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The Philm Column: Ranking Marvel’s Movies

May 24, 2018

Many of you are downright sick and tired of hearing about Marvel movies. But I’m not talking; I’m writing.

Other than the ongoing Star Wars franchise, there is no more dominant series in film history than what Marvel Studios has brought to the table. In fact, Marvel movies take up six of the top 25 slots on the all-time domestic earners list. Of course, that doesn’t account for inflation, but we’re not getting into that.

Do they deserve that distinction? In short, no. But, if one genre of movie is going to be so completely dominant in the modern film industry, at least there is a studio consistently putting out a decent, and sometimes excellent, product.

So let’s look it over, shall we? Here’s a list of the 19 Marvel Studios films, ranked from meh to miraculous. I also threw in the box office scores, so you can get a sense of how audiences reacted, though that’s hardly scientific, and inflation factors in, but once again, we’re not getting into that.

Feel free to send emails or hand-written letters, letting me know how vomit-inducing my Pompeii-scale disaster of a list truly is.

19 – Thor: The Dark World

No disrespect to one of the generally more entertaining superheroes, but this movie could be described in three words: a bit boring. The stakes are high, but that’s not exactly surprising for a superhero movie. There just wasn’t enough driving this film forward.

Domestic Box Office: $206.4 million

18 – The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I like Edward Norton. He’s a good actor. But four years later, Marvel literally just switched him out. It was almost like they wanted us to forget about that second movie they released right after the original Iron Man … Almost. The movie gives us some nice acting and action, but doesn’t amount to much.

Domestic Box Office: $134.8 million

17 – Iron Man 2 (2010)

Seemingly the most popular, or at least most famous, of the Marvel clan, Iron Man has put out three solid showings, but this is easily the worst. The bad guys, here, just don’t feel threatening enough and you never end up on the edge of your seat.

Domestic Box Office: $312.4 million

16 – Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

It’s going to start getting difficult to be overly critical. Not a single Marvel movie was genuinely crushed by reviewers or audiences. Many may have this, the second of the Avengers blockbusters, much higher on the list. For me, it drops because of the letdown factor. After the excellence of the first Avengers, Age of Ultron seemed to fall victim to its most obvious trap: trying to fit too much in one film.

Domestic Box Office: $459 million

15 – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

If you really wanted a slower, more meticulous superhero outing, then you probably really enjoyed this one. For me, it was a bit heavy on the story and a bit weak on the fireworks. It’s splitting hairs, really, but while the movie is clearly good, it’s not a standout.

Domestic Box Office: $176.7 million

14 – Iron Man 3 (2013)

I kind of can’t believe I’m ranking this so low, but I just can’t justify, in my own brain, moving it in front of any of the flicks yet to be listed. This movie, featuring a very random relationship between Robert Downey Jr. and some kid, made me laugh quite a bit. But I barely remember the central plot, which doesn’t seem ideal.

Domestic Box Office: $409 million

13 – Ant-Man (2015)

This one really only gets this high because Paul Rudd is really funny in it. In the grand scheme of the Marvel universe, the character is not hugely (get it?) important (at least not yet), and that mildly tempers the excitement. But again, it’s funny.

Domestic Box Office: $180.2 million

12 – Thor (2011)

I actually really enjoyed this movie, so I’m both confused and a little sad to see it outside the top 10, but facts are facts. It’s funny; it’s fun; it’s even dramatic. But it’s more of a “fun one to go back to” then a studio-defining victory.

Domestic Box Office: $181 million

11 – Doctor Strange (2016)

Ouch. I’m sure Benedict Cumberbatch is hurting to be left out of the Philm Column top 10. I guess he’ll have to add another four or five career-defining roles/performances over the next 12 months to make up for it. Doctor Strange, one of the studio’s more recent offerings, is a fun and even somewhat challenging affair. It didn’t have an impact on me like some of Marvel’s best did, though.

Domestic Box Office: $232.6 million

10 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Like its predecessor, this one was an absolute blast. There are so many thrilling and funny moments. The Minnesota-born Chris Pratt is a definite star, and the supporting cast is excellent, too. On the negative side, it’s a bit choppy and the story is a little off-kilter.

