Before the release of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, I’d been getting a ton of tweets and messages requesting I rank all (at that point) eighteen films in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe from worst to best. Our own ads even suggested it!
I thought, “Hey, that’s a good idea”, and started rewatching the catalogue to get a grasp of where certain ones would lie, and as I was doing that, I realized that the order in which I thought I arranged the films was COMPLETELY off the mark. I found my favorite of all was originally cutting it close to break into my top five, I was alllllll discombobulated in the middle, and my bottom half…well that didn’t change much. I only actively dislike three movies in the MCU so those were easy to place.
After hard work and much deliberation, though, I think I got it. Before I reveal my ranking order of the films, though, I’ll answer the question I’ve been getting the most these past few days: “Which movies do I have to see and it what order do I have to watch them for me to understand and enjoy ‘Infinity War’?”
The most accurate answer is all eighteen films that precede ‘Infinity War’. With Marvel, you are ALWAYS rewarded with references for your dedication to the franchise, and it’s amazing. If you don’t want to watch that many movies, though, I think you could get by just watching the following flicks:
-‘Captain America: The First Avenger’
-‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
-‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
-‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’
-‘Captain America: Civil War’
-‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2′
Obviously that’s still a lot, and you’ll still be missing out on some references and character direction still, having not seen seven of this movie’s prequels, but as long as you have a general grasp of what goes on during the others (read a quick Wikipedia summary for them when you get to them in order), you’ll best enjoy ‘Infinity War’ by watching these.
So here we go…without further ado, I present my definitive (but likely to change) rankings of all NINETEEN films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from worst to best, along with some of the comics that inspired each flick. If you’re looking to finally take that leap into the super nerdy (but awesome) world of reading the source material for your favorite superhero movies, I’ve made it pretty easy for you on where to start based on which movies you enjoyed.
19. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Coming in DEAD LAST at nineteen on my list is Joss Whedon’s highly anticipated sequel to 2011’s ‘The Avengers’, touted to be the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, winding up more like ‘The Phantom Menace’ of it. Now, I don’t think this movie was off the mark nearly as much of Episode I was, but it constantly brought up the same question of “Why is this what they thought the audience wanted?”. From all trailers and promotional material prior to ‘Age of Ultron’ hitting theaters, it seemed like the movie would be dark, gritty, and a complete inverse of the first ‘Avengers’, and while we all loved that one, we were ready to see something different. We were ready for a complex villain in Ultron that was prepared to off a few of our squad for the sake of the story…and then he just wound up being a wisecracking clown of a robot who was just as disposable as any other cookie-cutter baddie. The film itself was incredibly disjointed, poorly introduced Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch (and killed one of them immediately), and has aged more poorly than any Marvel movie, including the one featuring a completely different guy playing Bruce Banner. By the time we got to the circling-pan shot of the Avengers fighting off an army, it seemed an eyeroll was more appropriate than a fist pump. Still, it has redeeming qualities in origin of Vision and Hawkeye’s family-man backstory (which, fuck it, I enjoyed), but somebody had to be nineteenth.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Avengers’ (Vol. 1) #54 and #55 by Roy Thomas (1968), ‘The Origin of Ultron’ by Roy Thomas Artist (1968), ‘The Bride of Ultron’ by Gerry Conway and Jim Shooter (1977), ‘The Ultron Imperative’ #1-6 by Brian Michael Bendis (2007), ‘Annihilation: Conquest’ by Keith Giffen, Christos Gage, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Javier Grillo-Marxuach (2008), and ‘Ultron Unlimited’ by Stan Lee, Kurt Busiek, Stuart Immonen (1998)
18. Iron Man 3
An Iron Man movie with the premise of Tony Stark hitchhiking in the snow with a little kid, suit-less? Completely ripping the balls off Mandarin for the sake of a meaningless swerve? Not really my cup of tea. If not for the Iron Legion scene towards the end of the film, this may beat out ‘Age of Ultron’ for the honor of my personal least favorite Marvel movie.
