Ranking Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie: A “Wednesday” Listicle

It’s fairly well documented around these parts that I barely constitute the term “casual fan” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve often found their films to be cookie cutter television episodes with inflated budgets, surprisingly cheap special effects, and a wide berth of quality. However, as easy as it is to nitpick this genre, its oversaturation, and its debatable quality, it is important to take a step back and look at the big picture here: what Marvel has accomplished with this series is nothing less than revolutionary storytelling. Never before has a series of films, technically separate and yet undeniably linked, brought together a story over the course of ten years through careful planning, impressive synergy, and sheer force of will. And when coupled with the fact that the later films (pretty much after Guardians of the Galaxy proved that risks could pay off) actually allowed their auteur directors the freedom to experiment and explore their universes, this series has slowly transformed into the defining pop culture touchstone of the decade, perhaps even more so than 80s teen movies, 60s musicals, and 50s Westerns. And as this grand experiment comes to a close with this Friday’s Avengers: Endgame, I thought I would explore the series from beginning to end and rank all three Marvel Phases, from Iron Man to Captain Marvel. That’s right, we’re Ranking Every Marvel Film.

Before we dive into the list, let me break down what I’m looking for, as well as lay out a couple of ground rules. I’m ranking all 21 Marvel movies on the basis of its filmmaking and content, not how it fits into the greater MCU universe. Just because it’s cool that a film is the payoff of ten years of storytelling, or because one film directly impacts the next in the saga, does not make it a good movie. I’m looking for films where the directors and writers took chances, where the story actually matters, the acting actually holds up, and the effects stand out as opposed to hold the film back. I’m also defining this list as exclusively major films released in theaters by the Marvel/Paramount/Disney partnership. This means that none of the television spin-offs will be counted, be they Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (is that show even on anymore?), Daredevil, or Jessica Jones, nor will the one-off short films like Agent Carter, The Consultant, or Item 47. I am also looking exclusively at the films in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning that none of the Sony or 20th Century Fox (although they now count as Disney) films count – sorry, X-Men (X2 could have made it), Amazing Spider-Man (wouldn’t have made it), or Deadpool (had a shot). Now that we’ve established the rules, let’s dive headfirst into the rankings of Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie.

21. Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 is not as bad as its reputation has led people to believe – indeed, none of the Marvel movies are necessarily bad. The problem is that it’s a messy film. While director Jon Favreau introduces some fairly interesting ideas – the notion of privatization vs. public use of Iron Man technology and its role in the world, the grappling with mortality that has defined Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark as a character, Sam Rockwell, and so on – there are far too many missteps to truly redeem this film as a whole. Mickey Rourke is truly terrible as villain Whiplash, the effects are some of the laziest of the entire MCU, and while Don Cheadle takes over the role of Rhodey fairly successfully, the decision to have him become War Machine in order to stop a drunk Tony wearing an Iron Man suit is laughably dumb. Still, there are plenty of entertaining moments throughout, a truly exciting final battle scene, and the inclusion of Bill O’Reilly playing himself as a sexist assh*le, which turned out (always was?) to be pretty on-brand.

20. Avengers: Age of Ultron

There’s a lot to like in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Sadly, it’s buried in a muddled field of incoherent storytelling. The plot of Ultron is almost impossible to follow, despite an actually interesting villain in James Spader’s Ultron, a robot created to protect humanity who realizes that humanity is its own greatest threat. There’s a bunch of random battles with armies of robots that are difficult to follow and ultimately uninteresting, a subplot featuring twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and the worst cinematic depiction of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) that goes nowhere, and director Joss Whedon relies on slow motion every twenty minutes as a means to salvage the material. And that’s not to mention the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) sterility subplot that technically works as a continuation of the first film (love interest Bruce Banner also feels troubled by his sterility, thus bringing them together), but feels utterly misplaced in the straightforward narrative. Still, not everything in Ultron is terrible: the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster scene is thoroughly entertaining, Whedon’s jokes work for the most part land, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is redeemed after his thorough shunting in the first film. Ultron is not a bad film, but it is a disappointing one.

