Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens in just a few weeks and so I thought it would be a fun time to rock a new Top 10 list. There are currently 9-ish entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with 1 film so close that I suppose it counts. I could have waited until after Captain America is released to make a true Top 10, but I thought it would be more fun to build up some hype for the film to do it earlier. Hit the jump to see my countdown.
10. HULK (2003)
While Ang Lee’s infamous take on Hulk isn’t technically part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because it was made prior to the creation of Marvel Studios and their plans to create a cohesive universe of films, I’m including it for two reasons. For one, the 2008 Incredible Hulk film is, in many ways, a direct sequel to this film. And secondly, I needed ten entries in order to have a Top 10 list. That being said, in comparison to the other films, this one is a giant pile of dung. The choice of Nick Nolte as the film’s bizarre villain combined with overacting from the entire cast combined with Ang Lee’s experimental style for this movie all come together to create a mess of a film. There are some high points, including Sam Elliot as Thunderbolt Ross and, at times, the “panel” scene transitions were pretty cool. Unfortunately, these great aspects are overshadowed by the piles upon piles of poor choices in this film. I would recommend avoiding this one at all costs. It’s not worth your time or money.
9. IRON MAN 2 (2010)
The first Iron Man sequel was the third film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of the releases in the MCU, it is easily the most inconsistent. The charm of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark essentially carries this film through its lulls, but it’s hard to forgive how dull the villains were, despite being played by two of the finest actors in Hollywood. Similarly, it was great seeing Nick Fury and Black Widow getting major roles in this film, but the scenes that discuss the Avengers Initiative/SHIELD were simply too lighthearted and jovial, completely killing any tension being built in the main story. Plus, with all due respect to the fine actor that is Don Cheadle, he is not Terrence Howard, whose natural gravitas made Rhodey an interesting character in the first film. Cheadle is a great character, but he couldn’t bring the screen presence that Howard had. Iron Man 2 can actually be avoided and you’ll still enjoy the rest of the MCU films. Honestly, the only thing you are really missing is the badass suitcase Iron Man suit, but you saw all you need to know of that in the trailer.
8. INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
Iron Man was a humungous hit for Marvel Studios, which it needed to be. The only downside to how huge that movie was is that it set the bar too high for Incredible Hulk. It had a pretty good cast, including Ed Norton as Banner, Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, and William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross (the second best possible choice after Sam Elliot), but the cookie-cutter plot and the lack of interesting supporting performances kept the film from really keeping hold. The movie is little more than an extended chase scene. It’s something that can keep you interested for a single viewing, but I guarantee that you won’t be too excited for a second viewing, especially after seeing how well the Banner/Hulk dynamic was handled in The Avengers. It is certainly a step up from Hulk, but that doesn’t make it cinematic gold by any means.
7. AGENTS OF SHIELD (2013-Present)
It is really unfair of me to include Agents of SHIELD on this list when it is only ¾ of the way through its debut season—the story is far from over and, based on previews alone, there are huge things coming for the first Marvel television series. Much like Iron Man 2 and Incredible Hulk, the biggest problem with Agents of SHIELD is consistency. The slow burn of the first few episodes lost the interest of a lot of viewers, who sadly missed out on the considerably faster paced second act. The young cast are really interesting and have provided fine performances, but without any sort of grounded veteran characters, they seem too green to be taken seriously. They need someone to give them credibility beyond Agent Coulson (who remains as awesome as ever). As deeper mysteries are developing, the younger characters are being given strong backstories, which will do some to alleviate this issue. Perhaps the most important issue, however, is the fact that, aside from a few cameos and the aforementioned Coulson, the show feels entirely disconnected to the films from which it spawned. This changed in a big way a few weeks ago with the guest appearance of Sif, but if ABC and Marvel want to keep viewers interested, the connection needs to go deeper. My hope is that Season 2 will bring Maria Hill into the fold when the actress who plays here will be freed from her How I Met Your Mother duties. Add her into the mix, alongside a few big name villains and the show will finally start to live up to its potential.
6. IRON MAN 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3 was really the first entry into the MCU that brought a lot of controversy with it. The film was a huge hit at the box office, but the reaction was very polarizing. Either you loved it or you hated it. I’m closer to the former, though I can see some of the points that bother those in the latter camp. Iron Man 3, as the first post-Avengers film, was in a tricky spot to begin with. After you’ve seen all of the Marvel heroes together, why would you want to see them individually? Shane Black answered that by shifting the focus from the Invincible Iron Man to the very human Tony Stark. This is the closest thing we’ll see to an adaptation of the “Demon in a Bottle” comic storyline, with Stark’s alcoholism replaced with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the wake of the ‘Battle of New York.’ This means we see a broken Stark trying to make sense of the world around him—the futurist must not come to terms with the fact that he can no longer see what is ahead of him. The end result is a much more cerebral film than we have seen before, but crashing into the often dark humor that you would expect from director Shane Black. Plus people were PISSED at how the film handled The Mandarin (I thought it was awesome). It is hard to put this movie at #6 because I did enjoy it so much, so don’t think that I’m saying you should avoid it. This is definitely one you want to see.
