Top 7 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies and Shows
This is it. The final countdown. After spending the last few months re-living some of the best moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we are finally ready to count down the franchise’s best movies and TV shows so far–as voted by YOU, the readers!–before we finally get to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron debut in US theaters this week.
In case you need a refresher: With Phase Two of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe wrapping up after this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, we decided it was a good time to take a look back at some of the best moments Marvel Studios has brought to the silver screen. Between now and Age of Ultron’s release we’ll be counting down several Top 7 lists that celebrate many of the greatest moments from the MCU so far. For reference, this includes every movie released to date (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy), as well as all the straight-to-video Marvel One-Shots (“The Consultant”, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer”, “Item 47″, “Agent Carter”, and “All Hail the King”), and also Marvel’s ongoing foray into television (as of print date: 19 episodes into Agents of SHIELD’s second season, the entire first season of Agent Carter, and the entire first season of Netflix’s Daredevil). Finally, this should go without saying, but you’ve been warned: SPOILERS AHEAD!
7) (3-way Tie) AGENTS OF SHIELD – SEASON 2, IRON MAN 3, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
“The best of the rest” is probably an apt way to refer to this trio, who couldn’t be separated by the time polling closed. Agents of SHIELD‘s strong second season would’ve been my personal pick of the bunch; the show has found new life this season showcasing a bevy of new cast members and an organization on the run. A brisk pace, a true antagonistic presence in Hydra, and the MCU introduction of the Inhumans have added tension and intrigue to a show that sorely lacked punch in its debut season. SHIELD has also thrived with new additions Mockingbird (Adrianne Palicki), Robert Gonzales (Edward James Olmos), Lance Hunter (Nick Blood), and Calvin Zabo (Kyle MacLachlan); the season isn’t even over yet, but a spot on this list is already deserved. By comparison, Iron Man 3 and The First Avenger are both intriguing movies, but not without their drawbacks. Iron Man 3 was our first Phase Two trip, and while it did a great job depicting Stark dealing with the emotional aftermath of the Battle of New York, it was not-so-cool having him essentially “de-powered” for half the movie while performing a bait-and-switch with his arch-nemesis. But, Iron Man 3 definitely sets the stage for the MCU version of Ultron, a creation of Tony Stark. Similarly, Captain America: The First Avenger was very much a prequel story for The Avengers. It was the first film to take place earlier in the timeline and was a good realization of the classic Captain America look and feel in his native World War II era. Red Skull also made for one of the more memorable MCU villains, but ultimately the movie overly relied on montages to move the story and sometimes felt just a little too campy.
Marvel tip-toed into the realm of magic and mysticism with the original Thor, billing Asgard’s fantasies as technology so advanced it only seems like magic. The movie seems to split the fanbase, but I fall on the side that really enjoyed it. It’s not a true origin story since Thor is already a powerful, celebrated character in this world, but we get to witness what happens that forges him into a hero worthy of the throne of Asgard (and a spot on the Avengers). The movie’s plot features what I think is the best development arc of any character in any of the Marvel movies so far, with only Tony Stark’s switch from weapons manufacturer to philanthropist even coming close. Chris Hemsworth proved to be a perfect casting for the role, and I think the movie’s wielding of humor helped to solidify the tone of the Marvel movies going forward, considering the somewhat uneven tone of the Phase 1 films. Loki was a cunning villain and a worthy cerebral foil for Thor’s brawn, though I do admit the Destroyer was one of the more boring enemies Marvel’s come up with.
5) IRON MAN
The one the started it all, Iron Man‘s 2008 debut was a triumphant introduction for Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie featured an impressively-rendered, perfectly-casted take on the title character and showed that Marvel had to chops to handle their own movie business with a product that felt true to the source material while modernizing it at the same time. It wasn’t just Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliance alone, either–Gweneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges excelled in their roles as Pepper Potts and Obediah Stane, respectively, although the latter’s climactic turn as Iron Monger was the movie’s one big disappointment. Director Jon Favreau did a great job sewing the fabric of the wider MCU into this movie too, dropping hints about the Ten Rings, making playful reference to War Machine, and showing SHIELD start to establish its identity. And while Iron Man by no means invented the post-credits scene, it established it as a must-watch piece of the MCU experience, dropping a major movie-connecting plot point for the most devout fans. It’s incredible looking back now, 7 years later, and seeing all that Marvel has accomplished since Iron Man first came out–incredible, but not a surprise given the quality of the first one.
4) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Leading into the movie’s premiere, skeptics warned that Guardians of the Galaxy represented a big risk for Marvel, the movie studio’s first new IP since The Avengers broke the box office. Did they still have the magic without their core characters? Could they really launch an obscure comics IP into another successful silver screen hit? Silly questions, in retrospect, given the movie’s immense success. In truth, it doesn’t seem like Kevin Feige and co. ever looked at Guardians as a risk, but instead a multi-faceted opportunity. In one fell swoop, the MCU got to branch out to Marvel’s vast and storied cosmic realm that had been teased in The Avengers and will be at the forefront of Infinity War; they got to make a fun sci-fi movie with a multi-alien-racial society and flashy visual effects; they got to stretch the tone of the Marvel movies into new territory; and finally, they did it all with an imaginative director and a talented cast that can disperse the weight of a new franchise among them as well as they do with the Power Stone. It’s certainly doubtful that all of Marvel’s upcoming onslaught of new IPs–Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Inhumans–will all achieve the same heights of success that Guardians reached right away, but it was a great reminder that Marvel knows what they’re doing and they know how to expand the scope of their universe in a way and at a pace that make sense for everyone involved.
3) DAREDEVIL – SEASON 1
I’m a little surprised Daredevil was able to leapfrog Guardians during the final day of voting, but there’s no doubt that the MCU’s newest chapter was a stellar debut for The Man Without Fear. The first fruit of Marvel’s collaboration with Netflix is evidence that the universe still has plenty of room for growth. Partnering with Netflix allowed Daredevil to skew toward a darker, more adult entry into the MCU that wouldn’t quite have fit on ABC or even, arguably, in a mass-marketed summer blockbuster. Giving Daredevil 13 hours to explore the inner demons haunting not only Matt Murdock but also Wilson Fisk produced a wonderful, tense, and enthralling drama that explored what molded Daredevil from a rookie vigilante into a red-costumed superhero. Daredevil also brought its chops to the numerous action scenes as it embraced a physicality unmatched by most of the other Marvel media. Fights were tightly choreographed, but most interestingly, Daredevil didn’t feel like a superhero per se–he felt like a guy who threw on a mask and takes a beating en route to his successes. Having Matt struggle to get up and recover, having him take the brunt of the punishment he gets for being a rogue vigilante made us attached to his journey. His evolution over the course of the series was awesome, as was one of the better villains in the MCU so far: the Kingpin. Love him or hate him, you have the appreciate the time Marvel spent developing its villain in this series and it paid off in spades. As if that weren’t enough, Marvel managed to sew some crucial seeds for its future Netflix shows.
2) CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
The third Captain America movie will practically be a mini-Avengers flick at this point with its enormous roster, but it will still have big shoes to fill following the spectacular The Winter Soldier. Whoever decided to give the keys to Joe and Anthony Russo for their first feature film should get some kind of reward; the duo are Marvel’s golden boys now that Joss Whedon is tapping out after Age of Ultron. The praise is definitely earned, too, after The Winter Soldier managed to pull off a spy thriller narrative and gave us not only our best depiction of Captain America yet, but also of Black Widow. The fight choreography in particular left a lasting impression; someone finally nailed how to show off Captain America in a movie, and they did it over and over and over again. The fallout of the movie was also impressive, leaving reverberations that are still being felt in other movies and shows, most notably on Agents of SHIELD. It bodes well for Avengers: Infinity War that the Russos so effortlessly juggled myriad appearances in The Winter Soldier. Not only did Cap and Widow star throughout the flick, but we also got great representation from the Winter Soldier, Nick Fury, Alexander Pierce, Maria Hill, Crossbones (before he was Crossbones), Batroc the Leaper, Jasper Sitwell, Agent 13, a Dr. Strange shoutout, elderly Peggy Carter, and, of course, the first official sidekick in the MCU in Falcon. I’d say that Civil War and Infinity War are probably in good hands.
1) THE AVENGERS
There is one movie whose sequel is about to break box office records, and that’s the original phenomenon that managed to make Marvel an even bigger name than it already was. The Avengers was a culmination of a lot of hard work, a truly unprecedented all-star movie that tied together a bunch of otherwise separate stories about superheroes. If seeing Iron Man on the big screen was cool before, how about Iron Man trading verbal jabs with Captain America while Thor laughs in the background and Bruce Banner teeters on the brink of Hulking out. Knowing how far these comic book stories have come in modern media, it was a truly remarkable event watching The Avengers for the first time and reveling in joy as it beat every astronomical expectation that I had for it. Age of Ultron will certainly try to up the ante but The Avengers will always be a watershed moment for the movie industry and of course for Marvel Studios. Phase Two has come and gone so quickly, and before we know it Phase Three will seemingly double the amount of heroes we get to fill our summers. Each and every one of those movies will try to emulate what Joss Whedon did with The Avengers, capturing our heroes right out of the comic pages with modern sensibilities and with fun and humor ingrained into their souls. Ultron and Thanos might bring more spectacular battles, but the first movie was able to take its time exploring each of these characters and figuring out how their odd shapes might fit into the same puzzle. It didn’t just work right away, and that was part of the fun.
Want more Marvel? Be sure to check out our other articles in the series, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @RaggySays!