After revisiting every single film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ben Phillips & Matt Waters finally feel qualified to rank every single (pre-Infinity War) entry in the franchise, continuing with films 9 – 1.
Check out our rankings from 18 – 10.
Yes, Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey has visited every stop on the road to Avengers: Infinity War, so it’s time to present their final findings in the form of an aggregated ranking of the entire MCU. Please feel free to completely disregard Mike Thomas’ flawed list as it fails to take into account the high quality of Iron Man 3.
Click the images to listen to our podcast reviews of the relevant films.
9) Captain America: The First Avenger
Matt: This film has aged incredibly well. Coming out of Phase 1 very few people really talked about Captain America with great aplomb, instead raving about the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. But after the far better received Winter Soldier, the MCU shifted focus to give Cap the spotlight, which in turn made people take another look at his origin movie. It’s hard to believe people weren’t raving about it at the time, because it is STUFFED with elegant understanding of its titular character. Skinny Steve outfoxing every challenge thrown his way during his army training before being transformed into an adonis only to be relegated to ‘a chorus girl’ who has to earn everyone’s respect is a tremendous journey. Peggy Carter is perfect, Red Skull is a decent villain and the montages of the Howling Commandos causing trouble for Hydra are tremendous, leading to a surprisingly effective alt-history World War II movie that addresses an important chapter for Captain America and leaving him in a position to execute what turned out to be his strong suit: politically charged stealth action thrillers.
8) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Matt: This movie has topped an awful lot of lists for best film in the MCU and a large part of that may be that it felt more adult, tapping into espionage and political intrigue. Shane Black did his best to bring a sense of directorial identity to Marvel with Iron Man 3, but a lot of it was walked back during production, so in many ways the Russo brothers enjoy the honour of breaking the formulaic mould of previous movies. But for all of the excellent genre work, the film is still a superhero movie, demanding a bombastic motorcycle vs fighter jet sequence and the awful ‘insert three keys to win’ ending. Still, its key action set pieces are among the very best in Marvel, and the spy games were excellent, with one of the most radical shifts in continuity in the reveal that a large portion of SHIELD were in fact Hydra agents. If they’d stuck the landing this would be positioned a lot higher, but this is THE ‘but the third act sucks’ film, a trope that has haunted Marvel for several years and they’ve only recently started to shake off.
7) Thor: Ragnarok
Ben: Thank you Taika Waititi, you saved the Thor franchise from being the perennially dunked upon child of the MCU. Iron Man and Captain America, both got to have widely acclaimed trilogies (Iron Man 2 notwithstanding), whereas the first two solo movies featuring the blonde Asgardian were…. Not as well received. So how does this movie separate itself from what came before? By holding nothing sacred and forging its own completely new path. Beloved characters from the other movies? Dead. Asgard? A pile of rubble by the end. Thor’s flowing locks? Chopped off by Stan Lee before he goes and fights Hulk in gladiatorial combat on another planet. Thor: Ragnarok is the breath of fresh air this series needed, it’s funny, stylish and it looks incredible. This is the best and most comfortable that Chris Hemsworth has ever felt as the character and the decision to make this a two-hander with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner was inspired. Oh and if you’ve listened to the podcast you might have heard us harp on a bit about Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie. She’s pretty good too.
6) Spider-Man: Homecoming
Matt: As quite possibly the biggest fan of this movie on the planet, I feel I must clarify that Ben did NOT have it sniffing at the Top 5. But I LOVE Spider-Man and I have been frustrated with all five previous big-screen outings for various reasons. In Tom Holland I have my Peter Parker. In Homecoming I have my Spider-Man movie. Forgoing a third telling of the origin story in favour of a younger, more optimistic version of the character was an inarguably good decision. The film’s young cast are believable teenagers with a fun group dynamic and Michael Keaton dances circles around Alfred Molina as one of the best villains in superhero movie history. The film is filled to the brim with winks, nods and references to the ongoing continuity, albeit at the cost of breaking the timeline. It riffs on previous Spidey tropes and takes things in an exciting new direction, managing the impossible task of feeling fresh despite being the second reboot of a film that came out less than 20 years ago. The best Spider-Man film to date. Period.
