With Guardians of the Galaxy’s recent release, there are now 10 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which makes it the perfect time to put them into a definitive (until next year) list.
1. The Avengers: Just the fact that the crazy 5 movie build up to this actually worked and the movie was as fun and action packed as it was and not a jumbled mess is probably one of the greatest achievements in movie history. The banter between The Avengers was perfect, as was their various fights against each other and the invading Chitauri and Loki. It was the perfect cap to Phase 1 and let us know that things were only going to get bigger and better from there.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy: If you’ve seen it, you know the only place for this movie is number 1 or barely behind Avengers. The “riskiest” of the Marvel movies to date, people were not sure if people would love a talking raccoon and a giant tree as much as Tony Stark but James Gunn’s brilliant sense of humor and adventure makes you truly care about this strange, rag tag team of space heroes and it’s the first major step in the Infinity Gauntlet storyline that’s the through-line of Phase 2 and beyond for the MCU. Also, best soundtrack of any MCU movie, no question.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Very few series get better the longer they go but, with the exception of Iron Man, most of the sequels in the MCU have surpassed the original in pretty much every way and Winter Soldier is the best example of that. With the slightly goofy origin out of the way, Steve Rogers is dropped into an action packed, politically charged espionage story that rocks the MCU with it’s most shocking change in status quo since The Avengers and introduces great new characters like the titular spy and Falcon with returning favorites like Nick Fury and Black Widow.
4. Iron Man: The one that started it all, the original Iron Man is still far and away the best of Tony’s solo adventures and set the tone of fun and action that has carried through with every movie in the series since. Robert Downey Jr. is perfectly cast and Jeff Bridges seems to be having fun as the villainous Obadiah Stane, even though the final fight devolves into a CG robotic slugfest. Iron Man is also one of the rare superhero movies where the origin is as much fun as the hero’s later adventures, as Tony tries to work out the kinks of his various armors.
5. Thor: The Dark World: Fully realizing the crazy fantasy world of Thor, the sequel spent most of it’s time in other realms as Thor must reluctantly team up with Loki to save Jane Foster from the powerful Aether aka the possible Reality Infinity Stone. There’s lots of fun in the battles between the more fantastical Asgardians and the sci-fi, high tech Dark Elves and it still has the best post-Avengers reasoning for why the entire team is not involved (things are happening to fast to call them). It also, smartly, avoided the usual, “de-powering” of sequels and let Thor be fully the God of Thunder for the whole movie. It also has nice twist at the end for future MCU movies.
6. Captain America: The First Avenger: The first Cap was a nice throwback to pulp, probably because The Rocketeer’s Joe Johnston was at the helm. Hugo Weaving was a fantastic Red Skull who, unfortunately due to difficulties with the makeup, probably won’t be appearing again in the MCU and the special effects that turned a disturbingly puny Steve Rogers into his normal, muscle bound self were great. It also introduced one of the best female heroes of the MCU, Peggy Carter, who will soon make her way to the small screen in her own show.
7. Thor: Thor had the challenging job of introducing the entire concept of Asgard and the other realms to the general movie going audience and, as such, played it safe with a brief intro to the various gods and Frost Giants before stranding a powerless Thor on Earth for a wacky, “fish out of water” adventure that was kind of disappointing in how small scale it felt. There was some cool SHIELD stuff going on with Agent Coulson and it introduced Hawkeye, pre-Avengers but overall, compared to the scale and epicness of the sequel, this seems like a minor entry in retrospect, but still fun.
8. Iron Man 2: At the time, Iron Man 2 felt like it was trying to do way too much, and probably was, with storylines and setups for Whiplash, War Machine, Black Widow, Justin Hammer and also trying to do the tamest possible version the classic “Demon in a Bottle” storyline, where Tony fights alcoholism. It’s fun to see Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell devour scenery as the villains but the movie does feel a little directionless in the second half, as everything gets put on hold for Tony to create a new element for his deteriorating chest reactor. Now that we know how amazing The Avengers is, this movie definitely gets a bump up, as we know everything it was setting up with SHIELD and the Avengers Imitative paid off big time.
9. The Incredible Hulk: A huge step up from Ang Lee’s Hulk but with behind the scenes difficulties that caused Ed Norton to leave, Hulk is a decent but not essential entry in the MCU. There was some great fights, especially the slobberknocker at the end between Hulk and Abomination and some fun references and cameos to expand the MCU after Iron Man. Hopefully the Leader setup will pay off in a future Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo, even though it seems like things are possibly heading for a Planet Hulk/World War Hulk storyline.
10. Iron Man 3: At the start of the Summer last year, this seemed like it had set the bar super high but movies like Pacific Rim easily cleared that bar and left much bigger impressions. Things just felt a tad bit off, whether it was Tony dealing with PTSD, the fact that he was without armor for most of the movie or, the biggest WTF, Tony blowing up his entire arsenal at the end of the movie and removing the shrapnel from his chest. The end battle is fun and Shane Black’s trademark banter is all over but it just left Tony in a really weird, ambiguous spot before Age of Ultron.