Over the course of 10 years, Marvel Studios has cemented its position as the ultimate power house in Hollywood. Ever since 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel Studios has been adapting its extensive library of heroes to the silver screen to astonishing success. Whether it’s the industry-changing The Avengers, or surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy, The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has proved itself to be the undisputed leader in its genre.
In anticipation of Avengers: Infinity War, we at August Man Malaysia rank all of the Marvel Studios productions to date, from worst to best.
Disclaimer: Major spoilers ahead!
18. The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk isn’t a bad film per se, it’s just a fairly forgettable one. Despite a memorable performance by Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, the film was bogged down by its one dimensional villain and cartoonish side characters. On top of that, a generic third act didn’t help the film either. Released during the early days of the MCU, The Incredible Hulk shows that Marvel Studios hasn’t quite found its groove yet.
17. Thor: The Dark World
Where do we even begin with this film? Thor: The Dark World is ridiculously filled with “bad comic book movie problems”. Whether it’s the annoying sidekicks, bland subplots, or by-the-books villains (Malekith is quite possibly the worst villain in the entire franchise), The Dark World seems to check everything off the list. The film does offer glimpses of greatness though, with stellar visuals, fun action sequences, incredibly emotional moments, as well as a top notch performance by Tom Hiddleston.
16. Iron Man 2
Sequel to the critically and financially acclaimed Iron Man, Iron Man 2 is often regarded as the black sheep of the MCU. Despite all around great performances from the cast, Iron Man 2 suffered immensely due to the film’s focus in setting up future films in the franchise, and as a result detracted the film’s pacing and narrative. However, the film does offer a couple of exciting action scenes, interesting character developments, while providing sufficient build up that The Avengers needed.
15. Iron Man 3
Following the immense success of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 has a lot to live up to. Directed by Shane Black, Iron Man 3 explores Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) struggle in dealing with issues such as anxiety and PTSD, a direction that’s not often tackled on in blockbusters. Despite its bold direction, the film does suffer from numerous story decisions, such as having a kid as a sidekick during the entirety of its second act, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) gaining powers, as well as a notoriously unwarranted plot twist regarding its main villain.
In retrospect, Thor achieved more than many would give it credit for. Before Thor, the MCU movies were fairly grounded, sans superpowers. Thor was tasked with the enormous responsibility in introducing to the audience the mystic and cosmic corner of the MCU (a foundation that’ll be built upon by Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange). Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Thor succeeds in telling a compelling family drama, dazzling visual effects, electrifying chemistry between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The film does have quite a number of interchangeable side characters, but all of that could be looked over considering the fact that the film brought us one of the greatest villains in modern cinema, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.
Read more: Chris Hemsworth never cracks under pressure
13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
When the teaser trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron was released, the collective mind of the MCU fandom was sent into overdrive. Dark, menacing, and grim, the teaser trailer promises an MCU film unlike anything before. However when the film was finally released, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed. Age of Ultron is an incredibly formulaic Marvel film. Earth’s mightiest hero assembles to fight against an evil villain, hell-bent on destroying earth by leading a disposable army of faceless minions. Sounds familiar?
Despite an incredible introduction, James Spader’s Ultron often times feel too comedic at the wrong timing, undercutting moments that’d have elevated the film’s stakes. The film isn’t without its moments though, with great character moments for Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), introduction to characters that will play major roles in later films, as well as providing an incredible set up for Captain America: Civil War.
12. Doctor Strange
The very existence of a Doctor Strange film adaptation that has garnered grave critical and financial reception shows how far the MCU has come since its inception, seeing how the character is only a C-list hero in the comics.
Doctor Strange shines with its outstanding ensemble of cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch nailing the role of the Sorcerer Supreme. Arrogant, charismatic and witty, Cumberbatch’s take as Stephen Strange deserves praise as he serves as the conduit for the audience to dive into this unconventional superhero film.
Despite a relatively rushed development for Strange in its second act, Doctor Strange sets itself apart from the rest with spectacular visual effects, great character moments, as well as an unusual third act in comparison to other comic book movies. Marvel’s Doctor Strange is an entertaining ride from start to finish.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger
Perhaps the most underrated movie on the list, Captain America: The First Avenger is one hell of a comic book movie. The final film before The Avengers, The First Avenger is tasked with the responsibility in setting up crucial elements that’ll tie the intertwining story thread of the various “Phase One” films together in the next film.
