Note: The TV shows Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter are not included on this list because I have not seen all of them.
Nobody really cares about a huge preamble for posts like this, so here it goes: these are my rankings and reasons why they hold that ranking for the films and TV shows of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, with the exception of the aforementioned shows.
1. The Avengers-It’s not the “best” of these movies, no. The script is almost gleefully haphazard and simplistic, the cinematography can be flat or over-lit in certain areas, and despite some good moments in the final battle, Hawkeye ends up getting the short end of the stick. But it almost seems churlish to make these complaints when the end product is so damn good at getting a huge grin on my face for nearly the entire running time.
2, Marvel’s Daredevil-A glorious cinematic reintroduction that washes away all the bad tastes of the 2003 film (though I’m still reasonably fond of Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell in that). Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio are revelations as Murdock and Wilson Fisk, the former giving an achingly earnest yet badass performance, and the latter bringing his trademark weirdness full-bore to a shockingly complex crime lord. Add in a stellar supporting cast, jaw-dropping, brutal fight scenes and extremely solid writing, and you have easily the best superhero TV series in ages. I can’t wait for the next Netflix shows, as well as Season 2 of this.
3. Iron Man 3-Crackling action-comedy with a terrific reinterpretation of a villain who nobody thought could work onscreen in this day and age. Downey gives possibly his best performance as Tony Stark ever, with Shane Black managing to find a great balance between quippy banter, self reflection, and small-scale fights and shoot-outs alongside the big summer blockbuster set pieces.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier-The politics are perhaps a little goofy (apparently nobody thought bringing in former Nazis to an organization diametrically opposed to their ideals was a bad idea, and that nobody noticed until now), but Winter Soldier manages to succeed through terrific action and pathos, as well as strong performances. In particular, Johansson does her best work yet as Natasha, Anthony Mackie is a supportive and cool-headed Sam WIlson, Redford brings an old-school, quiet menace to the proceedings, and Sebastian Stan manages to convey more with a single glance than he could with whole monologues.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy-Things get wild and cosmic for the Marvel Cinematic Universe here, yet director-writer James Gunn manages to keep things level with a terrific cast (Bradley Cooper and Dave Bautista are particularly great as Rocket Raccoon and Drax), grand space opera visuals, and the wonderful sight of Michael Rooker stomping around being his glorious self in blue makeup and whistle-arrowing people to death. I can’t wait to see what these crazy bastards do next in guarding the galaxy.
6. Ant-Man-A delightful, breezy heist comedy. Paul Rudd makes for an affable lead, while Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lily get a lot of mileage out of their exasperation with him, Michael Pena is the secret weapon, and Corey Stoll chews up a storm of scenery as Cross/Yellowjacket. The special effects are ingenious and endlessly inventive, particularly a mid-stream fight with a certain Avenger and the final battle. Add in a lovely father-daughter bond, and you have a great time that’s basically Honey I Shrunk The Kids pumped with steroids and crossed with Ocean’s Eleven.
7. The Avengers: Age of Ultron-It’s heavily flawed and probably takes on more weight than it needed to, particularly in foreshadowing events in future films. Yet there are still many pleasures found here, particularly in Spader’s oily yet frustrated menace as Ultron, Andy Serkis’ delightful Klaue (can’t wait to see more of him in Black Panther), Paul Bettany’s serene Vision, and clever action-mixed-with-character beats, such as when Wanda finally starts tearing up the place. I’ll file the Natasha-Bruce romance away as an interesting failed experiment, though.
8. Iron Man-Things started off a bit rough, no doubt. The action isn’t as crazy and varied as it would be in later films, and the hints at a larger universe remain only hints, though Clark Gregg is still delightful as Agent Phil Coulson. But Downey tears into the material with a vengeance, and his character development (as well as the delightful montages of him creating his tech) overrides any issues. Also, Jeff Bridges is easily the most underrated of the Marvel film villains, even if he’s ultimately another corporate slimeball.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger-It hurt me to rank it this low, even though it hits a LOT of my entertainment buttons. But it makes a few missteps, such as having the ending be what should have been the post-credits scene, and ultimately Red Skull is just a cackling cartoon villain, though Hugo Weaving plays him with a deliciously over-the-top Werner Herzog impression and fantastic makeup. That being said, it’s still quite a bit of fun. I never thought Evans had this kind of almost-cheesy decency to him, and he makes lines that could sound horrid work completely. And Hayley Atwell is so good as Peggy Carter that the only surprise at her getting her own show is how long it took.
10. Thor-It’s a bit smaller-scale than it probably should have been, perhaps. But Branagh still manages to bring Shakespearean pomp and grandeur to the proceedings, especially in his actors. Chris Hemsworth leaps onto the screen as a fully-formed movie star, and manages to make Thor’s development work even when the script is lacking. And Tom Hiddleston works overtime to make Loki tragic even while he’s doing despicable things (though I prefer his much more overtly villainous performance in Avengers; he’s delightful to kick around in that one).
11. Thor: The Dark World-Hemsworth and Hiddleston manage to make their character stuff work, and there’s some inventive action scenes throughout. But the story is a complete mess and screams wasted potential. Why bother hiring Christopher Eccleston if you’re just going to have him stand around and growl in monster makeup? (Protip: if you are more distinctive and memorable as a villain in the G.I. Joe movie than in a Marvel one, there’s a problem) Jane Foster stubbornly refuses to work onscreen despite the undeniably cool fact of her being an astrophysicist, the other Asgardians are almost completely wasted, and the ending is a hilariously obvious last-minute reshoot. Here’s hoping Ragnarok is better.
12. Iron Man 2-Much like the above, this has some good bits but is ultimately let down by trying to do too much in too little time. Rourke and Rockwell should have been A-list villains, but they’re given almost nothing to do besides weird comedy tinged with menace on the sidelines. Still, Downey is as fun as ever, and manages to give the pat daddy issues subplot some meaning (how did Dominic Cooper transform into John Slattery is what I’m wondering).
13. The Incredible Hulk-This is a decent action flick all things considered, but nothing about it sticks in the mind for very long outside of some fun scenery in Brazil and Tim Roth providing some good menace as Blonsky before turning into a CGI monstrosity.