Written by Zack Hohenstein, E23 Staffer

Edited by John Messer, E23 Digital Director

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We’re in the endgame now.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is returning this week in the form of its twenty-second film, “Avengers: Endgame”. It’s hard to imagine any movie with more anticipation behind it, and I doubt one will ever come close either. While there will surely be future movies in the MCU, this one certainly feels like an “end” of sorts.

The MCU has dominated the box office for the past decade: three phases, eleven years, twenty-one films (and corresponding Stan Lee cameos), dozens of hammer throws and hundreds of one-liners. These characters and moments have become pop culture staples. It’s attracted A-list stars to its cast, and made A-listers out of the ones who weren’t. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s impossible to ignore its success.

If you know me, you know I love to debate. More specifically, I love to debate about television shows and movies. So, naturally, when an epic series like this exists, I’m going to rank its films.

So I sat down and watched every single movie in the MCU. I put a lot of thought into this list while I went back through each and every one of the following films in preparation for “Endgame”. Without further ado, here are the existing MCU films ranked from weakest to best. Enjoy.

—Spoilers from this point on!—

#21: “The Incredible Hulk” (2008)

The MCU’s second film also happens to be its weakest. This isn’t to say it’s a bad movie, because I do not believe it is. It’s just the least likely for someone to want to revisit. In hindsight, the proceedings feel detached from the rest of the universe because of casting changes and the lack of references to events in future installments.

Edward Norton was fine as Bruce Banner, even if Mark Ruffalo’s was a clear improvement on the character. He plays the role pretty seriously while everything else in the movie feels somewhat silly, even by superhero movie standards. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination is a B-movie type of villain but maybe that’s okay for a B-movie type of film. The story is light but the action is fun enough.

I wouldn’t recommend skipping any MCU films before you see “Endgame”. But if you have to, make it this one.

Best Scene: The Hulk fighting off General Ross’ forces outside a university lab.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is the unfortunate recipient of a tainted bottle of soda.

#20: Ant-Man (2015)

Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man” was almost a completely different movie. Acclaimed writer/director Edgar Wright was attached to take the helm on the film for a long time before leaving due to creative differences with Marvel Studios. Who’s to say what the movie could’ve been? What it turned out to be was a rather basic origin story with a boring heist angle, although it’s elevated by the always enjoyable Paul Rudd in the titular role.

It’s impossible not to root for the film’s protagonist, Scott Lang. It seems like the MCU has two types of heroes. There’s the powerful and maybe egotistical person who gets humbled and learns a lesson or two in the process. Then there’s the down on their luck working class hero type who finally gets the chance to do right. Lang falls into the latter category, albeit with a better sense of humor than most. Michael Peña is also a comedic highlight among the supporting cast.

Unfortunately Darren Cross/The Yellowjacket isn’t anything special and the action is never that exciting.

A small movie for a small hero, “Ant-Man” has just enough fun energy that its sequel would master three years later.

Best Scene: Luis giving two very detailed accounts of possible “jobs” for Scott. (Editor’s Note: It’s rumored this scene was from the original Wright cut.)

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is a bartender in one of the above mentioned stories.

#19: Iron Man 2 (2010)

“Iron Man 2” has a lot going on. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has a lot going on for it. All in one movie, Jon Favreau’s sequel tries to create a detailed villain, take on Tony’s failing health, provide a new history to Howard Stark, create War Machine and introduce S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury and Black Widow. It’s a busy movie to say the least.

Yes, it’s not the cleanest movie in the MCU. It does have its positives though. Don Cheadle is a definite improvement from Terrence Howard as the character James Rhodes. Sam Rockwell is amusing as Tony’s distant competitor Justin Hammer, and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is always pretty cool. And obviously, Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma can overshadow almost any flaw.

Maybe “Iron Man 2” had to walk so “The Avengers” could run a couple years later. There is a lot of necessary development for the world here and it pays off down the road with some great movies. Regardless, on its own, Favreau’s film is just enjoyable enough.

Best Scene: Black Widow taking down an entire hallway of henchmen by herself.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan makes an appearance as a look-alike Larry King.

#18: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Set predominantly in the 1940’s during the second World War, “Captain America: The First Avenger” has a very distinct tone that sets it apart from other MCU films, which have the tendency to blend together at times. This old-fashioned quality is also its most redeeming. That, along with the likable Chris Evans in the titular role, helps the movie overcome its undeniable cheesiness.

