Now that Avengers: Endgame has been out for a month, I’ve had some time to think about ranking the entire 22 movie slate, which takes us through Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I’ve said before, I need to connect emotionally to a film for it to get highly ranked. While Endgame had emotion in spades, it had other failings that kept the ranking down for me. Initially, I thought it might have enough strength to eclipse Winter Soldier as my top choice. After the first viewing, I was sure it did, but after the second viewing I was not so sure. Now, a month later, and while great, it just doesn’t rise to the level of my top 5 MCU movies. Here is the way I see it.
#1 Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). The perfect superhero movie, especially for this character since the mix of spy thriller and superhero genre is Cap’s to own. Favorite scene – taking down at least 10 tough guys in the confined space of an elevator. And, oh, that car chase with Nick Fury – none better in cinema history. Emotional impact 5/5 with the reveal that Bucky IS The Winter Soldier. Yikes! Great action all around.
#2 Captain America: Civil War (2016). Find and protect Bucky at all cost. Now Cap has a new sidekick in Falcon. Iconic scene, a three-way rumble with Iron Man, Cap and Winter Soldier (now turned to the light). Favorite line, spoken by Iron Man – “I don’t care. He killed my mom.” Emotional impact 5/5. Truly gut-wrenching drama and betrayal.
#3 Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Great superhero origin story of the 98-pound weakling with an eagle’s heart. Emotional impact 5/5. I cried with Peggy as she lost her Cap. But you know you can’t keep a good man down. Not forever anyway. The loss of their love has lived over several movies now and is still hard to take.
#4 Iron Man (2008). What can I say. The movie that began it all was everything Marvel had come to mean from the first moment I began reading the books in the late 50s. Drama, action and laughs. Perfect movie and perfect casting of RDJ as Tony Stark. Emotional impact 3.5/5 with Tony realizing his genius can be channeled in a new way.
#5 Thor (2011). Perfect casting here as well with Chris Hemsworth in the title role. He makes the movie work with a secondary cast that really complements him. Favorite scene is when Thor regains his worthiness to wield Mjölnir and takes out the Destroyer in the whirlwind. Emotional impact 5/5, but not as you’d expect. The dynamic between father/son and son/son here is spot on and really drives the story. The Jane factor was secondary at best.
#6 Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Another example of how Marvel studios has been spot on in casting decisions. Perhaps the most fun of all the MCU movies and the most surprisingly good with quirky characters (talking bad ass tree and racoon). Emotional impact 4.5/5 with the loss of Groot and the scene where the 4 remaining Guardians wield the power stone to defeat Ronan the Accuser. Fantastic soundtrack of great 70s tunes.
#7 The Avengers (2012). A truly great team-up movie with great Marvel moments – bickering and quipping galore which produced some epic laughs (Thor: “You people are petty…and tiny”). Loki is back as the main antagonist as played by the Tom Hiddleston. This movie showed that the MCU could and would be sustained, so 2012 proved to be a milestone for Marvel with its success ($1.5B). Emotional impact: 5/5 with the death of Phil Coulson, a minor character, but in many ways the glue that held the MCU together up until that point over several movies.
#8 Avengers: Endgame (2019). The Russo Brothers came through big time in the end with a huge ending for Marvel fans to feast upon. All the major heroes get a character arc worthy of their time in the MCU to date. The movie was funny, well-acted, violent, well-paced, emotional, and thrilling, all packaged into a slightly over 3 hour extravaganza of superhero movie delight. It has something for all fans, but the center of the movie involves the core Avengers – Ironman, Thor and Captain America – and this is as it should be. The failings were plot and the use of Captain Marvel. I expected much more from The Russos than what they delivered, but this is relatively minor compared to the emotional punch of the movie. Time travel plot confusion notwithstanding, the movie is great (top 10 even), but it doesn't supplant one of my top 5 MCU films like I thought it might. Emotional impact (5/5): too much to get into here, but the deaths of Black Widow and Tony Stark stand out, and, of course, Steve Rogers gets that dance with his best girl, Peggy, giving him a very satisfying arc. Many tears shed in this movie.
#9 Avengers: Infinity War (2018). In the Russo Brothers we trust to lead us to the end of Phase 3 of the MCU with Avengers: Endgame. The first of the two-part culmination of the Infinity Stones saga (22 movies). Too much to go over here, but needless to say the emotional impact (5/5) is really off the charts as half the sentient life in the universe is wiped out with the snap of Thanos’ mighty fingers. Lots of our favorite heroes die in this one. I would have had it ranked higher if not for what the Russos did with Hulk. You want to watch Endgame to see if our favorite green rage monster redeems himself.
#10 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017). I really like the Guardians movies and this one didn’t disappoint as Peter Quill, aka, Star Lord, finally finds his father only to learn that he’s the biggest bastard in the universe. Great comedic moments again and with the addition of Nebula and Yondu filling the ranks of the Guardians. Another great team up movie to deal with a threat to the galaxy. Emotional impact (5/5) off the charts again of a sister/sister and daddy/son variety. Lots of tears shed in this one with a certain death as Peter realizes that he had his “daddy” with him all along. Another great soundtrack, this time from the 80s.
#11 Doctor Strange (2016). What’s the most important thing to you as a person, the thing that, if it’s taken away, your persona crumbles. For Stephen Strange, the world’s most famous neurosurgeon, it’s his hands. Another great movie with a perfect cast and an emotional impact (4/5) that lends itself perfectly with the character arc as Stephen Strange learns that his deepest impact is not, in fact, his use of a scalpel.
#12 Captain Marvel (2019). Another Marvel movie that earned over $1B at the box office. This film, set well before the lead film in the MCU (Iron Man) serves as the glue that ties all of the MCU together with its several important plot points. Emotional impact: 4/5 as Carol Danvers recovers her memories and discovers her purpose in the universe.
#13 Black Panther (2018). Another billion-dollar maker for Marvel and perhaps the best example of world building among all the MCU movies. Here we discover the hidden African Kingdom of Wakanda and learn how and why vibranium, a metal hugely important in the Marvel scheme of things, puts the earth at the center of the bullseye. Emotional impact: 4/5 as T’Challa, aka, The Black Panther, learns to be a righteous king.
#14 Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). An important intermediary Avengers movie as the Infinity Stones saga unfolds. Favorite scene here is the creation and birth of Vision (from Jarvis, Tony’s faithful AI). This serves to ground the emotional impact (4/5) of the movie as well. The movie shows how Tony’s genius can actually lead to dangerous developments with the creation of Ultron, the MCU’s quirkiest villain and in my book even scarier than Thanos.
#15 Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Since The Mighty Thor was one of my favorite Marvel heroes as a kid, I would have placed this movie higher, but Taika Waititi, the film’s director, took the character way too much to the comedic end of the Marvel spectrum, utterly destroying his persona built up in the first two Thor movies. But the movie isn’t bad by any stretch, with an emotional impact off the charts (5/5) with the destruction of Asgard and Thor’s hammer, and the death of Odin, his father. And, oh yeah, Thor loses an eye.
#16 Ant-Man (2015). A movie that ties in important elements of the Marvel Comic universe incorporated into the MCU, most notably, the Quantum Realm. Almost, but not quite as fun as the Guardians movies for the sheer comedic effect. Here, a smart thief learns to be a hero in the eyes of his young daughter. Emotional impact: 3/5.
#17 Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). The best cinematic Spider-Man and with perfect casting yet again, but for me the movie didn’t quite have the emotional punch I look for. Perhaps the best played villain in the entire MCU to date with Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, aka, The Vulture. Emotional impact: 3/5 as our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man learns to be a superhero in his own right.
#18 Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). Another Ant-Man movie with important implications as we saw in Endgame. Not as fun as the first Ant-Man movie, but this works as a vehicle for Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) and Evangeline Lilly (Wasp). Emotional impact: 4/5 as Hank Pym recovers his wife from the Quantum Realm.
#19 Thor: The Dark World (2013). The movie could have been better, but for one important point – Jane Foster (Natalie Portman’s character) should have been relegated to a reduced role. The comedy here fell flat, but the movie is an important connector to the Infinity Stones saga and the Ragnarok movie. Emotional impact: 3.5/5 as Loki, Thor’s brother dies, sort of.
#20 Iron Man 3 (2013). I would have liked this movie to have a higher rank, but its problems precluded that. Chief among them is turning one of Iron Man’s most iconic enemies from the comics, The Mandarin, into a fake and a fraud. This was heresy of the highest order, and the movie was the worse for it. Not that it hurt at the box office because it became a billion-dollar winner for Marvel Studios, the first non-Avengers film to do that. Emotional impact: 2/5. Tony almost lost Pepper in this one, but it never felt that way.
#21 Iron Man 2 (2010). As a follow up to a great film, this movie disappointed on a number of fronts. First, the recasting of Rhodey as Tony Stark’s buddy with Don Cheadle just didn’t work like the original actor (Terrence Howard) from the first movie. But the main problem was the antagonist (another man in an iron suit) was not original enough. However, there are Easter eggs in this movie that are important foreshadowing moments for the entire MCU. Emotional impact 2/5.
#22 The Incredible Hulk (2008). Coming on the heels of Iron Man in 2008, this movie introduced a different and better actor to play Dr. Bruce Banner, aka, The Hulk, than the one that followed. I believe Ed Norton and this CGI hulk is superior in every way to the character brought to us by Mark Ruffalo, who started in the first Avengers film (and has had great success playing the character). The problems: almost no emotional impact for me (1/5) with a week leading lady to play opposite Norton. A weak antagonist spoiled the movie as did a climax that failed miserably.