There’s no denying that the very existence of a continuous film narrative spanning an entire decade and telling the story of over a dozen characters feels like a gargantuan cinematic achievement. We all have our personal favorites from this juggernaut of a franchise, and with the release of Avengers: Endgame next week, the 22 film long ‘Infinity Saga’ comprising of the first three phases of the MCU comes to its epic conclusion. I thought now would be the best time to rank all 21 films till date. Do keep in mind that the following list represents my personal ranking of all MCU films, and given that it covers 21 films, my opinions most definitely will differ from yours.
So, shall we begin?
21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Speaking of ‘disposable entertainment’, the Odinson’s second standalone outing in the MCU was a failed attempt at invigorating the rather mediocre Thor franchise in Phase II. With most of that fish-out-of-water enticement out of the window, The Dark World tries to Tolkein up on all fronts, but manages to come out as one of the most bland and forgettable flicks in the MCU till date. Very honestly, if there’s one film I fast-forward though during a marathon – it’s this one.
20. Iron Man II (2010)
I’ll be honest – I’m a huge Mickey Rourke fan, and when he was deprived off his well deserved Best Actor Oscar for The Wrestler in ’08, I thought I wouldn’t see him on the screen for a while. So you can imagine my surprise when in early ’09, Favreau announced that Rourke would be playing Whiplash in Iron Man 2 – it was easily my most anticipated film of 2010. And while the cast didn’t exactly disappoint, the film never justified its existence – it was merely a rushed up sequel that brought absolutely nothing new to the table, and never measured up to its predecessor. Court scene, Race course, Drunk Tony & New element scenes aside, I bet you to name one scene in the film that even came close to making enough impact for you to still remember it fondly. None? Thought so.
19. Ant-Man (2015)
Released just a few months after Age of Ultron, Ant-Man was a lighthearted, low stakes game for Marvel, but it seldom did much for expanding the cannon in newer directions. A fun, largely self-contained flick with its own breezy charm, this Paul Rudd starrer often doesn’t feel in line with MCU’s finest – and while that was always the intent, it does feel like the kind of film one could easily skip and not miss much in the subsequent entries. But if it’s just passing entertainment you’re looking for, this film definitely won’t disappoint.
18. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
None of the Avengers films make it to my Top 5. But one of them definitely makes it to my Bottom 5. A film that is so plagued with signs of studio interference, that the essential ‘vision’ itself gets compromised along the way (no pun intended) – this fluffy, tonally inconsistent mediocre fare was supposed to measure up to one of the best ensemble features in cinema history, but ended up being nothing more than an unsatisfying and exhausting affair. Not that it didn’t have its moments – but even if ’there were strings on me’, I wouldn’t rate this one any higher on my list. Ah, Spader – if only they served you some better material. Sigh.
17. Captain Marvel (2019)
Extremely light on some well deserved emotional resonance, this was one area where MCU faired unsatisfactorily in comparison to the DCEU – having the first female-led standalone feature in the cinematic universe shining bright. Flooded with a plethora of origin story cliches, Captain Marvel isn’t a bad summer blockbuster by any means – it’s just a passable time killer that brings you one step closer to Endgame, and introduces the trump card rather too late into the game for you to actually care much about it. But hey, it’s still popcorn entertainment, so go bonkers!
16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Guardians 2 is a mostly average sequel that still managed to have the same elements going for it as the original, served in the same colourful, classic rock clad soundtrack, but this hugely anticipated sequel one was anything but fresh. There’s enough in there to keep the ardent fanatics satisfied, but Gunn’s second Marvel feature is needlessly complex & overlong, but still a pretty hilarious popcorn entertainer. Also – Yondu is the Mary Poppins we deserve and need right now. xD
15. Iron Man III (2013)
There’s a lot that’s been said about Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin plot twist over the years. I’ll just say that the storyline here feels much more convoluted than any of the previous films in the franchise, and Shane Black’s only entry in the franchise does give the impression of being a slightly fluffy affair as a whole, especially when we’re trying to spend a major chunk of the film with the man inside the suit. That being said – a great many things in the film still stand as impressive for me today as they were the first time I saw this film. Perhaps a tighter plot, a little more time in the editing room and a little less of the ‘cliched fireworks climax’ would have ensured this one the title of being the best in the trilogy. But it’s better than 2010’s disappointing Iron Man II, so – who’s complaining, right?
