Waiting For Ant-Man: Every Marvel MCU Movie Ranked
Ant-Man arrives in theaters this week, closing out Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Marvel has taken a concept that was deemed insane by many and created a behemoth by interconnecting various movie franchises to create an all-encompassing universe that all of these movies inhabit. Not only have they succeeded, they've ended up with the highest-grossing film franchise ever, bringing in over $8.5 billion worldwide so far; all without Marvel's flagship characters Spider-Man and the X-Men. Ant-Man will be the twelfth film in the MCU, which began with 2008's Iron Man, but where do the previous 11 stand? Here's my ranking of every Marvel movie so far.
11 Iron Man 2
The worst film the studio has put out by a mile, Iron Man 2 borders on unwatchable. Everything about Mickey Rourke's villain Whiplash is terrible (the accent, the whips, the shirtlessness), the way the movie flirts with Tony Stark's alcoholism doesn't register, and the idea of Stark creating a new element... based on an old video of his dad... that happens to save his life... is beyond silly. Its only saving graces are the debuts of Black Widow and War Machine, who bring a little bit of fun to an otherwise boring film.
Iron Man 2
10 The Incredible Hulk
This film has not aged well. At the time I first saw it, I enjoyed it, but that was mostly because it wasn't Ang Lee's Hulk. After the way the Hulk was handled in The Avengers, Ed Norton's aggressive take on the character just doesn't mesh with the rest of the MCU. If this were a standalone film that existed in a vacuum, it would be a pretty good Hulk story influenced by the fugitive-themed Hulk TV show, but it's simply too devoid of joy to rank any higher on this list.
The Incredible Hulk
9 Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is a very conflicting film. There are some things that it does great. For instance, it's the first film since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to feature a child sidekick I didn't want to punch in the face; no easy task. The scenes with Stark going all-James Bond and playing the hero sans-suit also work well. But then there are more aspects of the film that just don't work at all.
Extremis is too pedestrian for a film like this and feels much more at home in a property like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than in a movie that made over a billion dollars. The villain is also terrible, a recurring theme in the Iron Man movies, as the ugly nerd who becomes the suave, rich guy who... breathes fire? Then there's the idea that the film's stakes just don't matter: Stark essentially quits being Iron Man at the end of the movie, but then he's back for Avengers: Age of Ultron as if nothing happened. And the less I say about the whole Mandarin debacle, the better.
Overall, not a great movie.
Iron Man 3
8 Thor: Dark World
One of the least-liked Marvel movies, I didn't hate Thor: Dark World. I thought the jokes hit harder in this than in most of Marvel's other movies (come on, Thor riding the tube? That's funny!), and the wormhole-jumping action sequences were insane.
Granted, it's not without its flaws: Malekith was a dud as a villain, Frigga's death didn't carry as much weight as the filmmakers would have liked, and Natalie Portman clearly didn't want to be there, but the film is more about the relationship between Thor and Loki than all that. Tom Hiddleston's Loki has been the breakout star of the MCU, and seeing him take center stage and even get to play the hero for a bit was a treat.
Thor: Dark World
7 Avengers: Age of Ultron
Way too overstuffed, the film tries to outdo the first by going bigger and comes away feeling bloated. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver never work as characters (or as people with Eastern European accents), and several other characters simply aren't necessary either. This movie has so much going on that by the time my favorite Avenger from the comics shows up, Vision, I was actually disappointed that I now had someone else to try to keep up with.
Despite all that, it could have been a lot worse. Hawkeye's arc is excellent, the action scenes are the best Marvel's ever done, and the interplay between the core Avengers remains strong. It wasn't nearly as good as the first one, but it showed the MCU isn't throwing in the towel just yet.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Thor may work better as a standalone film than anything else on this list besides Guardians of the Galaxy. You don't need to know anything about Thor or Marvel Comics to enjoy this film, which plays like a classic fish out of water story about an alien god who falls to earth stripped of his power and has to rediscover his honor. The movie also introduces Loki, Marvel's best villain to date, and features a solid amount of humor. Totally enjoyable, Thor is a very solid effort but is lacking that extra something to take it to the next level.
