This is part one of our efforts to rank every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Check back the rest of the week for all of our rankings leading up to our review of Avengers: Endgame on Friday.
To prepare for Avengers: Endgame, which hits theaters this week, four of Nerd It Here First’s staff — Ryley Trahan (Entertainment Editor), Deepak Chitnis (Senior Film Critic), Fred Naber (General Manager), and Jonathan Clee (Contributor) — took it upon ourselves to re-watch the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The purpose? To create a definitive NIHF.com Official MCU Ranking. Each of us individually ranked all 21 MCU movies from #1 (our favorite) to #21 (our least favorite). We then used the individual rankings to calculate a consensus ranking of the entire MCU, which we’ll be unveiling over the course of this week. We’ll be unveiling five movies per day until Wednesday (when we’ll do the top six), leading up to Avengers: Endgame dropping on Thursday night.
This first post will cover the bottom five: #17-#21. Each movie will also have a blurb accompanying it from whichever one of us ranked it the highest on our individual list.
21 | Iron Man 2 (2010)
Average Rank: 19.75 | Highest Rank: 18
Fred: Iron Man 2 is is an interesting successor to the original Iron Man. The cool and confident Tony Stark from the original is replaced with a man who has a death wish. While I’m glad they were able to fix this by the end of the movie, this flawed superhero is always more interesting than the 100% cool all the time Tony Stark. Fortunately, the nearly suicidal Stark gives way to a super badass Stark that we will see in future MCU titles, and that growth really fleshes out the character.
Iron Man 2 is also our first introduction to Black Widow, and while it’s not the best we’ve ever seen her, she’s subtly a really good counter to how Tony acts throughout most of the movie. After watching The Avengers and Iron Man 2, Black Widow’s skills as an infiltrator, a badass assassin, and a brilliant interrogator are fully displayed. The first point is harder to distinguish during massive alien invasions in New York, but it’s front-and-center when spying on the inventor of the Iron Man weapon.
If nothing else, Iron Man 2 is an entertaining movie that really shows how far the MCU has come and, coupled with other films, demonstrates how much these characters have grown over the course of the movies. For that reason alone, it deserves a watch.
20 | The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Average Rank: 19.5 | Highest Rank: 18 (x2)
Ryley: It’s easy to celebrate Iron Man as the start of the MCU. After all, it was the first, and is still one of the best movies in the franchise. But Iron Man could have been a one-off, simply the first in a successful superhero trilogy. It’s not at all hard to imagine a Dark Knight-style trilogy that began with Iron Man and built to a third film entitled The Avengers. That movie would wow us by putting Tony Stark on screen alongside Nick Fury and Black Widow for the full runtime.
But the oft-forgotten and much-derided second installment in the MCU ensured that would not the fate of the franchise. The Nick Fury Iron Man stinger announced that movie wouldn’t stand alone, but The Incredible Hulk opened up a universe. In 2008, Hulk was one of the most well-known Marvel characters. Due to contracts which had Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and others tied up with various studios, Hulk was the best-known character Marvel could use. The Incredible Hulk paired the world-famous green goliath with a declaration of the most ambitious project in film history. And audiences took notice.
The Incredible Hulk is far from perfect. The villain, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) could most charitably be called “over the top.” The plot is disjointed at times and flat-out unstable at others. Most of the jokes don’t quite land. And Edward Norton seems to have exactly no interest in playing Bruce Banner. But, at the same time, the film is has an infectious comic book feel to it that makes it fun. Not enough fun to make up for the film’s shortcomings, but enough fun to keep audiences coming back for more, and to birth a franchise that has (so far) spanned 11 years and 21 movies.
For more thoughts on The Incredible Hulk, check out our retrospective from last year.
19 | Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Average Rank: 17.75 | Highest Rank: 15
Ryley: Thor: The Dark World is not a great Thor movie — that much is clear. But even in an ideal world, it’s tricky to bring the very specific Thor mythos to the big screen. Sometimes he’s a god, sometimes he’s an alien, and sometimes he’s a regular guy named Donald Blake. It’s a particularly sticky wicket to try and deal with. And after Thor was the least interesting part of MCU’s Phase 1, the stakes for a sequel were higher than those for any other Phase 2 film. Unfortunately, Thor: The Dark World was also plagued by behind-the-scenes chaos.
The sequel to Thor was green-lit before the first movie ever hit the screen, when Kevin Feige announced in April 2011 that “Thor will go off into a new adventure” following The Avengers. To sign the less-than-enthusiastic Natalie Portman, Patty Jenkins was brought on to direct that adventure. After Patty Jenkins exited the film in 2011, the entire project entered a state of disarray from which it never fully recovered. Alan Taylor came on to direct, but Feige’s vision for the film remained predominant. Although he’s the auteur of the franchise, we rarely get insight into Feige’s worldview. After he’s helped bring over 20 movies to the screen, Thor: The Dark World is the closest we’ve ever come to a pure Kevin Feige film.
While Thor: The Dark World is not a great Thor movie, it might be a great Loki movie. The movie is the fulcrum between Loki as the villain of The Avengers and Loki as the entertaining co-lead of Thor: Ragnarok. It’s a story which brings Loki to a place where his character in Ragnarok and Infinity War make sense. It’s also the only MCU film that could be legitimately called a high-fantasy film. These distinctions make Thor: The Dark World a more interesting and exciting film than its reputation suggests.
18 | Ant-Man (2015)
Average Rank: 16.25 | Highest Rank: 15
Deepak: Ant-Man represents a conscious effort on Marvel’s part to recalibrate the MCU back towards relatively low-stakes and, for the first time, more family-friendly fare. Gone are the world-ending crises that other heroes have had to battle; Ant-Man is concerned with corporate espionage and making sure he doesn’t get run over by Thomas the Tank Engine. Frankly, this is a PG movie that they threw a couple of S-words into to ensure it got the more commercially friendly PG-13.
Still, despite being relatively unambitious, the first Ant-Man adventure provides solid fun, led by a charming Paul Rudd and his great chemistry with Evangine Lilly. The rest of the cast — Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, and others — are all having the times of their lives, and Anthony Mackie’s cameo provides some MCU connective tissue just in case Hank Pym’s constant Avengers references didn’t quite make that clear.
Each entry in the MCU is a building block, and in some ways, you could call the MCU cinema’s most ambitious world-building project. In that light, Ant-Man introduces a critical element to the fray: the Quantum Realm, which will take center-stage in Ant-Man and the Wasp and will likely feature heavily into Avengers: Endgame.
17 | Thor (2011)
Average Rank: 16.25 | Highest Rank: 13
Jonathan: Thor had the difficult task of bringing Asgard and its gods to the big screen as well as to the MCU. It also had the difficulty of introducing Loki who would become the Avengers’ big baddie for their first team up. It succeeds on both fronts, allowing us to believe that this magical realm (as well as others) are possible in the MCU and that Loki is enough of a threat to challenge the Avengers.
The cast is sometimes perfect and sometimes serviceable. The serviceable don’t detract from anything and the perfect, namely Hemsworth and Hiddleston, dominate every scene — not just in this film, but upcoming ones as well. Overall, Thor is a solid re-watch, but mainly for the purposes of setting up everything that follows it in the MCU.
For more thoughts on Thor, check out our retrospective from last year.