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FRANCHISE RANKED: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Beginning to take shape with the release of Iron Man in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe pulls the iconic Marvel Comics characters into a thrilling, live-action film franchise loaded with spectacle and super-heroics. Including feature length films, Marvel One-Shot short films, and episodic series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Daredevil, Luke Cage and more, the universe is far reaching and endlessly expandable. The series is successful, in part, because of the true nature of the stories, mostly keeping the feel and essence of those original comic stories and characters as they are being translated from books to film. In fact, it is by no mistake that the films are produced by Marvel itself at the helm.

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  • Black Panther

    1.Black Panther

    ★★★★½

    Marvel did a great thing introducing the character in such a big way in Captain America: Civil War so that his solo film could take off running, and that’s exactly what Black Panther does. It’s still Marvel through and through, but filled with incredible resources that hadn’t yet been tapped into. Fully realized black characters that don’t rest on stereotypes alongside advanced Afro-futuristic technology push this to be Marvel’s most important film. It showcases an inspiring superhero, the franchise's most complex antagonist, strong women with agency, and really an entire people and entire country that could be easily overlooked but are more than worth the attention. Black Panther breathes a much needed freshness into not only the MCU, not only the superhero film genre, but the film industry as a whole.

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  • Guardians of the Galaxy

    2.Guardians of the Galaxy

    ★★★★½

    Guardians of the Galaxy represents the first real departure in tone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Thor introduced otherworldliness to canon, it quickly resulted in the character learning of and living in earthly culture. Guardians is just the opposite, sparing no expense in being a wild outer space sci-fi romp, and feeling much more like a comic book related movie than anything in the franchise that has come before it. It is as exuberant in its style, colors and design as it is over the top in its story and characters. And while this misfit team doesn't quite work together like The Avengers, they are held together by a lot of heart. Guardians is a true cinematic feat with an unexpected touch.

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  • Avengers: Infinity War

    3.Avengers: Infinity War

    ★★★★

    Two major criticisms that the Marvel movies have received over the years are that the superheroes are so powerfully built up that nothing can take them down and that the villains aren't heavy enough. Avengers: Infinity Wars feels like a direct answer to both of these ideas, and works to completely subvert them. While showcasing so many characters automatically means they each get less screen time, they all stand the chance to really be taken down a peg (or two or three) in more ways than one. Simultaneously, Josh Brolin's Thanos is without a doubt the film's focus and has more depth than audiences were sure to expect. It's a captivating performance driving an overtly bleak film. By the movie's end, you're not quite sure what to expect from the future of the MCU itself, either, and that's refreshing.

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  • Captain America: Civil War

    4.Captain America: Civil War

    ★★★★

    The decision to plan and align the Marvel Cinematic Universe films so that Civil War would come out during an election year was a stroke of genius. More so than completely showing up that other Vs superhero movie from the same year, it really highlights the differences in perspective and outside sources that can simply drive friends and teammates apart. Despite the widening gap between Team Cap and Team Iron Man, the movie manages to balance a handful of superheroes well enough to let them all have character development, while maintaining Captain America and his once sidekick at the forefront as well as fully introducing new hard hitters like Spider-Man and Black Panther into continuity. A true example of what a superhero movie could and should be, Civil War is both dark and colorful, serious and fun, building on everything that has come before and gracefully setting up what is to come next.

  • Avengers: Endgame

    5.Avengers: Endgame

    ★★★★

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

    6.Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

    ★★★★

    With their second outing, the Guardians prove to still be the MCU's most fun sub-series, upping the hijinks and laughter to a slapstick level. Although nowhere near as sexy as the first outing, the full roster gets to shine here in a more character history driven story, and with a running theme all about family and relationships, they all individually get to add some depth to their character as well. In fact, it’s really the side characters who weren't as developed in the first movie (I'm looking at you Yondu) who become the most memorable of highlights. Oh, daddy!

