Ranking all 13 films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Captain America: Civil War has been in theaters for a week now, meaning all of you should have seen it already. But we’ll give you one more week. Or maybe until Memorial Day weekend. Go see it.

As of this writing, the movie has a 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and has generally been receiving stellar reviews. And for good reason. It’s pretty much got everything you could want in a superhero movie. It’s not afraid to go deep, but also knows that what people crave most is for Captain America and Iron Man to duke it out.

The question is: where does Civil War rank among the 13 movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe — or as the nerds say, MCU, which doesn’t include any of the X-Men, Fantastic Four or Spider-Man films (until Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 7, 2017) — released over the past eight years? Glad you asked. Here’s one opinion.

 

TIER 3: WE’LL PRETEND THESE DIDN’T HAPPEN

13. The Incredible Hulk

This whole thing was just a steaming mess. Of course, it could have been worse. And it was once upon a time in 2003, when Marvel handed the story to director Ang Lee and brought in Eric Bana to play the Hulk. Five years later, Marvel brought in Transporter director Louis Leterrier and gave the role of not-so-jolly green giant to Edward Norton.

The result was a decent but completely uninteresting movie, which is where the problem lies. There was just nothing compelling about Bruce Banner’s character here. Or, rather, Banner himself and all his conflicts are somewhat compelling. But the Hulk — the giant monster that smashes everything in sight and winds up tearing apart all of Harlem — isn’t. The villains — General Ross (William Hurt) and Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), are the same two-dimensional bad guys that appear in every action film.

Nothing about The Incredible Hulk was so awful, but there was nothing wholly memorable either. That Norton was replaced soon after by the more talented Mark Ruffalo just makes this film fade even further into the background. It introduced us to Marvel’s cinematic version of the Hulk. But it wasn’t until the first Avengers film that we actually met the Bruce Banner we’ve come to know.

 

12. Iron Man 2

Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is always great, and so every film featuring him has some semblance of watchability. The problem with Iron Man 2 was that it had nothing else. The plot was all over the place. The movie couldn’t quite decide whether to become a Tony Stark laugh-fest, a deep look at what it actually means to be a superhero, or a giant prelude to every MCU film. Remember, this is where we met Black Widow for the first time. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is also given a prominent role.

Iron Man 2 is watchable, especially if you’re an MCU fanboy. I just wouldn’t recommend doing so.

 

11. Thor: The Dark World

Thor has actually become one of my favorite MCU characters for the simple reason that he’s always good for a number of laughs. So what’s my issue? I’ve never read any of the Marvel comics, though I am a sucker for comic-book like storylines and love nerding out on overlapping arcs. But when you start introducing multiple universes and foreign substances like Dark Aether, well, that stuff doesn’t make it easy.

Chris Hemsworth is great in this film, as he is every time he shows up on screen as Thor. Loki is one of the best MCU villains. And the secondary characters in Thor’s universe are certainly a fun bunch. All that said, The Dark World is painfully slow and a bit all over the place. There’s also no character development. There’s just plot. The Dark World isn’t awful, but it’s not very good either.

 

10. Ant-Man

There’s really not much to touch on here. Ant-Man is fun, but entirely formulaic. If not for Paul Rudd being Paul Rudd, it would have been a complete dud.

 

TIER 2: YOU’LL STOP FOR A FEW MINUTES TO WATCH ANY TIME THEY’RE ON CABLE

9. Thor

As far as origin stories go, this one hit every note. We get to watch Thor evolve from a pompous ass into a hero worthy of his hammer. There are sweet fight scenes. We meet the brilliant Loki for the first time. There are tons of laughs with Thor adjusting to life on earth.

Again, given that this is, essentially, a story about aliens, Thor doesn’t carry as much weight as, say, Captain America: The First Avenger. But it’s a fun ride that introduces us to a whole set of interesting characters, Thor and Loki chief among them.

 

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron

There’s plenty to like here. Any time you put this many stars together, you’re going to get something fun and interesting — and Ultron is. I especially love the party scene towards the end of the first act.

And James Spader’s voice as the title villain is hypnotizing.

So what’s the problem? I still don’t fully understand that whole Vision business, nor the actual vision Thor received while taking a bath in that mystic pool thing — and I’m the kind of person who spend hours on Wikipedia after each MCU film, so that I can better grasp this stuff. And while the fight scenes were fun and all, they still seemed to be missing something.

But back to the Vision plot, which really centers around those Infinity Stones, which I think could present the MCU films with a bit of a problem. Or rather, it will be interesting to see how Marvel elects to handle this landmine. The issue, as I see it, is that as the MCU continues to move forward, everything in the films get a bit, well, more nerdgasmic. What I mean is: the Infinity Stones, and the use of them, are seemingly about to become even more central to the storylines.

