A Completely Arbitrary Ranking Of The 8 Movies In The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Or 5 out of 8 movies whatever
Marvel’s latest offering within its Cinematic Universe is Thor: The Dark World, marking the eighth entry into this rather ambitious attempt to apply rules normally reserved for comic books to movies. Film franchises have become commonplace by now, to the point where they’re frequently lambasted as the downfall of our cinema, innovation, civilization, etc. What Marvel is doing, though, is taking this wretched system of cynical sequels and tired remakes and doing something that, as far as I can tell, is completely new: establishing a multi-film-spanning universe with individual stories that intersect and influence each other over an indefinite period of time.
They’ve further extended this cinematic universe into television and shorts, most notably the ABC series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which I have yet to get into (I’m hesitant due to the mixed reviews). There may be a learning curve for these ventures as there was for the movies initially, and a new partnership with Netflix certainly sounds promising. Their universe continues to expand, and if the quality can keep up pace with the quantity of output that Marvel is promising, it will be a fascinating and exciting era for innovative storytelling.
I’m not a comic book guy, but for as long as I’ve been aware of some of the conventional practices (so since like, a year ago), I’ve been deeply intrigued by the way storylines unfold across different series, and that projects as massive as big-budget movies are beginning to execute this with increasing agility is a tremendous development. I have little emotional attachment to Marvel as a brand, but what they’re doing is becoming pretty remarkable.
With that, here is a ranking of the 8 movies in Marvel’s current shared cinematic universe, based on the tastes and evaluative capabilities of a comic novice.

8) Thor number 1 in my heart

It may not objectively be the worst film in the octilogy, but 2011’s Thor was for me what Green Lantern seemed to be for everyone except me (I’d take Peter Sarsgaard over Asgard any day, sorry haters). The weird space opera beginning didn’t grab me, nor did the whole fish out of water sequence of Thor trying to understand life on Planet Earth that seemed to never end. How does a toaster work? What is this roll of soft tissue in the bathroom for? Oh, what a world!
I can’t stress enough how much of this could be due to the fact that I only watched the movie once, and the whole time I couldn’t help but think of how lame it was that this guy’s weapon was King Arthur’s sword except instead of a blade it was a magic hammer. Then I couldn’t stop singing that Beatles song in my head about the serial killer who sneaks up on people and smacks them with a hammer. So I can’t say that objectively the tone of the movie didn’t line up terribly well with the material, but for me, it didn’t at all.
On top of this was the depressing fact that Natalie Portman was reduced to basically a pair of eyes whose only requirement was to glossily stare up at Chris Hemsworth’s big face when they weren’t firmly fixed on his chest. Director Kenneth Branagh seemed most interested in Loki, and rightfully so, but that just made Thor himself a distraction from what was actually interesting about the movie named after him.

5) The Incredible Hulk

The seemingly most difficult character for Marvel Studios to get just right in our contemporary era of filmmaking is Bruce Banner and his rage-induced alter ego the Hulk. They’ve tried and tried, and only recently in The Avengers seemed to make him work when he only needed to be on the screen for a sixth of the time.
The Incredible Hulk was released in 2008 to many reactions of “hey, didn’t they just make this movie?” Initially intended as a sequel to Ang Lee’s underrated and non-canonical 2003 film Hulk starring Eric Bana, director Louis Leterrier ended up carrying out Marvel head Kevin Feige’s wishes for a true beginning to Hulk’s story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one would star Edward Norton, who is pretty much outstanding in everything he does, and lives up to his usual standards here. The only problem is that he doesn’t have a lot to work with, and the film seems to occupy itself primarily with the admittedly riveting action sequences to the detriment of demanding much audience investment in their outcomes.
The ideal would likely be the character-focus of Ang Lee’s approach combined with the Leterrier sensibilities when it comes to action, but Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal in The Avengers will do just fine.