5 Iron Man
I have a confession to make: I don't love Iron Man. I realize I'm in the minority here, but I initially thought the movie worked as a pretty by-the-numbers superhero tale. Guy who sells weapons gets captured, builds superhero suit to escape, decides selling weapons is bad, wears superhero suit more. The end. So why did I rank it so high on my list? Robert. Downey. Jr. You put anyone else in this role and you've got yourself one of the most boring superhero movies ever, but Downey's take on Tony Stark redefined the character and helped to kickstart the Marvel empire.
Tony Stark in the comics is not (or at least he wasn't before the movie) a quippy charm monster, he was a one-note Bruce Wayne rip off. Downey infused the character with wit, charm, and enough screen presence to overlook the overall mundaneness of what was going on around him, like Jeff Bridges as the evil businessman villain (Bridge's performance was fine, it's the evil businessman aspect I didn't care for). Iron Man also gets points because without it and its success, we wouldn't have had everything that followed.
4 Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America is the best hero on the MCU's roster. Iron Man gets the headlines, but Cap has established himself at the surest sign of a film's quality. Both of his solo movies are great and he's become the engine that makes the Avengers go, and this is the movie that started it all. He always had one of the greatest origin stories in comics as a scrawny kid who wants to fight the Nazis and is turned into a super soldier by the U.S. government, and the movie absolutely nailed every aspect of it.
The special effects to turn actual human-god Chris Evans into a 98 pound weakling were dazzling, the period setting worked on all levels, Cap's motivations as a true hero were always clear, and the film's love story and ending made for the most heart-breaking moments in the entire MCU (Cap's final conversation with Peggy Carter is the closest I've come to shedding a tear at a Marvel movie and I don't care who knows it). If all of that wasn't enough, Hugo Weaving kills it as the Red Skull. Bringing just the right amount of camp to the role while still somehow remaining menacing, it's a shame this character hasn't been brought back. But for now, it just stands as one of those legendary performances, in a legendary movie.
Captain America: The First Avenger
3 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
So far, this is the only sequel Marvel has done that has managed to be better than its predecessor. And perhaps the most amazing thing is that it accomplished this feat by totally scrapping the formula. Winter Soldier is nothing like First Avenger, ditching the period piece war story for a high stakes political thriller.
The movie puts forth some big ideas about surveillance and counter-terrorism and manages to be the rare superhero movie that makes you think. Black Widow is far better here than in anything else she's been in, Falcon makes for a great new addition, HYDRA's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels real and serious, and the fight scenes are so well-choreographed make Jason Bourne look like the Sand Snakes from Game of Thrones. They even got Robert Redford to play the villain. Robert Redford! Even with all the seriousness and heavy ideas though, the movie still manages to be a total blast, and literally energizes me when I watch it. Isn't that what a superhero movie should do?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Avengers made movies fun again. Not just superhero movies, but movies in general. At some point in the late 90s, Hollywood decided that big blockbusters had to be serious. Gone were the fun and fancy free days of franchises like Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future as they were replaced by the slick seriousness of The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and The Dark Knight.
That's not to say those movies were bad, but they didn't exactly fill one with a sense of joy and wonder that big budget movies once did. The Avengers reversed that trend. It was funny, it was engaging, it was action-packed... it was everything you forgot a big movie could be. Not only that, but the movie was also revolutionary in the way that it brought together flagship characters from four different movie franchises to build a cohesive team and actually made it work. It remains a remarkable feat, and was the greatest Marvel movie ever until another movie took its formula to the next level.
1 Guardians of the Galaxy
Was there anyone who didn't love this movie? Guardians took everything that was great about The Avengers and turned it up to eleven. Oh, your movie is funny? Ours is hysterical. Your movie has a realistic CGI character people actually care about? Ours has two. Your top-billed actor is the world's most charming human? Not anymore, meet Chris Pratt.
This movie had something for everyone: A strong emotional core, great action and effects, a solid story, wonderful characters, outstanding humor, the best soundtrack of any superhero movie ever, and a backstory that required zero prior knowledge of comic books or other Marvel movies.
Unrelentlessly creative and unmistakably Marvel without being bogged down by connections, Guardians is not only the best film in the MCU, it's also one of the most enjoyable movies I've ever seen. We are Groot. Never forget.
Guardians of the Galaxy