Updated: Oct 29, 2020
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ALL THE FILMS OF THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
It’s hard enough these days for filmmakers to make one great sequel. Franchises are continually being invested in with hopes of dominating the box-office for years to come; and more often than not, the train derails. Few have been successful in crafting a continually successful universe of films, but one studio has defied all odds and created something that has never been seen in cinematic history. Back in 2008, Marvel executives made a bold decision to make their own movies starring characters that “weren’t profitable”. Fast forward to today, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a worldwide sensation. Twenty-three successful movies spanned across eleven years has built what is popularly known as The Infinity Saga. With Spider-Man: Far From Home closing the door on this epic chapter of an ever-expanding universe of stories, it’s hard not to think about which movies were the best and which fall flat. The challenge with ranking this group of films is that not one of them is bad. We’d like to premise this list of rankings by saying that the lowest on the list only seem to fall flat when they are compared to the best of this list. The films ranked below were ranked based upon their individual qualities as well as their relation to the entire Infinity Saga narrative.
23. Iron Man 2
After the success of the first Iron Man, people were expecting a lot from Iron Man 2 to say the least. But sadly, the next chapter in Tony Stark’s story turned out to be a let-down. To be fair, this movie had much to live up to by introducing a new War Machine (Don Cheadle) and holding fans over until The Avengers. But what starts as an interesting follow up to Tony Stark revealing his identity to the world, ends up developing poorly.
When you take a look at the MCU as a whole, you can easily say that a great deal of storylines spawn from the dark side of the Stark legacy. Iron Man 2 does a good job of touching on this with great characters like Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer or Shield Agent Phil Coulson. Where it fails is relying on the main villain, Whiplash (Ivan Vanko) to execute this idea. His backstory offers a great connection to Tony; yet, we don’t spend enough time with him in order to like him or care about him at all. When it comes to the climax of the film he’s easily defeated in a fight scene that lasts 30 seconds. He is the epitome of Marvel’s forgettable foes and ultimately makes this movie a dread to finish. Considering how good Iron Man 2 could have been as opposed to how you feel when the credits roll, is why it earns last on this ranking.
22. The Incredible Hulk
The explanation behind The Incredible Hulk is a sad one. Due to conflicting visions and story issues, Edward Norton was recast as Bruce Banner for The Avengers. As a result, any side characters, subplots or teasers from The Incredible Hulk were locked in a vault for Marvel to ignore. Anybody remember Hulk’s love interest, Betty Ross? This is why the movie sadly defaults to number twenty-two on the list. It has been doomed as “the one you can skip” and you won’t miss much.
Edward Norton does offer a decent take on the character. His solemness and darkish approach to coping with his alter ego (The Hulk) is an interesting take that would have been cool to see amongst the other Avengers. Additionally, General Thunderbolt Ross serves as a great antagonist. The same can’t totally be said for Tim Roth as The Abomination. He may not be a bad villain, just not effective enough to balance the film. The problem with the Hulk as a hero is that he requires a lot of support from other characters who can speak and emote to contrast his frequent “Hulk smashing”. The movie falls short in this respect as it concludes with a destructive brawl that doesn’t do much for the character’s development or his relationship with the villain. Although Mark Ruffalo has become so beloved by fans for his portrayal of Bruce Banner, it’s unfortunate to see the only solo movie of one of the core Avenger’s be cast aside.
21. Captain Marvel
It’s hard to grasp where Marvel could have gone wrong with so many factors that spelled success. First it was announced Oscar winning actress Brie Larson would be starring alongside Samuel L Jackson. Then it was announced, the film would adopt the wildly popular shape-shifting Skrulls. Yet, somehow we still got a dud. Between sloppy twists, awkward dialogue and poor execution, there were a lot of missteps that cause Captain Marvel to ultimately fall in our rankings.
Learning more about the Kree, the tesseract and Shield’s connection to hero business were all great points to fill in for a vast universe that Marvel had created. Despite this, the high points of the movie were muddled by constant “try hard” moments that did not land well: The Yon-Rogg villain twist is concluded with an anticlimactic battle, Nick Fury’s eye loss is reduced to comedic relief, Ronan the Accuser’s return carries zero stakes, and most of all, Brie Larson’s take on Carol Danvers does not live up to the powerhouse standards that the character is known for. The entire movie feels like it is trying to shove OMG heroic self-discovery moments down your throat that barely have any weight to them. The film does have its moments through Ben Mendelson’s character, Talos, especially from a comedic standpoint. But in the end, what could have been a powerful backdoor to MCU history feels like a two-hour explanation for the Infinity War post-credit scene.
