By Nick Maylor
I’m not a huge fan of making these big lists. Ranking stuff, in general, is tricky. Many films are simply “apples” that often get compared with “oranges”. The Marvel Cinematic Universe features so many films that span several genres.
The first two decades of this century have seen a cinema that is absolutely dominated by superhero films. The advancements in technology and the passion for telling the stories has made them the biggest event films every summer. Marvel Studios is responsible for 23 of those films so far and the most successful ones to boot.
Undoubtedly all falling under some definition of “action” or “popcorn” movies, the MCU’s films have ranged from political action thrillers like Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) to space opera like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). We’ve seen sword and sandal fantasy, World War II and the far reaches of space. We’ve also seen the hangups of being an American high school student, the struggles of a reformed thief trying to make it as an honest man for his daughter’s sake, and a scrawny boy from Brooklyn striving to do his part. Marvel films have covered every scale of storytelling from the quantum realm to the distant Knowhere.
However, the reason that they work is that fundamentally, they are about characters, relationships, and emotions.
I can go on record saying that I don’t actively “dislike” a single one of the 23 films Marvel Studios released as The Infinity Saga (2008-2019).
That being said, rankings must be made and right off the bat, I suspect problems may arise because my least favourite MCU film is…
23. Captain Marvel (2019)
As I stated above, I like pretty much every movie that Marvel Studios has released. All of them are enjoyable to watch. Captain Marvel (2019) is no exception. However, I feel that the film suffered from introducing us to Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) after she had already left earth and had been living a life as the Kree warrior, Vers. It made identifying with the character troublesome and I feel the story would have flowed much better had we just seen her journey unfold chronologically. The filmmakers obviously wanted us to make the discoveries about her past as she did (having suffered amnesia). I also feel that Captain Marvel suffers as a villain as she appears to have absolutely no vulnerability. She appears to be full of immense powers but no weaknesses. Because of this, I felt it was wise that she was largely absent during the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019) and was only used as an ace-in-the-hole during the climactic battle scene. The reveal of how Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) lost his eye was also incredibly disappointing. Fury had stated during Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) that he lost his eye the last time he “trusted someone”. So what was the moral of the story there? Don’t trust cats? I was let down. That being said the film is still enjoyable and it features my absolute favourite cameo from Stan Lee, as well as a Marvelous opening credits tribute to the late comic-book legend. The homage to Kevin Smith in the cameo was wonderful fan service for folks like me.
22. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the one that most people would like to forget. Edward Norton had written the script for the film but due to creative differences, his script was not faithfully used and his screenwriting credit was removed. Many people are on either side of the fence when it comes to Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). I went through several viewings trying to like it but ultimately, it was not the sum of its parts. The Incredible Hulk (2008) was originally conceived as a sequel to the Ang Lee film but this was abandoned once Marvel Studios’ master plan finally got rolling. This is why Hulk’s origin is confined to the opening credits and we meet Bruce Banner hiding in South America (where Ang Lee’s film left him). Louis Leterrier was not a particularly inspired choice for a director the was Job Favreau was for Iron Man (2008) and while a moderate success, the film faded into obscurity. The recasting of Bruce Banner with Mark Ruffalo all but made certain that this film would be largely ignored by Marvel, with only a slight reference to its events mentioned by Banner in The Avengers (2012). Nevertheless, it is (like all the MCU films) a solidly entertaining actioner with a good climactic battle between Hulk and the Abomination. Edward Norton did an apt job portraying Banner but alas, he was not destined to continue with the role.
21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Patty Jenkins was originally slated to direct the sequel to Kenneth Branagh’s Thor (2011) before creative differences led to her leaving the project. I suppose we should all be thankful for that because it led to Jenkins directing the far superior Wonder Woman (2017). Game of Thrones veteran Alan Taylor was then hired to make the sequel. Featuring a mostly forgettable villain and generic “end of the world” storyline that felt redundant after The Avengers (2012), the second Thor film mostly explored territory we had seen before. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is (as per usual) one of the highlights along with Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis, a scene-stealer. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is mostly wasted as she is turned into part McGuffin, part damsel-in-distress. Nevertheless, Chris Hemsworth’s charm makes the film enjoyable (even if Marvel wouldn’t find his niche until the third installment) and it is well directed. An entertaining watch but mostly forgettable.
20. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Jon Favreau’s follow up to the film that launched the MCU often gets a lot of hate that I honestly don’t think it deserves. Iron Man 2 (2010) featured Mickey Rourke as the Russian villain Ivan Vanko, someone who held a personal vendetta against Tony Stark. Vanko used his superior intellect to develop high-energy whips that matched up against Tony Stark’s thought-to-be unparalleled technology. While Vanko treaded over familiar territory as another villain in a suit/dark mirror or the hero, the film benefited from the addition of Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer and Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard as James Rhodes. Fans had been anticipating the Rhodes character to assume the mantle of War Machine and we got to see that here. The storyline also focused on Tony’s alcohol abuse (although not in-depth) and his struggles with the arc-reactor in his chest poisoning his blood. The film served as a stepping point, building the connections to the larger Marvel universe by including more screentime from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) while also making subtle references to the Hulk and Captain America. It would also feature a post-credits tease of Thor’s hammer, an exciting promise for what was yet to come. Somewhat forgettable but again, an entertaining watch.
19. Thor (2011)
There was a time (even AFTER the release of Iron Man) when some superheroes seemed ill-fitted for big-screen adaptations that could be taken seriously. After watching Iron Man, we all knew what Marvel’s plan was, but some struggled to accept that a character like Thor could not just be treated properly, but taken seriously. Those days are FAR behind us now and there doesn’t seem to be any comic-book character too silly to get a movie. I sat speculating on how the hell Marvel Studios was going to make Thor work as a movie. Was he going to speak in pseudo-Shakespearean English? Was the script going to be ripe with “Thou” and “Thee” and all that nonsense? What was his costume going to look like? Could they pull it off? All of those concerns seemed to go out of the window with one piece of news: the film would be directed by Kenneth Branagh. Instantly it all made sense and seemed credible. Branagh, an acclaimed actor/director was the go-to guy for all things Shakespeare. He wasn’t going to mess with some silly, trifling comic-book movie in the vein of Saturday morning cartoons. With the announcement of Anthony Hopkins joining the cast, everything seemed to be falling into place. Thor (2011) works as well as a movie as can be expected for the story it had to tell. It introduced all the main players like Odin and Loki, gave us an appropriate star to portray the mightiest Avenger, and took the material seriously enough to work, while still embracing the inherent humour necessary to make it fit into the larger Marvel universe. It’s not any sort of groundbreaking cinematic achievement but it got the job done. We believed that Thor could exist in the same universe as Tony Stark. We were anxious to see the two meet. Tip of the hat to Mr. Branagh.
18. Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018)
After the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Scott Lang is on house arrest and neither Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) or Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is speaking to him. While riding out the remaining days of his house arrest, Scott has a vision of the quantum realm while taking a bath. In the dream, he sees a game of hide and seek with a small child through the eyes of someone else. Upon looking in a mirror, he realizes he is in the body of Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer); Hank’s wife who became lost in the Quantum realm years earlier during a mission. Scott calls Hank to tell him about the dream and is promptly apprehended by Hank and Hope who informs him that they have been working on a Quantum tunnel. The film deals largely with the notion of bringing back Janet from the quantum realm, having been lost there several years prior. The main “super villain” of the film is Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen), although she is mainly an antagonist due to her desperate situation. Being exposed to quantum technology as a child killed both of her parents but left her molecules in an unstable state, allowing her the ability to phase through solid materials. In order to save her life as her body deteriorates, she needs to harness energy from the quantum tunnel which could save her, but kill the trapped Janet in the process. The character of “Ghost” had traditionally been a male in the comics but the film chose Ava Starr as a blank slate for actress Hannah John-Kamen). A worthy watch but far from one of the MCU’s stand out entries.
