The Marvel Cinematic Universe has churned out a lot of great movies. Most people will agree with that, although there are admittedly some of you out there who either don’t like many of them or who are tired of them. I’m not in that camp. I’ve enjoyed almost all of them. And since we just saw the release of a new one, let’s celebrate them.
Here are the top 10 movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Avengers was the result of strong world-building, several years of hype, and something that seemed impossible just a few years earlier: a team-up movie with a bunch of superheroes who are all in the same universe. It’s fun, funny, entertaining, action-packed, and has some great visuals – but its importance to the superhero “genre” (for lack of a better word) is what will cement it in history.
Its success made a bunch of franchises try to build their own cinematic universes, but none of them came close to quality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why? In large part because they tried to rush it to capitalize on Marvel’s success. But they also didn’t have the vision (no pun intended) that Marvel did. It remains to be seen if anyone will match the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s quality and box office prosperity.
Part of the surprising aspect to the positive reception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies is how they’ve taken characters the general audience didn’t know a lot about and turned them into fan favorites. Black Panther first showed up in Captain America: Civil War, but in Black Panther became the lead of perhaps the best movie in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The world-building (even separate from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe), the character depth, and the themes allow Black Panther to feel more like a drama than a popcorn movie – but then it also delivers great action and a good number of laughs. It’s the total package.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Origin stories can begin to feel repetitive after a while. Just ask Doctor Strange, whose story felt a lot like Iron Man’s, but with magic. Captain America: The First Avenger is the origin story of Steve Rogers, who in the First World War becomes Captain America and has to take down Red Skull – whom I’m still waiting to reappear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if I’m honest.
Its plot is engaging, it doesn’t feel like its sole purpose is to set up The Avengers, the acting is good, the action is great, and the effects are top-notch. It’s a very good origin story.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
So, what do you do to follow up a very good origin story? You turn out a very good political thriller … that’s also a superhero movie. That’s one of the strengths that the individual movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been able to do – tack on different genre types onto the superhero template and be their own “things.” You know, like how Ant-Man is a heist movie. It’s more prominent in some than in others, but they all get their own identities, and that’s a lot of fun.
The Captain America movies have had the most political intrigue. The first one is about WW1, after all. The second one follows Rogers as he tries to take down Hydra, the evil organization from the first movie that remained dormant for a while before reemerging and choking the life out of SHIELD, the good guys, from within. It’s smart, but it still has more than enough solid action.
Captain America: Civil War
It was funny watching Captain America: Civil War only a little while after Batman v Superman, since the two movies essentially tackled the same theme. That theme, simplified, involves whether or not restrictions should be put on super-powered individuals. Captain America: Civil War is a good version of this idea.
It sees various members of the Avengers put on various sides of this theme and has them fight about it. It’s a Captain America movie, technically, so you can probably guess the side it winds up on, but it presents good points for both arguments. There’s also a main villain who is instrumental in getting the superheroes to fight each other – that’s his plan; since he’s not powered he gets them to fight among themselves. It’s a lot of fun, one battle in particular is great, and it does have something on its mind. It also feels like a mini-Avengers, which is usually a good thing; the star power alone makes it worthwhile.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The shining example of Marvel taking unknown characters and turning them into favorites is Guardians of the Galaxy. The film, which came out of nowhere for many people, took a rag-tag group of nobodies and threw them together to save the galaxy – in space!
It’s hilarious, it’s got solid action, and it does a very good job of introducing and building these characters, about whom most of us previously didn’t know much. It was, for a while, my favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. And it still might be the most fun.
Iron Man started it all. It was during a post-credit scene that the Avengers Initiative was first mentioned, and it sent audiences worldwide into a tizzy. Well, it excited the comic book fans, who had to explain it to the rest of us. Now, most of us are fans. It’s been an incredible ride.
We sometimes forget how good the first Iron Man is. It gets lost because of all the new movies – the shiny toys supplant the older ones. But Iron Man is a lot of fun, has a great turn by Robert Downey, Jr., and is solid action movie in its own right.
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 made a lot of fans mad because of what it did with The Mandarin, a character in the comics who matters, I suppose. That flippancy probably made a few readers mad, too. Now, I won’t spoil what happened here, for those four people who haven’t seen it, but it involves some misdirection that many people didn’t appreciate. For the casual fan? It’s a clever twist. It’s rare that movies can legitimately trick audiences, and when it happens it’s something to cherish, really, especially in the social media age.
The movie finally did a good job of exploring Tony Stark as a character. Iron Man 2 tried and failed at it, but in this one he’s stripped of his suit and has to deal with his own personal issues. It’s a more personal, intimate movie, and it’s what makes it good. The misdirection is clever, too, but it’s the way that it handles the character that makes it great.
I’ll admit to propping up Spider-Man: Homecoming a little more than perhaps it deserves simply by virtue of it being a very good Spider-Man movie after two terrible installments and one disappointing one. It had been over a decade since we saw the character in a good movie, and when he appeared in Civil war for a cameo it was enjoyable.
His solo outing, made possible because of a deal between Sony and Marvel (Disney), is a lot of fun. It’s the first time Peter Parker has felt like a real high school student. It’s really funny. It has one of the top villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And its action is pretty good. It also has one of the most suspenseful sequences in the entire franchise. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.
It took 3 Thor movies before its titular hero was finally in a good solo movie, but it happened with Thor: Ragnarok and we should all be glad. The movie is not only hilarious, but it also does a good job of reinventing several of its characters, making them more interesting in the process. It also deals with colonialism, and that added thematic depth makes it more engaging.
Also: Tessa Thompson steals the show.