Comic that inspired the film: ‘Extremis’ by Warren Ellis (2005)
The first ‘Thor’ was the only movie in Phase 1 I didn’t catch in theaters, and I remember being SO disappointed in myself because of that. Naturally, I picked up the DVD the day it came out, threw it on…and fell asleep. I feel like this movie suffered from exposition vomit at every turn, where the writers felt Asgard and its society and its politics and every citizen it has ever had were must-explain stuff, making it the most boring flick the studio has ever produced. I truly have a hard time sitting through the entire thing, and have only done so twice. Thank god Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston delivered stellar performances, because if not, Kevin Feige and the powers that be may have killed off the God of Thunder pretty shortly after this.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Thor’ by J. Michael Straczynski (2007), ‘Thor’ (Vol. 1) #159 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and most of the early ‘Thor’/’Journey Into The Mystery’ books.
16. The Incredible Hulk
So, ‘The Incredible Hulk’ with Ed Norton isn’t good…but it’s also not bad, so I guess it receives a spot at sixteen? It’s a movie I’ll never go out of my way to watch, but one I’ll toss on if I scroll past it on the TV guide. That’s more than I can say about the last three.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Incredible Hulk #1′ by Stan Lee (1962), ‘Tales to Astonish #90′ by Stan Lee (1967), and ‘Incredible Hulk #24-25′ by Paul Jenkins (1999), and a few others.
15. Iron Man 2
Alright! Everyone take a nice sigh of relief, we’re onto the good movies in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe! From here on out, starting at fifteen with Jon Favreau’s ‘Iron Man 2′, every movie listed is one I really enjoy. This 2010 sequel introduces Natasha Romanoff (better known by alias Black Widow) played by Scarlett Johansson and sees James Rhodes take on the War Machine mantle, anchored by Tony Stark’s ongoing pursuit of Whiplash, played by Mickey Rouke. While it’s nowhere near as great as the first, I’m not gonna hold that against it because that isn’t necessarily an easy mark to hit. It’s a fun Summer blockbuster, nothing more, nothing less.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Demon in a Bottle’ by David Michelinie and Bob Layton (1979), ‘Iron Man’ (Vol. 1) #284 by Len Kaminski (1992)
14. Thor: The Dark World
I assume my placement of ‘Thor: The Dark World’ will be the most controversial from my rankings, as most consider it the worst of the past decade, but I’ve NEVER seen that. Sure, the villain is forgettable, but most of them are. I saw ‘The Dark World’ as a VAST improvement over its predecessor, giving Hemsworth and Hiddleston a script to have fun with, making the Natalie Portman romance less cringeworthy and more relatable, and featuring some amazing action scenes with the Dark Elves. My brother and I saw this together on a whim when we realized we had nothing better to do on opening night, both of us entering with low expectations and both walking out incredibly satisfied. My fond memory of that first viewing may skew my scale, but these are my personal rankings, so fuck it, I’m allowing that.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Thor’ by Walt Simonson (Vol. 1 and 2) (1983), ‘The Mighty Thorcules’ by Greg Pak (2010), ‘Thor: The Mighty Avenger’ by Roger Langridge (2010), and a few others.
Ahh, the HEIST movie in Marvel’s arsenal! A criticism that many (but not I) hold against Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios is that all of their movies follow the same formula. Forgettable villains determined to destroy/have power over the world with no clear motivation as to why, heroes that lose a battle to them early on, but go on a journey full of quips and jokes to eventually overcome them, and every other one mixes in a beam shot into the sky. No film breaks that formula quite as much as 2015’s ‘Ant-Man’ starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Douglas. Stripped down to its core, ‘Ant-Man’ is a hell of a lot closer to ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ than it is ‘The Avengers’, and Scott Lang’s suit/powers make room for some of the funnest and most unique scenarios that could possibly take place in a superhero movie. I mean, the final fight scene with Yellowjacket pretty much culminates on a Thomas the Tank Engine playset! Ah, I love ‘Ant-Man’. Can’t wait for the sequel.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Marvel Premiere’ (Vol. 1) #47 by David Michelinie (1979), ‘Ant-Man’ by Nick Spencer (2014), and a few others.
