The Great Marvel Cinematic Universe Elimination Tournament, Part 1
After 10 years, Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe has become the biggest film franchise of all time, with 18 movies grossing over $14 billion worldwide. While the franchise shows no sign of slowing down, everything that has come before is culminating in Avengers: Infinity War – literally the movie event of the year, even if you’re not a Marvel fan. Marvel is bringing together all of its big-screen heroes in one massive event which should also mark the “passing of the torch” from original Avengers like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor to the new (Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man).
In celebration, we’re looking at the franchise’s powerhouse history in true Flickchart fashion: by pitting the movies against each other in pairs. We’ve seeded an elimination bracket with all of the feature films in Flickchart’s Marvel Cinematic Universe filter and asked our writers to determine their winners. The process will be much like setting up a new Flickchart from scratch — choosing a winner, one pair of films at a time — but rather than arrive at a full ranked list, we will simply be determining a single victor.
First up are the four newest films in the franchise, vying for their place against some of the originals.
Spider-Man: Homecoming vs. Thor: Ragnarok
It honestly hurts to lose Thor: Ragnarok this early. It is a psychedelic head trip that is just a total blast, and vastly superior to both of Thor’s previous solo movies. It’s great to see Chris Hemsworth‘s natural charisma shine through, and he’s apparently a great comic actor. Taika Waititi‘s direction is assured, and this is a breath of fresh air that the MCU’s most bland major character really, really needed.
It’s up against Spider-Man: Homecoming, though, which got so many things perfectly right that it feels like a palate cleanse after Sony’s previous three Spidey movies. Where Tobey Maguire was a good Peter Parker and Andrew Garfield was a decent Spider-Man, Tom Holland is excellent in both roles, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of the MCU’s best villains, and his personal connection to Peter comes about without feeling overly contrived. The best aspect of this film, however, has got to be Holland’s rapport with Robert Downey Jr. Rather than hijacking the film, the de facto face of the MCU proves to be the perfect foil for bringing Spider-Man into the fold. Seeing overeager, teenage Spidey interact with the Avengers is a real joy. Just when I thought I didn’t need another Spider-Man movie, Homecoming has come along to make me really glad he’s back. – Nigel Druitt
Thor: Ragnarok is currently ranked #4 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #440 of All Time on Flickchart.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 vs. Black Panther
It was a close call in this play-in match, because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is delightful for many of the same reasons as the first film. It has humorous dialogue, a killer soundtrack, and a story with excitement and emotional weight. But it came up against a force of nature. Black Panther marks a milestone in the MCU, as it puts up box office numbers I doubt even Kevin Feige could have anticipated. There’s a reason for all that money, and it’s not just the fact that the film speaks to an audience that has lacked proper representation in superhero films for decades. Black Panther has a brilliant story as well. It manages to tell a hero’s origin without feeling like just another origin story, and it introduced us all to the nation of Wakanda, an oasis we’d all love to visit.
Perhaps the best way to show why Black Panther won over Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is to take a look at the villains they introduce. Ego is a powerful character with an emotional connection to Star-Lord, which is something we need in a good villain. But his scheme amounts to nothing more than universal domination, and lacks a strong motivation. Killmonger, on the other hand, has emotional ties to all of Wakanda, and his actions reflect it. His plan to lead a worldwide uprising is motivated by the painful struggle he has endured, and seen generations of his people face as well. It is the first time in an MCU film where we can sympathize with the villain, and, in a way, see that he is not completely wrong. That depth from the antagonist is something special that Guardians 2 simply can’t claim, and no amount of adorable Baby Groot can overcome it. – Ben Lott
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is currently ranked #9 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #716 of All Time on Flickchart.
With Ragnarok and Guardians Vol. 2 eliminated, Homecoming and Black Panther will be put up against some of the MCU’s veteran films. Here’s how our elimination bracket was originally seeded (left).