4) Thor: The Dark World

It probably says more about my impression of the first Thor when I insist that the sequel is vastly superior to its predecessor, but nevertheless, Thor: The Dark World is better in pretty much every way, in my view. That’s not to say it’s not without extended groan-worthy bits. In fact, Chris Hemsworth remains the one actor that I maintain is a vapid performer (seems like a delightful guy, but as an actor, blah), even though everyone else seems to love him.
Much hay has been made out of the movie’s passing grade in the Bechdel Test, but you would think that assessment would be undercut by the fact that Jane Foster remains a completely non-character. All I see in Natalie Portman’s expressions is earnest concern for her child’s education fund. Power to her though; get paid, Nat!
The movie works despite some weak character moments because its action is beautifully executed and the world is made far more vivid than in the previous installment thanks to director and Game of Thrones veteran Alan Taylor. Asgard is presented very similarly to King’s Landing, with one scene in particular sharing a great deal of imagery with a certain funeral scene in Westeros. Most importantly, they stepped up the Loki moments, and Tom Hiddleston reinforces why anyone with any sense is firmly Team Loki. I still have next to no idea what the galactic storyline is about but at least this time it was pretty and fun.

2) The Avengers

Joss Whedon is almost treated as though he’s a real life superhero, but after what he did with The Avengers, that treatment is somewhat justified. The movie itself is really good, immensely satisfying and entertaining and everything you’d want from a summer superhero blockbuster. It’s in the degree of difficulty, though, that Whedon earns his stripes. Not only is the challenge in this project making a team-up movie with an all-star cast work as both a singular story and an opportunity to give all these individual stars and heroes their own shining moments, but there’s also the uncomfortable acknowledgement that the lead-in movies of Thor and Captain America weren’t really all that they could be.
The magic of The Avengers is that somehow it retroactively made those films better. It’s the Whedon treatment of these characters, finding the notes at the right moments, that capture each individual with beautiful economy (a necessity when you have this many leading players and a limited time to share the screen). Just a line here or there, “Puny god” or “I’m always angry,” are so simple but end up carrying so much weight because of their perfectly timed delivery and their impeccable encapsulation of characters we’ve spent entire feature-length movies already getting to know.
On top of that there’s the final battle which rivals the action of any climactic big fight scene in movie history. The decision to use that continuous shot, while maybe obvious, can’t be understated in its effectiveness at seaming together these disparate heroes with the sweep of a single classical cinematic technique. It wasn’t until this movie that I thought hey, maybe Marvel’s onto something here.

1) Iron Man

For all the flak Jon Favreau and company received for Iron Man 2, there’s little question that they created something special with the first Iron Man in 2008. This one was a relative surprise when it came out; we were all expecting huge things from The Dark Knight which would be released later that summer, and Iron Man seemed like an appetizer for the main course of summer movies that would come out after.
Instead, we were treated to one of the most tightly constructed and original-feeling comic adaptations ever put on screen, and one of the first of such adaptations to really feel contemporary and cool. Christopher Nolan may have moved past some of the cartoonishness with Batman Begins, but Iron Man took it further, making the broodiness and technological fancifulness of Nolan’s Gotham seem just slightly outdated, just a teensy bit unhip. Much of this was due to the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., the most perfect work of casting there could ever be, but also because the character of Tony Stark, a cynical defense contractor turned self-congratulatory hero, felt like someone out of our fame-driven world. On top of that, the crowning “I am Iron Man” moment was the ultimate answer to everyone who expresses skepticism over the superhero secret identity trope.
Others likely have a completely different ordering of these titles, and one of the interesting things about this current Marvel series is that the different shades and tones of movies will appeal to different people. I know lots of people who really dug the way the first Thor movie handled its weird characters and story, and critics have been quite positive toward the first Captain America in hindsight. I suspect comic books are similar, composed by different authors that speak to various audiences in their own individual ways. With the studio seeming to begin to hit its stride with this current Cinematic Universe, Marvel is changing our concept of the ways movies can relate to one another and the way audiences consume stories. And if nothing else, it’s fascinating to observe, and damn fun to watch.


Thoughts? I'd switch a  couple of them but it's not too far off the mark