Since its first film release in 2008, Marvel Studios has created an expansive universe comprised of the ten films it’s released thus far. Every year, they continue to dominate the box office. With the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of the year’s most anticipated films, let’s take a look back at the movies that have managed to rake in both cash and a devoted fan base. From Asgardians to genius billionaires and giant rage monsters to gun-toting raccoons, here’s all ten films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ranked from worst to best.
- The Incredible Hulk
Kicking off the list is Marvel’s attempt at making a solo Hulk film. After 2003’s poorly-received Hulk directed by Ang Lee, it was clear that the character needed a fresh start. Was Marvel able to deliver just that? Well, sort of. While there are a couple of good action sequences, — particularly the final showdown between the Hulk and the Abomination — this movie suffers from a definite lack of inspiration. The acting from Edward Norton (Bruce Banner), Liv Tylerv (Betty Ross), and Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky) is surprisingly dull. The directing by Louis Leterrier is flat. And the special effects are sub-par. How is it that the Hulk looked just as good in 2003 as he does in 2008? Whatever the case may be, The Incredible Hulk is the weakest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And with Mark Ruffalo practically owning the role by now, it’s safe to say that the Hulk is finally finding its footing.
- Thor: The Dark World
This sequel to 2011’s Thor did a lot right. In fact, it improved upon many aspects of its predecessor. In this film, we get to spend more time on Thor’s home turf in Asgard. The action and set design are both spectacular. Captain America gets a welcomed cameo. And we get to see Tom Hiddleston do more of what he does best: play Thor’s mischievous and highly-entertaining adoptive brother Loki. The chemistry between Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is great, creating an excellent dynamic between the two. Unfortunately, Thor: The Dark World is plagued by poor writing, an overly-silly plot, and a villain that pales in comparison to the standard that Loki previously set. It’s also unfortunate that even more screen time is given to Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis) and Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), whose characters are both uninteresting and annoying. Let’s hope that 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok is the game-changer that producer Kevin Feige promises it will be.
While Thor and Thor: The Dark World are almost equal in terms of quality, what gives the original the edge is the writing. The plot isn’t convoluted, and most of the humor actually works, unlike in the sequel. Perhaps what’s most impressive about this film is the fact that they were able to take a character such as Thor, God of Thunder, son of Odin, relatable. Thor isn’t perfect: He’s arrogant and even a little self-centered. That, coupled with a serviceable story, makes for a pretty entertaining movie. Some of the supporting characters are uninteresting and the majority of the film is spent on the familiar Earth as opposed to the new and exciting Asgard, which is what ultimately prevents Thor from being a staple in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Iron Man 2
After the critical and commercial success of the first Iron Man film, hopes were high for its sequel. However, sequels are never as good as the original (for the most part), and Iron Man 2 is no different. Try, if you will, to remember every detail you can about Iron Man 2. Any luck? That could be because the film is far too similar to its predecessor in terms of story: Tony Stark suffers the consequences of being arrogant and irresponsible, all while more rich businessmen try and steal the Iron Man suit from him. In the end, Tony Stark has to don the Iron Man suit to fight another Iron Man suit. A lot of the film is forgettable. That being said, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as most critics claim that it is. The action is still very well handled by director Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle makes a much better Rhodey than Terrence Howard did, Black Widow is introduced, and we get to see more of Robert Downey, Jr. playing everyone’s favorite billionaire Tony Stark. While Iron Man 2 was too focused on setting up Avengers instead of story, there’s still enjoyment to be found here.
- Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger is Marvel’s first go at bringing one of their most iconic characters to life, as well as Chris Evans’ second at portraying a Marvel superhero. This movie has quite a bit going for it. Steve Rogers is a fascinating character. He’s noble, brave, and willing to lay his life on the line for his country, but is unable to do so because of his frail and sickly stature. Speaking of which, the effects in this film are incredible. The fact that they were able to composite Chris Evans’ face onto a much smaller body and make it look convincing is beyond impressive. The first half of this film is great. Joe Johnston’s direction and Shelly Johnson’s cinematography make for an authentic portrayal of the World War II era. The second half is where the film starts to lose its steam. Montaging over what could have been some exciting action set pieces was a mistake, and somehow, pairing laser guns with World War II are two ideas that just don’t me. Fortunately, the sequel would improve upon every aspect of this film, as you’ll see later on in the list.
- Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is perhaps the most divisive Marvel film to date, and that’s all due to one key aspect: the Mandarin. For those unfamiliar with the comics, the Mandarin is to Iron Man as the Joker is to Batman, or as Lex Luthor is to Superman, so when it was revealed that the sinister Mandarin turned out to be nothing more than a bumbling, drunken actor, audiences were split. It seems as though most audiences’ enjoyment of the film hinges on whether or not they can let that twist slide. I, for one, love this film. It’s arguably the most entertaining of the three Iron Man films. The comedy is better than ever. Every actor in the film shares such great chemistry with one another. Shane Black brought a much-needed change in direction to the franchise, instead of all of the action being focused on Iron Man the suit, we got to see Tony Stark using his greatest weapon: his brain. Not only that, but it was nice to see a greater sense of continuity growing between the films, where we see the aftermath of Avengers taking its toll on Tony, further developing his character. Could this film have used a tighter script? Sure, but that doesn’t stop it from being funny, exciting, and one of Marvel’s most entertaining films to date.
- Guardians of the Galaxy
Here’s something that shouldn’t have worked. How many of you out there knew anything about the Guardians of the Galaxy before this film was announced? On top of that, how many of you would have thought a film about a space pirate, a muscle man, a smart-mouthed raccoon, a green assassin, and a humanoid tree voiced by Vin Diesel would have been any good at all? Marvel took a huge risk with this one, attempting to expand the reaches of their cinematic universe into the depths of outer space while simultaneously breathing life into one of their most obscure properties, and the end result was . . . absolutely fantastic. Guardians of the Galaxy is a type of movie that we’ve never seen from Marvel; it’s a space opera, it’s an adventure, and it’s a comedy. The visual effects are at times breathtaking, with an excellent mix of practical sets and CGI. James Gunn’s direction is inspired and unique. Not only that, but the cast is phenomenal. Chris Pratt proved that he has what it takes to be a bona fide movie star with his portrayal of the rebellious, goofy, and lovable Star-Lord. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are also standouts as the Han Solo and Chewbacca-esque duo of Rocket Raccon (Cooper) and Groot (Diesel). Throw in a groovy ’70s soundtrack, and you’ve got yourself a Marvel classic.
- Iron Man
This is the one that started it all. Iron Man was Marvel Studios’ first attempt at a feature film, and if it didn’t succeed, there would be no Captain America, no Thor, no Avengers. Luckily, they succeeded with flying colors. This movie is one of the better blockbusters we’ve seen in years. It avoids typical action movie cliches. Jon Favreau’s direction is solid. The dialogue is great. It’s funny. It’s intense. The special effects are top notch. The list of reasons why Iron Man is so great could go on and on. But perhaps the best part about it is the casting of Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark. The man embodies the role at this point. You can’t imagine anyone else playing the part but him. He practically bleeds charisma. Iron Man is entertaining from start to finish, and it set the stage for what Marvel had in store.
Avengers finished what Iron Man started. Everything was leading up to this. The world finally got to see Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk share the screen. It was the biggest cinematic event that Marvel had planned up until then, and it’s damn near perfect. Writer and director Joss Whedon was able to take so many larger than life characters, put them into one movie, and make it feel natural. He gave each character the proper attention they deserved. Each character was developed, each felt important to the story, and no one was left out. Not only that, but Whedon understood just how ridiculous of a concept that the Avengers was in the first place. A movie starring a man in a mechanized flying suit, the god of thunder, and a giant green monster shouldn’t take itself too seriously, and Whedon understood that perfectly. The banter between the characters was hilarious, and their clashing personalities made for some interesting dynamics. Tom Hiddleston kills it once again as Loki, and Mark Ruffalo proved that he was the best fit to portray Bruce Banner thus far. The action is thrilling, the pacing is great, as is the writing and direction. Avengers is an endlessly re-watchable superhero showdown, and it’s one of the best superhero films of all time.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Some may argue that Avengers is clearly the best Marvel movie because of its ensemble cast and scope, but I would have to disagree. The way that I see it, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel’s most solid effort to date. Up until this film was released, we were used to Marvel movies having grand, fantastical elements to them, it was great to see a film of their’s that took itself a little more seriously. This film continues to prove that Steve Rogers is Marvel’s most compelling character. He’s a man with a very simple ideology, one rooted in absolutes: Good is right and evil is wrong. Therefore, it made for an intriguing story when he was thrown into a modern world where political corruption exists. His entire way of thinking was challenged. Chris Evans is fantastic as Captain America. He’s charming and charismatic, and is very convincing when it comes to performing in action scenes. He and Scarlett Johansson have amazing chemistry. The direction that Joe and Anthony Russo decided to take with this film was very realistic and gritty, which was a nice change of pace. I can only see the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuing to improve now that they’re both confirmed to direct the final two Avengers films. Captain America: The Winter Solider isn’t just a great superhero movie, it’s a great spy thriller, and it’s Marvel’s best cinematic outing so far.
There you have it – all ten of Marvel’s films ranked. Let’s hope that when Avengers: Age of Ultron is released in a few days, it will top the list.