Avengers: Endgame concludes the ‘Infinity Saga’ for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with 2008’s Iron Man. To mark this momentous culmination, I’m going to take a look back at every single film and rank them. This list is a reflection of my opinions not as a critic but as a fan, and as such, this list is highly subjective. With that said, let’s start at number 22.
- The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Black Sheep of the MCU, The Incredible Hulk feels tonally out of place, dark and serious. It is a reflection of the creative differences between the studio and Edward Norton, which led to his eventual replacement as Bruce Banner with Mark Ruffalo.
- Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith is the most forgettable and one-dimensional villain in the MCU, and the same can be said for the plot, meandering aimlessly between drama and comedy. Its only redeeming feature is the incredible performance given by Tom Hiddleston as Loki.
- Thor (2011)
The same comments made of The Dark World can be said of its prequel, however, the plot is tighter and the star-studded cast of Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Idris Elba and Sir Anthony Hopkins all give good performances.
- Captain Marvel (2019)
Despite eclipsing $1 billion at the box office, the story feels uninspired. It teases of good ideas, which are never fully formed. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury has far less gravitas than in all previous appearances. However, following Black Panther it marks another step towards increased diversity in the MCU, being the first movie with a solo female lead.
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Every film from here on in is a good film but with such competition, Ant-Man and the Wasp drops down. This small scale adventure is a breath of fresh air, bringing a sense of levity following Avengers: Infinity War, but it lacks stand-out, unique features.
- Iron Man 3 (2013)
The King of controversy, Shane Black directed the most divisive film in the MCU. This subversive movie tackles Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) PTSD following The Avengers, which it does well, but the villain plot twist leaves a bitter taste, feeling unearned. In Addition, the final battle is a sensory overload that feels too busy. Despite this, it remains a thoroughly enjoyable film.
- Ant-Man (2015)
This heist comedy is full of laughs courtesy of Paul Rudd and Michael Peña, but ultimately it feels safe. It’s a shame we’ll never see the Edgar Wright version as he parted ways with the studio during production due to creative differences.
- Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 offers two villains, one charismatic and interesting in Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer and one bland and underdeveloped in Micky Rourke’s Ivan Vanko. Whilst much of this film is a delight to watch with Downey, Jr. his usual charming self, the inclusion of Vanko’s arc kills the pace of the movie.
- Doctor Strange (2016)
Though the most visually spectacular film on this list, Doctor Strange is an otherwise run of the mill origin story by Marvel’s (admittedly impeccable) standards. However, it does creatively introduce us to the mystic side of the MCU.
- Iron Man (2008)
Oh boy! I’m going to take some heat for this, but I would like to point out that this ranking is not based on significance to the franchise, because if so it would be top 3, as the film that kick-started the entire universe. This seemed an almost flawless film in 2008, but with the quality at Marvel constantly improving, Iron Man slips down the ranking. Sorry.
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Though he lacks visual appeal, Joss Whedon is a master of directing quippy ensemble dialogue. The After-party scene encapsulates this perfectly. However, often the characters feel like caricatures. Tony Stark is too smug to the point where he becomes unlikeable and Thor is so Shakespearean I wonder if he would feel more in place on a stage. Despite this, when the balance is struck, Age of Ultron offers a funny, entertaining and action-packed blockbuster.
- Black Panther (2018)
This was more than just a film; it was a cultural event and a beautiful, colourful celebration of African culture. The world building is phenomenal and Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the most compelling villains the MCU has seen. But from a purely entertainment standpoint, Black Panther is mildly forgettable and the CGI is inconsistent at best.
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
I must admit this is a guilty pleasure of mine and probably far higher up than it should be. Despite the cheesy Good vs Evil narrative and the hammy over-the-top villain in Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull, this film just works. Director Joe Johnston captures nostalgia like no-one else and satirises the theatricality of WW2. There is no way that goody two shoes, Boy Scout, Captain America should be interesting, yet Chris Evans brings such nuance to the role that he is my favourite Avenger. The supporting cast of Sebastian Stan, Haley Atwell and Tommy Lee Jones are the icing on the cake.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
It pains me to put this at 9th but competition for the top is so stiff. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is undoubtedly the best put to live action by a mile, but unfortunately, it’s no Spider-Man 2. His suit, designed by Tony Stark feels a little too over-powered to the point where Peter doesn’t really need super-powers for much of the film. That said, Michael Keaton’s Vulture adds a fantastic dimension; both menacing and sympathetic, and with a personal connection to Peter.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Again, I know people will say this should be higher, but by this point, each film is so evenly matched that it’s almost impossible to choose. Guardians of the Galaxy introduces a band of misfits including a racoon and a talking tree. This film should never have worked, by James Gunn’s writing and directing makes this one of the funniest and most emotional entries on this list, not to mention the soundtrack. The only real drawback is that the villain’s motivations feel weak.
- The Avengers (2012)
Four years earlier nobody would have believed we would ever see a large scale crossover film like this. My criticisms of Joss Whedon still hold true, but nonetheless, he delivered the best film imaginable for its time. Since then, Marvel’s proficiency with ensemble casts has improved, but the circling shot of the Avengers standing back to back is still the most iconic moment in the history of the MCU.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Some people prefer the original but I think this has everything its predecessor does and more. More fantastic character interactions, more insight into Peter Quill’s tortured childhood and a real insight into his humanity. He’s possibly the most flawed hero in the MCU, but that makes him so much more relatable.
- Thor Ragnarok (2017)
What to say about this film that hasn’t been said already. It is undoubtedly the funniest movie in the franchise and it gives Thor a much needed revamp. As a man who’s lost everything, the God of Thunder becomes human again as he searches for his lost sense of purpose. Not only did Taika Waititi direct the funniest film in the MCU, but he also plays Korg, maybe the funniest character in cinema history!
- Avengers: Endgame (2019)
There’s not a lot I can say about this film without spoiling it, but I can say, that it is funny when it can be, its serious when it needs to be and it’s deeply emotional, and a perfect way to complete the ‘Infinity Saga’.
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
An Avengers film where the villain is the protagonist? And what’s more, he is one of the greatest villains in all of cinema. With so much expectation it was crucial that directors Anthony and Joe Russo got this right. Thanos (Josh Brolin) truly feels like not only the biggest threat the Avengers have ever faced, but his motives seem somewhat defensible even though the means don’t justify the ends. Not only this, but the villain actually wins. ‘The Snap’ is our generation’s ‘I am your Father’ moment.
- Captain America: Civil War (2016)
This film perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist, a team divided between two leaders. Both Steve and Tony feel totally justified in their views over the ‘Sokovia Accords’, sanctioning government oversight of the Avengers, and both views are equally viable. This ideological conflict tears apart The Avengers in a way that no villain could. All goodwill is lost when Tony learns the circumstances of his parents’ deaths.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America is the moral compass of the MCU. But what happens when you blur the lines between right and wrong? Steve finds himself unable to follow orders in this espionage thriller as he learns of the infiltration of Nazi cult Hydra within S.H.I.E.L.D. We question, along with the characters, the balance between freedom and security, and the morality of punishment before the crime. The supporting cast of Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson allow us to experience every viewpoint. It should also be mentioned that all of the top four on this list were written by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely, and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo; a true testament to them as both filmmakers and storytellers.
Image courtesy of Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures via IMDb.