On Thursday the 26th of April 2018, Marvel Studios will release the 19th film of their ever-growing cinematic universe – Avengers:Infinity War, the third Avengers film and undoubtedly the biggest movie event of 2018. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU, for short) is to date, the highest grossing film franchise of all time – taking in over $14 billion dollars worldwide. With their remarkable roster of superheroes from well-known names like Hulk and Captain America to lesser-known successes such as the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel have ushered in a new era of cinematic dominance that shows no signs of slowing down.
Infinity War will see Thanos (voiced and motion-captured by Oscar nominated actor Josh Brolin) arrive on Earth on a quest to retrieve the 6 ‘infinity stones’, a group of gems that can grant the possessor unlimited, reality-bending powers. Standing in his way is almost every hero who has ever appeared in a Marvel film and – spoiler alert – it probably isn’t going to have a happy ending for everyone involved.
In anticipation of what is sure to be the crowning jewel on the already incredible array of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I have compiled and placed in ranking order, my list of the best Marvel films to date from worst to best. Every-one’s list will be different – so let me know what changes you would make to your own lists.
18 – Thor: The Dark World
Or as I like to call it – Thor:This film would have been so much better if Loki was in it more. Every good Marvel film contains humour, a strong villain, great characters and an interesting plot: The Dark World contains none of those elements.
The film is much worse off for locking Loki away for the majority of it’s run-time and is only at it’s best in the scenes that Hemsworth and Hiddlestone share together, the jokes wouldn’t look out of place in an average episode of Friends (that’s not a compliment) and the battle scenes are the cinematic equivalent of cous-cous – bland. Visually, It looks like a cheap Lord of the Rings, featuring a vaguely threatening elf as it’s main protagonist; it says it all that on researching the film after watching it that I found out that it was former Dr. Who Christopher Eccleston playing the role, and that I hadn’t even noticed during the film. Natalie Portman is once again horrendously mis-used as Jane Foster, and overall not many come away with any credit from this mishap.
The entire film is a rare Marvel misstep and the worst offering, in my view, of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe to date – although Chris O’Dowd was in it, which was something I suppose.
17 – Iron Man 2
A disappointing follow-up to Iron Man, Iron Man 2 lacks the humour of it’s predecessor and struggles against the decision to include two villains (Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell) who vie with each other for screen-time. Couple that with the introductions of both Don Cheadle (War Machine) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) plus a plot that focuses mainly on the moping Robert Downey Jr. taking to drink and you are left with not only Marvel’s most dismaying sequel but one of the worst entries into the MCU.
Riding high on the success of Iron Man and following on from the relative disappointment of The Incredible Hulk, Marvel forged ahead with an Iron Man sequel – with just over two years passing between the release of the first film and it’s sequel. Perhaps it was slightly rushed and as such the quality of Iron Man 2 suffers – it tries to repeat the success of the first film by changing almost nothing but throwing more villains at Iron Man. As for those villains: Mickey Rourke is probably the worst in the history of the MCU: he mumbles in broken Russian/English throughout and inexplicably has a fondness for birds.
Scarlett Johansson’s first outing as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is at least memorable and she, at times, is the best thing about this film. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is a blot on Marvel’s almost exemplary record.
16 – Thor
I watched Thor for the first time in the middle of March this year, and by the time I had sat down to write about it here a few days later, I had completely forgotten what had happened in the film. That sums up Thor fairly well – it’s a cinematic shrug of a film, introducing the mythology of Thor, Loki and Odin and setting up the groundwork for the first Avengers film, but failing to having the immediate impact that Iron Man or Guardians of the Galaxy did.
There are moments to enjoy within it – Tom Hiddleston is excellent as Loki (a role he would excel in for all of his Marvel appearances) and some of the comedic scenes of Thor on Earth, particularly in the pet shop, are worth savouring. Unfortunately the film is to concerned with the setting up of future films to make use of the characters in this one – Natalie Portman is tremendously out of place as scientist/love interest Jane Foster and Anthony Hopkins sighs his way through Norse sounding lines as he earns himself another pay cheque.
15 – The Incredible Hulk
The second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the only one to feature Edward Norton as the Hulk is a decent enough film that suffers from the lack of a real villain, a poor co-star in Liv Tyler and some fairly dodgy CGI. Norton’s Bruce Banner is a far cry from the terrible Eric Bana performance of 2003’s Hulk (pre-Marvel cinematic dominance) but is also nowhere near as good as the more complex genius that Mark Ruffalo would go on to portray in 2012’s The Avengers.
