The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been at the forefront of the film industry since its onset nearly 11 years ago. Now, more than a decade later, the film empire built by the Avengers is about to reach its climactic conclusion in Avengers: Endgame. With the end now in sight, let us take a moment to reminisce, criticize, and count down the best and worst this super-series has to offer in an old fashioned worst-to-best countdown. This list is completely subjective as it is nothing more than the humble opinions of a super-fan.
- The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Starting us off with the worst MCU movie to date is one of the franchise’s earliest films. The Incredible Hulk serves as Dr. Bruce Banner’s origin story, following his experimentation with the super soldier serum, accidental transformation into the Hulk, and his fruitless efforts to cure himself. While every famous hero needs an origin story, this one is quite…skippable. The villain is giant mess of CGI, the writing leaves a bit to be desired, and the grand scale a character of this caliber should be introduced on is entirely missed. You can’t even take away an impressionable main character from this film, as star Edward Norton was promptly replaced with Mark Ruffalo in follow up movies.
- Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Following the relatively dull origin story of Asgard’s mightiest hero, fans were expecting something to really get them hooked on Thor. Unfortunately, they were left expecting , for another four years, in fact. Aside from introducing the reality stone and the faking of Loki’s death, this film is relatively unimportant to the series and underwhelming to fans—it was just more serious Norse gods fighting forgettable monsters.
- Iron Man 3 (2013)
As the flagship of the MCU’s phase two of films, Iron Man 3 was supposed to bring about the new era for our heros. While Robert Downey Junior played a phenomenal part—fully embracing Iron Man’s PTSD from the previous film—he simply could not make up fully for incoherent story and lack of consequence the movie had on the series. It didn’t help that the culmination of Tony Stark’s character arc came to a head in this film and was subsequently thrown out to further the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
- Thor (2011)
This film proved that the sex appeal of big, buff men can’t carry a plot or even create a decent character…but they can get people’s attention. Thor not only provided an origin story for the famous Avenger, but also introduced us to the likes of Loki, who would go on to become one of the greatest villains in MCU history. On top of that, this film opened the universe up to a scale never before seen: space. This opened the door for aliens, new monsters, and even gods in the MCU. If only Chris Hemsworth was given more of a script to work with and really flesh out the character, who’s knows how good this film could’ve been(I suppose we’ll have to wait six years for a film like that…).
- Captain Marvel (2019)
Putting Captain Marvel this low on the list is by no means a diss on feminism, women, or anything else—the movie just wasn’t all that special.The Story was astoundingly predictable from start to finish, Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), delivered every single line like a robot and the appeal of the film relied almost entirely on callbacks and already beloved characters. That being said, those callbacks and beloved characters were spectacular. Learning how a young Nick Fury lost his eye? Awesome story. Seeing Ronin the Accuser roll up to Earth with a fleet of warships? Fantastic long time viewer payoff. Watching an alien cat with tentacles coming out of its mouth eat an infinity stone? Made my day, and it would definitely make yours too.
- Captain America: Civil War (2016)
On paper, this film was set up to be the greatest in Marvel history. Introducing fan favorites Black Panther and Spider-Man, getting all of your favorite heros together on the big screen, and then forcing them all to fight in a massive team brawl on a grand stage; how could you go wrong? It was every kid’s toy box dream and it was coming to life in spectacular fashion. Unfortunately, this toy box dream didn’t exactly come to fruition. Featuring the series most convoluted, pointless, and anti-climactic plot in history, it was obvious to see where it fell short. Despite all this, the action sequences were pristine and the ultimate brawl completely delivered.
- Black Panther (2018)
Just like Captain Marvel: do not kill me for not absolutely loving Black Panther. The nearly entirely black cast was a huge step in the right direction for the film industry and a refreshing change of pace from a predominantly white cinematic universe. The special effects were gorgeous, the Black Panther himself was unique, and some of the MCU’s best characters came out of this film—Michael B. Jordan absolutely nailed the role of Killmonger, effectively creating one of the MCU’s most relatable and well written villains. That being said, the stakes never felt very high, Chadwick Boseman had little personality to speak of, and the plot was nothing more than the generic Marvel formula.
- Ant Man and the Wasp (2018)
Ant Man returns with his much more capable female counterpart, the Wasp. Together, the two battle gangsters, a tragic villain, and have to follow the emotional thunderstorm that was Infinity War. This film wasn’t anything special, and was ultimately a bit forgettable, but it was hilarious and fun all the same. The craziest thing is that it’s end credit scene may have actually set up Ant Man to defeat Thanos…imagine that.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
This neat proto-origin story took one more shot at reimagining our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and it did a pretty good job. Tom Holland plays a fantastic and charming young Spider-Man in this new rendition of a beloved character. The plot is entertaining, we get to see Tony Stark become a father figure to the young hero, and the villain isn’t even half bad. All in all a well rounded—if a bit inconsequential—film.
- Ant Man (2015)
In a cinematic universe full of planet busting gods, looming titans, and jewelry that controls time and space, I love that we have an Ant Man. Paul Rudd is the perfect fit for the unassuming, pint sized hero and really helps ground the universe in reality. Sometimes, we get a movie about defending the planet from celestial demons or battling Nazi-death cults, but sometimes, we get movies about Paul Rudd stealing things and cracking one liners. Classic.
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Ever wanted to know how Captain America became the jacked, charismatic, super-soldier and leader he is today? Look no further than this World War Two origin story of the first Avenger. On top of a halfway decent origin story, this film doubles as an exciting war film, and triples as an introduction to the infinity stones. Beating up Nazis, become a superhero, and finally becoming the leader of the Avengers? How could you pass that up?
- Doctor Strange (2016)
Cracking the top ten is yet another cliche origin story, but trust me, this one actually works. Everyone loves Iron Man, right? Sarcastic, ingenious, and incredibly arrogant—he’s just about everyone’s favorite. Hey, you know what would be really awesome? Iron Man, but this time he’s a wizard. As stupid and cheesy as that sounds, it actually works astonishingly well. Doctor Strange has all the spunk and prowess of Iron Man while still maintaining his own unique identity—despite also having a really cool goatee. In addition, Doctor Strange opened up the MCU to the realm of magic by bringing an entire new angle to future films.
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Being both the second Avengers film and the conclusion to Marvel’s phase two, there were lots of expectations going into Avengers: Age of Ultron—and boy did it deliver. Succeeding in creating the world’s most threatening villain as well as its most powerful hero, introducing three new Avengers, turning Hawkeye into the emotional the emotional epicenter of the group, and setting up Infinity War, Civil War, and Ragnarok…this movie was absolutely insane start to finish. As vast as it was compact, Avengers: Age of Ultron was nothing short of a miracle undertaking. It was so taxing to make that it actually mentally broke director Joss Whedon who retired from Marvel movies immediately after this film.
- Iron Man 2 (2010)
There’s something to be said for the classics and Iron Man 2 is certainly a classic. The film took everything we loved about the first film, turned it into a revenge story, and made it a meaningful plot point for Tony Stark’s character arc. On top of that, this is the first film to feature fan favorite Black Widow in action. James Rhodes (War Machine) also made his debut in the MCU, and the ending brought the audience directly into Thor. Iron Man 2 is an astonishingly streamlined and relevant sequel that displays the very best of the traditional Marvel formula.
- Iron Man (2008)
This is where it all started—11 years ago in a cave in the Middle East. While this is nothing more than Iron Man’s origin story, it set the stage for more than a decade of films to come; spawning a film tycoon as well as an army of loyal fans. This movie was the beginning of the Marvel formula and the pinnacle of it all at once. There were no aliens, no gods, not even any Avengers to speak of. Just an arrogant genius, a homemade suit, and a score to settle. Nothing gives diehard fans more chills than the closing line: “I am Iron Man.” With that, a series was born.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
There is more going on under the surface of this movie than perhaps any other MCU film to date. The agency that was supposed to protect the world turns its guns to the people, the heros we’ve come to trust turn out to be ruthless nazis, and the world as we know it falls to chaos as an 80 year long trap is finally triggered. This film is non-stop, crisp action sequences with over the top espionage that keeps you guessing from start to finish. Captain America and The Winter Soldier become an emotional whirlwind of brawling and memories as the two men from another time try to figure things out the only way they know how: beating the crap out of each other. This movie is as much Black Widow’s as it it Cap’s and also features incredible scenes from both Nick Fury and the Falcon.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 took the plucky bunch of heroic criminals we learned to love in the first film and taught them family all over again. Featuring Kurt Russell, side splitting comedy, and a group of characters so familiar they feel like your own family, this film is a must see. The sequel is even funnier, more colorful, and more emotional than the original, but falls just short because the formula is near identical and plot a bit unoriginal.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
No one knew who these guys were, and no one cared. As far as anyone knew, these guys would just be the space Avengers. Man, were we proven wrong. What the Guardians of the Galaxy brought to the table was a breath of fresh air to a seemingly dry franchise. We were expecting the Avengers; Earth’s mightiest heros. What we got was a colorful bunch of criminals and outsiders who were equal parts intimidating and hilarious. The guardians taught us family in a way the Avengers never could and did it with an off the wall color scheme, oldies soundtrack, and a bunch of space people.
- The Avengers (2012)
The crown jewel of phase one. The original super hero team up. The reason we are where we are today. If this film had floundered, that would have been the end of the MCU as we know it—luckily for us, it became one of the most iconic crossovers of all time. The impact this film had on pop culture cannot be stressed enough, and it’s legacy will certainly stand the test of time. The villain—Loki—became the most iconic in MCU history (barring our next entry—as well as a fan favorite). The city spanning battle full of long takes, group shots, and straight superhero carnage was truly a sight to behold. The comic book dream of Earth’s mightiest heros, together at last on the big screen, was finally realized—it was everything fans had ever hoped for and more.
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
When this movie was announced, it was thought to be the end of phase three—a decade of buildup and 18 movies has led to this point. Everyone braced for the ride of their lives; expectations were at an all time high. No one was disappointed. Everyone was devastated. After more than two hours of the most unlikely team ups, craziest battles, and most vicious carnage any MCU movie has ever known…after a decade of anticipation…after all our heros had finally gathered for the ultimate crossover…they lost. They were completely and utterly destroyed by the most heinous yet relatable villain in Marvel history. Thanos had won—our expectations were subverted and our emotions toyed with like never before. And then, a sequel was announced…
1. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Now, don’t panic, don’t freak out, this is not a joke. Everyone expects infinity war to top the charts, but not this one. Thor: Ragnarok boasts the most heart, hilarity, and over the top insanity of any film in Marvel history—and it’s all thanks to director Taika Waititi and his vision. The Thor movies were some of the worst in the franchise, so why hold on to them? Waititi cut all the slack off the character and his story, granted him a more engaging personality, and created the best MCU movie to date—all in one fell swoop. Gutting the Thor franchise and starting anew created so many opportunities for the character—such as a crossover with the Hulk, a newfound sense of duty to his people, and a literal gladiator battle on a garbage planet ruled by Jeff Goldblum. It doesn’t get any better than that ladies and gentlemen.
None of these films are objectively bad by any means—all were integral parts to creating the beautiful cinematic universe that lays before us today. Looking back on them is simply a fun way to get excited for the upcoming Endgame, and open up speculation as to the future of the series. Avengers: Endgame releases April 26, so be sure to buy your tickets and find out where it stacks up on your own list.