A Definitive Ranking of the Marvel Universe Films

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NOTE: This post contains spoilers for all Marvel movies. You’ve been warned!

Now that Thanos has won and half our favorite superheroes are dead (not really… probably), it’s the perfect time to put together a ranking of Marvel’s current film offerings. This list will only include Marvel Studios films still considered to be canon, so you won’t see Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men, or that terrible Ben Affleck Daredevil on this list. Marvel’s TV shows also deserve a list of their own in the future, so they won’t be included. And I totally used a bunch of science to put this together, so don’t even try to dispute me.

20. Thor: The Dark World
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The worst thing I can say about Thor: The Dark World is that it’s boring, which is something that can’t really be said for any of the other Marvel films. Christopher Eccleston is completely wasted as the villainous Malekith, who was so forgettable that I just had to look up his name for this article. I also just don’t find Chris Hemsworth’s Thor to be particularly interesting. It’s not that he’s a bad actor or that the character is necessarily poorly written, but he tends to be surrounded by other characters that outshine him. First, it was Loki in the original Thor, and then it was pretty much everyone on screen in Avengers. Unfortunately, Loki’s role in The Dark World is significantly diminished, and while supporting characters like Lady Sif are given more to do, it isn’t enough.

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The Dark World also serves the larger Infinity Stones story arch, which works to its detriment. The greater cosmos of the universe can easily become over-complicated and confusing if not handled well, and that’s exactly what happens in The Dark World. The explanation and utilization of the Aether just doesn’t really work. I like that Thor teams up with Loki, and the Dark Elves could have been cool, but things don’t come together in a satisfying way.

It’s also neat to see The Collector in the post-credits stinger as a little tease for Guardians of the Galaxy, but when one of the coolest moments from your movie is an advertisement for another movie, that’s bad news.

19. Iron Man 3
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Besides The Dark World, Iron Man 3 is the only Marvel movie that I really have no interest in seeing again. Leading up to the release, it looked so promising. The Mandarin is probably Iron Man’s most popular and powerful villain and could have played a significant role in the Infinity War storyline, as he was one of the original owners of the Infinity Gauntlet in the comics. Unfortunately, the writers decide to completely undermine the character, turning him into nothing more than a method actor being used by the far less interesting Aldrich Killian. Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce are both fine actors, but I don’t find either portrayal of their characters to be menacing or compelling.

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts also plays a larger role, which I did not enjoy. I’ll acknowledge my bias against her, as I find her to be pretentious, egotistical, and annoying. Despite some funny moments in the first film, I’ve never thought her character improved the Iron Man movies.

I also love the idea of the movie utilizing the “Demon in a Bottle” story from the Iron Man comics, as Tony deals with alcoholism and Rhodey takes over as Iron Man for a while. This was hinted at in Iron Man 2, but mostly takes form in Iron Man 3 as Tony deals with PTSD after almost dying in space during the climax of Avengers. This ends up being more of a subplot, though, and hasn’t really had a larger effect on the character since then. Most of Iron Man 3 is just forgettable, honestly.

18. Black Panther

I really, really wanted to like Black Panther. I was completely on board with the concept and characters, and it looked like it would have style to spare. Unfortunately, the writing and direction just fall short and I was left bored or confused on multiple occasions. Visually, the movie is often stunning, and the melding of tribal music and hip-hop works perfectly. But those things can only get you so far. The humor is often painful, as well. I’m not sure if that comes down to poor writing or poor delivery — or both. The biggest sin, though, is the use of technology. The movie is filled with dues ex machina moments that begin to feel like satire toward the end.

T’Challa and Erik Killmonger are both great characters, but the rest of the cast is either forgettable or actively annoying. I’m looking at you, Shuri. Killmonger does help break the Marvel curse of bad villains. His methods and the reason why he thinks what he thinks are definitely head-scratchers, but what he stands for is understandable and makes him a three-dimensional person. I also like how he brings a different style to the more traditional characters of Wakanda. He’s brash and young and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. It’s just a shame that he’s kind of an asshole.

The fights in the movie are often fun but don’t bring anything truly new to the table. In a world where Black Panther is releasing a decade after the first Iron Man, the Marvel magic is starting to wear off.

17. The Incredible Hulk
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This is a tricky one to include, as the Marvel movies obviously no longer feature Edward Norton’s Hulk, but the movie was still put out by Marvel Studios and includes Tony Stark and General Ross. Stark is obviously the central point of the greater Marvel universe, and Ross was recently established as a new antagonist in Captain America: Civil War and has popped up in other Marvel films. I try to look at Incredible Hulk as the origin story for Hulk, with the character just being recast for Avengers in the same way that Rhodey was recast for Iron Man 2. It’s much less confusing that way.