12. Doctor Strange
Much like ‘Thor: The Dark World’, ‘Doctor Strange’ pleasantly surprised the hell out of me. I didn’t care about the character at all a few years ago, and had no plans to see the film in theaters on opening night until some miscommunication caused my buddy to buy me a ticket to his showing. I was sorta dreading it, honestly, because I’m really into space/superhero sci-fi, but not too keen on magic/medieval sci-fi, but I didn’t want the ticket to go to waste so I just said fuck it and went, and it took about five minutes for me to realize my mistake of doubting Marvel Studios. The second shit got all Inception-y and Matrix-y I was IN, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s phenomenal performance kept me so invested for the entire runtime of the movie that I got to the point of googling “How to abandon life and become a wizard” before I even drove home that night. Plus, it’s got the most unique boss fight in any of these flicks!
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Strange Tales’ (Vol. 1) #115 by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers (1963), ‘Doctor Strange: The Oath’ by Brian K. Vaughan (2007), ‘Dr. Strange: Season One’ by Greg Pak and Emma Ríos (2011), and many others.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
While underwhelming when compared to the original, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2′ is far from a disappointment. Our Guardians were back, added a few new characters to the fold, and were still their same old selves, making for a blast of an experience. I’d dig any interaction between this squad, though, to the point where I don’t think James Gunn could possibly make a ‘Guardians’ flick I wouldn’t like so long as everybody’s talking to each other. And this one had Baby Groot! S’cute!
Comics that inspired the film: Like the first Guardians film, this one takes draws from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s versions of the team, but doesn’t necessarily pull too heavily from any specific books.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
It’s no secret that Captain America is my favorite Marvel hero, and a lot of that love stems Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely’s depiction of Steve Rogers in ‘The First Avenger’. Two moments in this movie define Cap’s entire character for me, and make the hairs on my arms stand up even thinking about them. One of those moments is Steve Rogers responding to the question, “Do you want to kill Nazis?”, with the powerful statement: “No, I don’t want to kill anybody. I just don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.” The other is when Colonel Chester Phillips tosses a dud grenade at a group of soldiers Rogers is alongside in boot camp, and Cap jumps directly on top of it while all others dive away from it. Those two brief sequences tell you all you need to know about Steve Rogers, a fictional character that gives me hope for real folk everywhere. The post-credits scene is so brilliantly executed as well that it bumps this flick up to a top ten spot.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Captain America’ (Vol. 1) #1 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (1941), ‘Avengers’ (Vol. 1) #4 by Stan Lee (1964), ‘The Marvels Project’ by Ed Brubaker (2009), and a few other early Captain America arcs.
9. Spider-Man: Homecoming
After suffering through Sony’s two piss-poor attempts to reboot the Spider-Man franchise with Andrew Garfield as their Peter Parker, we finally saw what the geniuses behind the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe could do when playing in this sandbox in 2017, and BOY did they knock it out of the park. Tom Holland is the first person in the role to ever appear the appropriate age to attend high-school while defending supermarkets and banks in Queens, and he executes the mix of Spidey’s innocence and cockiness better than anyone ever has. Aunt May is obviously Marisa Tomei, an absolutely timeless smoke, and Tony Stark’s flirtation with her while he acts as an advisor to Peter is a highlight of this one, as is Jon Favreau’s performance as Happy Hogan. Michael Keaton was once again typecast as a bird here, in Vulture, and he provides one of the universe’s biggest shocks and eerie scenes all in the span of ten minutes, so yeah, you could say I dug this one.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ by Brian Michael Bendis (2000), ‘Spidey’ by Robbie Thompson (2016), ‘The Road to Civil War’ by Brian Michael Bendis (2007), and many others.
