It’s become a tradition at this point: whenever a new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is released, everyone ranks the movies. And now that everyone on the /Film staff has had a chance to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and spend a few days digesting it, it’s time to completely refresh our list.
We invited the site’s core staff as well as our various contributors to rank all 15 movies in the MCU, with the each movie earning points based on its placement in each list. This resulted in a ranked list that reflects the site as a whole rather than the opinion of Just One Person. So here it is: the world’s most accurate ranking of Marvel Studios’ output.
Note: There were two ties during the scoring of the list that were broken by a second round of voting.
15. Iron Man 2
There’s no getting around it: Iron Man 2 is bad movie. Feeling more like a weezy victory lap following the first film’s surprise success than a proper sequel, the film doubles down on the witty banter that defined Iron Man while losing focus on plot, character, conflict, and cohesion. This was a troubled production and you can tell: just about everything on screen feels cobbled together and lethargic. When it’s not nonsensical, it’s simply dull, with the movie spinning its wheels and twiddling its thumbs until it reaches that lackluster third act, where the lackluster villain (and inexplicable bird aficionado) goes down with the biggest whimper in the MCU. Iron Man 2 can’t help but feel like a lesson learned, albeit painfully: these movies cannot be supported entirely by a charismatic even star, even someone as likable as Robert Downey Jr. Story, even a straightforward and simple one, matters. (Jacob Hall)
14. Thor: The Dark World
Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is one of my least favorite Marvel movies, and while Thor: The Dark World is not a highly regarded sequel, I believe it’s better in many ways. Alan Taylor’s Empire Strikes Back-style take brings a more serious and darker edge to the franchise, fleshing out the Asgardian world with some of the tone and feel he employed on Game of Thrones. Yes, the film notoriously has the worst villain of all the MCU films (which is saying a lot), but it also has Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who takes what he learned on The Avengers and dials it up a couple notches more. In the end, I just wish it had a bit more humor (something that Thor: Ragnarok looks to correct). And that climactic battle? It’s a bit of a clusterfuck, but I think it’s still enjoyable. (Peter Sciretta)
13. The Incredible Hulk
Perhaps it’s not an accident that Marvel Studios’ most visible growing pains came via a movie that featured a guy who literally experiences pain while growing. It sounds nearly inconceivable now, but back when Iron Man was the only film under the young studio’s belt, not every subsequent film was guaranteed to be a smash hit. Ditto their casting choices, which experienced their biggest stumble to date by bringing on Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Norton’s notorious tinkering with the screenplay (as late as halfway through production) caused some friction behind the scenes.
The Incredible Hulk is a much more action-fueled, CG-heavy movie than Ang Lee’s unrelated take on the character from 2003, but it has a few bright spots (I remember liking a chase sequence set in Brazil). Honestly, the rest of the movie is a little hazy for me, because this isn’t a film that even hardcore Marvel fans often revisit. But as its placement on this list proves, it’s better to be mediocre and mostly forgotten than to be remembered for being terrible. (Ben Pearson)
There’s a lot to be said for a simple fish out of water story. Part Shakespearean drama, part indie road trip movie, Thor is an underrated coming-of-age film. And it’s not a bad superhero movie either.
The complex family dynamics between Thor (Chris Hemsworth); his tortured brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the trickster god; and their distant father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is handled wonderfully by director Kenneth Branagh — who shows a flair for heightened reality and fantasy, but stumbles when Thor is thrown out of Asgard and in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Here it becomes a pared down road trip film, with Thor discovering the quaint ways of humans, aided by fun but flat supporting characters and an underserved Natalie Portman. The third act and the climactic battle may end with a bit of a whimper, but Thor gets props for introducing the best Marvel villain of all: Loki. (Hoai-Tran Bui)
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Despite its placement in the bottom five on this list, I’ve come here to praise Avengers: Age of Ultron rather than bury it. Joss Whedon’s sequel is sloppier than the first movie, a more chaotic and less cohesive experience that sometimes loses focus when it strays outside of the core plot to set up future movies, but it has something that so many other comic book movies lack: a pulse. For all of its flaws, there’s a beating heart beneath the surface here, even if it’s a heart that’s a wee-bit irregular.
Perhaps the most admirable thing about Age of Ultron is its refusal to tread on familiar ground, throwing the Avengers into a situation that couldn’t feel more different than the one they faced in the first movie. Whedon revels in showcasing his ensemble as a cohesive unit: their powers gel on the battlefield before they go home to party and banter and generally be completely and totally charming. No one writes group dynamics quite like the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. However, Whedon also revels in tearing down that unit, splintering them to pieces and exposing the all-too-human core of every superhero. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, so often neglected in every other Marvel movie, emerges as the unlikely MVP, the steadfast hero in a crew of doubters.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is too raw and too weird to be ignored. Even when it’s playing the part of bloated blockbuster sequel, it has one eye firmly on character…and the other focused entirely on spending audience goodwill on introducing batshit characters like Vision and Ultron. Unlike the worst of the worst MCU movies, this one is never boring. (Jacob Hall)
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