20. Thor: The Dark World
Often times you’ll find Thor: The Dark World at the bottom of many Marvel movie rankings. It really doesn’t bode well for a comicbook movie when your villain hardly interacts with the hero, has bland motivations and speaks in small generically evil phrases. Malekith the Accursed Dark Elf lands up top with Whiplash on the list of boring antagonists and unfortunately drags the movie down with him. So much so, that it manages to make the god of thunder himself even less interesting than he was in The Avengers. Once again, we get to the end credits without feeling like much has been done for Thor’s growth as a hero.
On the other hand, after digging a little deeper we realized that the second Thor film is worthy of more than the bottom of this list. The film’s final battle highlights originality compared to other MCU fights as it showcases the teleportation power of the convergence. Plus, it’s often overlooked how pivotal the death of Thor’s mother in this movie is to Thor’s growth. But ultimately, where the film drags its feet with a lackluster excuse to introduce an infinity stone, it makes up for with the amazing brotherly dynamic between Thor and Loki. Tom Hiddleston continues to show why he is the best villain in this universe with new schemes, witty remarks, and master plans. This is certainly one of Loki’s best movies as it encompasses the peak of his two-sided personality. The reveal of Loki’s fake death illusion leaves you loving their relationship and wanting more. Which is why it redeems itself to number twenty on our list.
The first Thor movie doesn’t land itself much higher on this list. It goes without saying that before Thor: Ragnarok came around, Marvel’s approach to Thor was a little bland. Rather than embracing the weirdness of the Thor stories, they ended up taking it too seriously in which all the characters come off stilted and restricted. Aside from this, the movie is actually very enjoyable, providing a great change of scenery from previous Phase 1 movies like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. Being introduced to Asgard and the cosmic side of the MCU is exciting as it truly lives up to Nick Fury’s words of a bigger universe. Once again though, where the story shines is through the ever-complicated relationship between Loki and Thor. Right off the bat, we sympathize with Loki, fall in love with his scheming personality and feel that he truly has a strong effect on the development of Thor’s realization of what it means to be a hero. But Loki can’t be the only one carrying Thor’s films.
18. Iron Man 3
The strengths and weaknesses of Iron Man 3 strongly resemble those of its predecessor, Iron Man 2. Plagued by his new responsibility as an Avenger of Earth, we continue to see how Tony’s actions produce a darkness that inevitably catches up with him. What’s interesting about Marvel’s approach to this story is that they break this struggle into two forms. The first is relatively similar to Iron Man 2 in that his previous mistakes as a self-absorbed playboy come back to haunt him; which takes the form of Aldrich Killian, creator of the extremis virus and the AIM corporation. The second way this is approached is not through Tony’s mistakes, but rather his heroic choices. Out of all of the Avengers, the hero gig takes the most unique toll on Tony. He becomes haunted by the trauma of the battle of New York, and cursed with a duty to over-protect the world from oncoming terror such as The Mandarin.
It’s a joy to delve deeper into the character of Tony Stark and to see his intelligence and ingenuity at its highest when he is stripped from his Iron Man suit and subsequently calls every single one of his creations into battle. However, much like with Whiplash, the film’s villain causes it to trips over its own shoelaces. Understandably, The Mandarin is definitely an antagonist in need of a creative modernized approach. Yet, turning the protagonist’s arch-enemy into a plot twist left a sour taste in fans’ mouths. It’s equivalent to turning the Joker into, well...a joke. Luckily, while Iron Man 3 may have been the last installment of the Iron Man trilogy, it is only the beginning for Tony Stark.
One of the many challenges that Marvel Studios faced when developing movies for the Infinity Saga was to craft convincing stories with some lesser-known characters. Once you lose Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, your choices are definitely left to some of the weirder picks of the bunch. Before he became an Avenger, Ant-Man definitely fell into this category.
