Sunday 29 January 2017

The Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked

by Ryan Mackett aka “TBay Movie Guy”

I have been asked by more than a few people what my favourite Marvel movies are and how I would rank them. I thought that as my first contribution to this blog I would do just that: a ranking of the movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in what I personally believe to be in order from “worst” to best. I put “worst” in quotes because lets be honest, MCU movies at their worst are still pretty damn good. 

Also, I need to be clear here: I am a DC guy. Superman and Batman are my two favourite fictional characters (at least non-Star Wars characters). This however puts me in a unique position. I know enough about the Marvel characters and am a big enough fan of comic books in general to appreciate what Marvel is doing and understand where they are going with the MCU, however I am not so emotionally invested in the Marvel characters that I get upset about things like organic web shooters or who really created Ultron. I get legitimately excited for the Marvel films because I am a comic book fan, and I can go into them, relax, and watch them with no expectations because at the end of the day, I don't really care if Marvel messes up their films or don't get all the details perfectly right. 

My opinion of the DC films of late differs greatly. I AM emotionally invested in the DC characters and films. As I mentioned above, Superman and Batman are my HEROES. I go into the DC films with nervous excitement. I want them to be awesome, I don’t want Warner Bros. and the DC filmmakers to mess them up and I want them to live up to my personal fanboy expectations. Unfortunately more often than not, I am extremely disappointed with the DC films, both as a HUGE DC fanboy, and as a movie reviewer. More on that in a later article. Don't even get me started on Batman v Superman or The Dark Knight Rises.

I should also mention that I am NOT including the Marvel/Netflix series in this discussion, as I am focussing only on the theatrical MCU films. Just know that I consider both seasons of Daredevil, along with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, to be part of The Marvels category. They are all amazing series and you should watch them if you haven’t. Truly remarkable stuff. 

I digress, I am here to talk about the MCU. I have ranked the 14 MCU films from “worst” to best.

Lets get started!  

The Mediocre

These are the MCU films that are decent, but aren't great. I mean, even Pixar has had a few duds. The MCU films in this category represent Marvel Studios’ relative blunders, so to speak.

14. Iron Man 3 (2013)

An Iron Man movie written and directed by Shane Black? The same guy who worked with Robert Downey Jr. (RDJ) on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?? Oh my God YES! Black is a terrific writer and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was fantastic. Why the hell is Iron Man 3 in my opinion the “worst” of the MCU, you ask? Because it is so frustratingly a disappointment and a missed opportunity. It had so many things going for it, touches of absolute brilliance, that I felt it didn't capitalize on. 

Right off the bat, as the first post-invasion (i.e. the events of The Avengers) film, we are presented with a Tony Stark that is struggling with PTSD. This guy, who is cocky, has a larger than life personality and infinite amounts of charisma, has just been through the most traumatic experience of his life, and has been knocked down a few pegs. Not only has he met a couple gods, a recently-thawed war hero and a Hulk, he had to fight off an alien invasion and save the city of New York from a nuclear bomb by throwing it through a portal that nearly trapped him in another part of the universe. This guy has seen some shit and is struggling to deal with it. This is a fascinating and innovative direction to take the character of Stark, and giving him PTSD and showing him deal with it is as close as Disney will likely get to the Demon in a Bottle storyline as they dare. 

Not only is Tony having a crisis of conscious and trying to come to terms with his new status as superhero, he has to deal with an old rival coming out of the woodwork and causing trouble for him in the form of the Extremis virus. 

I honestly thought that this film should have made a conscious effort to scale things way back. How would the Tony Stark we know deal with his PTSD and try to regain a sense of normalcy in his life? I would have assumed that he would have gone back to doing what he did best as Iron Man before facing off against aliens and gods: taking on terrorists and other terrestrial threats. 

Saving the passengers on Air Force One was a terrific action scene and was the sort of stuff I wanted to see from this film. Maybe a storyline with The Mandarin that connected back to the Ten Rings hint we got in the first Iron Man film. More with him bonding with the young boy that he saw so much of himself in. I wanted a more grounded film to act as a breather from the epicness of The Avengers. 

Instead we get a fire-breathing villain and a Pepper Pots that can inexplicably do super kung fu, along with a Tony that apparently could have cured his heart problem all along. In typical comic book movie sequel fashion, Iron Man 3 ultimately tries to outdo its previous instalments by raising the stakes to absurd heights. 

13. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

While I didn't hate The Incredible Hulk, it definitely left me feeling “meh” afterwards. It was bland, and ultimately forgettable. I liked Edward Norton as Bruce Banner and William Hurt as General “Thunderbolt" Ross, and the action was decent enough. But when the coolest part of the movie was when RDJ as Stark shows up at the end in a quick cameo, and the fact that this is all I really have to say about this film,  it becomes clear why it comes in at #13 on my list. 

12. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

I actually really liked this Thor sequel. In fact I think I liked it a lot more than most people did. I do have one big problem with it though.

It’s inconsistent with the established rules of the MCU. In The Avengers, it is clearly established that Hulk is the strongest, most powerful there is. Yet he and Thor have a fist fight and Thor laughs it off. Why then, does Thor get the absolute shit kicked out of him by Kurse, who is essentially a low-level henchman within the framework of the MCU? If Thor is powerful enough to take a beating from Hulk and literally laugh it off, he should have been able to hold his own against this Kurse guy. 

Additionally, the main villain in The Dark World, Malekith, essentially wants to destroy the entire universe. Why didn't Thor call in help? I mean, the reason why the Avengers needed to assemble in the first place was to save New York City from an alien invasion. You'd think the threat of total universal annihilation would be reason enough to call in assistance from the rest of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, especially considering it took all of them just to save one city, let alone the ENTIRE UNIVERSE. 

Here’s the thing, I understand that the solo films need to be their own thing and do their own thing while still contributing to the larger MCU. In fact, I would argue that The Dark World does a great job of working as a stand-alone Marvel film, whereas others on this list can be criticized for having too much world-building at the expense of that particular film’s plot. 

But the movies also need to adhere to their own rules. And don't argue that I need to suspend my disbelief. I recognize that we are dealing with movies that include flying thunder gods, green monsters and magic sceptres. All I ask is that the power levels and abilities of the characters remain consistent throughout, because if The Dark World is any indication, Thor and his warrior buddies should have been able to handle the invasion of New York without any other help.   

11. Iron Man 2 (2010)

This is another MCU film that I truly liked more than a lot of other people. It’s also the first of the MCU films to truly feel like it was more concerned with world-building rather than focusing on its own plot. 

As a follow-up to the first Iron Man, I thought it was great. Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash was an interesting character, and I actually enjoyed the world-building for the most part. Unfortunately the film seemed to come to a complete halt part way through to establish a bunch of Avengers stuff. While this was interesting, it didn't do anything for the plot of the film itself, hence its low place on my list. 

I loved the final action set piece, although the biggest flaw of the film was how short and anti-climactic it was. Iron Man and War machine going toe-to-toe with Hammer Drones and Whiplash should have been a way cooler and way longer set piece. The film did however introduce us to Black Widow, though! 

The Mighty

These films are the backbone of the MCU. Good, solid films that are a joy to watch and leave me feeling excited.

10. Thor (2011)

I loved Thor. I thought Kenneth Branagh did a fantastic job of capturing the comic book essence of the characters. The film came close to camp a few times, but it had some genuine laughs. It also told Thor’s origin per se without feeling like an origin story. I also thought that Thor did a great job of world-building without feeling like a placeholder film. The SHIELD segments felt integral to the plot while simultaneously also providing a look into the larger world of the Avengers that was yet to come. 

I also quite enjoyed Thor’s character arc. We see him go from cocky, spoiled brat to a somewhat more humbled, charismatic warrior. It was also our first glimpse at Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. The effects were cool, and while the battle with the Destroyer was a bit anti-climactic, the film felt like it paid off. 

9. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Joe Johnston did a great job with the first Captain America film. Instead of shying away from the campy propaganda that was the Captain America of the 40s, he fully embraced it and did a brilliant job of weaving together the Cap of yore and the modern superhero version in a way that felt authentic.

Making the movie a World War II period film with modern day bookends was a bold move. He could have easily had a few WWII flashbacks and made the film centre on Cap in modern days. Instead he told a great story that set up Hydra, flawlessly integrated aspects of the Asgardian mythos of the Thor film while building up to The Avengers. All of the world-building that took place in The First Avenger affected its plot and also contributed to the bigger picture. 

This film could have been a flop if handled differently. Chris Evans embodied the role and gave us a great, authentic Captain America. 

8. Ant-Man (2015)

I loved Ant-Man. Paul Rudd was terrific as Scott Lang, with his deadpan comedic delivery, and the overall comedic tone of the film worked really well. The briefcase fight scene with The Cure blasting on the iPhone and the Thomas the Tank Engine sequence were both great. Ant-Man also gave us our first taste of alternate dimensions with Scott shrinking down to the subatomic level. 

