Now that Avengers: Infinity War has finally hit theaters, it's become one of the hottest, most talked-about topics around the globe. The ending, the surprise character appearances, the addition of beautiful facial hair – there are so many conversations that have appeared following this mega-movie's release.
The most controversial of all of these discussions? Where Infinity War ranks amongst the rest of the MCU.
For 10 years, and through 19 movies, this topic has been hotly debated throughout both geek and movie cultures. Of course, being a site that writes about these movies, and this culture, the ComicBook.com office is always intensely debating this very thing.
"Is Civil War better than Winter Soldier?" "Does Thor: The Dark World actually suck?" "Why does everyone like Guardians so much?!" These are the kind of arguments we get into around here pretty much every day. While listening to one unfold earlier this week, I had an idea: Why not have our staff officially rank the MCU?
Now, there's no way we would never come to an agreement on an official ranking amongst ourselves, so we decided to trust in the magic of statistics. Every member of the CB editorial staff (21 total) submitted their personal ranking of the 19 MCU films, along with a comment about what they felt was their most controversial spot on the list, and we simply averaged them together. Thus, our ranking was born.
So, what you'll find next is the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, ranked by the folks who talk about it for a living, starting at the bottom of the barrel...
It should come as no surprise that Thor: The Dark World is the lowest ranked film on this list. I mean, even the some of the people that made the movie didn't enjoy it. That's always a terrible sign.
There were really no hot takes here, since most of us are pretty down on the film, but I'll share a couple of statistics.
Of the 21 staffers who ranked the films, seven of us (myself included) ranked The Dark World dead-last. ComicBook.com managing editor Jim Viscardi had the Thor sequel ranked the highest, putting the film all the way up at spot #12.
Like The Dark World, Iron Man 2 is another one that people just don't seem to enjoy all that much. Despite the introduction of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, most of our staff had a hard time finding things to love about this movie.
Three of our staffers had Jon Favreau's Iron Man sequel ranked at the bottom of the pile, while seven put it at #17.
The highest ranking of the film comes from writer Nicole Drum, who had it all the way up at #10 between Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
At number 17 we've got the movie that most people forget is actually in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Incredible Hulk.
This is honestly the most forgettable movie of the franchise, mainly because only one actor in the film has appeared in the MCU since its release in 2008. Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo in the role of Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler's Betty Ross is nowhere in sight, and nothing ever came of that Samuel Stern cliffhanger. Only William Hurt's General Ross has made their way back into the MCU, having appeared in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.
Not one single staff member had Hulk in their top ten. Nick Valdez was highest on the film, placing it at #11.
Coming in at the 16th spot in our rankings is Iron Man 3, which is probably the most controversial MCU film among fans.
Some people love this movie. Some people think it's just flat-out bad. Most fans however, simply left the theater let down after the film wasn't the dark Iron Man story promised in the trailers. Well, that and the fact that the Mandarin wasn't even real.
Over time, some people have come around to enjoy this movie. Our contributor Chase Magnett had Iron Man 3 at #9 on his personal rankings, while Jamie Lovett put the film all the way up at #7.
The first four films on the list are a fairly consensus "lower tier" of MCU movies, so this is where things really get interesting. Falling down to #15 in our rankings is Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Joss Whedon's followup to Avengers is filled with plenty of great moments, but a lot of fans see this as a film where the parts are greater than the whole, and disagreements between Whedon and Marvel about where to take the story next certainly factored into the mess.
While a couple of CB staffers can't stand Age of Ultron, and have it ranked dead last, some others were fairly high on the film. Patrick Cavanaugh had it highest, at #7. Adam Barnhardt ultimately placed the sequel in the #12 spot, but told me that he toyed with moving it up into his top 10 after seeing Infinity War.
"I debated putting Avengers: Age of Ultron ahead of Homecoming [#9], actually," Barnhardt admitted. "Infinity War definitely made Age of Ultron a better movie, which included the introduction of Scarlet Witch - one of Infinity War's biggest heroes - and really amplified Tony Stark's arc."
Doctor Strange was Marvel's foray into the world of magic, and it lands in the bottom half of our staff rankings at #14.
It's interesting to look across the board of individual rankings to see how polarizing this movie is amongst the staff. While no one had the film in the upper echelon of the MCU, the placement of Doctor Strange ranged from #7 to #17.
Patrick Cavanaugh was the only staffer to rank Strange so low on his list, and he didn't mince words when explaining his disdain for the film.
"Eight years after Iron Man helped establish the MCU, Doctor Strange came in to repeat the same journey of an egotistical rich dude who has everything, suffers a problem, and then becomes one of the greatest heroes in the galaxy, relatively undeservedly," Cavanaugh told me. "Some of the visuals are interesting, but this chapter, more than any sequel, felt like it was an obligatory origin story that didn't enrich the franchise as a whole nor make for an exciting standalone story."
