Ranking all 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies: Part 1

In anticipation of "Avengers: Endgame," The Amherst Wire entertainment staff team up to tackle the pop culture phenomenon.

April 19, 2019


(Screenshot from “Thor: The Dark World”)

It’s been over a decade since the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with 2008’s “Iron Man.” Since then, we’ve seen a variety of worlds like the technologically advanced nation of Wakanda or the microscopic world that Ant-Man can inhabit go from the comic books to the big screen. With “Avengers: Endgame” right around the corner, it only makes sense to rank the 21 MCU movies as a bit of refresher ahead of the April 26 release.  Every day up to the release of “Endgame,” Amherst Wire’s entertainment staff will be releasing one part of the seven of the ranking articles.

We are all by no means Marvel experts, but six of us came together to tackle the tough task of ranking all the films in this pop culture phenomenon. Blood, sweat and tears were shed in the meeting that decided our list, and to remain transparent, each writer was asked to express their Marvel fandom before kicking things off. 

1. What was the first Marvel film you watched?

Jonathan Kermah, editor: “Iron Man.”

Trevor Wilson, assistant editor: “Iron Man.”

Patrick Kline, photo editor: The first Marvel movie that I saw was the first “Iron Man” on DVD because my parents wouldn’t take me to the theaters.

Julia Donohue, writer: “Ant-Man.”

Oliver Sampson, writer: I saw “Iron Man” in theaters when it first came out. “Iron Man” wasn’t at the top of my list of superheroes at that time, but I was instantly hooked when I saw Tony Stark suit up for the first time.

Kacey Connolly, writer: The first Marvel movie I watched was “Iron Man.” It’s at the top of my personal Marvel list and has become the notorious winner of family movie night.

2. What is your level of Marvel fandom? Are you a fan of all things Marvel? Or are you just a Marvel movie fan? Or are you not interested in superheroes at all?

Kermah: I’ve loved superheroes since I was a kid. While I wasn’t much of a comic book reader, I would watch every superhero TV show I could get my hands on growing up.

Wilson: I’ve always been a huge Marvel movie fan. Even before the first “Iron Man” movie, I loved superhero movies and shows growing up.

Kline: I’ve seen every single Marvel movie and from “Doctor Strange” on, I’ve seen all in theaters. I’ve spent hours just reading wiki articles about random characters, locations and items from the movies and comics. I want to be a superhero when I grow up.

Donohue: I’m not a Marvel fan, I’m a movie fan. My favorite superhero movie is “The Dark Knight.” Sorry Marvel fans.

Sampson: I would say at this point, I’m mostly just a Marvel movie fan. I used to watch a lot of the cartoons and read the comics when I was younger, but at this point, I really only follow the movies. Occasionally, I’ll watch the old cartoons for nostalgic purposes though.

Connolly: I’m pretty sure my level of Marvel fandom is slightly above average. I’ve seen a good chunk of the movies but not every single one. I love Marvel, but I can’t say I agree with all of their superhero creations.

3. In your eyes, what makes a good Marvel movie?

Kermah: A great Marvel movie is all about balance. It feels unique in the MCU while remaining important to the rest of the universe. The central conflict feels larger than life, but funny moments stop the movie from taking itself too seriously.

Wilson: Tons of action, obviously. But, I love when Marvel movies throw you for a loop and break the formula as they did with “Infinity War.”

Kline:  Honestly, every Marvel movie is good. The characters are so human and relatable, even the gods. The soundtracks are excellent and some of my favorite pieces of music. However, my favorite part is how each movie is connected, even in the smallest ways such as mentioning other characters or having an unexpected guest appearance in films that you wouldn’t expect them in. My favorite is when Loki briefly transformed into Captain America.

Donohue: A good Marvel movie tries to be more than formulaic. It tries to be a good movie without the brand name. “Black Panther” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” are Marvel movies that try to marry soundtrack and script to be more than a standard Marvel movie.

Sampson: A good Marvel movie needs four key components. It needs to have really exciting action throughout; the movies with long lapses without action usually suffer because the plot isn’t developed enough. There needs to be a good balance of humor, but this can’t be so forced that it takes away from the more serious moments. There also needs to be a great villain. All of the main superheroes are intriguing in the MCU, but to elevate a Marvel movie to the next level you need that perfect antagonist, with Thanos being the best example. Finally, a good Marvel movie needs to progress the overall story arc in some way.

Connolly: I think the character developments are key to a good Marvel movie. If the hero isn’t intriguing, then the movie won’t resonate with me, no matter how good the plot.

Now without further adieu, here is part one of seven in our MCU movie rankings.

