The 20 Best Marvel Movies Of The Last 20 Years

In recent years, the sheer wealth of Marvel movies being released — including but not limited to entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — has made ranking Marvel superhero films an annual tradition. The /Film staff most recently came together in May 2017 to compile a vote-based list that reflected the tastes of the site's contributors as a collective. Since then, a number of films that would qualify as top-tier Marvel have hit theaters.

The 1998 superhero vampire flick Blade starring Wesley Snipes doesn't inhabit the same upper echelon as any of those, but historically, it's significant as a forerunner of the modern superhero film and the first decent Marvel movie we ever got. Prior to Blade, the superhero film genre was still in its nascent form and Marvel could only watch from the sidelines as its "Distinguished Competition," DC Comics, enjoyed an early run of success with Superman and Batman on the big screen.

This week marks Blade's 20th anniversary and that's as good an excuse as any to offer an updated ranking of both the best MCU and non-MCU films. This ranking isn't the Word of God but rather a subjective list from one friendly neighborhood Marvel librarian who grew up frequenting the comic book store on new-release Wednesdays and who now turns up as early as possible at the theater to see the latest Marvel movie releases.


Two years after Blade, the first X-Men movie ushered in the 2000s with an uneven mix of Matrix-like black leather and wire work. Director Bryan Singer, who never professed any great love for the original X-Men comics, infamously banned them from the set, leading cast members like Hugh Jackman to hand them around and hide them like contraband. The result was a movie that strove toward legitimacy and was critically embraced but whose overall aesthetic has not aged well by today's genre standards. Like Blade, X-Men is historically significant in that it helped open the door to superhero films.

Its sequel holds more rewatch value. Ditching the goons of Sabretooth and Toad as well as Storm's bad accent and bad jokes, X2: X-Men United clears the plastic, non-magnetic chessboard of elements that didn't work in the first movie. It starts off with a thrilling sequence where a brainwashed Nightcrawler is teleporting through the White House, trying to assassinate the President. Every "Bamf!" is a palate cleanser.

The raid on the X-Mansion throws fans a Colossus bone and allows Wolverine to fly into one of his classic berserker rages. The scene where Iceman comes out to his parents as a mutant remains the most overt depiction of X-Men as an LGBT metaphor. Storm conjuring copious tornado tendrils to counteract fighter jets in pursuit of the Blackbird is a neat trick. The film's closing narration over the stillness of a flooded lake holds a promise of things to come. Here's hoping Simon Kinberg does right by the belated chance to deliver with Dark Phoenix.


It's funny to think that there was a time when the decision to cast Chris Evans as Captain America rang questionable, if only because he had already played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies and seemed to fit the comic relief type more. With The First Avenger, the perception of Evans transformed about as much as the character of Steve Rogers did when he emerged from that Vita-Ray Chamber, newly injected with a Super Soldier Serum that had turned him from pencil-necked and scrawny into brawny. Evans' Cap is the perfect picture of dignified stoicism and his relationship with the whip-smart Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) has enough chemistry and wistful resonance to qualify it as an exception to the MCU's romance problem.

Brought to life with practical make-up and prosthetics, the Red Skull makes for a visually interesting comic book movie villain. The First Avenger may feel like a glorified montage at times, but like his previous high-flying World War II caper, The Rocketeer, director Joe Johnston evokes the film's period setting with nostalgia, fusing retro costumes with heightened technology in a pulpy vision of alternate history.

18. IRON MAN 3

Iron Man 3's treatment of the Mandarin may be a sore point among some fans, but it's not without good reason that it jettisons the Fu Manchu stereotype of the character's comic book origins. When I saw the Chinese cut of the film in Shanghai, this potential insensitivity was hammered home by an added subplot with Chinese characters. Reimagining the Mandarin also freed the film up to make a statement, peeling back the layer of artifice on a world where a long-bearded terrorist leader glimpsed only through video communiqués has been manufactured as a fear-mongering tool.

With the stated aim of getting Tony Stark "back to the cave," where "he's stripped of everything, he's backed up against a wall, and he's gotta use his intelligence to get out of it," Iron Man 3 marked a return to form for its hero. Reconfiguring Stark's classic "demon in a bottle," alcoholism, as PTSD from a wormhole made him vulnerable again in a way that could come back into play in Avengers 4.

The Iron Patriot cuts a fine figure but it's when Don Cheadle's Rhodey is out of his armor and he and Stark are storming a compound with handguns that this starts to really feel like one of Shane Black's buddy movies. Rebecca Hall is underserved in her reduced role but whether it's surface-level feminism or not, at least Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts gets briefly empowered with Extremis. Baby steps toward Captain Marvel.


Considering the loss of Edgar Wright from the director's chair, Ant-Man turned out pretty well. The character, as he existed before this in the comics, certainly wasn't begging to carry his own movie, but Paul Rudd acquits himself, well, marvelously. Now that we've gotten to know Scott Lang, it's hard to imagine an MCU without him. His ex-cellmate, the smiley, jabbering raconteur, Luis, played by Michael Pena, is such a bright spot in the movie that he really deserves to have that "Ant-Man and the Wasp and Luis" title he's been teasing in trailers come true for the inevitable third installment in the trilogy.

Not every joke in Ant-Man works but the refreshingly low stakes in this movie were a nice break from the usual run of end-of-the-world scenarios. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lily both provide good straight-faced foils to Rudd. Anthony Mackie plays off him well, too. Showing divorced adults in a scene of domestic bliss with their daughter and a new fiancee offers a progressive view of modern families.


Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool but his first outing as the Merc with the Mouth seemed somehow less clever and funny than it thought it was, as if it belonged on the spectrum of disposable, raunchy rom-coms. On this list, there are several heroes (or anti-heroes, in Deadpool's case) whose movie series overcame awkward first go-rounds to deliver superior sequels. /Film's Chris Evangelista attributed the improvement in Deadpool 2 to better direction, action, and jokes, as well as a top-notch supporting cast.

It's the increase in characters from the larger X-universe who bring the greatest infusion of new life into this series. Deadpool 2 almost positions itself as X-Force 0.5, roping in Josh Brolin's gruff Cable, Zazie Beetz's wry Domino, and Shioli Kutsuna's incandescent Yukio, along with a returning Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, to make Wade Wilson part of his own off-kilter X-family.

The real star of the show is Juggernaut. 20th Century Fox's hands are not clean in doing a disservice to comic book villains (even some heroes receive shabby treatment, like poor Shatterstar in this movie). The X-Men have a rogues' gallery on the level of Spider-Man or Batman in the comics, yet on more than one occasion, Fox has fumbled the ball in translating X-villains to the big screen. Liberating him from the notoriety of X-Men: The Last Stand, Deadpool 2 builds up the threat of Juggernaut before setting him loose on the film like the true, unstoppable force he always deserved to be. Colossus vs. Juggernaut! Colossus loses a tooth. 'Nuff said.


Give the doctor his due. Doctor Strange employs mind-bending visuals inspired by everything from Steve Ditko's psychedelic comic book art to Christopher Nolan's folding cityscapes in Inception. Its origin tale for Stephen Strange, the surgeon turned Master of the Mystic Arts, hews closely to the "humbled arrogance" formula of Iron Man. Yet as Infinity War showed, these two characters are as much different as they are alike.

In the comics, Doctor Strange was always a heavyweight in the Marvel Universe, even if his ongoing solo title never sold as well. This movie expands the MCU into some trippy new dimensions. Played for gags ("I've come to bargain!"), Dormammu regrettably gets added to the pile of botched villains. However, the rest of the movie works so well that the Galactus-style mishandling of him as a disembodied force, one who merely assumes a form to imitate Strange (hence Benedict Cumberbatch playing both characters) almost comes as an afterthought.

Benedict Wong elevates the comic book Wong from a stereotypical Asian sidekick/servant to a worthy peer and equal master. Tilda Swinton's casting as the Ancient One courted controversy but the most compelling thread in the movie actually involves the quandary of contradictions raised by her character. Drawing on his own background in a fundamentalist Christian high school and church, director Scott Derrickson pegged Karl Mordo as an individual whose inflexible moral code "cannot cope with the realities of moral relativism." Mordo, played by the great Chiwetel Ejiofor, is disenfranchised with Strange's non-adherence to laws of nature. The movie strays from the MCU's static visual dogma and in that way defies nature's laws, too.


The embryo for Magneto's story in X-Men: First Class came from a canceled project called X-Men Origins: Magneto, which was pitched as "The Pianist meets X-Men." Michael Fassbender had already broken out in Inglourious Basterds but First Class is where he first broke through as leading man material. This is Magneto's movie. Speaking as an X-Men fan since the good old Jim Lee days, it's also the first X-movie that I finally found myself able to embrace unabashedly. The franchise has always been hit-or-miss but it fell into a comparatively steadier "hit" groove in the 2010s, starting with the soft reboot of First Class.