19. Thor: The Dark World

Often maligned as the worst Marvel film to date, I think fans often forget how truly thrilling the Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (a great Tom Hiddleston) are in this series. Their banter is solid, Hemsworth remains hilarious, and Hiddleston gives the series one of its best subtle moments when he lets his mirage of confidence down to reveal his utter anguish at the death of the adopted mother he pretended to loathe. Of course, the reason this film is so hated is because everything Earth related in this movie just falls flat. Natalie Portman rightfully quit the MCU after The Dark World due to the horrendous dialogue she was handed twice in a row, and this film provides ample evidence to her cause. The subplot featuring an otherwise-great Kat Dennings, her sexy intern, and a naked Stellan Skarsgard is completely useless and uninteresting. And while the action sequences are often quite thrilling (the opening battle between Thor and a rock monster is pretty excellent), it is often punctuated with terrible jokes like “See you in hell, monster!” But even as the final act disappointingly falls flat (the portals are cool, but the fight itself is fairly disappointing), the film looks gorgeous – and at the end of the day, isn’t a great looking “meh” film the perfect analogy of the MCU?

18. Avengers: Infinity War

The best thing that can be said about Avengers: Infinity War is that it successfully makes a watchable movie that features twenty storylines and fifty major (ish) characters. It is impressive that The Russo Brothers, the new “leaders” of the MCU, managed to capture the voices and visual styles of most of the major directors – the Guardians are introduced through visual flair and a killer soundtrack, Wakanda is introduced with that award-winning Ludwig Gorranson score and visual flourish, and Doctor Strange is introduced through mind-bending cinematography. And regardless of what’s to come in Endgame tomorrow, the fact that a major blockbuster ended with major characters having tragically died while others were simply wiped from existence is, at the very least, impressive. But if you were to really look at Infinity War honestly, removed from the scope and legacy of the film, it truly doesn’t hold up. The story is a clusterf*ck with no stakes, the CGI on Josh Brolin’s Thanos is laughably bad (he looks like a thumb), and despite the promise of battle formations and major warfare, the Russo Brothers prove yet again that outside of a tarmac in Austria and a Washington D.C. elevator, they truly do not understand how to stage an action set piece. Infinity War is an epic, messy film with lofty ambitions, but a stumble on the landing.

17. Captain America: Civil War

There’s nothing inherently bad in Captain America: Civil War. The introductions to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman’s now-iconic Black Panther both work wonders, Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo is an actually successful, intelligent villain, and the tensions between Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America (who sort of gets the short shrift in his own movie) are palpable. However, the biggest problem with Civil War is that the first two-thirds are so forgettable. By the time Cap and Iron Man are battling it out in a Russian bunker, you realize that you don’t remember anything about how they got there. And by the end of the film, you forget about the Sokovia Accords completely! And that’s the driving arc of the movie (and yes I understand what a red herring is, but if that’s what the Russo Brothers were going for, they failed miserably). And I’m sorry, but no matter how hard these movies try, no one is going to care about Bucky. Still, the Austrian Airport battle between Captain America’s Avengers and Tony Stark’s Avengers is one of the best moments from the MCU, and I’ll give them credit for making it work.

16. The Incredible Hulk

The red-headed bastard step-child of the MCU, The Incredible Hulk is a better film than most people remember. While the script was rough (and possibly non-existent), Edward Norton demonstrates to the audience exactly why it is important to chase high-caliber actors for this level of superhero film. Unlike Eric Bana’s take on Bruce Banner and his monstrous alter-ego, or even Mark Ruffalo’s lovably nebbish rendition, Norton really dives into the Jekkyl and Hyde nature of the character, exploring what happens when a good man has a demonic creature inside him, questioning if he can channel that chaos into something good, and the toll it takes on that person’s relationships. The film adds an interesting spin on the origin story (one forgotten later in the series) where it is not just anger that sparks the Hulk, but a dramatic spike in Banner’s heart-rate, thus introducing a brilliant character piece in a heart-rate monitor. And let’s not forget A-list talent in William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross, Tim Roth as the villainous Blonsky (the final battle between Hulk and Abomination is so dumb and so great), and Tim Blake Nelson as the man who would become The Leader if the series hadn’t been cut short. Incredible Hulk is a flawed film, but a fun one nonetheless.

