Back in 2008, nobody could have predicted that Iron Man would be the first of 21 successive superhero blockbusters produced by Marvel Studios.
But in 2019 the MCU is as ingrained in pop culture as it is possible to be, setting a new precedent for success in mass entertainment.
With Avengers: Endgame just around the corner, we’re taking a look back over the last 11 years of MCU movies to discern once and for all which is the best film to feature Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Can you remember what happens in this one? Me neither. Something about elves?
20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Better than Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) but that’s about it. The fact that Ed Norton and Liv Tyler used to be in the MCU seems to have disappeared from the consciousness of the movie-going public.
19. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Bigger than Iron Man in every way, often to its detriment. Multiple villains and too many plot lines lead to one of the messier films in the MCU’s library.
18. Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
One of the few films in the MCU that didn’t need a sequel? Ant-Man and The Wasp didn’t do much that hadn’t already been seen in its predecessor. After two films Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily might now be better suited to Avengers team-ups than solo adventures.
17. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Kurt Russell’s in this one? He plays a planet? He goes on a mission to impregnate different species of aliens all over the galaxy? Bloody hell.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The ‘difficult second album’ of the MCU. Age of Ultron does its best to live up to the impossibly high expectations placed upon it by the success of the first Avengers film. James Spader is fun as the titular Ultron but this is undoubtedly the least memorable of the Avengers adventures. Fun fact; Quicksilver was in this one. You’re welcome.
15. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Part WWII propaganda artist, part superhero. Captain America stumbled into the MCU with less polish than we would later become accustomed too from our shield-wielding saviour. The First Avenger takes its sweet time setting up Cap as the embodiment of the American dream but the groundwork here lays solid foundations for far more interesting and ambitious sequels.
14. Ant-Man (2015)
Proof that Marvel can slap its logo on practically anything and we’ll go and see it. Paul Rudd delivers a fun turn as a not so serious superhero in what was becoming a very serious cinematic universe. Evangeline Lily steals the show as the exceptionally sharp Wasp who cannot believe she has been lumped with such an idiotic Ant-Man. Also, Thomas the Tank Engine makes his long-awaited MCU debut.
13. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Remember when the twist in Iron Man 3 was the epitome of internet nerd rage? If only they’d known that Justice League was right around the corner. In retrospect, the third Iron Man feature isn’t as shocking as it once was. Robert Downey Jr. and co. take a few risks in the culmination of the uber-successful Iron Man trilogy. Not all of them pay off, but we’d rather they take a swing and miss than hash out another Iron Man 2.
12. Doctor Strange (2016)
Just when you thought the MCU couldn’t get any better they only went and got bloody CUMBERBATCH. Doctor Strange takes a bit of a diversion from the more typical Marvel superhero tropes whilst staying very typically in the Marvel origin story formula. The result is a largely likeable film that at the very least freshened up the visuals of the MCU with some Inception-style building bending and some Harry Potteresque spells. Also, the inspired casting of Benedict Wong means this film has two whole Benedicts in it. TWO. Most films don’t even have one.
11. Thor (2011)
Oh, Chris Hemsworth. You big blonde beautiful bastard. At the time of release, Thor was Marvel’s first big foray into cosmic weirdness. A foray which proved extremely successful and would be the first of many Marvel films to take place across different dimensions in the far reaches of space. Thor established both Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as box office gold and proved to be the foundations on which the plot of The Avengers was built. Chuck in Natalie Portman, Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins and you’ve got a bloody good flick about Norse gods stranded in New Mexico.
10. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
A few years before the madness of Infinity War Marvel began to flex its now impressive muscles with Captain America: Civil War. Proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the MCU was firing on all cylinders Civil War took all your favourite heroes and gave them a compelling reason to fight each other. That coupled with the fact that it seamlessly introduced both Spider-Man and Black Panther into the mix makes it something of a logistical masterpiece. This was Kevin Feige really turning things up a notch, and we’re very glad he did.
9. Iron Man (2008)
Who’da thunk it? Iron Man is the seed from which the weird and wonderful tree that is the MCU has grown. The basis for all this batshittery can be levelled squarely at the feet of Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau. The joy of Iron Man is that if you didn’t know what was to follow it then it really wouldn’t matter. The film holds up remarkably well and was a breath of fresh air upon release. Everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Paul Bettany is on top form and would continue to be for some time. Four years later the success of Iron Man became increasingly apparent…
8. The Avengers (2012)
The term ‘event movie’ is the type of jargon we hear a lot of in the modern media landscape. But before every studio under the sun was trying to craft a cinematic universe Marvel did it first, and they did it right. The Avengers brought together everything that Marvel had done up until that point with such aplomb that it was hard to be believed. The third-highest-grossing film of all time upon release The Avengers was a phenomenon and completely changed the way Hollywood produced movies. The effects of the film can be seen in every franchise Hollywood has produced since. Seven years on from Joss Whedon’s epic and none have even come close to the critical and commercial success of The Avengers.
