MCU: Best to Worst.
With the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I thought it’d be time for me to sit down and finally rate the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)—movies and tv shows—from best to worst. I’ve discovered that choosing what makes a Marvel movie* good or bad is tough, especially when the worst Marvel Entertainment movies are still better than other superhero franchises I’ve seen (I’m looking at you Fantastic Four).
So for me, I’m looking for a lot of things as I make this list: movie significance, well told story, cool fight scenes, and fitting in with the Marvel Universe. But above all, I’m looking for personal preference: what made me love this movie, and why I think it’s better than the others.
Anyways enough dilly-dallying, here’s the list.
1. Iron Man (2008).
Most people I know think either Guardians of the Galaxy or Winter Soldier deserve this spot, but for me, it will always be Iron Man. This movie changed everything, taking a character that most people knew nothing about—and those who did rather despised—and making him the most popular hero in the Avenger’s lineup. And it did this overnight. The movie does everything excellently. Great characters, good story, fun fight scenes, and it sets the stage for the rest of the MCU with an after credits scene that’s just perfect.
This movie is the reason everything changed: why superheroes stopped being a nerd thing, and became the norm. Yes, there were superhero movies before this (good ones too!) but this movie set the stage for making hero movies the “In” thing to do. No longer were superheroes for nerds. They were for everybody. The best example I’ve got is the movie’s ending, when Nick Fury mentions the Avengers Initiative. When I saw this in theaters, with eight other people, only I knew what Samuel L. Jackson was hinting about. Now, everyone knows.
It’s all thanks to Iron Man,and I think every MCU story should look at this movie to see how best to continue the Cinematic Universe.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).
For my money, this is probably the best executed Marvel movie. The writing, acting, combat, and special effects are all fantastic. This is Marvel’s spy movie, and is one of the better spy movies I’ve seen. They took all the problems in Captain America: The First Avenger, and reforged them into cinema gold.
The reason I love this movie so much though, is Captain America.
Captain America is a Golden Age hero, someone who knew right from wrong, personified righteousness, and punched Hitler in his original comics. This movie is the story of a Golden Age hero living in the Dark Age, a hero that sees the world as black and white, fighting in a world of spies, lies, and grays.
The Winter Soldier taught us how we should tell superhero movies, with Cap not compromising in his beliefs even as the world falls apart around him. It’s just fantastic.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
When you think of the success of this movie, it’s rather insane. Even when the trailers were coming out, no one knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were. They weren’t popular, not even in comics. To take characters that the audience had no connection to, and that even comic fans shied away from, and make a summer blockbuster is just impressive.
This movie is a fun ride, cleverly incorporating 70s—80s music as it references other sci-fi movies, while creating a story that stands on its own. It’s a blast, and though some scenes felt rushed, it still told its story and portrayed its character very well. And it kept in the MCU wonderfully, with that full scene that excellently introduces Thanos to movie goers.
GotG deserves to be in the top three, taking unknown characters and making them fan-favorites, and playing with its genre perfectly.
4. The Avengers (2012).
The Avengers was a dare, and it paid off. Before this movie, we didn’t know if team-up films would work. Sure, there was the success of the X-men series, but all X-men have something in common: they’re mutants. Then there were the Fantastic Four movies, which were disasters.
The Avengers was a make it or break it point, bringing together multiple strong characters with completely different behaviors and motivations, and making them work together. And it worked. The Avengers proved that everything that the MCU wants to accomplish can be attained.
The movie has problems though, mostly with how it treats poor poor Hawkeye. However, Joss Whedon delivers in this movie, giving every hero (except poor poor Hawkeye) the screen time they deserve, while having great fight scenes, and witty dialogue.
With its end credits scene, it also promised much more to come—that this was just the beginning of the Marvel Universe.
5. Daredevil (2015, Season 1).
This show. Holy crap. Daredevil has brought a lens to the universe that had been overlooked: what’s happening to the average man while all these superheroes are saving the day? Set in Hell’s Kitchen, right next door to where both Avengers and The Incredible Hulk took place, this show is dark, gritty, and nasty in its violence—bringing a side to the universe that was completely missing.
Through Daredevil, it’s revealed that the Avengers can’t solve every problem. Some lives are just lost or overlooked when heroes are trying to save the world. Daredevil isn’t trying to save the world, or the entire city. He’s trying to save a district. It’s a wonderful season, with powerful dialogue and refreshing fight scenes, some of the best fights I’ve seen made for television.
It’s those fights that lands this show in my top five. Each fight scene tells a story—you can tell that the cinematographer and choreographer were working closely together in every single shot. There is not a fight scene wasted. Rather, every fight is a unique story, something that is sorely missed on other superhero shows (Like Arrow…).
Daredevil’s great, and I cannot wait for the second season.
6. Agent Carter (2015).
I will say, out of everything that’s come out up to this point, I was most nervous about this show. I didn’t believe it could be anything worthwhile. I mean come on, how could it when the slogan for the show was, “Sometimes the best man for the job, is a woman.” ? It reeked of being a 2-dimensional disaster.