In the 2000s X-Men trilogy, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan embodied Professor X and Magneto as elder mutant statesmen. In the comics, they were traditionally portrayed as the MLK and Malcolm X of the mutant rights movement. Fassbender is better able to convey the righteous fury of a Malcolm X figure. He has the physicality and the fire of youth.

The way the movie plays up Erik Lensherr, centering the first and last scene on him, giving him spurts of rousing theme music in-between, it is like he is the movie's hero. Erik Lensherr: Nazi-hunter. When Erik finally catches up with the man who birthed his rage, his unholy father-figure, Sebastian Shaw, there is that great moment where he confesses that everything Shaw did to him made him stronger and that he agrees with all of Shaw's ideas on mutant supremacy. It's here that Erik Lensherr makes the full transition from anti-hero to unapologetic villain, donning the iconic, telepath-proof helmet of Magneto. "Coin through the head" surely ranks as one of the better movie deaths of all time.


/Film contributor Siddhant Adlakha called Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 "an intimate drama about cycles of abuse ... with a talking space raccoon." That about sums it up. If you haven't read his Road to Infinity War series, it contains some fascinating insights on how this film, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther act as a trilogy "whose narrative is adjacent to colonial history."

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lacks the shock-delight of its predecessor but there's a lot more going on in it than just some cute Baby Groot dancing. The core of this movie is redemption and reconciliation, learning to move past misplaced anger. That makes it all the more relevant and sad in light of what happened to the film's writer-director, James Gunn, who was recently fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 when some of his old blue-humor tweets with provocative pedophilia jokes resurfaced.

Hollywood's new zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior has felled numerous idols this past year. Which casualties were deserving or not, including Gunn, is something the court of public opinion has and will continue to arbitrate. It's not exactly known for reserving judgment. Baked into the fabric of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, however, is a lesson on what it means for people to learn and grow and change as individuals, confronting their own wounded selves and abusers, rejecting intolerance and Ego's egoism in favor of forgiveness and love. #Family.


Prior to Iron Man and the birth of the MCU in 2008, Spider-Man 2 was, hands down, the best Marvel movie. A lot of people fell in love with Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie for its upside-down kiss and the romance between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. I could never get over the Green Goblin. It really is true: he looks like a cast-off from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. For admittedly superficial reasons, I was also reluctant to accept Maguire's glassy-eyed Peter Parker, who seemed to eschew being quippy in favor of crying. He never had the right hair (especially not later when he adopted that notorious emo coiffure in Spider-Man 3). Andrew Garfield looked more like the Peter from comic book drawings but Andrew Garfield was marooned in two D-grade Sony flicks.

The scene in Spider-Man 2 where the unmasked Spidey saves a runaway train full of New Yorkers is possibly the purest distillation of heroism that we've ever seen in a Marvel movie. Throwing a car through the window of a cafe, putting our doomed lovebirds of Peter and Mary Jane in peril, Alfred Molina comes sauntering in on octopus arms, accompanied by a suitably animated Danny Elfman leitmotif. Molina brings nuance to the role of Doctor Octopus, less of an evil mad scientist here than a sympathetic mentor corrupted by those snake-like mechanical arms, which have a scary mind of their own. Harry Osborn being haunted by the cackling Goblin ghost of his father is an intriguing subplot. By 2004, this version of Peter's dopey grin had grown endearing.


Until Dark Phoenix and/or New Mutants necessitates otherwise, let's pretend X-Men: Apocalypse never happened and that X-Men: Days of Future Past is the end of the X-Men franchise, with Deadpool 2 running its own zany, zigzagging parallel timeline(s) and Logan functioning as a grand epilogue to the whole shebang. As it currently exists — which is to say, outside the MCU for the time being — the franchise is riddled with continuity errors. Not to fear: time travel solves everything.

Or not. At the very least, it's easier to reconcile the continuity mess if it can be considered as playing out across a vast mutant multiverse. Based on one of the all-time greatest X-Men stories from Uncanny X-Men #141–142, Days of Future Past is the culmination of two distinct eras of X-Men moviemaking. The method of time travel in this movie is novel: it involves Wolverine having his consciousness projected through time into a younger body. Fresh off The Wolverine and his hall-of-fame cameo in First Class, Wolvie wakes up next to a lava lamp and eases us into the past with deadpan, jokey aplomb.