Despite feeling slow at times, The First Avenger is filled with exhilarating action moments, uplifting messages, as well as heartwarming emotional moments. The film’s unique setting in World War II also provides a unique tone and charm to the movie (a tone that’s used to great effect in 2017’s Wonder Woman). The First Avenger also gives us a glimpse of what Chris Evans could bring to the table as Captain America. Perhaps the greatest part of the film however, is the love story between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), which made the ending of the film the more tragic for it.
Read more: Why do we love Wonder Woman?
Let’s just get one thing straight, Yellowjacket is not a good villain at all. Okay now that’s out of the way, Marvel’s Ant-Man is an absolute delight to watch. Ant-Man was at one point a major concern on a lot of people’s mind, with former slated director Edgar Wright leaving the project after 10 years of development, as well as a lackluster teaser trailer, all signs were pointing to Ant-Man becoming Marvel’s first true dud in an otherwise impressive track record of films.
Turns out, Ant-Man was exactly the breath of fresh air that the MCU needed at that point of time, with the majority of the “Phase Two” films featuring world dominating storylines, Marvel needed to go small (no pun intended). Ant-Man exceeds in having a great lead in Paul Rudd, dazzling visual effects, as well as straight up hilarious moments. With a sequel, Ant-Man & The Wasp, scheduled to be released after Avengers: Infinity War, it’s safe to say that all of the concerns were nothing but an overreaction.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Although never quite reaching the heights of its game-changing predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of Marvel Studios’ most emotional movies to date. The cast is back, and everything great about the original film is dialed up to a thousand in Vol. 2, which is probably where its flaws are at.
With a relatively slow paced second act, the film could at times feel bogged down by its over-excessive humor. Fortunately, Vol. 2 makes up for it with stellar visual effects, genuinely heartwarming moments, as well as delivering one of the most tear-jerking death scenes in the entire MCU.
8. Thor: Ragnarok
After the release of The Dark World and Age of Ultron, Thor is in dire need of a change in terms of how the filmmakers tackle his character. After The Avengers, Thor has pretty much been stagnant, with little to no development across the “Phase Two” films. Thankfully, Marvel’s solution to the problem is to hire renowned New Zealand indie director Taika Waititi in the directing chair for his next instalment, and boy did he deliver.
Thor: Ragnarok serves as a testament of Marvel Studios’ willingness to constantly innovate themselves in terms of what the superhero genre can do. Everything from its marketing, to promotional materials, even to the movie itself is so off beat in comparison to the rest in its genre, that it’s not hard to be hyped about the film. Ragnarok’s unconventional approach also allows Hemsworth to flex his comedic talents, a trait that previous filmmakers were reluctant to embrace in its fullest.
Incredibly hilarious, alongside exciting new characters, and just straight up a visual feast to watch, Ragnarok is without a doubt the greatest chapter in the Thor trilogy. Despite some of its humor undercutting otherwise strong emotional moments, Ragnarok exceeded all expectations, and leaves the audience wanting more.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
When Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced, many thought Marvel Studios was starting to lose their steam. To many, the notion of Marvel Studios greenlighting a project that centers on a bunch of D-list heroes from the comics is creative suicide. Many began worrying about the studios’ future, considering that in 2014, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy would have to go toe to toe against the likes of rival studio Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
When Guardians of the Galaxy was finally released in theatres, it blew fans and critics out of the water. Directed by James Gunn, the film ultimately succeeds with an outstanding cast, memorable ’80s soundtrack, as well as fantastic special effects. Ending its box office tally as the third highest grossing film of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy might very well be the biggest surprise hit Marvel would ever have.
With the franchise gearing towards its third instalment, as well as the titular group setting to appear in this year’s Avengers: Infinity War, the success of Guardians of the Galaxy will forever be remembered as one of the landmark moments of the comic book movie genre.
6. Black Panther
Perhaps no other film in this list has the same cultural impact to the world the way Black Panther has. Exhilarating, jaw-dropping, and fulfilling, Black Panther represents a monumental step towards African representation in film.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther ultimately succeeds in its stunning visuals, exciting action sequences, and delivering an important message about the need to do what’s right. In addition, Black Panther isn’t shy to steer away from providing social commentary by tackling on political and social issues ranging from border security and the refugee crisis to inequality and black empowerment.
Released to great critical and financial success, Black Panther proves that the MCU can venture away from legacy characters, such as Iron Man and Captain America. Following his debut in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman once again proves that he’s the king that Wakanda deserves. This time around however, his performance was a tad overshadowed by Michael B. Jordan‘s Erik Killmonger. Calculated, menacing, and at times vulnerable, Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger is without a doubt one of the greatest antagonists in the MCU.
