Here’s the final piece of my MCU ranking, with the best of the best. Here are my top 10 Marvel has to offer.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Here we go with the top 10 and rounding the list is Cap! The first outing for Steve Rogers was also the first film showing how Marvel Studios could change the formula for superhero pictures. The film did this by mixing a superhero origin story with a World War II epic. In doing so, the film was able to create its own charm, incorporating elements of a war movie while still having its other worldly, sci-fi pieces.
Rogers was also handled very well as a character. The movie was able to make Captain America, who at first glance seems like a simple, overly patriotic hero, into a developed character who’s a bit more complex than one might think. It’s a great balance the character has here, where Cap acknowledges the symbolism he carries with his uniform and shield, while still being completely selfless with a tight focus on finishing the mission at hand. He wears the stars and stripes, but there’s more to him than that.
Making this work is a solid performance from Chris Evans, who convincingly plays Rogers as a noble man with an iron will. The film also wisely had Tommy Lee Jones as the military commander in the movie, which really added to the film’s war feel.
9. Spider-Man Homecoming (2017)
After a “Spider-Man” trilogy in the early 2000s and a failed reboot movie series that bit off more than it could chew, it seemed rather surprising that that the powers that be would attempt another one. However, thanks to this Spider-Man being in the Marvel universe, it was able to set itself apart from its predecessors.
It also distanced itself as it managed to be a funny high school, coming of age comedy while also being a crime fighting flick. The film managed to capture teen life really well, with natural dialogue that made Peter Parker’s life compelling to follow, especially considering he’s dealing with his alter ego life as Spider-Man.
This was thanks to a solid performance from Tom Holland, who was perfect in the role, especially as he portrays Spider-Man’s growth as a hero. The cast is also well rounded with a stellar performance from Michael Keaton and good support from Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has a lot going on, in fact it pushes the run time to two hours and 16 minutes. However, this movie still really works, and one of the reasons is how it ties its many subplots together with the theme of family. As the film takes place, it explores Peter’s relationship with his father and Gamora’s relationship with her step-sister Nebula, along with Rocket learning to rely more on the team.
This great character development was very crucial in making audiences even more invested in the protagonists that they already knew from the first film. Bringing everything together this way was also important in making the movie’s ending quite emotional.
Like its predecessor, Guardians Vol. 2 was also benefited from a very funny script, great soundtrack choices and wonderful performances from the returning cast. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper and Michael Rooker especially stand out in this film, where they really bring their A-game in their respective roles.
7. Black Panther (2018)
“Black Panther” has two major strengths in its execution. First, the film benefits from showing T’Challa, an already accomplished and courageous man, still have to learn more about himself. For example, because he’s now king, he has to deal with more politics than before. It creates real human drama on top of the action we expect from this type of movie.
Secondly, the movie sets itself apart from just another superhero film by telling a monarchy-related story. This is largely driven by T’Challa having to defend his throne from the film’s antagonist, Erik Killmonger, who makes a great villain. The story about these two characters is elevated to a high level thanks to the fantastic acting of Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa and Michael B. Jordan as Erik.
“Black Panther” also excels thanks to exciting action sequences and an awesome musical score that gives the film a lot of style.
6. Thor Ragnarok (2017)
“Thor: Ragnarok” hit theaters like a bolt of lightning and blew me away with how good it was. As the rest of this list points out, I wasn’t as big of a fan of the past two “Thor” films. “Ragnarok,” though, changed the whole thing.
This film was funny, entertaining and developed Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as a character while also giving Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) more development as a bonus. Great new characters, such as the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and the new villain Hela (Cate Blanchett) rounded things out nicely, too.
It’s simply a blast to watch from start to finish, from Thor fighting the Hulk in a gladiator match to him learning more about his own powers and what he’s supposed to inherit. Plus, seeing him interact with Bruce as well as Valkyrie put the cherry on top. On top of all that, “Ragnarok” has a very important subtext about colonialism.
It should also be noted that this is another movie in this franchise that had the protagonists use a rather inventive idea to defeat the villain rather than just throwing punches.
If I had to recommend just a few Marvel films, this would be on the list.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I think a film like “Thor: Ragnarok” was only possible because of how well “Guardians of the Galaxy” ended up working. While I really like its sequel, I still love the original more. First of all, the makers did this project a great service by filling it with great nostalgic pop culture, and doing so in a meaningful way by tying it in to the lead character, Peter’s, backstory.
This definitely wasn’t a one person show, though, as all of the Guardians are given fantastic depth and personalities as characters and as an audience, you want to see them team up and work together soon after they meet.
One of the biggest strengths the film has is its comedic script. There are so many great lines here, for example, Peter calling Rocket “Ranger Rick” still makes me laugh to this day. Not only was the writing funny, though, but the acting delivered on this front, too. Dave Bautista is spot on as the socially inept Drax, Bradley Cooper lends an awesome performance to Rocket, Zoe Saldana fits great as the cynical, dead-panning Gamora and Chris Pratt is perfectly cast as Peter.
