Thanos has arrived.
With the release of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel has delivered on a promise made during the post credit scene of the first Avengers movie. The Big Bad of the MCU is finally here and ready to make some noise. Which has everyone wondering, is Infinity War any good, and how does it compare to other Marvel movies?
While my actual review for Infinity War is still in the works, today I will be providing a sneak peek by ranking all of the Marvel movies, from my personal favorite to those I am less enthused about. This is a fun exercise I like to complete after every new Marvel release, albeit typically not with this much depth. One thing I have discovered over the years is that while some things remain constant about The List, there is also a fair amount of shifting things around. My opinions on a movie may change over time, especially if it’s one I find myself rewatching frequently. So on top of providing a strict ranking, I’m also going to divide my list up into three tiers: top tier, mid tier, and bottom tier. The actual ranking of the Marvel movies might change with my mood, but this is something that remains pretty constant.
Without further ado, here are all the movies ranked according to my personal preference.
Top Tier Marvel Movies
The Avengers (2012) To me, the first Avengers was a perfect storm of awesomeness. Getting to see so many of my favorite heroes come together for the first time was ground breaking in so many ways. So many aspects of the MCU, from the very Whedonesque mix of humor and drama, to the audacious set pieces, to the interpersonal relationships that have come to anchor this mega-franchise, all had there start here. It even managed to avoid the most common pitfall of Marvel movies by delivering a strong villain. Out of all of the Marvel movies, this is the one I have rewatched the most, and holds the steadiest place in my heart. It’s not just one of my favorite Marvel movies, it’s one of my favorite movies of all times.
Captain America: Winter Solider (2014)- One of the interesting things about these top tier movies is how many of them were not just entertaining, but managed to transform my expectations of what the MCU could accomplish, and none of that is more obvious than in Captain America: Winter Solider, a grounded spy thriller with seriously high stakes, taut pacing, strong performances, and heart wrenching character drama. Marvel movies may be best known for their humor and overall sense of fun, but when they get serious, it really pays off.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)- Aaaand sometimes you just want humor and overall sense of fun, and what’s the harm in that? Guardians of the Galaxy successfully launched the cosmic arm of the MCU, proving that Marvel didn’t need to be limited to earth-based capes and cowls style adventures. But perhaps the more impressive things about Guardians is just how audacious is it. An 70s-music inspired space comedy starring a lovable cast of characters-including a talking raccoon and his best friend, a sentient tree? Yes. please! After The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy is the Marvel movie that I’ve rewatched the most.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)- While Infinity War didn’t seem to charm critics as much as some of Marvel’s other films, out of all of Marvel’s offerings this one gave me the most feels. And it’s easy to see why. Marvel spent ten years making me fall in love with its characters, and then put them all in extreme danger. Thanks to a big character death in the first scene, it felt like no one was safe this time around, and the Russo brothers, who directed Infinity War, notched that tension up further by interspersing the big ballsy set pieces with genuinely moving character moments that reminded me why I loved these characters so much. On top that, Infinity War managed to recapture the same feeling I had while watching the first Avengers, seeing so many of these characters interact for the first time.
Iron Man (2008)- Nowadays, looking at the financial juggernaut that is Marvel Studios, it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. When Iron Man was released 10 years ago, they were faced with a fair amount of skepticism. How would the studio find financial success when the rights to their most popular characters were owned by Fox and Sony? Not to mention the judgmental comments people made about lead actor Robert Downey Jr’s past. But that skepticism was quickly proven wrong when Iron Man turned out to be such a damn good movie. Lead by an electrifying performance by Downy Jr, Iron Man is a movie that holds up extremely well over time.
Black Panther (2018)- I went back and forth over the placement of Black Panther and Iron Man on this list. But while Tony ultimately won, T’Challa has quickly become a new favorite of mine. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy expanded on the MCU by going to space, Black Panther accomplished this by largely leaving the western world behind. The film sidesteps the Marvel villain problem in a BIG way with Erik Killmonger, but what ultimately sold Black Panther for me were its female characters. Diverse in both personality and drive, the women of Wakanda each possess a vibrancy that could anchor their own films. I hope the MCU keeps them around for a long time.
