Avengers: Endgame has arrived, but how does it compare to its three predecessors? Ever since 2008, when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) broke into Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) mansion in Iron Man's post-credits scene, audiences knew that Marvel Studios were working on something big for their all-new shared universe.
Indeed, four years and four films later, The Avengers depicted Iron Man teaming up with Captain America (Chris Evans) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to save Planet Earth. But this beloved movie was not the last of their adventures. After several more solo outings, The Avengers was followed up by its sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015 and, more recently, Avengers: Infinity War in 2018. Nearly every Avengers movie has rounded off each chapter of Marvel’s Infinity Saga, and Avengers: Endgame serves as a concluding part of the series’ third phase.
Certainly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded beyond what many fans could have ever expected in its formative years. Alongside Iron Man and Captain America’s movies, the adventures of Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) now multiply and flourish. But throughout all of these acclaimed debuts, the Avengers series has remained the MCU’s backbone, charting (and reflecting) the highs and lows of Marvel’s unprecedented cinematic enterprise. From salivating over shawarma to their climactic showdowns with the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), here are the Avengers movies ranked worst to best.
Last updated: April 26, 2019
4. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Three years after the Battle of New York, the Avengers are on fine form as they bust terrorist cells and enjoy their newfound friendship. But when Stark inadvertently creates the titular, rogue artificial intelligence, the threat of Ultron (James Spader) and his lackeys (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson) tests each hero’s confidence – and their trust in each other.
Even in the divisive wake of Captain Marvel, Age of Ultron remains one of Marvel’s most controversial entries. The perceived failings of the Hulk/Black Widow romance and the movie’s deranged – yet snarky – villain are still hotly debated topics. But despite being low in this ranking, Age of Ultron is by no means a terrible movie.
When making Age of Ultron, director Joss Whedon said that his aim was “to pull [the Avengers] apart as much as we put them together.” This deconstructive approach should have worked wonders for the characters - and the film at large. Indeed, Scarlet Witch’s visions force the team to confront their demons and desires, particularly during an interlude at a safe house. These portions of Age of Ultron have been hugely beneficial to Iron Man and Captain America’s larger arcs through the MCU. But in the context of Age of Ultron alone, Whedon’s execution hampers the overall effect.
In watching Age of Ultron, there’s a feeling that a lot of footage that shouldn’t have been cut is missing. Conversely, there are clearly some scenes that should have been removed or trimmed. These aforementioned, lengthy character moments occur in a rather brisk story, meaning that Age of Ultron’s pacing – and its new characters – consequently suffer. This is obviously thanks to the director’s well-documented creative differences with Marvel. Nevertheless, it’s particularly frustrating for viewers when fascinating characters like Vision (Paul Bettany) are short-changed, despite being a key part in one of the MCU’s best-ever scenes.
From the famous Hulk-buster fight to Hawkeye’s pep talk, Age of Ultron tries to be as fun as its predecessor yet as introspective as other famous sequels like The Empire Strikes Back. Regrettably, its success on these terms is very sporadic.
3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The dreaded Thanos makes good on his promise from Age of Ultron’s post-credit scene, and he wages a swift and brutal war against the universe in his search for the Infinity Stones. Naturally, this puts him on a collision course with the disbanded and disheartened Avengers. But even with reinforcements, in the form of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the Guardians of the Galaxy, they may be ill-prepared to best the Mad Titan.
Infinity War may not have as much to say as its fellow Avengers movies, but it could still have easily taken the top spot. As the culmination of ten years-worth of superhero films, it’s astounding that the movie was able to meet fan’s high expectations in such a grand and epic fashion. Indeed, the Guardians of the Galaxy duology showed viewers exotic new planets, but the Russo Brothers render worlds like Vormir and Nidavellir with rich colors and strong composition. The cosmic MCU has never had such a degree of depth and texture, and it feels suitably expansive and spectacular.
Praise for Infinity War’s effects would be remiss not to mention Thanos himself who is, overall, unlike any Marvel villain so far. The impressive motion capture technology showcased makes him, despite being purple and eight feet tall, amazingly life-like and physically imposing. This is compounded by Josh Brolin’s stoic, beguiling presence, meaning that Thanos’ intelligence and power are worryingly palpable any times he’s onscreen with any of the saga’s heroes.