William Hurt does his best to menace the Hulk throughout as the military general Thaddeus Ross (great villain name, at least), but the film eventually realises that he is no match for Norton’s monster and turns Tim Roth’s character into an atrociously CGI’d mess – and the film gets no better for it. Norton does his best as Bruce Banner, but you always feel somewhat that he is either out of his depth, or was the wrong man for the role.
The film’s action sequences are somewhat enjoyable and the battle between Hulk and Tim Roth’s Abomination would be the best set-piece, if Abomination didn’t look like a villain from a PS2 game. Many would have placed this at the bottom of their lists but it’s not as terrible as some would have you believe. Overall, The Incredible Hulk isn’t that bad – it just reflects badly against the rest of the films that came after it.
14 – Captain America: The First Avenger
The first outing of Steve Rogers as Captain America is a solid if not spectacular origin story that is entertaining enough to watch but the weakest of the Captain America trilogy. The First Avenger suffers for the comparisons with it’s two sequels, which are far superior films (more on that later in the list).
In this first installment of the trilogy, Chris Evans is CGI’d down into the frail, weak Steve Rogers who can’t even get into the US army due to his various illnesses – cue the “super-soldier” experiment which enables him to become the be-muscled specimen that is Captain America. The film drags slightly through the middle section in which Rogers travels around performing a choreographed routine as the Captain but picks up in the final act battle between Hugo Weaving’s nefarious Red Skull and Chris Evans.
Worth the watch to discover the origins of evil outfit Hydra, and to watch Chris Evans repeatedly punch Hitler’s lights out as part of a musical montage.
13 – Black Panther
Probably the most controversial placing on this list; I’ve only seen Black Panther once in the cinema and wasn’t a huge fan – given the massive commercial and public success that it’s had, it’s clearly found an audience elsewhere though. For me, it was massively over praised: I felt on first viewing that Martin Freeman’s character was annoying and that Chadwick Boseman played the title character in a way that was so devoid of charisma it made him completely unlikeable.
Michael B. Jordan as villain Erik Killmonger and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s sister Shuri undoubtedly stood out, but I found that I lost respect for the Killmonger character in the final act battle with T’Challa, especially when he performed a change of heart which went against everything his character had been about until that point.
Black Panther is without a doubt, a ground-breaking film with a lot to like about it. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t quite strike a chord and there are many more Marvel films that I would choose to re-watch instead.
12 – Iron Man 3
One of the biggest controversies of the MCU – Iron Man 3 features a twist that still to this day polarises fans in a way that no other Marvel film has. That means that some despise the Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) directed third Iron Man film, whilst others love it. Personally, I think the twist is hilarious – but I’ve never picked up an Iron Man comic book, so I’m not the ideal spokesperson for the problem that some people have with this film.
Twist aside, Iron Man 3 is a substantial improvement on Iron Man 2 but doesn’t come close to matching the brilliance of the first Iron Man. What it does do really is convey a more human side to Tony Stark – one who is experiencing PTSD following on from the events of The Avengers. This helps lead us to the more grounded and careful Tony Stark which we see in both Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming – the Tony Stark who becomes a father-figure and a symbol of hope and peace.
As for this film, the plot is borderline ridiculous – interspersing a ten year old boy, the President, some sort of orange regenerative skin thing and again, two villains of differing threats. It’s much more of a classic popcorn comic-book film, rather than the spy thriller that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is. It’s not the best Iron Man film, but it’s certainly not the worst, and it’s definitely hugely fun; it’s just a leave your brain on the way in type of film.
11 – Guardians of the Galaxy 2
How do you top the incredible runaway success of Guardians of the Galaxy, the surprise hit that not even Marvel could have predicted would do so well? You do the exact same thing again, but with Kurt Russell! I thought GOTG2 was absolutely brilliant in the cinema, but it has soured slightly with repeated viewings – it’s not as fun as it’s predecessor because it feels more like an imitation than a sequel, and although there is a lot to love about it, it doesn’t manage to re-capture the spirit of the first film.
They do manage to sneak a massive twist and a shocking and saddening death into this film, which adds a fair amount of emotional heft to the third act – but in a film in which David Hasselhoff, Sylvester Stallone and Pac-Man are wheeled out for no reason in particular, it kind of undermines the whole effort. Worth the watch for nothing else if not to hear Yondu cry out “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” as he slowly drops to the ground holding his arrow.
10 – Doctor Strange
Benedict Cumberbatch playing an arrogant neurosurgeon who becomes a glorified magician may not be every cinema-goers idea of a good time, and I must admit to being apprehensive about Doctor Strange, but along with Guardians of the Galaxy it is probably the most surprising of the Marvel cosmic successes.
Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, the aforementioned doctor who, after a horrific car crash which ends his career, seeks out The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in an attempt to learn the mystic arts and to regain the abilities which were robbed of him in the accident.
In my opinion it’s the weirdest of the Marvel films, but it looks stunning at all times and if you can get your head around the mind-bending visuals and terms then you’ll have a thoroughly enjoyable time. Tilda Swinton is brilliant as The Ancient One, Strange’s teacher, and Benedict Wong is the perfect choice to play a character called, erm, Wong.
There’s some scarce Marvel errors of judgement: Rachel McAdams is nothing more than a love interest for Doctor Strange and as such is tragically misused as an actress, while Mads Mikkelsen is unable to replicate the villainy that he brought to Casino Royale in this film. But Doctor Strange is more good than bad, and is entirely worth the watch for the time-loop sequence in which Doctor Strange basically gets killed hundreds of times by a talking, shimmering face in space.
9 – Ant-Man
If it hadn’t been for Marvel interfering in the work that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) had been doing on this film, I firmly believe it could have been in the MCU top 5 at the very least. Ant-Man is still a thoroughly fun movie, spearheaded by a hilarious central performance by Paul Rudd, but it feels slightly disjointed.
Ant-Man follows the story of con-man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who breaks into the house of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and accidentally stumbles across the Ant-Man suit, which can shrink it’s wearer down to the size of an ant. If it all sounds a bit ridiculous: it is. But despite the obvious imperfections in the story, it still manages to both be very funny and surprisingly original. As expected for a film about a man who can shrink to ant size, different sequences are devoted to Paul Rudd getting into various scrapes at floor level – a stand-out being Ant-Man finding himself running across a vinyl record at a disco.
Predictably, it drags somewhat in the middle section ‘training montage’ – but it picks up again considerably in the final act heist and battle between Rudd’s Ant-Man and Yellowjacket, a protege of Pym’s who manages to replicate the shrinking procedure. The battle between the characters is undoubtedly the best sequence of the film, incorporating everything from a toy train, a giant ant and a fight inside a briefcase. The over-ruling feeling is that Ant-Man could have been better than it was – but what we ended up with is certainly not a failure.
8 – Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron sometimes gets a bad reputation but to be fair, topping 2012’s The Avengers was always going to be difficult (it had taken over $1.5 billion worldwide, had Marvel’s greatest villain yet in Loki and united all of Marvel’s biggest heroes in spectacular fashion). Don’t get me wrong – The Godfather Part II, this ain’t. But Age of Ultron certainly isn’t a disaster – it just had some tough competition for best Avengers film.
Ultron isn’t the worst villain in the Marvel pantheon of disappointing villains, but he’s certainly nothing special; voiced by James Spader, Ultron is a CGI robot packed with a ‘peace-making program’ by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner which goes horribly awry. This results in the Avengers having to hunt Ultron down to the fictional country of Sokovia, where Ultron plans to bring an end to all humanity.
There’s a lot to like in Age of Ultron (Hulk fighting Iron Man, the introduction of Vision (Paul Bettany), the extended scene where the Avengers attempt to lift Thor’s hammer) but it’s also nowhere near as fun as Avengers Assemble and it stumbles through an over-long running time and a final act battle which doesn’t really make an awful lot of sense. I must admit that when I watched it recently I enjoyed it much more than the first time though – for a film that delves into issues such as the difficult relationship between humanity and technology, as well as the effect that humans have had on Earth, it says a lot that the best moments are when two superheroes are smashing each other into buildings. Age of Ultron attempts to do too much at times, and as such falls flat when the action slows down.
In the film’s defence however, it has a lot to do in terms of setting up Captain America: Civil War, Avengers:Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok, as well as introducing Scarlet Witch and Vision to the Avengers roster, so it’s perhaps no surprise that at times it feels a bit clustered.
7 – Spider-Man: Homecoming
For the sake of poor Peter Parker, thank the ghost of Uncle Ben that Spider-Man landed back in Marvel’s control – especially after the Sony reboot and sequel disasters that were Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spider-Man films. What it meant for the character was the sixth Spider-Man film since Tobey Maguire first swung onto the screens in 2002, and the third actor to play the webbed wonder in that time. For many, this was over-kill. For Marvel, it was an opportunity. In came English actor Tom Holland to the role, aged only 19 at the time of his casting, and who at the time was a relatively unknown property.
Homecoming focuses on the teenage version of Peter Parker, sans the backstory which everyone already knows, and hones in specifically on his determination to prove his worth to mentor Tony Stark while negotiating the trials and tribulations of school-life, a love life, keeping his identity a secret and doing battle with Michael Keaton’s Vulture.