  • The Avengers

    7.The Avengers

    ★★★★

    Seeing individual characters of this magnitude come together for the first time on the big screen is a big deal. These are characters that have navigated through pop culture for decades but, for whatever reason, could never be translated into successful movies until this franchise began, handled by the same company that originally created them. With a mainstream film following and most of their origins already developed, the superheroes are pitted together to take down a bigger force, culminating into a film that is epic on a level that the genre had never really seen before. The Avengers may not have been overly groundbreaking in its story or action, but this film as a whole is a definite moment in fanboy history.

  • Captain America: The First Avenger

    8.Captain America: The First Avenger

    ★★★★

    This underdog origin story does so much to set up a lot of the continuity in this franchise. Bucky, Peggy Carter, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, Stark Industries, The Avengers themselves and, of course, Captain America himself all get their grounding here. It's stylistic and vintage and yet not old-timey or dated. Even more important, it's inspirational and, yes, also all American in its tropes and propaganda, thoroughly setting the film in the 1940's. To top it off, Hugo Weaving as Red Skull is quite a vision.

  • Iron Man

    9.Iron Man

    ★★★½

    The Marvel Cinematic Universe took off in 2008 with the release of Iron Man starring Robert Downey, Jr., perfectly cast as industrialist playboy Tony Stark. The film immediately set the tone for what was to come from the franchise with exhilarating action, a captivating character, and a smart story that showcases both the extraordinary and inspirational sides of superheroes. Iron Man was an instant hit at the box office and amongst critics, which was obviously a big deal for a comic book publishing company that had produced its own big budget movie for the first time, and allowed the rest of Marvel's film canon to begin to unfold.

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier

    10.Captain America: The Winter Soldier

    ★★★½

    With an origin story and an Avengers appearance now under his belt, this is where Captain America's solo resourcefulness really begins to take shape. True, Black Widow, Nick Fury and the introduction of Falcon are all important here, but as associations crumble, this is the first time we really see Cap as an outsider, handling the situation on his own without a major team or army behind him. The film wonderfully reconciles Cap's past with the modern world, not only through the action that continually ratchets up just as the character himself gets used to it, but also through his relationships with others like Peggy and Bucky. This is where we really start to see Captain America as modern society knows him.

  • Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King

    11.Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King

    ★★★½

    Ben Kingsley brilliantly takes center stage out of the events of Iron Man 3. Set in a prison location, All Hail the King further explains the situation at hand, while simultaneously poking fun at it and creating a viable solution that leaves The Mandarin open for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, really, it's an excuse to see Kingsley, possibly the best part of Iron Man 3, work more of his manic magic in this character.

  • Ant-Man

    12.Ant-Man

    ★★★½

    Ant-Man is the perfect superhero antithesis to Guardians of the Galaxy. While Guardians is epic in its outer space scope, Ant-Man scales the heroics down to the tiniest points of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, and becomes a rather interior, but not inferior, film. It's so small, in fact, that it turns out to be more of a little heist film than a big superhero one, and its really a breath of fresh air because of it. But don't let that fool you. Ant-Man's action is still over the top and wild, possibly even more so because of its push into the minuscule.

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  • Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter

    13.Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter

    ★★★½

    Peggy Carter was such an important part of Captain America: The First Avenger, and such a fan favorite character, that the decision was made to spin her off into her own short film. Agent Carter, showcasing the first female solo lead role in anything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is as stylistic as the first Captain America movie and set in a time when women really weren't given opportunities to be in control. But Peggy Carter finds a way to take control, and really show that the women of the Marvel movies, whether superpowered or not, can hold their own. Still a fan favorite, the Agent Carter short catapulted Hayley Atwell into a mini-series of her own starring as Peggy.

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron

    14.Avengers: Age of Ultron

    ★★★½

    The Marvel movies really do have a set mold from which they are built, which, on one hand, often helps to create a shared universe that really feels like all of these stories take place in the same world. On the other hand, it can make the separate stories, on their own merit, feel stagnant, which Age of Ultron comes close to doing. Because the team creating these stories know how to expertly use this pre-made mold, though, a movie that could be boring is instead made exciting through great fan-service, getting to see the characters do exactly what you want them to do: battle it out. A new, charismatic and intriguing villain doesn't hurt either. This is a segue movie, moving the characters from one point to the other without any drastic change aside from that of the team roster, but it's not a problem. It's an enjoyable way to get ready for the next phase of films.