The best part about this movie is that it knows where its strengths are. With a unique powerset and a rather silly premise, Ant-Man steers into the curve and uses this to his advantage. Paul Rudd and Michael Peña bring their trademark comedic charm to the forefront while the story turns toy train sets into battlefields and introduces us to the mysterious quantum realm. In hindsight, it is clear that directorial problems lead to a truncated script and restricted plot creativity. The extended training montages also cast a shadow over the better points of the story. Ant-Man, however, certainly does act as a solid heist movie that promises for some interesting world expansion. While enjoyable in its own right, however, it doesn’t quite stack up as high as some of the other high-stakes films of the Infinity Saga.
16. Captain America: The First Avenger
Having been to Earth, to Asgard and back to Earth again, Captain America: The First Avenger introduced fans to the first period piece of the Infinity Saga. Stemming from WWII propaganda, the comicbook origin of the star-spangled man naturally comes off as cheesy and text-bookish. While there’s not much that can be done to change this, The First Avenger manages to stay true to this premise while creating a more timeless and relatable Captain America. Specifically, the film focuses on Steve Rogers as a man who is passionate about serving his country, but not blindly fighting Nazis. We instead come to know Captain America as someone who acts on what he knows is the right thing to do, not what his commanders tell him is right. Furthermore, the Red Skull pairs well as a villain who shows how the same power can skew what different people view as right and wrong. Ultimately, the film ties the connecting dots together from Iron Man (Howard Stark’s history), Thor (the Tesseract), and The Incredible Hulk (the super-soldier serum) and does a great job of fitting a WWII soldier into a universe-wide space action series.
15. Ant-Man and the Wasp
Essentially, Ant-Man and the Wasp takes the first Ant-Man movie and upgrades it. All of the parts which made Ant-Man such a fun and unique film were brought back and expanded on as promised. The debut of Hope Van-Dyne as The Wasp along with more of Hank Pym’s shrinking technology adds for some badass team-up action and amazing fight sequences. Probably the best example of this would be the extended car chase scene. It’s one thing to have a well-choreographed fight/chase scene, but implementing the powers of Ant-Man’s world so seamlessly into these moments adds an extra level of kinetic energy that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Aside from having one of the best post-credit scenes in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, what solidifies this movie in rank number fifteen is its street level focus. Often in comicbook movies we view problems at the most grand and universe shattering level. The best thing about Ant-Man and the Wasp is how it applies the consequences of Captain America: Civil War to street level heroes and villains. Even the scope of the plot is small in scale as it only covers a length of two days in the life of Ant-Man. Coming right out of the high-stakes of Avengers: Infinity War, this was really refreshing. The only point which drags this film down is its final resolution. Janet Van-Dyne easily curing Ghost comes off as a lazy way to tie things with a bow before Avengers: Endgame.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 would easily make the top five ranks for funniest movie in the Infinity Saga. Director James Gunn proves for a second time that he knows how to turn the weirdos of the bunch into outrageously funny and lovable icons. As any sequel should, Guardians 2 also does a great job of introducing us to fantastic new worlds and interesting new characters. In a surprising change from the comics, Ego the Living Planet is revealed to be Peter Quill’s father which leads to captivating action, twists, and an overall great villain performance from Kurt Russell.
For some strange reason, however, this second installment is not nearly as memorable (aside from its comedic appeal) when compared to the first one. Although each guardian is given their own subplot, at the end of the film Peter Quill and Yondu have definitely grown the most while the rest of the members seem short-handed for future films. The resulting death of Yondu definitely carries significant weight for the audience. However, it cements the fact that this film was meant to focus on Star-Lord/Peter Quill. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the film is enjoyable, well-written and a worthy sequel; but it’s a noticeable change from the collective narrative of the first film which is likely why it is less memorable.
13. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man’s return home faced many challenges given his shaky history with solo movies at Sony Pictures. Yet Marvel managed to bring him back to his roots and nail the essence of what makes him tick. Regardless of what you think of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s turn as the web-head from Queens, they both glossed over some key parts of what makes Peter Parker such a relatable hero.
Spider-Man: Homecoming does a great job of showing us a version of the character who really is just a kid balancing two different worlds. Given the chance, Peter would absolutely abandon school to be Spider-Man all day long. This film really brings this to the forefront by showcasing his position in a world where every other superhero is an adult. Having the majority of the film take place inside of his high school environment emphasizes how different the consequences are for Peter than they are for those around him. Thus, his growth from immature and impulsive decisions to balancing his responsibility feels all the more real.
