What better way to commemorate Avengers: Endgame and the culmination of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than with a ranking of all 22 films from best to worst, with a little bit of my working out. I love these films and the competition is very strong, especially in the top 10. But you have to decide somehow and I went with my gut. Feel free to shout at me in the comments.
*Minor spoilers ahead for all of the films in the MCU including Avengers: Endgame*
1.Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
An 80s-themed space opera, revolving around a group that includes a talking racoon and an animated tree. Let’s face it, this one was either going to be one of the greatest films ever made or one of the worst. Guardians’ major achievement is in creating an ensemble you immediately care about with none of the time The Avengers had, through a pure mix of irreverence, nostalgia and wit. Guardians strikes the best balance between action and comedy, and gets bonus points for having one of the best film soundtracks in a decade. My favourite.
2. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Probably the best made film in the series and only loses out on funny points to Guardians. It has the most interesting plot (Avenger versus Avenger), the best action scene (the airport scene), and the best crossover character interactions (better than any of the actual Avengers films. That’s right, I went there). I think it wins out because it has the same buzz of seeing your favourite characters interact, without having to crowbar in everybody. PLUS it breathes in a whole load of fresh air into the MCU by introducing great new characters (Spider-Man, Black Panther, Tim from The Office).
3. Iron Man (2008)
A controversial opinion: I really like origin stories. And this one has to be the pinnacle of the MCU because it was the first and set the tone for everything that followed. Nothing else would have worked if this was a flop. But between Robert Downey Jr. in the role he was born to play and a plot that both 1. actually contains interesting themes on war and personal responsibility and 2. works as a plausible and relevant origin story – this film became the high bar for everything else to follow.
4. Thor (2011)
Probably the most controversial placement on this list, but I love Thor. He’s my favourite Avenger and – like Guardians – this is a proposal that could have gone so horribly wrong. It was the MCU’s first foray into space, it introduced multiple new species (let alone characters), and – come on – the title character is a superhero / Norse God. It’s preposterous but Kenneth Branner made it work so well. Chris Hemsworth is genius casting, I find the supporting characters on earth endlessly lovable, and I really think people forget how funny the first Thor is. It’s just packed full of charm. For me, this is the MCU equivalent of comfort food.
5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
When people say that Blockbusters are unoriginal or creatively exhausted, I’ll point them towards Endgame. A time heist through MCU history is such a brilliant and completely inventive idea. Marvel, of course, has so much scope to be original as nothing has ever been done on this scale before. Never have so many characters and storylines been brought together on screen, and I’m not just talking about the main characters (of which, there are already many). What surprised me about Endgame was how many supporting characters were brought back, not in the least because this meant cameos from the likes of Natalie Portman, Robert Redford, Tilda Swinton, Taika Waititi, Gyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau (the list goes on and on). Any normal film would have consolidated these characters, found a way to make the plot work without them, but that’s not what Avengers: Endgame is about. Avengers: Endgame is about giving fans everything they could possibly want, while delivering a fantastic film. Honestly, I think the grown man behind me may have shat his pants when Captain America held Mjölnir and he was opening sobbing through all of the well-earnt character deaths. And beyond that they still took the time to introduce interesting and quirky fun new ideas, such as mid-Hulk and fat-Thor, that keep the MCU going. What a great film.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America is not my favourite Avenger, or even my second, but he is the title character of the higher quality films. Like Civil War, this is just an outright good film. It is well written, it has good performances, it has another amazing action sequence (Nick Fury being attacked in his car). Superhero fan or not, I think anyone could appreciate the quality of this film. Again, like Civil War, it is also a pivotal moment in the MCU due to the (re)introduction of (Hail) Hydra.
7. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Yay Thor and the funniest film in the MCU. Taika Waititi understood the comic potential of Thor and buddying him up with the Hulk was stroke of genius. Favourite moment: the story about Loki pretending to be a snake. But the whole thing, from Jeff Goldblum to the arcade-esque score, is pure class.
8. Avengers Assemble (2013)
Eight! We got all the way to eight without the first Avengers film!? Yes, yes we did. But boy, seeing this for the first time, what a time to be alive. It was everything we wanted it to be, couldn’t have asked for any more. I find the battle at the end overly long but otherwise it is a treat.
9. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
I’ll tell you the truth – I found it hard to place Infinity War. Part of me likes it less than some of the origin stories to follow but I think it edges them out due to originality, ingenuity and shock factor. This is another film that shouldn’t have worked but somehow it does. They made the giant purple dude a plausible villain, somehow. They brought together more characters than I have Facebook friends and it didn’t feel like anyone was under-served, somehow. They managed to shock us all even though we knew this was part one of two so the Avengers couldn’t possibly win, somehow. Top marks for achieving the impossible.
10. Black Panther (2018)
Anyone undertaking a high-level analysis of this list might call entries 10-14 “the origin stories bloc”. I really like all of these films, and I’d defend all of them against detractors who claim they are “paint by numbers” by pointing out the original elements in each of them. Not just original by comparison to other MCU movies, oh no. Original in terms of all movies. Hence, Black Panther is the top of this string for being the most original. It destroyed Hollywood’s unfounded assumptions that a superhero film, or any blockbuster, couldn’t work with a black lead or a majority black cast. It became a cultural phenomenon that transcends the superhero genre and film itself. But even just looking at it on the level of a superhero film, it is a terrific one. Bonus points for Michael B Jordan, who is definitely a top three MCU villain and is by far and away the most empathetic.