8. Black Panther
What could I say about ‘Black Panther’ that hasn’t been said already? It’s the highest grossing superhero film ever made (soon to be beaten by ‘Avengers: Infinity War’) for a reason. It’s intense, it’s funny, it’s heavy, it’s light, and it’s everything you’d want it to be. It defies the genre to the point where many folks who’d never seen a superhero movie before bought into the hype train and gave this a shot, coming away with nothing but positive things to say. The fact that this was such a historic step in representation for pop culture is an accomplishment that will never be forgotten, as well, so that helps it juuuuust edge out ‘Homecoming’.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Black Panther’ by Christopher Priest (1998), ‘Black Panther’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2016), and multiple other incarnations of the character.
7. Thor: Ragnarok
After a lackluster start, and a widely disappointing sequel (that I dug but most didn’t), I was surprised Marvel going back to the well for a third Thor film instead of just letting him show up in the team-up movies. I’m glad they did, though, because ‘Ragnarok’ proved that when handled correctly, Thor deserves about a billion solo films. All you need to do is just let him have fun, and in this one they did! He has an amazing fight with The Incredible Hulk, forms a friendship with a rock monster named Korg who just so happens to be my favorite side-character in all of the universe, and gets to kick major ass to the sweet sounds of Led mothafuckin’ Zeppelin. What more could you ask for? This flick also shows how successful Marvel has become, to where they took away all of Thor’s most identifiable features – the long hair, the helmet, Mjolnir, Asgard – and he remained one of the company’s most beloved heroes. NOBODY gave a fuck about Thor before Chris Hemsworth was cast as him, and now you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t give their life for his.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Planet Hulk’ by Greg Pak (2006), ‘Angela, Queen of Hel’ by Marguerite Bennett (2015), ‘Thor’ (Vol. 1) #362 by Walt Simonson (1985), ‘Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions’ by Mark Gruenwald (1982), and many others.
6. Captain America: Winter Soldier
Here’s all I need to say about this one: The Russo Brothers made the greatest Jason Bourne movie of all time starring Chris Evans as Jason Bourne. Just word replace Jason Bourne with Steve Rogers, and give that handsome motherfucker a shield. This is honestly one of the best superhero movies of all time, and it feels like I’m undercutting it by ranking it at six here, but that goes to show you the level of movies that are regularly being produced by this studio. It’s unprecedented.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘The Winter Soldier’ by Ed Brubaker (2004), ‘Secret Warriors’ by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (2009)
5. Iron Man
The one that started it all! I’ve seen many a lists rank this at number one, and I wouldn’t argue with that for a second. If ‘Iron Man’ doesn’t knock everybody’s socks off in 2008, we’re living in a very different reality in 2018. This movie had legitimate effects on the planet! Crazy to think about, but very true. Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Tony Stark was so impeccably remarkable in this film that it’s already considered an iconic role, and completely changed the way comic book writers treat the character. Hell, artists too! They draw Tony to look like RDJ now! Much respect and love to Jon Favreau for creating this piece of art with Feige behind him.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘Tales of Suspense (Vol. 1) #39′ by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber (1959), ‘Iron Man (Vol. 1) #166′ by Denny O’Neil (1983), ‘Iron Man (Vol. 1) #200′ by Denny O’Neil (1985), to name a few.
4. The Avengers
Very few films have lived up to their hype in my lifetime as well as 2012’s ‘Avengers’ did. Nobody in the world had ever seen anything like this movie, a team-up four years in the making, combining multiple franchises and having six or seven superheroes interacting with each other, and Joss Whedon made the best of that wonder. Obviously this was a massive success full of amazing moments I could discuss all day, but I won’t do that. I’ve done that enough in the build to ‘Infinity War’, so just re-read what I said about it here:
I remember the night I saw the first ‘Avengers’ movie like it was yesterday. At that point, in May of 2012, there were only five installments to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (‘Iron Man’, ‘The Incredible Hulk’, ‘Iron Man 2?, ‘Thor’, and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’), but still, it was almost unfathomable that we’d get to see the heroes from all of those films on-screen together. Nothing like that was ever even attempted before, especially on the scale that this was.
