4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro
2014 was a very good year for Marvel Studios, not least because of the fresh and original take on the universe from James Gunn and his talented, previously un-mined cast. Introducing Chris Pratt as the next mega-star Chris of the cinematic landscape was a masterstroke of casting that aided an already abundantly funny script, creating a comedy unlike anything we had seen before in the MCU and beginning a trend of releases aimed towards more specific genres (Ragnarok – comedy, etc.). Visually, the movie was something completely different too, bringing a more rich and vibrant colour pallet to a generic, digitally produced look that had grown stale across a list of 9 previously released films. The surprisingly moving nature of the finished product when partnered with the genuinely hilarious moments it regularly churned out, and its likeable cast of misfit characters, made Guardians of the Galaxy a surprisingly rich film worthy of investment, and certainly more than the placeholder many had predicted it to be.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell
When the Russo brothers took on the Captain America franchise, they inherited perhaps the most underwhelming of Marvel’s Phase 1 movies (Hulk not included), and yet the quality of their Winter Soldier movie was almost unrivalled. The brothers, whose filmmaking career had only seen them previously helm episodes of ‘Arrested Development’ and forge their action chops as directors on ‘Community’ (of all things), were far from a safe choice, but the levels of originality, flair, and much-welcomed realistic fight choreography made for a film that had everything. The Winter Soldier was so good in fact, that the Russo brothers were invited back to not only conclude the Captain America trilogy with Civil War, but also to end the run of many phase one story arcs in Infinity War (2018). Who could forget Winter Soldier’s shocking plot twist or the elevator fight sequence? It truly was a superhero film to remember, and perhaps the most perfect superhero movie of them all, except these two…
2. The Avengers (2012)
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgård
Even five years removed from its release, there are few movies that can challenge the importance and significance of The Avengers to Marvel Studios. The 2012 release was the first major team-up of Marvel’s first phase of Avenging superheroes, the culmination of 4 years of build-up, the realising of dreams for many a Marvel fan. Joss Whedon’s epic fantasy-action movie is the 3rd highest grossing Marvel picture ever released (and was still 1st in that chart until 2018), earning $1.5billion at the worldwide box office and stamping itself as the 5th highest grossing movie of all time (not adjusted for inflation). It must also be considered the most perfect iteration of the original Marvel Studios formula ever released, and though time may have distorted the public consensus regarding its quality – especially in the aftermath of some of its more recent contemporaries – and while trends have changed and our tastes altered, this 2012 fantasy team up remains the strongest Marvel movie in almost every sense that it can be. Though we may not so often think “original Avengers” when thinking “Marvel” these days, there is a continued sense of appreciation for this film and all that it brought from the Marvel Studio lot, so let’s remember this film for all that it gave us: a spectacle of fantasy-action, dream-fulfilling goodness that is the number 2 MCU movie of all time.
1. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Sean Gunn, William Hurt, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke
The culmination of 10 years and 19 movies, Infinity War was the fantasy crossover event movie that had too many iconic characters to fail yet exceeded many people’s expectations by not only creating the MCU’s most threatening villain ever but also having real, quantifiable stakes. Thanos was the centrepiece of the movie and thus well developed ahead of his universe-shattering actions, while the interactions between characters like Starlord and Iron Man, Starlord and Thor, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and Captain America and Groot, made for quip-a-minute exchanges of dialogue in the midst of some of the franchise’s best action set pieces. This was a superhero film so good that the only major universal criticism of it was that it was it would be hard to follow for people unfamiliar with the characters ahead of time, the sort of series finale that left you shocked and in awe, a true masterpiece of superhero filmmaking of which there are few comparisons and now officially the highest grossing superhero movie of all time.