Spanning ten years and what will be twenty films by the time July rolls around, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most ambitious cinematic achievements of our time and it’s showing no signs of stopping. With Avengers: Infinity War just around the corner, the marketing campaign has been teasing the beginning of the end of the current iteration of the MCU. What, exactly, does that mean? In short, this could mark the point where we begin to see a changing of the guard. A transition where some original characters are phased out and some newer characters begin to take center stage. In anticipation of this watershed moment, it’s appropriate to look back and showcase the ten best films of the eighteen superhero movies that brought us to this point. These are the top ten films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ten Movies to Celebrate Ten Years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
10) Captain America: The First Avenger
Set during World War II, Captain America: The First Avenger is our introduction to Chris Evans as Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With skinny Steve Rogers, the 1940s setting, and a snazzy musical number, this movie had every opportunity to fail. Instead, we got a superhero film that was unique and became a cornerstone for the MCU. Yes, the pacing did drag at times and the plot lacked any complexity, but the film did enough things right to give Captain America a proper introduction and land itself just inside the top ten.
9) Spider-Man: Homecoming
You would think that when a superhero is on his third reboot in 15 years that audiences would probably be over it. That was not the case with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Serving as the character’s first solo outing in the MCU after Marvel “rented” his rights back from Sony, this film succeeded in setting itself apart from its predecessors. Tom Holland, who is the youngest actor to play the role, nailed the tone of the immature high schooler known as Peter Parker. This film has the added bonuses of including Iron Man and finally introducing the artificial web shooters. It also boasts one of the better MCU villains in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Whether or not this is the best Spider-Man film is a hot topic of debate but it is certainly in the conversation.
8) Guardians of the Galaxy
This film is arguably the riskiest move that the MCU has made up to this point, and the reason is two-fold. First, introducing audiences to the cosmic universe could very easily have backfired. It is not nearly as accessible as the Marvel universe had been up until that point and presented the risk of alienating some of the more casual fans. Second, utilizing a little-known team called the Guardians of the Galaxy as the characters that would serve as that introduction further increased the possibility of the film drawing very little interest outside of hardcore fans. The risk paid off marvelously and resulted in a fun and humorous space adventure that packed a surprising amount of heart.
7) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
This is admittedly one of the more controversial picks on this list. It was clear from the start that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was seeking to outdo its predecessor in every way. It upped the action, it took the humor to uproarious levels, and infused more of an 80s, psychedelic vibe to the film. As a result, this film felt more ambitious and even more fun than the first. Now, if Vol. 3 can just conjure up a halfway decent villain…
6) Iron Man
The one that started it all. Serving as the both an introduction to the character as well as the launching point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man had the weight of a franchise riding on it. If this film hadn’t succeeded, it’s likely the MCU would have been over before it ever began. Robert Downey Jr. was seemingly born to play Tony Stark and he delivers an iconic performance that sets the tone for not only this film, but the entire MCU. This was a fast-paced, action-packed, high-tech superhero film that kicked off the universe with a bang.
5) Thor: Ragnarok
Part of what made Thor: Ragnarok so interesting was its complete departure, both tonally and aesthetically, from the character’s first two solo outings. Director Taika Waititi inserts his quirky comedic style and signature weirdness to create a colorful, cosmic, and wholly unique entry in the MCU. This film was similar to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in both its psychedelic feel and gut-busting humor. The comedic chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo is a highlight here, as well as some beautiful cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe. As if that wasn’t enough to catapult this film into the top five, Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster is nothing short of a treat and leaves virtually no excuse not to see this movie.
4) The Avengers
Serving as the culmination of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was no shortage of hype surrounding the release of The Avengers. There was nothing quite like the feeling of seeing the heroes on screen together for the first time, and who better to cause these heroes to team up than Loki? We were first introduced to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in Thor, but his appearance in The Avengers is what really solidified him as the MCU’s best villain. This film also introduced Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye to round out the superhero team. It is also responsible for bringing us one of the best post credit scenes of the franchise: the Avengers nonchalantly eating shawarma after having just saved the world. The fact that this isn’t in the top three serves as a testament to how good some of the more recent movies have been.
3) Black Panther
Despite being the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther stands perfectly on its own as the most unique entry in the franchise. Ryan Coogler’s script is one of the most complex and layered scripts in the MCU. It is ripe with both cultural and sociopolitical themes and features the franchise’s greatest and most compelling villain since Loki. That’s not to mention the real world cultural significance that this film carried. The cinematography was breathtaking, the fight choreography was masterful, and the music was incredible. With this film, Black Panther may have just become a cornerstone of Phase 4 and beyond.
2) Captain America: Civil War
Affectionately referred to by some as Avengers 2.5, Captain America: Civil War adapts a popular Marvel event comic that sees Captain America and Iron Man at odds about the future of the Avengers. This film serves as the introduction of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther into the MCU, contains the best fight scene in the franchise, which is, arguably, the best superhero fight scene of all time. That is, of course, the battle at the airport.
This film, however, is so much more than a fun superhero action film. It grounds these heroes and makes them come face-to-face with the repercussions of their actions. It features a deeply introspective and complex plot that explores the idea of accountability. The only thing keeping this film from the top spot is the fact that it is not easily accessible and requires quite a bit of background knowledge in order to get the full effect.
1) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
In The First Avenger, audiences were introduced to a goody-two-shoes Captain America living in the 1940s, a world where everything was painted very black and white. Captain America: The Winter Soldier places him in modern day America where not everything is as it seems. What ensues is a conspiracy-based political/spy thriller where no one can be trusted. This film is much more grounded than any other film in the MCU and feels more like a Bourne movie than a Captain America sequel. The action is gritty and intense and the story has enough twists and turns to make your stomach churn.
The film also sees the introduction of Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and brings us two of the better MCU villains in Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford, and the Winter Soldier. Whereas Civil War wasn’t quite as accessible to general audiences, Winter Soldier is the film that had the ability to draw newcomers in to the Marvel Universe because, for the most part, it doesn’t really feel like a superhero movie and doesn’t require much in the way of prior knowledge. This is a virtually flawless entry into MCU and the one that first broke the Marvel formula and redefined what a superhero film could be.
Main image credit: