We are now sixteen films into the grand experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (twenty by Summer of 2018), not counting the ABC or Netflix shows, or the X-Men films, or the previous Spider-Man films, or the Fantastic Four films, or whatever other outside the main MCU stuff is floating around out there.
I’m not entirely sure I can say that any of the films in the core MCU are terrible. Sure some aren’t great but they all have great moments. Even the one’s you’d call the “worst” of the franchise still have value and contribute to the enjoyment of this massive universe. So, as we check out this list, know that I’ve enjoyed all of these films so this list is basically a matter of levels of enjoyment.
So that said, let’s start the countdown:
16. Iron Man 2 – It’s the weakest film in the franchise mainly because of a meh villain, which plagues more than a few of the Marvel films. But, this one gave us Black Widow so it’s not all bad.
15. Thor/14. Thor: The Dark World – When the MCU first started I remember having conversations about how not every single character or Avenger needs a solo film, let alone multiples. Thor is a perfect example of that. On his own, he’s just not that interesting. You aren’t watching Thor or Thor 2 for Thor. You’re watching for Loki. At least with Thor 2, we explored a bit of the lore of Asgard and met more characters from that world, all of which are more interesting than Thor himself. He’s okay in the team dynamic, even if part of the failures of Age of Ultron are due to shoehorning franchise stuff using Thor, but on his own he’s just not that interesting.
13. The Incredible Hulk – This is another case of a character not needing a solo film. There just isn’t that much to offer when your character is a giant green rage machine who only wants to Hulk smash. Still, I think this movie is better than a lot of people give it credit for. It’ll be interesting to see how Hulk and Thor fare when they are teamed up in Thor: Ragnarok.
12. Captain America: Civil War – Again, a movie in this franchise that is only made interesting by the characters it introduces: namely Black Panther and Spider-Man. It has some good moments, most of which happens during the airport battle but the biggest problem here is that there are ZERO stakes. There is ZERO conflict and there is a villain who literally doesn’t do anything. Were it not for Spider-Man and Black Panther this movie would be at the bottom of this list. Why was this a Captain America movie anyway? It’s an Avengers movie.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron – I think this is when Marvel got a little too handsy with their projects, sort of in the same way that Sony always did (and probably will again) with Spider-Man. I feel like their determination to shoe-horn in references to future events and forcing Joss Whedon to do this directly harmed this movie and likely caused it to be disliked the way it is. Like all the others, it has some great moments. It’s still fun, still has that emotion that JW is famous for, it just didn’t come together in the way I feel he probably wanted. Hence his immediate fleeing from Marvel, and guess what? He’s at DC now.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Top Ten
10. Captain America: The First Avenger – This movie had everything against it. At least from my perspective. The casting was odd, the director was safe, it was Captain America who I had never really been all that impressed by. Against all odds, I loved it. It was fun, earnest, and a really perfect introduction to the character and the world. It really is the perfect follow-up to the more cynical Iron Man film.
9. Iron Man – The one that kicked it all off. Smart, funny, action packed, and all anchored by a perfect “born-for-it” performance from Robert Downey Jr. Yeah the villain is weak, but Robert Downey Jr!
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – I was expecting before I saw it, that this one would be much higher than it is. I was so stoked for this but it just didn’t resonate with me the way I thought it would. It was too silly too often and that hurt it for me. That said, I love these characters and even though the silliness sort of sullied the movie for me, there is no denying the heart and charm of it all and when the laughs hit me, they hit strong, same with the feels. I’m looking forward to Volume 3, in the hopes that they tighten it up tonally and deliver a truly epic trip with the guardians.
7. Ant-Man – Another weak villain but played wonderfully by Corey Stoll. This is basically a heist film and for me it works beautifully. The cast is what really makes this one great. Despite its behind-the-scenes turmoil, Ant-Man turned out pretty damn good. We’ll probably never know what an Edgar Wright Ant-Man would have been but this one was still an entertaining romp. It’s fun, funny, has an electric cast, and was just an all around good time.
6. Avengers – The gang’s all here! The culmination of a few years of world building and character introductions all came together in the explosive first team-up film courtesy of Joss Whedon. He managed to give everyone their moment (and did it again in Avengers 2) and gave us a fun invasion flick to boot. It’s got laughs, amazing fight scenes and action, and that Whedon-esque spirit we love while still staying true to the franchise and the world we’ve been in so far. It really is an amazing achievement considering the characters involved here. It could easily have gone south but instead it soared and set the stage for the future films to follow.
Top Five Marvel Films
5. Doctor Strange – I admit I was a bit skeptical about this one. I honestly was not all that well versed in Dr. Strange before I saw the film besides the basics but when I sat down to watch this one I was utterly swept up and captivated. From Benedict Cumberbatch’s excellent performance to the jaw-dropping effects, I really had a blast.
4. Iron Man 3 – This is, hands down, the best Iron Man film. Shane Black stripped away the armor, the facade and gave us an intimate story about Tony Stark and his humanity. It’s smart and funny and wholly unique in the series of MCU films. Here’s hoping Shane returns for IM 4.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy – Super fun, unexpected, and took a group of relative unknown characters from the cosmic line of Marvel and turned them into one of the best entries into the MCU. Thanks to James Gunn’s love of the material and his keen sense of mixing music with story, Guardians was cemented as a cornerstone in the foundation that is the MCU. Perfect cast, great story, and inspired direction all make Guardians a true high water mark of the MCU.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The Russo Brothers entered the MCU with this one and it turned into the best film of the MCU, at least until #1 came out. It’s a tense spy thriller that had ramifications across the franchise, even into Agents of Shield. Exciting, tense, and really featuring some of the best performances from the casts. After this, and despite the lackluster Civil War, I do think the franchise is in good hands with The Russo Brothers.
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming – After five previous films, including a reboot, Spider-Man is back home in the MCU where he belongs and his Homecoming is one to celebrate. Might as well use the adjectives that are part of his history because this film is indeed Amazing and Spectacular. It boasts a wonderful and diverse cast, a great villain played supremely by Michael Keaton, and our best most perfect Spidey thanks to Tom Holland. I had a grin on my face the entire time, which hasn’t really happened since Guardians. It’s a perfect mix of comic action and teen angst and is as close to a John Hughes comic book movie that we’ll probably ever see. Heartfelt, joyous, and exciting Spider-Man Homecoming is everything I could want in a Spider-Man film or in a Marvel film. I’m already excited for more Spidey in Avengers 3 and am counting the days until Homecoming 2 (or whatever it will end up being called).
That’s it guys! We’ve got SEVEN more Marvel movies coming in the next couple years including Thor Ragnarok later this year, Black Panther, Avengers 3, and Ant-Man and The Wasp next summer and Spider-Man 2, Avengers 4, and, at last, Captain Marvel, in 2019 so we’ll see where they end up on this list. I would expect to hear about one or two more movies popping up for 2019. Likely Guardians 3.
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Agree? Disagree? Give me your thoughts and rankings in the comments below!
Garon Cockrell is the Founder and Editor of Pop Culture Beast and host of The Pop Culture Beast Show. He founded the site over seven years ago to have a place on the internet to write about the things he loved. Since then, Garon has become a best-selling author (Demonic and Other Tales), an award winning screenwriter (Best Screenplay 2013 Motor City Nightmares Film Festival), and a cast member on the top rated podcast, Never Not Funny.