You couldn’t go anywhere without overhearing a conversation about what would happen in the flick – which comics they’d pull arcs from, what the outcome of the Thor vs Hulk fight would be, which Avengers would die, would any Avengers would make their debut – all topics traditionally only discussed in comic book stores were now commonplace on the street, in grocery stores, at restaurants, I’m talking everywhere. All of a sudden the geeky adventures I grew up worshipping were as mainstream as could be, and everyone had questions for me based on my years of preparation. It was awesome.
To this very day I look back on that month or two leading up to the ‘Avengers’ release as one of the fondest periods of my life, and luckily, I could always throw on the ‘Avengers Assemble’ motion picture soundtrack for a quick nostalgia trip back to that time.
Of course, the movie itself lived up to all of our super high expectations, and provided its audience with the most fun, lively theatergoing experience imaginable. There were so many cheer-worthy moments, laugh out loud funny jokes, and even some emotional beats that tugged at our heartstrings…’The Avengers’ really was everything we thought it could be and more.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘The Avengers’ (Vol. 1) by Stan Lee (1963), and a plethora of others.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
From the moment credits initially rolled on my showing of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, I claimed it was my favorite Marvel movie of all time. My imagination was captured in such a way I’d never seen in a superhero film, and I had more fun than I ever had, and oh, literally everything about it was perfect. Even the villain being a bit lackluster worked to ‘Guardians’ favor, because in a movie like this, we needed more time for the heroes and their relationship to develop. The “We are Groot” moment cracks the top ten in all nineteen of these things for sure, and the soundtrack cracks the top one. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized it wasn’t actually my favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though. That title belonged to…
Inspired by a plethora of comic arcs involving the Guardians of the Galaxy characters, but most specifically those written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning that began post-2008.
2. Captain America: Civil War
You wanna talk about things being perfect, you talk about the third act of this ‘Captain America: Civil War’. The final thirty minutes of this film are possibly my favorite thirty minutes of any comic book film ever, and the device in which the Russo Brothers used to destruct The Avengers from the inside required a level of brilliance to think of I’ll never attain. Spider-Man’s introduction, Black Panther’s introduction, Ant-Man’s cameo, the legitimate thought-provoking politics behind the Sokovia Accords making ‘Age of Ultron’ not entirely useless, the airport fight, the Captain America and Bucky Barnes vs Iron Man fight, and Robert Downey Jr’s heartbreaking delivery of “I don’t care…he killed my mom.”, UGGGGHHHHHH! ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is yet another entry to the MCU that I’d consider a flawless film. I’ve seen it over a dozen times and it never gets old.
Comic that inspired the film: ‘Civil War’ by Mark Millar (2006), as well as a few others.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
After my second viewing of the most recent installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my rapid reaction to call this the greatest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was nothing but justified. Even more impressive than being the best the MCU has to offer, I’d say ‘Infinity War’ is the second best comic book film of all time with only ‘The Dark Knight’ in front of it. Here’s a blurb from my blog about the movie from the day after it was released:
‘Infinity War’ is truly as good a film as the genre has ever seen, which is doubly impressive given that on paper, it shouldn’t work as a movie in the slightest. The Russo Brothers were tasked with giving twenty-one separate heroes each their appropriate screen time, splitting them up into four or five factions and making sure none of their subplots dragged or felt inferior to the others, telling Thanos’ entire origin story while following him on his quest to find all of the Infinity Stones (also while explaining how they work without getting too exposition-y), balancing Marvel’s trademark humor with the darkest moments this universe has ever seen, and paying tribute to the film’s eighteen predecessors. The target they had to hit to make this work was incredibly small. We’re talking smaller-than-Ant-Man small, yet somehow, someway, they hit it.
Comics that inspired the film: ‘The Infinity Gauntlet’ by Jim Starlin (1991), ‘The Infinity War’ by Jim Starlin (1992), and ‘INFINITY’ by Jonathan Hickman (2006)
So there you have it. Thirty-eight hundred words later, and every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been ranked, definitively…even though I’m sure a year from now my list’ll look like you shook it up and hit shuffle play. I hope you enjoyed this blog and hopefully became inspired to check out some of the comics that inspired what you’ve watched on the big screen over the past ten years. Whether you did or not, let me know what your list looks like on Twitter!