12. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
“I thought I could change my name, start a new life… but I could never escape his shadow.”
Shang-Chi is a back-to-basics origin story that is given much-needed vibrancy by new and underrepresented faces in front of and behind the camera, not to mention Chinese mythological flourishes and dazzling martial arts choreography courtesy of the late, great Brad Allan.
It had been quite some time since Marvel had to introduce new heroes on the big screen so it was refreshing for it to not be another arrogant blow-hard who learns humility, though he does have major family issues to face. Simu Liu’s Shaun/Shang-Chi’s grappling with legacy and using his untapped power for good is compelling, and Tony Leung, Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh bring the rest of the ensemble of Destin Daniel Cretton’s film to compelling life.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 (2023)
“We’ll all fly away together… one last time… into the forever and beautiful sky”.
It was a long road to the final instalment of this unlikely intergalactic found family’s story, but when it digs so painfully into the horrific origins of the soul of the franchise, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon, it was well worth the wait.
Returning director James Gunn wears his heart and his abiding love for animals proudly on his sleeve, and bids a tearful farewell to the team he turned from obscure losers into pop culture icons. Rocket is cemented as one of the great VFX characters alongside Gollum and Caesar, and the film delivers everything you want from a visually stunning, emotionally draining trilogy-capper in spades.
10. Doctor Strange (2016)
“It’s not about you.”
Marvel definitely has an origin story formula it follows quite rigidly, but writer-director Scott Derrickson imbues this surgeon-to-sorcerer quest movie with an abundance of trippy Steve Ditko-inspired visuals and peppers disarming humour throughout to avoid anything becoming too self-serious.
Benedict Cumberbatch basically gets to play Stephen Strange as Tony Stark Mk II, and while the broad strokes of their selfish dick to selfless supe arc are the same, the movie around it is anything but.
Doctor Strange is up there with the best-looking MCU movies to date, is overflowing with imagination in almost every scene, and it arguably has the cleverest outside-the-box final act conclusion we have yet to witness.
9. The Avengers (2012)
“Maybe your army comes and maybe it’s too much for us, but it’s all on you. Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’ll avenge it!”
The Avengers was a crowd-pleaser and then some that reaffirmed Joss Whedon’s talent for balancing large ensemble casts and giving many comics fans sights they’d been clamouring to see on the big screen since childhood.
Marvel’s first team-up movie hit it out of the park in so many regards. The back-and-forth between this reluctant alliance of heroes zigs and zags, Mark Ruffalo steals the show as a neurotic Bruce Banner who transforms into a genuinely terrifying Hulk, and the final act battle in New York is one for the ages that Marvel (and many of their rival studios) have been trying to replicate ever since.
This one set up a lot, not just for its immediate sequels but seemingly minor moments that have since paid off on TV in a big way in series such as ‘Loki’ and ‘Hawkeye’.
8. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
“You have a gift. You have power. And with great power, there must also come great responsibility.”
A long-time fanboy’s wet dream somehow doesn’t feel all that egregious or unearned when Jon Watts’ film stays so honest to its characters and so respectful of the the truth of their relationships.
This satisfying completion to Tom Holland’s take on Peter Parker’s multi-film character arc sees him painfully come of age and develop an affecting brotherly relationship with alternate universe versions of himself (a returning Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield) brought over by a magic spell gone wrong to take on familiar villains from across the multiverse, most memorably a gleefully wicked Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin.
This was a major feelgood boost to post-pandemic cinemas and it was also the events of this film’s plot, in conjunction with what happened in the finale of ‘Loki’, that truly cracked reality wide open for the MCU’s “Multiverse Saga”.
Recommended for you: 10 Best Moments from Spider-Man: No Way Home
7. Iron Man (2008)
“I know that it’s confusing. It is one thing to question the official story, and another thing entirely to make wild accusations, or insinuate that I’m a superhero.”
Being the first of something counts for a lot, as does getting the basics right from the beginning in this story of billionaire genius escaping captivity by inventing a suit of power armour. Perfect casting, efficient storytelling and sharp writing ensure a sturdy foundation to hold up a movie universe.
Terrence Howard never did get his “next time, baby” as War Machine, the role recast with Don Cheadle in the very next film, but Downey Jr completely embodies the MCU’s first of many assholes-turned-heroes from the start, and his winning chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow helps ground this game-changing superhero origin story.