Furthermore, moviegoers have wanted to see certain characters meet onscreen for years, and the film gleefully depicts these gatherings. The clash of Stark and Doctor Strange’s egos is brilliant to witness, but Infinity War also revels in showcasing unexpected team-ups. The partnership between Thor and his “sweet rabbit” (Bradley Cooper) is one of the MCU’s funniest, but it also features some of the franchise’s most heartbreaking moments as well.
Moments like their shuttle ride chat are a testament to how deftly Marvel has crafted their characters onscreen. Moreover, it’s the very reason why the film’s shocking ending works as well as it does. The Russos may have given a comic book plot point more dramatic emphasis, but Infinity War’s final sequence would not have become the pop-culture phenomenon that it is without these beloved cinematic icons.
2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Defeated and despondent, the remaining Avengers struggle to negotiate the dystopia that Thanos created at the end of Infinity War. But when Ant-Man miraculously returns from the Quantum Realm some five years later, they see an opportunity to undo the Mad Titan’s work and save the universe.
As the culmination of eleven years and twenty-two movies’ worth of plot, Endgame has quite a juggling act to perform. Indeed, in this celebratory entry, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes literally revisit their previous adventures whilst the movie itself brings their current one to a close. But where Infinity War was (mostly) focused and successful at this plate-spinning, Endgame, unfortunately, begins to buckle under the sheer weight of its disparate parts.
It also doesn’t help that many of Avengers: Endgame’s narrative choices are somewhat confounding. The time travel plot has, somewhat admirably, been constructed to leave the events of prior MCU movies intact. Yet, as a result, the film becomes overly complex, and continuity enthusiasts will be scratching their heads over the many discrepancies that Endgame has created in this fictional world.
Be that as it may, the fact that Endgame works half as well as it does is a highly impressive feat of filmmaking in itself. The benefits of the shared universe model are plain to see, since the movie’s heavy character focus could not have been this impactful without the interwoven saga that preceded it. Downey, Jr., Evans et al provide some of their best work in Endgame, which not only contains some of the franchise’s most quietly harrowing scenes, but also several of the most thrilling, emotional and surprising moments ever to feature in a comic book movie.
Avengers: Endgame is undoubtedly a flawed (and divisive) conclusion to this part of the MCU. But it’s a film with a sense of fun, dread, scale and import that feel totally earned, and this more than makes up for its shortcomings.
1. The Avengers (2012)
Following on from the events of Thor, a disenfranchised Loki (Tom Hiddleston) attempts to conquer Earth with an alien army. In response, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury recruits an unlikely team to foil his plans, and they may succeed – if they can get along, that is.
At this point, there’s very little to say that hasn’t already been said about The Avengers. Like Infinity War, it’s remarkable that the film succeeds as well as it does, when it could have very easily collapsed under its own weight. This success can be attributed to the charisma of its stars and their characters, but mostly to the talents of writer and director Joss Whedon. Sure, The Avengers does not exhibit any of the MCU’s best camerawork and cinematography, but its key strength is its script and pacing.
Indeed, the film is – to quote Thanos – perfectly balanced where its storytelling is concerned. For all its humor (more on that later) there are numerous sobering beats, such as Black Widow’s discussion with a caged Loki and Captain America’s disagreement with Iron Man aboard the Helicarrier. There are a lot of action scenes (as one would expect in a superhero movie) but Whedon ensures that each character gets a good few moments to shine out of costume so that we are able to connect with them.
Certainly, their many meetings and confrontations are a master class in escalation and anticipation, building on what came before and following through to the next encounter. There’s a reason why the iconic, circling shot of the united team works as well as it does, and it isn’t just because of Alan Silvestri’s rousing score. All of The Avengers’ narrative arcs feed into this moment; the film's plot strands unite as the characters do themselves.
It also helps that this is one of Marvel’s most quotable movies. The MCU was no stranger to wit by this point, but The Avengers set the standard for rapid, mid-action scene one-liners that have come to populate their newer films. Coupled with its clean choreography, The Avengers provided the kind of humorous and exhilarating experience that audiences want from their blockbusters.
Moreover, towards the end of The Avengers, Gideon Malik (Powers Boothe) wonders whether Fury has assembled the team to make a defiant statement to the wider universe. Years later, this is a perfect metaphor for Marvel itself. As the number of Marvel movies continue to increase, it’s clear that The Avengers not only changed superhero movies forever – but also Hollywood in the process.
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019