To put it simply, the MCU has never been so hokey. While that plays well in scenes between Cap and Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter, it also means that the action is oftentimes a little too silly to be fully enjoyed. It seems like, as an audience member, you just have to accept the movie for what it is. If you can do that, you’ll be able to enjoy it.

It’s far from the finest MCU effort, but the classic combination of a great hero and solid villain (Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull) makes it worth a revisit. It also marks the first actual appearance of an infinity stone in the MCU… I wonder if those will ever become relevant later.

Best Scene: Steve chasing an assassin through the Brooklyn streets (and Atlantic ocean) before catching him.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is a general who mistakes another, shorter soldier for Rogers.

#17: Thor (2011)

Thor isn’t quite as likable in this one as he is these days. Chris Hemsworth portrays the demigod as a serious warrior with a bit of an ego and in need of some priority realignment. Hmm, getting sent to a very crummy looking planet like Earth, and meeting a very un-crummy looking Natalie Portman should do the trick.

While the story stalls in places and some of the fight scenes don’t hold up very well, “Thor” is a solid enough MCU entry. Loki gives a good audition as a tragic villain before he got his showcase in “Avengers” a year later, and Anthony Hopkins is perfect as the powerful patriarch Odin. Even though Thor’s fight with a hollow oven robot in New Mexico isn’t exactly the most exciting battle in the series, there are plenty of interesting things in the Asgardian settings of the movie.

The first appearance of the self-proclaimed strongest Avenger is more flash than actual story. However, when the flash is this bright it doesn’t matter quite as much.

Best Scene: Thor making S.H.I.E.L.D. agents look like “minimum wage mall cops” when he tries to retrieve his hammer.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan loses the bumper of his truck after trying to pull said hammer out with some good old-fashioned American manufacturing.

#16: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Easily the most divisive film in the MCU, Shane Black’s “Iron Man 3” feels like two different movies. The first two thirds are a thoroughly effective character study on Tony Stark as he deals with both PTSD from the big New York alien battle, and a menacing terrorist who aims to teach the world a lesson. The last third is a somewhat disappointing series of typical action sequences and plot choices that fail to really stand out.

Your opinion of this movie is probably going to depend on how you feel about the big twist: The Mandarin is not actually a menacing terrorist at all. He’s a drug-addicted British actor who is meant to cover up some experiments gone wrong. I, for one, am not a big fan of the decision. While there’s something to be said for subverting expectations, I think what I expected was cooler than what I got.

Despite its issues, “Iron Man 3” works fine enough in the MCU because of its in-depth look at its protagonist. With it being the only film to really tackle the inevitable trauma these heroes might have, Black’s film gets bonus points.

Best Scene: Tony navigating his way through his exploding home after the Mandarin sends a few missiles to his address.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is an impressed judge at a beauty pageant.

#15: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Yes, I know everyone seems to dread this movie. I don’t really get the intense hate, to be honest. Yeah, the bad guy is probably the most boring in the MCU and it doesn’t really do anything new with its hero. However, “Dark World” works well enough because of its increased focus on Asgard and other alien realms instead of Earth. This might not seem weird now, but this was the first MCU film to really do so.

More fun than its predecessor, “Dark World” works when it deals with its mythology. The action is better and so is Hemsworth as the god of thunder. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is still great and is included in one of the best endings to an MCU film as he reveals himself to have taken the place of Odin as ruler of Asgard.

Undeservedly bashed by many, this sequel is probably the most deserving in the MCU of a reevaluation. It’s certainly not a masterpiece, but it is a good, unproblematic superhero flick. Just let yourself enjoy it.

Best Scene: Malekith attacking Asgard, resulting in the death of Thor and Loki’s mother.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is a mental ward patient in need of his shoe.

#14: Captain Marvel (2019)

The most recent entry into the MCU wasn’t quite the masterpiece many had hoped for. Brie Larson’s hero wasn’t the most engaging protagonist to hit the MCU, and certain aspects of the narrative don’t fit together so easily. Here’s hoping her character is more developed in “Endgame.” Her debut is really about her finding out who she is, after all.

There is still plenty to like in this movie, though. The action is great and there are definitely some standout moments in the 124-minute runtime. Having Nirvana in the soundtrack doesn’t hurt either. And while the script might not make the most of Larson’s talents here, the rest of the cast kill it. Samuel L. Jackson is great as a younger Nick Fury, with Ben Mendelsohn and Jude Law dependably solid.

The potential is definitely there for Carol Danvers to be the “future of the MCU” as perennial producer Kevin Feige claims. For that to happen, Marvel will need to recapture all the things that work great in this movie and replace what doesn’t. Shouldn’t be too hard.