Along with the comedy, the lead performers also did great work in the more serious moments, and made the team bonding moments quite convincing. Plus, the action sequences featured here are a lot of fun and many of them were unique, especially when the Tree-character Groot was involved.
4. The Avengers (2012)
“The Avengers” still wows me in how well it all worked out. When I wrote my original review way back in 2012, I noted that the main story here is quite simple. However, there was a lot more going on here than just the Loki vs Avengers concept going on.
What “The Avengers” is really about was watching the team come together and exploring how this effected each character. The previously self-centered Thor, for example, who’s still learning to be humble, still appeared in “The Avengers” to be trying to grasp how to work in a team.
Bruce Banner, meanwhile, has to come to terms with being back in society while having the Hulk inside him and Tony Stark is confronted with who/what he fights for. There’s even a scene where Steve Rogers (Captain America) calls out Stark for something along the lines of “fighting for himself.”
The list goes on. This movie is about characters, and all of the characters are compelling, they have backgrounds and most importantly, they’re very well acted. Just look at the film careers of some of the people on screen here, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson. These are all award caliber actors, and they share the screen with other great talents.
Plus, the film boasts a very strong, funny script. There are such great lines here, such as Thor mentioning that his brother Loki is adopted when confronted with some of the destruction that’s happened.
The action is also amazing, there’s one part in particular where all the Avengers are working together to fight and to me it’s like the culmination of every comic book film ever made.
3. Iron Man (2008)
The original still holds up and is near the top in terms of Marvel quality. Despite using an origin story formula that was already quite familiar (getting powers in the first act, testing them in the second and a final battle for the third), “Iron Man” still stood out as something new and fresh back in 2008.
The film seemed to have so much more style and swagger than many of its comic book film counterparts at the time. The film was also very accessible, even to audiences not as interested in the genre. This is likely because of the realism displayed here, which made the movie much more relatable. The realism was partly because instead of getting powers, the lead character Tony Stark had to build and construct everything he uses. As a result, while still going into science fiction territory, “Iron Man” remained largely grounded, making it very easy to get into as a viewer and to a larger point, being the perfect film to start the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Plus, the casting was downright perfect. Downey Jr. was so impressive as Stark, capturing everything from the character’s arrogance to his regret and his resolve. He made the character his, and it’s the reason he’s remained one of the key figures in the franchise. The character was also well developed throughout the film, starting off as arrogant and selfish but revealing a deeper person behind the ‘rich playboy.’ Seeing Stark’s character arc of being a weapons developer to going in the opposite direction is compelling and watching him develop the Iron Man armor is interesting and engaging.
The cast is also filled with extremely talented performers, such as Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard. While Howard only appeared in one Marvel film and was later replaced by Don Cheadle, he was still great in the role.
It’s smart, entertaining and one of the best Marvel films to date.
2. Avengers: Infinity War
When the first “Avengers” came out in 2012, I remember asking myself if the creative team could handle putting so many characters together in a cohesive way. I asked myself the same thing when there were even more characters and plot threads in “Infinity War.”
Both times, the folks Marvel selected to create the films knocked it out of the park.
While “Infinity War” isn’t told in a traditional three act structure, it still works very well by featuring a series of vignettes with various characters that are all well tied together. The story has a lot going on, yet it all fits together so well, so it doesn’t feel convoluted.
Of course, like other “Avengers” movies, the best part of the film is watching the characters interact. It was an absolute blast watching Thor meet Star Lord and seeing the Avengers fight side-by-side with the armies of Wakanda.
On top of the action, the film is also very heavy, with some major emotional moments and a rather bold ending.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
This is the gold standard of Marvel. “The Winter Soldier” isn’t just a Marvel comic book film, it’s a spy espionage thriller that even has time to commit to social commentary. This film includes two great characters betrayed by their own agency, as well as government secrets and conspiracies related to surveillance.
The movie is also very much about the characters, specifically its lead. From start to finish, audiences get to watch Steve Rogers (Captain America) adjust to the time period he now lives in while also dealing with things from his past. The latter especially comes into play later in the movie where it turns out Rogers has to fight one of his former friends.
The movie also benefits from the relationships Rogers has with those around him, such as his friendships with Natasha (Black Widow) and Sam (Falcon). The group of characters is rounded out well with head spy Nick Fury played fantastically by Samuel Jackson and government official Alexander Pierce, portrayed in convincing fashion by Robert Redford.
The picture also features exhilarating action sequences that are some of the best in this Marvel franchise. Highlights include a stealth mission on a ship, Rogers taking down a jet by himself with just his shield and a battle on a highway. All of these, and more, are top notch in effects and choreography.
Plus, while the film is played mostly straightforward with a good amount of seriousness, the script did include some very well timed pieces of humor, allowing for some moments of relief for the audience and banter that developed the characters.
Those characters also work so well thanks to the talented cast. Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Jackson and Redford are all on point here.
Other Marvel movies may have had more action, or more comedy and in some cases even more character development. However, in my opinion, nothing else has brought so many elements from this franchise together and made it work so well as “Winter Soldier.”