Spider-man: Homecoming (2017)- I, like many people, wasn’t looking forward to this iteration of Spiderman. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the character, but was tired of seeing the same Peter Parker story over and over again. And then Spidey-actor Tom Holland charmed me in Captain America: Civil War, and continued to win my heart in Spider-man: Homecoming. Instead of treading water, Homecoming does a fantastic job of breaking new ground in the MCU, by focusing on a teenage lead in a diverse urban setting, and bringing back the secret identity, a classic superhero trope largely abandoned by the MCU. Spider-man: Homecoming may technically be a Sony movie, but the quality of the film is what I’ve come to expect from the MCU: sky high.
Mid-Tier Marvel Movies
Captain America: Civil War (2016)- AKA Avengers 2.5! All kidding aside, it would make sense that the third Captain America would be more team focused then previous installments, given Steve Rogers’s rise to leader of The Avengers in Age of Ultron. And while some members of ensemble cast are better served than others, Civil War is nevertheless quite the impressive balancing. Based around the relationships in Steve’s lives, from humble beginnings (Bucky Barns and Peggy Carter), to his new life as an Avenger (Tony Stark especially), the film also brings in two new headliners (Spiderman and Black Panther) in exciting ways. Civil War was a fitting finale to the Captain America trilogy, and a nice preview of things to come in Infinity War.
Thor (2011)- It’s often been criticized that the first movies in Marvel trilogies tend to follow a familiar pattern: a selfish white guy (Tony Stark, Thor, Peter Quill, Stephen Strange) turns over a new leaf and learns how to be a hero. And well… that’s criticism is perfectly valid. But when it’s done right, it really works, such as in the first Thor movie. Yes, the romance is kind of rushed, and the less said about some of those wigs the better, but I found myself really swept up in both Thor and Loki’s story. In addition, the Thor movies are the only franchise (with the exception of Ant-Man) that deal with blood relations, as opposed to found families, which brings a unique spice. Thor is one of my most rewatched Marvel movies, and I think I’ll always have a soft spot for it.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 (2017)- One of the drawbacks to making a follow up to something truly unique is what looked like groundbreaking before can quickly start to resemble a formula. And while Guardians of the Galaxy, vol 2 suffers from this a bit (that and the fact that the humor can occasionally veer into overly cartoony) the movie was still incredibly enjoyable to watch. A lot of this lays at the feet of the films talented cast, and the wonderful relationships shared between these memorable characters. By the end of the film (which featured one of the most tearful deaths in the MCU) I knew that I was a Guardians fan for life, and look forward to what happens in Vol 3.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)- When I first saw Captain America: The First Avenger, I remember enjoying it just fine, but not finding it as satisfying as some of the other MCU movies. Weirdly enough, the movie holds up much better when seen in the context of the wider MCU. And yes, it suffers from the Marvel villain problem, and there are one too many montages, but thanks to a compelling performance from Chris Evans, Steve’s journey holds emotional weight, which is what makes this movie work so well for me.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)- Warning- some of the placements on this list might leave you scratching your head a bit, and I’m going to guess that said head scratching is going to start right about… now! Okay, so I know that for many viewers, Age of Ultron is their least favorite Marvel movie. And while it’s my least favorite Avengers movie, I actually like it as a whole! Yes, there are a lot of areas where it struggles. Between character arcs, the Ultron storyline, and setting things up for Infinity War, it ends up falling short in a few places. And it suffers from the Marvel villain problem. But the character interaction is what really makes it work for me. I also really like the two new characters introduced here: Scarlet Witch and The Vision. So while Age of Ultron is far from my favorite, it’s admittedly a Marvel movie I enjoy plenty.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)- The head scratching continues. I also liked Thor: The Dark World! Yes, Thor: The Dark World is probably the worst offender when it comes to the Marvel villain problem, and the relationship between Thor and Jane continues to be uneven, but I really like the Thor characters. I loved watching how the Thor/Loki relationship developed, and connected very well with the more humorous bits. Despite it’s title, I ultimately found The Dark World to be a lot of fun. Also, better wigs!