Best Scene: Carol discovering she’s been held back her whole life as she finally unleashes her full power on the Kree fighters containing her.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan appears as himself practicing his lines for his real-life “Mallrats” cameo.

#13: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Easily the weakest of the “Avengers” films, this middle chapter isn’t the smoothest MCU movie to grace the silver screen. However, the impact of having all of the MCU’s big heros in one movie is still fun to watch. While maybe not as enjoyable as Loki, James Spader’s UItron is a more personal villain to the team after calling them out directly as the problem. While his idea of peace isn’t exactly preferable, he makes some good points and that works to the film’s benefit.

Is Thor’s small side story with Erik Selvig necessary? Not really. Does the flying city conclusion make sense? Nope. However, a story of this scale could’ve gone a whole lot worse. Just ask Zack Snyder’s “Justice League.” Hawkeye’s development and the introduction of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch are positives, as are the justified tensions between Tony and Steve that would become more intensified in “Civil War” a year later.

If 2012’s “The Avengers” is like “The Curse of the Black Pearl”, its sequel is like “Dead Man’s Chest” in that it’s darker, bigger and more muddled, resulting in a weaker final product. However, with the same cast of characters returning, it’s still more than worth the watch.

Best Scene: Tony fighting a mind-warped Hulk in his big armor.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan appears as a WWII veteran who shows no fear of Thor’s Asgardian alcohol.

#12: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Guys. Evangeline Lilly is awesome as Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp. You heard it here first. That is unless you saw this movie last July or in any month since, in which case you already know. This sequel gives its female lead more to do and is way better than its predecessor because of it. Rudd is still great, and the inclusion of Hannah John-Kammen as Ghost is a huge positive. Her role as a tragic villain is great.

Reed’s second MCU film brings back the humor from his original and matches it with a better story and more fun in his second go-round. When it comes to all the Quantum Realm science lingo, I prefer to just assume they know what they’re talking about and just enjoy the proceedings in the meantime.

It’s hard to make an argument for this sequel being consequential in the overall scheme of things, but that doesn’t matter. After the big snap at the end of “Infinity War”, this MCU entry felt like a necessary relief with its friendly tone and smaller scale, no pun intended.

Best Scene: A big car chase in the steep San Francisco streets.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is just another senior citizen who realizes he may be paying the price for the fun 60’s.

#11: Doctor Strange (2016)

This one was crazy weird and all the better for it. A movie like “Doctor Strange” wouldn’t work if the people behind it wanted to play it safe. Believe me, they didn’t. This is probably the most visually impressive movie in the entire MCU and that’s saying something, considering Disney owns the world and is capable of delivering special effects budgets equal to the monetary value of a small nation. All of the action is fun and don’t even get me started on Dormammu in the Dark Dimension. Again, this movie is weird.

Benedict Cumberbatch is great in the titular role, even though he’s basically playing the surgeon version of Tony Stark. Rachel McAdams is always good, with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong cool enough as Strange’s allies. This makes up for the fact that the writing for Mads Mikkelsen’s villain Kaecilius doesn’t really utilize his talents. The movie has to hit the usual origin story beats but it all goes down smoothly.

“Doctor Strange” finds a way to establish Strange as a character and introduce the world of the sorcerers to audiences and still manages to be more than average. While it may not be enough to crack the top ten, it comes pretty close.

Best Scene: Strange fighting off Kaecilius and his disciples in the New York Sanctum with some help from the Cloak of Levitation.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is an old guy enjoying a book on a bus, unaware of the magic battle occurring around him.

#10: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

It’s hard to stop smiling when you’re watching “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” From beginning to end, James Gunn’s sequel to his surprise 2014 hit is filled with more of the humor and colorful visuals. At the heart of the story is family. Peter Quill/Starlord meets his long lost father: the celestial planet Ego. Sisters Gamora and Nebula have to work out their differences. Rocket struggles to belong to the group and admit he cares about them. Yondu has to come to terms with the fact that he’s always thought of Peter as a son. All of these plot threads make the movie a little hectic, but gives it the heart that it thrives on.

The cast is still great and this one benefits from a more enjoyable villain in Kurt Russell’s Ego. Chris Pratt is still effortlessly charismatic, with Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Bradley Cooper no less as excellent as the supporting characters they were in the original. Even though the climax of the film in the core of Ego goes off the rails, the movie compensates with an undeniable sense of fun throughout.

