IT'S JUST A PHASE1 of 18
Another entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just around the corner in Thor: Ragnarok, which hits North American theaters November 3.
And in honor of the ever growing catalog of Marvel Studios films, we decided it was high time to rank the 16 films of the MCU from 2008's Iron Man to now. We're holding back on adding Thor: Ragnarok to the list just yet, to give it time with audiences before a final decision is made.
Some of the rankings are probably obvious - some not.
(And if you're a fan of the MCU in television, Newsarama has also weighed in on how they stack up.)
THE INCREDIBLE HULK2 of 18
The Incredible Hulk came in dead last in our ranking of the MCU, though it was a closer call than you might think.
Chalk this one up to growing pains - it was, after all, only the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it was only a few years out from an ill-received attempt at a different Hulk franchise.
Still, even the arguably worst film in the MCU has a lot to love, including a winning performance from William Hurt and many of the building blocks of the MCU continuity.
Despite the placement of The Incredible Hulk at the bottom of the MCU totem pole, the Hulk himself later became one of the biggest fan-favorite characters in all of the MCU, leading fans to clamor for a seemingly unlikely sequel (though Hulk will play a key role in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.)
IRON MAN 23 of 18
The third film of the MCU - and its first proper sequel - almost tied in ranking with The Incredible Hulk. But Iron Man 2 has its defenders - mostly owing to the film's proximity to the comic book stories of the 80s and 90s.
Iron Man 2 failed to replicate the blockbuster formula of its predecessor, and though the performances of the film are endearing (including the MCU's first major recasting in Don Cheadle taking over as James Rhodes from Terrence Howard), the story fell flat owing to a villain that was a hodgepodge of less popular comic villains and some continuity-related boondoggles.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD4 of 18
If there's one thing Thor: The Dark World did very right, it's that it doubled down on the presence of Loki and spent more time in Asgard and the other unearthly realms.
Still, even more of the fan favorite Tom Hiddleston couldn't save this film from a mire of swirling plotlines, some strange physics and story ideas, and Malekith, a villain that was little more than window dressing.
Still, MCU purists will want to give The Dark World at least one watch, as it introduced one of the vaunted Infinity Stones, sure to be an important component of Avengers: Infinity War.
IRON MAN 35 of 18
The first post-Avengers MCU film, Iron Man 3 might constitute one of Robert Downey, Jr.'s best performances as Tony Stark, but one of his weakest as his armored alter ego.
In a story that largely took Tony out of his Iron Man armor, hinging on a villain that continued the franchise's tradition of botching classic villains, and a less than charismatic secret big bad, Iron Man 3 still has its fans - more than one of you voted it the MCU's best - probably thanks to Downey's winning performance as a damaged Stark. But the one-two-miss of Aldridge Killian and the oddly reworked Mandarin left Iron Man 3 a polarizing film to be sure.
Iron Man 3 certainly added some new depth to the character of Tony Stark, establishing some post-Avengers PTSD, and it came closer to the mark than Iron Man 2. Still, Marvel has yet to repeat the critical success of the first Iron Man in subsequent sequels, largely by failing to pit RDJ against an enemy who can match his energy.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON6 of 18
Avengers: Age of Ultron had a lot riding on it - it was following one of the most anticipated and highest grossing films of all time. But the sequel to Marvel's biggest blockbuster may have suffered from too many ingredients and too many cooks, with director Joss Whedon reporting that corporate mandate forced him to make changes and include story elements that altered his plans.
Even so, there's something to be said for good old-fashioned spectacle (Anyone who says they didn't love the Hulkbuster scene is a liar) and Age of Ultron certainly capitalizes on that, while progressing the MCU's meta-narrative at a considerable pace.
Despite its overarching elements, Age of Ultron felt a little disconnected from the larger universe thanks to some odd choices with its titular larger than life villain and the too-fast-too-soon addition of three Avengers - even if only two of them made it out of the film's climax.
THOR7 of 18
The MCU's third venture into solo superhero movies (and third Avengers building block), Thor owes a great deal of its success to the inescapable charm and beefcake beauty of its hunky lead, Chris Hemsworth.