The '70s fashion that the First Class generation wears evinces more costume style than any other X-Men movie. Between First Class in 2011 and Days of Future Past in 2014, Jennifer Lawrence broke big with The Hunger Games. Here she gets more to do as her character is positioned as the formidable third edge of an Xavier-Magneto-Mystique triangle. The movie is really about James McAvoy's Charles Xavier becoming Professor X, taking up his dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants. It's the best film featuring a full X-Men team. Did I mention Quicksilver?


There's never been an event movie like Avengers: Infinity War. Franchise fatigue or issues with genuine flaws like the Black Order may have lowered some people's estimation of its place in the Marvel movie canon, but as your friendly neighborhood Marvel librarian, I would humbly submit that it still deserves a place in the Top Ten. At the risk of losing geek cred, it's the only MCU film that I've felt compelled to see twice in the theater on opening weekend. (Usually, I know that I'll be purchasing them on home media and able to revisit them endlessly that way.)

What an insane juggling act this movie pulls off. Pouring back through the pages of Marvel Comics on an iPad, I wrote about some of the iconic comic book moments that the movie brings to life earlier this year. I'm still half-expecting the world to end before we see Avengers 4 next April and if it does, the 10-year story that Marvel Studios has been telling will still have a fairly definitive, shocking ending thanks to Thanos' snap heard 'round the world. If First Class was Magneto's movie, then Infinity War is Thanos' movie.


Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming are pretty evenly matched in terms of their villains, both of whom twist potential father figures to Peter Parker into paragons of menace. The unofficial quadrilogy of Batman, Batman Returns, Birdman, and Spider-Man: Homecoming sky-writes the name "Michael Keaton" up near the clouds, crowning him as the most consistent winged presence to watch over the superhero film genre. Together with Christopher Reeve, Keaton godfathered the genre. He's explored it from multiple angles, both inside and out, and while he stood askance from it in the Oscar-winning genre critique Birdman, the title Homecoming could just as easily apply to him as an actor who has now meaningfully surrendered himself back to the genre that made him a household name.

It's Tom Holland who gives this movie a mighty edge over Spider-Man 2. Simply put, Holland is Spider-Man, the true expression of the character that comic book fans waited patiently to see through five other motion pictures. Before Holland, Spidey's youthful vitality always seemed weighed down, trapped under rubble on-screen, like the building in this movie that collapses on top of the hero in an homage to Ditko's classic art for Amazing Spider-Man #33. Homecoming rescues the character, or rather, allows him to rescue himself and reclaim some of his lost exuberance.

Much has been made of how Homecoming is a teen movie in the vein of John Hughes. It harkens back to high school and awkward adolescent moments, friends with whom we built Lego Death Star sets (not you? What?!) Jacob Batalon's lovable Ned isn't the only "guy in the chair" for Peter Parker. We're all riding shotgun with him, rooting for him more than ever. Sony's Peter? Pshaw. Make mine Marvel.


Tapping into Chris Hemsworth's latent comedic abilities, Thor: Ragnarok offers a fundamentally irreverent take on the God of Thunder and his mythos. Thor's evolution from serious to silly began when Hemsworth's Ghostbusters character and director Taika Waititi's Team Thor mockumentary shorts revealed that Marvel was sitting on a goldmine of comedic potential with the least critically successful of its three main Avengers. While it still rates "Fresh" by a slim margin on Rotten Tomatoes, Thor's previous solo outing, The Dark World, continues to hold the dubious distinction of being the worst-reviewed film of the MCU.

Last November, I wrote at length about how Thor: Ragnarok diverges from the character's movie and comics history. This was just after the movie's opening weekend and the intervening months and home media revisits have only cemented the notion that the wholesale destruction of Asgard and reinvention of Thor on Sakaar is the best thing the movie could have done. Thor is now free and clear of a lot of old franchise baggage yet he carries enough on-screen memories with him that the journey he's been through — of someone's who's lost everything — can inform his character in poignant new ways, as it did in his Infinity War scene with Rocket Raccoon. Crackling with blue lightning, the God of Thunder stands newly reenergized by Thor: Ragnarok.


Some have argued that the Captain America trilogy is better than The Dark Knight trilogy. That argument doesn't quite hold up if you sit down and watch each trilogy as a standalone endeavor, simply because Civil War calls upon outside knowledge of the greater MCU to fill in the gaps on new faces in its supporting cast. People weren't likening this film to Avengers 2.5 for nothing. Yet the very existence of a debate where the sum total of Cap's three movies could be posited as equal to or greater than Nolan's Batman movies says a lot about Marvel's quality control, or "internal barometer of what is good and bad," as Chris Evans called it.

Even with all the Avengers it's juggling, Civil War manages to introduce Black Panther and Spider-Man into the MCU without giving them short shrift. Both characters remain highlights, with Spidey's costumed debut being second only to the emergence of Giant-Man during the airport battle (the whole of which is astonishing and the metric by which all other super-powered melees seem destined to be judged).

Helmut Zemo makes for a more cerebral villain and while it's a shame we don't get to see him in his Baron mask, maybe that will come later if and when the Thunderbolts form in the MCU. The scene where Zemo runs through the list of random trigger words, reprogramming the Winter Soldier — right before Bucky breaks out and swiftly tears through the plainclothes gauntlet of Sam Wilson, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Sharon Carter, Natasha Romanov, and T'Challa — must forever have changed the way teachers look at vocabulary exercises.


The Avengers was Hollywood's first mega-sequel, a film that drew together the threads of five other big-budget superhero films across four years. No other movie in this or any aspiring shared universe has been able to match the fresh geek thrill of seeing Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America trading headbutts and quips on-screen for the first time. For fans like your truly, it was utterly surreal to see the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier rising up through the clouds, acting as the stage for a Thor vs. Hulk fight. Yet as much as The Avengers might approximate the feeling of seeing heroes from different comic book titles come together in a crossover or team-up, it's also a film that managed to thrill and delight general audiences by virtue of its spectacle and wit.

After his two solo movies yielded mixed results, this third time proved to be the charm for the Incredible Hulk. The Avengers utilizes Hulk like a secret weapon hidden in plain sight (which is what he was prior to Mark Ruffalo's scene-stealing version of the character). The movie also contains the best version of Loki, who strides through a crowd of kneeling humans in a horned helmet and ascends to his rightful Zodhood here. Say what you will about the MCU's villain problem, but Loki, at least, established himself as an early antidote to that.

Loki's army of Chitauri aliens may be typical CG cannon fodder, and his whole planned-to-get-caught arc may be derivative of The Dark Knight, but in 2012, The Avengers even managed to upstage The Dark Knight Rises. Nerds rallied around a new franchise and the Nolanite in me would henceforth live side-by-side with a reawakened Marvelite.


Earlier this year, I wrote about Logan, devoting a section to James Mangold's superhero western in an article about his five best films and involvement in a potential Boba Fett spinoff. The article notes how Mangold's movies "demonstrate a recurring interest in the human frailty behind the veneer of legends." That's on full display in Logan. This excerpt summarizes it:

Pondering Logan, it's really something of a miracle that Mangold was able to upend the safe, slick superhero film formula and deliver an R-rated movie with mortality on its mind. The Wolverine suppressed the title character's healing ability and in Logan, we see it weakened again by age as he is left to care for a frail, 90-year-old Professor X, who now suffers from dementia.

From 2000 to 2017, Hugh Jackman portrayed Wolverine in a full ten movies, counting cameos. He saved the best for last. This swan song sees him wearing the mileage of the comic book movie millennium like an ill-fitting suit. In demythologizing superhero films, Logan broke new ground for them at the Oscars, becoming the only genre entry to be nominated for an Academy Award in a writing category.


The success of Guardians of the Galaxy is that it took a bunch of obscure characters — dollar-bin names by the standards of comic book readers — and it turned them into a rag-tag band of heroes that we love. If, compared to Spider-Man and the X-Men, the core Avengers were B-list characters pre-MCU, then the Guardians were doubtlessly D-list characters. In a way, that makes them the most quintessentially "MCU" characters of the MCU, because unlike the Avengers with their long, storied history, the Guardians weren't exactly flowering in deep, rich soil before this. It wasn't until Annihilation: Conquest #6, a comic published a month before the first Iron Man movie (the cover actually bore an ad for it) that the modern incarnation of the Guardians would assemble, bringing together several existing characters, including a sentient tree and anthropomorphic bipedal raccoon, who previously bore no team connection.

It's the movies where these characters first truly bloomed. Chris Pratt became a movie star, shedding the schlubby image that he cultivated on TV and in supporting roles like his first comic book movie appearance, Wanted. From the opening credits scene, where Peter Quill cues up the music (best title card ever segues into Raiders of the Lost Ark in space), it was clear Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be a different kind of Marvel movie. The jukebox soundtrack helped it dance its way into our hearts, as did the humor — Drax's literal-mindedness, Rocket's prank-caller-like voice — and the priceless group dynamic of this spacefaring family in the making. Let's face it: the Avengers are jocks. The rest of us? We are Groot.


