Posted on Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 by Angie Han
In less than a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone from an ambitious pipe dream to an inescapable box-office juggernaut. Now, as Doctor Strange kicks off the first major new sub-franchise of Phase Three, we wanted to take a look back at the fourteen films released so far. Which soared? Which fell flat on their faces? After the jump, get our rundown of all fourteen films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ranked.
Note: This piece was originally published in 2015 in conjunction with the end of Marvel’s Phase Two. Now that we’re well into Phase Three, however, we felt it worth revisiting our ranking of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. This story has been updated throughout.
In this piece, we’ll run down the fourteen films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s all the films within the shared canon, not every film ever based on a Marvel comic. Here’s a chronological list of the movies discussed here.
- Iron Man (2008)
- The Incredible Hulk (2008)
- Iron Man 2 (2010)
- Thor (2011)
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
- The Avengers (2012)
- Iron Man 3 (2013)
- Thor: The Dark World (2013)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
- Ant-Man (2015)
- Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Doctor Strange (2016)
Oh, and also before we begin: Header art created by Simon Delart for the Poster Posse Age of Ultron show.
14. Iron Man 2
Perhaps it’s a blessing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe got its biggest misfire out of the way early on. Just two years after Iron Man 1 established the Marvel formula, Iron Man 2 exposed the perils of it. The storylines got more convoluted without getting more interesting, the CG battles got shinier but lost their emotional resonance, and the movie at hand seemed to take second priority under the movies to come (specifically, the Avengers). Iron Man 2 had its moments, to be sure — Robert Downey Jr.‘s innate charm guarantees that much — but there’s a reason it’s no one’s favorite Marvel movie.
13. Thor: The Dark World
Nothing less than the fate of the universe was at stake in Thor: The Dark World. So why did it all feel so inconsequential? The film sidelined its most compelling throughline — the thorny relationship between Thor and Loki — in favor of an exhausting battle against a forgettable nemesis. Making matters worse, it’s awfully difficult to get worked up about the possibility of total annihilation when we know damn well the MCU’s gotta survive long enough to sustain several more years of Marvel movies. In the end, Thor’s valiant efforts felt less like real drama and more like busywork.
12. The Incredible Hulk
It took three tries to get the Hulk right on the big screen. The Incredible Hulk was attempt #2. Though entertaining enough, with plenty of Hulk Smash action interspersed between more contemplative character work, the film fell short of Marvel’s best work. Despite Edward Norton‘s considerable chops as an actor, he never made a strong impression as Bruce Banner a.k.a. the Hulk. The same could be said of Louis Leterrier‘s direction, which was competent but generic. It wasn’t until until Mark Ruffalo showed up in The Avengers that the Hulk started to feel like a crucial component of the MCU.
11. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange almost inched up another spot or two on this list solely on the strength of its psychedelic action sequences, which truly are like nothing we’ve ever seen before from the MCU. They’re downright weird, breathtaking in scope and bursting with odd shapes and unexpected colors. Alas, the rest of the film isn’t quite so magical. Benedict Cumberbatch seems miscast as Stephen Strange, who really just feels like a carbon copy of Tony Stark, and Kamar-Taj and the rest of the mystical realm feel like an awkward fit within the MCU. With several more appearances already lined up for the Sorcerer Supreme, though, Marvel should have plenty more chances to iron out the kinks.