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As a standalone movie, The Incredible Hulk is fun, if not particularly special. It doesn’t really serve the greater Marvel universe in any significant way, as the stinger between Stark and Ross ends up amounting to nothing, but that doesn’t have to be seen as a bad thing. I really like Edward Norton, but he’s a bit flat in this movie. The same can’t be said about Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, and William Hurt, as all of these fine actors have no problem chewing every bit of scenery on set, which leads to mixed results. The final confrontation between Hulk and Abomination has a lot of punching, but essentially amounts to two big CGI beasts beating on each other. It never feels like there are any real stakes in the fight, despite some cool moments.

There were also plenty of rumors after the film’s release about disagreements between Edward Norton and the producers, with Edward Norton stating that his script was vastly different than what ended up on the screen. I’ve always wondered what would have happened had we seen Norton’s true vision for the movie. He might still be playing Hulk (which I would have preferred).

16. Thor
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Thor isn’t a bad movie, but compared to most of the other films on this list, it just can’t hold up. It’s certainly better than the misguided The Dark World, with more of a focus on Loki and the greater world of Asgard. When Kenneth Branagh was originally announced to be directing Thor, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Branagh is known for his Shakespearean adaptations, and Thor fits into that mold — with a high fantasy slant. He’s also an actor first and knows how to get great performances from his actors. I thought this might help get some life out of Chris Hemsworth, who may be charming but doesn’t have a whole lot of depth to his characterization of Thor. The final product surprised me, in both good ways and bad.

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First, there’s a large amount of humor to the film, which I didn’t expect. Kat Dennings as Darcy is a great addition and she often steals her scenes. Thor also has some great moments, played adequately by Chris Hemsworth. The problem comes down to Asgard and the overall tone of the movie. There’s just too much CGI involved, to the point that everything looks and feels fake. Asgard doesn’t have the ethereal aura that you’d expect from this higher plane of existence, and instead, it looks like everything is covered in a thick coat of high-gloss paint.

I do enjoy the supporting characters, like Heimdall and the Warriors Three, and I wish we’d gotten to see more of them. I also like how the movie introduces Hawkeye, though the scene feels a bit shoehorned in. All in all, though, the action is fun and the humor is surprisingly fitting.

15. Ant-Man and The Wasp

Ant-Man and The Wasp suffers on this list for simply being worse than its predecessor in basically every single way. That might sound harsh, but the first Ant-Man had its own unique personality in the greater Marvel universe. It was a heist film when the others were more focused on being action movies or comedies. Ant-Man and The Wasp just doesn’t feel as unique. Not helping matters is the fact that the actors involved seem kind of bored throughout. Paul Rudd’s charm is significantly lessened, and it looks like Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are giving minimal effort. Even Michael Peña, who I surprisingly loved in the original, doesn’t hit his bits as hard as he could.

The villain Ghost reminds me a lot of Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming. She’s a “bad guy” with a lot of pathos and potential, but the movie doesn’t seem all that concerned with building her into a real character. Even her resolution feels like a throwaway. Also surprising was the complete lack of action in this one. Again, the first movie was more heist than action, but Ant-Man and The Wasp doesn’t follow that trajectory. If you’re going to be more of a standard action/adventure, you need to give us more action and adventure than one early fight scene and a drawn out car chase in the third act.

It’s kind of hard to see Ant-Man and The Wasp so low on this list, because I didn’t hate it or anything. I still laughed out loud a few times and there’s more fun play with the growing the shrinking. I was just kind of bored throughout most of it, and when compared to the fun personality of the first movie, it’s pretty telling that the most impactful, memorable part of Ant-Man and The Wasp is the stinger tie-in to Infinity War.

14. Captain America: The First Avenger
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It’s worth saying again that these lower-end movies aren’t bad, they just aren’t great. That’s exactly how I feel about The First Avenger. I have a hard time bringing up any strong emotion for the movie, which is why it’s closer to the bottom. I think that mostly comes down to Chris Evans and this version of Captain America, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, I like Chris Evans as Cap, and I’m humble enough to admit that I wasn’t happy with the original casting. I’m glad that I was proven wrong. However, this Captain America — and most iterations of the character — fall into the Superman trap. Because he’s the shining model of heroism and all that’s right in the world, he can be boring. In later films, he’s given more characters to interact with, and Tony Stark, in particular, serves as a great foil for the character. But in The First Avenger, Bucky plays a very small role, and Agent Carter doesn’t have much opportunity to stand out, either. It mostly ends up being Cap’s show, and he isn’t always compelling.

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Though I’m kind of two minds, I also have a problem with Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. His characterization is a little bit too cartoony for my tastes, especially considering the WWII setting and more grounded nature of the other Marvel films. I understand that the character is a bit off the wall — and he’s a Nazi — so it might make sense for him to be a bit over the top. But it’s just too much, in my opinion. If he had a mustache, Red Skull would be twirling it in every scene. The “buy war bonds” montage is also on the cheesy side, though it’s still pretty funny.