5. THOR (2011)
While it may have been the third film in the MCU, Thor was really the first movie where it was clear that Marvel Studios actually had a plan that was coming together. In Thor, the scope was widened in a magnificent way with the introduction the Asgardians, but at the same time it also grounded the universe by expanding the role of SHIELD. That being said, Thor is a transitional film because of these other reasons. But it also stands on its own really well thanks to one of the deepest casts of any Marvel film, from the soon-to-be-big-names playing Thor and Loki to megastars Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins to a slew of freaking awesome supporting characters. Plus it had a director that could handle the grandiose scope (Thor is much closer to Branaugh’s lavish Hamlet than it is to Iron Man). While the plot is a tad thin, the memorable characters and geek out moments will bring you back for multiple viewings. While Iron Man’s success kept Marvel from going belly-up financially, Thor’s success is really what opened up the Marvel Cinematic Universe to being a financial powerhouse.
4. IRON MAN (2008)
Iron Man was the movie that started it all. Marvel put it all on the line (literally) by securing finances to produce their own films, but not having access to their most recognizable characters (Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Spider-Man), they had to use a character that the general populace knew next to nothing about. As comic fans, we have always known that Iron Man was cool, but to your casual movie goer, Iron Man is a complete unknown. Honestly, I thought it was going to fail. I am so glad that was wrong. The movie was spectacular. Downey Jr’s own life paralleled Tony Stark's and so he was completely believable as the character. Add in a very menacing performance from Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane and a great showing from Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts for flavor, plus some incredible visuals and the cameo-to-end-all-cameos by Sam Jackson and you have a brilliant starting point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the later movies may have more depth, this movie still holds up incredibly well and is well worth multiple viewings. In order to make this crazy plan work, Marvel needed a huge showing right out of the gate, and Iron Man delivered.
3. THOR 2: THE DARK WORLD (2013)
While I really enjoyed the first Thor movie, my expectations for the sequel were relatively low. I had never seen any films from director Alan Taylor, but with I felt that Kenneth Branaugh set a pretty high bar with the first film that Taylor would have to live up to. His film exceeded all expectations in every single regard. The film took the epic nature of the original and turned it up a notch with bigger action, new worlds to explore, and much more of the Thor/Loki relationship that we all came to see in the first place. Plus, much like Iron Man 3, the second Thor film incorporated a large amount of humor—which they both took from Avengers, but more on that later. This film really had it all—great action, fun characters, a solid romantic subplot, and some of Loki’s best moments thus far. For a film that could have easily phoned it in, Thor really kicked a ton of ass.
2. CAPTAIN AMERCA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
When the first Captain America film was released in 2011, Marvel’s plan for an Avengers film was already well on its way, so the choice to focus on Captain America’s origin could, in a sense, be considered to be a major risk. All of the previous films were set in contemporary times, building up to a huge film set in contemporary times. The easy answer for a Captain America film would be to cover the origin in the first 15 minutes and then spend the rest of the film showing him kicking ass with SHIELD in modern times. Instead, we don’t really see the “real” Captain America until nearly halfway through the film. The slow burn from skinny little Steve Rogers to the American military mascot to the ass-kicking superhero makes this the most character-focused film in the Captain America pantheon. It also might be the best acted of the individual films with superb performances from the entire cast. Chris Evans was especially impressive in this film, given that most of his previous outings were either strong but minor roles (Scott Pilgrim) or enjoyable but relatively mediocre leading performances (Fantastic Four), though I would argue that Hayley Atwell steals the show in her role as Agent Carter. In the end, Captain America is so good that I have been looking forward to the sequel more than any other Marvel movie and simply cannot wait to see the upcoming Agent Carter TV series.
1. THE AVENGERS (2012)
Was there any doubt this would be the top pick? With all of the hype and all of the build-up, Avengers had a lot to live up to and so I had an eerie sense of dread during the first few minutes of the film. By ten minutes in, I was completely sold. Joss Whedon took all that worked from the previous films and strung them together with his trademark mix of offbeat humor and heartbreaking gravitas, providing us with what can be considered the perfect superhero film. The Avengers works on every level, wastes absolutely no time, and leaves you wanting more. While every other entry on this list has flaws that still irk me when watching them, I can’t find anything about this movie that I can’t live with. The perfect cast (including new additions Mark Ruffalo, Cobie Smulders, and Jeremy Renner) came together with the perfect director to make a perfect summer blockbuster. There is a reason that this movie shattered nearly every single record in cinematic history—it’s that good. And thanks to this film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps getting better.
What are your favorites?