I also appreciated how Ant-Man wove into the larger MCU through Agent Carter and Howard Stark. I would have loved to have seen what the film would have been like if Edgar Wright hadn't  left the production, but what we were left with was good fun. 

The main reason why I have it ranked relatively low is that after I watched it in theatres, I couldn't wait to see it again, but when I did see it again on Blu-Ray in my home theatre, it didn't leave me with quite the same feeling it did the first time I saw it. 

7. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Joss Whedon’s second outing as director of an Avengers film is arguably far weaker than his first go, however the film still had some truly great stand-out moments. 

The problem with Age of Ultron is that Whedon wasn't allowed to breathe. He was forced to work within the narrow scope left between everything that had come before and everything that has been so carefully planned to come after. Where The Avengers felt like a massive culminating payoff after a build-up that spanned multiple films, Age of Ultron felt like a placeholder film. Where The Avengers ended on the possibility of what was to come, Age of Ultron felt like it solely existed as a mechanism to introduce new characters and set up new plot threads of later films. Ironically, what should have been another huge payoff film ended up being the film in the MCU most guilty of blatant world-building at the expense of its own plot. 

That all being said, the Hulkbuster scene was amazing, the opening battle was cool, and The Vision stole the show. James Spader as Ultron was also perfectly cast. 

6. Iron Man (2008)

This is it. The film that started it all. In one of the boldest (and best) casting moves in the history of comic book movies, the first Marvel Studios film took a second- or arguably third-tier superhero in Iron Man and made him the foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With no Spider-Man or Hulk (Marvel’s two most popular comic book characters) to play with, Marvel turned to Iron Man and ended up telling a terrific origin story and laid the groundwork of one of the most successful film franchises in history. The after-credits teaser that featured an eye-patched Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury sent fans into a frenzy with its hint of “The Avengers Initiative”. 

The movie suffers from a weak third act, but the special effects, action set pieces, terrific character development in Tony Stark and of course RDJ’s performance have solidified Iron Man as one of the best comic book movies ever. 

5. Doctor Strange (2016)

It’s no coincidence that Doctor Strange follows Iron Man on my list. The origin story told in this film along with Stephen Strange’s character arc mirrors that of Tony Stark’s beautifully. The main difference is that whereas Stark’s origin is rooted in the technological, Strange’s is rooted in the mystical. 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange was the best, most iconic and bang-on Marvel superhero casting since RDJ as Stark. Both characters begin as egotistical, self-important jackasses who go through terribly humbling experiences and ultimately emerge as confident, self-assured heroes. 

On top of that, the visuals in Doctor Strange were the craziest, most inventive and at times nauseatingly cool employed in a Marvel film to date. I am very excited to see how the mystical realms of Doctor Strange’s stories will fold into the larger MCU. 

4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

I really struggled with whether to include Civil War as part of the Mighty grouping or the Marvels grouping. While I absolutely loved Civil War and truly think it is one of the MCU’s best, I ultimately felt it was more deserving in this spot just outside the top three, for one reason in particular, and that is the Cap vs. Stark scene at the end. But before I get into that, lets look at what worked. 

This film didn't need to be branded as the third Captain America movie. It could have worked perfectly as Civil War, although it was essentially an avengers movie. This movie incorporated perfect world-building without sacrificing any of its own plot elements. It further developed the characters of Scarlet Witch and The Vision, it brought Ant-Man into the larger universe in a creative way, and it introduced us to Marvel’s Batman: Black Panther. It also marked the first appearance of Spider-Man in the MCU. 

Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures worked out a deal to allow Spider-Man to appear in this film. In only slightly more screen time than Boba Fett received in The Empire Strikes Back, Marvel gave us the best cinematic interpretation of Spider-Man yet.The airport battle scene was also one of the coolest action scenes in any movie from 2016. 

The conflict at the heart of Civil War boils down to the differing ideals of Captain America and Iron Man. Ironically, I think the one thing that really takes away from the film is the one thing that audiences were most excited to see: Cap vs. Stark. 