Landing at unlucky #13 on our list is 2011's Thor, the debut film for fan-favorite Chris Hemsworth.
One thing I learned while talking to our staff and compiling these rankings is that Thor is one of those movies that no one really has anything against. It's not exactly controversial in any way, and it doesn't cause any arguments. Honestly, most everyone that had the movie towards the bottom only did so out of love for the movies above it.
While no one has a problem with Thor, a couple of our editors actually adore it -- enough to rank it in their top five MCU movies. Jim Viscardi and Jameson Brown ranked Thor at #5 and #4, respectively.
Do me a favor and don't ever bring up Ant-Man around my co-workers? While the pint-sized Paul Rudd-starrer ultimately landed at #12, it makes for one of the most heated MCU debates around the office.
The placing of Ant-Man on the individual ranks is literally all over the place, with several staffers putting the film in their bottom four, while others had it in the top five. Editor-in-chief Dallas Jackson is a big fan of the movie, claiming it's his MCU ride-or-die.
"A hill that I am willing to die on here, because I know many don't buy this as a top-half movie in the MCU," Jackson said of the film. "I thought Ant-Man was irreverent and fun. It poked fun at itself as well as other things that people often take too seriously. I thought Paul Rudd was a perfect casting, too."
Meanwhile, writer Jamie Lovett put Ant-Man at the very last spot in his individual ranks, saying, "I just do not get what everyone sees in this movie."
The consensus from almost everyone that I talked to was that, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a lot of fun, it wasn't nearly as good as the first film. That was enough to keep James Gunn's sequel just outside of the top ten.
I say "consensus" because the thought wasn't 100-percent unanimous. Two of the 21 participants, Chase Magnett and Nick Valdez, felt that the movie's emotional highs were in a league all their own, and actually had it ranked higher than the first Guardians.
On the flip-side, Joseph Schmidt is as big of a Guardians 2 downer as you'll come across. He says that the movie is "weak for many reasons," including the tone-deaf massacre of the Ravagers, as well as the ending of the Yondu/Peter storyline, which he calls "entirely unearned."
Kicking off the top 10 is Spider-Man: Homecoming, a film that I didn't realize was going to be so controversial.
Spidey's first solo film in the MCU represents the biggest spread among the staff, ranging from #17, all the way up to the very top spot.
Brandon Davis believes that Homecoming is far and away the best film in the MCU, calling it "tremendously fun, self-contained, and a film that offers a feeling of The Breakfast Club's young magic but with super heroes mixed in."
Chase Magnett, on the other hand, has one monumental issue with the movie, and its name is Tony Stark.
"The casting, aesthetic, and tone of this movie are almost perfect," says Magnett. "That's what makes Iron Man's inclusion such a disappointment as he twists Spider-Man's core themes of power and responsibility beyond recognition. This film features a truly terrible villain, and it isn't The Vulture."
This was a bit of a surprise for me. While I'm admittedly not the biggest fan of Captain America: Civil War, I know it's a favorite among a lot of comic fans, and I thought it would place a bit higher in our rankings.
Seven different staff members had the movie in their top three MCU films, but there were seven others who had the Russo Brothers' team-up outside the top 10.
Russ Burlingame was easily the lowest on Civil War, ranking it at #17, just two spots away from the bottom. Here's his explanation:
"I utterly loathed Civil War, the Marvel Comics event, and while the film was a marked improvement on the comics it was adapting, it retained many of the same problems. That Iron Man is essentially a villain in the comics was somewhat more blurry in the film, but since he was already something of a villain coming off of having secretly created Ultron a year before, you had the same basic issue: trying to 'both sides' an argument where one side felt objectively wrong. The Russo Brothers did the best they had with what they got, but even they had some missteps here: after the Helicarrier fight in Winter Soldier, expectations were high for their third-act punch-up, and the fact that the airport battle fell so short of recapturing the visceral energy of The Winter Soldier or even Guardians of the Galaxy finales and left me cold."
The most delightful thing about this entire project was learning that my peers love Captain America: The First Avenger just as much as I do. I expected for most of the rankings to have the Chris Evans solo film in the bottom half of the pack, and I've never been so excited to be proven wrong.
A total of 10 staffers had The First Avenger ranked at six or higher, with both Chase Magnett and Rollin Bishop placing it at number two, and Patrick Cavanaugh ranked it as the very best Marvel film.
Anime queen Megan Peters was also high on the film, placing it at number four.
"My most controversial pick is [probably] Captain America: The First Avenger," Peters said of the film. "Most of the original solo movies from Phase I tend to get ignored save for Iron Man, but I loved how grounded the movie felt as a period war piece. I have a personal bias towards Captain America as he's my favorite Marvel character, and I was blown away by how the MCU rooted him as a WWII hero and ushered him into the modern era all in one movie."
Here at number seven we've got the movie that started it all, the godfather of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man.
Directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr. in the titular role, Iron Man changed the entire landscape of the superhero genre back in 2008, and paved the way for the rest of the MCU to come behind it.
Like Thor, Iron Man is one of those films that no one really hates, but there are a few that love it more than others. Jameson Brown, Jim Viscardi, and Joe Blackmon all put the first MCU adventure at the number two spot in their rankings. Surprisingly, no one had the O.G. on top.
This is probably the most interesting development of the entire rankings. Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther ended up in a dead tie at number five. I need you to understand that when I say "tie," I don't mean that they were close and I rounded or anything like that. After doing the math, Infinity War and Black Panther both received the exact same average ranking of 5.714285714. Completely level after nine decimal places.
Rollin Bishop had Infinity War ranked the lowest of everyone on the staff, placing it just outside of the top 10, at number 11.
"Infinity War is likely to be my most controversial ranking here," Bishop said. "It is an impressive feat; the film is a literal marvel. But it is an overall mediocre movie. There's no stakes or tension thanks to the fact that we know there's a sequel film and multiple sequels in various franchises."
Meanwhile a total of 10 voters had Infinity War in the top five, with Adam Barnhardt and Cam Bonomolo both ranking it as the best of the franchise. Nicole Drum, who ranked it fifth, said the complicated and grandiose nature of Infinity War is what propelled it ahead of the other two Avengers films.
"I placed it ahead of Avengers and thus in my top 5 simply because of the number of intricately woven references and narrative threads packed into Infinity War," Drum told me. "I don't think it's the strongest installment of the MCU or even the most entertaining or best made, but it packs a whole lot of punch that only gets more significant after it's had a chance to set in. It achieves something that no other Marvel film has before."
Like I said, Black Panther and Infinity War, the two newest films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ended up in a completely even tie for fifth place.
Chase Magnett, Brittany Mercer, and Nicole Drum all put Black Panther at the top spot in their personal rankings, while nine others had the film in the top five.
Only three staff members had Black Panther outside of their top 10 with Jim Viscardi letting the film fall all the way down to #16, below the likes of Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3. Mr. Viscardi declined to comment.
When Marvel's The Avengers was released back in 2012, many called it the greatest superhero movie ever made. No superhero movie of that grand a scale had been produced before, and The Avengers was truly one of a kind.
It's no surprise that Marvel's first team-up came in at number four, and that everything ranked higher came in the years following the film's release.
Jenna Anderson was the lowest on the film, but she still had it #11 in her individual rankings.
"Don't get me wrong, I will always have a fondness for the first two Avengers movies and the amount of excitement I felt about seeing them for the first time," she explained. "But as I've rewatched them in the years since, they've gotten to be pretty dated and their flaws become a little bit easier to spot."
A total of 10 staffers had The Avengers in their top five, and seven of them had the film ranked at number two. No one however, had The Avengers as the best movie in the franchise.
The highest-ranked Phase 3 MCU movie, and number three overall, goes to Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok.
After the first two Thor movies, most fans felt that the franchise wasn't very fun, and the excitement for the character had become stale. So Marvel flipped the script and hired Waititi to come in and turn Ragnarok from a dreary, end of the world tale, into a roaring action comedy that nearly everyone loved.
Brandon Davis was lowest on the movie, ranking it at #11 on his list. However, the trio of Rollin Bishop, JK Schmidt, and Jamie Lovett all had Ragnarok in the top spot.
"I was almost surprised that I put this here myself, but no Marvel movie has stuck with me the way this one has," Lovett said of Ragnarok. "The combination of spectacle, great characters, and timely themes reminded me a bit of Mad Max: Fury Road, which is a pretty high bar for comparison."
Is anyone surprised that Guardians of the Galaxy landed at the top of this list? I'm certainly not.
When the movie was first announced, most fans were skeptical of Marvel's decision to take the franchise to space, and use a group of lesser-known heroes as blockbuster stars. We were all proven wrong however, and the Guardians franchise has gone on to become one of the most popular in the world. And come on, what's not to love?
Nick Valdez had Guardians the lowest of everyone on staff, putting the movie at #13 on his individual list. 13 total staffers had the film in their top five, and, of those 13, Russ Burlingame and Joe Blackmon had it ranked number one.
Finally, we've arrived at the end. The very top spot. The best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, according to the ComicBook.com staff, is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The Russo Brothers' Marvel debut is a tight, fast-paced action thriller that still holds up upon multiple rewatches, and it features some of the best pure fight scenes in the entire franchise.
After tallying up all of the rankings, Winter Soldier received an average rank of 4.4. Dallas Jackson, Jenna Anderson, Matt Mueller, Megan Peters, Nick Valdez, Jim Viscardi, Jameson Brown, and myself all had Winter Soldier at the top of our lists, making it the film with the most number one votes from our staff. Joseph Schmidt was the lowest on Winter Soldier, ranking it #12 overall.
Do you agree with our staff rankings? Any hot takes you took a particular issue with? Feel free to sound off in the comment section below and let us know your thoughts!