With the new Avengers Ininity War movie about to hit our big silver screens Getintothis’ Billy Strickland picks the Top 10 films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ten years, 18 films, and too many comic book characters to count on two hands, Marvel Studios have accomplished something truly marvelous (pun absolutely intended).
They’ve created a cinematic universe, the first of its kind; the blockbuster behemoth that takes the cake every time a new entry is released. Other studios have tried to replicate what they have done and failed but this somewhat biased writer won’t name any names.
Now they have reached their end game; Avengers Infinity War. It has all been leading to this. Featuring nearly every superhero introduced so far, about 60 if this avid fan memory serves any justice. And that is a big number.
Not only that but directors and brothers Joe and Anthony Russo will introduce Thanos! A villain they have stated to be ‘this generation’s Darth Vader’, and as the mad titan (played by Josh Brolin) blasts his way through the cosmos towards Earth the only thing to do it take a look at the 10 best films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe…
Speak the name Ant-Man to any person who knows nothing of the character and the response will most likely be a something along the lines of “Pfft, Ant-Man? How ridiculous!” or “How does he get his powers? Does he get bit by an ant?” But Marvel had a lot of faith in this extremely unknown insect inspired hero.
Yes, Marvel had already took a big leap with Guardians of the Galaxy (their first real risk), but this was different due to the reasons stated above. People just didn’t know who he was but in glorious Marvel fashion, they pulled it off superbly!
The film is a comedy hands down, but it’s also a heist movie. A concept introduced when original director Edgar Wright was writing his script before being replaced by Peyton Reed. The film introduces long time comedy actor Paul Rudd as the main protagonist, and this is absolutely the highlight of the film.
As an audience member who knows where Paul Rudd started and to see him in a role of this stature, making it his own and absolutely loving it, it’s hard not to feel high for the guy, he’s having a blast! Side character Michael Peña also shows himself having a good time and honestly has some of the funniest moments in the film.
Out of all the films, Ant-Man really stands out on its own. It allows viewers to forget about this giant world filled with aliens and superhuman heroes and brings it back down to a normal level… well, as normal as a film about a man shrinking and talking to ants can be.
It’s just a lot of lighthearted fun that knows how ludicrous it is and plays on that fact. In the end though, it establishes itself as something actually quite credible (for the MCU) and fits right in to the fun corner of the universe along with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man.
This writer will admittedly state that Thor is at the bottom of the list when it comes to deciding on the best superheroes of all time. His past films have been bland, horribly directed, and ultimately some of the worst in the entire superhero genre, but say hello Mr Taika Waititi, or the man that can be called ‘The One who reTHORght Thor’.
Director Waititi gave new life to a character that evidently shows there is a lot of colorful fun storytelling potential to be exploited. Essentially a reboot, Ragnarok unleashes the fun side of the character with a glorious 80’s vibe (heavy synth soundtrack) and eye-poppingly vivid visuals. It’s like nothing seen before.
Set in the vast reaches of space, and with a tone and style similar to that of Guardians of the Galaxy, the film really benefits from the ‘no earth’ setting unlike Thor and Thor The Dark World. With a comedy style also to match the Guardians, it’s no wonder why Thor will feature heavily with Rocket Raccoon and Groot in Avengers Infinity War.
It isn’t just all about the main character though, another big and green familiar face makes a substantial appearance within the film, and he won’t like it if you get him angry. Hulk! That’s right, Mark Ruffalo‘s stand-out Hulk is in the film.
Last time audience members saw him he was flying off into the sunset in a jet due to uncontrollable condition, much to Black Widows dismay as their blossoming relationship was left in the unknown. This time he’s a gladiator champion in some far-off planet, again evolving one of the MCU least popular characters for the better.
The team up of the two gives the whole film a somewhat ‘buddy cop’ vibe which is very welcoming and just goes to show that anything can happen in this ever-evolving cinematic universe. It’s a film that proves everything doesn’t always have to be a serious as it is, and once in a while some lighthearted fun is essential to keep fresh and keep on going.
- Captain America The First Avenger
Essentially, the first adventure in the Captain America trilogy is the first part of the Marvel story.
Set in in the height of World War II, it follows the story of scrawny underdog Steve Rodgers who, through every desperate attempt to enlist in the US Army is turned down due to a wealth of health and physical problems.
Luckily he is granted a chance, a chance to become something more. That something, of course, is super soldier Captain America.
Directed by Joe Johnston, probably best known for The Rocketeer (1991), realistically throws the hero into the Marvel universe and gives the film a ‘old school’ vibe to it in terms of blockbuster action filmmaking which makes it almost heartwarming to watch.
As far as CGI goes for a 2011 blockbuster, it isn’t bad, but comparing it to a film today, it just doesn’t hold up. That aside it’s really the story and characters here that shine.
As already stated, Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) is a loser. He’s skinny, has but one friend, and always loses in a fight. But he’s got heart. “I could do this all day” Steve says courageously to a bully after he’s just tried his hand in a fight and from that point on audiences know that this guy has got what counts on the inside. Tommy Lee Jones provides a humorous performance that solicits genuine laughs alongside British actress Hayley Atwell (whose character proved so popular that she received her own TV show), Peggy Carter.
‘Red Skull’ is brought to hellish life by the intimidating Hugo Weaving as a typical villain and he simply wants to rule the world. It’s the performance by the actor that keeps it compelling. Weaving has actually stated however that he’s got no feelings towards the role and wouldn’t want to reprise his role due to the tedious makeup process.
The whole theme of the film is about doing the right thing and not changing who you are. Steve Rodgers is a good man and just because he becomes the symbol of hope in a time hope was needed most in America and the rest of the world, he remains a good person. This is what makes ‘Cap’ one of the most real and relatable superheroes ever.
It’s simply one of the best films in Marvel’s Phase One.
- Guardians of the Galaxy
Back when the only Marvel films that existed were the X-Men and Spider-Man films (pre MCU) did anyone in the world really think that a superhero film set in space starring a walking tree and talking raccoon would really be something of the norm?
Marvel took a very big risk with Guardians. General audiences had no clue who the Guardians of the Galaxy were- and better still it was totally different from what had gone before. But when you take up-and-coming star Chris Pratt and make him a suave space action hero and have an original soundtrack full of classic hits in the backdrop, the film is evidently going to be a hit. It ended up being a great risk worth taking for Marvel, and audiences fell in love with these new characters thanks to director James Gunn.
Chemistry between all of the main actors is one of the biggest aspects that really makes this Star Wars-esque adventure really work. The charming exchanges and genuine comedy, especially and surprisingly from Dave Bautista‘s Drax the Destroyer, are a blast to watch as is Rocket Raccoon’s (voiced superbly by Bradley Cooper) comedically angry one liners. The loveable innocence of Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, the tall tree somewhat resembles Chewbacca from Star Wars and his relationship with Rocket Racoon is a hilarious match up.
Probably the most obvious aspect of the film that makes it different to any of the other entries is the inclusion of the original soundtrack. Serving as a vital part of the films story and the development of Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, rather than to just be in the background to make the film seem ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ and titled Awesome Mix Vol. 1 which is carried around at all times by the characters side in a Walkman (and somewhat younger viewers may have been baffled by that.)
Given to him as a gift from his dying mother (Earth 1988, as the film states) she tells the young Star Lord to “open it up when she’s gone” to which he does in a personal emotional moment that even reveals few little things about his ‘superhero’ name. With hits like I Want You Back by The Jackson Five and Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede, it just adds another layer of charm.
The whole film is a compelling and pleasant exercise in stunning visuals and grand epic set pieces, telling a story of family and finding friendship in the most unusual of places, it struck a chord with the Marvel community and expanded the universe in such a huge way that audiences didn’t know back in 2014.
- Captain America The Winter Soldier
While up until this point Marvel had made great films and were doing very well, thank you very much. But the release of Captain America’s sequel elevated Marvel to a mature and serious place, starting their streak of hits, and made Captain America one of their most compelling characters.
Their first directing gig, Joe and Anthony Russo knew exactly how to handle the story of a man lost in time. The film becomes much more than an average entry into the Marvel series, but as a not just a great comic book film, but a great film, possibly the first great film they had released.
Part superhero and part conspiracy thriller (in the same vein as political thrillers of the 1970s, a huge inspiration for the directors), the film takes it time in telling a actual story and catching us up with the recurring characters and how their lives have been affected since previous films, especially Captain America – who must adjust to the modern world.
A very nice little touch from the directors includes a list of ‘things’ that Capt. Steve Rodgers has missed in his time as a popsicle (as Tony Stark would call it), from Star Wars and other films to types of food introduced into Western society and music- and even important historical events like the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall.
It’s nice little details like this that ground the absurdity of a superhero story into the real human world.
Apart from clever and well thought-out storytelling, the action is extremely fast paced, well handled in camera, and profusely choreographed.
In one scene, Captain America (spoiler alert), following upon the revelation of the films main villain actually being his long-time friend Bucky Barnes, they fight in hand to hand combat with such precision and intense speed there’s nothing the audience can do but sit and watch in extreme tension and nail biting nervousness as they watch the brutality unfold.
Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson (the sometimes seductive yet dangerous Black Widow), give possibly their best performances as the characters. They both spend a lot of time on screen together and naturally develops their relationship to a point in which audiences will asks themselves if some form of romance could blossom from the two.
The Winter Soldier is a prime example of a film that shows the filmmakers putting a lot of thought into every aspect of the project, adding to the authenticity and in turn creating a truly excellent motion picture, that anyone not just Marvel fanboys (this writer included), but all audiences can watch and become invested.
This was the film that really got Marvel on the radar and proved themselves to be much more than a money milking cash cow.
- Avengers Assemble
The big one! Well, the first big one. In 2012 this was the movie event of the year, and just like Infinity War is now, was highly anticipated. It was the culmination of every character Marvel had worked so hard to introduce, and it paid off immensely.
It was the first of Marvel‘s films to make over $1 Billion at the box office and it’s easy to see why. If you’ve got Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the incredible Hulk – along with other smaller characters like Black Widow, Hawkeye and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury on a poster hanging up in any movie theatre in the world, you know you’ve got a hit on your hands.
Word even has it that Marvel still actually was going to bankroll The Avengers even if their characters solo films before it were failures as they had so much faith in it as a film.
Directed and by Joss Whedon (plus his screenplay), the film could have easily been turned into a loud, special effects, explosion heavy extravaganza, but instead really takes its time introducing these characters to each other and bringing them together.
Initally the screenplay focuses on how bad for each other these characters are. For instance, Iron Man had it in for Captain America from their first meeting, throwing a sly dig his way here and there. It’s really about how these characters grow and learn to work together which serves the big pay off in the film’s final and epic battle.
Coming in just behind the Airport fight in Captain America Civil War, ‘The Battle for New York’ in this film is one of the biggest and best ever done.
With an army of aliens fast approaching Manhattan Island, the Avengers team up for one of the coolest and fanboy serving shots in the entire series. The Avengers did indeed Assemble.
In particular, there’s a stand out sequence in which the director uses the method of a long shot to show how this superhero team works together is very impressive. It follows the characters through different parts of the scene, showing off iconic fighting moves taken straight from the comics. It really captures the grand scale of the scene and the technical level of work behind the scenes.
It’s accompanied by a huge standout score by composing master Alan Silvestri, and his The Avengers Theme is worth the price of admission alone. It brings a sense of scale combined with superheroic teamwork.
Assemble was a big milestone and achievement for Marvel. It’s big on scale, colour and full of comic humour- basically it’s every nerd’s dream.
With the end of the film showing only the letter ‘A’ left on the Stark Tower and Tony Stark himself overseeing a rehaul before turning it into a superhero HQ, it teases and lets viewers know what this universe has become; and that there is much, much more to come.
- Spider-Man Homecoming
Marvel’s Golden Boy, their flagship character, the most popular and profitable one of them all. It’s the amazing Spider-Man!
This is a special one. Back in 2007, Sony Pictures decided they would reboot their Spider-Man franchise rather than carry on with the much-loved Sam Raimi series, and instead opt to create a new ‘darker series’ with The Amazing Spider-Man, which was released in 2012.
Now, skip forward two years to 2014, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released. Sony were pretty sure of themselves with this film, filling it to the brim with villians, an Oscar winning actor (Jamie Foxx), and a massive marketing scheme, they could almost taste the $1 billion mark but… sadly for them it didn’t work out.
Sony were sweating: what would they do now?
In their greediness, with Sony creating their own Spider-Man films, Marvel Studios couldn’t use their main man in MCU films. But after listening to the fans (the only opinions that matter, right?), Sony came to a solution which would allow Spidey to feature in the MCU. Fans everywhere cried with happiness, this long-time wall crawler fan included.
With almost perfect casting, Tom Holland, lives and breathes Peter Parker. With his young lad charm and teen awkwardness, you’d think the English actor was pulled directly from the page of the source material.
Making his grand debut in Captain America Civil War (“Hey Everyone”), stealing the Caps shield which is now a somewhat iconic image within the Marvel community, he got his own film; appropriately titled Spider-Man Homecoming. –
The film itself is a comedy, coming-of-age, teen drama, and a direct nod to the films of the late John Hughes.
Featuring Michael Keaton as relatable but terrifying villain ‘The Vulture’ and even adding a twist of genuine shock to the character, he brings a level of freshness to the somewhat oversaturated hero. Robert Downey Jr brings the star value as, obviously, Iron Man. Acting as a mentor to Spider-Man and in this universe even responsible for making his Spidey suit, which in a way helps the famous Spidey story fit into the Marvel series in a different manner.
And on that note, there is no origin story which many audiences will be happy to see, if not then their love for the man in a red and blue skin-tight onesie has just faded away, although the critical reception and box office gross for the film proved to the contrary.
- Iron Man 3
Readers may be surprised to see the 3rd act of the Iron Man trilogy gaining a place on this list and the first is nowhere to be seen. That’s because Robert Downey Jr’s. third outing as Tony Stark resonates more with this loyal fan.
Kicking off Phase 2 of the MCU, the first film set after the massive Avengers Assemble, Tony Stark deals with the aftermath of the New York Alien invasion and is stripped of all his fancy toys and gadgets.
Swapping Jon Favreau for Shane Black in the directors chair proves to be a much needed change as Black breathes new life into the character through his slick and smart script, applying witty humour that perfectly matches the personality of the film and its characters.
In the 90’s and 80’s Shane Black was a prominent and well-known name in the action film genre, with writing credits such as the Lethal Weapon films and even featured briefly in Predator. Handling both writing and directing duties in Iron Man 3, Black makes this entry into the MCU feel old fashioned, akin to the first way Captain America film.
It’s not just in the humour and character writing where the script shines but in the action sequences too. This film boasts one of the most nail biting sequences in all of the Marvel films. In a sequence involving a plane, one of the films villains blows a hole in the side of the aircraft and the entire crew is sucked out to their deaths. Presumably.
Iron Man comes to the rescue and devises a plan he refers to as the toy game ‘Barrel of Monkeys’. Each one of the crew members grabs the other and Iron Man safely escorts them to the sea below. The entire sequence is made up of quick and exciting editing, a cool as ever performance from RDJ and a tense score from composer Brian Tyler which makes it easily stand out in a series of films where action is everything.
Tyler creates a memorable and fitting score for the character, something he also did with Thor The Dark World, and it was much needed as the musical department is something Marvel definitely lack in.
Iron Man 3 may have not received the same amount of praise as its predecessors did even the fans of the comic books throwing much shade its way, but it has a special place in this writer’s heart.
2. Black Panther
When was the last time a comic book/superhero film was so revered?
Black Panther is a special film. It rapidly became the highest grossing superhero film of all time all thanks to the passion and love put into it by everyone involved.
It’s a celebration of African culture, black cinema, and shows off what superheroes have become nowadays and what they can be and mean for an audience.
It’s packed with loveable characters, gorgeous visuals, and heart pounding action, yet its strength comes from an excellently portrayed villain.
Michael B. Jordan, who worked with the films director previously on Creed is the man responsible for the charismatic and surprisingly relatable villain ‘Kilmonger’.
His whole presence dominates the screen and his motivations make the audience almost side with him rather than the heroes of the piece. The best villains of all time, in any film, are ones who really allow the protagonists to grow and develop within themselves.
Now, Black Panther does have its downsides; there’s some shoddy CGI work and lighting issues in the finale fight scene but make no mistake, it’s another superhero film that stands out amongst others, changes the game. Black Panther is not just a great Marvel film, but a great film in itself.
- Captain America Civil War
Captain America’s third and final solo story may overall feel like another Avengers outing, but if you really look at it, it’s the inclusion of other big names like Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Black Panther that are crucial for the development of the Captain.
Yes, Iron Man features heavily in this film, and while it’s a huge development for his arc it also pushes Steve Rodgers arc closer to its final days. It continues the already established grounded realism and seriousness that returning directors (The Russo Brothers) introduced.
With an immensely mature plot for a superhero film, it’s completely devoid of a ‘world domination’ seeking villain maintaining that level of maturity Marvel had created back with The Winter Soldier.
It feels as though this entry came at the right time, the entire MCU had been around for long enough for audiences to have found themselves fond of a certain character, which is why seeing Captain America and Iron Man facing each other down in theatrical release posters was truly saddening.
The brilliance, but also brutality of the fight scenes are in particular a tough watch for any Marvel fan.
In one truly heartbreaking and expertly crafted sequence (SPOILER), Tony Stark (Iron Man) discovers that Bucky, (the now reformed Winter Soldier and Cap America’s longest friend) was responsible for the horrific death of his parents.
This magnificent twist, paired with devastating performances all around, has got to be one of the best (if not THE best) moment in the entire series.
The end of this sequence leaves Iron Man defeated physically and almost mentally by the hands of his friend and the Captain gives up his mantle by dropping his shield in a moment of cinematic symbolism. It is hard hitting, but a necessary development to leave these characters in a state of dismemberment.
The film was the first appearance of Black Panther. Black Panther really stands and the directors proved this way back before his solo film became one of the highest grossing superhero films ever. The Russo Brothers did a great job of getting the audience to want more, and really invest in this new character that wasn’t that well known until after his first appearance in this film.
It was also Spider-Man’s first outing, and although feeling shoehorned in, was a welcome return for the much beloved wallcrawler.
With all these characters in glorious tow, the films epic battle featuring the biggest roster of heroes since Avengers Assemble takes place, and it is godly. Team Iron Man and Team Captain America.
Team Iron Man:
- Black Panther
- Black Widow
- War Machine
- The Vision
Team Captain America
- Scarlet Witch
- The Winter Soldier
If this line up doesn’t get moviegoers excited then nothing will. It’s like a child has opened up a toy box and let their imagination flow. This is absolute fun cinema making and an absolute joyous thrill to watch.
Ultimately, the film is follows the same themes as the first CA film but evolves and works them in ways around this new story and characters. Doing the right thing, not losing who you are on the inside, and always standing by what you think is right. Friendships are remade in this film and friendships are sadly lost, but in the end, it’s the consequences that will determine the future of these stories.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, simply put is a phenomenon. No other film series apart from Star Wars has had audiences so invested in its stories and characters. It’s introduced general audiences to these characters and realised the dreams of people who have known them since they first laid their eyes on a comic book panel.
Infinity War will be one of the biggest films of all time and will be the end of an era. But with an ending means a new beginning, a new era of heroes will join the world.
Ant-Man & The Wasp will release two months after IW and Captain Marvel will be the newest hero being introduced in 2019. It is clear that Marvel have no intentions of slowing down anytime soon and after all, the comic books have been around for nearly 80 years leaving a vast amount of stories to be adapted and told.
Here’s to another 10 years of Marvel films.