It’s no surprise that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been both a critical and commercial success. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 recently out, the MCU has so far released a total of fifteen films which have collectively grossed over $11 billion dollars to date. There’s at least another ten films in various stages of production, and this summer audiences can already expect the first solo Spider-Man movie within the MCU, along with the third stand alone Thor film out in late fall. And if first looks are any inclination, these latest entries seem on par with everything we’ve come to expect from this massively ambitious franchise.
So far, all the MCU movies have been awarded a “Fresh” rating on the critic aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes — though we can’t say the same for any of the movies in the DCEU. But before we see if Wonder Woman can steer the DCEU to sunnier skies, let’s take a look back at Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie, Ranked By Rotten Tomatoes Score.
15. Thor: The Dark World – 66%
Coming in with the lowest score on the Tomatometer is 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, which managed to stay out of “Rotten” territory by just seven percentage points (as any film that dips below a 60% is no longer considered “Fresh”). As you’ll find, the Thor films appear to be among the least well received within the MCU, which may help explain why Thor: Rognarok, due out November 3rd of this year, appears to have undergone a make-over, both style and story-wise.
The film picks up one year after the events of The Avengers, and finds Thor teaming up with his estranged brother Loki to take on the Dark Elves, who seek to destroy the Nine Realms along with Earth.
While Thor: The Dark World may be the lowest critical rated MCU film, with one critic calling it “mighty forgettable stuff,” the film actually has an Audience Score of 77%, making it the biggest critic/audience split.
14. The Incredible Hulk – 67%
Ranking just one percentage point higher than The Dark World is the second film installment in the MCU: 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Though the film may be one of the lowest ranked movies on this list, it’s a big step above 2003’s Hulk (which miraculously has a rating only six points shy of this 2008 reboot). Though Edward Norton would prove to be one of the better incarnation of the Hulk, the actor had a falling out with the MCU over creative differences, and would be replaced by Mark Ruffalo for 2012’s The Avengers.
Though The Incredible Hulk was first written to be a loose sequel to Hulk, almost any overlap between the two films was abandoned, save for the fact that Bruce Banner is still hiding out in South America. This was undoubtably a wise choice, which allowed for a much cleaner entry into the newly established MCU.
13. Iron Man 2 – 72%
After the released of The Incredible Hulk, fans were eager to see Robert Downey Jr./Iron Man take center stage in the MCU oncee again. Unfortunately, the second installment in Tony Stark’s trilogy failed to live up to the near-flawlessness of the first film.
Is Iron Man 2 a bad movie? By no means. However, the film ultimately failed to conjure up a worthy opponent to face off against Iron Man by the film’s end, with both Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) falling short. Though Rockwell and Rourke are both stellar actors, the plot of Iron Man 2 is a little too busy to give them real room to stand out. This leaves the film feeling overstuffed when too many new characters are introduced.
12. Avengers: Age of Ultron – 75%
Though audiences ranked this movie a bit higher than the Tomatometer (giving the film an 83% approval rating), Age of Ultron ultimately failed to impress critics as much as the original Avengers. Similar to the complaints with Iron Man 2, some felt that Age of Ultron was simply weighed down with too many characters battling for screen time, though most agreed that Ultron (James Spader) proved to be a formidable foe for the Avengers to face off against.
The film was the second that Joss Whedon wrote and directed for the MCU, though Whedon also contributed to a number of other Marvel movies, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Dark World. Whedon’s ability to masterfully juggle all of these iconic comic book character’s in not just one, but two, Marvel movies was praised by fans. Which made it bittersweet news when Whedon stated that he no longer planned to work with Marvel so he could pursue his own world-building once again.
11. Thor – 77%
With over 200 positive reviews, critics seemed to agree that the first Thor film in the MCU was more entertaining than The Incredible Hulk, though not quite as much fun as the original Iron Man. The film was praised for its production design, unexpected humor, and a number of better-than-expected performances — notably, Tom Hiddleston who made his debut as the evil Asgardian, Loki. As critic Will Chadwick wrote, “Thor is terrific fun! It’s aware of its own silliness but made with complete integrity and heart.”
Of course, not all reviews were positive. And a number of Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Critics took aim at the movie, including Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott, who criticized the film for being to cartoonish for adults, and appearing solely interested in making a boat-load of money at the box office. Which, of course, it inevitable did.
10. Iron Man 3 – 79%
Drawing from the six-issue story arc “Extremis,” Robert Downey Jr. and Co. joined up with Marvel newcomer Shane Black to make one of the highest grossing movies of all time: Iron Man 3. The movie was a critical success as well, with many considering a definite improvement over the second installment, and a welcome change of pace for Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark.
The story picks up after The Avengers, and finds Stark suffering from PTSD as a result of the catastrophic Battle of New York. After a string of terrorist attacks, Stark begins a hunt for the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), which results in an attack on Stark’s own home.
The film offered up a number of intriguing twists and turns, including the true identity of the “villain,” and a story off-shoot that finds Stark teaming up with an inventive 10-year-old. And with Black co-writing the script, there’s certainly no shortage of witty banter throughout the film.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger – 80%
Edging into the ’80s on the Tomatometer, is the first stand-alone Captain American endeavor for the MCU. The First Avenger is by all means classic blockbuster material — which makes sense for a superhero movie set in the 1940s. As critic Andy Lea put it: “It’s simply an old-fashioned good-versus-evil yarn. And it’s all the better for it.”
Interestingly enough, critics seemed to like this movie a little more than audiences did upon its release (the Audience Rating sits at 74%). This may be specifically because the story was a little too black and white compared to many other superhero movies being made today.
But upon seeing the direction that the Captain America story arc has taken, The First Avenger really set the stage for the moral obstacles that Steve Rogers would face in present day America in both The Winter Soldier and Civil War.
8. Ant-Man – 81%
Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs The World) had been developing an Ant-Man film with Marvel for years before he eventually parted ways from the project, citing creative differences. The news came as a blow to fans, who felt that Wright’s comically-visual style would have been best suited to bring the semi-ridiculous superhero to the big screen. And though we still desperately want to know Wright’s Ant-Man movie would have looked like, we have to admit that the movie was far from a disappointment.
Movies in the MCU have always had a heavy dose of humor. In that regard, Ant-Man remains one of their funniest movies to date, thanks largely in part to the casting of Paul Rudd in the title role. Critics couldn’t help but agree that Ant-Man was “undoubtedly one of the best individual superhero movies in the MCU.”
So far, Paul Rudd has only reprised his role of Scott Lang/Ant-Man in Captain America: Civil War, but the character is already set to reappear in Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp, both out in 2018.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 82%
Alas, we arrive at the latest installment in the MCU: the long awaited sequel to the beloved Guardians of the Galaxy. And yes, we know it’s technically only been three years since the first film came out — but any time is a long time if you’re waiting for a Marvel movie.
Since the movie just hit theaters we’ll keep this entry spoiler free, but many of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes seem to agree that Vol. 2 is just as enjoyable (though admittedly not quite as original) as the first film. Expectedly, there’s a lot more going on in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but with writer/director James Gunn back in the driver’s seat the film never feels like it leaves any of its multiple plot threads left dangling by the time the credits roll.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 89%
Fans and critics alike were more pleased with Captain America’s second solo outing as opposed to The First Avenger. In fact, if you consider the Audience Rating, The Winter Soldier has the highest rating of any MCU film, which currently sits at 92%. (Guardians of the Galaxy actually has the same Audience Rating, though The Winter Soldier has a slightly larger demographic to draw from).
Loosely drawing from the comic story arc of the same name, the movie follows Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) as he adjusts to life in the modern world while also facing off against a mysterious figure from his past. Critics praised the film for its tight storytelling and its ability to infuse real-world politics into a superhero blockbuster.
