With 14 total films now having been screened which belong to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's time to begin the debate over which films are the best.
An array of characters consisting of men who wear high tech suits, super soldiers, gods, and big green rage monsters have had standalone efforts. Those heroes have also been joined by kings, teenagers, skilled marksmen, and women with ninja-like combat skills.
It all culminates to a pair of Avengers movies, cosmic adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and a handful of more singularly focused Marvel Studios productions for Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor titles.
The following is a ranking of Marvel Studios films starting with the worst heading towards the best. Mild spoilers for each film follow!
15. Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 is dubbed as the biggest letdown in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following the beloved film which launched the universe, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark returned for an adventure which lacked focus or a compelling villain.
Though it is refreshing to know that heroes can have unrelated to saving the world, Iron Man 2 followed Tony Stark on an egotistical adventure as he lashed out on his own pride to put himself in dangerous and avoidable positions. The sudden appearance and defeat of Whiplash did little to create a compelling story for the franchise's second entry.
Tossing in Tony battling some health issues and introducing Black Widow were far from enough to make Iron Man 2 anything other than the worst entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
14. Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World received divisive receptions from fans. Some loved the Asgardian hero's second standalone effort which pitted him against Malekith while others felt it to be another run in the mill Marvel film which played it safe with a formulaic plot.
Still, Thor had to return to Earth to stop a villain with an Infinity Stone in his possession which was actually played by an unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston and his sidekick Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. The loss of a key member to Thor's family wasn't enough of an emotional dagger to give Thor: The Dark World a more prestigious ranking on the list.
For many, the film felt like an episode of Thor while more interesting stories were taking place outside of its main storyline.
13. Captain America: The First Avenger
The Captain America franchise is constantly on an upward slope. Both of its sequels exceeded expectations as the titular hero's world expanded.
However, the first installment of the franchise serves as the weakest despite some impressive visual effects which turned Chris Evans into a wimpy young man from Brooklyn before transforming him into the Super Soldier he is today.
A slightly underwhelming use of the Red Skull leaves fans hoping to see more of the iconic villain in the future as his simple plot for world domination leaves the popular comic book character room for better appearances. Impressively, The First Avenger did manage to introduce both cosmic elements of the universe and a comic book hero who was never exactly a fan-favorite and make both into beloved and acceptable cinematic experiences.
12. The Incredible Hulk
Although it's not a Marvel Studios production, The Incredible Hulk counts as the big green gamma monsters first step into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Edward Norton playing Bruce Banner with Liv Tyler's Betty Ross at his side and William Hurt's Thaddeus Ross eager to stop him, The Incredible Hulk served as the first good Hulk movie in the modern age of cinema.
Keeping the destruction to a minimum for a character defined by rage, the Hulk took on a worthy opponent in Abomination and had to overcome his own faults in order to take him on in New York City. The mild love story injected into the film helped create a small emotional payoff and Norton's portrayal of Bruce Banner altered the moviegoer opinion, crafting a truly enjoying portrayal before bowing out ahead of The Avengers.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron was burdened with following up the fantastic first ensemble of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
Rather than build on the momentum provided to it by 2012's The Avengers, Age of Ultron took a major back seat to its predecessor as it served better as a stepping stone to the Civil War story than a complete and necessary Avengers tale.
Though James Spader's Ultron was menacingly fun to watch, his quick creation and destruction turned the villain into a less threatening robot than he should have been. Side plots, such as Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov's love story bogged the film down but epic action sequences like the continuous raid on the Hydra base at the beginning and the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster redeemed enough of the film to make it worthwhile.
10. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 had some of the best elements of any Marvel film but also contained some of the silliest while betraying fans of Marvel Comics.
Advertised as Iron Man vs. The Mandarin, one of the Marvel hero's more iconic villains in comics, Iron Man 3 turned out to be a joke fest with the billed villain turning out to be nothing more than a charade. The predictable twist of Aldrich Killian wishing for Tony Stark's downfall as the character dealt with the aftermath of the Battle of New York from the Avengers couldn't carry the film into the top echelons of Marvel films.
Comic book betrayals aside, Iron Man 3 offered one of the most character driven tales as Tony Stark's PTSD nearly barred him from taking on any fights, Ty Simpkins' Harley forced him to show a softer side, and a romantic relationship with Pepper unveiled more of a heart than the installed arc reactor.
Ant-Man proved that there isn't much Marvel Studios can't do. The studio didn't shy away from creating a character whose name doesn't exactly scream, "Come watch my movie!" and thankfully so.
Peyton Reed's entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a director of the Paul Rudd lead Ant-Man did some necessary world building in the form of history. Not only was Scott Lang about to put on the Ant-Man suit in an effort to halt to malicious intentions of Corey Stoll's Yellowjacket but Michael Douglas' Hank Pym had already donned the suit decades earlier.
A supporting cast of T.I., Michael Peña and David Dastmalchian helped fuel the film while Evangeline Lily's Hope van Dyne offered a bright future for the characters as her Wasp role is to be explored in more detail. It was the first heist film within the MCU and proved that the studio is capable of multiple genres within the super hero world.
8. Doctor Strange
While Doctor Strange fell victim to the formulaic plot devices being the 13th film in the franchise, other unique elements helped craft it as one of Marvel Studios' better titles.