15. Ant-Man and The Wasp

We’re now starting to move away from the “lesser” Marvel movies and into the realm of “decent” ones. And I can think of no better bridge between the two than Ant-Man and The Wasp, the epitome of Marvel’s escapist throw-off superhero films. Like it’s admittedly better predecessor, Ant-Man and The Wasp knows how to embrace the fun of the series. Sure, Wasp is a bit more “in-the-know” than the scrappy heist-ness of the first Ant-Man, but we still get all the things that make the series great: Randall Park being Randall Park, a smart build-up to Michael Peña’s masterful break-downs (complete with heist music), and smart, sarcastic fight sequences. Sure, there may be one too many villains this time around, but at least one of them is Walton Goggins doing that rich Southern Gentleman Assh*le thing he does so well. And while not as visually stunning as its predecessor, Wasp makes a great case for this being the only Marvel series to have consistently great special effects, from de-aging Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer to the shrinking and growing of its characters. While it’s never going to be the best Marvel film, Wasp definitely has enough fun moments to warrant second viewings whenever you need a pick-me-up.

14. Thor

There are two films playing out at the same time in Thor. One of them is truly breathtaking. The other is a hodgepodge. It’s clear from the first few scenes of Chris Hemsworth’s entry to the MCU why classical director Kenneth Branagh wanted to make this film: with its Shakespearean scope and the complex relationship between Thor, Loki, and Odin, everything happening in the gorgeous world of Asgard comes straight out of the classic literature Branagh has mastered over the past thirty years. And even when on Earth with Portman’s still-wasted Jane Foster and her funnier-here sidekick Darcy (Dennings), there’s still time for some solid humor as Thor goes straight-up fish-out-of water – the scene where he downs a cup of coffee and smashes it on the floor while screaming “ANOTHER!” is pure comedy. Unfortunately, the Earth material is continuously rough and confusing – a continuing trend in the Thor film series – and it is painfully clear that Branagh only went through the motions whenever Loki wasn’t onscreen. Thankfully, whenever the film’s faults begin to weigh on you, or you begin to shudder at the bad jokes being made, you can always fall back on the fact that Thor has something that few other Marvel films can claim: that it is mercifully short.

13. Iron Man

The film that started it all, Iron Man remains both better and worse than you remember. Famously shot without a script, to the point where Downey, Jr.’s famous “I am Iron Man” finale was completely improvised, Iron Man is a bit shaggier than you remember. It feels like a film where they had an outline and just made it up as they went along, and while that’s not the greatest way to kick off a ten-year, six-franchise epic, it does make the overall result, no matter how rough in certain places, fairly impressive. And the first two-thirds are, in and of themselves, incredibly thrilling! The opening scenes set in the terrorist camp are tense to watch, as is Stark’s famous escape. While it lacks Batman Begins’ film noir backdrop, the sequences of Stark creating the suit and first testing out his newfound powers are no less thrilling than Bruce Wayne first donning the cape and cowl in the Nolan series. And at the end of the day, this film will always and forever boast the groundbreaking, trendsetting, cultural touchstone-inspiring performance that is Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark. There was never a performance like this in a superhero movie before, and outside of a few select villain performances, there will never be again. Iron Man is not the perfect film you remember, but from its remarkable hero to its still-impressive effects to the first-ever post-credits tease (“I want to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative”), this is the film that best sums up the past ten years of Hollywood.

