Every time a new Marvel Studios movie opens in theaters, there’s an urge to look back at what has come before it, partly because the films are growing increasingly inter-connected, but also because most of them are a ton of fun.
With the debut of “Thor: The Dark World” in the U.S. on Friday, we’re taking a look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, including the latest installment. We saw the Avengers fight side-by-side last year, but what happens when they’re pitted against each for an ultimate Marvel ranking?
9. “Iron Man 2″
What’s the worst way to follow up a surprisingly fun and fresh superhero movie with a likeable hero? Make an overly serious sequel that doesn’t keep the spirit original alive. Marvel Studios’ first “2″ had the same drawbacks as sequels in other hero franchises, more of the same without anything to add to the conversation. Plus, “Iron Man 3″ covered a lot of the same ground with much more deft and humor.
8. “The Incredible Hulk”
I have to give the second crack at a Hulk movie a bit of a break because Marvel Studios was still finding its footing in the Cinematic Universe, but all the Edward Norton-led movie really does is prove how good “Iron Man” is. Too self-serious and without an ounce of humor to balance it out, “The Incredible Hulk” is too obsessed with winking at the camera to find its own voice.
The first movie to feature the god of thunder was where Marvel found its stride. Director Kenneth Branaugh told a fun, Shakespeare-inspired tale of two brothers jockeying for their father’s approval. Peak Marvel was still a few movies off and Chris Hemsworth still wore that awful wig, but the leading man quickly proved to be a star in the making and the perfect fit for this delightfully strange tale.
6. “Thor: The Dark World”
“Thor: The Dark World” works because it takes the characters that made original surprisingly good and brings them back, but everyone, especially Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as Loki, knows the world better and looks more comfortable on screen. At the same time, the characters lose the benefit having arcs as clearly defined as they did in the first film.
5. “Iron Man 3″
The third movie to feature Tony Stark proved conclusively that a Marvel movie can take any shape, genre-wise. It can even be a Shane Black-style action-comedy. So who better to pull that off than Black himself? “Iron Man 3″ followed in the style of “The Avengers,” allowing a filmmaker to really leave his personal stamp on a big studio superhero movie, and it’s better because of it.
4. “Captain America: The First Avenger”
The story of Steve Rogers stands as one of the best examples of Marvel characterization and what makes the studio different from the “Dark Knights” and “Men of Steel” of the world. Captain America’s appeal relies on his likeability, not his tortured soul, a refreshing change of pace for the genre. It also helps that the movie itself had an old-school charm complements of “Rocketeer” director Joe Johnston.
3. “Iron Man”
The reasons for the first “Iron Man’s” success are the same ones that still power the Marvel Cinematic Universe today. The studio put a great amount of faith in a talent filmmaker and its casting department. Before 2008, both Robert Downey Jr. and the character Iron Man were unlikely candidates for the fame that would soon find them, but six years later, it’s hard to imagine any other time.
2. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Iron Man is the hero that makes Marvel Studios the most money, but Captain America is the one they understand the best. “The Winter Soldier” sticks Marvel’s best character into the moral mess of modern government and makes it not only thrilling, but emotional. Plus, these are the best villains this side of Loki.
1. “The Avengers”
A director with one feature under his belt brought together characters in a way that had never been attempted before, and the risk paid off in exponentially. Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” gives each of those characters moments that feel true to them and what has come before, making our fondness for them — and in turn, the previous films — grow.