Iron Man 2 (2010)- Given the strength of Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Tony Stark, it’s sometimes easy to forget how uneven the Iron Man movies can be. But I ended up rewatching this one recently while visiting my family and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, which brings it up a notch. Yes, the movie suffers from the Marvel villain problem, and Black Widow’s introduction is uneven, but the set pieces are really thrilling (especially the Monaco racing sequence), and the chemistry between the cast is on point as always.
Thor: Ragnarock (2017)- Now I know some of you are in complete shock! What is this? You say. The best reviewed Thor movie is so far down the list? To which I say, yup! Thor: Ragnarock is a daring entry into the MCU. I love much of the humor, and I think we can all agree that the MCU is better for having Korg and Valkyrie in it. But there are some tonal issues in this movie that marred my viewing experience, and the brutal mowing down of the Warriors Three, done with so little respect to their characters, is unforgivable. I enjoyed this one, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not my favorite.
Ant-Man (2015)- Sometimes your experience with a movie is dragged down less by what the film itself has to offer, but more by what it could have been. Ant-Man, in so many ways, is a successful superhero film. It’s well cast, has a unique feel to it when compared to the rest of the franchise (likely a result of hiring a comedic director), and is a generally feel good time at the movies. But then you think about the quirky masterpiece it could have been had things worked out better with Edgar Wright. And, like others, it suffers from the Marvel villain problem in a big way (despite it’s best efforts not to. Not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but far from greatness.
Doctor Strange (2016)- Speaking of movies that are far from bad, but still aren’t that great, let’s bring out Doctor Strange! It’s one of the best reviewed films in the MCU, which I believe to be 100% due to director Scott Derrickson’s impressive visual style. My problem with Doctor Strange is the fact that if you take away that impressive visual style, it ends up feeling very routine. Remember what I said about the “selfish white guy learns how to be a hero” plotline. Here’s an example where it’s not quite as successful. On top of that the movie suffers from the Marvel villain problem (again, despite its best efforts!), and the humor doesn’t always hit. Doctor Strange is a franchise brimming with potential (seriously, the talent level of that cast alone!). Let’s see if we can achieve that next time.
Bottom Tier Marvel Movies
The Incredible Hulk (2008)- I remember almost nothing about this movie. Seriously, almost nothing. I recall a scene where the villain (played by Tim Roth) gets an incredibly painful series of injections, and the Stan Lee cameo. That’s it. “But Nancy,” you might be saying, “this movie came out ten years ago. How well can you be expected to remember it?” And while that it true, this is an issue I’ve had for years. And sure, while part of that is due to the fact that they pretty much retconned the movie when they recast Bruce Banner, I still feel like a Marvel movie should leave a greater impression on me. And this one didn’t.
Iron Man 3 (2013)- If The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3, and season 6 of Arrow has taught me anything, it’s that the villain switcheroo is really difficult to pull off. This is where you present a serious threat (in this case The Mandarin) and reveal halfway through the movie that the true villain is someone far less obvious. So you need to make the second villain unassuming enough to not give away the surprise, yet impressive enough to appear more of a threat than the first. And for me, Iron Man 3 didn’t pull that off, which left me feeling more disappointed then any other Marvel movie has so far. Sure, I liked some of the individual scenes in Iron Man 3, but not the movie as a whole. I think that every Marvel movie fan has a particular film that just didn’t click with them. For me, this is it.
And that’s it (phew! that took longer than I thought). My full review of Infinity War should be coming out next week, first on Speculative Chic and then posted here. I hope everyone enjoyed the latest Avengers movie as much as I clearly did!