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RANKED: Marvel’s Cinematic Origin Stories (Including Black Panther!)

With the release of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s eighth origin story, Black Panther, it’s only fitting to take a look back at all of the origins that have come and gone since 2008’s Iron Man….and make them fight it out to the death for ranking!

It’s important to note that Marvel has reviewed and approved this list and agrees with me, so if you disagree, you’re wrong. It’s even more important to note that the previous statement about Marvel’s approval is completely untrue. Regardless, you’re still wrong if you disagree. Without further delay, the DEFINITIVE ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s origin stories….

1.) Iron Man

Jeff Bridges, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard in Iron Man (2008)

It’s pretty difficult to rank anything above the O.G. itself – the origin story against which all other origin stories are eventually compared to – and for good reason. Iron Man is a precisely designed and well-oiled beast. Robert Downey, Jr’s charismatic and genre-elevating performance paired with a compelling and unique origin story in and of itself make it one of the most re-watchable MCU films even to this day. It both started the whole universe and raised the bar for Hollywood blockbusters, in general. Ten years later, it’s still a bar that modern blockbusters still rarely even come close to.

2.) Captain America: The First Avenger

Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

I know this one will cause some groans, but I truly love the first Captain America film. I will admit that I was a bit let down upon first viewing; however, with each repeat viewing I love it more and more. It’s not as flashy as Iron Man, but it’s extremely well-written and structured. It also benefits from being completely disconnected from the MCU timeline (well, until the end). It feels like a mix of The Rocketeer and Indiana Jones…plus superpowers! Chris Evans embodies all that is Steve Rogers, and the supporting cast is just outstanding. If you haven’t revisited this one in a while, I highly recommend it, as it only has improved with age.

3.) Black Panther

Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Michael B. Jordan, Andy Serkis, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya, and Letitia Wright in Black Panther (2018)

Yes, even with all of the current hype, I still can’t rank it higher than #3. If it were based on message and ambition alone, maybe. Sadly, as an overall film, Black Panther has some writing and plotting issues that keep it from being truly great. It’s groundbreaking in so many ways and features some outstanding performances, cinematography, design, and action. It’s truly a step up (and forward) in so many ways. But if you look beyond that, it’s a fairly predictably plotted film that ends, yet again, with the hero facing off with the evil/darker version of himself – something Marvel needs to do away with quickly. The fact that the movie works so well despite that is a testament to an outstanding writer/director and his incredible cast. It’s a very good movie – but it ain’t Iron Man.

4.) Guardians of the Galaxy

Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians is another example of a film that works extremely well despite some glaring flaws. It’s one of the funniest, most colorful, and heartfelt origin stories in the MCU. It also features one of the blandest and most two-dimensional villains of all of the MCU. Thankfully, an excellently cast ensemble and James Gunn’s natural quirkiness help it rise above its flaws to make it yet another MCU origin film that is endlessly re-watchable.

5.) Spider-Man: Homecoming

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

I was almost tempted to leave Spider-Man: Homecoming off this list altogether, as it’s not technically an origin story, but it is a beginning of sorts. The fact that this ranks in the middle of the list has less to do with the quality of this particular film and more to do with the outstanding quality of the films mentioned above. Tom Holland finally gives us performance that serves Peter Parker and Spider-Man with equal quality. We also have a refreshing ground-level view of the MCU that can only be shown through a youthful Spidey’s eyes. Not to mention Keaton absolutely killing it as a blue collar version of the menacing Vulture. Marvel meets John Hughes = $$$.

6.) Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange (2016)

While it may be one of the more impressive Marvel films in terms of visual effects, Doctor Strange just can’t stack up when it comes to actual storytelling – likely because it borrows so heavily plot-wise from what has come before (*cough* Iron Man *cough*). Even still, Benedict Cumberbatch makes for a perfect Stephen Strange and the film establishes an interesting world for sequels to expand on.  The magic is there, but we can still see the strings…


Michael Douglas, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Paul Rudd, Corey Stoll, and Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man is a movie that clearly lacks a singular vision, making it one of the more bland origin films in the MCU. It has its defenders, but, for the most part, I’m not one of them. Paul Rudd’s charm and comedic timing is largely rendered useless by poor editing. Also, yet again, we get a hero vs. evil version of the hero storyline that doesn’t help things in terms of originality. This is one of the few cases where Marvel was too overprotective of their vision. I would have loved to see Edgar Wright’s version of the story, but the one we got lacks personality (outside of Michael Pena). I have re-watched it a few times since its release, and, while it’s not a terrible movie, it’s unquestionably one of the worst in the MCU.

8.) Thor

Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, and Chris Hemsworth in Thor (2011)

If it weren’t for Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, this movie would be nearly unwatchable. Natalie Portman, who can be great, is given nothing to work with. Anthony Hopkins goes into full over-the-top mode. Kat Dennings is downright annoying. The final act in the tiny (and clearly freshly built) desert town is one of the worst and most cliché third-acts in the MCU. And yet, it’s not a complete loss. Asgard actually works, and as previously mentioned, Thor and Loki are perfectly cast. Thankfully, they finally figured out how to make a Thor solo movie work this year with Ragnarok. The best thing you can say about the first Thor film is that it’s mildly entertaining at points.

Well, there you have it. An irrefutable ranking of the MCU’s origin stories…

(NOTE: I don’t count The Incredible Hulk as an origin story, as it picks up long after the character’s origin and is largely ignored in the MCU)

What’s your ranking? Sound off below!

Written by Mike DeAngelo

Mike DeAngelo is a husband, father, superhero enthusiast, and all-around film lover that hails from the mostly-frigid Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When he’s not watching movies, he’s probably thinking, writing, and talking about movies. When he’s not watching, thinking, writing, or talking about movies, he’s probably sleeping or changing diapers. He began his film-writing obsession a few years back on a site called Back to the Features and recently brought his talents to FandomWire because he needs more movie-obsessed friends. Mike also works with a Software-as-a-Service company named Zywave, as, let’s face it, film-writing doesn’t pay the bills these days.

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