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  • Thor: Ragnarok

    15.Thor: Ragnarok

    ★★★½

    Thor: Ragnarok feels like a response to both the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and the failure of the DC film franchise, which is mostly dark and gloomy. That is to say, Ragnarok is overly vibrant and colorful compared to the previous Thor films, and really the non-Guardians Marvel movies as a whole. It marks a kind of change in the MCU where comedy seems to be the driving factor more than anything else, most likely thanks to director Taika Waititi. But to a detriment. The devastation here is never felt because its so light hearted. This also means that Cate Blanchett's Hela, as awesome as she is, isn't quite as fierce as one would expect her to be as the Goddess of Death. But then, there are so many great actors splitting time in this movie, and cracking jokes along the way, that none of them really get to show off at all. Some story editing and decision making would have really gone a long way with this one.

  • Spider-Man: Homecoming

    16.Spider-Man: Homecoming

    ★★★½

    In many ways, Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker we've seen yet and Homecoming is certainly set up for success with him, its lead in from Captain America: Civil War, and the fact that it knows we don't need another origin story. Unfortunately, the first half of this film still feels really slow in parts, and comes across as a Nickelodean teen sitcom. Fortunately, that's all a setup for Michael Keaton, brilliantly cast, to be truly threatening in the second half which turns intense at just a moment's notice.

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  • Spider-Man: Far from Home
  • Captain Marvel

    18.Captain Marvel

    ★★★½

    The Marvel Cinemative Universe finally gets its first solo female led feature in Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson. As a period piece set in the 90’s, it establishes and foreshadows many things that would come after it in present day, solidifying the characters importance to The Avengers and the MCU as a whole. Nick Fury and Agent Colton’s appearances in the film, digitally smoothing over actors Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg to make them look younger, are great. Likewise, Ben Mendelsohn’s leader of the Skrulls brought in a nice twist, as did the wonderful character Goose. While Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening and Gemma Chan begin to round out the film’s addition of interesting women to the MCU, the true excitement of this film is the set up of an important character to come later, Monica Rambeau, who is effortlessly portrayed here by the young Akira Akbar. While Larson herself doesn’t give the most charismatic performance, arguably on purpose, by the film’s end her character’s power is palpable, leaving us ready to see what she can do in the present day.

  • Thor: The Dark World

    19.Thor: The Dark World

    ★★★½

    If the Iron Man films are the overachieving first born of the Marvel Cinematic Universe family and the Captain America films are the baby that everybody loves, the Thor films are very much the overlooked middle child. The Dark World is fun in the moment because of its ability to take its audience somewhere new, and show them characters and superpowers unlike any others in the franchise. But once the film is over, I hate to say that even with its wonderful visual style and great performances, it just doesn't leave a very lasting impression.

  • Iron Man 2

    20.Iron Man 2

    ★★★½

    Not quite as pioneering as the first Iron Man, Iron Man 2 saw Tony Stark take the spotlight again, and also take the repercussions of the superhero lifestyle. While the basic plot of the film isn't as memorable, or important, as others in the canon, the seeds growing in the peripheral are certainly the backbone of the franchise. Nick Fury being given a bigger role, the progression of James "Rhodey" Rhodes (now and here-on played by Don Cheadle) into War Machine, and the first introduction of Black Widow in this film are major points for the series as a whole.

  • Thor

    21.Thor

    ★★★½

    Thor is a fantastic ride to the world of Norse Gods. Anthony Hopkins and Chris Hemsworth round out a cast who perfectly bring these characters to life, but the scene stealer here, and in most scenes he's in throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies is Tom Hiddleston as Thor's brother Loki. With one glance, you know that mischievous grin just means trouble, and his powers make it all the more fun. Unfortunately, this first Thor film only serves to introduce us to the broken family dynamic, and nothing more. With a brutally anti-climatic ending that really just feels unfinished, it at least leaves you wanting to delve further, knowing that there will be more to come.