17. Iron Man 3 (2013)
After the Avengers had finally assembled in 2012, many wondered what the solo hero films had to offer that hadn’t been seen before. What else could gear up audiences and deliver meaningful stakes after the Avengers had saved the world from an alien army? Would Earth-based villains still be able to draw the same appeal? Scaling back the scope established by The Avengers, Iron Man 3 focuses on Tony Stark’s issues with insomnia and post-traumatic stress. Saving the world by flying a giant nuclear weapon through a wormhole into space apparently isn’t something you just walk away from, unscathed. Tony’s obsession with tinkering to protect that which he loves has grown as a slow burn through all of the Marvel films that feature the character. Shane Black replaced Jon Favreau at the director’s chair (though Favreau still appears in the film as Happy Hogan) and brought a lot of the same wit and wisdom he had previously shown in collaboration with Downey on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). The film featured Downey’s most nuanced performance as Tony Stark up to that point, taking Stark away from his comfortable surroundings. Tony’s mansion is blown up and JARVIS sends him to rural Tennesse where the Iron Man suit malfunctions. Tony finds himself operating out of a garage owned by the parents of Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins), a boy who has an affinity for tinkering like Tony. The scenes between Downey and Simpkins are the most compelling moments of the film, not to say that there isn’t plenty of action to enjoy. The film demonstrated the evolution of Tony’s Iron Man technology to the point where it was able to be controlled by Tony even when he wasn’t inside the suit. Tony assembles a massive arsenal of different protoype suits for the film’s climactic battle, only to destroy them all as a promise to give up his tinkering addiction (a promise he has all but forgotten by Age of Ultron). The film received criticism for it’s portrayal of the Mandarin as a decoy but it has been confirmed that the “true” Mandarin will appear in the forthcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), where he will portrayed by Tony Leung.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
After the tease of Thanos presented during the post-credit scene of The Avengers (2012), most assumed that the mad titan would be the main villain to square off against Earth’s mightiest heroes in the second team-up film. Fans were obviously surprised when the title of the second team-up film was revealed to be Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Ultron had been a fan-favourite adversary of the Avengers and excitement was high to see how writer-director Joss Whedon would bring the psychotic robot to life on the big screen. In the comics, Ultron was a creation of Hank Pym, the first Ant-Man. This origin was changed for the film adaptation to have Ultron be a creation of Tony Stark. Using the power of the mind stone combined with the technology he had developed for his Iron Legion, Stark (along with Bruce Banner) unwittingly created a monster when their “global peacekeeping initiative” (Ultron) decided that the only way to save the world was to destroy the Avengers (and humankind). James Spader was cast to provide the motion-capture performance for Ultron and the actor delivered a celebrated and nuanced performance of the robot with anger issues. The film also introduced the twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively) also known as Quicksilver and the Scarlett Witch. As if this wasn’t enough new stuff to make the film exciting, Age of Ultron introduced the character of the Vision (Paul Bettany) as a combination of Ultron’s perfect body, the mind stone and the A.I. JARVIS (also Bettany) and Vision became one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not as groundbreaking as its predecessor, Age of Ultron still delivered a satisfying premise that geared fans up for the forthcoming third phase of the MCU.
15. Ant-Man (2015)
As I mentioned above in regards to Kenneth Branagh being announced as the director for Thor (2011), the announcement that Edgar Wright would be helming Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man (2015) instantly made a silly idea seem plausible. It is ironic of course that Wright ultimately left the project after working on it for several years, but that didn’t dissuade my enthusiasm. By that time, it had already been announced that Paul Rudd would star in the film that went on to be directed by Peyton Reed. Rudd’s casting was perfect. Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s fingerprints remained on the final product even after Paul Rudd and Adam McKay had rewritten the script and so, everything worked out in the end. The film covers two generations of the hero known as Ant-Man, with Michael Douglas portraying Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and creator of the shrinking technology that made the hero; and Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, an unwitting reformed thief who, through an interesting set of circumstances, takes up the mantle from Pym. As mentioned, Marvel Studios makes all kinds of films, even if they fall into the overarching framework of the “superhero” film. Ant-Man is a comedy heist film, one that marked a turn for the MCU in the direction of Marvel’s lesser-known heroes. Coming off the heels of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Marvel Studios and its audience were ready for a smaller type of story. Rudd’s charisma is amplified by the wonderful supporting cast that includes Michael Peña, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannavale, and Corey Stoll. Peyton Reed became an inspired choice to take over for Wright and made the film his own. The use of 3D was particularly pleasant for this film as it made the growing and shrinking scenes more effective. 3D can be largely pointless, even in Marvel films but it was a nice touch for Ant-Man
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
After the massive success of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), fans were yearning for a sequel and James Gunn was promptly hired to write and direct. Promising to reveal the truth about Peter Quill’s parentage, Gunn confirmed that the answer would not be the same as given in the comics. Kurt Russell was brought on board to play Ego, Star-Lord’s father. While present in a humanoid form, Ego is revealed to be a living planet, one who was been procreating across the galaxy in an attempt to find an offspring that carries the celestial gene. Ego follows the formula seen many times previously of an older mentor figure being revealed as the villain. This is a tradition that goes back to the MCU’s first film. Using the subtitle “Vol. 2” as an homage to the mixtape soundtrack, the film delivers some spectacular action pieces, real character growth across the board and everyone’s favourite, Baby Groot. The opening credits scene of Groot dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” is pure magic.