Another reason Homecoming lands itself at number thirteen is Michael Keaton’s Vulture. The best part about Spider-Man’s villains is their connection to Peter Parker. Vulture’s motivations feel genuine to the history of the Infinity Saga and having him figure out Peter’s identity in the span of a car ride to the homecoming dance rounds up all of these Spider-Man themes into an incredibly effective final act. The only area where the film seems to run short is during the final battle. Spider-Man’s powers invoke a very specific style of fighting into battle choreography, and the short battle on the Coney Island beach feels like a missed opportunity for a really memorable showdown.
12. Doctor Strange
It’s one thing to introduce talking trees or an ex-con who flies on an ant as superheroes, but Doctor Strange takes weird to a whole new level. Magic seems like something that would be taking it too far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the amount of psychedelia compared to the grounded stories of characters like Ant-Man or Iron Man. Despite all of this, Doctor Strange manages to fit perfectly into the grand scheme of the Infinity Saga. The visual beauty and extraordinary powers showcased throughout make for a beautiful film that opens up countless possibilities, leaving you with a sense of wonder that can’t be matched from other solo movies. Using the time stone also provides one of the most unique final acts to show just how powerful Doctor Strange can be, and solidifies his place within the larger Infinity Saga storyline.
Aside from some jokes that fall a little flat, the only hindrance to Stephen Strange’s story is how similar it is to Tony Stark’s. On the other hand, the film makes up for this in it two ways. Towards the end of the film, Strange knows that he has the choice to either use magic to protect our reality, or to go back to his old life. Denying what he has wanted his whole life when it’s right in front of him makes him even more altruistic than other heroes. Secondly, this is the first solo film in the Infinity Saga in which the hero doesn’t physically overcome the villain. Instead, Doctor Strange uses magic and the time stone to simply outsmart and bargain with Dormammu. This was a perfect way to characterize Doctor Strange as a different type of hero when it comes to saving the universe.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
As we are near the top ten of the Infinity Saga ranking, it may appear a bold decision to put such a divisive movie so close to the number ten rank. On the one hand, Age of Ultron is often criticized for overstuffing subplots of Black Panther, Civil War, Ragnarok, and the Infinity Stones. In turn, this prevents significant development for each of the original six members. On the other hand, Age of Ultron makes it to number eleven on the Infinity Saga ranks because it is the most important turning point within the larger story.
Almost every single character arc that was completed in Infinity War and Endgame, all circle back to Age of Ultron. Without it, things like Iron Man’s sacrifice, the Sokovia Accords, Hawkeye’s turn to darkness, and Hulk’s eventual transformation would hold no weight just to name a few. Before Infinity War united every hero together, Ultron took the big step of actually delivering on an interconnected universe. Not to mention Ultron himself acts as a very formidable (and hilarious) foe that divides the Avengers like no other villain has. His naive and impulsive personality coupled with James Spader’s iconic voice makes for a great villain in total. Plus, the introduction of new characters such as Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Vision lead to amazing fight sequences like Hulk versus the Hulkbuster and the Battle of Sokovia. So while it may appear overstuffed, Age of Ultron in actuality is the core that holds the Infinity Saga together.
10. Captain America: Civil War
We’ve finally reached the top ten of the Infinity Saga, and Captain America: Civil War certainly deserves its place here. While we’ve come to see how the individual Avengers hold their own conflicting ideologies throughout previous films, Civil War holds such a massive appeal being that the entire film revolves around directly pitting these differing ideologies against each other. As mentioned previously, Age of Ultron sparked a huge turning point in which the Avengers were slowly becoming their own worst enemies. Civil War is consequently able to combine the stories of multiple characters while tearing them apart.
That being said, given that this is primarily a Captain America story, Civil War proved that solo comicbook movies can still include the scope of a team-up movie while centering on the development of a single character. By the end of the film, we’ve not only received one of the most iconic fight sequences in comicbook movie history as well as a new and improved Spider-Man, but we’ve also gotten substantial development for the character arc that has defined Captain America across pop-culture fandom. Regardless of his devotion to his country and his team, he values what he knows is right.