If it all sounds a bit complicated, it’s not.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a refreshing take on Peter Parker’s already well worn story, funny throughout while remaining compelling: Keaton is an inspired choice as the Vulture and is quite easily the best Marvel villain since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in The Avengers. Keaton’s character is the leader of a salvage operation which gains technology from the New York battle in the first Avengers movie but is then promptly shut down – causing the salvage team to keep the technology in order to develop weapons to sell, or for their own use. Keaton’s at his most menacing however when he is simply acting opposite Holland – especially in one extremely tense scene, which I will not discuss further for fear of spoilers.
It’s not for everyone: some people find it a bit cheesy and others still prefer Tobey Maguire to Tom Holland. But Spider-Man:Homecoming is easily the best Spider-Man film since Spider-Man 2, and even if it’s not the most serious film it is a lot of fun. Holland for me is excellent as the overly-excitable Parker, desperate to impress Tony Stark and to become an Avenger whilst being just as keen to improve his popularity at school.
Keep an eye out for Captain America’s brilliant cameos as a presenter in various school videos.
6 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first MCU film to manage to both be an entertaining comic-book film and a political thriller, The Winter Soldier was a massive step forward for Marvel into more serious fare (Cap finally ditches the goofy stars and stripes costume), and a film that signified how important Captain America would be in terms of the shared universe.
The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers as he takes on Bucky Barnes, his best friend from 1940’s America, who has been brainwashed into becoming the titular villain and a weapon for evil organisation Hydra. As well as this, he and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) discover that S.H.I.E.L.D (the organisation behind the Avengers) may have been infiltrated from within and that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) may be in danger.
What sets The Winter Soldier aside from so many other MCU films is just how many excellent action set-pieces there are: the opening sequence is an exhibition of the abilities that Captain America has, while the scene in the S.H.I.E.L.D lift is one of the best of the entire MCU. It’s a film that balances the excitement of watching a super-human punch and kick things with an espionage plot that should be well above it’s remit.
There are imperfections: without spoiling anything, I’m not a massive fan of the ending given how the next Captain America film plays out and Robert Redford is hardly the most villainous of villains. But The Winter Soldier marked a major change of direction for the MCU, and is still one of it’s most interesting films.
5 – Thor: Ragnarok
Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are superhero movies that feature comedy actors in the lead roles and contain many humorous elements; Thor:Ragnarok is a comedy film that just happens to incorporate superheroes.
Given the two previous Thor films had been met with indifference from a lot of Marvel fans (I hadn’t even bothered to watch the first two before I saw Ragnarok) the third had no right to be as absolutely brilliant and bonkers as it is. Undoubtedly the best Thor film (and probably the best Hulk film also), Ragnarok sees Chris Hemsworth play Thor the way many had wanted him to in his previous outings – with a comedic approach.
Ragnarok is mainly about Thor and Loki’s sister Hela (played ably by Cate Blanchett) being released from a prison she has been consigned to for years to cause chaos on Asgard, which results in Thor and Loki being banished to the scavenger planet Sakaar. There they discover that the Hulk is battling contestants in order to entertain the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, in full-blown Goldblum mode) and Thor is forced to battle Hulk in an attempt at freedom. Realistically, the plot plays second fiddle to the comedic chaos ensuing around them all.
Featuring star turns from Tessa Thompson and director Taiki Waititi (playing Korg, who if you have seen it, is the hilarious rock-man with the New Zealand accent), Ragnarok is an endlessly fun take on a comic-book movie. It’s Chris Hemsworth’s best portrayal of Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s as the Hulk – plus Jeff Goldblum is in it. What’s not to love about that?
Keep an eye out for some hilarious cameos from some A-List actors as well in the play scene on Asgard near the beginning.
4 – Iron Man
The movie that not only sparked the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we now know and love, but the film that really catapulted the enigmatic Robert Downey Jr. back into the limelight (aside from 2005’s excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, if you haven’t seen it then please do). A superhero that many, including myself, weren’t too familiar with prior to 2008; Iron Man is the brainchild of Tony Stark, billionaire playboy and owner of Stark Industries, a notorious arms producer.
From the get-go, Iron Man is the near-perfect superhero film: Downey Jr. is superbly funny whilst also being likeable and vulnerable, while Jeff Bridges is one of the best villains in the MCU as Obediah Stane, the Stark Industries employee attempting to usurp Stark and to replicate his technology in order to make his own suit as a weapon. The beginning itself is enthralling, setting up Stark’s back story (and the origin story of Iron Man and the Iron Man suit) whilst also being extremely gripping and intense.