12. Ant-Man

Ant-Man does not get the reputation it deserves. Arising from the PR disaster that was the firing of the ingenious Edgar Wright (who used his Disney money to make the phenomenal Baby Driver), Ant-Man rebuilt stronger than anyone anticipated. Peyton Reed managed to bring the humor that Wright was interested in while still maintaining the amiable corporatism that Disney demanded, and Paul Rudd managed to combine Tony Stark’s smarm and Captain America’s likability to the role. The decision to construct the film like a heist movie, with the team of Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, and Michael Peña (whose motor-mouthed summaries are a highlight of all twenty films) outsmarting Corey Stoll and Bobby Cannavale (a dream team of antagonists), is simply inspired, and it’s made all the better by the fact that these are, without a doubt, the best effects in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The opening scene with a de-aged Michael Douglas is jaw dropping, and the suitcase battle sequence set to The Cure is incredibly clever. Ant-Man was, and is, the most underrated film in the MCU.

11. Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is a big, messy, hilarious take on the superhero genre. It’s a weird film, because the main villains (Extremis, Killian, and the special effects that surround them) are pretty “meh” across the board. Hell, I couldn’t tell you one detail about their motivations or plan. However, it has one thing that no other film in the Iron Man or MCU saga possesses: the mind of Shane Black. Everything that Black puts his fingertips on in this film flourishes. He expertly explores the notion of PTSD and incorporates in details from the original Avengers film. He finds creative ways to challenge Tony Stark, stripping him of his suit for extended periods of time. He mines the humor of the entire notion of superheroes, like a scene where Tony Stark takes out a room full of henchmen, and the lone survivor throws his gun down and points out, “Honestly, this job’s just not worth fighting a superhero. I don’t even like it that much. I’m out.” And it all builds to the dramatic reveal that Iron Man’s most famous villain, the sinister (and more than a little racist) Mandarin, is in fact just a British actor playing a role – one of the greatest twists the series has ever come up with (and a great role for Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley). And lest you think that the comedic-minded Black can’t direct action, look no further than the Air Force One sequence, one of the better action scenes of the saga.

10. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

The only thing that holds back Marvel outlier Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol, 2 from being one of the best films in the Marvel universe is the fact that it just is too broad when compared to the terrific first film in the series. But honestly, even if this film were leaps and bounds below its predecessor, it would still stand out as a masterful Marvel film – combining five Han Solos played by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel and giving them the writing of James Gunn is a smart strategy, no matter what. Gunn maintains the relationships of our five heroes, and expands the material to explore what it means to be a family – from the sisterly relationship between Saldana’s Gamora and Karen Gillan’s Nebula to the paternal relationships between Pratt’s Star Lord and both Kurt Russell’s Ego and Michael Rooker’s Yondu. Guardians 2 also possesses two of the greatest action sequences in the Marvel Universe: an opening battle pushed to the background by a dancing Groot (all shot in one take), and a breathtakingly violent mutiny featuring Yondu’s glowing red arrow and the song “Come A Little Bit Closer.” And Rooker gives an affecting, emotional performance as the pirate-esque Yondu, going from badass in his action set piece to hilarious in his joyful exclamation “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all” to affecting in his eventual death sequence (set to Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”). It’s a charming film that proves what Marvel looks like when it’s at its best.

9. Captain America: The First Avenger

Ever since The Dark Knight gave comic book fans an alternative to neon optimism, movie studios have given audiences dark and brooding superheroes ten times over. And that’s fine, assuming it’s well made (and not, ya know, Batman v. Superman). But when all we’re getting is dark and gritty, audiences are bound to long for the days of simplicity, colorful hope, and a general sense of goodness – especially after the depressing and emotionally fraught aughts. Why can’t millennials have their own answer to the genial goodness of Superman: The Movie? Well, that film does exist, and it is the highly underrated Captain America: The First Avenger. Evans has been long-overlooked for his Boy Scout-esque performance as Steve Rogers, but he is truly remarkable here, in his first outing, as the man who would become Captain America. He’s a scrawny kid with a strong sense of right and wrong, an understanding of what it takes to be a hero (from the funny flagpole scene to the moment he throws himself on a fake grenade to save his fellow troops), and a desire to help as opposed to hurt – while Tony Stark and Thor simply wanted to f*ck sh*t up and kill bad guys, Captain America doesn’t want to hurt anyone – “I just don’t like bullies,” he explains to Stanley Tucci’s warm-hearted Erksine. This is a romantic, swoony, moral film that doesn’t belong in the brooding middle ground of the rest of the Marvel universe – and that’s what makes it stand out.