Across his development Cap is constantly pushed and pulled by what he remembers from his previous life in WWII and his new modern-day environment. This is best exemplified with the return of Bucky Barnes as the centerpiece of this war. Using Cap and Bucky’s friendship against them, Baron Zemo is able to show how even the most righteous member of the Avengers can hurt people, which was a great way to signify Caps separation from his American identity, the dark side of super-powered people, and the effect of Ultron on everyday life. Essentially, this frenzy of Avengers family drama, makes it all the more exciting to wonder how Cap and Tony can ever repair the damage in time to face what’s coming. Yet, it tends to feel formulaic when stacked against the rest of our top ten ranks.
9. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Spider-Man: Far From Home takes Peter Parker to a place where we never thought we would see him, Europe. It’s hard to imagine an effective Spider-Man story coming so far from NYC which has defined his character. However, Far From Home takes the whimsical charm of a high school drama genre and transfers it into a family vacation style film that continues to work well. The gaping hole left in the universe without his mentor, Tony Stark, also adds to the pressure that falls onto Peter as a kid in an Avengers world. However, this sequel improves upon what was established in Homecoming by nailing the mechanics of Spider-Man combat and further establishing him as a hero on his own.
While Homecoming was about Peter learning to control and value his place as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Far From Home works to establish Peter as a hero who now needs to step up and take responsibility. This tees up a promising future for the character who embodies the statement “with great power comes great responsibility”.
In addition, fans were wondering how Marvel would recreate Mysterio’s signature illusionary powers onto the big screen. In turn, they absolutely nailed his theatre buff personality, the mechanics of his illusions, and his connection to both Spider-Man and Iron Man. His powers challenge Peter like never before, and his charisma continues to beat him down when he’s already at his most vulnerable. Mysterio’s illusions help to create some of the best Spider-Man fight scenes we have seen thus far, and by the end of the film, the plot has molded the previous Peter Parker into a fully self-actualized hero. Plus, if you think that’s enough to solidify Far From Home as number nine, just wait till you see those game-changing credit scenes.
8. The Avengers
The Avengers is a movie like nothing ever before it. Before 2012, comicbook fans could only rely on their imagination and their dreams to see the worlds of multiple heroes collide on one screen. Comparatively, movies as large as Infinity War and Endgame make the first Avengers look ant sized; but nothing can replicate the statement that Marvel Studios made when they combined the original six against Loki in the battle of New York. The beauty of this team-up adventure comes from its simplicity. Rather than attempting to dig out subplots and dive into the characterizations of each hero too much, the film focuses on creating a believable, likeable, and rich team dynamic. Of course, poor Hawkeye gets shoved to the side a bit, but his place as an OG Avenger cannot be argued with. What solidifies this team identity is how The Avengers are able to come to an understanding of what their team really means; and who better to tease them until they realize this than the God of Mischief.
Loki may be a little bit more generically power-hungry in this film (although this was due to the mind stone affecting his personality), but his witty charisma and unruly arrogance are still just as effective. Using his mischievous mind games to pit the heroes against one another while unwillingly uniting them with the death of Phil Coulson makes their first battle group-shot send chills down your spine. Also, let's not forget how well this movie introduces Mark Ruffalo as the definitive new Hulk. All in all, with some great battles, a taste of character rivalries and a good amount of fan service, The Avengers hit the jackpot as one of the most iconic films in history. Just as Nick Fury tells the World Security Council that The Avengers team is a promise to the world, The Avengers film itself was a promise to movie viewers of a new level of storytelling.
7. Black Panther
While The Avengers set a precedent for team-up movies and Doctor Strange set the precedent for weird comicbook movies, Black Panther changed the game in a completely different way. Similar to the Thor franchise, Black Panther introduces us to a whole new world equally as mysterious as it is fantastic. Contrastingly, however, the film manages to succeed where Asgard fell short by making audiences worldwide fall in love with the rich culture and history associated with Wakanda. The strong female presence in the form of the Dora Milaje not only adds to the action but showcases the progressive values of this African utopia. The diversity of tribes within this nation fleshes out a completely self-contained universe that acts as if it could exist entirely apart from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the thing that makes Wakanda work so well on screen is how they marry the mysticality of an African nation rooted deep in its traditions with the bewildering technological capabilities behind Wakandan vibranium. On-screen, these themes blend to create such a captivating visual style and an intriguing culture that makes the Black Panther mantle stand out amongst other super-powered heroes.
