Unless you’ve been living under a rock, are more of a DC fan, or don’t stan Benedict Cumberbatch, you probably already know that Doctor Strange is out this weekend. But why should you care? It’s not about Chris Pratt’s alien gang and there’s no sign of Chris Evans for miles. In fact, there aren’t any Hollywood Chrises! Is it even a superhero movie!?
I’ll admit that while I’m not running to go see it (I actually don’t stan Cumberbatch, or like white washing, though it is getting great reviews), I’m intrigued by what it’s setting up for the future, especially how it will connect to Infinity War. Regardless of my personal thoughts on the movie, the release of a new Marvel Cinematic Universe movie really means one thing: time to look back and prematurely judge where it’ll rank! I and the rest of the world am taking a look back at the rest of the MCU movies we already know, love and hate. Because why watch a super hero movie if you’re not going to compare it to all the other ones you’ve already seen?
Disclaimer: this is, obviously, limited to the Paramount/Disney MCU and therefore will not include absolute gems like X-Men: First Class and 2004’s Fantastic Four.
13. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
#NoDisrespectToEdNorton, but it’s very easy to forget having ever seen this movie. Honestly, it’s not The Incredible Hulk’s fault that a casting change and early release makes it feel like it doesn’t belong in the MCU. But when my family rewatched the series in order, we went to Wikipedia to find out what happened in the end-credits scene. Tony Stark meets up with future Secretary Ross! At the time even this was an exciting button, but it’s not as cool now since we already know the Avengers are a thing, you know?
12. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Ugh. Did we peak too soon? Was the original Iron Man just too perfect of an introduction to keep the rolling? Because I really dislike this movie. It’s just about the opposite of the clean fun that is Tony Stark’s origin story, and gives us a villain who’s best friend is a parakeet- honestly, I’m still a little confused. At least this movie gives us Don Cheadle as Terrence Howard’s War Machine replacement, and the introduction of Black Widow, who needs her solo movie stat.
11. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Age of Ultron isn’t a terrible movie. It’s just a movie that I have a lot of problems with. I have to give credit where credit is due. Sequels are a tough business, and this movie does at least give us the whole gang (including The Avengers Lite Division) hanging out, fighting the crime I’m assuming they deal with together between Cap rescuing Bucky and Tony building suits. But it’s predecessor was so great that I (possibly unfairly) wanted it to be so much more. A lot of the plot is just plain odd- Black Widow and Hulk’s hasty romance, Hawkeye’s hidden family, and Aaron Taylor Johnson’s accent for example. Without the hint of Captain America being able to lift Thor’s hammer, and the fact that the destruction in this movie sets up the MCU future, it would be pretty forgettable.
10. Thor (2011)
Thor is a romantic comedy. There’s nothing wrong with that- I love romantic comedies. But it’s a romcom stuck inside a completely different movie, and the flipping back and forth between both movies with weird cuts and deep contrasts between the darkness of space and the light of Earth is jarring and unexpected. When your villain, in this case Loki, is more well-received than your hero, it’s not always the best sign.
9. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Listen, I don’t want to do Chris Hemsworth like this. He’s a fantastic dancer and a really enjoyable Thor. But these standalones are just alright, which kind of sucks considering how important the Tesseract and Infinity Stones are to the rest of the MCU plot. The Dark World is a step up for me, given the couple of plot twists and some dimension science that’s actually kind of cool. Overall you have to admit it’s hard for any space movie to compete against Guardians of the Galaxy.
8. Ant-Man (2015)
I’d hate to describe this movie as small because of, you know, the ant puns. But I really do love how small scale this movie gets. Yes, Ant-Man saves the world and fights another Avenger, like the squad is known to do. But he’s also more focused on just saving his daughter, so while their suburban street ends up getting wrecked it’s a nice change of pace from skyscrapers falling out of the sky. The fight scenes in a briefcase and on toy trains are genius, though I’d honestly give high marks to anything Paul Rudd is in.
7. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Was the MCU saving the best for last on purpose, or what? Captain America is the final core Avenger to be introduced, and while it might fit better in a lineup of war dramas it’s pretty exciting to see the world start to get laid out. It’s also incredibly depressing, since Steve loses his best friend and the love of his life, and as if that wasn’t bad enough the first thing he sees after being in an ice-induced coma is Times Square. I’d be depressed too, bud.
6. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Why didn’t anyone tell me how good Iron Man 3 is? I didn’t see it for the longest time, mostly because I was still stung by Iron Man 2’s nonsense. I made sense of the MCU without it (in other words, I’m not an idiot), but watching it fills in some nice blanks about Tony Stark. Tony’s kid sidekick is actually really cute, and the twist is wild. There’s that whole thing where Gwenyth Paltrow is on fire, but we’ll look past it.
5. Iron Man (2008)
Imagine if Iron Man had been a flop? Either we’d remember it like we remember The Incredible Hulk, or worse- there’d be no MCU at all. Iron Man managed to pull off jump-starting an entire universe starring a superhero who wasn’t yet commercially well-known, and on top of that was a really great movie. Tony Stark was cool, and the movie’s soundtrack and big fight scenes prove it. Plus, it’s nice to see a superhero who’s known to the public, which we hadn’t seen in the Spiderman and Batman movies- and it doesn’t get more iconic than “I’m Iron Man.”
4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
More than fighting aliens or locking up bad guys, I want to see our Avengers together. That’s what makes Civil War so good: the introductions of Spiderman (!!) and Ant Man to the rest of the group are hilarious, and the final fight scene between Tony and Steve hurts. Our antagonist Zemo is a little much at times (I get you want revenge, but at what cost?), but overall it pulls off the seemingly impossible task of introducing characters, laying out motivations, and still feeling like a Captain America movie.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
What happens when you take a post-Zero Dark Thirty-buff Chris Pratt, a fire mix tape, and a tree that warms everyone’s heart, and put them together? You get Guardians, a movie that non-comic readers thought was going to be totally strange until they saw the trailer and pretty immediately got on board. I wouldn’t have expected a movie about “a bunch of assholes” to work so well, but it just goes to show you that the MCU can tap into the unexpected worlds of comic books and still succeed.
2. The Avengers (2012)
It really doesn’t get much better than this one. The MCU was officially solidified as a series that demanded attention to detail while bringing together more superheroes than the average American could list off at once. It was a risky move basing a lot of the first Avengers movie on the world of Thor. But it really works, and he’s better here than his solo movies, plus Iron Man becomes a great team player and we all get good at pretending Mark Ruffalo has been there all along. Maybe DC’s Justice League movie will totally blow this one out of the water, but we’ll always know The Avengers did it first, and they had Shawarma.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Maybe I’m biased, because Captain America is my favorite Avenger, but Winter Soldier is in a league of it’s own. Chris Evans threw some light shade at Joss Whedon saying that the Russo brothers, directors of Winter Solider and Civil War, make movies about people who happen to have powers, not movies about superheroes. And that’s exactly it. This movie has as many (if not more) fight scenes, shiny costumes and one-liners as any other movie in the MCU, but it doesn’t stop there; it throws in a compelling villain, strengthens character relationships and forces our hero to question his morals in a way that isn’t neatly wrapped up by the film’s end. Can Doctor Strange come close to beating it? Let’s see.