  • Doctor Strange

    22.Doctor Strange

    ★★★

    Doctor Strange is an elaborate effects powerhouse. It really is beautiful. It also borrows heavily from previous popular films. And though the story is interesting enough, the characters are a bit too bratty to gain that interest. This is not a humble movie, though Doctor Strange's situation within the film calls for it to be. Instead its a movie made of bizarre decisions that distract more than entertain. But it sure is pretty.

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp

    23.Ant-Man and the Wasp

    ★★★

    The first Ant-Man came as a breather at the close of one of the MCU’s phases, perfectly placed for relaxing comedic relief. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a little different, unfortunately coming straight after the massive success of Black Panther and the heavy burden of Infinity War. Along with a higher stakes story itself in need of a serious suspension of belief to buy, the fun here just doesn’t come through as easily as it did the first go round, making this follow up feel a little more mediocre. It is great to see The Wasp finally in action though, in what is the MCU’s closest thing to a leading lady thus far.

  • Marvel One-Shot: Item 47

    24.Marvel One-Shot: Item 47

    ★★★

    Item 47 shows what can happen when a major weapon, like those used in the big superhero alien fights, falls into the hands of everyday civilians who have gotten in way over their heads. While not particularly special on its own, this short seemingly was important in exploring these kinds of smaller scaled stories that more than likely led to creating in-continuity shows, like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., for television and Netflix.

  • Iron Man 3

    25.Iron Man 3

    ★★★

    Iron Man 3 is a bit overkill for the character, but understandably so. These are superheroes, developed to take on problems on a larger, world threatening scale. The story of every film in a series of this nature has to up the ante and be larger than the one before it. By the time you get to Iron Man 3, trying to outdo the already larger than life Iron Man and Iron Man 2, there is nowhere to go but over the top, making the film quite a bit melodramatic in every aspect. It is not unenjoyable, but it is trying a bit too hard.

  • Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer

    26.Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer

    ★★★

    Clark Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson is easily the breakaway character, and he the breakaway star for that matter, to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Created specifically for the film franchise, not an already existing character in the comics, Coulson, along with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, was one of the first hallmarks of the shared universe, appearing in scenes in several films. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer leads directly from one film to another, and gives Coulson a moment to take the lead and briefly show what he's made of. Of course the character has become a fan-favorite, and the short helped prove that Coulson can indeed take charge of a story as he goes on to lead on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series.

  • Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant

    27.Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant

    ★★½

    Similarly to the other Agent Coulson short, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer, The Consultant feels less like a short film and more like a couple of short deleted scenes that have been strung together. While it does add the tiniest bit of depth to moments already known in the franchise, does more connecting of the overall world and the dialogue between Coulson and Agent Sitwell is clever, the short is pretty much a throw-away as we get all of that elsewhere already. It should be noted, though, that this was the first of the Marvel One-Shot shorts to be released, and they continually grew bigger and better from here.

  • The Incredible Hulk

    28.The Incredible Hulk

    ★★½

    The Incredible Hulk is often forgotten when it comes to entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and its not very hard to see why. While under Marvel proper now, this is still very much a rehash of director Ang Lee's previous Hulk film. Though the cast is great in their own right, they don't seem to quite fit here and create nothing memorable, even more so noticeable now that the franchise has moved on without them all. And as the character has shown more depth since this film while appearing in the films of others, The Incredible Hulk has become even more of a completely unnecessary film than it was to begin with.

  • Team Thor

    29.Team Thor

    ★½

    Team Thor is simply viral video marketing to get audiences excited for the next film in the series, Thor: Ragnarok. As it is spearheaded by that film's same director, it has clever jokes, but no plot or anything anything special. It serves no real purpose outside of creating hype and selling tickets.

  • Team Thor: Part 2

    30.Team Thor: Part 2

    ★½

    As if the first Team Thor short wasn't enough, the joke continues into a Part 2. So just re-read this list's previous entry's write-up, as it's really just a little more of the exact same thing.