Black Panther brings itself to rank seven on this list because of the impactful relationships it develops between a king and his people, a nation and the world, and most importantly, a hero and a villain. Although we’ve seen characters like Thor come close to becoming king, we previously have not experienced the story of a true king of a nation. T’Challa’s struggle to live up to his father and respect the traditions of his people is constantly clashing with the immense responsibility of Wakanda’s power and their capability to serve more than tradition. Black Panther perfectly accentuates this conflict with Michael B. Jordan’s incredible portrayal of villain Erik Killmonger. Any good villain should,of course be powerful, relatable and charismatic. Going further, however, what defines Killmonger as one of the best villains of the Infinity Saga is how his radical ideologies help T’Challa to become a better king. The plot of Black Panther demonstrates massive growth for T’Challa as he recognizes Killmonger's efforts to help black people around the world who are suffering instead of ignoring the outside world. Rather than going to either extreme, T’Challa recognizes Wakanda’s ability to share their knowledge to help all of those in need. It’s a very effective relationship that is reminiscent of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Ultimately, Black Panther makes amazing strides for comicbook movies, equal representation in Hollywood, and for the future of storytelling.
6. Iron Man
The one that started it all. As we near the top five movies from the Infinity Saga, it comes without a surprise that the first Iron Man makes it this high. Tony Stark is often thought of as the godfather of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When you’ve built an empire as large as Marvel has, you have to think it’s only as strong as its foundation. In this case, Tony Stark’s origin story includes strong character development and a story that was different than the standard superhero movie formula that the world was previously accustomed to, providing the perfect base for what we know today as the biggest movie franchise of all time.
A common trend with movie franchises is for fans to like the first movie simply because it was the first. However, Iron Man is much deeper. Before we met Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, most fans were used to heroes who were gifted with extraordinary powers. Iron Man tells the story of someone who has no powers at all beyond his mind. This is where Iron Man shines. No matter the situation, his intelligence allows him to prevail and rise above those who have more resources and even more power than him. Seeing a man who has it all, dragged to his lowest point and dragged through the mud of his own legacy is where the audience really connects to Tony Stark.
Through grounded themes of terrorism and corrupt business, he comes to realize the evil that comes along with one’s prosperity. This level of character growth in just one film separated Iron Man from previous films in which a hero plainly learned to control their powers. Furthermore, Robert Downey Jr. quickly became a fan favorite as the definitive Iron Man with perfectly matched wise-cracking playboy personality. Finally, top this off with an iconic ending in which Tony publicly announces himself as Iron Man; this film deserves its rank at number six.
5. Avengers: Infinity War
It only took eighteen films to get there, but in 2018 fans were graced with the culmination of the Infinity Saga, the beginning of the end, our number five rank, Avengers: Infinity War. After years of teases, post-credit scenes and fan theories to tide us over, fans were incredibly anxious to see how the emergence of Thanos would unfold on the big screen. Long story short, Marvel delivered fans a film packed to the brim with great action and dialogue to create the teamup of our dreams.
The challenge with building up a single villain for this long is the immense expectations that come along with him. Aside from jumping around to groups of Avengers guarding the infinity stones, the film does a great job of making this movie primarily about Thanos. From the minute the movie starts we understand just how powerful he is as he murders Loki and demolishes the Hulk. Not to mention he spends the rest of the movie mowing through the rest of the Avengers like grass. Really it just makes you wonder how quickly he could have got things going if he got off his ass five movies before this. As twisted as he may be, the film paints Thanos as a semi redeemable character (who loves his daughter) with somewhat understandable motivations. Of course he is sociopathic (views himself as a god) and his plans are overly callous and despicable. Yet they do come from a place of passion for the greater good. This moral grey area is what makes him so effective.
Another reason why Infinity War skyrockets to rank number five is the many hero mashups throughout the film. For years we’ve fallen in love with each of these characters separately. When you see Spider-Man in the middle of the butting heads of Doctor Strange and Iron Man, or Thor, Rocket, and Groot becoming best buds, it makes you fall in love with each one of them all over again. This only serves to make the end of this movie all the more emotional. As you’re caught up in the massive amounts of action, you have no time to prepare yourself for the disintegration of half of your favorite characters. All in all, this massive emotional culmination defines the scope and wonder of the Infinity Saga. However, the limited amount of screen time to devote to so many characters does inhibit core team development that we saw in The Avengers and Age of Ultron.