Iron Man vs. Spider-Man: Homecoming
When Spider-Man: Homecoming came out, people were raving about how great it was. There was also a collective sigh of relief: Most would argue that it had been about 15 years since we’d had a quality Spider-Man film. It was charming, action packed, colorful, funny, and a very strong addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Despite all of the positive feedback, Homecoming doesn’t seem to quite stand toe-to-toe with the film that kicked off this long-running franchise. Iron Man is revolutionary, and nobody could have predicted what was in store for the universe it birthed. It’s been ten years since Iron Man was released, and it still holds up as not just one of the best MCU films, but one of the greatest superhero films of all time. Robert Downey Jr. brings Tony Stark to life, and gives him the egotistical, snarky, charismatic and ultra-genius edge that makes him Iron Man. – Luke Winston
Spider-Man: Homecoming is currently ranked #8 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #641 of All Time on Flickchart.
Thor: The Dark World vs. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Two Phase 2 sequels square off in this first round match. If Thor and Captain America squared off in comics, Thor would send Cap flying, but Chris Evans and co. vastly outclass Chris Hemsworth and co. on film. While I’ve always thought Thor: The Dark World is underrated, even I can’t help but feel Alan Taylor should be admonished for letting the film get a little silly. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, meanwhile, is simply the best film in the MCU. The Russo Brothers were far from the likeliest pick to direct a big budget action film, but they flex their creative muscles and shape a sequel drawing influences from classic spy films as well as present day concerns about drone warfare and national security. The Winter Soldier is the grittiest and most relevant part of the MCU, with fantastic action choreography, a great musical suite for Captain America and the Winter Soldier, and trenchant commentary on the surveillance state. The cast shines and lifts the material to an easy victory over Thor: The Dark World. – Connor Adamson
Thor: The Dark World is currently ranked #17 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #2,553 of All Time on Flickchart.
Thor vs. Captain America: Civil War
Thor is currently ranked #14 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #1,531 of All Time on Flickchart.
Captain America: The First Avenger vs. Ant-Man
Honestly, I think I’m still just sore that we didn’t get Edgar Wright‘s vision of Ant-Man. It seems he could have done something truly unique within the superhero subgenre. Instead, Marvel Studios brought in hired gun Peyton Reed, and though it’s a little unfair to say (after all, there are many directors who would jump at the chance to helm such a high-profile film), it still feels like he was just there as a director the studio could control. Regardless, Ant-Man is actually still a lot of fun, as far as a superpowered heist flick goes.
Meanwhile, The First Avenger came along while the MCU itself was still fresh, and it evoked pleasant memories of Joe Johnston‘s previous comic book-inspired period adventure flick, The Rocketeer. Johnston is apparently in his wheelhouse in this type of setting, and Chris Evans’ earnest performance as Steve Rogers was an excellent contrast to Robert Downey Jr.’s arrogant Tony Stark and Chris Hemsworth’s bland Thor. Captain America was a hero I could care about, and with backup from great supporting actors like Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving and Stanley Tucci, and a strong romantic interest in Hayley Atwell, Captain America: The First Avenger became a superhero I could really root for. – Nigel
Ant-Man is currently ranked #12 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #1,205 of All Time on Flickchart.
The Incredible Hulk vs. Black Panther
It’s one of the earliest MCU films versus the most recent one in this fairly lopsided matchup. The Incredible Hulk is not a bad film by any means, and was certainly an improvement over Ang Lee‘s earlier interpretation of the material. Marvel took the classic “Banner on the run” story, reminiscent of the classic television show, threw in a few pretty good action sequences of Hulk smashing, and cast quality actors in the lead roles. But even though Edward Norton is an immensely talented actor, I never really bought him as Bruce Banner, and his ultimate replacement by Mark Ruffalo was a definite improvement. There are also a few subplots and characters in this movie that Marvel has basically chosen to forget, further adding to the film’s forgettable nature. It does, however, deserve credit for being the film that began the interconnection of the MCU, establishing Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark as existing in the same universe as Bruce Banner; and it gave us William Hurt‘s General Ross, who would eventually return in Captain America: Civil War. (Any film or franchise that includes William Hurt is a winner in my book.)
