There’s this tiny little indie film coming out soon, you might have heard of it – it’s called Avengers: Endgame. Probably a minimal release but – as those who have followed the saga of Earth’s mightiest heroes will know it’s been an eleven year, twenty-two film saga, following heroes as they’ve battled evil, crushed terrorism and faced defeat at their greatest foe. In anticipation of this world-changing event, we’ve ranked every Marvel film pre-Endgame from the worst to the very best. It’s time to Assemble our Avengers.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
The poor red-headed step child of the Marvel franchise, looking to be more of a movie version of the old TV show than it’s own thing. This is made more obvious by a man-on-the-run plot, the use of the lonely man theme, Lou Ferigno having a cameo and the beginning being a near shot-for-shot remake of the origin. Norton is passable as Banner, but too old to be a love interest for Liv Tyler (woefully miscast). William Hurt and Tim Roth do well in their villainous roles, but the action is weightless and video-game level.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)
Alan “Many Episodes of Game of Thrones” Taylor attempts to bring some of his Westeros charm to the Asgardian world in this visionless sequel. Coasting on the charm of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as Thor and Loki, while Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins look bored stiff. Sadly the action is so-so, the jokes come in fits and starts and sadly Christopher Eccleston is wasted under great make-up in his bland villain role.
IRON MAN 2 (2010)
Not a bad film, but confused, half a direct sequel the O.G. Marvel movie in which Robert Downey Jr snarks his way through a two pronged villain attack from Russian baddie Mickey Rourke and tech-mogul Sam Rockwell, this while his suit slowly rots his body but also half a movie in which Samuel L. Jackson sends his spies Clark Gregg and Scarlett Johansson to track Iron Man as a possible Avengers candidate. The Monaco Grand Prix fight is a blinding couple of minutes and Downey Jr was born to play the role, but it’s focus changes too much to be fully satisfying.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)
Set a month after the mega-smash hit space movie. James Gunn directs and sole-writes this follow up that makes some strange choices. After the fun of the first, this film makes the bizarre choice to split the team into groups and to re-do the character development of the first. But Kurt Russell is great in his role, and new Guardians Pom Klemetieff is a fun addition, but the plotting is messy and it suffers from classic sequel syndrome of too much plot.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)
Joss Whedon struggles and mainly succeeds in bringing back the Avengers for a second go-around. Mixing big ballsy action sequences that show a confidence in his directing. The dialogue is crisp and the performances good, plus the addition of Paul Bettany, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen to the cast as new Avengers and James Spader is great as the arch villain Ultron.
ANT-MAN & THE WASP (2018)
Not bad so much as flimsy, this second outing for Paul Rudd as tiny hero Ant-Man is big on jokes but low on stakes. The visual effects are top notch, with fun sequences of things getting big then small then really big, and Evangeline Lilly comes into her own as The Wasp. It’s a shame that it doesn’t feel like a film that has stakes because everyone in it coasts by on good old fashioned charm.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
Joe “The Rocketeer” Johnston brings his retro feel to this origin tale. Chris Evans brings easy charm to his role as Steve Rogers the super soldier with a good soul, while other actors bring the film an old fashioned feel. Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones are great as the axis of evil, and Tommy Lee Jones gives good gruff as the old colonel who commands the team. It’s Hayley Attwell as Peggy Carter who steals the show as the tough stiff upper lip Brit who wins the Captain’s respect and heart.
Low on epic action, but high on character, Kenneth Branagh brings his Shakespeare sincerity to this comic book film which doesn’t have the scope of other MCU films but manages to cast it’s central roles perfectly. At times it becomes clear its doing a lot of leg work to fill us in on stuff before The Avengers, but there’s a lot to like in Chris Hemsworth’s redemption arc in the film.
IRON MAN THREE (2013)
Yes, it changes the lore of one of Iron Man’s biggest villains and much of it has the flippancy that Shane Black is known for, but once again Downey Jr is great in his role and it examines his role post The Acenfers very well, it also manages to have a show stopping action sequence in the barrel of monkeys rescue, and there’s some fun banter between the characters.
The fun and breezy heist caper managed to bring something different to the MCU. Paul Rudd is his usual charming self, and despite weak villain work and some undercooked ideas, there’s much fun to be had in a film that follows the crime caper plotting and humour to a fun conclusion. It helps that Michael Douglas brings credibility to pseudo-science and there’s much to enjoy in Michael Pena’s performance.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
Making Spider-Man a John Hughes style teen movie is a stroke of genius that brings him into the MCU easily and with a great deal of fun. Tom Holland’s first solo outing at the web-headed friendly neighbour wall crawler has us onside all the way through, and Zendaya is a nice addition to the franchise while Michael Keaton is menacing as the villainous Vulture and the sequence at the Washington monument is one of the series best.