Benedict Cumberbatch teamed with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton for some of the best performances of any actors within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On top of that, director Scott Derrickson created an absolutely mindbending adventure equipped with visual effects we thought only Steve Ditko was capable of imagining.
Unfortunately, Kaecilius did not become one of the more iconic villains in the MCU as his one-off effort was quickly thwarted when Strange realized his powers.
The God of Thunder's introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a welcome one. Chris Hemsworth was introduced to the world as Thor, who would struggle with his uncanny desire to be king of Asgard, his brother Loki's manipulative intentions, and making his father Odin proud.
Not only would the film introduce the Nine Realms to the live-action world and villains of the Frost Giant breed but it also made time to head down to Earth for much of its journey. Thor would battle to protect Dr. Eric Selvig, his new love Jane, and all of their Earth buddies. The New Mexico battle scene quickly became on of Marvel's best, at the time.
Thor's introductory film proved to be one of the best standalone debuts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier immediately became a fan-favorite of all Marvel Cinematic Universe films when the Russo Brothers crafted an intimate yet gigantic adventure for Steve Rogers.
Fresh off of getting acclimated to the new world in The Avengers, Captain America was tasked with taking down Hydra and their intimidatingly capable operative dubbed as the Winter Soldier. As it would turn out, the Winter Soldier would be Cap's old pal Bucky, but that didn't stop the villain from being completely ruthless in his efforts to trample Rogers.
Packed with Marvel's best choreographed and performed action sequences, The Winter Soldier contained one of Marvel's more grounded stories but kept a gigantic feeling as SHIELD fell to Hydra. An emotional finale, loaded with plot twists and a Steve Rogers who remained loyal to his patriotic and passionate characteristics was enough to make Captain America: The Winter Soldier one of Marvel Studios' best films.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Burdened with both the advantages and disadvantages of following up the wholly original and beloved Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 delivers one of the most epic, emotional, and expansive films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A second act which has trouble keeping focus at times sees Vol. 2 veer in various directions which will have a few fans looking at their watch wondering where the film is going is quickly enough followed up with the best third act in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star-Lord's parentage is revealed and explored, Nebula and Gamora continue their family feud, Drax develops a fun relationship with newcomer Mantis, and Yondu is executes on his opportunity to steal the show, often being paired with Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot.
4. Iron Man
The movie which launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 remains one of the top dogs for the franchise. Iron Man is an unforgettable adventure which put super heroes on the big screen in a whole new light.
The Jon Favreau-directed film sees arrogant billionaire Tony Stark tossed into a cave for some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's darker moments. The genius weapon manufacturer has to craft a way out of a cave ruled by terrorists if he wishes to survive after having experiences the very real scenario of roadside bombs in the Middle East.
After arriving home, Stark has created the Iron Man suit and intends to use it for good after seeing his Stark Industries brand plastered across enemy lands and realizing it is time for a change. Iron Man showed audiences what being a hero is all about and left the entire world wanting more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
3. The Avengers
The first Marvel Cinematic Universe ensemble had every opportunity to be a great, unforgettable movie-going experience and capitalized on each.
Uniting the Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Captain America, Thor, and Black Widow for the first time as they took on Loki and his Chitauri army in New York City, Marvel's The Avengers showed what the studio is capable of. Feuds between characters carried the film to its climax as they learned to put their differences aside and become the team necessary for saving the world. Emotional beats such as Coulson's sendoff or Hawkeye's being freed from the mind control provided the film with the necessary depth.
The action sequence which closed out the film was like nothing fans had experienced and truly brought comic books to life on the big screen. The Avengers was the first huge super hero ensemble and will go down as one of the studios' best and most unforgettable films.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
Just when fans thought The Avengers was as good as it could get in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio debuted a film containing a talking tree, a sarcastic raccoon, a couple of green alien killers and the Earthling tasked with working with each of them. Guardians of the Galaxy was a unique, hilarious, outright fun trip to the movies.
Peter Quill and the gang's introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe set to the 80's music backdrop of Awesome Mix Vol. 1 proved that the studio can diversify its tone without failing. Taking fans on an entirely cosmic adventure and expanding the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond the reaches of Earth or the locations seen in the Thor films was executed brilliantly by director James Gunn.
The balance of humor, action, and stakes as Ronan the Accuser attempted to destroy Xandar places Guardians of the Galaxy among the top Marvel Studios films.
1. Captain America: Civil War
The best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the one which balanced almost all of its core heroes brilliantly. With only the Hulk and Thor being sidelined for the feud between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the Avengers characters were torn apart as the government forced them to choose a side: align with their rules or fight for your freedoms.
Captain America: Civil War created Team Iron Man and Team Captain America flawlessly. One stood for aligning with General Thaddeus Ross' Sokovia Accords while the other wanted to act freely in efforts to take on enemies whenever the team desires. Surprisingly, both leaders had reasoning audiences could agree with.
Throughout Civil War's over two hour run time, each of the over a dozen characters was given a meaningful arc. Whether it was Cap and Iron Man's feud which dated all the way back to Tony's parents' murder or the Vision and Scarlet Witch trying to form their own relationship while dealing with a public image, each character mattered. Not to mention, the introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe created two new characters for fans to look forward to.
To top it all off, no one will soon forget the airport battle sequence which saw twelve heroes going head to head in an epic brawl.