16. Doctor Strange (2016)
Although Doctor Strange seemed to pass by at the time of release without the mountainous fanfare that you might associate with a modern Marvel Studios film, in retrospect it offered a great deal in terms of lore-building and characterisation as well as in terms of iconography, providing an inspired aesthetic that made it a standout visual feature with more than enough behind the facade to keep your attention.
While at the time seeming insignificant to the wider MCU, Doctor Strange has also benefited from the passing of time, the actions in this movie being granted extra weight by the films that have followed it, inching it up to around the half-way mark in this Ranked list.
15. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Multiverse of Madness is a better movie than the original Doctor Strange. It moves at a more rapid pace, it is creative even in the moments that Marvel movies are so often formulaic (transitions, costuming, sound), and it offers a great deal of catharsis for not only fans of Strange but for fans of other Avengers and franchises too.
The multiverse concept could certainly have been more creatively integrated given its relation to Strange’s abilities and the corporate importance that it act as a meaningful draw to audiences living in a post-Endgame landscape that has already seen the Avengers do the biggest thing imaginable: save the universe. Anyone can agree that an alternate universe in which the characters are made of paint is a more interesting reality to see on film than a colour-palette-swapped New York City, while the script made exciting cameos matter little to this film’s narrative or the wider MCU. What’s more is that there was little by way of fear or anxiety for us to endure on behalf of our regular favourites – particularly when you can question the permanence of reality/universe-hopping – though the stakes were certainly acceptable relative to other Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings.
As was the case with Doctor Strange, there were interesting horror elements here, but even with Sam Raimi in the director’s chair there was little to rival Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor in terms of comedy, not enough heart to rival the better Spider-Man entries, and simply too little by way of different or interesting action to rival Shang-Chi, even with all the good that came in-between.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was a whole heap of fun that didn’t fail to deliver on stakes or try its hardest to make you cry, a superhero blockbuster that ticked all of the boxes despite never quite hitting the heights of its sub-franchise’s extraordinary and surprising debut.
From the first minute, Guardians 2 sought to separate itself from the central canon of MCU films with vivid colours and fresh CG worlds, but while it looked arguably better than any MCU film for the most part, it did suffer from falling more into line with the tried and tested formula of the studio in almost every other respect, screenwriter-director James Gunn being reined in somewhat now that Marvel had got wind of how much money they could make with these previously unknown characters. Here, Drax was reduced to his bare bones as a quip-machine, the mythology of Groot seemingly relegated at the expense of laughs, the self-conscious superhero-ness of the team largely forgotten about, and as such the revolutionary edge of the first movie was lost to a much more corporate offering – though certainly one of the best corporate offerings Marvel Studios have ever made.
13. Thor (2011)
A classic tale of unruly monarchs battling for the thrown, only with world-hopping potential and a whole heap of colourful CGI, Thor did a quite remarkable (and significantly underrated) job of bringing together its mountains of previously unknown information into an entertaining 2 hour film, its introduction of new characters, worlds, universes, mythology and lore being nothing short of astounding when looking back on a comically edged, Scandinavian-God inspired tale of mutiny and destiny.
While received relatively poorly at the time – certainly in terms of box office receipts ($181million) – this film has survived a poor sequel and a whole heap of other films attempting its version of world-building to remain one of the most rewatchable and enjoyable MCU entries to date; Thor being a great character and sub-franchise debut.
Recommended for you: Loki – The Development of One of Marvel’s Greatest Villains
12. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Just topping its Thor franchise brethren to hit the top 10 is Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok which took the usual Marvel formula and painted it in all of the screenwriter-director’s effervescence and innocent comedy to offer something of a remarkable detour from the usually self-serious MCU catalog – a tremendous breath of fresh air.
Ragnarok undoubtedly revitalised the Thor character, and in bringing a new tone to Thor, Loki and Hulk, offered the MCU a new pathway into auteur-driven, genre-specific filmmaking that seemed to be the confirmation Marvel needed to head in a new “independent narratives by unique filmmakers with singular visions” direction; Ragnarok being every bit as much of a revolutionary as it was an enjoyable (albeit relatively low stakes) film.
11. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Fresh, exciting and unique within the realm of its franchise, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was the red-hot launch to Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that fans needed post-Endgame, those willing to jump off the proverbial horse enticed back with some of the fastest, most crisp and most inspired action seen in the franchise for years.
Pulling together the mythical elements of classic East Asian martial arts films with the beloved levity and touches of comedy present in the films of Jackie Chan, Shang-Chi was largely presented like nothing else produced by the Disney-Marvel machine, the gravitating auras of stars Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’ er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, and particularly Hong Kong-film legend Tony Leung, making for a non-stop ride of excitement that felt new while paying homage to so many of the films – MCU and otherwise – to come before. With cameo appearances by early MCU characters and a number of unforgettable sequences, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was among the very best superhero origin stories yet put to film.