as it would ultimately become – Robert Downey Jr. preening as the billionaire industrialist turned superhero was a revelation at the time and holds up to this day. This was RDJ’s comeback vehicle and it seemed like he knew it. No one else is ever going to be able to play Iron Man because this version of Tony Stark is perfect. While there are four other films ahead of it on this list, the original Iron Man was the true jump off for the MCU and is the most complete movie in the collection.

4. Ant-Man

Maybe recency is having impact here, but the latest entry into the MCU stands up pretty well alongside its fellow films, while also different from a lot of the previous offerings. Paul Rudd is spot on as the sarcastic, slacker-that-takes-shortcuts Scott Lang and Michael Douglas brings some solid veteran moxie to Hank Pym. As discussed in our review of the film, Michael Pena is amazing here and deserves several opportunities to star in big projects real soon – like yesterday – and the effects/visuals that you get when your hero is the size of an ant make this one a pleasant surprise and a Top 5 flick in the MCU.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy

A big part of what makes Guardians so awesome is that it is a departure from the rest of the Marvel movies. Sure, it’s still a superhero movie and there is some of the same quippiness and comedic elements that we’re used to from the various Iron Man appearances, but Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot weren’t familiar characters to many people and yet they were able to keep the audience captivated as they bounced around outer space before throwing down with Ronan. Dance off, bro! I also might be biased because I love raccoons and so a foul-mouthed, gun-toting reluctant superhero raccoon is always going to suck me in.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

These movies are at their best when they place the superhero characters into actual movies, rather than making superhero movies and TWS was a political espionage, “who can you trust?” flick that happened to star Captain America. It was terrific in just about every way – from Cap and Widow having some romantic tension, the Winter Soldier being all kinds of bad ass and SHIELD having been infiltrated by Hydra, all the way to the top, this movie was on point from start to finish and is insanely re-watchable. Plus it sets up future stories without feeling like it’s hitting you over the head with set ups, which is important in a movie that is part of something much bigger.

1. The Avengers

You can’t top this one. Everyone coming together for the first time is generally going to win out over stand-alone properties and that’s the case here. It’s an amazing popcorn flick and some of the action pieces are outstanding. Plus Ruffalo as the Hulk is a revelation – you get several “This is what it could have been!” moments when you see him as Bruce Banner and his big green alter ego and think about Norton’s version and then he drops the “Puny god” line on Loki and it’s over. I mean, Tony Stark’s best line in the whole movie is “We’ve got a Hulk,” so even though he’s not the most front-and-center character in the cast, he’s the star and this is the best movie from the MCU.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments section or on Twitter: @AmongMenMag

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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