After nearly one hundred thousand hours of content, we have finally arrived at the top tier of Marvel Metrics: The Invincible! These are the absolute best entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Buckle up and get ready to wholeheartedly agree with me because obviously there are no disagreements here. As always, brace yourself for spoilers.
12. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Shang-Chi did not get the pop culture moment it deserved. While reviews were exceptional, the film never popped the same way so many other MCU movies did. Shang-Chi hybridizes superhero conventions with mythical martial arts epics, which results in some of the most exhilarating fight sequences in the whole universe. The fight choreography, luscious color palette, and dazzling effects help to create one of Marvel’s most visually arresting films to date. Shang-Chi also succeeds by not ignoring the significance of fully developing its supporting characters. Shang-Chi’s sister, Xu Xialing, is fascinating and portrayed with depth by Meng’er Zhang. Tony Leung’s Xu Wenwu is perhaps the most underrated villain in the MCU. Here’s hoping the sequel brings Shang-Chi into the spotlight.
Most marvelous: Michelle. Freaking. Yeoh.
Least marvelous: The Death Dealer is woefully underdeveloped.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The first Captain America is thrilling, beautiful, and delightfully old school in its approach. The cinematography and production design perfectly blend a nostalgic aesthetic with contemporary blockbuster filmmaking. Chris Evans impeccably captures Steve Rogers’s earnestness and proves himself to be one of the best performers in the franchise with this outing, and he looks like Chris Evans. Credit is also due to Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. Though the recent MCU movies do great work writing villains with nuance, Captain America’s Red Skull is deliciously pure evil. Now, the subtitle makes it apparent that the point of this film is to lead into The Avengers, but Captain America still feels like a complete narrative, which is rare across the MCU.
Most marvelous: Please see above image.
Least marvelous: The composite effects that make Steve Rogers appear scrawny in the film’s first act do not lend themselves well to the small screen.
10. Eternals (2021)
I will fight anyone who tries to put Eternals on blast. The primary complaint leveraged at Marvel’s first ‘rotten’ film is that it’s boring, which I will never understand because all 160 minutes of this film are enthralling. Eternals is epic in every sense of the word. The film intricately weaves centuries of action, a dozen character introductions, and stunning imagery with ease. The film is also one of the most thematically interesting—and challenging—films in the franchise. What does it mean to place all our faith in God? Why do we assume white men will lead us? How much are we in control of our lives? Eternals is not perfect, but it certainly is profound.
Most marvelous: Angelina Jolie’s performance as Thena wrestles with a dementia-like illness.
Least marvelous: Pip the Troll’s post-credit appearance is rendered with some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen.
9. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Ragnarok! Thor 3 is one of Marvel’s most beloved entries and is easily the best of the Thor films. Every cast member gives it their all, especially Cate Blanchette’s goth badass Hela and Jeff Goldblum’s Jeff Goldblum-esque Grandmaster. It’s no surprise that Marvel projects aren’t the place for directorial freedom, but Taika Waititi shines as the star of this film. From the neon hues to the deadpan humor, Waititi’s flair is palpable. Importantly, Thor 3 is also moving. Odin’s departure is particularly affecting (especially Hiddleston’s performance). Blending thrilling action, comedy, and heart, Ragnarok is truly stellar.
Most marvelous: It’s impossible to watch Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster without smiling.
Least marvelous: The CGI Hela during her fight sequences.
8. WandaVision: Series (2021)
There is a reason WandaVision received 23 Emmy nominations. The series is incredibly ambitious, richly designed, and superbly acted. Not only does each actor play their respective role, but they also must play that role as if they were a character on six different styles of sitcom. On rewatch, I believe the series plays much better on a binge than on a week-to-week basis. Though I was initially captivating by Marvel’s choice to have full faith in their creative choices here, it was only on my second watch that I noticed just how beautifully every element on display works as a cohesive unit. As much as I enjoy Dr. Strange 2, it is a bit of a shame that movie undoes Wanda’s arc in this series.
Most marvelous: Kathryn Hahn is unmatchable as the hilarious, tragic, and villainous Agatha Harkness.
Least marvelous: For such an innovative and original show, it is a shame that the series finale resorts to all the typical Marvel climax tropes.
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Marvel’s spy thriller is paced so incredibly well that the 136-minute runtime feels like thirty. The veteran performers excel in their roles, and the script really captures each character’s essence (this is the only film that effectively balances Natasha’s flirtatious and intimidating nature). Like Thanos’s snap, the reveal that SHIELD is infiltrated by Hydra also yields lasting implications for the franchise without feeling like the studio is cloying to set up future adventures.
Most marvelous: Every action sequence is choreographed to perfection.