Thor is undoubtedly the MCU's heartthrob - the Avenger most likely to make Teen Beat - and his chemistry with fellow Tumblr darling Tom Hiddleston's Loki made for a memorable movie.
Still, despite giving us Marvel's best big screen baddie, too much Earthly drama and not enough space magic made Thor a dour proposition for some viewers, while others latched on to its quirky humor and family dynamics.
ANT-MAN8 of 18
To say Ant-Man was a gamble for Marvel may be an understatement. If Guardians of the Galaxy was a dark horse, Ant-Man wasn't even on the track.
After the departure of original Ant-Man visionary and director Edgar Wright, many fans feared the worst about Marvel's first new solo hero since Avengers. However, while the final film was likely a little more typical of the Marvel model than an Edgar Wright film would have been, Peyton Reed's easy-to-digest story, and remarkable performances from Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Douglas wound up winning over audiences and garnering comparisons to Iron Man.
Scott Lang quickly became a fixture of the MCU, with a sequel - Ant-Man & The Wasp - being greenlit in short order after the film's release, and Lang himself playing a *ahem* big role in Captain America: Civil War.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER9 of 18
The middle-of-the-road reception to Captain America: The First Avenger belied the heights its sequels would reach, cementing Captain America as the backbone franchise of the entire MCU.
Some of the lukewarm feelings towards The First Avenger may be related to its station as the MCU's only period piece to date, a format that inherently alienates some viewers. But it has a lot going for it, anchored by Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell's innocent but heroic chemistry, and Hugo Weaving's snarling Red Skull, ripped from the pages of Jack Kirby's work on the comic book.
The First Avenger was also the final lynchpin in the lead up to Avengers, which saw Evans's Steve Rogers become the central figure fans always knew him to be. And as for The First Avenger's other fallout, it led to a direct TV spin-off in which Atwell reprised her role as Agent Carter, running two seasons on ABC (and sparking major fan outcry when it wasn't renewed for a third).
DOCTOR STRANGE10 of 18
The latest new Marvel superhero franchise, Doctor Strange is also one of Marvel's most adventurous, opening the doors of perception and ushering in an age of technicolor magic to the up-til-now mostly scientific continuity.
Doctor Strange's parallels to Iron Man are no accident; in many ways the film is the start of the next stage of the MCU (even if it arrives somewhere in the middle of "Phase 3"). In fact, Benedict Cumberbatch's acerbic yet altruistic Stephen Strange is being hailed as the heir apparent to the leading spot in Marvel's next wave.
Doctor Strange actually managed to surpass Iron Man in the MCU's box office financial rankings, securing its place as a worthy successor to the MCU's best.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 211 of 18
It would have been nearly impossible for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to top its predecessor – for one thing, it lacks the surprise factor of realizing a talking raccoon and his tree friend are your new favorite characters. But it at least lived up to the hype, and delivered on some incredible character based storytelling.
Though Guardians Vol. 2 is a bit smaller in scope than the first film, the lack of cosmic stakes (yes, we know Ego is threatening the whole Universe – but Ronan he ain’t) leaves room for even more of the familial humor and heart that made the franchise a surprise blockbuster.
IRON MAN12 of 18
Iron Man is not only the first film of the Marvel Studios continuity, it's also the blueprint for everything that came after.
While it's impossible to call Iron Man flawless, it's undoubtedly the best solo debut Marvel has yet produced. Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark became immediately iconic, redefining the character in the public eye, and even in comic books. It's hard to imagine now, but before 2008, Iron Man was considered something of a second stringer at Marvel.
Iron Man works so well, it's no wonder many of Marvel's subsequent solo films have followed its formula of a humanized but larger-than-life lead, a villain that is a dark reflection of the hero, and a clear trajectory from reluctant heroism to out and out superheroics.
Still, even with all that has come after, Iron Man feels as electric today as it did eight years ago, continuing to make the argument for Marvel as a powerhouse studio.
Plus, who can forget the chills they got the first time they heard Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury utter the words "Avengers Initiative?"
