Top 15 Films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel Header 560x315Editor’s Note : Republished from 2017 in remembrance of Stan Lee.

We’ve come to know and, mostly, love the movies that encompass the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Since 2008 we have been often times seemingly gagged with the sheer number of films that have come out in rapid succession from Marvel’s movie studios. Most have smashed records with their box office take, and others have done well enough. But this list isn’t about the numbers, it’s about the movies themselves, the quality, the overall story, and just how much we take in the characterizations we’re given. This list is primarily about how well done and well loved each of these movies are. Included are all the movies released so far, up to Spider-Man: Homecoming which premieres today in New York, and hits theaters on July 7th. This is also a subjective and, assuredly, a divisive list so please feel free let us know on social media why it’s wrong and maybe even constructively let us know how we could have changed or improved upon it.

15) The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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In all reality, any one of the bottom four on this list could be interchangeable because none of them is a bad movie at heart, just badly done. This particular version of the Hulk is the Ed Norton version and leads into what would finally become how the green monster should look in Mark Rufallo’s turn in the Avengers flicks. Here we have a rewritten origin tale of how Banner is an unwitting recipient of a serum that is supposed to replicate the effects of the Super Soldier Serum that gave us Captain America. It doesn’t work, Banner gets poisoned by gamma radiation, and the rest is history. Unfortunately there just isn’t much to this movie, and Emil Blonski as Abomination is just plain stupid looking. Boring characters and a dull film.

14) Iron Man 3 (2013)

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When it was leaked that The Mandarin was going to be the big baddie in the third Iron Man film, we were all intrigued. Mandarin is one of Starks greatest foes and with his double-fists full of power rings, he is formidable indeed. Well, that guy is not what we got. Instead, it’s a story of Stark’s slow spiral into alcoholism, insanity, and weakness as he deals with being Iron Man. Sure, that in and of itself is fine, but the stupidity of the enemies in this one help to glaze over any potential decent story telling. Extremis is a serum designed to regenerate tissue, but in the wrong hands it basically makes on indestructible and able to create extreme heat and breath fire. What? It’s as silly as it sounds. Because Stark loves him some Potts, he proves it by destroying all of his remote Iron Man suits even though those very suits rescue her from the Extremis situation. Also, War Machine becomes Iron Patriot because he now works for the government. Yuck. It’s just not that good of a movie.

13) Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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We all know now that Thor: Ragnarok is due in November and if the previews are to be believed, it looks acres and acres better than this, the second and far dumber Norse God flick. Basically, Christopher Eccleston as Maliketh has been resurrected and seeks to use his Kursed Dark Elves to take over the Nine Realms of Asgard. Loki, in a big time out for his dumb attempts to destroy the world back in The Avengers, begs for Thor’s help because he knows how to destroy Doctor Who (ha ha). Anyway, Loki tricks everyone, mommy goddess dies, Jane is a mess, and Odin may as well have phoned it in from bed because this whole thing seems cobbled together from pieces of better, more fun films. Again, it’s not that it’s bad per se, it’s just an incohesive jumble of things happening and doesn’t really do much for the MCU as a whole, aside from the post-credit scene that leads into Guardians of the Galaxy.

12) Iron Man 2 (2010)

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The sequel to the movie that got the whole MCU ball rolling had some mighty big iron boots to fill, and, unfortunately, it just didn’t quite do it the justice it deserved. Jon Favreau was back helming his follow up, but it seemed something went awry from the first scene. It wasn’t anything specific with Tony Stark or the Iron Man character as a whole, in fact, we were given many shots of a ton of new hardware and a bunch of new suit designs. It wasn’t Paltrow’s portrayal of Pepper Potts, either. In fact, she was the epitome of the Yang to Stark’s Yin. Don Cheadle took the reigns of Rhodes and became a newer, better War Machine. So what was it? Sadly, and painfully obviously, it was Mickey Rourke’s ridiculously over the top and laughably ham-fisted portrayal of Ivan Vanko as Whiplash. Yes, we get his vengeful plot toward Stark because of the death of his father, we get that he’s just as brilliant a mind as Tony, blah blah blah… it’s played, it’s dull, and maybe for a fleeting second during the silly race scene we kind of, sort of believe he’s better than Iron Man. Good parts to be sure, but it’s not a great sophomore effort.