It might not be the most original film of all time (after all, it’s another comic-book hero origin story at it’s core) but it had the element of surprise: nobody expected Iron Man to do as well as it did, never mind spark an eighteen film (so far) long cinematic universe. Iron Man’s role in the MCU has been so important that 10 years later he is still the figure-head of the Avengers and Robert Downey Jr. is the star actor in the Marvel roster, commanding a figure of $15 million to cameo for a total of just under 8 minutes in Spider-Man: Homecoming. If it hadn’t been for the charisma and wit that Downey Jr. brought to the role of Tony Stark, it’s highly unlikely that Marvel would be in the position that they are in now.
3 – Avengers Assemble
Having built up the back stories of the Avengers through their retrospective releases (apart from Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, because nobody cares), Marvel threw the characters together to take on Thor’s brother Loki in a plot which basically involves an alien army under Loki’s control flying through a wormhole into New York, setting up an epic finale that culminates in mass destruction around the city. What ensued could have been the box office disaster that derailed the entire Marvel universe; instead, we received an ensemble superhero film that would go on to make Marvel over a billion dollars worldwide.
Every character is electric, especially Tom Hiddleston, who is incredibly violent and threatening for a superhero film as Loki, Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo in his first performance as the Hulk. Loki is the villain that Marvel have been trying top ever since: somehow he manages to be ruthless and menacing as well as inherently watchable and likeable. Some of the films that have come after Avengers Assemble have been better films, but this one has so much to love about it – from Hulk smashing Loki repeatedly, to the epic and nerve-wracking attack on the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier.
The Avengers was living proof that bringing together a group of superheroes in a film could be a success – Infinity War won’t be as fun as this one, but hopefully it can be just as enjoyable.
2 – Guardians of the Galaxy
On paper, a film in which Bradley Cooper voices a talking racoon who is best friends with a tree (who can only say three words) partner up with the funny fat guy from Parks and Recreation and Zoe Saldana in space, really should have no right to be a success. And it’s easy to forget now that when the film was released the Guardians were a relatively unknown quantity, rather than the precious commodity that they now are. Only 5 years ago, unless you were speaking to a comic-book aficionado the chances are you would get a blank stare if you asked someone about the Guardians of the Galaxy; now you can’t go anywhere for GOTG merchandise, such as dancing Groot’s and Rocket Raccoon furry toys.
They have this film to thank for their future exploits; a film that grips you firmly from the opening strains of Redbone’s ‘Come and Get Your Love’ through to the absurd final act dance-off. It’s not the funniest Marvel film (which is Thor: Ragnarok) or the weirdest (that’s Doctor Strange) but it’s the best culmination of those two elements, as well as some excellent characters and an entertaining plot which helps to lay the groundwork for some of the important plot point that we will see in Infinity War (i.e. Infinity Stones, Thanos). Guardians is a Marvel film that is extremely re-watchable because it’s so light, so funny and basically just a good time.
Perhaps like Iron Man, this film benefited from the element of surprise (nobody could have predicted just how successful it would be) but with Starlord (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded because of the amusing riffs between the main characters and of course, the killer soundtrack.
1 – Captain America: Civil War
The gold standard for all Marvel films to aim for: Civil War may not have the humour of Ragnarok or the entertainment of Guardians but it more than makes up for it in terms of spectacle, an excellent story and Iron Man and Captain America smacking seven shades of shit out of each other. The result of the fallout from both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Civil War pits Iron Man against Captain America in a feud over whether or not the Avengers should come under UN control following the devastation caused by the Avengers in both the first Avengers film and in Age of Ultron. While Stark backs the proposal because of his involvement in bringing Ultron to life, Steve Rogers is opposed to it; cue a fracture through the heart of the Avengers.
Daniel Brühl adds a further spanner to the works as Helmut Zemo, who attempts to drive a bigger wedge through the Avengers by gaining control of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Steve Rogers former best friend as seen in The Winter Soldier. Without spoiling anything – the Winter Soldier plays a major part in the feud between Cap and Iron Man.
In a film that manages to introduce and set up Black Panther as well as a new Spider-Man in Tom Holland, you would be forgiven for thinking there would be no time for any action; yet the airport fight scene is the best moment of the MCU to date, throwing together almost everyone that’s been in a Marvel film so far. If you’ve ever dreamt of watching Ant-Man climb onto one of Hawkeye’s arrows or see Spider-Man steal Captain America’s shield then this scene will be everything you want it to be.
The ending is completely pulsating, but also heartbreaking as everything the Avengers have fought for previously almost comes crashing down around them. Directed by the Russo brothers, who are directing Infinity War also, this is the film that all Marvel films have to aim for. Hopefully Infinity War will go on and surpass even that.