8. Captain Marvel

The most recent film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel, still remains where I expected it to after first seeing it a month ago (Jesus, it feels like forever): higher up in the “average-good” pile. It can be hard to acclimate to the film, as the first act is bad to the point of unwatchable. However, once Brie Larson’s Carol reaches Earth and teams up with Samuel L. Jackson (de-aged and more of the wacky sidekick than the stoic leader we see years later), the pace, humor, and action pick up. There’s a lot to like in Captain Marvel – a twist on comic book canon to turn the villainous Skrulls into a refugee parallel is inspired, the way they use Carol’s powers as a metaphor for women discovering their own inner drive is smart, and Annette Bening shows up to give us a wacky performance that I absolutely adored. But at the end of the day, what makes this film so wonderful is Larson’s performance as Carol. Larson imbibes the character with a sense of wit, cockiness, action, and goodness, putting her in the same category as Evans, Hemsworth, and Downey, Jr. in terms of memorable performances. And her final fight scene set to “Just A Girl” is one of my most giddily loved moments in the entire MCU. Marvel isn’t perfect, but it is an enjoyable Marvel film nonetheless, and it sits comfortably in the world of “fine” superhero movies.

7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

When I first saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it was in pieces on television. I disliked it immensely. It was only when I watched it the entire way through did I realize that Joe and Anthony Russo have never made a film as great in their entire careers. Not only do they allow Chris Evans’ Cap to come into his own (his opening “On your left” scene, as well as his list of pop culture to catch up on are two great character beats), but they smartly drop the most idealistic character in comic book history right smack dab in the middle of a 70s conspiracy thriller, a genre known for its murky, morally gray backdrop. Winter Soldier knows exactly how to practice its genre tropes, utilizing shadows well and embracing in excellent action sequences (Jackson’s Nick Fury car chase is a joy to watch). And there’s more than enough time for the film to embrace some trademark Russo humor – Nick Fury’s tombstone contains the Biblical quotation “The path of the righteous man…” In fact, only two things hold Winter Soldier back from being one of the best Marvel films to date. The first is the fact that the Russos could not (and to this day, cannot) write for women, as proven by Black Widow and Agent 13 here, and the fact that the big bridge battle halfway through the movie is almost unwatchable in its stupidity. But flaws like this do not make or break a movie, and at the end of the day, this is the best that Captain America has ever been onscreen.

6. Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is one of the most fascinating Marvel movies to date. With an origin story that parallels Tony Stark’s in Iron Man, Strange combines Benedict Cumberbatch’s well-honed sense of humor with a mind-bending world of special effects. Each set piece in this movie feels like a little marvel, from the city-warping, Inception-inspired battle sequence to a dimension-hopping mind-f*ck that introduces Strange to the world of the Mystical Arts. The film builds on itself, visually and narratively, in order to introduce the viewers to the strange new world they inhabit. Even better, director Scott Derrickson laces the film with humor, from Strange’s flying cape to a highly sarcastic ending where the villain is defeated by the premise “Time is a flat circle.” This is a highly entertaining, visually remarkable film. In fact, the only major misstep on Strange’s part is Tilda Swinton’s take on the Ancient One. While Marvel understandably – and rightly – tried to rewrite the character to avoid stereotypes, changing the background to French and agender as opposed to a mystical Eastern man, it doesn’t quite eliminate the character from its harmful backstory, and it unfortunately chooses to whitewash as opposed to rewrite. But regardless, this is a fun, thrilling movie that pushes the genre forward in terms of effects, character, and humor, and serves as a real treat for fans and viewers alike.