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
Perhaps the weirdest of the prospects in the series, Benedict Cumberbatch is the arrogant surgeon who learns of the Mystic arts after a life changing car crash. Taught in magic by Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong, it’s up to Strange to stop scary eyed Mads Mikkelsen and reunite with Rachel McAdams. The story telling is sort of basic but the visuals are gorgeous and mind boggling with strange MC Esher style action sequences in different dimensions that lend the film an Inception on acid look.
CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)
Brie Larson shines in this fun 90s set action romp that sees the original superhero come and change the life of Nick Fury. It’s fresh, and fun and filled with great twists and turns even if it changes the lore of the Skulls, and Marvel herself has too many powers for the threat to ever feel like she could die. But the greatest hits soundtrack and some of the jokes are charming, and it works well as a taster before Endgane.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
A film featuring a no-longer fat Chris Pratt, a green Zoe Saldana, professional fighter Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper as a grouchy talking Raccoon and Vin Diesel as a one phrase speaking tree didn’t seem like a sure fire hit but under the guidance of James Gunn turned into one of the most enjoyable blockbusters of recent years. It does suffer from underwritten villains and perhaps some lines are insensitive (referring to someone as a whore when they are your friend isn’t cool), but the film is emotional and funny is equal places and the awesome mix was a great soundtrack to 2014.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
Having smashed expectations with The Winter Soldier, Joe and Anthony Russo came back for this twisty epic in which Captain America and Iron Man face off against each other over government oversight. Daniel Bruhl’s villain is an interesting addition to the series, and it manages to throw in new people like Spider-Man and Black Panther easily, which makes for a brilliant ensemble that has heart, emotion and some great superhero smackdown in there for good measure. If there was any doubt in Marvel before it vanished with this one.
IRON MAN (2008)
The one that started it all. Jon Favreau having only directed mid-budget movies (Made, Elf, Zathura: A Space Adventure) makes the leap to mega-budgets with perfect casting of Robert Downey Jr in the role that saved his career and brought him back to the A-list. The story is a basic origin one with again mediocre action but great character work and enough easter eggs to build a universe on, plus the story of a man bettering himself is true heroism and Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges get the measure of the movie and have fun.
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
Cultural significance is one thing, historical amounts of money and glass ceiling shattering is another, but to also be a fun superhero movie with a message at it’s core is sort of something else entirely. Ryan “Creed” Coogler builds the world of Wakanda as real as the street outside your bedroom window, with Chadwick Boseman as stoic king T’Challa while the supporting cast flesh out their roles to build a rich story of class, culture and responsibility while Michael B. Jordan’s villainous Killmonger raises important points about racial differences, colonialism and hate crimes. Ludwig Goransson’s score is also epic and intimate in equal measure. A bona-fide classic.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
Taking inspiration from Alan J Pakula conspiracy thrillers of the 70s – made more obvious with the casting of Robert Redford as a besuited corporate type – this second outing for Cap is less an ode to joy and more a forbode to futurism. The biggest twist in the MCU so far, that Hydra has taken over SHIELD slowly over 70 years was a shocker, and for it’s comments on post-9/11 paranoia and “get them before they act” politics is an interesting way of examining if the world needs a hero who wears an American flag into battle.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
The biggest film ever made. Every single hero in the MCU (sans Ant-Man) came together to stop Thanos from snapping his fingers. What followed was two and a half hours of fan service mixing high stakes action, emotional revelations, great acting and a thrilling conclusion that took as across the universe before hitting us hard with a downbeat ending more grim that The Empire Strikes Back. That last shot, a content Thanos looking out over the world having killed half of all life is a haunting reminder that evil has won.
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
Taika Waititi strips Thor of everything – his father, his planet, his warriors three, his long golden locks, his armour and his hammer for an 80s neon Flash Gordon-style comedy adventure. Stranded on the planet Sakaar while his evil sister Hela attempts to lay waste to Asgard, Thor along with Loki, Hulk and new character Valkyrie must escape the eccentric Grandmaster and save Asgard and it’s people. It sometimes fails when it comes to emotion, but with Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum joining the universe it’s easily the most enjoyable film in the series filled with laugh out loud one liners. Plus, Korg is a treasure.
THE AVENGERS / AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)
It’s now taken for granted that Marvel can do anything, having pulled off an Infinity War and possibly an Endgame. But way back in 2012 it wasn’t so sure that five films could come together and make a coherent sixth. The superhero team up works best when Whedon is doing snappy dialogue, and the action doesn’t really get super good until the end twenty minute alien on hero vortex smash-‘em-up. But before then it’s a thrilling way to show what superhero movies can do. Infinity War might be bigger, but this was the film that showed nothing was impossible in cinema, becoming a box office success, cementing Marvel as the providers of high quality entertainment and of course giving us reason to still believe in heroes.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.