I will say that I love the movie taking place during WWII; that helps set it apart from the Marvel films that came before it, and I’m glad we got to see a glimpse of Cap in modern times at the end. It’s just the nature of the story and the villain that are a bit too goofy for my tastes.

13. Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok could not be more different than the preceding Thor movies. Obviously, since it ranks high than either of the others, this is a good thing — but I still wouldn’t consider it anywhere near one of Marvel’s best. It has style, flash, and color to spare, but those aspects feel a bit derivative of Guardians of the Galaxy, to say the least. The “rad” aesthetic fits the buddy-comedy space-adventure romp, and I do enjoy the music choices quite a bit. However, the writing can’t keep up with some of the other more comedy-focused Marvel films, and Chris Hemsworth doesn’t have the personality to carry a script like this.

I’m also disappointed in Loki’s inclusion. Don’t get me wrong, I love the character, but he kind of brings the same stuff we’ve seen from him in three movies already. He’s a bad guy, he seems like he’s becoming a good guy, he betrays everyone, then he goes back to being a good guy for the finale.

Most of the other characters fare better — Jeff Goldblum steals his scenes, director Taiki Waititi brings some levity with his vocal performance as the rock creature Korg, and even Valkyrie gets to do some badass stuff. Cate Blanchett does fine as Hela, but her villain is — shocker — woefully underdeveloped. Hulk feels a bit out of place, too, action sequences notwithstanding. Thor and Hulk were never established as great pals, so their friendship here feels a bit forced. Thor: Ragnarok is definitely more fun than either other Thor movie, but the change in tone makes it feel a bit generic and inconsistent.

12. Iron Man 2
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As a follow up to the fantastic Iron Man, it’s hard to argue that Iron Man 2 wasn’t a bit of a disappointment at the time. I actually enjoy the film more than most, but it can’t hold up to the original or some of the other stellar Marvel movies. This was still a pre-Avengers Marvel universe, and so there wasn’t a whole lot for the movie to build outside of its own contained story. With that being said, Iron Man 2 does introduce Black Widow in a big way, which was a great addition. She’s a complete badass of a character, and she set the tone for character crossovers in Marvel films. Marvel would later follow this pattern by introducing Hawkeye in the first Thor movie, Scarlet Witch in Age of Ultron, and more recently, Spider-Man and Black Panther in Civil War. This turned out to be a great way of introducing characters without having to commit to a standalone movie, and I hope Marvel continues to follow this pattern. It’s an effective way to gauge audience interest in new properties.

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I really enjoy the performances by Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke, and praise the lord that the anemic Terrance Howard was replaced by the far more dynamic Don Cheadle, who’s also become a larger part of the greater Marvel universe.

Unfortunately, Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is woefully underutilized in the film, and I’m honestly very surprised that he hasn’t shown up again in more recent films. Hammer is such a great character portrayed by such a good actor, it’s a shame that nothing more has come from him and his discount Stark technology. He’s a perfect candidate to end up being the patsy for a larger threat in a future Avengers or Iron Man movie. But I’m not holding my breath.

11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
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Speaking of not living up to one’s predecessor, Age of Ultron unfortunately falls into that category. While it’s a fun movie overall, the biggest flaw of Age of Ultron is that it follows too closely in the footsteps of the first Avengers. James Spader’s Ultron is brilliant and I love hearing him pontificate, but the final battle against Ultron’s CG robots feels as generic as the fight against Loki’s army of alien Chitauri in Avengers. At least the Chitauri had the advantage of coming first. There isn’t as much “wow” to all the Avengers working together this second time around, but there’s still plenty of badass moments to spare.

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The focus on including more Marvel characters is a nice touch but ends up hurting the movie in several ways. While the first Avengers focuses on bringing all of the main heroes together and the drama that’s caused, things only get more muddied by adding Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. While Quicksilver’s sacrifice at the end of the movie is touching, it doesn’t have nearly the impact that it could due to Wanda and Pietro’s relatively small impact on the greater plot. They’re never really defined as characters, and instead just act as minions for Hydra and then Ultron. A significant effort is made in Civil War to better flesh out Scarlet Witch, which I appreciate.

Age of Ultron also introduces Vision, and I’ve really enjoyed the journey of that character. In Age of Ultron, it’s cool to see the interaction between Jarvis and Ultron as both of them evolve. I’m a bit disappointed that Thanos doesn’t play a larger role in the movie, however. Just like in the first Avengers, he comes across as more of a passive observer than some kind of impending doom. I’d prefer skipping his little stinger completely. There’s enough going on without him.

Continue to the next page for my top 10!

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