Twelve years ago, there was an idea for a universe of films, films that made you cry, laugh uncontrollably, and sit on the edge of your seat. These films pulled us into a wellspring of ideas and stories that had been waiting for decades to get to the silver screen. It started, as we all know with Iron Man, starring the then-disgraced Robert Downey Jr. as a man forced to come to terms with his place of responsibility in the world. Overseen and maneuvered by Kevin Feige, the MCU blueprint is now commonly used by everyone trying to make their own “cinematic universes.” So far no one has come close to making it work as well as Feige and company, but if it was easy everyone would be doing it. It's this type of care and attention that make so many of these films worth jumping into, even if you aren’t aware of the history. During early COVID times my wife and I marathoned all the movies in chronological order from where they fall on the timeline. To say it was a ride would be an understatement. Today we go back and discuss the best moments of the series, and how much of an impact the series has made. Without further adu, I hope you enjoy the Top 10 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD
10. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
DIRECTED BY: JON WATTS
By this point, the Spider Man franchise, despite all the efforts by Sony, had hit snag after snag in trying to replicate the success of the Maguire/ Raimi series of films, not counting the third one which we won't discuss. Rumors had swirled for a while concerning Spidey’s entrance into the MCU but the excitement during his appearance in Civil War clearly got fans roused for his own film. The movie itself is very fun, very grounded in the realities of a teenager’s complicated life, and built around how a normal kid would deal with entering this insane world. The villain is also top notch and well executed. The way Michael Keaton presents this version of Vulture, as a guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time, feels right at home in the reality created by the previous films. In the end it’s a more sincere, honest look at the circumstances of Peter’s life, but the action, conflict, and back and forth between hero and villain, and the way those roads crash are what make the movie so memorable.
9. THE AVENGERS (2012)
DIRECTED BY: JOSS WHEDON
As we inch down the list, we get a movie that many will probably think should be higher, which is fine. It was definitely a hard call, and while it’s great, it still feels too early in to be reaching perfection, even if it initially felt like that. It shouldn’t work, but the mix among the characters, intersecting plots and all the sheer action throughout the course of the film make it a difficult film to discount. It's extremely fun, but as the films became better, this one kinda fell back. It’s crucial to the story without a doubt, and sets up many things during its running time. Downey is hilarious throughout, the colors are brilliant and exquisite. The villain is the show steeler, able to work off all the avengers in amusing ways. Also, finally, a great Hulk, and a world of villains worthy of proper disdain and hatred. All around great performances and an early game changer for the genre of comic book films.
8. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
DIRECTED BY: JOE & ANTHONY RUSSO
This is the moment I knew they could pull off the climatic finale of the Infinity Saga. This movie, essentially billed as a Captain America film, but actually more of an alternative version of an Avengers film. The premise is simple: Stark is worried about the consequences of their actions and wants everyone to register under a government initiative to hold remarkable power with accountability for their actions. Steve Rogers doesn’t believe they should be under government control to appease them. Camps emerge across political lines, while Spider Man emerges after much speculation. But, most vital to the overall story is the conclusion of the truth regarding Tony’s parents and how they died. Mostly notably, by Cap’s best friend, who happened to be brainwashed during the time of the murder by major overall threat “Hydra.”All of this is done in a way that creates tension while bringing great characters together, in a series of sprawling sets that help the MCU retain its distinction and art design in spectacularly large ways.
7. BLACK PANTHER (2018)
DIRECTED BY:RYAN COOGLER
The plan was to write this yesterday, but I can’t stop thinking about the recent passing of Chadwick Boseman, who we all know as the Black Panther. The movie was transcendent in terms of bridging the gap among the mostly white world of comic book films to a world full of bright vibrant people of all colors and directions. Boseman’s quiet but intense portrayal of the title role is something that has fundamentally helped change the culture of popular film making. The whole movie shines in the way that a jubilant celebration of culture should. Beyond Chadwick, most every role is filled with great acting from B. Jordan, Wright, Bassett, and of course Nyong'o, all thriving off the information provided via the script and direction of Coogler and Jon Robert Cole. I was one of many who hadn’t really discovered BP as a young child, but the film was a wake up call and the beautifully constructed world of Wakanda helped to slowly open eyes for many across the world. Kids should always have a role model, and for people like Black Panther and Boseman, who were instrumental in this world coming to life, they can know they made a difference for millions of children who look like they do. RIP Chadwick, way too soon, fuck cancer.
6. IRON MAN (2008)
DIRECTED BY: JON FAVREAU
And now we land on the one that started it all. Looking back there’s absolutely no question the film works, but as has been well documented, it wasn’t a sure thing at all when first being planned. Downey was a liability, Iron Man wasn’t a hugely known character outside of the comic world like Batman or Spider Man was. But the risk paid off, with a pitch perfect performance from Downey, reveling in the glory of a smug yet absurdly brilliant man who sees the world for what it is after years of blind gluttony and greed. Trapped, he uses his only current possession, his brain, to create a defense system for escape, but so much more happens on this journey of uncertainty as you see the man, myth, and legend that is Tony Stark change, and discover his true calling. Watching all of these movies this year was remarkable in the sense of seeing the actors change and adapt to the roles, but Downey’s performance really is what brought the audiences in, as well as a story that everyone loves to see. Huge obstacles being overcome on the way to ultimate victory.
5. THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
DIRECTED BY: TAIKA WAITITI
I don’t think it's any secret to anyone reading that the first two Thor’s didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the other films in the Marvel Universe. The first was decent, while the Dark World is easily my least favorite film of the entire MCU. With the third one they had a lot to lose, but thankfully I’m able to write about how good it was, if you couldn’t tell by its placement on this list. It so brilliantly undoes or mostly ignores the darkness of the first two films, that you never really miss what used to be. Hemsworth is finally able to roll with the punches, and the performances come off as more loose than predecessors. It’s bright and vibrant, often times hilarious, and with everyone playing their roles to the hilt, such as Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hiddleston, Ruffalo and Tessa Thompson (who’s frankly incredible in the role of Valkyrie) you never really relax from the laughter, the action, or the tension every time Hela, played by Cate Blanchett, arrives on screen. It sets up the plot for Thor in Infinity War, literally ending right before the opening moments of I.W., but in this weird mixed up world, Waititi delivers a very unlikely, but ultimately great addition to the Thor saga.
4. AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
DIRECTED BY: JOE & ANTHONY RUSSO
This might irk some folks, so I’m sorry, but for this particular list Endgame falls a little short of the top spot. It’s still a vastly entertaining film and one of the best in the still ongoing film series. You never really know where the story is going to go. Especially with a film that has been as anticipated for as many years as this one was, we barely knew anything going in. I read that during the previews leading to release that only footage from the first forty minutes or so had been shown. Again the Russo’s knock it out of the park and bring a thrilling, yet heartbreaking end to the Infinity Saga. The movie is long, and in my opinion a slight bit too long, but it hits all the marks and makes for a really emotional, funny, frantic movie. It really shouldn’t work, not with the varying elements. There’s comedy, drama, action, science fiction, huge battles, and enough teary eyed moments to make it a more masculine Steel Magnolias for comic nerds everywhere. The battle is tremendous at the end, and the reveal right before the final fight, is so fun and joyous that you eat it up. It’s fan service, but you know going in there’s likely going to be some dead people showing up, after the snap is undone. That moment with every member of the Avengers side of things awakening and emerging makes you giddy with excitement. After all the time travels, all the raw emotion of the opening segments, the fun begins and it’s undeniable. You really can’t look away, even if you wanted to. You’d miss too much, honestly. That battle is epic, and it joins a list of things in the film as being the most memorable. Events like fat Thor being seen, the ultimate fate of Steve Rodgers in his journey from a no one to the best character in the whole series. His first beats through the film, but the closing moments are overshadowed by the death of Stark. I get why that didn’t close the film, but that's the biggest event in the film. He takes it for the team, because he knows he doesn’t have a choice. He proves he has a heart.
3. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
DIRECTED BY: JAMES GUNN
For sure one of the more surprising successes the MCU has under its belt, but no one should be surprised. As we’ve talked about before, the painstaking creative process of all of this was so well done and crafted that even six years later they were able to have non comic books fans pack into the cinemas for heroes they had never heard of. My friends and I were part of that section of interested parties, but we all loved it. It’s hilarious throughout, with great comedic performances and brilliant moments from Pratt as Star Lord, who’s opening scene dancing perfectly encapsulates the entire vibe of the film. Or its Batista as Drax, whose deadpan delivery really upped the stakes in terms of unique characters in the larger world. Gamora is captivating, with Zoe Saldana literally kicking ass the entire time she’s on screen. I also just really like the style of it. The music is top notch, best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by far, and the world building and presentation of space and all the different aspects of life are there. It’s easy to forget that up until that point, we hadn’t spent a ton of time in space. Beyond Thor, the MCU hadn’t gone full gear with space themes. It succeeded in bringing even more variety and style of storytelling than we already thought we could handle, and it's beautifully done. The plot, and especially watching these rambunctious lunatics become a family as they figure out what doing the right thing is like are some of the best moments in all of these films. Eye candy galore, but tons of hilarity and genuinely fun moments, Guardians of the Galaxy at number three.
2. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
DIRECTED BY: JOE & ANTHONY RUSSO
There are few film events that capture the intensity that this third Avengers film did when it came out in 2018. The Russo’s had already proven their success with a multi-character, interconnected storyline film with the greatness that was ‘Civil War,’ but this was it. This is the beginning of what they started to build seven or so years earlier when they first introduced Thanos at the end of the original team up among the mightiest in the MCU. With ‘Infinity War” though, all bets were off, and no one was left calm by the time the movie ended. So many of the performances are amazing, but the movie belongs to Thanos. Some films tease the villain and leave her/ him with not much to do. But the Russo’s make it his big welcoming to the universe, blood and carnage galore. Josh Brolin, who plays Thanos, isn’t known as a bad actor. In fact I’d consider him one of the best in general currently working. He’s great in everything. Here he dominates over everyone. The performance should’ve at the very least gotten award nominations, but it was a huge hit, and a tearjerker and perhaps the biggest finale shock so far in the MCU. Gamora’s death scene and final moments with her father are gut wrenching to watch, but the scene is brilliantly photographed and directed. It’s the central emotional core of the film, and even after the death of Loki, it’s a shock to see her go. Again to reiterate, the script and acting among the cast is great. After all this time they play each off other so well it seems effortless. This movie is a crowning achievement in storytelling, even if some comic fans were unhappy with the changes. It’s a sequel worthy of being thought of next to Aliens, T2: Judgement Day, or even the recent Blade Runner 2049. Quite possibly the best, or at least as great as the original.
1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER, (2014)
DIRECTED BY: JOE & ANTHONY RUSSO
And finally, we come to number one. Before we dive into the meat and potatoes of the ongoings in the movie, a few things are worth stating. It’s a perfect action film, through and through. There's minimal set up initially, instead using the time to build the world Rogers is currently entangled in. It’s one of the best pure actions films I’ve ever seen. The cinematography is top notch, mostly better than a number of other MCU movies, but it gets in close and tussles with you. It’s a movie that dives in, but it has reason to. While the opening seems like a routine opening scene, it puts into motions most of the rest of the film. Chris Evans and Scarlet Johansen are great working alongside each other, and you can really tell they both enjoy the tenacity of the friendship and the situation. The plot, as I touched on earlier, has espionage, betrayal, secret government back channels,and betrayers, but it's the unknown betrayal of the Winter Soldier, otherwise known as Bucky Barnes, as a villain of sorts that brings substance. His motivations remain unknown for most of the film, but there’s way more to it, as you likely know. The action sequences are some of the best in the MCU especially when factoring in the Fury chase scene. The sequence works not only because it's exhilaratingly shot, but also because of the appearance of the Winter Soldier. At the time we know little of this black clothed figure, but the mastery of the films comes after the big attack and fight between Cap and his Shield compatriots. Of course we learn during the run time of Winter Soldier that Hydra is alive and well, and everything involving Fury, the Winter Soldier, etc comes full circle. Watching Evans and Johansen as Captain and Black Window respectively isn’t hard at all (I mean look at them…) but they work exceptionally well off each other. It’s also a great sell because while most of the other films in the series up to that point were straight action, Captain America: Winter Soldier has elements of spy dramas, nuance, real character growth, and a plot that makes it difficult to turn away from. Watching Rogers navigate his past and unearth the sordid details of Hydra’s takeover plan brings a sense of reality that many of the series dont have. You also learn much much more about the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes, and where he’s been and what's been done to him since we last saw him. For all those reasons and more, Captain America: Winter Soldier stands as the best movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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