Unburdened by the TV-like continuity that every other Marvel movie has been laboring under since 2008, the MCU's first installment, Iron Man, is still its most cinematic. Part of what made the film such a breath of fresh air amid the superhero movie landscape of the 2000s was that it was made in-house at Marvel Studios with more concern for upholding the legacy of the source material.

Another big part of it was the force of Robert Downey Jr.'s personality. The former mugshot man had a superstar bottled up inside him, just waiting to be let out. Tossing out one-liners like, "I'm sorry. This is the Funvee. The Humdrumvee's back there," Downey turned Tony Stark into something more than he was in the comics. He became the prototypical wisecracker for a new generation of big-screen Marvel heroes. Even if there had never been any other Marvel Studios films made, his version of the character could have still stood alongside the likes of his spy-movie analog, James Bond, as a great action hero.

Coming from a showbiz family with a history of pun-offs at the poker table, Downey brought a fluid improvisational energy to the role. The importance of Jon Favreau and his own penchant for writing and spontaneity with projects like Swingers and the IFC show "Dinner for Five" cannot be overstated, either. More than anything, it's the little touches of banter and comic relief that really make Iron Man sing. Stark's cavalier misogyny toward a reporter he beds has not aged well (Bond analog, indeed) and the Ironmonger still elicits groans with his sub-moronic declaration, "Trying to rid the world of weapons, you gave it its best one ever!" But other than that, Iron Man holds up well.


The MCU went through a lot of setups in Phase 1 and while most of the movies were serviceable, some of them lacked voice and an underlying sense of risk-free boredom permeated the cycle of origin, rinse, repeat. Rightly regarded as the first Marvel masterwork, Captain America: The Winter Soldier upended the status quo and introduced a much-needed sense of danger to the MCU. Playing across genres as a conspiracy thriller (it's no coincidence, perhaps, that the movie enlists Robert Redford, one of the stars of All the President's Men), it also introduced the Russo Brothers, who have arguably shaped the current architecture of this shared universe more than any other directors.

The Winter Soldier himself is as scary and relentless as the T-1000. This film has some good moments in its musical score (not always Marvel's strong point, despite Alan Silvestri's recognizable Avengers theme). It has the best fights out of any Marvel movie and there has never been a scene as tense in the MCU as the one where Cap realizes he is trapped on the elevator with a bunch of HYDRA agents who have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. Unlike the superficially "world-altering" stakes of other movies, the implosion of S.H.I.E.L.D. brought lasting consequences to the MCU.

"I don't like bullies," Cap once said. "I don't care where they're from." Putting the ultimate patriot in the middle of a situation where the bullies are taking over his country from within led to the most suspenseful, second best Marvel movie.


You know your movie's left a mark on pop culture when it makes Denzel Washington cry and starts affecting Oscar categories. Since the widely perceived snubbing of The Dark Knight had already precipitated the expansion of the Best Picture category to ten possible nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hedged its bets other ways this year to make sure Black Panther would get the recognition it deserves. If nothing else, the movie is a lock to win the first Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film award.

Using real-life African tribes as the basis for its design, the culture of Wakanda — with its lip plates, Bathoso blankets, and ritual scarification — seems more alive, rich, and real than Asgard or any other corner of the MCU. Some of this can be attributed to the movie's soundtrack, which pulses with the rhythm of talking drums and uses royal horns and chants of "T'challa!" to impart the regal stature of its hero. Chadwick Boseman imbues T'Challa with pure-hearted nobility and it's not insignificant that he, like director Ryan Coogler, has a cabinet of female ministers advising him. This was Coogler and Michael B. Jordan's third collaboration after Fruitvale Station and Creed and in addition to being a great, uncompromising, tragic villain, Killmonger is instrumental in the arc T'Challa and Wakanda undergo from isolationism to outreach.

Other, more qualified voices have written (here and here, for starters) about what it means to be a member of a historically underrepresented community living in the time of Black Panther. On a basic human level, this movie had me in literal goosebumps, recognizing the power of sublime inspiration. It left my Spider-sense tingling in a way that's never happened in any other Marvel movie.

Black Panther is the truth. If Marvel can keep hitting as many highs as it has over the past year, who knows how diverse the next list like this could be?