13. Doctor Strange (2016)
Arguably the most exciting character from Marvel’s secondary stable of heroes to get a film was Doctor Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. For the film, we ended up getting an origin story that is a mix of Batman Begins (2005), and Iron Man (2008) with Wizards. Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Stephen Strange, an arrogant and wealthy surgeon who suffers permanent damage in his hands during a car accident. Searching the world for a cure, he ends up on the doorstep of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) where he learns the secrets of the Mystic Arts and the spiritual threats that loom over our world. Featuring some of the most mind-bending 3D effects in the Marvel films, the massive chase scene in the mirror dimension of Manhattan makes Inception (2010) look small scale. The whole sequence is like an MC Escher print on LSD and Speed. Benedict Cumberbatch will return to star in Marvel’s forthcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2021) where Elizabeth Olsen will reprise her role as Wanda Maximoff.
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Captain America’s origin story is one that has always been firmly routed in the Second World War. A scrawny kid from Brooklyn, NY, Steve Rogers tries multiple times to enlist in the US Army and after several rejections he is noticed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) a German scientist and developer of the Super Soldier Syrum. Seeing Steve’s inner goodness, Erskine endorses him for the program and despite constant protestation from Collonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Rogers eventually undergoes the proceedure to become Captain America, a symbol of America’s strength against the Axis Powers. Being used as propoganda for his initial days after the transformation, Steve Rogers eventually goes on an unsanctioned mission to rescue his unit (the Howling Commandos) from behind enemy lines, having earned his stripes in the mission’s success, Rogers becomes a full-on military force during the war, helping the Allies take down HYDRA, the Nazi deep-science division led by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), the infamous “Red Skull”. Schmidt has harnessed the power of the Tesseract and is using it to fuel his military machine and with his loyal HYDRA followers, plans a worldwide assault on both the Allied and Axis powers to secure his dominance. The film was a successful period piece that featured a post-credits scene tieing right into the start of the forthcoming Avengers (2012).
11. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Chris Hemsworth is naturally funny. The potential for the character of Thor’s appeal to fans really hadn’t been tapped until director Taika Watitti came onboard and rewrote everything we thought we knew about the son of Odin. Utilizing Hemsworth’s natural comedic talent, Ragnarok is a bromance comedy road trip movie. The first trailer for the film created significant buzz after it demonstrated the humour we would see along with a tease of Hulk and Thor meeting in the area to face off as gladiators. The trailer’s use of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zepplin only added to the hype. The film stands as another example of how the character of Bruce Banner/The Hulk works best as a supporting player. Many of the plot elements for this film were taken from the Planet Hulk storyline from the comics but were retooled to feature Thor as the main character. Thor finds himself stranded on the planet Sakkar where he is thrust into gladiatorial combat by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Ragnarok featured another important step in the characterization of the Hulk. After the events of Age of Ultron, Hulk has been living on Sakkar as the Grandmaster’s champion gladiator and local celebrity. This entire time, the Hulk persona had been dominant, with Banner’s identity laying dormant. We got to see Hulk speak some dialogue that was great for laughs and both Hulk’s and Banner’s interactions with Thor are priceless. The film also introduced Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Wattiti) while bringing back fan-favourite Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Thor and Loki’s brotherly relationship gets fleshed out in some nice ways after it is revealed that Odin’s third (previously unknown) child, Hela (Cate Blanchett) has come to take the throne of Asgard. Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins and Karl Urban round out the ensemble cast and the entire enterprise was a fresh take not just for Thor, but for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Taika Wattiti will return to direct Thor: Love and Thunder (2021).
10. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
After the airport battle seen in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Marvel had to deliver some serious action pieces and an even bigger spectacle with the third Avengers movie. They were expected to deliver, and deliver they did. Infinity War starts like a bat out of hell, with very litle time given to set up the action the never stops unfolding over the course of the film. Picking up right where Thor: Ragnarok (2017) left off, we see Thanos take over the Asgardian ship looking to get his hands on the Tesseract/Space Stone. Umbeknownst to Thor, Loki has the cube stashed away and gives it up to Thanos. In a valiant attempt to kill the mad Titan, Loki redeems himself one last time before his ultimate demise. Thanos has a head to head confrontation with the Hulk where the titan makes quick work of the big green machine. With his dying breath, Heimdall (Idris Elba) transports Hulk to Earth as a warning that Thanos is coming. Banner crash lands in the Sanctum Sanctorum where Dr. Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) intercept him. They are joined by Tony Stark before Thanos’ forces land on Earth. Thanos is after the time stone which is in the possesion of Dr. Strange and after a tense battle where the heroes are joined by Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Stark, Parker and Strange find themselves on Thanos’ ship headed for Titan. Thor has survived the destruction of the Asgardian ship and is intercepted by the Guardians of the Galaxy where the group splits into two: Thor, Rocket and Groot venture to Nidavellir to acquire a weapon capable of killing Thanos while Drax, Quill, Gamora and Mantis venture to Knowhere to intercept the reality stone from the Collector before Thanos can. Featuring action pieces that rival the best of what the Russos brought in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Infinity War is an epic struggle that culminates with a battle on Titan between Dr. Strange, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man and Iron Man facing off against Thanos before the final battle on Earth at the outskirts of Wakanda as Thanos attempts to collect the mindstone from the Vision. The biggest surprise of Infinity War is the tragic ending where Thanos successfully collects all six infinity stones and enacts his plan to wipe out half of all life in the universe. One the first part of a two part story, Infinity War is still an epic of massive proportions.
9. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Aside from DC Comic’s Batman, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has arguably the best rogues gallery. Fan-favourite villain Mysterio (Jake Gylenhaal) was played off as a potential ally of Spider-Man in the film’s marketing but anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the character knew that he would end up being the film’s main adversary. Traditionally a movie special effects artist, Quentin Beck plays the role of superhero by “saving” the public from grand threats that are mere holographic illusions set by Beck himself. In this film, Beck’s use of drone technology allowed for grand stunts that simulated the “Elementals” a group of villain/monsters that harness water, air, earth and fire. The film serves as the final installment of the Inginity Saga and shows the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Peter is on a school trip and is fresh off of returning from his five-year exhile (having been “snapped” away by Thanos) and the death of his mentor, Tony Stark. Peter feels tremendous pressure to step-up in this new age of heroes, having Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) there to guide him as best he can. Beck is after EDITH, a world-wide AI network of Stark technology that Tony left to Peter via an advanced pair of sunglasses. Beck wants the Stark tech to increase the scope of his illusions and have full control of being the world’s best “superhero”. Far From Home showed us that in a post-Endgame MCU, there were still plenty of stories to tell and the prospect of Spider-Man’s future looks promising still. Tip of the hat to Marvel bringing back J.K. Simmons (from the sam Raimi Spider-Man franchise) to reprise his role as J. Jonah Jameson in the film’s post credit scene.
