Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings debuted in September, dominating the box office and taking the world by storm. Shang-Chi is a character with a poorly written and problematic history, as the character was often depicted with racist tones in its origin. However, Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu brought the character to life and made it his own in a way we are all too used to seeing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film’s action sequences are some of the very best we’ve seen in the MCU with phenomenal character chemistry and breathtaking visuals. The film’s debut had fans begging for more of the character and it had us here at FandomWire asking, where does Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stack up in comparison to the MCU’s other debut solo films?
On the Outside Looking In:
For the purpose of this list, we’re looking at a total of 12 movies in the MCU, none of which are sequels, none of which are large group crossovers, and all of which are either the debut of a character or their first individual solo film. Not quite cracking the top 10, we have The Incredible Hulk and Thor. Marvel’s most forgotten about MCU movie, The Incredible Hulk was easy to leave off the list despite it being a better movie than most people remember. It would be much higher on my list from a re-watch standpoint if it was Mark Ruffalo in the role, however, since it isn’t it always felt disconnected to me no matter how much ThunderBolt Ross Marvel continues to shove in our faces. Thor doesn’t crack the list to me for similar reasons. Even though Thor’s debut features Chris Hemsworth, after seeing the rendition of Thor we get in Thor: Ragnarok and beyond, it’s difficult to look back at this blond eye-browed beauty and rank this movie too highly. Having said that, the beauty of the MCU is even the lower-ranked movies still aren’t missing, it’s just about separating the very good, from the great. Rotten Tomatoes scores for all the MCU movies can be viewed here.
10. Captain Marvel
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 79%, Audience Score – 45%
Brie Larson’s debut in the MCU, Captain Marvel flies in at number 10 on our list. The 79% Rotten Tomatoes score is a solid debut for an origin story and only had such a negative audience score due to a large group of misogynists being upset at seeing a woman so powerful. Despite the film throwing comic book lovers’ classic understanding of the Skrull race on its head, the movie remained predictable, which shouldn’t be the case when it revolves around a race of shape-shifting aliens. Although, similar to the first Thor film, the bottom tier of MCU movies are still top tier movies. Brie Larson and company make this film a very enjoyable one to go back to, time and time again. Even though this one is near the bottom of my list, it still left me excited to see more of Brie Larson as Carol Danvers in the future.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 80%, Audience Score – 74%
Although it may be the weakest of the Captain America trilogy, Cap’s origin story is still a wonderful film. Seeing Steve go from the scrawny guy getting beat up in an alley to becoming the leader we all know and love is nothing short of a treat. The film struggles with pace at times in ways many origin stories do. We see the film give us long explanations and backstories to set up the characters that are indeed necessary and benefit them long term, however, it also can take away from the movie itself. We see snippets of wonderful action sequences that pay off wonderfully in the future, however, the lack of action and slow pacing keep this movie at number 9 on our list.
8. Black Widow
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 79%, Audience Score – 91%
Scarlett Johansson’s long-awaited solo movie certainly didn’t disappoint. The film was a perfect ode to the character, giving us everything we love about her from the exceptional action to the great back and forth humor. The film however lost a bit of gas in the third act when it disappeared from the grounded action and family dynamic that made the first two acts so great. The flying red room left fans puzzled, however, the painful and emotional last scene between Natasha and Dreykov saved the act. The movie delivered some of the very best action in the MCU while also giving us one of the most anticipated new characters in Yelena Belova. The sister dynamic between Natasha and Yelena was the highlight of the movie, and Yelena’s future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has us all excited.
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 83%, Audience Score – 86%
One of the funniest movies in the MCU, Ant-Man was a project that over delivered on expectations in a big way. Not only was this one of Marvel’s lesser-known characters (despite being part of the original Avengers team), but it was certainly a risk to base a movie on the lesser-known of the Ant-Man iterations. With Hank Pym having such a problematic history in the comics, this was probably a good choice. Paul Rudd brought humor and excitement to the character of Scott Lang, while Hope Van Dyne kicked some serious butt. In addition to our two leads, Luis and Cassie brought crucial elements to the film that made it a feel-good masterpiece.
6. Doctor Strange
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 89%, Audience Score – 85%
Doctor Strange came crashing upside down through the mirror dimension and into our lives in 2016, showing us visuals that we have never seen before from Marvel. While later diving deep into the mystic arts, Doctor Strange starts off slow in typical origin story fashion. Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer was a great addition to the film, and it was sure nice to hear her voice again in a recent episode of What If, even if it was in a very unfortunate fashion. Doctor Strange brings us totally different action sequences that we haven’t seen before, and Benedict Cumberbatch proved to be the future powerhouse of the MCU that people expected him to be.
