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Published August 22, 2014

Marvel comics and superheroes have been around forever but they have never been more popular than now. Marvel Studios released Iron Man back in 2008 and has not looked back. To date, there has been ten movies released as a part of this Cinematic Universe, with two more set to come out next year and plenty to be released in the years that follow. Now that I have finally gotten around to seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, here is a ranking of the films that comprise the MCU. I’m taking several factors into consideration, including box office success, critical acclaim, and my own personal opinion. To get started, here’s number ten:

(Wait… Obviously, some SPOILERS follow)

10. Iron Man 2 — The sequel to 2008’s hit Iron Man was nowhere near as good as the first film. Sure, it made $40 million more than its predecessor, but it cost $60 million more to make. I personally found it to be very forgettable, as I had to refresh my memory of some of the plot points while researching this column. While Robert Downey Jr. is as good as ever as Tony Stark, the rest of the film is just not very interesting when compared to the other Iron Man movies. While it may be an entertaining mess of a film, the other Marvel movies are just too good to be placed lower than it. However, the only other film that could potentially come in at 10 is…

9. Thor: The Dark World — The lowest rated Marvel movie on both Rotten Tomatoes (65%) and Metacritic (54) is Thor: The Dark World. I had very high expectations for this movie but was rather disappointed by the time the credits rolled. It was lackluster in several aspects including the central love story (Didn’t Jane and Thor spend just one weekend together in Thor? And she acts like they’ve been together for ages), scenes featuring Kat Dennings (They should have just written her out of the script), and the main villain. Most Marvel movies have a common theme and that is they all have terrible villains. Audiences don’t learn much about the Dark Elf Malekith aside form the opening exposition. His motivations are very simple: Use a powerful ancient weapon (Which we find out is an Infinity Stone) and destroy the universe. Ultimately, the always-entertaining Thor-Loki relationship is what keeps Thor: The Dark World ahead of Iron man 2.

8. The Incredible Hulk — I enjoyed 2008’s The Incredible Hulk more than most. The film had a great script and Edward Norton offered up a standout performance as Bruce Banner. I liked the decision to skip the origin story and jump straight into the action. However, The Incredible Hulk doesn’t hold up compared to the other movies in the MCU. It made the fewest money, earning only $263 million against a $150 million budget. The lack of enthusiasm for The Incredible Hulk has led Marvel to not be very motivated to make another Hulk solo film, although with all of the currently untitled Marvel movies set to release in the near future, one wonders if the Hulk might actually end up starring in his own movie… (UPDATE: We now know that there are complications over the rights to the character and that this barrier between Universal and Marvel may be what is preventing a solo Hulk film.)

7. Iron Man 3 — When I first made a quick list of these rankings I originally had Iron Man 3 last. I enjoyed watching it less than any other Marvel movie. However, I can’t deny the success of it. Iron Man 3 ended up making over $1.2 billion worldwide, good for being the second most profitable Marvel film. The biggest problem with Iron Man 3, which I’m sure you all known of, was the twist. The trailers promised us a great take on the Mandarin, Iron Man’s most popular villain. The Mandarin was set up to be an interesting and fearsome villain — something Marvel movies have lacked. He was a terrorist with extreme ideals. We ended up being lied to. It turns out that the Mandarin was actually a British actor used as a figurehead as opposed to being the actual Mandarin from the comics. Aldrich Killian was the real villain, for better or for worse. This rubbed me the wrong way, as I’m sure several of you also didn’t like this twist. But hey, props to them for having the balls to pull off a twist like that. I will say this: I did like how Iron Man 3 focused on the man in the suit and his growth as a character.

6. Thor — I don’t have a lot to say about Thor’s first appearance. It was neither great nor terrible, just solid. Chris Hemsworth makes for a great Thor, skillfully portraying his arrogance and charm. However, it was Tom Hiddleston’s Loki that was the real star (or so the internet tells me). Overall Thor was an enjoyable movie, but not as much as the films ahead of it on this list.

5. Captain America: The First Avenger — Captain American has to be my favorite Avenger and I enjoyed his origin movie as much as any other Marvel movie. The very definition of a popcorn flick, The First Avenger is full of fun, action, and cheesiness. The special effects that turned Chris Evans into skinny little Steve Rogers were innovative and rather successful and the practical effects, namely Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull mask, were also pulled off well. Overall, the film was an enjoyable affair, largely because it differed from other superhero films as it was set in the 40s during World War II and for the fact that Captain America doesn’t have any awe-inspiring super powers. However, its box office numbers make it the second least successful Marvel movie.

4. The Avengers — Were you expecting this to be number one? Sorry to disappoint. Sure, The Avengers made $1.5 billion and was lauded by both critics and audiences, but I just couldn’t fall in love with it the way I hoped. It’s flaws were too noticeable for me to enjoy it to its fullest. Some examples: The Hulk going from not being able to control his anger (Ya know, one of his defining characteristics) to being “always angry” and able to control himself, the anticlimactic confrontation between the Hulk and Loki, no casualties during the invasion of New York (Seriously, the only alien invasion ever in which no humans die) and the film being too formulaic (Good guys fight amongst each other, something tragic happens that makes them come together, they beat the bad guy and save the world). Having said all of that, when I watched it for a second time I was able to “turn off my brain” and enjoy it for what it was. The Avengers is an entertaining film that was truly groundbreaking cinema. It was the culmination of all the hard work that Marvel put into their MCU. It has had such a profound impact on the superhero movie genre that now other studios are scrambling to create their own movie universes. The Avengers is without a doubt one of Marvel’s best movies to date.

3. Iron Man — I changed the top three several times and by the time this gets published I might have changed my mind again. You could probably talk me into any order of the following three films. However, they must be ranked! So, coming in at number three is the original Iron Man, the movie that started this all. Without the success of the first Iron Man, none of this might have been possible. Think about it: If Iron Man flopped and lost money or barely made back its budget and then The Incredible Hulk followed with its poor box office showing, Marvel probably would have scrapped plans for their MCU. If the first two films in its plan underperformed, they wouldn’t want to take the risk on making the MCU. Would Sony be trying so hard to emulate Marvel and create their own Spider-Man connected universe? Would DC still have plans to create a Justice League movie without knowing that a superhero teamup movie could be so successful? Iron Man was a wonderful movie and essential to the superhero genre.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy — Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely the most fun movie on this list. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, could it really have a serious tone with a talking raccoon and a walking tree as (arguably) the two biggest stars? In an age where superhero movies outside of the MCU are taking a turn for the “dark” and “gritty” and “real” side to superheros, GOTG reaffirms the belief that superhero movies are meant to be fun and entertaining. The script was full of jokes and each member of the cast was great. Of course I had some issues with it (Ronan was about as one dimensional as bad guys go) but the good in Guardians of the Galaxy certainly outweighs the bad. I really enjoyed it and if you haven’t seen it yet you definitely should while it is still in theatres.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier — Like I said in the Iron Man paragraph, ranking this top three was very difficult. In the end, I decided to place Captain America: The Winter Soldier first. It is the most ambitious of any Marvel film in that The Winter Soldier was a political conspiracy thriller disguised as a superhero film. The revelation of Hydra being behind S.H.I.E.L.D. and the dismantling of the organization were amazing directions for the MCU to take and I look forward to these storylines being explored in further Marvel films. My only complaint was that for a film subtitled The Winter Soldier, there was very little of the Winter Soldier, although his character might be explored further in future films. Everything else about the film is wonderful and an absolute thrill ride.

Well, that turned out to be harder than I expected. Ultimately these ranking are (obviously) subjective. In what order would you rank the films of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe?

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