I am happy to say I was wrong! This show rocks, and Agent Carter kicks ass. She’s a well-made character, who has to live with the double whammy of losing the love of her life, Captain America, and living in his shadow. This show delivers the zest of the 50s with great fist fights, car chases, and espionage, and shows the strength of an overlooked character, and why she is a superhero.
I strongly recommend it.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).
Age of Ultron was faced with a problem—could it top The Avengers? Personally, I would say it failed, but came close. Overall, the movie is great. It starts us off in the middle of the adventure, fixing the problems The Avengers movie had right away. It brings in every minor character they could get their hands on, as well as giving lots of screen time and love to poor poor Hawkeye.
The team starts united, avoiding the messiness of assembling the Avengers. It also has a strong villain with interesting motivations, second only to Loki for best MCU villain. However, there were problems.
Killing Quicksilver and skipping over any guilt Tony Stark should have over creating Ultron were both major blunders. But worst of all, it ignored other continuity in the MCU, completely tuning out Iron Man 3 and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. To me this is the tragic failure of the film, showing a disconnect between visionaries working in the MCU. Hopefully, we won’t have more continuity errors as bad as this one, where a movie is outright ignoring other stories in the same universe.
Overall, it’s a great ride, and if you liked The Avengers, you’ll love it, but it falls outside of my top 5.
8. The Incredible Hulk (2008).
This movie doesn’t get enough credit. The Hulk is a difficult character to portray: people get bored of the big and strong hero—we’re no longer impressed by super-strength or invulnerability. But this movie delivered. The Hulk is great in this movie, has good fight scenes, and is shown to be rather clever; not all “Hulk Smash”, but rather with heart and thought behind his angered actions.
Although I am not overly thrilled with his performance, I think Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner was an interesting take, focusing more on self-control and keeping calm. Plus seeing a skinny guy hulk out was awesome.
But this movie deserves love for other reasons. As the first movie after Iron Man, it was the first real risk. If this movie flopped or failed the MCU, the movie storytelling would start off on a bad foot, difficult to recover. But this movie delivered a good story with believable villains and a hero. Plus, it stayed in the universe, introducing the audience to the darker side of S.H.I.E.L.D. and having Tony Stark come talk to the General at the end. The Incredible Hulk proved that the Marvel Cinematic experience was going to be unlike anything we’d ever seen.
It’s number 8 on my list though, because the movie is just okay. It’s worth watching—it’s fun!—but isn’t as long lasting as any of the top 5.
9. Iron Man 3 (2013).
I have very mixed feelings regarding this movie. There are parts I really liked, and parts I straight up hated. Overall, the movie does a good job about addressing something missing in Avengers: the reaction to the attacks in New York City. Watching Tony Stark break down over what he’d experience was a step in the right direction for the character. Along those lines, I was personally a fan of the scenes between him and the kid, because Tony Stark is a kid, just in a grown up’s body.
Still, the way the movie ends is dumb, and rather unrealistic, with Tony Stark blowing up all his suits. I’m sorry, but when you’ve gone on TV saying “I am Iron Man”, you know you don’t get to walk away from it all. Villains will always be gunning for you, whether or not you put on the suit. I think Tony Stark is smart enough to know he doesn’t get to just walk away, and I can see why Avengers: Age of Ultron decided to pretend none of that happened.
Another problem was the plot. The first arch was good, but it drops off as questionable decisions are made with the Mandarin, turning him from a truly impressive villain into just another wannabe Tony Stark. Iron Man 2 and 3 have the same problem: none of the villains can actually stand up to Tony Stark’s daunting aura. At first the Mandarin seemed like the perfect foil, a man on Stark’s level, but revealing him to be a hoax took the strength out of the story, and the movie suffered for it.
10. Thor: The Dark World (2013).
The Dark World does a much better job than the first Thor movie. It knows where to focus, looking at Thor and Loki’s relationship, and spends much more time on Asgard—and in space—than anywhere on earth. However, the movie just doesn’t stand as strong as the others. Nearly everything that happens in this film is forgettable, except for maybe Loki’s ending on the throne of Asgard. A lot happens, but it’s all noise and so-whats. The big deal of the movie isn’t even revealed to be an Infinity Gem until Age of Ultron. There just wasn’t a point to invest, and the movie struggled to make me care.
The movie also failed to help the MCU. Yes, we get a gem, but seeing Thor contact Tony Stark or Captain America and let them know he’s back—that would’ve been really cool. Sadly, it’s a missed opportunity.
Still, the Loki and Thor scenes are fantastic, and every scene they are in together is worth watching. Both actors deliver their roles perfectly, and are definitely the highlight of the film.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
These next three are the hardest for me to place, The first Cap and Thor movies, and Iron Man 2, all have major issues and—overall—didn’t thrill me. I think I would say though that this is the best out of the worst Marvel movies.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a strange movie, clearly made for the 3-D experience, which is always a turn off for me. The vast majority of its fight and adventure scenes are smushed into one montage, and overall the story is boring. It was great seeing Captain America in action against the Nazis, but the movie was really going for that Golden Age feel, which ended up portraying World War II as flashy, adventurous fun, and not really that dangerous. Personally, I don’t think that portrayal translates well when making a modern film.