5. Thor: Ragnarok

Honestly, the best thing to ever happen to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the hiring of Taika Waititi to help write and direct Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi is a masterful director, known for comedies like Hunt For the Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows, and by combining his Kiwi surrealist humor with a keen sense of action, Ragnarok elevates itself to legendary proportions. Of course, the central conceit of pairing Hemsworth with Mark Ruffalo’s Thor (after a hilarious gladiatorial battle sequence, of course) is ingenious, but it is the inclusion of Tessa Thompson as a Han Solo-esque rogue Valkyrie that really cements this film as a classic. The three have an innate sense of comedic timing, an athletic sense of shooting action sequences, and a general camaraderie that moves the film forward. And I haven’t even mentioned the side characters, which include a now-good (ish) Tom Hiddleston as Loki (who really hates “Get Help”), Jeff Goldblum as a Caligula-esque dictator (of course), a let-loose Cate Blanchett serving as the bi-icon she’s become, and my personal favorite, Waititi himself as Korg, the chill Rock Rebel who just wants friends to hang out and help him overthrow a dictator (“Hey man, what’s up?”) Throw in a few great uses of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin, and you have a high water mark for Marvel.

4. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Fans waited a long time for a film like Spider-Man: Homecoming – a film where the character would be returned to his comic book roots, reunited with the Avengers, and given the chance to shine the way they always knew he would. And while certain films would eventually tackle the character even better (in animated form), Homecoming remains one of the best live-action takes on the character, at least on par with Spider-Man 2. What’s interesting and refreshing about Homecoming is the way it scales down the action, remaining human and down-to-earth while reminding everyone that he’s a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, mostly concerned with robbers and gangsters than threats to the entire planet. The film mostly adheres to tradition while smartly taking a few risks, and it results in a modest risk, modest turnout ratio. One of the best aspects of Homecoming is the performance by Tom Holland. Holland is the first actor to nail both sides of Peter Parker’s personality – Tobey Maguire was an amazing Parker but a meh Spider-Man, while Andrew Garfield was a great Spider-Man but a meh Parker (Spider-Verse handled the character even better, but it came out a full year later, and also isn’t Marvel, so it unfortunately does not count). And let’s not forget Michael Keaton, who makes for a threatening villain (the scene where he confronts Peter Parker in his car is one of the scariest moments in all of Marvel). Homecoming is a charming, entertaining superhero film, and it gets credit for its writing, acting, and the best ending in all twenty Marvel films (“WHAT THE F…”)

3. Guardians of the Galaxy

We are now getting into the three films I consider the Only Great Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I can think of no better way to kick this trio off than James Gunn’s original Guardians of the Galaxy. Guardians was a massive risk for Marvel Studio: it’s a comic series based on a lesser-known property about five morally ambiguous rogues who travel the galaxy trading off mischief for being superheroes. What’s more, one of these “heroes” is a dancing, quippy fat guy from Parks and Recreation (now shredded), one is a muscular dope who doesn’t understand sarcasm, one is a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper doing a Joe Pesci impression, and one is – and this is very important – a talking tree that can only say its own name voiced by Vin Diesel. But as the saying goes, the only way you can make a massive payoff is by taking a massive risk. And that’s exactly what this film is: a massive payoff. Similar to Star Wars in its world-building, Guardians kicks down the Marvel door with a smarmy sense of self-awareness, utilizing great music and a wicked sense of humor to create a team of likable anti-heroes who are more likely to shoot first than ask questions. The action is fun to watch, the effects work, and in its sense of pure “f*ck you-itiveness,” it defeats its villain in – and I kid you not – a dance-off. God bless James Gunn, and God Bless Guardians of the Galaxy.

