Ranking the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
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The Guardians of the Galaxy. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

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The 19th movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU) comes out this week. With “Avengers: Infinity War,” Marvel is sure to continue its ridiculously successful string of hits. But which Marvel films are the best? I traded emails with three of my equally pop culture obsessed friends - Josh, Brandon and Eli - to rank the best of the MCU.  

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Terry: I originally did a full ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe three years ago. Back then there were 12 films, now that number is up to 18. And that doesn’t even count the movies that come out in the next few months (“Infinity War,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp”). Because of that, I think ranking all 18 films will be a bit too time consuming. Instead, I’d like to concentrate on our own personal top 5 and why we like them. We’re all pop culture nerds, so let’s dive into this debate. I’ll get the ball rolling. 

Three years ago my top 5 were “Iron Man,” “The Avengers,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and “Ant-Man” (which I feel is a bit underrated), in that order. My list hasn’t changed much but the order has. Here’s my top 5 now: 

1. “Iron Man” - Great movie that changed the course of superhero flicks. This OG still holds up 10 years later, unlike some other (Cough, Hulk, cough) films. 

2. “Captain America: First Avenger” - I’ll be honest, I was never a Cap fan. At least not until this movie. Chris Evans brought the character to life and now I even read Cap comics. I chose this over Winter Soldier because I’m not that interested in Bucky Barnes. 

3. “Guardians of the Galaxy” - This film caught me by complete surprise, it just blew me away. I can count on one hand how many films have perfectly blended music with a story and this one tops the list. Awesome film!

4. “Black Panther” - Well balanced and with some of the deepest characters in the MCU. I wanted to move to Wakanda after seeing this movie. 

5. “The Avengers” - This choice was tough. I considered “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” for this spot but had to go with “The Avengers” just because of its impact on the MCU. “Iron Man” was a comic film rebirth, “The Avengers” made superheroes mainstream. 

You’ll probably notice that with the exception of Avengers, all of these are origin stories. And you could actually make the case that “The Avengers” is as well, but whatever. I think Marvel does a great job with origins, but no so much with sequels. I also feel the first Cap story has aged pretty well. What say you?

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Josh: Without further ado, here’s the top 5 and the whys.

1. “Thor: Ragnarok” – I’m actually surprised this wowed me as much as it did. So much fun to watch and so vibrant. What really made the movie for me was Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum just chewing scenery in their roles. I think no small part of the success is due to the directing of Taika Waititi, as his off-beat humor really shown through in the movie. This is going on my ‘watch it whenever I stumble across it’ list.

2. “Captain America: Winter Soldier” - I prefer the second installment in the Captain America series because of Cap’s agency in this installment. He’s invested on a personal level and DOES things. I feel like that wasn’t quite there in Cap 1, as more things just happened TO him. It leads me to have Winter Soldier edging out First Avenger to take this high spot on the list. Chris Evans has done a remarkable job playing Steve Rogers and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out in the Infinity War movies.

3. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1” – Vibrantly colorful with a colorful (in other ways) cast of characters. It’s a great team-up movie and origin story all in one. It delivered fun on a higher level than Guardians 2 did, but that doesn’t make Guardians Vol 2 a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination.  

4. “Iron Man” – Probably the best handled origin story in the MCU (Cap 1 being a notable close second in my mind). It really managed to set the tone that the MCU has carried through in many of it’s films, with humor and a bit of sarcastic glee tossed in.

5. “Black Panther” (tie) – You can’t ignore this juggernaut of a movie in a top 5 list. It has literally made all the money and was a very entertaining movie to boot, so it has to be on the list. I enjoyed the heck out of it and clearly many others did too.

5. (tie) “Spider Man: Homecoming” - I want to shoehorn this one in here because the name is at once a total dig at Sony owning the rights to Spider-Man for so long and frankly mismanaging it; but also it’s a great film, with a spectacular villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. It also further demonstrates the problem with Iron Man after the first couple movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love how RDJ portrays Tony Stark, but he’s becoming a bit of a caricature at this point in the MCU. Just a quibble that doesn’t take away from the movie being very good though.

Frankly, in my mind you can rearrange the bottom three in that list in any order and the ranking holds up. They’re all tied for fourth in my opinion. Change my mind. 