21. Thor: The Dark World

By Trevor Wilson

Memorable Moment: Loki mocks Captain America, played by Chris Evans, who does a pretty good Loki impression.

Kicking off our list of best-to-worst Marvel movies is the second installment of the Thor saga, “Thor: The Dark World.” I’ll preface this by admitting that in no way is this film bad. Marvel hardly makes bad movies, but what really solidifies “Thor: The Dark World” as the worst movie on this list is how BORING it is. Chris Hemsworth is undeniably a beautiful human being, I mean look at him. There wouldn’t be anyone better to play the role of the god of thunder, but to no fault of his own, Thor comes forth as one of the more boring characters in this movie.

The action in this movie is neither jaw-dropping nor awe-inspiring. Rather, it feels like the same, copy-and-paste, formulaic and metal-clanking fighting scenes that can be found in its predecessor. Additionally, Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), is often inexpressive. They try to make her a bit feistier, but it doesn’t work.

However, the one character that keeps this movie above sea level is Thor’s mischievous, egotistic, often misguided younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The god of mischief really brings this movie to life and provides the film with its most energetic and memorable moments.  Loki proves to be the most refreshing character in the whole film, and you honestly wish there was more of the guy despite his nature. Ultimately, if you didn’t see “Thor: The Dark World,” you really didn’t miss a whole lot, and probably had a few extra hours to take a high-quality nap.

20. The Incredible Hulk

By Jonathan Kermah

Memorable Moment: The Hulk takes on the military, smashing armed trucks, a chopper and Emil Blonsky.

With “The Incredible Hulk” being the second MCU movie to hit the theaters over a decade ago, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this film doesn’t hold up when comparing CGI and special effects. That’s excusable, but the weird “King Kong” mixed with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” romance between Bruce Banner/Hulk (Edward Norton) and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) is pretty difficult to sit through.

Tim Roth’s performance as the Hulk-obsessed British marine Emil Blonsky is without a doubt the best part of this movie. Not so much the prehistoric level CGI seen in the film’s final act, but Blonsky’s transition from Marine, to mad man and then to the Hulk’s destructive adversary is a strong character arc for a villain. Roth’s performance as the soldier gone mad only enhances the writing. In the scene of Abomination’s creation, he and Tim Blake Nelson as Dr. Samuel Sterns even somehow manage to share more sexual tension than Norton and Tyler’s characters exhibit throughout the entire movie.

In all seriousness, the Marvel artifact known as “The Incredible Hulk” has almost zero replay value. The Mark Ruffalo recast and more light-hearted Hulk in “The Avengers” is evidence that Marvel noticed the film’s pitfalls, too. And while Ruffalo’s iteration as Banner in the other MCU movies has worked out for the most part, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they went in a different direction with the character. What if they went with a darker, R-rated reboot of Hulk? What if they had a full length “Planet Hulk” movie instead of the Hulk cameo in “Thor: Ragnarok?”

We’ll never know. Norton and Tyler’s god awful romance (and Disney’s purchasing of Marvel) have essentially ensured that another solo Hulk film is never coming.

19. Iron Man 2

By Kacey Connolly

Memorable Moment: Tony Stark’s showdown with Rhodey at his own party has got to be one of the best scenes of the movie. There’s nothing better than a cocky War Machine telling a drunk Iron Man he doesn’t deserve to wear his suit.

Third to last on our Marvel movie rating list is “Iron Man 2” and almost everyone (not including me) agreed on its placement. While the first “Iron Man” was a cinematic masterpiece that created a gateway into the Marvel world, the second film lacks the customary thrill that separates Marvel superheroes from others. Almost every Marvel movie fulfills a purpose in the Marvel universe. Each individual movie builds upon the other whether it focuses on one character or multiple.

However, “Iron Man 2” seems to miss that beat. In what should have been an account of Tony Stark’s life after becoming Iron Man, this film ends up showing viewers pointless moments in Stark’s life. He pisses off the government, drinks a lot of booze and defeats Hammer Drones with his best buddy by his side, all while nearly dying from his chest piece. While the plot might seem thick and, in my opinion, intriguing enough to bump it up at least above “Ant-Man,” many believe it lacks relevance and meaning to the Marvel realm. Even though we all love Tony Stark and his witty comments among the chaos, “Iron Man 2” just isn’t better than the 18 other movies above it.

Email Jonathan at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @JKermah98.

Email Trevor at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @TrevorWilsonOG.

Email Patrick at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @paterickkline.

Email Kacey at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @kaceyconnolly1.

Email Julia at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @toomanyjulias.

Email Oliver at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @_theycallmeo.

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