Ranking All of the MCU Films So Far
12. Iron Man 2
Iron Man was Marvel's original success, so a sequel should have been an easy slam-dunk. But in one of its only major screw-ups, Marvel managed to squander Robert Downey Jr.'s boundless charisma and charm with a ridiculously convoluted plot (even for a comic book movie), extraneous subplots, and a lack of the sense of fun that distinguished the original. Luckily, it's easy to forget this terrible movie, since it was sandwiched between two great ones, but it was a rare blunder on Marvel's part.
11. The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is barely considered to be a part of the MCU by fans, especially since the role was recast for Avengers, but it technically counts since it came after Iron Man. It's not as bad as everyone says it is, and we love Ed Norton and Liv Tyler, but this movie relied far too much on video game-style action and Hulk Smash! sequences. It made a funny joke in Avengers, but doesn't make for a compelling two-hour movie.
10. Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World was so dull, I forget that it exists most of the time. This wasn't an embarrassment, because nothing particularly terrible happened, it was just thoroughly unmemorable, which was a huge disappointment after the first Thor was such a delightful surprise.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America has become such a well-rounded character in the MCU, it's easy to forget he started off with the completely pedestrian First Avenger. The first Cap movie was serviceable, and Chris Evans was likable from the start, but the characters were underdeveloped, the stakes felt extremely low, and it was overall a shallow experience. If you had told me right after seeing First Avenger that Captain America would yield the strongest movies in the MCU, I never would have believed you.
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
There was a good movie somewhere in the sprawling, overlong Age of Ultron, but it got lost in the shuffle. Between servicing an already unwieldy cast, introducing several new characters, setting up future MCU films, providing blatant fan service like Hulk vs Hulkbuster, and trying vainly to develop one decent Marvel villain, Age of Ultron--and Joss Whedon--were overextended. A couple of different choices might have made the movie a little bit better (Scarlet Witch would have made a much better main villain than Ultron, for example), but it might have been a lost cause.
Ant-Man was a purely enjoyable heist movie, featuring a reliably charming central performance from Paul Rudd. It was a little bit generic, and there was a nagging suspicion that Hope van Dyne was the more interesting character and should have been wearing the suit all along, but luckily she'll be given her due in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
6. The Avengers
The Avengers was the ultimate summer blockbuster: full of lighthearted action, humor, buddy chemistry, and just enough of Joss Whedon's sharp wit to make it interesting. It was a little too bombastic to reach the heights of some of the smaller MCU films, but it was pretty much a perfect version of what it was.
5. Iron Man
The one that started it all. Iron Man exceeded everyone's wildest expectations, largely due to Robert Downey Jr.'s definitive performance as Tony Stark, and managed to single-handedly launch an entire cinematic universe. We take it for granted now, but this was the first film to demonstrate that comic book movies are a force to be reckoned with, even without the Christopher Nolan ultra-gritty aesthetic.
4. Iron Man 3
After the Iron Man 2 debacle, we weren't even sure we wanted to see another Iron Man movie, but Iron Man 3 made us all eat crow. Its witty, snappy dialogue in addition to its great action sequences made it a complete blast, and elevated it even above the first film.
I went into Thor thinking it would be silly at best and mind-numbing at worst, and it was silly, but in an unexpectedly great way. Its fish-out-of-water schtick was unexpectedly self-aware and the comedic timing was pitch-perfect. Hopefully The Dark World was just an Iron Man 2-like blip on the radar, and Thor: Ragnarok can get back to what makes this character great.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was the ultimate underdog film; while none of the MCU heroes were as well known as Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man, this gang of ragamuffins, which include a violent talking raccoon and a sentient tree who only knows three words, seemed like a particularly hard sell. But when they pulled it off, and made a funny, endearing, adorable little movie that you couldn't help but love (albeit one without much plot going for it), we all knew Marvel could pull off just about anything.
1. Captain America: Winter Soldier
It was a close call between Guardians of the Galaxy and Winter Soldier, but the second Captain America outing is the one to beat. Marvel had proven time and time again that it had a handle on light, silly comic book movies that heavily serviced the fans, but Winter Soldier demonstrated that it was capable of tackling serious, socially relevant themes in thoughtful ways--without losing the fun, heart, or humor. Winter Soldier wasn't just a good comic book movie, it was a good movie, and laid the foundation for Marvel to step up their (relative) darkness game in Captain America: Civil War.