10. 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.
9. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
The joy that Spider-Man fans the world over felt when watching Peter Parker as an age-appropriate teenager in the midst of ordinary teen troubles was one that resounded through the comic book movie sphere, Tom Holland’s lovably dorky portrayal becoming the thing of legend almost instantly.
Of course, we’d seen Holland in Captain America: Civil War by this point, but Homecoming proved itself to be a remarkable entry point into his wider life nonetheless, the film’s teen-movie focus bringing about an 80s movie feel with very modern sensibilities and cultural reference points, Homecoming feeling like Back to the Future or The Breakfast Club in Tony Stark approved spandex, the presence of Iron Man itself lending Homecoming a unique and once-in-a-lifetime feel that no other Spidey film has been able to benefit from (and likely never will in the MCU again).
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8. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Arguably the first Avengers team-up movie to showcase the characters as we know them now, and certainly an unofficial central Avengers title, Captain America: Civil War offered so many great character moments and confrontations that it didn’t matter all that much how good the content was, though that was also pretty damn good.
Following on from Age of Ultron’s desire to blur the lines between good and evil and ask us which side we’re on, Civil War offered a strong theoretical and uniquely political backbone of a story that brought with it critical thought the likes of which the MCU had arguably never offered until that point and has rarely offered in the years since. This film, as much and if not more than any MCU film before it, offered resolution and confrontation to truly make the hairs on your arms stand on end, the very best of this movie being hard to rival by any in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of emotion and impact.
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was nothing short of a revolution, not only for the Captain America franchise but for the wider MCU and even the entire action genre, the way the newly boarded Russo Brothers shot the film’s action sequences working tremendously to highlight the brutality of battle and the impact of each strike like nothing Marvel had produced before.
Looking distinctly different from the previous Captain America, and taking more inspiration from the likes of Michael Mann’s Heat and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight than the more fantastical MCU offerings, The Winter Soldier truly hooked an ageing audience into a new experience that would prove to be the bedrock of all that would follow, particularly in those films directed by the Russos (Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame). Sure, this entry didn’t have the star power of Captain America 3 or the central Avengers films, but in working with what it had and bringing together an almighty arc for Cap himself, The Russo Brothers proved themselves made men, The Winter Soldier to this day being an almighty achievement for a studio of many significant films.
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6. Iron Man (2008)
There wouldn’t be an MCU if Iron Man hadn’t been a runaway success, and in risking it all on the controversial shoulders of Robert Downey Jr., a man ousted from Hollywood for innumerable issues, it was a big old swing that Marvel took in pursuit of the golden purse. It was a swing that was an unmissable home run in every respect, the product of this new independent film studio’s imagination being as revolutionary to the industry in 2008 as The Dark Knight, Robert Downey Jr. putting in as remarkable of a performance as any in the wider comic book adaptation sphere.
As a standalone film disconnected from the others in the universe, there are few that can rival the studio’s original offering, Iron Man being able to stand the test of time in the way that only pitch perfect films which fulfill all of their intentions can truly do, a fantastic, charismatic entry point into a wider universe that changed the landscape of film forever.