5. Captain America: Civil War – 90%
According to the critics, the Captain America movies just keep getting better and better! Though with its massive cast of characters, Civil War felt more like a full-blown Avengers installment rather than another solo picture.
The film finds the Avengers splitting into two opposing sides — one led by Steve Rogers, and the other Tony Stark. The heart of the debate: whether or not the Avengers should be regulated by the government. Once again, infusing a topical political discussion played well with critics, and demonstrated yet again that Marvel can weave together films that work well on multiple levels.
Unlike a few Marvel movies with lower ratings, Civil War didn’t crumble under the weight of its enormous cast of characters thanks to a finely tuned script. And the film even managed to seamlessly bring the latest big screen adaptation of Peter Parker/Spider-Man into the mix, much to the approval of comic book fans.
4. Doctor Strange – 90%
The 90% rating between Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange is actually one of the few ties on this list (though it may be worth mentioning that the Audience Rating ranked Civil War a bit higher then Strange on Rotten Tomatoes). The critical consensus for the film read, “Doctor Strange artfully balances its outre source material against the blockbuster constraints of the MCU, delivering a thoroughly entertaining superhero origin story in the bargain.”
For fans of the Marvel Universe, Doctor Strange provided a bit of a respite for the overarching story arc of the franchise, and introduced us to an entirely new cast of character and a pretty trippy story to boot. The bold new style of the film (particularly the last third) even ended up earning Doctor Strange an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.
Unsurprisingly, Benedict Cumberbatch gave a captivating performance as the arrogant neurosurgeon turned mystical artist, and the doctor is already slated to make an appearance in this year’s Thor: Ragnarok.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy – 91%
Vefore there was Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy proved that the MCU need not rely on the popularity of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor to dominate at the box office. Even for comic book nerds, Guardians of the Galaxy was a relatively obscure Marvel comic, which first made its debut back in 1969. The 2014 film written and directed by James Gunn not only succeeded in introducing us to new cast of characters, but it instantly made many of them fan favorites.
Rotten Tomatoes Top Critic and writer for the Los Angeles Times Kenneth Turan aptly reviewed the film, writing, “Blessed with a loose, anarchic B-picture soul that encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you’re not quite sure what’s going on, the scruffy Guardians is irreverent in a way that can bring the first Star Wars to mind.”
2. The Avengers – 92%
It’s hard to believe that the first Avengers film came out only five years ago. Even in that short period of time it’s become hard to appreciate the enormous undertaking that came with intertwining a handful of (mostly) stand-alone films into the first big-screen adaptation of Marvel’s Avengers, since Marvel has done it more than a few times since. Marvel sure has been busy since then, turning out nine films since The Avengers ultimately tied up phase one of the franchise.
With 320 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, The Avengers managed to only accumulated 26 “Rotten” reviews — an impressive feat considering that many critics famously have a disdain for overblown superhero/popcorn films. Even with its immense cast of larger-than-life characters, and a near two-and-a-half hour film, the Avengers was undeniably well-crafted by mastermind Joss Whedon, earning it just as much praise from the critics as from fans.
1. Iron Man – 94%
According to the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the first film in the MCU remains the best. Iron Man was certainly a revolutionary film which set the stage for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe that was yet to come. This is thanks largely to the comedic instincts of Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau, who would often script much of the film’s dialogue on set moments before shooting the scene. The risk paid off massively, and it’s hard to imagine that both Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. were far from being part of mainstream culture back in 2008.
Iron Man is undoubtable a solid superhero flick, but is it really the best MCU movie to date? While audiences on Rotten Tomatoes have given Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy slightly higher reviews, Iron Man still clocks a highly respectable rating of 91%, making it a favorite among fans as well.
So do you agree with these Rotten Tomatoes rankings? What’s your favorite movie in the MCU? Sound off in the comments!
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