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 92%, Audience Score – 87%
With great power comes great responsibility, and the power that comes with revamping the Spider-Man franchise is a very, very big responsibility. Tom Holland broke into that role in impressive fashion, stealing Steve Rogers’ shield in Captain America: Civil War. Holland continues to portray all the aspects that make us love both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He pulls off being an awkward and nerdy kid as Peter while quipping jokes and taking down his enemies as soon as he dawns the mask. The film is heavily criticized for making Peter “Tony Stark’s sidekick” and I did feel that way upon first viewing, however after the many re-watches that ensued, it was clear that Iron Man really didn’t have all that much screen time, and Peter was constantly having to compensate for Tony’s lack of communication and trust (not exactly a sidekick). Michael Keaton’s Vulture brought us one of the MCU’s very best villains to date and kicked the Spider-Man franchise back off in Amazing fashion
4. Iron Man
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 94%, Audience Score – 91%
There is no MCU without a very important four words spoken to us by Robert Downey Jr. at the end of a certain film in 2008, “I Am Iron Man”. None of us knew the impact those words would have on our lives and the expansive universe that would form as a result. Marvel took on a big risk debuting a planned universe with Iron Man, as the character wasn’t exactly an A-list comic book character in the ways Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, or the X-Men were. On top of this, RDJ had a well-documented history filled with troubles, so their gamble wasn’t only on their main character, but their actor as well. It’s safe to say, this gamble paid off in a very big way. There are few casting jobs in the history of cinema where an actor and a character are considered as synonymous as Robert Downey Jr and Iron Man. The movie allows us to cautiously fall in love with a character for his charm, and see that caution turn to unrivaled affection as he changes from a spoiled, war-mongering brat to a selfless leader throughout a dozen years of films. Iron Man set to fire a blazing fire igniting the comic book movie world, while also leaving us with a giant arc reactor-sized hole in our hearts without him.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 92%, Audience Score – 92%
Another film that no one saw coming, Guardians of the Galaxy was a resounding success. We talk about Iron Man not being as notable as certain other characters from comics (prior to the MCU), however, if this is the case, the Guardians of the Galaxy are the Cleveland Cavaliers to Iron Man’s Los Angeles Lakers. The lack of knowledge fans had about the characters going in proved to be a benefit, as none of us expected the bundle of laughs we were getting from director James Gunn’s debut Marvel film. The movie made us laugh, the movie made us cry, and best of all it left us with a soundtrack that has graced playlists around the world ever since it came out. The movie none of us knew we wanted, but the movie that absolutely all of us needed. Comic book fans may have been concerned with Marvel’s choice to center a movie on such unknown characters, but those concerns were quickly squashed as we all left the movie in tears, crying We Are Groot.
2. Shang-Chi And The Legend of the Ten Rings
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 92%, Audience Score – 98%
After I saw this movie for the first time, I was thinking to myself that I had to be swept up at the moment, the recency-bias was in full effect and there was no way this movie could be as high up on my list as I originally thought it was. Viewing number two however didn’t increase my skepticism, it completely eradicated it. Simu Liu burst onto the scene in a very big way, providing us with THE VERY BEST hand-to-hand action we have seen in a Marvel movie to date. Tony Leung’s Hollywood debut was spectacular, and I sure hope we can see him dawning the role of WenWu in some capacity again in the future. Through two views of this film, Wenwu is my favorite on-screen (non-Thanos) villain since Killmonger. My small complaints about an MCU movie once again getting a touch too CGI battle heavy in the third act do still exist, however, they are overshadowed heavily by how much I love the characters, how beautiful the visuals are and how wonderfully the story was put together. When your biggest complaints about a movie were that everything was good, but there were certain parts that were so amazing you wish you got more of them, that usually means it was very well done. This was the case in Shang-Chi, as I felt like I could’ve spent hours watching him go toe-to-toe with the Death Dealer and Razor-Fist. Plus, let’s be honest with ourselves, who didn’t leave the movie dying to go sing karaoke with Shang-Chi, Katy, and Wong?
1. Black Panther
Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score – 96%, Audience Score – 79%
Not only is Black Panther a great movie, but when it came out in 2018, the movie became a worldwide phenomenon. The cast was a wonderful mixture of well-known and up-and-coming actors, headlined of course by the late Chadwick Boseman. Like RDJ with Tony Stark, Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa left fans so amazed, that any other actor dawning the mantle of that character seems still feels impossible to visualize. Chadwick Boseman played the role of Prince T’Challa perfectly, from his smooth movement to his courage and heart. While T’Challa’s Black Panther certainly was the star of the film, the movie also found us falling in love with his sister Shuri, the warriors Okoye and Nakia, and even the head of the Jabari tribe M’Baku. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger provided us with one of most exhilarating Marvel villains, perfectly tiptoeing the line of good intentions mixed with extreme actions. As Killmonger is set to appear in an upcoming episode of Marvel’s What If, who knows what the future may hold for him despite his demise at the end of the film. Black Panther sparked a much-needed conversation about representation in Hollywood and showed not only that it is necessary, but it can be wildly successful. A movie that I have never gotten tired of re-watching, Black Panther tops my list of Marvel Cinematic Universe debut solo films.
Where does Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stack up on your list? Hit me up on Twitter @TJ_Zwarych5 to let me know how your list differs!