5. Iron Man
The one that started it all. It’s been 10 years since the release of Iron Man, and it’s amazing how well it holds up. With the entire future of Marvel Studios depending on its success or failure, it would be an understatement to say that there was a lot on Iron Man’s shoulder.
Fortunately, Iron Man was released to immense critical and financial acclaim. Directed by Jon Favreau, Iron Man is exhilarating in almost every way possible. Alongside strong direction, incredible pacing, as well as memorable action sequences, Iron Man seems to check off everything in what makes a superhero movie great. But it didn’t stop there.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the film, as well as the entire MCU, is the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Which is insane considering Marvel was initially reluctant in casting the actor, and instead was opting for Tom Cruise in the role instead (What?). Now often regarded as the Godfather of the MCU, Downey’s take on the character isn’t just memorable or amazing, it changed the character of Iron Man forever. With Iron Man, the titular character, who’s a B-list in the comics, is propelled to amazing cinematic and pop culture heights.
4. The Avengers
Prior to the release of 2012’s The Avengers, a film of such ambition was virtually unheard of. Sure, we have something along the likes of Alien vs. Predator or Freddy vs. Jason every once in a while. But the idea of a singular continuity and overarching narratives being told across multiple movies and even expanding out to other mediums was deemed impossible by many, fans and critics alike. But in 2012, Marvel Studios achieved the impossible.
Marvel took its time, seeding various plot threads all across its “Phase One” movies before culminating in The Avengers. Alongside a strong script, The Avengers succeeds in having a stellar ensemble cast, incredible direction by Joss Whedon, as well as great performances from Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hiddleston. Marvel’s The Avengers is one of the best that the franchise has to offer.
Clocking in at USD1.5 billion by the end of its run, The Avengers was the third highest grossing film of all time (Behind Avatar and Titanic) at the time of its release. With The Avengers, Marvel Studios perfected the shared universe model that many movie studios are still attempting to replicate today.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
After The Avengers, Captain America was at the risk of being a bore. Sure, he had a great start with The First Avenger. However, he has the least amount of development and growth among the big four of the MCU (alongside Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor) in The Avengers. Always the ‘boy scout’, some begun dubbing him ‘No one’s favourite’ after the release of The Avengers.
Director Anthony and Joe Russo understood the need of revamping the star-spangled hero. The Russos knew that in order to make the Steve Rogers interesting again, they needed to challenge his ideology, instead of stripping away what makes Captain America, Captain America.
Alongside exhilarating action sequences, great antagonists, as well as a plot that echoes 1960s political crime movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is without a doubt one of the greatest comic book movie ever made. In The Winter Soldier, the filmmakers take Captain America to new heights and delivers in spades.
Read more: Sebastian Stan’s musings on life
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Ever since the character’s conception in the comics, Spider-Man has always been Marvel’s most beloved character, so you can imagine the excitement when it was announced that Marvel’s mascot is finally returning home.
After the release of the critical and financially underwhelming The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony (Spider-Man’s film license holder since the ’90s) decided to join forces with Marvel Studios to craft the next chapter for everyone’s favourite wall crawler, integrating the character into the MCU. Thus, enter Spider-Man: Homecoming.
With a relatable hero, fun action sequences, and just the right amount of comedy, Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming embodies everything great about Marvel. Following his introduction in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland once again shines as the web-head, capturing the essence of the character in a way that the previous iterations couldn’t. Oh and also, Michael Keaton, nuff’ said.
Read more: Tom Holland swings to the top
1. Captain America: Civil War
The crown jewel of the MCU. Prior to the “Phase Three” films, a common criticism of the MCU was its lack of compelling and well written antagonists. The criticisms weren’t unwarranted, as Marvel Studios tends to focus and develop its heroes more so than its villains. Ronan the Accuser was bland, Yellowjacket was generic, and don’t even get me started on Malekith.
So how do you fix the problem? Easy, you pit two of the most fully realized characters in the MCU, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, against one another. Despite not being a villain, Tony Stark plays the role an antagonist would in the film, with a clear conflict in ideology against the titular hero.
Alongside its compelling and dramatic storyline, Captain America: Civil War also succeeds in delivering top notch performances from its cast (particularly from Evans and Downey), introduction to beloved characters, as well as impressive action sequences. Civil War stands perfectly on its own, but it also has the biggest impact in the overall narrative of the MCU (Infinity War seems to be rivaling that though). Captain America: Civil War isn’t just a movie, it’s an experience.
Avengers: Infinity War will finally hit the big screens from April 25 onwards