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The Avengers (2012) had far too much to do to properly explore what life would be like for Steve Rogers, a man out of time thrust into the modern age. The sophomoric solo film for the character was the first to be directed by the Russo Brothers who would go on to be the most important directors in the whole Infinity Saga. The film was evocative of a 70s political action thriller, with practical sets and a larger focus on the hand to hand combat. Nick Fury (Samual L. Jackon) Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) reprised their roles from previous films while Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) joined the cast. Steve Rogers discovers that HYDRA survived WWII within the ranks of SHIELD itself. Cap realizes that the entire operation has been compromised and the forthcoming Insight Initiative is a secret HYDRA plan to enact its final solution by launching three advanced hellicarriers to monitor and execute threats all over the world. In the midst of this, a ghost from Steve’s past resurfaces when the infamous “Winter Soldier” is revealed to be his old friend Bucky Barnes who has been living as a supersoldier/assassin having been brainwashed by HYDRA. The Russo Brothers proved themselves as an important voice and force in the world of high-budget popcorn films and would continue that care and consideration as the became the most important directors in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe thereafter.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Prior to the announcement of this film, I had never heard of the titular Guardians of the Galaxy. I consider myself a fanboy and a geek. However, actual comic-books have never been my thing. I love lots of things BASED on comics, I just never read comics as a personal hobby. My love for superheroes comes from films and television, both live-action and animated. Unlike Captain America or Thor, the Guardians weren’t a household name and thus, somewhat of a gamble for Marvel Studios. However, they made the best possible choice when they hired the right filmmaker for the material. Joss Whedon mentioned his concerns about a Guardians movie until he was told that James Gunn would direct. Whedon instantly knew that with Gunn, the film would work. Whedon’s confidence in the project was all I needed to believe in it. Taking Marvel’s big-screen stories to the far reaches of space, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) features a group of troubled outlaws and outcasts who discover the meaning of family when they unexpectedly band together against a common threat. Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, and Dave Bautista starred as Gamora, Peter Quill/Star-Lord and Drax the Destroyer, respectively. The off-beat CGI characters that rounded out the team were Rocket (Brandley Cooper/Sean Gunn), an anthropomorphic alien (who looks identical to a raccoon from Earth) that is the only one of his kind, and Groot, a humanoid tree seemingly capable of only speaking three words. The film featured the human Peter Quill’s cassette player and mixtape as the soundtrack. The 70s and 80s songs instantly gave the movie a wonderful charm that was matched by the characters we grew to love. A witty, emotional, action-packed space opera about family.
We are Groot.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
After the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-2007), Sony rebooted the character for all wrong reasons resulting in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014); two films that have no real reason to exist. During this time, I was 100% convinced that corporate greed and red tape would never allow Spider-Man to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The day it was announced that Sony and Disney had come to an agreement allowing Spider-Man to join the Avengers in the MCU, I was never happier to have been wrong. After a remarkable debut in Captain America: Civil War (2016) that was anything but shoehorned into the massive ensemble, we finally got to see the MCU’s Spider-Man headline in his own film, appropriately titled Homecoming. Bringing Spidey back home to Marvel was welcomed by fans in this movie that focuses on the life of a hero living in the shadow of the Avengers and his mentor, Tony Stark/Iron Man. It also focused heavily on the trappings of a teenager working his way through the troubles of high school, something that has always been an appealing aspect of the character. Michael Keaton apparently has an affinity for playing characters with wings, having previously starred in Batman (1989) and Birdman (2014). He is pitch-perfect as Adrien Toomes/The Vulture here and Homecoming felt like a severe course correction for Spider-Man’s future on film after the Andrew Garfield films. After having seen so many cosmic and superpowered bad-guys, it was refreshing for the MCU to show us a more down-to-earth villain, an honest man who turned to the dark side in a time of desperation. Viable proof that Spider-Man still had a rich and worthwhile future on the big screen.
5. Iron Man (2008)
2008 was a monumental year that signaled the full-scale comeback of Robert Downey Jr. His appearance in Tropic Thunder (2008) earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also appeared in the first film from a new studio at Marvel posited to make superhero movies that were self-produced, as opposed to all previous Marvel adaptations that were co-productions with other studios. Not having access to Spider-Man or the X-Men, Marvel decided to focus their first film on a lesser-known hero named Tony Stark/Iron Man. It might seem like a hundred years ago at this point but before Marvel was releasing 3 films per year, everything was banking on the success or failure or Iron Man (2008) as a launching pad to a new cinematic endeavor. After hiring Jon Favreau to direct, Marvel received pressure from Favreau to cast Downey in the title role, despite the actor’s reputation suffering from recent substance abuse and legal troubles. Eventually relenting, Marvel signed Downey for a one-picture deal, something that ended up being monumentally beneficial to RDJ after Iron Man proved to be a massive success. The film also introduced the now popular post-credits scene tradition to the MCU, with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) teasing the larger universe that was to come, one that would lead to an Avengers team-up, something unprecedented at the time. Downey set the tone for a character that he would go on to play for over a decade, one that has defined his career. The entire MCU rested on the success or failure of Iron Man and thanks to Favreau and Downey, we now know the massive scope of the stories Marvel had in store.