Not as shockingly fresh as its predecessor, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” holds its own with instantly quotable lines, dazzling cinematography and an emphasis on family. Another great soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.

Best Scene: The Guardians battling an interdimensional monster while Baby Groot dances along to “Mr. Blue Sky.”

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan appears as himself talking to a group celestials about his life story.

#9: Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)

This might be the first iteration of Spider-Man where Peter Parker feels like an actual a high school student. Other versions of the iconic character have been successful, but never on that front. Director Jon Watts’ film feels like a John Hughes 80’s coming-of-age comedy. To be clear, this is a compliment. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is just trying to balance his responsibilities as a member of the academic decathlon team, and his devotion to proving himself to Tony Stark that he’s a worthy candidate for the Avengers. And just like any high school student trying to balance priorities, there are some growing pains.

Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture is definitely one of the MCU’s best villains. He’s a grounded character who just wants to protect and provide for his family. He can be scary too, though. He’s not a big bad guy who wants to take over the world or fight the Avengers. This makes him the perfect antagonist for a movie about a 16 year old who is trying to figure out exactly how to use his powers. Peter’s relationship with Tony is another positive for the movie. Their interactions together are some of the best moments and they also provide a foundation for an emotional hook in “Infinity War” the following the year.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” has the humor, set pieces and solid performances that the MCU has become known for. Benefiting from the decision to skip the origin story of Peter and his powers, the movie is never boring and gets to jump into the main story right away. After big space battles and robot armies, it’s refreshing to have a movie with a bit more subtlety.

Best Scene: Spider-Man saving his friends from certain death after an explosion at the top of the Washington Monument.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is an old-timer who threatens to come down and teach Spider-Man a lesson after he sets off a car alarm.

#8: Iron Man (2008)

Now we’re getting into the best of the best. This is where it all started. This first MCU film set the standard for the rest of the series. Revolutionary at the time, it’s easy to take for granted what this movie accomplished. Setting up the most successful franchise in the history of cinema is no easy task. And the reason it worked: Robert Downey Jr. In the midst of a career comeback, Downey Jr. took the role of the self proclaimed genius playboy philanthropist and became the face of the new cinematic universe. Without his talents, it may never have gotten off the ground.

Series relevance aside, “Iron Man” stands on its own as a great superhero flick. Jeff Bridges is solid as Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger and most of the set pieces still hold up well 11 years later. While the climax of the film isn’t quite as air tight, the final moment of the film stands as one of the best the MCU has ever put out. When Tony realizes how cool it would be to be a superhero, he disobeys his S.H.I.E.L.D. orders and reveals his identity to the world with the simple statement, “I am Iron Man.” The press conference erupts, the credits roll and Black Sabbath’s classic guitar riff blares. The rest is history.

Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” is responsible for kicking the MCU into gear and establishing Tony Stark as its main character with one of the best origin stories ever. While its sequels would fall short of the original, it’s impossible to dismiss the impact this one had.

Best Scene: Tony escaping from the cave with his first suit.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan does his best Hugh Hefner impersonation.

#7: The Avengers (2012)

A film like this shouldn’t have worked. A combination of big name actors playing big name characters who are fighting a catastrophic CGI alien army should’ve been a bloated mess of a movie. Instead, Marvel made one of the biggest successes of all time. Earth’s (and Asgard’s) mightiest heroes come together to face Hiddleston’s Loki, one of the best villains in the MCU’s catalog. What makes the movie work, besides the charisma and star power of its A-list cast, is how director Joss Whedon focuses on the team’s strifes with each other before they can really deal with the main threat.

Team-up movies seem a dime a dozen these days, so it can be easy to forget this was the first one. It set the bar high for the films to follow. Some could reach it. More often than not they couldn’t. That’s not to say those movies were bad but rather a testament to how good this one is. The story is simple, but it doesn’t have to be any more than that. All people wanted to see was their favorite heroes come together to fight bad guys. “Avengers” delivers on that promise and more.

Nick Fury’s idea to bring a group of remarkable people together to fight the battles that we never could comes to fruition in this movie. And wow, his idea looks cool.

Best Scene: The Avengers defending New York from Loki and his alien army.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is a New York citizen who’s still a bit skeptical of the idea of superheros.

#6: Black Panther (2018)

Very rarely does a movie come around that is able to hit the blockbuster highs that only the best big budget movies can reach all while making a necessary and relevant social statement. Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is one of those movies. With one of the best stories in any superhero film ever, this 2018 hit was the first in the series to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger has the best arc of any villain in the universe. Stemming from the murder of his father and the real injustice he has witnessed in his life, Killmonger’s anger fuels the main narrative and T’Challa’s conflict with him leaves him changed.

The action is amazing as usual, particularly the challenge scenes, the casino fight and the resulting car chase in Seoul, South Korea. The production design of Wakanda is gorgeous. Chadwick Boseman portrays the hero as a man who wants to protect his country but also feels the responsibility to do what he can to help make the world right. This allows the character of T’Challa to recognize Killmonger as the grave threat he is while also realizing this threat was born out of unjustifiable conditions, which T’Challa has the power to help rectify. So in a way, Killmonger’s mission made a difference even after its failure.

Marking an important moment in representation in blockbuster cinema, the impact of “Black Panther” goes beyond its superhero thrills. It’s energy and message help make it one of the best movies the MCU has made and is justifiably recognized as such.

Best Scene: T’Challa fighting Erik “Killmonger” Stevens in a challenge for the throne.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan generously volunteers to hold onto the winnings at a poker game.

#5: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Movies don’t get much more fun than this. Coming out of nowhere, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was Marvel’s riskiest property to hit the big screen at the time. You take the previously chubby comic relief from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and turn him into the charming hero. You take the blue alien warrior from “Avatar” and turn her into a green alien warrior. You give WWE star Dave Bautista speaking lines. And then you throw in Bradley Cooper as a talking raccoon and Vin Diesel as a talking tree. It doesn’t exactly seem like the formula for success. Nonetheless, Gunn’s film thrives on the charisma of its degenerate antiheroes.

Sure, Asgard was established at this point in the universe but this was the first time the MCU really got crazy. Where the “Iron Man” and “Captain America” films were grounded in reality, “Guardians of the Galaxy” takes that reality and dropkicks it out the window and replaces it with a bright, entertaining space adventure film. No, the protagonists aren’t superheroes. That’s part of the appeal. It feels fresh. They’re just some outlaws who team up to save the galaxy. Even if Lee Pace’s Ronin the Accuser is a bit of a stale villain, Gunn’s film never spends too much time on him to where it really negatively affects the rest of the movie. From the opening credits of Peter Quill dancing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”, it was clear “Guardians” was going to be something different.

Lovable characters, lines and songs help make “Guardians of the Galaxy” one of the MCU’s best moments. Its sense of fun and cosmic absurdity have become more common in the the series since, but it’s important to remember where it started.

Best Scene: The Guardians executing Rocket’s plan to escape from prison.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is an elderly Xandarian citizen speaking with a woman half his age.

#4: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

After the first two films in the “Thor” series were standard by-the-numbers, albeit enjoyable entries in the universe, the third chapter was going to have to find a way to be inventive. The New Zealand comedic director Taika Waititi was given the reigns and he made something closer to the “Guardians” movies with “Thor: Ragnarok”. For the most part, the Shakespearean Asgard is replaced by a more wild alien city of lost things called Sakaar. Featuring bizarre extra-terrestrial gladiators and Jeff Goldblum as a hedonist ruler called the Grandmaster, Waititi’s movie does what the previous two god of thunder films didn’t: take risks.

Hemsworth is incredibly enjoyable in the titular role due to a newfound sense of humor for his character. Ruffalo and Hiddleston are dependably solid and Tessa Thompson’s introduction as Scrapper 142/Valkyrie immediately made her a fan favorite. A movie that uses Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” as bookends of the action scenes is a good bet for a good time, and that’s what “Ragnarok” is above all else. Thor battles Hulk in a gladiator arena, Doctor Strange makes an appearance and there is a friendly rock monster named Korg who just wants to start a revolution to free all of the slaves, or “prisoners with jobs” as the Grandmaster prefers to call them. If none of the above sounds interesting, this one isn’t for you.

Rarely serious and often hilarious, “Thor: Ragnarok” urges you to throw your previous knowledge of the Norse god (and Hulk) out the window and take in the convivial splendor of Waititi’s distinct style.

Best Scene: Thor using his thunder ability to help Valkyrie, Loki and Hulk fight Hela’s dead army on the rainbow bridge.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is the crazy looking space barber who cuts off Thor’s long locks.

#3: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

An “Avengers” movie in everything but name, “Captain America: Civil War” is one of the most necessary entries in the MCU. Countless previous battles with hugely destructive results needed to be addressed. The Sokovia Accords would feasibly keep these “enhanced persons” in check and they provide the groundwork of the conflict in this one. Tony, guilt-ridden after Ultron’s carnage and spiraling after Pepper Potts’ departure, sees the Accords as a way to ease his conscience. Steve has some lingering trust issues after S.H.I.E.L.D. turned out to be Hydra and isn’t eager to go back under government control. Oh, and also his best friend is being accused of the murder of the Wakandan king. He’s got stakes in the game too.

The introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man are well done and the return of Ant-Man is a welcome one. The action set pieces are some of the best in the entire MCU, most famously the big airport battle between the various heroes. Steve pulling a helicopter back all by himself is another highlight. A common problem in superhero films is a sense that there aren’t any real stakes. While no one dies in “Civil War”, the completely fractured relationship between Tony and Steve serves as a very real repercussion of the events. Daniel Brühl is an icy villain as Helmut Zemo, an opponent who relies on his mind to defeat the Avengers, as opposed to Loki or Ultron. His arc is interesting enough to where I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing him appear in future MCU films, though I’m not holding my breath for it.

Serious enough to tackle the issues at hand while also not losing the heart and humor the MCU is known for, “Captain America: Civil War” is superhero cinema at its most dynamic.

Best Scene: Cap and Bucky fighting a vengeful Tony at the Siberian Hydra facility.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is a UPS delivery man with a package for one “Tony Stank.”

#2: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Superhero films usually make their money on big explosions and zingers bouncing back between attractive A-list stars in colorful costumes. It isn’t very often when a movie of the genre focuses on character instead. That’s what “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” does with Steve Rogers and it is arguably the best character study in the entire MCU. That is not to say there aren’t explosions or zingers. There are more than enough to go around. But underneath the exciting set pieces is a look at a man who feels lost in a world that feels unfamiliar.

“Winter Soldier” finds Steve working for S.H.I.E.L.D., still fresh out of the ice they found him in. He isn’t even sure if he wants to fight anymore. His friends from before are dead. His old flame Peggy Carter is an old woman whom he visits in a nursing home. Things he thought he could trust turn on him. So, when he finds out his best friend from his youth is not only still alive, but is the most dangerous assassin in the world and working for Hydra, the evil organization he fought to destroy in the second World War, he’ll do anything he can to save him. It seems like he’s fighting for all he has left. Iconic actor Robert Redford portrays Alexander Pierce, a fresh type of villain in the MCU who sees himself as an idealist. Sebastian Stan is convincingly scary as the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes. His relationship with Steve is a great emotional hook to the action. I have a friend who can make himself cry everytime he watches the scene when Steve tells the brainwashed Bucky to “finish his mission” because he’s with him till the end of the line. As funny as this may be, it’s just a testament to how good this movie is.

Dependably fun action and great writing help make “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” one of the most emotional and entertaining character studies in the history of blockbuster cinema.

Best Scene: Captain America beating up everyone in an elevator.

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is a mall security guard who is probably going to lose his job.

#1: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Dubbed as the biggest crossover in the history of cinema, the Russos’ “Avengers: Infinity War” is something to behold. Seemingly every hero that the MCU (besides Hawkeye and Ant-Man) has cultivated over the years is present in this one. They’ve come together to face their gravest threat yet: the Mad Titan Thanos and his ever-growing collection of infinity stones. And what a threat it is. Thanos is played by Josh Brolin and instantly became the best villain in the history of the MCU. He’s not out to dominate the world. He just wants to save it, albeit in his own dark way. His twisted fatherly love for Gamora and his despair for the death of his home planet give him real emotion and his huge appearance makes him an intimidating foe.

The Russos balance the vast array of heroes at their disposal incredibly. Iron Man and Spider-Man’s team up with Doctor Strange and the Guardians is undeniably a highlight, but Captain America and Black Panther leading the defense of Wakanda is awesome. Everyone gets something to do. It is fitting that “Infinity War” encapsulates the MCU best with some of its most memorable action sequences and funniest scenes. A long and crowded movie to be certain, “Infinity War” manages to never feel messy or overstuffed. Instead, it keeps a fast pace, producing the various payoffs and encounters that the entire cinematic universe has been building towards since the beginning.

With one of the biggest cliffhangers in movie history, “Avengers: Infinity War” sets the stage for the highly anticipated “Endgame” while also managing to be one of the most entertaining and impressive comic book films ever in its own rite. Marvel doesn’t get any more complete than this.

Best Scene: The Avengers trying to defend Vision’s mind stone from Thanos in Wakanda

Stan Lee Cameo: Stan is a seasoned bus driver who isn’t phased by space ships anymore.


The opinions and conclusions reached on this list are of the writer alone.


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