There are a million lists on the Internet ranking the movies in the MCU (or Marvel Cinematic Universe). Basically, this means movies that have actually been distributed by Marvel Studios and are connected to the world of the Avengers in one way or another. To make this list a little different, I’m going to expand the meaning of “Marvel movie” to include not just MCU films but also Marvel TV shows and the numerous movies about Marvel characters that we’ve seen distributed by other studios.
Here we go.
Some have ranked 2011′s Thor in the top-five MCU projects, so placement in the top-10 of all Marvel cinema seems warranted. It’s fair to say no one quite knew what to expect before Chris Hemsworth brought a Norse god to life in a superhero movie. But the hysterical, wonderfully self-aware result was better than most probably expected. And Hemsworth may fit his role better than any other actor who’s worked with Marvel.
9. Guardians Of The Galaxy
If Thor was unexpectedly funny, Guardians Of The Galaxy was a riot. Chris Pratt was hailed in the lead up to this movie’s release as something of a comic Indiana Jones for a modern era, and that’s not a bad description of what we saw on screen. Pratt and the film as a whole seemed to parody Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and The Avengers all at once, and more than anything it was nice to see Marvel taking itself lightly.
8. Punisher: War Zone
Distributed by Lionsgate not long after Iron Man kicked off the MCU in 2008, Punisher: War Zone just wasn’t watched by that many people. It’s since been utterly left in the past, except for one piece of media: an online slot arcade that’s been described as a chance to fight injustice with one of Marvel’s best additions. That game remains playable online, and recalls the film with some pretty impressive graphic backdrops to the slot reels. But the movie itself? It remains little known despite Ray Stevenson’s excellent take on Marvel’s most brutal antihero. Give this one a chance. It’s not very “Marvel-y” but it’s horribly underrated as an action flick.
7. Jessica Jones
The second of several planned collaborations between Marvel and Netflix (after Daredevil), Jessica Jones is a series, and one of the best Marvel projects of any kind we’ve seen so far. Like Punisher: War Zone, this series shows the darker side of superhero fiction, albeit in a less bloodthirsty manner. Really, it’s a psychological thriller that’s not afraid to get genuinely creepy. And Krysten Ritter’s performance in the titular role is top-notch.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Anthony Mackie, who plays Falcon in Avengers movies, recently said that the upcoming Captain America: Civil War will be Marvel’s best film and could earn Oscar nominations. We’ll see about that this spring, but in the meantime the film’s immediate predecessor, The Winter Soldier, already stands as one of the best MCU movies. Call it the movie that re-humanized some of Marvel’s central characters after The Avengers made everything a little too super.
5. The Avengers
Yes, I just criticized The Avengers a bit, but credit where credit’s due: it was an extremely tall order for director Joss Whedon to pool together four big screen superheroes in a single ensemble film. Yet that’s just what he pulled off without any sense of confusion or clutter. The Avengers is probably the most impactful Marvel film we’ve seen yet, taking the studio to new heights, inspiring games from LEGO console adventures to casino titles not unlike the aforementioned Punisher game, and even earning its own sequel despite sprouting from other projects. Not putting it in the top-five just wouldn’t seem right.
4. Spider-Man 2
Really, it’s just about a pick ‘em between Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies. Spider-Man was a little cheesy, but it was pretty much the archetypical origin story and had a great comic book feel to it. Spider-Man 2 ranks even higher for yours truly simply because it seamlessly maintained the enjoyable atmosphere of its predecessor and improved upon it from an action standpoint. This movie still stands as one of the best sequels we’ve ever seen.
Maybe you thought you knew what to expect from reading Deadpool comics or understanding the bizarre nature of the character. Perhaps you thought you got the gist after playing the Activision game for Xbox One. Or maybe the huge publicity campaign that ran for months had you thinking you pretty much knew how this movie would go. But if you’ve seen Deadpool (it’s currently in theaters and earning rave reviews), you know it’s unlike anything anyone expected. Even more than Guardians Of The Galaxy, this is a straight-up comedy, not to mention an R-rated version of Marvel heroics. And the irreverent, obnoxious role fits Ryan Reynolds like a glove.
2. X-Men: First Class
The follow-up, Days Of Future Past, seemed to get the most attention, but I’d rank director Matthew Vaughn’s work in First Class among the best in Marvel cinema. To take a franchise that had existed for over a decade and essentially reboot it with a new cast of young actors depicting a prequel saga was a bold move, and the execution is a whole lot of fun. For my money, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender pulled off the improbable in trumping the work of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Professor X and Magneto, respectively. And while the finale gets a little campy, the journey there is flawless.
1. Iron Man
It’s the film that launched the MCU, and it’s probably still the most well-rounded and enjoyable one of the bunch. Robert Downey, Jr.’s emergence as Tony Stark was pure fun and gave droves of fans a hero to latch onto for what’s now been nearly a decade. This movie also did a better job than most of telling a superhero story that focused on origins but was still compelling.