Thing is: non-comic book fans can’t follow that stuff. Take Age of Ultron as an example. I get that Ultron is the villain. That part’s easy. The whole business with the stone and Vision and all — I’ve seen the movie three times and I still don’t really get what happened. And I’m someone who actually wants to follow this stuff. But people like my wife, and others who just want a fun popcorn flick that maybe gets them to think a bit may not be interested. I’m curious to see how Marvel juggles all this as Thanos — featured in the post-credits scene here — becomes an even bigger player.

 

7. Captain America: The First Avenger

I’m a sucker for all things Nazi and World War II, so this one was right in my wheelhouse. It would be nice if Steve Rogers had some sort of flaw. But I guess him initially not actually having one is what leads to the flaws he later develops. Also, Tommy Lee Jones’ presence is always welcomed.

 

6. Iron Man 3

I actually think Iron Man 3 has become a bit underrated. For one, it’s got more of Tony Stark out of the Iron Man suit, which is always a plus. It’s much more fun to listen to Stark banter and watch him try to solve problems than it is to see Iron Man mash things in. We also get a GREAT twist in Iron Man 3, one I don’t think viewers see coming. And the final battle with Stark and his many suits versus Guy Pearce is one of the best in the MCU.

 

TIER I: OMG GIVE ME MORE!!!

5. Captain America: Civil War

OK, first off, I really enjoyed this movie. Let’s start there. To be honest, though, the raving reviews kind of surprised me. Maybe I need to see it again to fully appreciate it. But, to me, something about Civil War just felt off.

I’ll start with the good. I loved Black Panther and Spider-Man. That Marvel was cool with skipping the whole spider-bite thing — which we’ve now seen happen to multiple actors in multiple films — and getting right into his story was, I thought, a brilliant move. And I love the idea of Tony Stark playing the role of mentor. Also, the central conflict of the film — the idea of the Sokovia Accords — was a smart play. It shows that Marvel knows how ridiculous it is that its characters seem to kill thousands of civilians every movie. Making that an actual issue helps make the entire MCU feel more, I don’t know, real?

Oh, and let’s not forget the final fight scene between Cap and Stark, which was absolutely fantastic for the sole reason that it seemed like they both actually wanted to kill one another. Which gets me to my one contention with Civil War: the big fight scene at the airport that everyone loved, well, I agree with everything Tom Ley had to say about it over at Deadspin. I felt the same way while watching it. It all seemed so fake to me because I know they weren’t actually fighting, that no one would actually die.

Now, if there was actual hate between the two sides, if you could sense that Black Widow and Hawkeye were truly going at it, well, THAT would be an all-time scene. Instead, we got a dull laughfest that needed the comedic timing of Paul Rudd.

 

4. Iron Man

The one that kickstarted it all, and which deserves all the credit for turning the MCU into bankable movies. Tony Stark, or more specifically Robert Downey Jr., changed the game with this performance. I’ve seen this movie about 30 times and never get bored. It’s perfect. It’s hilarious and interesting.

Our protagonist starts in one place and ends in another, but that transformation doesn’t come cheap. And Jeff Bridges is in it, which is always a treat. Without Iron Man, there’s no MCU. There’s no need to add anything else.

 

3. Captain America: Winter Soldier

Man, was this good. It was the rare MCU — or comic-book movie, for that matter — that had some mystery to it. We didn’t know who Captain America was fighting at first, nor why. Later on, we find out — and that throws a giant wrench in everything Steve Rogers has ever believed. Winter Soldier succeeds where so many other films have failed: It gets deep on us, while staying true to the MCU and pushing the overarching story — in this case, that SHIELD has been corrupted — forward.

 

2. The Avengers

Somehow, director Joss Whedon was able to bring Iron Man and Captain America and Thor and the Hulk (and Black Widow and Hawkeye) together, and yet keep the whole thing in check. The Avengers was perfect and as much fun as I’ve ever had in theaters. It would be No. 1 on this list, if not for James Gunn doing something absolutely special with the film that’s next up. But if you prefer to flip Guardians and this, I’d understand.

 

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a theater happier — or with more of a craving to sit through the movie I just saw one more time. Guardians was hilarious, and casting Chris Pratt as our “hero” was absolutely genius, right up there with giving Downey the role of Tony Stark. What was so cool about Guardians, though, was just how different it was. Yeah, it’s part of the MCU. But as of now, it’s in a galaxy far far away. (See what I did there?)

Everything about this movie was captivating. I can’t wait to see what Gunn and Pratt have in store for the sequel.

Yaron Weitzman

About Yaron Weitzman

Yaron Weitzman is a freelance writer based in New York whose work frequently appears on The Comeback, SB Nation and in SLAM Magazine. He's also been published on SB Nation Longform, The Cauldron, Tablet Magazine and in the Journal News. Yaron can be followed on Twitter @YaronWeitzman

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