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Brandon: Here are mine:

1. “Iron Man” - The story very closely followed the origin of Iron Man in the comics with just a few changes. Keeping to the original content brings the fans that read the comics even closer in with the movies. My wife loves Robert Downey Jr too so another reason for #1.

2. “Guardians of the Galaxy” - When this came out, my recollection of the Guardians was the old comic with guys from Pluto and Jupiter, and Yandu was modeled after a native American tribesman but from Centauri IV. I was not expecting what ended up being a very fun movie with the newer Guardians I wasn't aware of.

3. “Thor: Ragnarok” - The first two Thor movies were ok but mostly big on action and not so much on the comedy. I personally don't care for Natalie Portman as an actress (OMG what is wrong with you? I know.) so that moves the first two down the list some. Ragnarok was the closest thing to a Planet Hulk movie we'll get so that helps as that story line in the comics was really good.

4. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” - Can’t have a MCU top 5 without a Cap movie and I like this one better than the first. Bucky and Hydra go hand in hand with Cap in the comics which is why I rank this in my top 5.

5. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” -  FINALLY a Spider-Man movie worthy of the name. This really grabbed the naivety of young Peter Parker (How much younger is Aunt May gonna get?) in a way that the multitude of other Spider-Man films seemed to be unable to do. 

There are so many good movies that ranking the MCU was hard to do. I think “Infinity War” will probably end up here after all is said and done. 

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Eli: I like the origin story movies more than the ensembles and sequels too. In fact, I don't remember a lot of the details from the big ensemble flicks because there's just too much going on. It was one of my big gripes with the old Spidey flicks. With that said...

1) “Guardians of the Galaxy” - This film ticked every box on my geek list. Perhaps the biggest reason I loved it so much was how out of nowhere good it was! I was familiar with the GotG comic from back in the day, and when I saw they were making a film I couldn't fathom how they could possibly make such an obscure title with unknown characters any good. And don’t even get me started on the soundtrack, which is the best non-John Williams music to a movie ever! It was literally woven into the fabric of the story and was as much a "character" as Groot. 

2) “Iron Man” - There’s one thing Kevin Feige and Company have done consistently well - cast the right people for the right roles. Jon Favreau brought Iron Man to life and gave us the kind of superhero movie most of us had been yearning for. It transformed the genre forever and ushered in our wildest geekdom dreams to the masses. 

3) “The Avengers” - To this day it's still the best ensemble movie in the entire series. The other thing Avengers did was allow “Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” to exist. Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is one of my favorite characters. His death led to his resurrection in what I contend is the best Marvel show on TV and has allowed his character to get really fleshed out. After all, he was the reason the Avengers got together in the first place. 

4) “Thor: Ragnarok” - Fifteen seconds in I knew I was going to love this film. It felt like another Guardians movie without the Guardians. Same kind of humor and more sci-fi slanted then all that Asgardian mystical mumbo jumbo. The first two Thor films weren't good, so I honestly didn't have much hope for this one. Boy, was I wrong! 

5) “Spider-Man: Homecoming” - This may be the toughest choice because there are several films that could easily slide in here, all for basically the same reason - they surprised me! I think they finally found the perfect Peter Parker in Tom Holland. And having Downey's Iron Man as his mentor was pure genius. Michael Keaton created one of the best MCU villains yet in the Vulture. Referencing events within the MCU (i.e., the Sokovia Accords) really brought Spidey into the fold. And for real Marvel nerds, we got to see Damage Control for the first time! 

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Terry: We seem to have some common preferences for sure. “Iron Man,” Cap (in some form), Guardians, and the latest Spidey and Thor. What are you least favorite MCU films and why? For me it’s the solo Hulk film starring Ed Norton, it was just dreadful. 

Eli: “Thor: Dark World.” I wasn’t enamored with Thor in either of his stand alone films but this one was really bogged down by Asgardian lore…and elves. I hate elves. 

Josh: Agreed. “Thor: Dark World” is definitely at the bottom. I get that they needed to introduce the Reality Infinity Stone but it was relegated to being a MacGuffin for the movie.

Brandon: While “Thor: Dark World” is up there I’d go with the Ed Norton Hulk movie. It’s not as bad as the Eric Bana version but that’s not considered MCU. 

Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. He spends way too much time talking about Marvel movies and other nerdy things with his friends. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.

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