14. Ant-Man & the Wasp (2018)
Imagine having wrestled with Rocky Balboa in the ring. Now suddenly your opposition’s some sixteen year old kid from Kentucky. See what I’m getting at? That’s how it feels to come to Ant-Man & the Wasp after Avengers: Infinity War. The Ant-Man films are either awfully ill-timed, or smartly well-timed – either way, they often tell a fun, entertaining but low stakes story after you’ve been through the big arena. If they are your cup of tea, they might work quite well for you – and this one really outdid its predecessor in many ways. My recommendation: Don’t miss it if you didn’t bother much in the past about Ant-Man films.
13. Doctor Strange (2016)
This House MD x Tony Stark act by Benedict Cumberbatch introduces the highly anticipated Sorcerer Supreme into the MCU in this mind-bending standalone film that is two hours of pure visual entertainment. If they turn a city into a frickin’ kaleidoscope and you still believe what’s on the screen, you know they’re doing it right – can’t argue with that. But aside from a good time at the cinema, there’s very little I took away from Stephen Strange’s debut feature, other than the hilarious climax where he constantly bargains with Dormammu.
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The First Avenger tells the same old ‘cap origin story in a fairly interesting way. The action set pieces from the forties and the genuine emotional resonance is enough to lure you into this world, but it takes a fairly different route in comparison to other Phase I films. The film spends a major chuck of its time understanding Steve’s world and getting us inside the mind of the most human character amongst MCU’s finest, with the perfect amalgam of humour and action, and ends up spending that entire time setting itself up as what is the entry point of Captain for 2012’s The Avengers. It is my least favourite Captain America film, but it does do pretty damn well for itself.
11. Thor (2011)
Shakespeare in the park. Fish out of water. Is that it? This surprisingly winsome entry in the franchise struck a pretty mighty blow to 2011’s summer blockbuster season – and for good reason. It was just terrific fun, and everyone in the cast, especially Tom Hiddleston walked away making a lasting impression in the MCU. It might not exactly have aged too well now that I look back at it, but this Hemsworth starrer is one hell of a thunderous entertainer, albeit a very self-contained one.
10. Spider-Man Homecoming (2017)
I’ll just say it – when it comes to Spider-Man films, Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (2004) is the gold standard. Period. But Homecoming is more of a coming of age story that tries to find the perfect balance between a superhero flick and a high school teenage film. It’s thankfully not another origin story, and it does what it tries to rather well – Michael Keaton plays the third bird-centric character of his career and still manages to amaze, as does RDJ who is at the centre of this imaginary father-son bond between Tony and Peter, but the film feels less of a traditional Spider-Man film in a lot of ways, and the low stakes climax really feels stale in comparison to some of the recent MCU flicks released around that time, not that it was trying to measure up to those in the first place. Regardless, Spider-Man Homecoming was a pretty decent time at the ‘movies, so it scores well on that front.
9. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Surprised? Thought so. This movie will be seen at the bottom of many lists, most particularly owing to the fact that it is the most disconnected MCU movie of them all, added with the fact that the titular character played Edward Norton was replaced by a brilliant Mark Ruffalo in all subsequent entries. It was just the second MCU film to hit the screens, and it did pretty well for itself at the time – but it’s also the movie most Marvel fans conveniently skip during an MCU marathon because nothing from TIH gets majorly referenced or carried forward in any of the subsequent films, and its only connection with the rest of the MCU is a Robert Downey Junior cameo as Tony Stark at the end of the film. Regardless, it’s a pretty fun movie to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, especially if you find the time for it.
8. The Avengers (2012)
Joss Whedon deserves due credit for understanding his films from the viewer’s perspective. Because 2012’s The Avengers was a milestone in cinema history – a 140 minute superhero ensemble that made for one hell of a terrifically enjoyable experience against all expectations. My original reaction was pretty mixed – the film didn’t have any complex themes hidden under its shiny, explosive facade but still made for a strong culmination of four tonally different franchises, and packed one hell of a feature. In retrospect, it is still a dozen times better than DCEU’s Snyder-Whedon disaster ensemble feature, Justice League.
7. Iron Man (2008)
The one that started it all. Speak of career resurrection, RDJ killed it in 2008 with Tropic Thunder (which earned him an Academy Award nomination) and Iron Man. But his role as Tony Stark in the latter is what laid the foundation for whatever MCU is today. With an inherent sense of humour and inspired casting, this vibrant franchise kick-starter was the perfect summer entertainment flick of 2018 – well, at least till The Dark Knight hit the screens a few months later. Yes, that was a time when Marvel films were the underdogs in comparison to DC, and look at how they’ve risen a decade later. And it all started right here.
6. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
This is the highest I’ve put any Avengers feature film on my list so far, and the very fact that it doesn’t make it to the Top 5 speaks volumes about how I perceive these three titles amidst the MCU. Infinity War is what I call a balancing trick done rather well – it has way too many character arcs sprinkled with quips, punch ups and some hilariously funny dialogue amidst all the CGI gimmickry – does this Russo brothers’ flick work? Hell, yes. It leaves no stone unturned (pun intended), in serving you a thrilling roller-coaster ride that serves as the first act of what Endgame seemingly will finish.
5. Black Panther (2018)
Let’s put it out there – Black Panther might have an undeniable cultural significance in the world of cinema, and a Best Picture Oscar nomination going for it, but for me – Black Panther is just an enjoyable standalone MCU feature, perhaps one of the better ones out there, with a nomination that has more to do with the Academy’s pressure of trying to incorporate more mainstream films in the Best Picture race to compensate for massive snubs such as The Dark Knight and Logan from the same genre in the last decade. The proposed and failed ‘Best Popular Film’ category only cemented this theory further – but that’s something I’ll leave for another article. For now, I’ll leave it as a Good-but-not-so-Great feature on this list, with credits to Ryan Coogler and his entire team for crafting together this amazing addition to the franchise.
4. Thor Ragnarok (2017)
Gotta hand it to Taika Waititi – just when I thought the Thor franchise was beyond saving after The Dark World, which is easily my least favourite entry in the franchise – he threw something at me that I believe most people didn’t see coming. Yep, an often dull Thor Odinson gets his third standalone feature which not just stands high with its idiosyncratic quirky flavour, but makes rather bold choices in terms of tonally drifting away from the rest of the series in order to give us the funniest stylistic dynamite in the MCU. I honestly couldn’t find one dull moment during any of my first four theatrical viewings, or during any of the dozen subsequent Blu-ray viewings that followed suit. It goes without saying that the mostly mediocre Thor trilogy ended on a very high note.
3. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
A film that, for me personally set the bar for what a vibranium standard superhero flick should look like – Captain America: Civil War sets up a genuine conflict between two characters we have constantly rooted for over the years amidst some amazing action set pieces, witty dialogues and a plethora of characters – all of which seem so perfectly balanced that it almost makes you wonder how the Russo brothers managed to pull it off. There is a certain sense of inevitability which has been building since the first Avengers film, and this one finally addresses the biggest issue we’ve had with these large scale blow-it-all-up blockbusters – what is the human cost of all this collateral damage and why does it just get swept away amidst all the jollification that follows these battles. It could’ve been a much more crisp feature if it lost half an hour of its runtime in the editing room, but that aside – Civil War remains to be one of MCU’s best entries to this day.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Speaking of gambles that have paid rather handsomely over the years, lets talk about the two feature films that were a part of what is arguably my favourite MCU year – 2014. Guardians of the Galaxy was a high stakes epic space adventure peppered with humour, pop culture references, characters we could give a Groot about, and of course – one hell of a retro soundtrack. It’s the original Star Wars of this generation, except that it never takes itself all too seriously. It’s anything but easy – picking up some of the least known characters from the Marvel lore and cultivating a rich cinematic experience around them that results in something that is not just your average crowdpleaser, but also a tremendously engaging flick that makes the next ensemble MCU Avengers film seem stale in comparison. And yet, here we are. James Gunn, you da man!
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
O Captain! My Captain! A game changer in MCU storytelling, 2014’s The Winter Soldier tackled themes of heroism and sacrifice in a perfectly layered, paranoid espionage thriller disguised as a superhero movie that was brilliantly executed from start to finish by the Russo brothers. The result? MCU’s boldest outing that prides itself for being just as politically contentious a film as it is a brilliant action thriller. And at the centre of it all was the Cap’s good ‘ol fashioned right and wrong – and the best elements of what make him one of the best MCU characters till date. I’ve seen subtle nods to two of my favorite Russo directed shows – Arrested Development & Community in all three films they’ve made thus far starting with The Winter Soldier, so that’s a hell lot of extra brownie points right there.
So will Endgame dethrone The Winter Soldier as my favorite MCU film thus far? Highly unlikely, but I’d like to keep my fingers crossed. What I do know is that we’re all in for one hell of a roller-coaster ride next week – because in Russos, we trust. And who knows – we might just get the best one yet!
What’s your favorite MCU film? How much of your ranking matches with mine? And how excited are you for next week’s epic conclusion to MCU’s Infinity Saga?