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“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if we could become something more. So when they needed us, we could fight the battles that they never could.”
Marvel Studios have been the standard bearer for all superhero films for the past 10 years, presenting 20 movies to increasing audiences the world over and earning around $17.3billion at the worldwide box office. The studio has created 10 separate franchises since its debut film Iron Man in 2008, digging into the once exclusive comic book properties of the likes of “Ant-Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” to present fresh and always entertaining takes on a genre that they have come to master above even their most intimate of contemporaries. In this edition of Ranked, we have judged each of the 20 Marvel Studios Avengers-related movies from worst to best based on their quality and historical importance. As always, we encourage you to share your thoughts on social media and in the comments below, but for now it’s on with the list…
20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Ty Burrell, Tim Blake Nelson, Lou Ferigno
When The Incredible Hulk went into production, the characters of Bruce Banner and his gamma radiated alter ego were perhaps the biggest pop culture icons left at the behest of Marvel Studios after auctioning off their X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man to other companies. The duality of Banner’s character therefore seemed like the perfect choice for an audience-grabbing introductory film; one which would feature more fun and chaos than the Ang Lee presentation from 2003. If audiences didn’t see Iron Man earlier in the year, then they’d surely see this. History would have it that audiences did turn up to see Iron Man, and as such the lack of quality on offer in The Incredible Hulk was more obvious than it may have otherwise been. The movie was up and down, offering some half-decent fan service in amongst the rage and chaos but failing to deliver in terms of an interesting story or reason to care. In the aftermath of the release, it became clear that Leterrier was never entirely confident in directing the picture and had only taken the job after being rejected for his passion project Iron Man, and star Edward Norton threw the whole production under the bus by claiming he had ‘basically written the movie’. The Incredible Hulk now stands far afoot the bottom of the Avengers list in terms of quality, and can be considered as perhaps the only severe misstep of the studio’s entire universe. The film remains canon, with William Hurt’s continued presence being evidence of this, but having switched out Norton for Ruffalo it’s clear that this is the one film on this list Marvel are trying to forget about.
19. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau
Iron Man 2 felt like a big deal back in 2010. It was the third movie of the would-be Avengers universe and had cast the recently reconciled Mickey Rourke hot off the back of his triumphant return to prominence in The Wrestler. Underneath the hype there were grumblings of malcontent however, with Don Cheadle being substituted in for Terrence Howard following a pay dispute in which Marvel reportedly refused to offer Howard the same money for the 2nd movie as they had offered Downey Jr., and the story of Edward Norton’s future within the universe seemingly putting an end to early plans to have Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers team-up to take down a rebellious Hulk (as hinted towards in the post-credit scene in The Incredible Hulk). Ultimately, this landed Iron Man 2 in the zone of “safe sequel”; a film which delivers on all of the original movie’s promises but did little to exceed expectations. Still useful in how it was offering an appropriately colourful take on a superhero genre in the midst of Nolan’s darker Dark Knight trilogy, this Jon Favreau follow-up is perhaps less well remembered now than it was way back when, and we can all see Marvel’s biggest faults – presenting believable threats to their heroes – poking their ugly heads, but this is by no means a bad movie in the same sense that The Incredible Hulk was; just more of a forgettable one.
18. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings
Speaking of forgettable; is there a movie on this list that has as few special moments as Thor: The Dark World?
For the 2nd instalment of the Thor standalone franchise, and coming in the aftermath of The Avengers in 2012, The Dark World felt safe in many of the ways that Iron Man 2 did, though it also shared The Incredible Hulk’s unique trait of being a universe instalment that Marvel would look to move on from, resetting many of the lingering story threads in the first few minutes of its follow up Ragnarok in 2017. The Dark World did its job, presenting fans with more of the beloved relationship between Thor and Loki, and worked to introduce more of the unique planets and beings from the comic books, but it was lacking in anything beyond the typical faceless villain stereotype as a threat, and the film suffered significantly as a result of this. Thor 2 was very much the Iron Man 2 of the Thor franchise, only the relationship between Thor & Loki as well as the presence of a few characters that have since been forgotten about – as played by Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings – were just enough to pip the Iron Man sequel in this list.
17. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall
Iron Man 3 is one of the more controversial entries into Marvel’s Avengers universe of films, and the entirety of the reason as to why is the film’s twist. Warning, there are spoilers ahead…
Screenwriter-director Shane Black had previously worked with Downey Jr. on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005 and therefore seemed like an easy, creative alternative to the Iron Man franchise’s exiting Jon Favreau. The issue was that Black was noteworthy for tackling genre conventions and therefore sought to deviate from the typical ‘rise of an ultimate villain’ character arc, seeing it as too much of an obvious path for Iron Man 3 to walk down. As such, the movie developed a believable, identifiable threat in the form of Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin, only for Tony Stark/Iron Man to discover that the character was simply an actor relaying lines on behalf of another villain, a villain who turned out to be much less identifiable and interesting, and much more like the lacklustre villains that had populated the universe to this point. In 2013 audiences had grown tired of under-developed villains with little to identify with, so Iron Man 3’s tease of a great villain proved too much for many. It was a moment which overshadowed the film and became the topic of discussion regarding the movie itself, which other than this moment was actually quite fun though somewhat forgettable.