4. Thor: Ragnarok
At the time of its release, Thor: Ragnarok was one of the most surprising entries to the Infinity Saga. Turning the blandest Avenger into one of the most beloved is an incredible feat on its own; but in a little over two hours, director Taika Waititi also manages to combine two of the most iconic comicbook storylines, introduce amazing new characters and reinvigorate the entire Thor franchise.
Previously, we talked about Thor and Thor: The Dark World. In both stories, Thor was the weak link of his own movie. Ragnarok repairs this damage by returning Thor to his eccentric and psychedelic roots defined by Jack Kirby’s trademark style. With a story about Norse space gods and alien creatures, Taika Waititi realized it’s best to treat it exactly how it sounds: ridiculous. While the movie maintains some of the more serious themes of kingship, worthiness, and Thor and Loki’s conflicting relationship, the comedic galaxy road trip concept inspires a sense of wonder to the space side of the Infinity Saga that we haven’t had since Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s this balance of serious development for Thor, Loki, and even Bruce Banner with the light-hearted contrasts of The Grandmaster, Korg, and Miek that makes this movie so memorable and rewatchable.
In terms of plot, Ragnarok combines the Asgardian apocalypse with the famous Planet Hulk storyline. For years fans were clamoring for Planet Hulk to make it to the big screen; and while it only acts as a supporting thread for the Ragnarok story, we finally get some Hulk development that feels like it has some velocity. As for the Ragnarok storyline, Hela the goddess of death makes her debut as the first female antagonist in the Infinity Saga. Her arrogance, determination and raw power put other villains to shame; and her blood relationship to Thor challenges him even more than Loki has. In the end, Thor has developed into a character whose power isn’t defined by his hammer, and his strength as a king isn’t defined by how hard he hits. By allowing his own home world to be destroyed for the good of his people, Thor has emerged as the king Odin was always pushing him to be. As for Loki, he may have redeemed himself, but he continues to prove that his is the only god of mischief.
3. Avengers: Endgame
Buckle up because this one is going to be a long one. Avengers: Infinity War may have been the culmination of the Infinity Saga, but Avengers: Endgame is the swan song that represents everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has promised throughout eleven years of storytelling. Naturally, fans assumed the remaining Avengers would be traveling through time or dimensions to avenge the fallen heroes. Unlike Infinity War, however, Endgame let little to no semblance of plot details escape before the film’s release. Within pop-culture fandom, it’s really a gamble whether or not the creators can deliver on an all-around meaningful and effective ending; whereas Avengers: Endgame triumphs with an ending that does right by every original Avenger and opens up the door for a promising future of storytelling.
Probably the only major misstep in Endgame deals with Bruce Banner and Hulk. After Ragnarok started a monumental Hulk character arc and Infinity War hinted that something big was coming for the green goliath, Endgame glossed right over what could have been a much bigger reveal for the Smart Hulk character development. Regardless, the film makes up for this by choosing Banner as the one to avenge the fallen heroes with the first infinity snap. Being plagued by his alter ego for years, he is finally able to reach a place in his life where Banner and the Hulk can work together to save trillions.
Aside from this minor misstep, Endgame is filled with instances of action, emotion, nostalgia and even comedy that leave your jaw dropped from start to finish. The time heist plotline not only revisits some of the highlights of the past eleven years of the infinity Saga, but it also ties up loose threads and helps you to realize how important every little moment was in arriving at the Endgame. Whether it’s Cap vs. Cap, Tony seeing his father, Thor seeing his mother, Nebula redeeming herself, or Black Widow’s heart-wrenching sacrifice, the second act of the film is all about reminding us of the love we have for this universe. Following right behind it, the third act comes in for the kill and really capitalizes on that passion.
While Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye all receive their well-deserved plotlines in this film; the story really drives it home for Thor, Captain America and Iron Man, the trinity. Thor’s psychological fall and subsequent rise near the end of the film could be seen as pure comedic relief; when in actuality, it opens up a new beginning that was hinted at in Ragnarok. Even the strongest Avenger can be broken; and in turn, Thor realizes that his true place is not as a king, but as a free-spirited Avenger. As for Captain America, the moral compass of the team finally reembraces his patriotic mantle, proves his worthiness (with an epic Mjolnir payoff from Age of Ultron) and accepts his fate as a man who deserves to live happily after a long life of selflessness, thus passing on his mantle. Lastly, let's not forget the perfect closure to the godfather of this universe. Tony’s sacrifice in the final moments of this film complete his arc of Earth’s true hero. Having tried time and time again his whole life to protect the planet, he’s finally able to rid himself of his demons, put an end to Thanos, and fulfill the purpose he realized for himself back in 2008. Altogether, Endgame does have it’s areas of weakness (time travel mechanics are hard to nail in blockbuster movies). But it’s hard not to grip your seat as you watch that unbelievable final battle, or cry as you watch every character assemble for Tony Starks funeral. So, while Endgame may not be a perfect movie, it’s without a doubt the perfect ending to a story like no other.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The number two rank on this list goes to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Out of the trinity composed of Iron Man, Cap, and Thor, Captain America’s trilogy of solo movies is definitely the highest in quality. This can largely be attributed to the strides made in this second installment. Back to back twists coupled with an amazing modern take on Captain America combine to create a stand out spy thriller that turns Captain America from your third favorite Avenger, into a complete badass.
From the first scene where Cap drop kicks a pirate off of a S.H.I.E.L.D ship, you know that this is a different kind of Captain America movie. This version of Steve Rogers is sly, hardcore, and relentless in a vast change from his naggy and whining personality in The Avengers. With a detailed focus on pristine hand-to-hand combat, his super soldier abilities are taken to their absolute peak, turning once generic fight choreography into nail-biting action sequences. It’s refreshing to see similar characters such as Falcon, Black Widow and The Winter Soldier himself receive the same high caliber treatment which is normally given to the lords and gods of comicbook movies.
Throughout the film, we’re reminded to trust nobody. Again and again, surprising events unfold that leave you on the edge of your seat, not knowing how Cap can possibly deal with what he’s facing. Bucky’s return as the villain along with Dr. Zola and the Hydra twist all work perfectly to bring Cap’s demons from his past life into the modern world. This presence of multiple small villains to make up the single entity of Hydra act as an effective adversary for Cap to grow beyond his allegiance to the establishment. The movie is able to then reinvoke this sense of Captain America as a symbol for freedom against all evils, rather than what is publicly labeled as evil. His speech, stating “The price of freedom is high, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay”, emphasizes this and leaves the audience inspired enough that they would leave their seats to join Captain America to fight for any cause imaginable.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
At long last, we’ve arrived at our number one spot. The rank that triumphs over the massive success of the Infinity Saga from 2008 to 2019. Prior to 2014, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was undoubtedly successful, adapting the stories of each Avenger into their own cinematic adventures. Whether you are a comicbook nerd or a casual movie-goer, most people at the time were familiar with names like Iron Man, Captain America and The Hulk. However, when Marvel Studios announced Guardians of the Galaxy, almost nobody knew what to expect. Fast forward to today and the Guardians are some of the most iconic characters in all of cinema. By combining pop-culture, comedy and action in a postmodern space opera setting, director James Gunn was able to turn Guardians of the Galaxy into a team-up movie that reinvented the genre only two years after The Avengers blew our minds.
Similar to Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians takes the approach of steering into the curve. No idea who these characters are? Well, instead of turning these misfits into natural born heroes, Guardians tells the story of a bunch of outcasts who were never meant to be heroes. They’re all jackasses who have never belonged to anything until they found each other and that’s what makes them so lovable. Eventually, yes they become saviors of the galaxy; but they are still liars, cheaters and wise-asses. This unlikely group dynamic actually ends up becoming more relatable and tangible than the team dynamic of The Avengers. The action equally balances each team member’s different abilities and makes it hard to choose who your favorite Guardian is.
Guardians also differentiates itself from every other movie with Star Lord’s “Awesome Mixtape”. His carefully curated selection of 70’s and 80’s pop tunes seep into the story and become part of the team’s identity. Never has a superhero movie created something so original as the Guardians of the Galaxy. Ronan the Accuser might be an average villain, but the emotional attachment you form with the team completely overpowers this fault. At the end of the day, there are many films on this list that could have been worthy of the number one rank. However, if you were to show somebody only one film from the Infinity Saga to convince them to watch all twenty-three movies, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best choice hands down.
Ranked by Jake Zall and Nick Mandala
Written by Jake Zall
Edited by Nick Mandala