First Iron Man Still Best Marvel Cinematic Universe Film According To Critics


We’re now 11 movies into the grand experiment called the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and by any measure, it’s been an unparalleled success so far. That goes for both box office totals and mainstream acceptance, and for the most part, the critics have liked the movies as well.

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That doesn’t mean Marvel is getting better at winning them over as it goes. Avengers: Age of Ultron has received good but not great reviews, and its 74 percent score at Rotten Tomatoes actually puts in in the bottom half of the Marvel Cinematic Universe critic rankings. It’s only nine points away from the bottom but almost 20 points from challenging the leader.

Despite that fact, it’s likely that Age of Ultron will finish second only to The Avengers in box office revenue, and it’s tough to compare the overstuffed team outings to the solo films — though admittedly, even some of them aren’t true individual adventures, and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War might as well be Avengers 3. There truly is no correlation between ticket sales and the critics’ opinions in this case.

It’s still fun to go back and see what the reviewers thought of all of the MCU films, especially because the most popular movie in the lineup to date was the very first one. Yep, nothing Marvel has done since then has surpassed our introduction to the Robert Downey Jr. Experience, where he made the role of Tony Stark his own.

Intrigued? Here are the Rotten Tomatoes rankings for all the Marvel movies from worst to best, according to the aggregate critics’ score, along with the consensus summary of their reviews.

  • 11. Thor: The Dark World – 65 %

Consensus: It may not be the finest film to come from the Marvel Universe, but Thor: The Dark World still offers plenty of the humor and high-stakes action that fans have come to expect.

My comment: Hard to argue with this one. A little unfocused, the second Thor movie struggles to find the right tone, and Malekith ended up as the MCU villain who made the least lasting impression.

  • 10. The Incredible Hulk – 67%

Consensus: The Incredible Hulk provides the action and excitement to please comic book fans and re-ignite this fledgling franchise. 

My comment: That’s actually a really generous summary given the fairly mediocre score. I have a hard time even counting this as a “real” MCU outing, and it was in a weird kind of limbo thanks to the Ang Lee Hulk not being completely thrown out. Probably the best movie possible under the circumstances.

  • 9. Iron Man 2 – 73%

Consensus: It isn’t quite the breath of fresh air that Iron Man was, but this sequel comes close with solid performances and an action-packed plot. 

My comment: A.k.a. the one that no one liked. I’m actually surprised this rating wasn’t lower, but seeing RDJ back in the saddle again and the introduction of War Machine were both cool.

  • 8. Avengers: Age of Ultron – 74%

Consensus: Exuberant and eye-popping, Avengers: Age of Ultron serves as an overstuffed but mostly satisfying sequel, reuniting its predecessor’s unwieldy cast with a few new additions and a worthy foe. 

My comment: Surprised to see it this low? Bigger isn’t always better, and Joss Whedon had to juggle more super-powered characters than we’ve ever seen on screen before. I still thought it was plenty of fun.

  • 7. Thor – 77%

Consensus: A dazzling blockbuster that tempers its sweeping scope with wit, humor, and human drama, Thor is mighty Marvel entertainment. 

My comment: I was a little taken aback by the sci-fi treatment of the Asgardians, and I’m wondering if that will turn out to be unnecessary once we add Doctor Strange and other mystical characters to the fabric of the MCU. Plenty of Loki, and a nice arc where Thor learns some humility on Earth. The Destroyer battle is also awesome.

  • 6. Captain America: The First Avenger – 79% (tiebreaker: 6.9 average rating)

Consensus: With plenty of pulpy action, a pleasantly retro vibe, and a handful of fine performances, Captain America is solidly old-fashioned blockbuster entertainment. 

My comment: Period pieces are always tough, but I think this is the most underrated Marvel flick. The sequences where Cap is just a propaganda tool and the ones where he is leading the Howling Commandos are gems. In the minus column, the “death” of Bucky felt a bit weak compared to the legendary comic book original.

  • 5. Iron Man 3 – 79% (tiebreaker: 7.0 average rating)

Consensus: With the help of its charismatic lead, some impressive action sequences, and even a few surprises, Iron Man 3 is a witty, entertaining adventure and a strong addition to the Marvel canon. 

My comment: A good bounce-back movie after Iron Man 2. Still, there’s quite the gap between this movie and the four ahead of it, and that feels right.

  • 4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 89%

Consensus: Suspenseful and politically astute, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a superior entry in the Avengers canon and is sure to thrill Marvel diehards. 

My comment: The highest compliment I’ve heard paid to this movie is that it could have succeeded as an action-thriller even if Marvel super heroes weren’t involved. I think that’s true, and it was cool that it had a vibe all its own.

  • 3. Guardians of the Galaxy – 91%

Consensus: Guardians of the Galaxy is just as irreverent as fans of the frequently zany Marvel comic would expect — as well as funny, thrilling, full of heart, and packed with visual splendor.

My comment: Not number one, but pretty darn close. I’d still say this is Marvel’s greatest triumph to date, as it took characters largely unknown to the general public and made a blockbuster with them. Kind of amazing in retrospect.

  • 2. The Avengers – 92%

Consensus: With a script that never forgets its heroes’ humanity and no shortage of superpowered set pieces, The Avengers lives up to its hype — and raises the bar for Marvel at the movies. 

My comment: In Whedon we trust? Yep, the experienced genre favorite and occasional comic book writer was definitely the right choice to juggle six Marvel super heroes. I felt giddy the first time I saw it. A day unlike any other, indeed.

  • 1. Iron Man – 93%

Consensus: Director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey make this smart, high impact superhero movie one that even non-comics fans can enjoy.

My comment: Hard to argue the impact this movie made. I’d flip this with Avengers on my personal list, but that’s really splitting hairs at this point. I’ll say this: I told my best friends I’d cry if this movie sucked, since Iron Man was my favorite Marvel hero as a child. No tears were shed on opening night, that’s for sure.

Next: The 41 greatest MCU moments (prior to Age of Ultron)

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