(Welcome to Survey Says, a feature where we conduct a movie-related survey for a random group of people and explain why they’re completely right, completely wrong, or somewhere in-between.)

Long ago, in a time before multiverses and world-altering saga conclusions, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just a bunch of solo adventures, pinned together by a single uniting film. We’re now in Phase 4, where it’s all about how much bigger and cooler things can be. And weirder. Things have gotten significantly weirder.

But let’s take a moment to flashback, all the way back to 2012. Back when the MCU was a mere six movies, a perfectly manageable marathon that wouldn’t take you an obscene amount of time to get through. Well, we thought it might be fun to figure out the top dog amongst the O.G. six (which is very different from figuring out the weakest link). And who better to decide the best movie in Phase 1 of the MCU than 612 random strangers on SurveyMonkey?

No, wait, don’t answer that. Just go with it.

We Crunched the Numbers

Obviously, our math is infallible. It doesn’t get more scientifically accurate than SurveyMonkey (or so I’ve been led to believe by the higher-ups). Anyway, getting a bunch of random Americans to cast a ballot always gets good results, right?

Don’t answer that either.

If it wasn’t obvious from the graph above, our survey yielded clear results, naming a winner and loser by pretty fair margins. If visual learning isn’t your thing, I’ve laid it out even clearer down below.

  • Iron Man 27.45%
  • The Avengers 20.42%
  • Captain America: The First Avenger 17.48%
  • Thor 12.75%
  • The Incredible Hulk 12.09%
  • Iron Man 2 9.80%

Iron Man 2

The Voters Have Spoken…

For the most part, these results are unsurprising — the bottom three make complete sense. Thor is a perfectly standard MCU film, but not as strong an origin story as Captain America: The First Avenger or Iron Man. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is there, and that helps a ton, but Chris Hemsworth isn’t allowed to be funny yet, and that hurts it. Plus, his eyebrows are bleached and that’s unforgivable. But all things considered, Thor is a pretty fun time. As for the bottom two, The Incredible Hulk barely counts as an MCU movie and Iron Man 2 barely counts as a movie (…I jest).

But we’re not here to talk about the losers.

….And They Don’t Know What They’re Talking About

The top three have each earned their place, but their order in the ranking needs some adjusting. The Avengers deserves the top spot, hands down. And while we’re at it, Iron Man can head straight down to slot three and make some room for the superior origin story, Captain America: The First Avenger.

I don’t have to explain myself. The Avengers gave us Loki as a full-on villain, and if that isn’t reason enough for its supremacy, I don’t know what is. But yeah, Iron Man is cool too.

Okay, okay, put your pitchforks away, I’m mostly joking, Iron Man is more than cool… it’s very cool. It’s the start of an era (be that an era ruled by military propaganda). It kicks the Infinity Saga and the entire MCU off with the witty, posturing, and always sardonic Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), everyone’s favorite billionaire. In a lot of ways, Iron Man is the blueprint for everything that follows. But that doesn’t automatically make it the best.

Justice For Cap

Captain America easily has the best trilogy in the MCU, and possibly the best solo story too. The First Avenger has a laser-focused arc that effectively delves into the mind of its protagonist: all that defines Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is laid out in this movie, by his every action and an endless supply of memorable lines (“I don’t like bullies, no matter where they’re from”). There’s also the incredible cast of supporting characters, giving standouts like Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan enough time to flex, but leaving us wanting more.

It’s also one of the best examples (maybe because it’s so early) of the MCU introducing elements for future movies, but not getting too bogged down by all the set-up. Bucky falls off a train so he can reappear in The Winter Soldier — but we don’t need to know his future to understand the weight of his loss in this movie. It works all on its own, as a part of Steve’s story and a turning point in his life. Similarly, the Tesseract and the fact that Red Skull isn’t really dead don’t matter, only Steve’s sacrifice does.

The Best of the Best

Even though Iron Man kicked off the MCU, The Avengers held it together. The first team-up movie paved the way for everything to follow, showing off the true fun of a cinematic universe. No matter how many times you watch it, it’s so undeniably satisfying when our heroes gather in one place and slip into their initial team dynamic: Tony, Thor, and Cap battling for power and leadership, Banner watching from the sidelines, and Natasha getting shit done.

This movie is pure comic-book, action-packed fun. Does it make sense when Bruce Banner tells us he’s ”always angry” and then transforms into the Hulk with inexplicably the most control he’s ever had? Heck no! But man, is it cool.

In general, the early movies take place on a much smaller scale. Sure, they have their fair share of explosions and expensive set pieces, but the moments that make them memorable are smaller. Like Steve Rogers jumping on a grenade or Tony Stark slaving away and banging metal on bigger metal to make a really cool super suit. And The Avengers is jam-packed with moments like that. Plus it brings the team together and puts them up against one of the saga’s best villains (so good, he earned his own show).

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