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR13 of 18
Marvel's biggest film to date, Captain America: Civil War pulled in nearly all its major heroes to adapt the highest selling crossover in Marvel Comics history (and one of the top selling comic books stories of all time). It also introduced a pair of new leading men - Black Panther and Spider-Man (joining the MCU after years under Sony's control and out of Marvel's reach).
Now, Civil War is not without its flaws. There are some leaps in the story relying on some prodigious timing and happy accident on the part of its villain, Baron Zemo, but it's hard to argue with the unrivaled thrill of seeing these heroes not only come together in a movie of this scale, but also clash in spectacular fashion.
Oddly, Civil War is somewhat polarizing, with fans (according to our poll, anyway) seeming to love it, or hold it in little regard. In the end, however, the "ayes" have it, and Civil War in some ways fulfills the promise of Avengers with a compelling - if a bit crowded - story for Earth's Mightiest Heroes and the MCU at large.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING14 of 18
Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t great just because it brought Spidey’s big screen adventures home to Marvel (thought that’s certainly a plus). It’s also, quite simply, a great Spider-Man movie. Though some of the trappings are a bit palette-swapped (think Adrian Toomes instead of Norman Osborn), Homecoming dialed into the core aspects of Spider-Man’s personality and gave us the closest film version of Peter Parker to the comic books yet.
Spider-Man: Homecoming also gave us the Vulture, one of the best MCU villains (and superhero movie villains) pretty much ever. Michael Keaton’s performance is defining.
And if you need to be convinced Homecoming is also just a solid film, just watch the scene where Adrian figures out Peter is Spider-Man while driving him to prom with his daughter. Just those few minutes practically sell Spider-Man: Homecoming’s position in the top five Marvel films.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER15 of 18
Perhaps no other MCU film has come as out of nowhere as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Replacing Captain America: The First Avenger's director Joe Johnston with the Russo Brothers, hired on the strength of their Community episodes, The Winter Soldier won over even critics weary of the superhero genre with a political thriller vibe and dialed-in - but never small - focus on its characters.
It's no wonder the Russos have become the guiding force behind the MCU's biggest productions, from Civil War to the still to come Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. They took Captain America, whose debut was something of a middle of the road prospect, and elevated him to the forefront of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY16 of 18
Guardians of the Galaxy could be considered the MCU's miracle movie. An unknown property that relied heavily on a genre only adjacent to its typical superhero fare, GotG took the box office by storm and essentially proved Marvel Studios can do whatever it wants.
Director James Gunn took a winning script from Nicole Perlman and brought its immediately lovable characters to life. That Rocket and Groot, a CGI raccoon and talking (with a limited vocabulary) tree, became not just movie stars, but household names is a testament to the charm of GotG.
It helped that, despite being almost literally removed from the world of the MCU, GotG had deep connections to the Avengers meta-story. But even without Thanos and the Infinity Stones, the humor, heart, and space opera at the film's core made a perfect recipe for success.
THE AVENGERS17 of 18
Is there any wonder why The Avengers is at the top of its list? Not only is it a great (and fun!) film, it was something of a pop culture event, an unprecedented effort to unite relatively disparate franchises under one banner.
True, Avengers cut small, mostly minor corners to get Cap, Thor, Iron Man, and the rest in the same film, but when the end result was this epic, this action packed, this downright funny, those kind of things get smoothed over, especially in hindsight.
Avengers provided more than just big popcorn action. It also recast Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, making the character one of Marvel's top heroes, even if he's been relegated to a supporting role. It also codified Agent Coulson as a player in the MCU, leading to his starring TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
If Iron Man proved Marvel Studios could make a compelling movie, Avengers proved that their shared universe model isn't just viable, it's vital to their continued success. That Avengers is still one of the highest grossing films of all time is a testament to its staying power as the crown jewel of the MCU.
A second sequel, Avengers: Infinity War, is currently in production for release in 2018.
1 of 18
2 of 18
3 of 18
4 of 18
5 of 18
6 of 18
7 of 18
8 of 18
9 of 18
10 of 18
11 of 18
12 of 18
13 of 18
14 of 18
15 of 18
16 of 18
17 of 18
18 of 18