There is some good stuff in the movie though. Chris Evans is perfect for the role, and I love how he plays Cap throughout the piece, showing that Steve Rogers is the same hero with or without his powers.
Another good thing about the movie was the ending. It’s wonderful, bringing the MCU back into the modern times with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. talking down a startled Cap, and Cap realizing he missed his dance.
12. Iron Man 2 (2010).
I honestly don’t know what to say about this movie. Its greatest failure is that it’s just not as good as the original. A lot of what Tony Stark goes through in this movie was already covered territory from the first one, and the villains are so unimpressive they’re completely forgettable when put on a shelf next to Loki and Ultron.
I guess I would say the whole movie’s forgettable. It’s unfortunate too, because it tries to keep up. Bringing back Nick Fury and introducing Black Widow were both great calls, and the movie did those scenes well. Likewise, War Machine was good, and the buddy-buddy fight scenes were fun. But the movie as whole just isn’t good, and its fights are not all that impressive.
The ending was also strange, turning down Iron Man from the Avengers Initiative. I get that it’s showing Tony Stark’s not perfect, that he’s striving to improve…but why not take the most brilliant man in the world, with the most powerful technology anyone has ever made, and put him on the S.H.I.E.L.D. payroll? It didn’t make sense.
13. Thor (2011).
Both Thor movies could have been better. This one in particular is just not fun to watch. Everything in this movie is weird, and kind-of wonky. Even something as little as the blocking is weird. Everyone stands in this movie like they’re on a stage, and all the costumes look just like that—costumes, not clothing. It all looks staged, unbelievable, really ripping me out of the experience. Look, you should suspend your disbelief when you watch a movie like Thor, but the movie should help you do that as it tells its story.
The fights are eh, the only good one coming at the beginning of the movie on the Frost Giant’s planet. This movie dropped the ball, wasting a great opportunity for some epic fights. Along those lines, it did a horrible job of introducing poor poor Hawkeye.
If you forgot he’s in the movie, that’s okay: the movie forgot too. They stick Hawkeye in one scene where all he does is watch Thor fail to pick up the hammer, and make a quick quip. What a wasted opportunity: Hawkeye vs. Thor? That would’ve been awesome to watch.
I will say the movie has some good humor. Thor’s interaction with mortals is really fun, both in the hospital and afterwards. And Agent Coulson’s scenes were a joy to watch. But man, everything could have been better told, and made more believable. This is the movie I avoid the most during Marvel marathons.
14. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013—2015, 2 Seasons).
This show may be the only actually bad thing Marvel Entertainment has made. While the rest of the movies and shows have bad moments, I can’t say that their entirety is bad or worthless. You can find stuff even in Iron Man 2 to enjoy. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is just plain bad. The first season is a train-wreck, a painful experience that my friend—and fellow Critical Hit host—Kyle says more closely resembles the Magic School Bus than any spy thriller. The show claims to be about S.H.I.E.L.D., but none of the agents ever do anything that would be considered morally questionable. Which is weird, because every Marvel Entertainment movie that has S.H.I.E.L.D. in it has made it clear that S.H.I.E.L.D. is all about morally questionable decisions.
But it’s worse than that. In the first half of season one, no one has any real flaws: no one even has bad secrets, or makes morally gray choices. They’re all a bunch of good looking white people (with just a pinch of other races tossed in so they can say it’s a diverse cast) flying around and doing science stuff. Woo-whoo.
Everything about season one is awful: the acting, the writing, the music, and special effects. But the worst thing though is how distant the show is from the rest of the MCU.
The point of the show was to get the universe more connected, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rarely does that. An Asgardian will show up for an episode, or they’ll reference Ultron or The Dark World. And if we’re lucky, Samuel L. Jackson will show up for the finale. But that’s it. This feels more like product placement than a connected universe.
The show tries, and tries, clearly desperate to be one of those big special things, like Avengers or GotG. It’s like a kid wanting to hang out with his big brother’s cool friends. It’s awkward and awful, occasionally reminding us of those Marvel movies and shows that we should be watching instead of this.
That all being said, the show has absolutely improved. With the introduction of the Hydra story-arch, all the characters got a breath of fresh air, and the show returned to its spy roots.
In the second season, things can be tedious to watch, but the character development has skyrocketed (though I personally don’t care for how they introduce the Inhumans, but whatever). Everyone now is acting like the spy they should’ve been all along, and more spies—and people with superpowers—are being introduced, which I think is the right move for the series as it continues.
The sad thing is though, that as much as I enjoyed certain episodes, I don’t think even the best episodes are worth slogging through the first half of the first season. The show’s just that boring, lacking all the darkness and questionable decision making we should be expecting from a show about S.H.I.E.L.D.
(If you’d like to hear more of my ranting about Marvel movies and shows, be sure to check out Critical Hit.)
(*Note: I’m only rating Marvel Entertainment movies in this post, things made by Marvel itself, not anything else that has Marvel’s name on it [X-men, Fantastic Four, Spider-man, etc.].)