My Top 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies

In case you’ve been under a rock this past weekend, box office records were shattered by Marvel Studio’s release of the film Avengers: Infinity War. It had the highest-grossing opening weekend ever, breaking the record set by Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Why people were so drawn to Marvel’s movies is because of the iconic nature of the characters, the special effects and battle sequences, the intricate world-building, the mid- and post-credits sequences, and the excellent casting of the heroes, villains, and supporting characters. Infinity War marks the culmination of ten years of planning, as little details inserted into many of the movies have built up to this.

But I have yet to see it, so don’t spoil it for me.

However, I decided that in celebration of the movie’s release, I’d list my Top 10 movies from the combined MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). A year ago, I had only seen two of these eighteen movies. Thanks to someone very special to me, I can now say that I’ve seen the complete set. I was originally going to wait until the summer time—after Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp (which I can’t wait to see)—to do this countdown, but I decided that since Infinity War was such a monumental occasion, it is on a different level than a mere Top 10 list.

So here are my Top 10 MCU movies leading up to Infinity War. There will be spoilers because these movies have been out long enough that the people who wanted to see them probably have, but don’t comment with Infinity War spoilers. That’s just mean.

And note that Marvel obviously owns the rights to all the movie posters; the images are linked from Wikipedia pages for the films.

 

#10 – Thor: Ragnarok

Of the original six Avengers, I think that Thor is my favorite. I really like his lust for life, and Chris Hemsworth does a fantastic job portraying the Asgardian God of Thunder. Though I miss the supporting cast of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (the always exceptional Stellan Skarsgard), and Darcy (Kat Dennings), I think this is the best of the three Thor movies, but only slightly over the first one. It has considerably more irreverence, which is both a positive improvement compared to the dismal previous installment Thor: The Dark World and a negative thing against it because I don’t think it’s as cohesive. Cate Blanchett is phenomenal and menacing as Hela, the story’s primary villain, and if she wasn’t killing everyone, you can understand her point. Jeff Goldblum is fun and hysterical as the Grand Master, so much so that I can’t imagine anyone else playing him. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a fun appearance as Doctor Strange. And I loved seeing Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk—talking in longer phrases than when last seen—on the planet Sakaar, although it’s not fully explained how he got there. And that’s one of my issues with the movie. Sakaar is an interesting place, of course, but the outlandishness there doesn’t juxtapose as well with all Hela’s doom on Asgard. Still, the performances are strong and the movie is entertaining, so it squeaks into the Top 10.

 

#9 – The Avengers

This makes the list for the sheer scope of what they pulled off—finally, there was a superhero movie with a team of heroes. This large star-studded cast gets a lot of shared screen time, and the MCU will only top that in its sequel and then in someone else’s movie, and then even further in Infinity War when the Guardians join in the fun. But it first happened here. The original team of six—Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye—is first assembled here by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. The team doesn’t gel at first, as there’s friction between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and Tony tries to egg on Bruce Banner to turn into his alter-ego. The presence of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki—one of the best villains in the MCU—and his imminent attack should be enough to unify them. Instead, it’s the unfortunate death of Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, which they collectively choose to avenge, that makes them become the Avengers. The final battle between them and the invading Chitauri is amazing, especially the one shot of the six of them clustered together. It has perhaps the funniest moment in the entire franchise: when Hulk thrashes Loki around in Stark’s tower and says, “Puny God.” The sequel—The Age of Ultron—has some strong moments and introduces some important new characters, but overall, it pales in comparison to the first one. And then there’s Infinity War, which I’m sure is fantastic. No spoilers!

 

#8 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

It’s challenging when you’re counting down a Top 10 among a list of 18. There were a few films (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Avengers: Age of Ultron) that I knew weren’t going to make the list. Then there were a few that I truly enjoyed that got squeezed out. Captain America: The First Avenger was one of them, even though it’s a fantastic origin story with a solid villain (Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull) and a touching love story between Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell’s Agent Peggy Carter. It was one of two I’m bummed just missed my Top 10. Here, I go with the sequel because of how well all the elements work together. It’s set after The Avengers, while Tony Stark is experiencing some PSTD from that movie and Thor has gone back to Asgard. Steve is working for S.H.I.E.L.D. only to learn that it’s been infiltrated from within by Hydra, who he had fought in the first movie. The scene where he takes out a bunch of Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. double agents in an elevator is fantastic. Meanwhile, he’s learned that his childhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is still alive (somewhat) and stops at nothing to try to save him. Toss in Robert Redford as the big villain, the introduction of Anthony Mackie as Falcon, the supposed death of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, then put Steve on the run with Scarlett Johannsen’s Black Widow, and culminate with a gripping final battle, and this is a great entry in the series.

 

#7 – Guardians of the Galaxy

This was one of the two MCU movies I saw before starting the weekly viewings early this year. Not sure when I actually saw it, but I know I saw it at home, while on my sofa, watching it on cable—or on commercial television, who knows? When I saw that it was airing, I knew that I didn’t have to know much about the rest of the universe to watch it because the source material was something a little more obscure and out-there. Even Marvel considered it a risk. Well, it turned out to be fantastic, mainly because of the winning chemistry between the Guardians: Chris Pratt as Star Lord Peter Quill, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocky Raccoon, and Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot (oh, and I seriously did not expect so much emotional and syntactical variety in the phrase “I am Groot”). And the movie is fast-paced and silly and rocks an awesome 70s/80s soundtrack. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is also a lot of fun, and Kurt Russell as Quill’s father Ego is a wonderful addition to the world, but this one seemed to flow better for me. It’s also the first movie to reference Infinity Wars big baddie Thanos, so I’m intrigued to see how the Guardians get involved with the showdown on Earth.

 

#6 – Doctor Strange

I was warned that this movie was going to be very, very different from the rest—and it is, since it focuses more on magic and mysticism—but all the origin stories thus far have different feels to them. Benedict Cumberbatch plays an arrogant surgeon—arrogant in a very different way than Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark—who gets in a terrible car accident (totally his fault) and his hands are badly damaged. After hearing about a paraplegic who regained the use of his legs, he journeys to Nepal to the secret compound Kamar-Taj and starts studying under The Ancient One (an amazing performance by Tilda Swinton). He learns magic, and some of the sequences where he’s first being exposed to it are super-trippy. And some of the battles against the not-so-memorable bad guy Kaecilius have an awesome Inception-meets-The-Matrix style to them. I love the character arc that Strange takes during the story, as he learns more and more to become a better sorcerer and ultimately decides not to return to being a surgeon. He decides to protect the Earth in a very different way. He made an unexpected cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, showing his skills have even further improved, and he’s in possession of one of the Infinity Stones, so I’m curious to see how he fits into Infinity War. But no spoilers!

 

#5 – Iron Man 3

The first Iron Man started it all, and it’s absolutely wonderful, but just missing the list—although the final “I am Iron Man” line deserves special mention. Iron Man 2 falls short on many accounts, particularly in its handling of Mickey Rourke’s villain Whiplash. But Iron Man 3 fills itself with many themes and moments that completely gel. First, there’s Tony dealing with the PTSD from The Avengers, and it’s handled quite frankly and believably. There’s also Tony’s misguided arrogance as he challenges the villain to hunt him down, leading the world to think Iron Man is dead. Fortunately, he’s not, but the suit is damaged, and he’s stranded. Some of the sweetest parts of the movie come in his team-up with a young kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins). Also, there’s a great pair of villains in the film. Someone from Tony’s past—Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce)—has developed the Extremis virus to cure his own disabilities and it gives him super strength, so he makes other similar assassins to commit the terrorist attacks of The Mandarin. And here’s why Iron Man 3 is so awesome. The Mandarin—or the figure they see in videos—is actually a washed-up drunk actor named Trevor Slattery, played to perfection by Ben Kingsley. And then there’s a happier ending for Tony and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts. It really is the high point of the Iron Man trilogy.

 

#4 – Ant-Man

This was the first MCU film that I saw in theatres (Black Panther being the second) because it was one I was thrilled about when I first heard they were making it. I may have mentioned it somewhere else on this blog that I’m intrigued by people of disparate sizes. I guess it may be because I’m a math nerd, and I like imagining what the world would look like to someone shrunken. Anyway, I anticipated it even more when I learned that the cast featured Paul Rudd in the title role—as the Scott Lang incarnation of Ant-Man—and Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym, and especially Evangeline Lilly (who I’ve known and loved from her days on Lost, my all-time favorite TV show) as Hope Van Dyne, who will ultimately don her superhero costume in this summer’s Ant-Man and The Wasp, which I can’t wait for. Though Corey Stoll as Yellowjacket is far from the MCU’s most memorable villain, but the special effects in his fights with Ant-Man inside a briefcase and Scott’s daughter Cassie’s playroom are unbelievably awesome! There’s also a lot of charm and comedy in the movie, particularly in the scenes with Michael Pena as Luis. When he tells his convoluted stories of how he obtained information, you won’t stop laughing. Like other MCU movies, this one has a very different feel—a much more light feel, but with completely likeable lead characters. Can I say again that I can’t wait for this summer’s sequel?

 

#3 – Black Panther

You can say whatever you want about the importance of this film—and you’d be correct—not only because of Chadwick Boseman becoming the first black superhero lead in an MCU movie, but also because of the strong female roles in this movie. Sure, T’Challa is a bona fide hero in his own right and as the King of Wakanda, he’s definitely regal, but his story is enhanced by the strength of Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia (T’Challa’s former lover and Wakandan spy), Danai Gurira’s Okoye (the head of the T’Challa’s bodyguards), and Letitia Wright’s Shuri (T’Challa’s sister and top scientist/engineer—and my favorite character in the movie). What further elevates the movie is Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of N’Jadaka / Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, undoubtedly the most layered villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one’s still in theaters, so I don’t want to say much about the plot except that it’s amazing. Like always, there’s an all-star cast including Forrest Whitaker and Angela Bassett; I’m continually impressed by some of the big names that have appeared in the franchise. My only knock on the plot is that Vibranium is such an all-purpose tool that it becomes a contrivance. Otherwise, it’s a captivating and thought-provoking story and deserves a spot so high on the list.

 

#2 – Spider-Man: Homecoming

Not so much an origin story, as there have been two of those already produced by Sony Pictures. I saw the first two starring Tobey Maguire, and they were enjoyable (particularly J.K. Simmons’s portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson). I liked the first one, and the second was even better thanks to Alfred Molina’s layered performance as Doctor Octopus. I didn’t see the third part because I had heard the bad reviews. When the reboot with Andrew Garfield came, well, I didn’t see them, so I can’t judge. But Tom Holland is absolutely outstanding as Peter Parker. He makes his first official appearance in Captain America: Civil War, and the beginning of this film is a neat sequence showing his cell-phone footage of the battle in the Leipzig/Halle Airport. There are some great sequences of Peter with Tony Stark, including Tony giving and taking back a new Spider-Man suit, but what makes it fun is that Peter is clearly a teenager trying to find his way. The scenes of him interacting with his school friends, crushes, and nemeses are just as enjoyable as the action scenes. Marisa Tomei is his (younger than usual) Aunt Mae, and I’m not complaining. But what really elevates this movie for me is the depth of the villain; Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (a.k.a. Vulture) is fully fleshed out and amazing. There’s a scene late in the movie where Peter and Adrian realize who the other is, and it’s one of the most nerve-racking scenes in the entire MCU series. It’s great seeing a hero unsure of himself find his way and mature and earn the superhero suit.

 

And finally, MY FAVORITE PRE-INFINITY WARS MCU MOVIE…

#1 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

There’s a lot to love about this movie, particularly the fight sequence at the Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany. It’s exciting because it’s the characters fighting against each other. At the time, there hadn’t been that many featured superheroes in the same movie—it surpassed The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron—but it’s not considered an “Avengers” sequel because two members of that original team (Thor and The Hulk) aren’t there. I knew going in that the team was going to have a rift because of something, and it was pretty obvious from the previous films that the two sides would be spearheaded by Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but I didn’t expect what the issue was. After the destruction in Sokovia at the end of Age of Ultron, and an incident in Lagos where Elizabeth Olson’s Scarlet Witch telekinetically throws an explosion into the sky and destroys part of a nearby building, the United Nations demand oversight on The Avengers. Tony, out of guilt and maybe some residual PTSD from the first Avengers movie, willingly signs. Steve refuses, insisting that if the Avengers have to answer to others, then its slows their response time. It was interesting seeing both sides. Then, when Bucky Barnes is implicated in the death of the King of Wakanda (T’Challa’s father), Black Panther chases after Bucky while Captain America tries to save him. Thus, two factions develop. On Captain America’s side are Bucky, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Falcon, who recruits Ant-Man since they met in his movie. Tony Stark gets permissions from the Secretary of State (William Hurt) to form a team with Don Cheadle’s Iron Patriot, Black Widow, Paul Bettany’s Vision (created in Age of Ultron), and even Spider-Man! For his own reason of revenge, Black Panther chooses Tony’s side. The six-on-six battle is amazing. But as the story continues, both Tony and Steve learn things that may make them see the other side’s point of view—along with something devastating from the past. The mastermind behind it all was merely trying to split up the Avengers, and since they haven’t all been together in a movie since, it will be interesting to me to see how that leads into Infinity War, but don’t spoil it for me!

 

Agree? Disagree? Comments, compliments, complaints? Send them along, but don’t spoil Infinity War!

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