You might find it hard to believe, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will soon be turn 10-years-old. Since 2008, the universe has grown on a monumental level, and it has changed movies forever.
Having all of these incredible characters live in the same world, crossing over and teaming up, was something that had never been done before. It’s also proven immensely profitable, which is why most other active franchises are trying to emulate their success, with the ‘cinematic universe’ the hot topic in Hollywood right now.
Marvel Studios haven’t just changed one genre. They really have changed movies forever. But, even now, they still rule the roost. The MCU has become the most successful movie franchise of all time.
It’s not all gold, though. Although none of their movies are what you might call ‘awful’, some entries are certainly weaker than others. With Thor: Ragnarok set to be released later this year, let’s take a look at all 16 films so far, from the worst to the very best.
16. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
This was the second entry in the MCU, being released shortly after Iron Man, but not even coming close to its success. Sure, it was a major improvement on Ang Lee’s strange Hulk movie from 2003. There was more action, and a much more convincing performance from Edward Norton, but it still failed to excite anyone.
When people discuss the MCU, this isn’t a movie that regularly comes up. Most people forget it existed. Despite being far more watchable than Ang Lee’s effort, it still manages to be the slowest and most boring movie in the franchise.
The truth is that Hulk is not a character that works in his own movie. He’s not relatable enough. He works best as a character that pops up in other movies and smashes things. The studio is clearly aware of this, and the character has improved greatly as a result.
Ruffalo ended up being a better Hulk, and Norton ended up giving us movies like Moonrise Kingdom, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, so everyone was a winner. But, having a different actor makes this film feel even less a part of the franchise than it already does. It’s the most forgettable film that the MCU has put out, and it’s the only one that you could skip and still make sense of the story. For that reason, it’s the worst film in the franchise so far.
15. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
This movie has plenty of problems, but let’s start with Malekith, who is by far the weakest villain that the MCU has produced. He lacks any one exciting moment, and barely shares any screen time with Thor, so it’s hard to care about any of it. The writers seem to have sacrificed Malekith to give us more Loki.
Look, Tom Hiddleston is amazing as Loki, we all know that. But, he doesn’t need to be in a movie just because he’s popular. He needs to have a point. Loki is entertaining in this, as always, but he has no real impact on the plot whatsoever until the very end.
Natalie Portman’s character of Jane Foster is at her worst, here. She is comfortably the least popular character in the MCU, and it’s not hard to see why. In the beginning of this film, the story lets us believe she might actually do something relatively interesting, but she resorts to being a simple damsel-in-distress by the end, becoming a character less useful than Lois Lane. It’s a shame that an actress of Portman’s calibre can be quite so wasted, but she really has nothing to do here.
This movie isn’t poorly made. The action is competent, and it’s still entertaining enough to watch, with a mostly effective use of quips, and one of the franchise’s best cameos, but the film has a lot of issues, a forgettable villain, and it doesn’t seem to know what direction it wishes to take.
14. Iron Man 2 (2010)
A common mistake many superhero movies make is trying so hard to set up future movies that they forget to just get one right first. Iron Man 2 is one of those movies, so focused on setting up The Avengers that it forgets to be a decent Iron Man movie.
Samuel L. Jackson gets some decent screen time here as Nick Fury, but his character only exists to advertise The Avengers. Scarlett Johansson makes her first appearance as Black Widow, and she’s very good, but it still feels forced.
Because the movie spends all this time on sub-plots, including a strange one with Sam Rockwell, it means that its main villain, Whiplash, gets completely sidelined. He’s as disposable as Malekith, which is a shame, as Mickey Rourke could have done something interesting with the character if given the chance.
It doesn’t help that Tony is pretty unlikeable in this film, too. In its predecessor, he was arrogant but human, whereas in this, he just seems like a rude drunk billionaire. That’s a big problem in a movie that revolves around its hero.
Iron Man 2 does have fun moments, it still has a killer soundtrack, and Robert Downey Jr. is very watchable, but the film side-lines its main villain and even its protagonist for the sake of the Avengers, and ultimately that’s its downfall.
13. Thor (2011)
Thor isn’t as bad as its sequel, but it’s not great either. It’s only slightly more memorable, and it’s not a film that really excites you on any level. You sit and you watch it, you chuckle in places, you ‘marvel’ at the special effects… but, ultimately you forget about it the next day.
Enough has been said about Jane Foster in the Thor movies, but her friends are just as frustrating. The futile attempt at turning Kat Dennings into comic relief falls on deaf ears. Even Thor’s friends are drastically underdeveloped, which eliminates any possible emotional attachment to them.
Loki is pretty underwhelming here, too. He’s a character that never reached his full potential until he became the main villain of the Avengers movie, despite Tom Hiddleston’s consistently terrific portrayal.
Chris Hemsworth is truthfully very good in the role of Thor. He was born for the part, but the movies are by far the weakest in the franchise. He just doesn’t get the kind of quality material given to characters like Iron Man and Captain America, and you can’t help but think he deserves better.
The Thor movies are the most forgettable in the MCU, plain and simple. Maybe this is because the character simply doesn’t have the potential for great standalone films. After all, there is only so much you can do with a magic hammer.
Or, maybe they really can be better. We’ll have to wait until the release of Thor: Ragnarok later this year to find out.
12. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3 is considered by some to be the worst film in that trilogy, but it’s definitely better than most give it credit for.
The film was brave enough to spend more time on expanding the inner character of Tony Stark and, while that may have bored some people, it was very welcome after the unlikeable guy we were given in Iron Man 2. This time, we were actually given somebody to care about.
The downside to this is that audiences were given far less action. He spends very little time in the suit and that left many fans feeling disappointed.
This film officially went too far when it destroyed its main villain, The Mandarin. The character is Iron Man’s ultimate nemesis, and Ben Kingsley’s portrayal was initially spectacular, but the writers then made the strange decision to make the character a random British actor, for no other reason that some cheap laughs and a silly twist.
The film was written and directed by Shane Black, an iconic filmmaker who clearly had some interesting ideas, but ultimately the lack of action and the odd decision with The Mandarin left a lot of people feeling very angry, and you can’t really blame them.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The Captain America trilogy was one that improved with age, with the First Avenger being the character’s weakest outing.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have any positives. Chris Evans is absolutely made for the part of Steve Rogers, whose character arc is one of the best that the MCU has told. He is a true hero and a force for good.
The World War II setting gives the film a nice edge, and Rogers’ friendship with Bucky Barnes has more weight to it now that Bucky’s story has taken the direction it has. Hayley Atwell is very good as Peggy Carter, and she and Evans share good chemistry.
That being said, the film still has its flaws. Red Skull is one of the most exciting villains in the comics, but winds up being no more engaging than anyone else. At no point does he feel that threatening, leaving us with a conflict that lacks any genuine excitement. Also, the effects aren’t always that impressive, by Marvel standards (the skinny Steve Rogers we see at the beginning uses effects that already look a little outdated).
The film has its saving graces. It has genuinely good performances, a strong character arc for its protagonist, and it is certainly cool to see where it all began, but the truth is that Marvel has done far better since.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017)
This isn’t a bad movie by any means. It’s certainly a lot of fun, but it still has its problems.
This whole film feels as if a group of people sat in a room and made a list of all the reasons the first one was so popular, and then just did the same thing again.
While the humour in the first film felt very natural, this film’s jokes feel forced. Most of them work, but some really do fall flat. The whole movie just feels too eager to please.
It also lacks a memorable soundtrack, which is a shame because the music was one of the most iconic things about the original.
Yet again, we are given a disposable villain, and at times, the CGI looks quite poor, including a strange moment on a ship which looked like a cartoon.
That being said, most of the humour works and the film remains very entertaining for the most part. There are some good action sequences here, and the performances are all on form. Also, the direction that the film took with the character of Yondu was a great choice, leading to some emotional beats at the end that were missing from the first film.
For the most part, Vol. 2 works very well. At no point is it boring, and these films remain two of the most fun instalments in the franchise, but it feels a lot more cynical than the original, lacking the same magic.
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Age of Ultron certainly wasn’t boring, and for the most part, it gave the fans what they expected, so what did it do wrong?
The truth is that this movie had a disadvantage over its predecessor. The Avengers teamed these characters up for the first time, and for most people that was enough to create goosebumps. Now that’s been done, Age of Ultron couldn’t just rely on putting all of the characters in the same movie. It had to give us something more. The sad truth is that it didn’t.
The movie suffered from being too busy. It was all about the world-building, dropping in hints at future movies, and those scenes often felt out of place, getting in the way of the action.
Again, Ultron was a disappointing villain. The character looked amazing in the trailers, and James Spader had potential, but ultimately the character’s threatening persona was sacrificed for some cheap laughs. These lines were funny in the moment, but it’s only later that you realise those jokes came at the expense of a good villain.
That being said, Age of Ultron is more enjoyable than most would suggest. The Avengers movies don’t need to have the same emotional impact as the standalone stories. Those smaller films are able to expand the plot, but the Avengers movies are really there just so that the fans can sit and watch their favourite characters come together and beat up a bad guy. Age of Ultron gave them that in droves, with some pretty amazing set-pieces thrown in, and it was hard not to be entertained by it.