11) Ant-Man (2015)

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Ant-Man is a tough nut to crack, cinematically. What should have been a thrill ride through the world of tiny things made large for the sake of the viewer and thereby amping up the excitement level a hundred fold, quickly turned into a “Honey I Shrunk The Kids did it first… yawn”. Though there is nothing wrong at all with the casting of Paul Rudd in the lead role -in fact, his comedic timing and likability are what really makes this movie- it’s the rest of the cast that feels flat and just not as well liked. That being said, Hope VanDyne is lovely and we are made to see in her a rebirth of The Wasp who was sorely missed from The Avengers. Though most of the action sequences (pretty good ones, considering the scale and territory) happen in the last thirty minutes, they do a great job of showing what future instalments can bring to the table. Incidentally, Yellowjacket is quite possibly the worst thought-out villain in the entire MCU so far.

10) Thor (2011)


Thor doesn’t fail across the board, nor is it from any one major issue that it suffers, but it does suffer and it does feel a bit like a weird sibling that isn’t really part of the family. When Marvel gave the reigns of this film to the visionary director, Kenneth Brannaugh, it was truly in capable hands, and thus it wasn’t really the fault of the direction that made this movie feel flat and lifeless. It was beautiful when on Asgard, but just dull when the scenes and action were on Earth. Though Thor’s true villain was Loki, his role became largely a puppet master and thus when Thor battled the giant robot (yes, he does) the threat level seemed almost non-existant both due to its boring nature, and the tiny desert town that seemed like no one was home. Half the movie is spent focusing on Thor powerless and boring tale of him falling for a local scientist, drinking a ton of beer, and pining for his lost hammer. It’s just not an exciting movie and does little to add to the MCU as a whole.

9) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Unlike some on this lower portion of the list, the second of the Avengers movies feels weighted down from complete over excess from the very first scene. The difficulty of having an ensemble piece was proven an easy task for Joss Whedon in the first Avengers movie, but something just felt off and tired about its sequel. Perhaps it suffered too much heavy-handed scene-stealing, especially in the forms of both Ultron himself and with the birth of Vision as a new hero born of an Infinity Gem, Thor’s might, and a disembodied, living computer. Toss in Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver and yet another plot where our heroes have to do battle with an endless supply of similar bad guys, this time in the form of Ultron replicants, and we come back full circle to the same plot devices of its predecessor. Again, it isn’t a bad movie, but it suffers poorly from too much of the same things.

8) Doctor Strange (2016)

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Though Doctor Strange was well received and was certainly a visit to an entirely new dimension in Marvel’s playbook of mystic powers and trippy, 70’s-era influenced magic, it took another origin tale and stretched it just a little further than it needed to be. And frankly, it felt a bit heavy on the very similar Batman mythos used with just as much tired excess as in The Dark Knight. The likability factor of Stephen Strange seems a bit forced as well and he only really becomes someone we can cheer for two-thirds of the way through the film. The characters don’t feel quite as cleanly built, and the heroes certainly don’t have as much of an air of fun about them as every other MCU character. It was a visually stunning film, just a tad weaker than others.

7) Captain America : First Avenger (2011)

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As we get further down the list, it becomes apparent that some of these films, whether early on in the first wave of the MCU or even more recently, tend to suffer from often times being just dull, ridiculous, more poorly written, or simply having characters we don’t care as much about. The instance with Captain America falls squarely in the dull category. It is an origin story, and we become immediately familiar with Steve Rogers as a sickly-looking pale imitation of his future self. We are introduced also to Bucky Barnes and how his future might play out. We also get Red Skull who, as a villain, is about as Nazi-like as they come and thus more of a cartoon than a real threat. It’s definitely not a bad movie by any stretch, it’s just a bit too long and tends to sag a bit in parts.

6) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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The most recent MCU tale reunites us with our favorite goofy space clowns; Star Lord, Gamorra, Drax, Rocket, and baby Groot. This time, now that we’ve come to know and love them, there is no need for introductions and it starts right off with the gang trying to kill a seemingly indestructible monster all while baby Groot dances and chases around little critters. Now this time, it’s not so much what the Guardians are tasked with, but rather the discovery of Star Lord’s real father. Mentioned in the first film, his dad apparently gave a young Peter Quill to Yondu for safe keeping, and in this new film, we discover that the real dad is Ego, The Living Planet, yet another in the pantheon of Marvel’s largely untapped cosmic resources. But all is not well with the family and another all-out battle brings the Guardians together along with Gamorra’s sister Nebula, and even Yondu himself. Once again directed by Gunn, this story follows everything that was so good about the first.

5) Captain America : Winter Soldier (2014)

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The second in the Captain America saga features the continuing story of Steve Rogers’ best friend, Bucky Barnes. After the exploits of the first film, we were left wondering just what became of Barnes and if he’d ever find Steve again. Well, he definitely does and it’s soon discovered that he has been brainwashed by HYDRA, fitted with a mechanical Vibranium arm, and sent to destroy Nick Fury, SHIELD, and Captain America. The tension is palpable from the word go, and with direction from The Russo Brothers audiences were brought right into the story of best friends-come-enemies, the sorrow of Steve Rogers’ loss, and his desire to not fight who he once loved as a brother. This movie also introduces Falcon who makes appearances in two other films as well.

4) The Avengers (2012)

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Superheroes were now known the world over and SHIELD head, Nick Fury, was given the task of creating a team and gathering those heroes he felt worthy enough to police the world. This, though not the first heroic team ever created by a Marvel-attached studio (that would go to the X-Men), felt not only more cohesive but gave each individual member enough of his or her own story to make them feel a part of the group and not just a side character. In fact, each Avenger was given his or her own task deemed worthy enough and well balanced enough to solidly round out the team without the age-old issue of exclusion. Sure, it wasn’t perfect but damn was it fantastic watching the members handle Loki and his aliens. Seeing them stand united, with Cap and Iron Man flanking The Hulk and Hawkeye and Widow flanking them… it was brilliant, beautiful, and truly amazing.

3) Iron Man (2008)

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The original, the one that started it all, and quite possibly the one that truly got to the real, most perfectly executed single-hero story ever. At its core, it was refreshingly simple and it did something that that OTHER comic studio (well, both of them, really) had always failed to get right from the word go: it made you really feel for and completely love the man behind the mask. Tony Stark was cool. Sure, he was a slightly eccentric and hermit-like billionaire, but that didn’t matter because he was so damn cool. And when he was forced into a cave and made to create a weapon for the enemy, he did it in the suavest and amazing way possible while still keeping himself alive in the process. We all remember how we felt when he smashed his way free of his confinement in the first suit and then watched how he learned how to handle his new found creation, it was pure Marvel magic.

2) Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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The third outing in the Captain America saga proved undeniably to be the best. At this point, The Avengers had assembled and we met all the interconnected pieces that formed the basis of the group. But something was amiss and the government had to step in with its meddlesome hands and split the factions of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Each strong-willed Avenger gathered his own chess pieces and the stage was set for a battle, but a battle like none other. This was to be a Civil War: a War among heroes with only a true villain waiting in the wings. With each side fighting to prove the other wrong, we got to see Ant-Man become Giant Man, Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier free of his mental shackles, Black Panther kick ass, and, of course, the new Spider-Man man his triumphant appearance in the MCU. It had it all and the fight at the airport hanger was one for the books.

1) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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At this point in Marvel’s dominance of the action superhero movie, they’d proved they could not only do single story lines but also big group ensembles. And thus far they’d stuck pretty close to the tried and true Avengers and their respective counterparts (Iron Man, Cap, Hulk, and Thor) and knew it was time to branch out further. Much further. In fact, so much further they went into the outer reaches of Marvel’s cosmic story lines with a rag-tag group of heroes who, in all honesty, not many moviegoers had even heard of. It was a gamble, but in the capable hands of James Gunn, Marvel had themselves another gigantic hit and now the cosmic sky was the limit. The film had heart, tons of humor, dazzling colors, incredible action, and a fantastic story line and for these reasons and many others, Guardians of the Galaxy takes the top spot as the best MCU flick so far.