I think what would have worked better is if maybe the iconic Cap vs. Stark battle scenes from the trailer would have happened earlier in the film, say, during the airport battle sequence. Because when we get to the film’s climax, Cap and Stark come to a shaky truce. I was really looking forward to them putting aside their idealistic differences and team up with Black Panther and Bucky to face off against the other evil super soldiers. Instead, we are given the “twist” that is Bucky killed Stark’s parents, which leads to Stark resolving to kill Bucky to avenge them. The way this played out on screen was, to me, not much better a justification to fight than what caused Supes and Bats to duke it out in BvS. 

But I understand that the entire premise of the film was to give audiences the iconic Captain America versus Iron Man fight, and, in the end, that fight was pretty damn awesome. It also leads us into unique, uncharted territory for these characters during the next phase.  

The Marvels

These are the cream of the crop, representing the absolute best that the MCU has to offer. These films also represent tremendous examples of superb filmmaking on multiple levels, and transcend their label as “comic book movies”.

3. The Avengers (2012)

This is the payoff of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Joss Whedon perfectly utilizes all the best aspects of each character and tells a great story and gives us a truly remarkable climax to a five-film build-up. 

Great lines, great effects, incredible action, and the best on-screen version of Hulk yet, who had two scene-stealing moments. The Avengers to this day remains one of my favourites and go-to home theatre demos. It also never gets old or boring. 

My only complaint is that I think Thor was a little under-utilized during the final battle. 

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

In my review of The Winter Solider, I said that we have finally gotten past the point where we need to say things like “it was good, for a comic book movie”. Captain America: The Winter Solider is a terrific movie period. It is essentially a 70s spy thriller that just so happens to feature Captain America and some other super heroes. Along with Robert Redford, who is always awesome. 

The film introduced us to Falcon, who is another cool Marvel character that, if you read the comics, becomes a somewhat important member of the Captain America family. It also marks the return of the presumed-dead Bucky Barnes, reincarnated as the brain-washed assassin known as The Winter Soldier. 

The movie featured terrific action sequences and had gorgeous cinematography, courtesy of Thunder Bay’s own Trent Opaloch (he also shot Civil War, Elysium, District 9, Chappie, and is working on Infinity War and the other, yet to be titled Avengers sequel). The film also marked the MCU directorial debut of the Russo brothers who also directed Civil War and will be directing Infinity War and Avengers 4. 

I do have one major gripe with The Winter Soldier though, and it harkens back to an issue I had with The Dark World: where was everybody else? I'm not asking for gratuitous cameos here or anything like that, but a simple line of dialogue like “Boy we sure could use a Hulk right around now!” or “Where’s Stark? Didn't he design these things?” sure could have helped explain some glaring plot holes. 

I mean, it was established in the film that Tony Stark helped design the helicarriers that the heroes are tasked with destroying. It would have at least been nice to have a single throwaway line of dialogue explaining where he is and why he isn't there helping take down something he helped design. Same thing with Hulk. He would have been real useful in smashing helicarriers out of the sky. Thankfully this is a minor gripe that the Russos fixed in Civil War (Thunderbolt Ross makes one of his points in that film by pointing out that no one knows where Banner or Thor are). 

Thats all I'm asking for here! Marvel has literally spent multiple films establishing that this is a shared, interconnected universe, utilizing cameos and easter eggs and dialogue and visual cues to hammer home to the audience that the MCU is one big interconnected story. The least they can do is throw us a bone when we are trying to suspend our disbelief as to why certain characters aren't around when they probably would be.   

1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Without a doubt, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film in the MCU. Everything about it was wonderful. The casting was spot on. Chris Pratt as Starlord/Peter Quill, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, especially Dave Bautista as Drax. Even Vin Diesel as Groot was inspired casting. 

The film was also able to stand on its own as an MCU film, with the fewest connections to the other films in the series. It was able to breathe and do its own thing without feeling entrenched in the intricacies of the other films’ interconnectedness. 

The visuals were beautiful. It was so colourful and bright and detailed! It truly was a breath of fresh air, in a world where comic book movies are trying to “out dark” each other.

And the music. My God the music. It was so good, and utilized perfectly.  

Aside from its success as an MCU film, it works perfectly simply as a sci-fi film. It felt so much like a space opera. I hope to God that Disney allows James Gunn to direct a Star Wars film at some point. I have viewed Guardians multiple times, and each time it just resonates and never fails to entertain. 


Well there it is folks, my “official ranking” of the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Do you agree with me? Do you think I'm out to lunch? Let me know!

If you are interested in my opinions of other films, be sure to check out my reviews on my Facebook page (, or visit The Chronicle Journal website! You can email me at, as well.  

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