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2007)
Homecoming isn’t as ambitious or groundbreaking as Black Panther but it does a good job of demonstrating that a superhero story can work on a smaller scale. It is perfectly pitched for its teenage protagonist, dealing with the struggles of school as much as the struggles of superhero-hood. It’s delightful to see Spider-Man as part of the MCU, interacting with the likes of Tony Stark, and it’s great to see a spiderman who actually looks and acts his age. Minus points for confusing the timeline of the MCU.
12. Captain Marvel (2019)
The slot between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: End Game is a hard one to fill and expectations were very high for poor old Carol Danvers. I think this film will get the respect it deserves in retrospect. Brie Larson is great, the story is actually tremendously ambitious and the best achievement of this film is that it didn’t fall into any of the pre-established tropes. In fact, it challenges them beautifully. Plus lots of airtime for the best characters in the MCU: Nick Fury and Goose the flerken.
13. Doctor Strange (2016)
Again, medical-doctor-turned-magician is quite a hard story to sell and, of all the MCU origin stories, it is one of the least convincing. However, what Doctor Strange lacked in original story telling, a well rounded baddie, and a convincing NYC accent, it made up in outstanding visuals and new concepts for the MCU. The sequences are trippy and captivating and it’s unique among the MCU films in having a third act that is actually better than the preceding two.
14. Ant-Man (2015)
There is nothing *wrong* with Ant-Man. Like everyone with even a fraction of a heart, I am a sucker for Paul Rudd’s charm, and the shrinking effect is aesthetically interesting and contributes to some great visual gags. But the story is the most generic. Minus points for the poorly underserved Evangeline Lilly who is left fulfilling the heartless-supporting-women-who-turns-out-to-have-a-heart-really-and-who-strikes-up-a-relationship-with-the-protagonist-for-no-reason-at-all-they-dont-even-seem-to-get-along-or-have-anything-in-common-and-the-film-has-to-go-to-unusual-legnths-to-explain-why-Ant-Man-was-necessary-at-all-when-she-is-superior-in-every-way role. Double minus points for not being directed by Edgar Wright.
15. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017)
If you take any individual part of Guardians 2 in isolation, it’s very good. Some scenes are actually fantastic, in isolation. I am thinking especially of the “Mr Blue Sky” opening sequence, the scene where they are trying to get baby Groot to find Yondu’s fin, and every time Drax is on screen. I like all of the component parts: the soundtrack is still amazing, I really like Kurt Russell in it, and the entire Yondu arc is touching. The tone is right. But somehow as an overall story, it’s just pretty pants.
16. Iron Man 3 (2013)
This is the pinnacle of an MCU film being let down by its third act. There’s a lot I like about Iron Man 3: Tony Stark’s emotional arc, the buddy comedy with the kid, the twist, Trevor Slattery, the use of Blue (Da Ba Dee). But I completely turn off for that entire Iron Man suit fight at the end. Bonus points for referencing Croydon.
17. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
My good friend defends Age of Ultron to the teeth and, on rewatching, it was marginally better than I remembered. My biggest issue with it is that large chunks just don’t make any sense. And again, the overly long CGI battle that just bores me to tears. However, it’s to the MCU’s credit that one of its worst films is objectively pretty good by normal standards.
18. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
I remember being very disappointed by The First Avenger when I first saw it. I can’t really say why it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t. On rewatch, it has actually been elevated by the subsequent Captain America films and appearances but it’s still one I rarely feel the urge to go back to.
19. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
At the time of writing, this is the MCU film I watched last (before Endgame) and it was a massive disappointment. First, despite making her a title character, Evangeline Lilly is still underserved in personality and things to do. Yes, the storyline is about her mum but it’s more about Hank Pym’s journey than hers (he’s even the one who goes into the Quantum Realm). “The Old Man and the Ant” would have been a more accurate title. Incidentally, Hank Pym might be my least favourite character in the MCU, which made this film hard watching. The plot was also filled with complete and utter Quantum Nonsense. Phenomenon they introduced into this film but didn’t even attempt to explain: Quantum Psychic connections, a bridge to the Quantum Realm (we never needed a bridge before), Quantum Voids, Quantum Phasing, Quantum Energy that cures Quantum Phasing, Quantum Coordinates. I could go on. Things I did like: Laurence Fishburne, the slide at the beginning, Paul’s Ruddy charm.
20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
This is the first MCU film I ever saw! And at the time I quite liked it. Context is everything here. I hadn’t seen Iron Man yet. The Dark Knight hadn’t even been released! So my bar for superhero films at the time was quite low. It was brighter than any of the X-Men films, and it was a hell of a lot better than the Eric Bana Hulk I owned, which I remember as no more than dark and depressing green blur. I know this would be the bottom entry of *most* people’s MCU film lists and having re-watched it since I completely understand why. But I like Edward Norton and Tim Roth and that favela scene, that was ok right? I’m not going to rewatch it and be proved wrong. I maintain that it isn’t the worst MCU film out there…
21. Iron Man 2 (2010)
…A big contender for that title would be Iron Man 2. In fairness to Iron Man 2, I get the feeling it was rushed out of the door when Iron Man was such a hit, which is against everything the MCU stands for now. It’s biggest crime is that – despite having watched it several times, loving the title character and also Sam Rockwell – I could tell you nothing about this film. Literally nothing. I think Sam Rockwell might dance at some point. How did they make a film so indistinct. This might also be the one where the Iron Man suit looks a bit chunky. Partridge shrug.
22. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Oh how the mighty (Thor) has fallen. I’m sensing another trend in the third act of this list: the MCU has a problem with sequels. As you’ll have gathered by now, I like Thor, and this film had everything going for it, but it’s completely unremarkable (really actually struggling to make remarks) and I can’t even think of a good gag in it. Minus points for terrible representation of the London tube system – these details matter, people!