With “Guardians of the Galaxy” now out in theaters, the new era of Marvel movies that started with 2008’s “Iron Man” has reached 10 films. Since then, Marvel has become the gold standard in blockbuster entertainment, dominating the box-office, and winning critics and fan approval for how they have handled some of their biggest superheroes. We are currently in the middle of phase 2 of the studios plan, with more films scheduled already through 2018, but how to the 10 that have been released stand up against one another? Check out my ranking of Marvel's top 10 films right here.
10. Iron Man 2
The only sequel to come out during phase 1 of Marvel’s plan is essentially worthless outside of the replacement of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle making the official introduction of War Machine and the underwhelming introduction of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke ended up being the same kind of villain that Jeff Bridges was in the first film, except… you know… two. Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma couldn’t save this misguided sequel that had no place to fit in the gap between “Iron Man” and “The Avengers.”
“Thor” was a tough project to bring to the screen. It was the first time that Marvel explored one of its other worlds and the differences between Asgard and Earth are cosmic, not minute. However, Kenneth Branagh and the team behind the movie may have put too much of their effort on making Asgard believable and enjoyable that they forgot to give much personality to the happenings on Earth, where most of the film takes place. Chris Hemsworth’s fish out of water routine is funny for a while, but eventually it all gets tiresome and Natalie Portman’s love interest is dull. While “Thor” did introduce Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Marvel’s best villain to date, his role here only gives glimpses of what was to come in “The Avengers.”
8. Thor: The Dark World
“Thor: The Dark World” took a lot of the weaknesses of its predecessor and turned them into positives, if not necessarily strengths, the second time around. Asgard and the other realms are more prominent and more fun to be in. Loki is central to the story and just as fiendishly fun as he was in “The Avengers,” even Natalie Portman’s performance was more tolerable. The new villain may have been a step down as far as providing an interesting character, but the final battle was much more entertaining to watch. A step in the right direction with Thor, and the film’s final scene lays some interesting ground work for the sequel.
7. The Incredible Hulk
Edward Norton may have only gotten one shot at being the Hulk, but “The Incredible Hulk” was no slouch. The first film after “Iron Man” was a solid outing that proved that a solo Hulk film could work, primarily because Tim Roth’s turn as the baddie eventually gave the Hulk an equal foe. The film was also an interesting reintroduction to Bruce Banner for those not as familiar to the character. Glossing over his origins the story sees him trying to get rid of his abilities, but eventually becoming forced to accept and even master them. No one complains about the job Mark Ruffalo did in “The Avengers,” but Norton’s lone attempt in the Marvel universe wasn’t a strikeout, it was just your run of the mill base hit.
6. Captain America: The First Avenger
Origin stories are old hats these days. Between Batman, Superman, Spiderman and whoever else has saved the world on the silver screen, we’ve been shown how they came to be. But with Captain America, Marvel went into the past to change things up a little bit. Making “Captain America: The First Avenger” a half-superhero film and half-WWII story gave the film a uniqueness to it in both style and story. Though many find the first half boring, to see Cap as he becomes the super soldier who at first is selling bonds is something different. In fact, the first half of “Captain America” I think is the most character driven part of any Marvel film. The rest delivers where it needs too, but falls in line with what Marvel had done before.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Following in the footsteps of “The First Avenger,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” decided to be as much of a political thriller as it was a superhero film. That extra layer allowed for the times when Chris Evans is not dawning the shield to be more interesting. More than any other Marvel film this film works on the merits of its story, but because Captain America isn’t the best character the film is still held back a little.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
A majority of audiences probably didn’t know anything about “Guardians of the Galaxy” before it was released, but that may have actually worked to its advantage. Without any preconceived notions of who these guys are or what kind of story we’d be getting the film was able to just take us on a ride with these fun cast of characters rather than worry about honoring the mythos. It still fits perfectly within the Marvel universe though and even expanded on their big bad Thanos. The second best performance in a Marvel movie from Chris Pratt is nearly enough to bring the film in the top tier of their films, everything else is an added bonus.
Iron Man 3
A lot of people were ticked off with “Iron Man 3” because of the bait-and-switch it pulled with the Mandarin, but I’m not one of them. I thought it was a cool twist and allowed director Shane Black to put his own personal stamp on it. The pairing of Black and Downey for the third outing is what makes it so great – Downey certainly continued to give Stark his patented edge while also adding to the character, something that often gets lost when an actor has played a part four times. This may have been the end to Marvel’s signature franchise – any word on an “Iron Man 4” is still a mystery – but it was a fun and fitting conclusion to Tony Stark’s arc.
2. Iron Man
It’s hard to top the original. 2008’s “Iron Man” set the tone for everything that was to come and boy did it kick things off right. The first thing you have to do is recognize the greatness of Downey’s performance, but Jon Faverau’s film is on point from top to bottom. Jeff Bridge’s villain is great – other than Loki, Obidiah Stone still holds up as a top three villain. The chemistry between Downey and Gwyenth Paltrow is strong. Even Terrence Howard was good – if he hadn’t pushed for more money there was no reason he couldn’t have continued on in the series. And you can’t overlook that first post credit scene. After everything that happened during the actual film, when Samuel L. Jackson appeared as Nick Fury and first teased the Avengers we all bought in to what Marvel was doing. The rest, as they say, is history.
1. The Avengers
It was a meticulous plan four years in the making to get “The Avengers” to the big screen, but every thing that led to the team-up of Earth’s mightiest heroes paid off in the best way possible. Not only was it great to see each of these characters on screen together, watching them play off each other, in the midst of a battle or on the sidelines, was a pure joy to watch. They try to build it as the ultimate superhero movie and its hard to argue that they didn’t achieve just that. Everything involving these characters will almost certainly dwarf in comparison because we’ve seen what they can do together, and it is pure ecstasy to watch it unfold on the big screen.