4. Black Panther (2018)
The first superhero film to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (an honour that should have gone to The Dark Knight (2008)), Black Panther (2018) is an epic masterpiece from an exciting young director in Ryan Coogler. Featuring one of the most brilliant villain performances in the MCU, Black Panther is like a mix of The Dark Knight, Skyfall (2012) and The Lion King (1994). A story of fathers and sons, destiny and tragedy, the film featured a massive ensemble cast and a heart-wrenching story. After the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda to assume the mantle as King. The nation finds itself under attack from within as Erik Stevens (Jordan) has come to challenge T’Challa for the throne, revealing himself to be cousin to the king. Beautifully shot and excellently acted, the film elevated the genre to new heights as came along at an appropriate time in film history for the superhero to be celebrated. The final shot of T’Challa smiling after a young boy asks him who he is was a moment far too long in the making for children of colour, one that added to the female empowerment of Wonder Woman (2017) in giving comic-book films fresh and important voices.
3. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The Russo Brothers made it clear that before facing their biggest threat, the Avengers had to be torn apart, left in tatters. Captain America: Civil War (2016) accomplished this by first splitting the team into two factions, one aligned with Iron Man and one aligned with Captain America. After the fallout from Ultron, world governments have collaborated on the Sokovia Acpoplcords, an official document detailing how the Avengers are no longer to act unless government oversight approves their actions. In an ironic twist, Steve Rogers, a life-time government agent, is vehemently opposed to signing the accords while Tony Stark, private businessman and lone wolf, agrees that the Avengers need to be put in check. Dividing the team into separate factions, Stark and Rogers’ relationship is tested unlike ever before with the revelation that Rogers’ best friend Bucky Barnes is the one responsible for Tony’s parents’ death. As a brainwashed HYDRA agent, the Winter Soldier executed the Starks on December 16, 1991, and Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) has been playing puppet master in an effort to destroy the Avengers from within. The film miraculously manages to introduce the characters of Black Panther and Spider-Man into the MCU without ever having it feel shoehorned in. The famous airport battle between the two factions of Avengers is like a comic-book come to life in a way not seen prior. The film served as the perfect resume for the Russo Brothers to handle the future Avengers films as it demonstrated that they could handle a massive ensemble of characters and keep the story properly focused. Simply one of the best superhero films ever made.
2. The Avengers (2012)
It might seem hard to believe almost a decade later, but this film was far beyond the reaches of what any fans had imagined possible in feature films. Having a group of heroes come together after starring in individual origin stories led to the epic crossover, the first of its kind in the superhero genre. Selected to write and direct the film was fanboy icon, Joss Whedon. Even though he only had one feature film under his belt, Whedon was given the task of handling all these different viable franchises simultaneously. He knocked it out of the park. Every single scene of this film is spot-on. It doesn’t stop for a moment to consider the characters’ backgrounds because it doesn’t have to. We know who they are. From the moment Loki appears with the scepter, it’s GAME ON! Whedon portrayed the Avengers as a family unit constantly bickering with each other, a massive clash of egos that needed to come together to serve a bigger purpose. For the first film of its kind, Joss Whedon and Marvel crushed it, giving us one of the greatest installments in this, or any popcorn genre.
1. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The highest-grossing film of all time takes the top spot on my list, perhaps to no one’s surprise. We’ve had a lot to say about this film here on our site. I loved it. I explored its best moments. John gave it its due, telling us that despite his frustration with superhero films, he had become a believer. It could be nominated for a few Oscars (not that it needs it), but moreover, it’s a great film; a stunning cinematic achievement, unlike anything that preceded it. At the end of The Avengers (2012), Nick Fury asked if assembling the team was a “statement”. Fury responded by saying it was “a promise”. That film delivered on its promise of assembling the heroes. Avengers: Endgame (2019) had a lot of promises to deliver on, over a decade’s worth since Nick Fury first appeared in Tony Stark’s living room talking about the Avenger initiative. The film had to unite and collectively give a satisfying ending to all 21 films that preceded it. Endgame delivered on each of those promises and drew genuine tears from audiences worldwide. It earned all of those fan-service moments that made us scream, laugh, cheer and weep. It was an epic in the tradition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), a Best-picture winner. There is strong support for Endgame getting several nominations for the forthcoming Oscar’s. A Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor nomination for Robert Downey Jr. seem most likely for the major awards.
No one can deny its achievements both critically and financially.
Your move, Academy.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor