The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding at a phenomenal rate, 2017 marking the three new MCU films - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok - being added to the franchise.
How has Marvel kept us coming back to the cinema? Quality. Almost every instalment has been met with rave reviews, only two not being ‘certified fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes.
But, which one is best, I hear you ask? Avengers? Captain America: Civil War? Iron Man? Well, here’s The Independent’s two-cents as we rank every MCU film instalment so far.
15. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark. That’s what we’re told, at least. Unfortunately, the second Iron Man film spent so long setting up the forthcoming Avengers we barely saw our beloved hero shine.
Jon Favreau attempted to juggle multiple villains, giving neither Justin Hammer or Ivan Vanko the depth Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane had, all while introducing the world to Black Widow.
14. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Unfortunately for director Alan Taylor, Thor: The Dark World marks one of only two non-certified 'fresh' MCU films.
The film’s plot was entirely by-the-numbers while Chris Hemsworth’s fish-out-of-water comic potential was squandered, along with Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith who barely got a word in. Following the Avengers just one year prior, there was also a certain amount of Tom Hiddleston overkill.
13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
A controversial choice to have so low. Joss Whedon’s second instalment in the Avengers franchise was a monstrously weird beast, containing so many set-up storylines, it was difficult to keep up.
Thor has nightmares, setting up Thanos; Tony Stark and Steve Rogers begin to fall out, setting up Civil War; The Hulk ends up flying off, somehow ending up in space for Thor: Ragnarok. There was barely time for Ultron to appear, let alone there be an ‘age’ of Ultron. When Hawkeye is the standout character among Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor, you know there’s something amiss.
12. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Perhaps the Hulk just doesn’t work on the big screen (see Ang Lee’s disappointing 2003 Hulk). There was something flat about The Incredible Hulk, director Louis Leterrier deciding not to explore the more thought-provoking questions inherent to the Jekyll and Hyde story, instead concentrating on action. However, despite being another by-the-numbers action film, there were some positives, the main one being William Hurt’s General Ross.
Quite frankly, The Incredible Hulk’s not as bad as its reputation would have you believe - the film being the other ‘rotten’ MCU film. Still, that’s not saying a whole lot.
11. Thor (2011)
Chris Hemsworth’s first outing as Thor was fine, opening up the Marvel universe to intergalactic concepts and the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. randomly popping up in every other film. Yet, Thor feels like a missed opportunity. The God of Thunder being a well-spoken Nordic God who doesn't’ understand Earth’s mannerisms but feels somehow attached to the planet is intrinsically funny.
Unfortunately, Sir Kenneth Branagh never quite delivered on the humour. Fingers crossed Thor: Ragnarok - which is ditching Natalie Portman’s flaccid character - will be slightly more interesting.
10. Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange is basically Iron Man but with magic: an arrogant, witty man with no powers ventures to a distant land and realises their superhero potential. In fairness, the psychedelic imagery is phenomenal, but Doctor Strange doesn’t have the same tight writing as some of its Marvel counterparts.
Like those mentioned above, there are issues with the villain, but Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong and Tilda Swinton carry the film along nicely. Also, that final battle is great; well played Scott Derrickson.
9. Ant-Man (2015)
Again, Ant-Man is basically Iron Man, just with a smaller suit. Paul Rudd, Michael Peña, and Michael Douglas give solid, hilarious performances, even if the film contains another mediocre villain who has the same powers as our hero.
Nice to see Marvel trying to do a heist film, even if we wish Edgar Wright’s version existed.
8. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and The Incredible Hulk, all coming together for a phenomenal showdown with Loki and his legion of faceless villains.
The action was fun (perhaps a little too quip-tastic at times) and the characters mainly given their own spotlight. Unlike some of the other Marvel instalments, there wasn’t much depth to the entire affair, but that didn’t hold back the Avengers from being a great popcorn flick.
7. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The First Avenger was a great WW2 film that set-up Captain America almost perfectly. A young man who gets genetically altered and then beats up Nazis; what’s not to love?
Like the Avengers after, The First Avenger was hugely fun despite centring on Captain America, who - on paper - could have been the dullest hero of the franchise. Luckily, Joe Johnston proven us wrong.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
James Gunn's second space-adventure is a ton of fun, turning everything up to eleven. Almost all the characters get their time to shine - particularly Yondu and Rocket - but, unfortunately, Star Lord is somewhat side-lined, Chris Pratt not having quite the same. Also unlike the first film, some of the humour doesn't quite hit.
Still, it's the frickin' Guardians of the Galaxy. You're always going to have a good time. Plus "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all" is possibly the best line in a Marvel film so far.
5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
What’s remarkable about Avengers 2.5 is how The Russo Brothers managed to have Iron Man, Black Widow, Ant-Man, Black Panther and Spider-Man while remaining first and foremost a Captain America film.
The titular hero struggles with deceit following Winter Soldier and reconciling with the Bucky all while fighting Stark and being manipulated by Zemo. Civil War also contains the best fight scene in Marvel history so far - the airport scene. We really can’t wait for Avengers: Infinity War.
4. Iron Man (2008)
33 Superhero films set for release between 2016 and 2020
33 Superhero films set for release between 2016 and 2020
1/34 1. Captain America: Civil War
Release date: 6 May 2016. Iron Man and Captain America are set to face off in this superhero blockbuster that will feature nearly all the Avengers but won’t be an Avengers film. It will also mark the first time Spider-Man will feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Sony having made a deal with Marvel Studios.
2/34 2. X-Men: Apocalypse
Release date: 27 May 2016. Following the success of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse will follow the young X-Men team as the battle against Oscar Isaac’s titular villain as he gathers his four horsemen; Magneto (Fassbender), Angel (Hardy), Storm (Shipp), and Psylocke (Munn). Expect carnage and no Wolverine.
3/34 3. Suicide Squad
Release date: 5 August 2016. The first ‘supervillain’ film, Suicide Squad is also based in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe, where Batman and Superman live) and will introduce the world to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Jared Leto’s Joker. One of the more exciting upcoming DC films that’s for sure.
4/34 4. Doctor Strange
Release date: 4 November 2016. Benedict Cumberbatch will debut in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Captain America and Iron Man live) as the Sorcerer Supreme. The film already has an incredible cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachael McAdams and Tilda Swinton.
5/34 5. Untitled Lego Batman film
Release date: 20 February 2017. Kicking off 2017 is the Lego version of Batman, who will lead his own spin-off, having already featured in the amazing Lego Movie. Will Arnett voices the titular character, while Zach Garfianakis - from the Hangover - will voice The Joker. But will he better than Leto?
6/34 6. Untitled Wolverine film
Release date: 3 March 2017. Having not starred in X-Men: Apocalypse, Wolverine will return to the big screen in a solo film which was recently made R-Rated following the success of Deadpool. It is expected to be Hugh Jackman’s last outing as the titular character.
7/34 7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Release date: 5 May 2017. Chris Pratt and the crew are returning to space in the sequel to the surprisingly successful Guardians of the Galaxy. According to director James Gunn, the film will not feature Thanos, even though he will to play a major role in phase MCU Phase 3. Cast includes newcomers Kurt Russell and Pom Klementieff, as well as, rumour has it, Sylvester Stallone.
8/34 8. Wonder Woman
Release date: 23 June 2017. Gal Gadot is returning to the DCEU in her very own film, marking the first female-led superhero film on this list. Chris Pine is on board to play Wonder Woman’s love interest.
9/34 9. Untitled Spider-Man reboot
Release date: 7 July 2017. Yes, it is another Spider-Man reboot, having previously been redone with Andrew Garfield as the lead. However, this time it is part of the MCU, with Tom Holland as the titular character, and a heavily rumoured cameo by Iron Man could be in the pipeline. We can dream.
10/34 10. Untitled Fox film
Release date: 6 October 2017. In a strange announcement, Fox decided to withhold the release of Gambit until a future, as-yet unannounced date, which could be here, or this could be a completely separate project. Many suspect Deadpool 2 could nicely fit here, Fox capitalising on the success of the first film.
11/34 11. Thor: Ragnarok
Release date: 3 November 2017. Chris Hemsworth will be returning as the Norse God in his third solo MCU film. Flight of the Conchords’ Taika Waititi is on board to direct, and promises a fun adventure that will likely lead into Marvel’s next project, Infinity War.
12/34 12. Justice League Part One
Release date: 17 November 2017. Hot on the heals of Thor comes Justice League Part One, the first DCEU team-up flick which will see Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg work together to fight bad guys.
13/34 13: Untitled Fox film
Release date: 12 January 2018. Kicking off 2018 will likely be the second Deadpool film, but then again, this could very well be another X-Men team-up. There’s also talk of an X-Force film, with Deadpool and other mutants teaming up to fight evil.
14/34 14. Black Panther
Release date: 16 February 2018. The first non-white male-led superhero film in the MCU comes in the form of Black Panther, with Chadwick Boseman reprising the titular role, having also starred as the Panther in Civil War. Creed’s Ryan Coogler is on to direct what could be a very exciting film.
15/34 15. The Flash
Release date: 16 March 2018. The Flash will be the first DCEU film since Justice League, and sees Ezra Miller take the lead. Phil Lord and Chris Miller were supposed to pen the film before Disney snapped them up for the Han Solo-film, leaving Seth Grahame-Smith to take charge.
16/34 16. Avengers: Infinity War Part 1
Release date: 4 May 2018. And so, we finally get to the point of all these Infinity Stones! Thanos will be the big bad, with the Avengers needing to team up to defeat their biggest foe yet. It has previously been described as “the end of the Avengers as we know it”.
17/34 17. Ant-Man and The Wasp
Release date: 6 July 2018. Peyton Reed will be back to direct this surprise sequel to one of the better received MCU films. While the name is ridiculous, at least Marvel are finally having a leading female superhero.
18/34 18. Untitled Fox film
Release date: 13 July 2018. Again, not much word on this one except it is thought to be X-Men spin-off New Mutants, something Josh Boone has been hit up to write.
19/34 19. Animated Spider-Man Film
Release date: 20 July 2018. Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, and Amy Pascal - the team behind the live-action Spider-Man films - are producing this ‘unrelated’ animated adaptation of the hero. Because you can never have too much Spider-Man, right?
20/34 20. Aquaman
Release date: 27 July 2018. Another Justice League spin-off, Jason Momoa plays the leading man. Furious 7’s James Wan is on to direct, but little else is known about the film.
21/34 21. Captain Marvel
Release date: 8 March 2019. We’ve hit 2019, and the first confirmed superhero film will be the first proper female-led MCU film. No-one is confirmed to be in the titular role of Carol Danvers just yet.
22/34 22. Shazam
Release date: 5 April 2019. Dwayne Johnson stars as the villain in this DCEU film which will be somewhat separate to the other DC films.
23/34 23. Avengers: Infinity War Part 2.
Release date: 3 May 2019. The conclusion to the long drawn MCU saga. Expect a big finish with at least a few planets being destroyed.
24/34 24. Justice League Part Two
Release date: 14 June 2019. Soon after the Infinity War story reaches its conclusion, so will the Justice League’s. Not much is known, except Darkseid will likely be the villain for at least one of the parts.
25/34 25. Inhumans
Release date: 12 July 2019. The concept of Inhumans (or Marvel’s mutants) has already been introduced in TV, through Marvel’s Agents of Shield, yet the film is expected to introduce the Royal Family who have yet to be seen in the show.
26/34 26. Cyborg
Release date: 3 April 2020. Having debuted in Justice League Part One three years previously, Cyborg will finally be making his own outing, with Ray Fisher as the titular character.
27/34 27. Untitled MCU film
Release date: 1 May 2020. The first of three untitled Marvel films. There are a couple of contenders, the first is a likely sequel to Spider-Man with Sony, or a third Guardians of the Galaxy film, thus finishing the trilogy.
28/34 28. Green Lantern Corps.
Release date: 19 June 2020. Before you start to worry, this has nothing to do with the Ryan Reynolds-starring flick that hit cinemas a little while ago. Instead, this will be another DCEU film that will likely spin-off from Justice League after the Green Lantern Corps cameo in one of the parts.
29/34 29. Untitled MCU film
Release date: 10 July 2020. As well as Spider-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy sequels, a Doctor Strange or Black Panther one could fit in nicely here. Or perhaps Black Widow may finally get the solo-film she deserves.
30/34 30. Untitled MCU film
Release date: 6 November 2020. Some speculators also think a Blade film could fit in here, marking over 20 years since the first Blade. But many believe the character may be better suited to a Netflix series, as with Daredevil and Jessica Jones. There’s also talk of a Runaways film reaching cinemas at some stage.
31/34 31. Untitled Ben Affleck Batman film
Release date: TBA. Now we’re onto the TBA release dates, the first of which is a Batman solo film, written and directed by Ben Affleck. When this is due, no one is quite sure but expect it sooner rather than later if Batman v Superman is a success.
32/34 32. Suicide Squad 2
Release date: TBA (rumoured 2017). A sequel to Suicide Squad is expected to come in 2017 according to recent reports, but nothing has been confirmed. If the first is successful, it should come as no surprise for Warner Bros to rearrange their schedule to fit in this surefire hit.
33/34 33. Venom
Release date: TBA. This is an odd one, as it has been confirmed Sony are wanting to release a Venom film completely unrelated to the upcoming Spider-Man reboot. Venom, as you may know, is a Spider-Man villain, intrinsically linked to Spider-Man, so it seems odd they would release a film unrelated to the rebooted project and not linked to the MCU.
34/34 Anything else?
Well, now you mention it, there’s also that sequel to Fantastic Four that has seemingly been dropped by Fox. Plus, there’s the Gambit film which has been put on hold (but will likely fill an untitled Fox slot so we haven’t added it extra). Then again, it could be shoehorned in somehow…
The film that kickstarted it all; Iron Man entered cinemas with such assured swagger there should have never any doubt over whether the film would be a hit.
Robert Downey Jr. proves why he was born to play Tony Stark, balancing arrogance with charm and managing to be an entirely likeable asshole. Helped by a formidable villain - something the Marvel universe has struggled recreating - Iron Man set a high standard for all Marvel films to beat.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The second Captain America film was an adrenaline-fuelled conspiracy thriller that managed to hit almost every beat. Despite another bland villain, the S.H.I.E.L.D/Hydra twist was pulled off spectacularly while asking some interesting political questions. Again, The Russo Brothers did remarkably well to make sure the tender moments were moving and the CGI never seemed too much. Together with Civil War and The First Avenger, the Captain America trilogy really has been quite superb.
2. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Some diehard fan absolutely hate the third Iron Man film, but really Shane Black’s superhero flick is a tonne of fun that brings Tony Stark’s character to a wonderful conclusion (perhaps to a point where he should have been left alone).
Watching the genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist deal with PTSD and struggle with his own creations is emotional and highly entertaining. Best of all, Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery is utterly hilarious, the Mandarin twist being completely effective.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Who would have thought a rag-tag bunch of a-holes would make such a wonderful, universe saving team? Each character has their time to shine in Gunn’s fantastic universe-hopping adventure, and when together there’s so much chemistry.
Taking Pratt from being the tubby lad in Parks and Recreation to Hollywood leading man was an inspired idea, as was Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. Guardians of the Galaxy set an incredibly high bar that has yet to be matched.
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