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– by Nick Doll

Thor: Ragnarok, the seventeenth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, flies into theaters on November 3rd, so now feels like the perfect time to delve into ranking all the films in the MCU, from worst to the best. I assure you, though most the list follows the order you would expect, I have a few surprises up my sleeve where I disagree with the common consensus of which film is better than the other. But, never fear, I explain my reasoning. Because I’m not crazy, there is a reason for everything and all the movies are in their proper place.

Warning, there are possible SPOILERS ahead for any film EXCEPT Thor: Ragnarok.

17. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The second film released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is by far the worst. In 2008, the same year Marvel Studios proved themselves as understanding the future of the superhero genre with Iron Man, they also took a giant step back with The Incredible Hulk. Back before Marvel knew how to handle the Hulk, we got a depressing film, lacking Marvel’s trademark amount of humor and levity, about a Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) who cared more about himself than any sort of heroics, too similar to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk.

Sure, the film has its moments, like Banner warning, “You won’t like me when I’m hungry” in Spanish, but overall, this film is a dud with poor writing, a terrible villain, and a pathetic finale with two CGI monsters simply bashing each other. It doesn’t help that the recasting of Banner going forward makes this film feel like it’s not even apart of MCU continuity, more so than any other recasting Marvel Studios has had to undertake. The main positive: William Hurt is expertly cast as General ‘Thurderbolt’ Ross and is utilized later in the MCU narrative in an important role.

16. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was funny in his first outing because he was a fish out of water, with all the hilarious misunderstandings one would expect from the would-be king of Asgard trapped on Earth. Thor: The Dark World seems to lose all the humor of the first, making Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) more boring and flat than in their first appearance.  Jane as a fish out of water in Asgard is not really that interesting.

This is the darkest Marvel film of all, and that’s not a good thing, as similar to The Incredible Hulk, Thor: The Dark World takes itself way too seriously. And Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is simply the worst villain the MCU has ever featured, and the MCU is known for underwhelming villains. Were it not for an appearance from the MCU’s most charismatic character, Loki (Tom Hiddleson), including a brilliant cameo featuring him turning into Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), this film would be a bigger dud than The Incredible Hulk.

15. Thor (2011)

Apparently I’m just not that big a fan of Thor, unless he is interacting with other Avengers, which is when his “fish out of water” comedy chops truly shine. As previously mentioned, this type of humor carries the film, which, like Iron Man 2, one could accuse of setting up S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers more than being a satisfying standalone film. Most of the casting is great with side characters that continue to impress including Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Jamie Alexander as Sif, and Stellen Skarsgard as Erik Selvig.

And then there is Loki, Thor’s greatest strength and savior of the MCU villains. On the other hand, Kat Dennings as Darcy is simply the most annoying character in the entire MCU. So, while Thor does some great world building with the introduction of Asgard and further exploration of S.H.I.E.L.D., this is still Marvel Studios in their early phases, trying to figure out the right tone and flow of what their superhero films will eventually become.

14. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2 is not as bad as you remember. Yes, the plot is a bigger mess than Thor (but not Thor: The Dark World or The Incredible Hulk), and it too feels like a commercial for S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as a venue to set up Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), more than a completely standalone flick. This seems to be a common thread that Marvel Studios couldn’t seem to balance in their early days, Iron Man 2 being only their third film. Mickey Rourke is terrible as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, right down to his damn bird. But there is some great stuff in here.

Though her character is as flat as they come, Black Widow’s first appearance still set a new standard for action scenes choreographed for women; an action style that has been repeated again and again in films like Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation  and Atomic Blonde. Sam Rockwell is brilliant as Justin Hammer, perhaps the most underused character in the MCU. The comedy he brings to the film cannot be understated, with his desire to be as cool as rival Tony Stark, but with none of the charm or charisma. Nothing beats watching Hammer crack jokes and dance at the Stark Expo in the finale, a bit of showmanship that earns him nothing but crickets. Everything that worked in Iron Man continues to work here, and the recasting of James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (this time played by Don Cheadle) is actually an improvement and isn’t as distracting as the recasting of Banner in The Incredible Hulk.

13. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

This movie’s biggest weakness is trying to cram all of Steve Rogers’ escapades across WWII into the second half of a film. Heck, it feels like we see several years go by in a simple montage of Cap’s Howling Commandos attacking Hydra units and strongholds. The first half of the film is brilliant, with an uncredited but very noticeable rewrite by Joss Whedon, making the dialogue crisp, fun, authentic, and emotionally charged as Steve Rogers goes from 90-pound scrawny wimp into real life sized Chris Evans.

The effects used to create scrawny Rogers are phenomenal, the first time Marvel Studios attempted such techniques, as is much of the casting including Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Dominic Cooper as young Howard Stark, Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips, Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine, Sebastian Stan as Bucky, and Toby Jones as Dr. Armin Zola. Though not all of these characters return, those that do are established well enough in this first film to really pay off in spades in Captain America: The Winter Solider. Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is better than your average MCU villain, and it is a shame we have not seen him return – I still stand by the interpretation that he wasn’t killed by the Tesseract, but rather transported halfway across the galaxy, as the visual effect used is remarkably similar to that of transporting via Bifrost in Thor.  Again, we have a film that feels like a set-up for The Avengers, not helped by the poor decision to open the film in the present as S.H.I.E.L.D. locates Steve Rogers, but it doesn’t suffer from this imbalance as much as Iron Man 2 or Thor.


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  • RX178

    Iron Man 2> Iron Man 3. More Justin Hammer! They completely ruined AIM- they should be just as formidable as Hydra!

    • elhonez

      Justin Hammer is the best. Sam Rockwell rules.

  • Kronx

    An opinion cannot be wrong… But all of your opinions are wrong.

    • Nick

      Not all! I think if you did a poll of best MCU films, The Winter Soldier gets first place! Maybe Avengers beats it… maybe.

      • Kronx

        Pound for pound, Guardians of the Galaxy was the best film. It’s a more entertaining, more satisfying experience. I can sit down and watch it again and again. It also had great emotional resonance, deftly laying its seeds early that were harvested at the end (Peter’s mom, We are Groot, etc.)

        It’s packed full of amazing shots that feel like splash pages, brief iconic moments that speak volumes.

        Winter Soldier is a very good film, but, once you know the mystery, it doesn’t quite have the same impact. (Although the “Did you get the flowers?” line is one of my favorite Marvel moments). And the grand scheme of having three death carriers never really feels like a great threat. It’s more of an excuse for things to happen.

        In fact, I think Civil War holds up better because it leaves you questioning whether Cap was a villain in his own movie (which he was).

        And Avengers; Age of Ultron needs to be a bit lower on the list. The dream sequences, Thor running off, I’m a monster, Ultron v. Jarvis all of these scenes disrupt the flow of the film.

  • Victor Roa

    hehe, fun list, although worst still is…. spending a weekend night as a teenager with friends watching Generation X and saying “well, this is closest we are ever going to get a comic book adaption.” and then sighing how Screwed marvel is on filing bankruptcy. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a3d46bd6fc41438b2b3171c81760ae93be6e61da1c1afb8cef39084db25e879b.jpg
    so any MCU film still is a massive step up from 20 years ago before Blade 1 was released.

  • TFCB

    I foresee much flack for this list. Hoo boy.

    • Nick

      Yeah, so did I as I wrote it. But it’s how I actually feel, having seen all them (except Thor: Ragnarok) at least 5 times. Plus, where’s the fun in agreeing with popular opinion? No discussion if I just guess what everyone else wants to read.

  • WTFITBS

    Too early to comprise a list such as this, I think when Marvel/Disney gets to a point where they want to stick to animated or live action shows and steer away from films for awhile, this would be appropriate. Next year we’re getting three more films: Black Panther, Ant-Man and The Wasp and Avengers: Infinity War which will make this list null and void.

    • Nick

      Easy to update! Just add each new release to the list, in it’s proper place!

  • SeanDon

    I’ll be nice…no comment on the list haha

  • axebox

    1. Winter Soldier
    2. Avengers
    3. Iron Man
    4. Guardians of the Galaxy
    5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
    6. Spider-Man Homecoming
    7. Civil War
    8. Ant-Man
    9. Doctor Strange
    10… Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Thor, Thor Dark World, Incredible Hulk

    • Joseph Jammer Medina

      Good list. Don’t agree completely, but by and large, your rankings are sound.

  • Mad Barchetta

    I think you’re over-critical of the Thor films, especially in saying there was no humor in The Dark World. Maybe you need to re-watch it because there was a ton of humor in that movie. A lot of of it misplaced, but hardly that dark of a film, beyond Thor watching his mother and adopted brother die. (of course, I think those things actually give the movie some impact and a sense of stakes) In my mind, Ant-Man ranks below both of them, and it generally overrated, although I did enjoy it.

    One thing I am desperately sick of hearing: “Wah, wah! They put in stuff about SHIELD (or whatever) in the story and it seemed like they were just world-building.” Yes! Yes, they were! Suck it up, buttercup. So many people got excited in that very first post-credits scene because it meant that Marvel was possibly working on building upon what they started with Iron Man. “Oh cool,” everyone said, “we’re going to get The Avengers! And SHIELD!!” Then most of them proceed to complain that this expansion of Tony’s world actually took place during the movies. Whn the hell else did you want them to do it???? During commercial breaks?? Keep it all to post credit stings??? Of course movie time would be devoted to this world-building. Frankly, I never found any of it to be a negative. It’s part of a meta-story, of which ALL the movies are a part. That means that’s how it’s going to work. Marvel certainly did a better job of integrating the various parts of its universe than BvS did, when we got a whole scene of Wonder Woman checking out all the logo-labeled MP4’s of heroes to be included in a future film.

    Either come up with a better way to do it, or stop complaining about it! Please. Enough is enough, already!

    • Nick

      Finally, someone besides my friend at work (who ranks it #1) appreciates Ultron! I’ve been getting the most flack for that.

      • Mad Barchetta

        Most people and critics didn’t care for Empire Strikes Back for a while, too. Once people get past their initial reactions, based on expectations of their own that weren’t met, they’ll start to see it for what it is: A movie that is essentially every bit as good as the first but missing the novelty. It explored the way the team had grown but also the darker aspects of each character. It also continued to explore concepts of personal accountability in the world of super heroes; Tony’s ongoing guilt and drive to protect the world, Banner’s guilt and self-loathing over the damage the Hulk could cause, Natasha’s doubts that she can ever get beyond the life of violence she’s lived. The movie has layers, but they apparently weren’t the layers people wanted, so they reacted as so many others do these days: “This isn’t just what I wanted, so it sucks!” We’ll see where it stands 5-10 years from now.

        • Nick

          Finally! Someone who gets it. Ultron may not be as clean and polished on the surface as The Avengers, or other MCU films, but it has layers! I stand by those amazing dream sequences, I think they’re pretty powerful and relate to the personal accountability theme you speak of, as well as reestablishing a heartbreaking image for Rogers.

  • Robobob

    I made a list awhile a year ago using IMDb user ratings, Metacritic’s critics and user scores and Rotten Tomatoes using average ratings from critics and users instead of their percentage system which is basically just a thumbs up or thumbs down. I added the Marvel movies from this year and the ratings from Ragnarok so far. (they most likely will change a few months out) Here’s the rankings I got:

    81.6 Guardians of the Galaxy
    80.8 Iron Man
    79.6 Captain America: Civil War
    79.2 Avengers
    79.0 Captain America: Winter Soldier
    77.6 Thor: Ragnarok
    77.2 Doctor Strange
    76.6 Guardians of the Galaxy 2
    73.2 Ant-man
    71.8 Avengers: Age of Ultron
    70.2 Captain America: First Avenger
    69.8 Iron man 3
    68.2 Thor
    67.4 Thor: Dark World
    67.4 Incredible Hulk
    66.0 Iron Man 2

    Also, if you count only user ratings the top 5 shuffle a little if you don’t feel like giving a handful of critics that much weight against tens of thousands of users.

    85.0 Guardians of the Galaxy
    83.0 Avengers
    83.0 Captain America: Winter Soldier
    82.7 Iron Man
    82.3 Captain America: Civil War

    • Robobob

      Oh and critics alone favored these top 5 in this order.
      Ironman,
      Guardians of the Galaxy,
      Captain America: Civil War,
      Spider-man: Homecoming
      Thor: Ragnarok.

    • Nick

      Very interesting!