2. Black Panther

You knew it was going to be #1 or #2. It had to be. The third highest-grossing domestic film of all time, ninth highest of all time, first superhero film nominated for Best Picture, winner of three Academy Awards, including Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design…the list of accolades and records goes on and on. And honestly, Black Panther deserves them all. Shakespearean in nature, smart in scope, and excellent all around, Panther pushes the superhero medium forward in ways that only The Dark Knight did before – and even that didn’t look this good doing it. Boseman portrays T’Challa/Black Panther as a cross between a cocky Shakespearean king (Henry V, perhaps?), Batman, and James Bond, and asks him to not only battle evil for the sake of the world, but also tackle weighty questions: if you sit on the source of the greatest technological boon the world has ever seen, but you know that the outside world is filled with corruption, violence, and evil, what are your duties to your fellow man? It’s a question that challenges every character in the piece, from Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia (in favor of foreign aid) to the emotionally complex W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya, who favors isolationism) to the villainous Killmonger, played with a ferocious vengeance by Michael B. Jordan, who wants to overthrow the system having experienced racism and suffering in Oakland. The film balances out these weighty issues with breathtaking effects and more than a little humor (Letitia Wright’s Shuri is one of Marvel’s best characters and best performances, serving as a 16-year-old Q), and it remains the closest example of a “four-quadrant film” we’ve seen since the first Pirates of the Caribbean – or maybe longer. Truly the only thing separating Black Panther from both an A+ grade and a #1 berth is the choreography and effects, which are fine, but just weren’t that impressive as a whole. Still, if a few bad effects are what keep you from enjoying a film that is this refreshing, smart, fun, and heart lifting, then honestly, you don’t deserve good movies.

1. The Avengers

Which brings us to the greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe film of all time – and still the undisputed champ – Joss Whedon’s original The Avengers. Does this feel like a cop out after we’ve seen films like Black Panther, Guardians, Winter Soldier, and Infinity War? Maybe. But at the end of the day, the stats and facts all point to only one outcome, and that’s The Avengers. Let’s break it down, shall we? Is The Avengers groundbreaking? Well, like Infinity War, it too brought several characters from different franchises together for one big team-up – and arguably did it better, giving each character room to breathe, captured each of their voices, and used them together as opposed to jumping around to justify their existence. So yes, it is groundbreaking. Is it fun? Well, Joss Whedon manages to give every character jokes that work both in-universe and for the audience, most of which we still quote today (“That man is playing Galaga!” “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” “I understood that reference!” “Puny god!” etc.) while still maintaining a sense of stakes. And most important of all, does the action hold up? Well, I dare you to go back and watch the Battle Of New York – staged like a real war film, with accurate depictions of destruction, efforts to rescue civilians, and intelligently laid-out plans by our heroes – and tell me that any action scene in a Marvel film has ever been this thrilling, this funny, this fun, and this cheer-worthy. It is absolutely impossible. A four-quadrant film is defined as a movie where there’s something for everyone, encouraging movie going audiences of all ages, beliefs, religions, genders, sexualities, and races to come together to experience some form of entertainment they can get behind. From the action of the Battle of New York to the horror of Hulk destroying the Helicarrier to the sadness of Phil Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) death and Tony Stark’s near-death to the humor of Black Widow’s quips to the sheer joy of watching years of planning come together, no film has worked as coherently, as entertainingly, or as joyfully, as Marvel’s The Avengers.

Well everyone, that concludes our recap of the past eleven years, twenty-one films of the undeniably impressive Marvel Cinematic Universe. We don’t know how it will end yet (unless you watched some spoilers online), but we do know one thing: it will officially mark the end of an era. So as we wait to see where Endgame falls on this list of random, beautiful, brilliant catastrophes (much like the characters themselves), but in the meantime, feel free to comment below with your favorite Marvel films, as well as what you think of my list above. Until tomorrow, we shout it one last time: AVENGERS! ASSEMBLE!

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