5) Iron Man 3
Ben: This is probably the movie that our mutual affection for made us want to do a podcast series analysing these films in the first place. Over the years, Iron Man 3 has become unfairly maligned, despite being legitimately one of the most fun movies the MCU has given us. Hiring Shane Black to write and direct this movie was a stroke of genius, especially considering his prior work with Robert Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Whilst Iron Man 2 hewed too close to the original movie, Iron Man 3 wasn’t afraid to change things up. Tony having to function without his suit and interacting with the kid are fantastic left turns from what had already become a fairly rote formula only two films into the franchise. And that’s without touching on the most ingenious thing that this movie does, The Mandarin. Sir Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of Trevor Slattery aka The Mandarin is as inspired a twist on comic book origins as they come. In the source material, the character of The Mandarin is at best a racist caricature that wouldn’t stack up on film. So instead Iron Man 3 turns it into a commentary on how the media manipulates our thinking when it comes to terrorism. Yes the final act isn’t great, and Guy Pearce is kind of wasted, but even those things don’t detract from what this movie gets right, which really is a hell of a lot.
4) Guardians of the Galaxy
Matt: While I’ve tended to knock this film down a ranking or three because comedy films aren’t as effective the second time around, I was doing it a great disservice; There’s a lot more to Guardians than some funny one-liners and an adorable tree monster. James Gunn created something that transcended ‘the superhero fad’, penetrating the mainstream in a way no other Marvel sub-franchise had managed. The implementation of Awesome Mix vol. 1 and a more lighthearted focus centred around the formation of an unlikely family of cosmic weirdos made this possible. It just felt far fresher than previous fares, so much so that the awful villain and controversial dance-off ending couldn’t put a dent in its critical reception.
3) Black Panther
Ben: Black Panther is the best standalone movie that Marvel have made. I do think that the two movies ahead of it on this list are more emblematic of the new style of ‘cinematic universe’ film-making that Marvel and Disney have been going for these last few years, but when the MCU is over, Black Panther will probably be the film that is elevated above it. What Ryan Coogler and co. achieve with this movie is nothing short of sublime. We could analyse the insane box office numbers for this film or we talk about how this is the best cast for any Marvel movie. But whilst those things are important, they pale in comparison to the fact that this movie, still only 3 months away from its initial release by the way, is a genuine cultural touchstone. It deserve to be spoken about not only as one of the best superhero movies of all time, but one of the most important films ever released, especially when we’re talking about big budget movies. What this movie achieved is not going to be met any time soon…at least until Black Panther 2 is released.
2) Captain America: Civil War
Matt: While The Avengers proved from a business model perspective that you can get audiences to go see several loosely connected movies that build to a team-up film, it’s Civil War that caps off the narrative journey of the ‘Cinematic Universe.’ The film plays off dozens of character moments and plot-lines from previous movies in sublime fashion, supported by incredible writing, more amazing Russo Bros. action sequences AND the MCU debuts of Black Panther and Spider-Man. It’s also the closest we’ve come so far to a superhero film not having a true villain, with Zemo taking a backseat to stoke existing fires, not seeking any kind of final confrontation. While some people projected Infinity War as ‘The Big One’ that pays off everything we’ve seen to date, that’s what Civil War already is. Plus, Chris Evans bicep curls a helicopter so I like men now.
1) Marvel’s Avengers Assemble
Ben: I don’t think I can overstate how important it was that this movie *HAD* to work. This was what the last 5 years of movies had been building up to, the culmination of the fledgling MCU. We’d seen that a superhero team-up could ostensibly work on screen with the X-Men movies, but this was the first time anyone had tried to combine 4 film franchises into one movie before. And it’s still kind of astounding that it worked. Director Joss Whedon, best known at that point for his television output, had only one feature film director credit under his belt (which was just a bigger budget version of an earlier TV project) managed to use that TV know-how to deftly balance the requirements of all the cast members being crammed into this movie. Nothing feels overdone or out of balance. All the characters are serviced well (apart from Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, which Whedon goes a long way to atoning for in Age of Ultron) and actually more definitive character work than they even got in their solo outings. The tone, the banter and the scale of it all manage to sell the fact that this is something big, not only in the film, but what it means for cinema. All of this concluding in one of the most braveau pieces of filmmaking in the MCU, with the breathless action of the third act serving as a victory lap for the whole of Phase 1. From that first shot of all the Avengers on screen together on screen for the first time, with the Alan Silvestri score swelling in the background, to the moment where Hulk grabs Loki mid-monologue and repeatedly smashes him into the floor. This is what fans had been wanting to see from these heroes for years, and no matter what you think about this movie, it certainly delivers.
Our Marvel takeover is in full effect. Even though the movie is out you should still check out our Infinity War preview podcast, because we probably got a lot wrong and that’s always funny! There’s also our great big list of MCU lists and our review of Black Panther with more ‘great’ content coming next week!
If the whole superhero thing isn’t your bag then please check out From Broadcast Depth, a podcast all about the cultural phenomenon that was LOST, presented by Kevin Ford & Ben Lundy. If nothing else, they’re not Ben & Matt.