Domestic Box Office: $389.8 million

9 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

I think some of the most diehard Marvel fanatics rank each of the Captain America movies as the very best of the studio’s selection. Part of that might be because the films carry such an important weight in the overall picture. And The Winter Soldier introduces a very important plot line that has a ripple effect on future movies, and it does it well. It’s a really good movie. But it’s not an all-timer.

Domestic Box Office: $259.8 million

8 – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Man, I really thought I liked Thor more than this, but apparently I hate his guts. The highest ranking of the Thor trilogy on this list, Ragnarok is massively entertaining. Cate Blanchett as the bad lady, was, simply put, an excellent casting decision. Ragnarok is weird and witty and wonderful. I think what keeps it from being higher on my list is the ending, which felt a little overwrought and silly (which is kind of dumb to say in reference to superhero movies, but it’s all relative).

Domestic Box Office: $315.1 million

7 – Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

I feel kind of bad about this one not reaching the top five, because spider-man is such a defining character in the Marvel universe, and the creators did such a marvelous job introducing him to this particular narrative. And my hot take is that Tom Holland is the best of the modern-day spider-mans (followed by Tobey Maguire and then Andrew Garfield, if you’re wondering). He blended seamlessly into the role, and he really captures the disposition of a younger hero. But at this point in the rankings, you gotta have it all, and Homecoming is a little lacking in the drama department.

Domestic Box Office: $334.2 million

6 – Iron Man (2008)

According to reviews, this is one of the three best Marvel films of all time, but I think it benefitted from being the first of the series, and therefore was able to impress audiences who had less expectations going in. But this is a great movie. It’s intelligent and interesting and entertaining. Of all the heroes, Robert Downey Jr. is the most identifiable with his character, and that’s because he plays it so well. It’s hard to get tired of that impeccable sarcastic timing. This one’s just not quite as exciting as the top five.

Domestic Box Office: $318.4

5 – Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

There were times watching this movie when I wasn’t sure if it was truly among Marvel’s best, but by the end I was quite sure, and days later, I was certain. Really, it comes down to the story and how it was executed. This is some heavy material for a blockbuster, but the Russo brothers handled it with aplomb. I really should’ve been rolling my eyes at the end, but because the narrative was so perfectly laid out, I ended up in near tears (I did not cry).

Domestic Box Office: $472.1 million (as of May 9)

4 – Captain America: Civil War (2016)

No Marvel movie has better action than this one. The very best fight scene involves just three characters, and, I imagine, a much smaller budget than some of Marvel’s more exorbitant moments. When the Captain, Bucky and Iron Man are trading fists, there is an energy that pounds through the screen. The movie, as a whole, plays more like an Avengers offering than a Captain America sequel, but regardless, Civil War was a crucial and ridiculously well-crafted entry.

Domestic Box Office:  $408.1 million

3 – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Of all the Marvel films, this is the most fun to watch. It is so dazzling, so hilarious, so genuinely pleasing. It zips along and almost never slows down. The cast has a perfect mix of energies. The scenery is full of color and splendor. And the soundtrack reminded everyone that the 70s, known for its rock, had some killer pop, which was beautifully synchronized with the action. It’s not important enough to be the best Marvel movie of all time, but I’d rank it as the most watchable.

Domestic Box Office: $333.2 miilion

2 – Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther injected a badly needed dose of diversity into the superhero spectrum, but it would be criminal to write it off from there. This movie was a phenomenon. An origin story that outperformed the first two Avengers films at the box office. And for good reason. The fight scenes are intense, powerful, pointed. The scenery is vibrant and intoxicating. The characters are lovable and feel important. The story was resonant politically with its time, a major feat for a superhero movie. Nobody – from the directors to the actors to the choreographers to the costume designers – put a foot wrong.

Domestic Box Office: $693.8 million (as of May 9)

1 – Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

I think this one takes the top spot on my list, because there were so many pitfalls, so many ways this film could go wrong, but it didn’t. And in fact, it was near perfect. There were too many characters to fit into one film, but they made it work. The plot was too grand to manage, but it didn’t matter. The expectations were too high, but it didn’t matter. Moviegoers left the theater feeling more than satisfied. It had the humor of Marvel’s best films, the scale of Marvel’s best films, the quality acting of Marvel’s best films and the importance of Marvel’s best films. It checked every box, and it checked them twice, just to be sure. They just got it so right.

Domestic Box Office: $623.4 million


By Philip Weyhe

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