Least marvelous: I will never get over the absurd decision to have Cap fall for Peggy’s niece.
6. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Not too long ago, Avengers 2 trended on Twitter because everyone started to realize that the movie is super-duper. The dynamic between all the heroes is spectacular. The superpower-centric fight scenes are fantastic. Ultron is both menacing and appropriately snarky. Also, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s chest. Age of Ultron feels like a thrill ride, and unlike Martin Scorsese, I don’t think that’s a bad thing! Roller coasters make us scream, laugh, and bond with the people around us. Ultron manages to capture those feelings while also offering some of the only real stakes in any of these films. Leaving Avengers 2 is like getting off the ride amped up and full of energy. To quote my sister after seeing the film, “SPIN MOVE!” *twirls and kicks*
Most marvelous: The cinematography during the climactic fight is breathtaking.
Least marvelous: The infamous “I’m a monster because I can’t get pregnant” scene is excruciating.
5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
If no more Marvel films were released after the fourth Avengers film, Endgame would have been a fitting conclusion for the entire franchise. The film is a love letter to all the movies that came before it and ends with one of the greatest battle sequences in the history of cinema. The only real downside is that it takes a long time to get to the battle we all know is coming. After a relatively shocking prologue, the movie spends two full hours moving all the chess pieces to get to checkmate. Even if it’s carrying a bit of padding, though, Endgame remains one of the most cheer-worthy movies of all time.
Most marvelous: I don’t know if I’ve ever heard an audience go as nuts as when Cap catches Mjolnir.
Least marvelous: I still don’t feel good about the film’s never-ending celebration of Tony Stark when compared to Natasha’s send-off.
4. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
I had exactly zero interest in a third iteration of Spider-Man when it was announced he would appear in the third Captain America film. Civil War helped quell my fears a bit, but I was still hesitant to go through yet another first adventure with a new Peter Parker. But girl, oh girl did this movie leave me feeling refreshed. The John Hughes-inspired approach to teen comedy sells Peter Parker’s youthful spirit, and his friendship with Ned is one of the best pairings in the MCU. Even with all the candy-coating, though, Homecoming manages to create one of the most intimidating villains in the franchise with Michael Keaton’s Vulture, mostly because he’s a relatable human person and not a mythic creature that requires four scenes of exposition to understand. Many prefer No Way Home to this one, but there’s a special place in my heart for the movie that renewed my appreciation for the MCU.
Most marvelous: The reveal that Vulture is Peter’s Homecoming date’s dad is shook-inducing.
Least marvelous: The underutilization of the iconic Zendaya.
3. Black Panther (2018)
Marvel is no stranger to dominating pop culture, but even the studio could not prepare themselves for the phenomenon that was Black Panther. From Ryan Coogler’s impeccable direction to every single actor embodying their role to perfection to the exquisite Afrofuturist aesthetic to the gorgeous costume design to the cultural resonance to Killmonger’s justified rage to [insert 200 more great things], Black Panther is one of the rare films that is nearly perfect. I even love the rhinos.
Most marvelous: Chadwick Boseman.
Least marvelous: I am the one person who doesn’t like the “Hey, auntie” line because it is just reads so sassily.
2. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
On paper, Civil War reads more like a toy commercial than a movie. “Every hero you love, and new heroes like Spider-Man and Black Panther, face-off in the ultimate showdown! Each toy sold separately; batteries not included.” And yet, somehow, the Russo Brothers pull off the impossible and craft one of the most intense, touching, and powerful narratives in the entire franchise. And, of course, there is the Airport set piece, which is almost untouchable in its ability to thrill. Most importantly, even though the film could easily be labeled Avengers 2.5, the film never loses sight of its leading hero, and offers Cap a fitting end on the best individual trilogy in the MCU.
Most marvelous: Yes, yes, the airport fight, but also the amount of emotion Alfre Woodard wrings out of a one-scene role.
Least marvelous: Spider-Man’s inclusion is the only one that feels a bit gratuitous (but also Tom Holland is life, so…)
1. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The third Avengers film combines the MCU’s vibrant and comedic aesthetic with the cross-cut narrative structure of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the exuberant energy of a child playing with their action figures. Those three elements blended creates one of the most eye-popping, scream-inducing, fangirling experiences ever captured on the big screen. If juggling approximately thirty main characters wasn’t impressive enough, the movie also accomplishes the unexpected by putting its villain at the center of the narrative—no wonder so many people consider Thanos the greatest MCU villain.
Most marvelous: All two hours and thirty minutes.
Least marvelous: The fact that there aren’t more minutes.
And that is all, fellow Marvel fans! Thank you for joining me for this special Breckflix summer feature!
For more, check out my entertainment coverage at Collider: https://collider.com/author/%20brecken-wellborn/