7. Captain Marvel (2019)
In 2019 the MCU is running like a well-oiled machine, producing hit after hit at an alarming rate. The success of the studio has never been more evident than in the box office sensation that is Captain Marvel. A cosmic space war featuring highly skilled alien soldiers one of whom gets stranded on earth in the 90s! Surely such a complex premise is a recipe for disaster? Absolutely not. Captain Marvel takes it all in its stride, conjuring up action, humour and a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. Brie Larson bosses it as Carol Danvers and proves that the MCU is as vital as ever.
6. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Snap. At this point, Marvel has got us hook, line and sinker. Nothing about Infinity War should work, it’s utterly mad, stupidly convoluted and drenched in its own self-importance. And yet it does work. Unequivocally. Marvel have cracked it to the point that it’s really not fair to anyone else. The magnitude of this film is ridiculous but it somehow brilliantly works in its favour. Everything from the biggest action scene to the smallest whisper of dialogue has been considered to the Nth degree. And because of that, because Marvel takes the rules of their own universe incredibly seriously and treats their fans with respect and intelligence, it succeeds where no other movie has. Marvellous.
5. Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014)
When as the original had Steve Rogers stuck in the past the sequel puts Captain America smack bang in the present, and he’s all the better for it. Trading in the second world war for a cold war style thriller Cap has never been better as directors the Russo Brothers revel in espionage and deceit. The film that proved Marvel could drop its heroes and villains into various shades of grey rather than just black and white, The Winter Soldier was a film of serious quality that let everybody know Marvel really should be taken seriously. Scarlett Johansson shines in a film that showcases the best of Black Widow from start to finish. Did we mention that Robert Redford’s in it as well? Top-drawer Marvel.
4. Black Panther (2017)
Perhaps the biggest win for Marvel thus far. Black Panther succeeded in so many ways. Box office smash? Check. Oscar nomination for Best Picture? Check. Inescapable memes? Check. Despite its infinite opportunity for parody the ‘Wakanda Forever!’ internet phenomenon goes to show just how much reach Marvel really has. A large part of Black Panther’s success can be attributed to how seriously Marvel took producing its first African superhero film. The world-building of Wakanda is one of the movies biggest strengths and puts forward a breathtaking vision of futuristic science fiction that is distinctly African. Everything from hiring Ryan Coogler to direct to getting Kendrick Lamar to produce the soundtrack seems to have been a stroke of genius. The cast is arguably the best Marvel has ever assembled with the likes of Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan and Danai Gurira etching themselves into superhero folklore with apparent ease. Seemingly effortless and beautifully crafted, Black Panther is superhero filmmaking done right.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Before the release of Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, even the most hardcore of Marvel fans would have told you it was a risk. Prior to James Gunn’s space romp the MCU had stayed well and truly on the ground and relied solely upon pre-established characters. Whilst the Guardians had existed in Marvel comics for quite some time they had never existed like this. This was something new and weird, an MCU creation, one that broke a number of superhero rules and didn’t have the name recognition of Captain America or The Hulk to save it if it all went wrong. Thankfully it didn’t go wrong, it was awesome. Hilarious from start to finish with the strangest cast of characters Marvel had assembled yet. Talking trees, anamorphic racoons and bright green aliens all shared the screen in a snarky, stupendous, space-opera. The biggest risk of the MCU, and arguably its most impressive success.
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Spider-Man has had a mixed relationship with the big screen over the last 20 years. In his first two iterations, he was occasionally spectacular, often frustrating but never truly amazing. After the long-winded demise of the previous version of the character, Spider-Man finally folded into the MCU in 2017. If you ever needed proving that Marvel was on top of their game then the mere fact that they nailed Spider-Man at the first attempt when Sony had messed around with him for 5 films should tell you all you need to know. It would be unfair to dismiss all of the previous efforts, and Jon Watts film most definitely builds on the foundations laid by Sony in previous movies (note the lack of an ‘origin’ segment) but something just clicks in Homecoming and the feel of Spider-Man is spot on. It’s funny, heartfelt, and more than a little corny, but that’s Spider-Man through and through. Tom Holland makes for a wonderful (and finally age appropriate) Peter Parker that oozes charm whilst remaining lovably vulnerable. Homecoming got all the little things right, leading to the biggest on-screen Spider-Man success.
1. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Perhaps the great joy of Marvel in 2017 was that they truly realised they were a law unto themselves. Thor: Ragnarok is a film that couldn’t have been made ten years ago as there was nothing for it to be built upon. Over the last decade, Marvel Studios has meticulously crafted a sandbox so detailed and polished that only now are they starting to make films that truly utilise all its assets to their fullest. Building on years worth of expectations of what a Marvel movie should be Ragnarok managed to subvert its expectancies with unbridled confidence and a cheeky wink. At this point, the MCU is such a success that they can really take risks and have some fun with it, and boy did they. Thor’s last effort was so painfully safe that Ragnarok felt more like a twisted spin-off in comparison. Director Taika Waititi wiped the slate clean and then proceeded to rainbow vomit out the most entertaining and enjoyable film of the MCU thus far all over it. The film leans into the weirdness of its cosmic mythology and produces an absolute blast of a blockbuster with more laughs than any other superhero film in recent memory. Credit to Kevin Feige for handing over the reins of one of Marvel’s most prized characters to the guy who directed What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It was a hell of a risk, but boy did it pay off. For our money, Thor: Ragnarok is the best film Marvel has made yet. Excelsior!