However, it’s up against Black Panther here, a film that was able to capitalize on ten years of the MCU finding its tone and establishing itself as the powerhouse franchise it is. We’re talking about a film that has a near-perfect balance of action, character and plot, that introduces us to Wakanda in all of its coolness, and has some truly great action set pieces. Chadwick Boseman is excellent as T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan‘s Killmonger is a worthy and compelling villain, and the supporting characters (most of whom are strong, intelligent, kickass women) fully round out the film. This one is an easy win for Black Panther. – Matt Ray
The Incredible Hulk is currently ranked #18 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #2,894 of All Time on Flickchart.
Iron Man 3 vs. Guardians of the Galaxy
Iron Man 3 receives lots of hate from the Marvel faithful. I think many like to pretend it has tons of plot holes or isn’t funny, but I think the main reason for the hate is the disappointment of the Mandarin twist. But I continue to stand by it being a great movie and the twist being a moment of genuine surprise in Shane Black’s funny action film. RDJ continues to shine as Tony Stark and has a wonderful rapport with a young kid named Marley as he explores his abilities outside the Iron Man armor. Despite this praise, in this round, it has to go against one of the best films in the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy. The best spiritual heir to Star Wars out there, James Gunn’s sci-fi action-comedy brings together a great group of actors and characters to fight Lee Pace’s menacing Ronan. Introducing cosmic Marvel in style, the film does plenty to set up the events of the coming Avengers: Infinity War. Chris Pratt became a star overnight and shines as Star-Lord alongside the great Dave Bautista and Bradley Cooper. – Connor
Iron Man 3 is currently ranked #15 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #1,697 of All Time on Flickchart.
Iron Man 2 vs. Doctor Strange
Iron Man 2 had a very tough act to follow. It was strange getting a sequel to Iron Man, when there had not yet been a Captain America or Thor film. Though these were slated to be released the following year, people were excited for Iron Man’s next adventure. Still, Iron Man 2 struggled to capture the magic of its predecessor. Though it tried adding more to the character, the film felt bloated, with multiple villains and the addition of more characters. It had trouble finding a steady pace or an interesting plot.
Doctor Strange beats Iron Man 2 because it took a different approach from the rest of the franchise. It brought to life a hero that most casual fans did not know about. While the film lacks interesting supporting characters, its clever action and lavish visuals help Doctor Strange reach “memorable” status. It defeats Iron Man 2 because it’s not bloated and repetitive, but rather a surprisingly clever and intricate oddity within the MCU. – Luke
Iron Man 2 is currently ranked #16 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #1,962 of All Time on Flickchart.
The Avengers vs. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The first two Avengers films have a lot in common. They both have moments of the heroes fighting with one another (including a battle where the Hulk goes wild), scenes where they hang out and share some witty banter, a charming villain portrayal, the death of a hero, and a big battle around a doomsday device with a faceless army of drones. Most of the reasons we loved the first Avengers lead people to enjoy the second chapter as well. But it’s not the fact that The Avengers did it first that results in a win in this matchup. For one thing, Age of Ultron failed to raise the stakes and didn’t do the same things any better. However, there’s something larger going on. The big difference between the two movies is that The Avengers was treated as an end point, but Joss Whedon was forced to make Age of Ultron a starting point.
Everything from Phase One of the MCU came to a head in The Avengers, and we got that satisfying moment to rejoice in finally seeing the heroes come together. It was what people dreamed of when Samuel L. Jackson first showed up after the credits of Iron Man, one of the rare instances where a movie met or exceeded lofty expectations. On the flip side, Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t even the last film in Phase Two. Marvel used it as a jumping-off point for all the movies that were on the upcoming schedule. Instead of focusing on Ultron, the film takes odd detours to set up a rift between Captain America and Iron Man, trouble in Asgard, and the threat of the Infinity Stones. The Avengers wins because when you finish watching it, there is a sigh of satisfaction, but when you finish watching Age of Ultron, you just look forward to what is coming next. – Ben
Avengers: Age of Ultron is currently ranked #13 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and #1,279 of All Time on Flickchart.
More than half of the MCU movies have now been eliminated, and, fittingly, most of them are in the bottom half among the global rankings on Flickchart. Join us tomorrow, when the remaining eight films will duke it out, and we crown our favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film!