My sons have been fans of the Marvel superhero movies for most of their lives and insisted I watch Marvel’s latest offering, WandaVision, a nine part TV series released weekly on Disney+ from January15th to March 5th this year. When we got past the first two episodes, I was hooked. But the boys needed to explain quite a few of the characters and Easter Eggs to me and I realized my knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was quite inadequate.
In just over eleven years since Iron Man was released in 2008, Marvel has released 23 movies that are all part of the same universe, the MCU. I saw quite a few of these in cinemas when first released or later on TV, but not all of them. So I decided to watch all 23 in timeline order, the order in which their events occurred in the MCU. WandaVision and the currently running Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are also part of the MCU, as is Black Widow due to be released in May. but I restricted my timeline viewing to the 23 movies in the following Table that were released before this year.
After 23 movies, Marvel officially concluded what it calls its third phase of the MCU with Spider-Man: Far From Home. This MCU series was the highest grossing film franchise in the world as of November 2020, with total worldwide box office revenue of 22.6 billion U.S. dollars. The average revenue per film was just under 1 billion US dollars and the highest earning film was Avengers: Endgame at 2.8 billion U.S. dollars.Along the way, the MCU has far surpassed other major franchises like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series in terms of box office numbers.
Over the last month, I have watched or rewatched all 23 of the MCU movies in timeline order and thoroughly enjoyed most of them. While almost all the movies work on their own, one of the joys of the MCU timeline viewing is how individual superheroes introduced in earlier movies are brought together in subsequent movies, teaming up, interacting, and at times in conflict with each other. Understanding the back stories and prior history of major and minor characters greatly enriched my enjoyment of the movies, and I realized that much of this history and interconnectedness went completely over my head when I first watched various movies, out of order to varying degrees. Some of my previous rankings of the movies (such as Age of Ultron– which I strongly disliked on first viewing) changed dramatically as a result of the timeline order viewing. If you have watched some or even all of the MCU movies as they came out, or at random as they were replayed on TV, I highly recommend watching them again in timeline order.
I gave each movie a score after I watched it, and occasionally reviewed and revised scores as I viewed more movies. When I finished all 23, I sorted these to rank them from worst to best. “Worst” is a relative term; there really aren’t any MCU movies that are truly bad films, but there are some weaker entries. I looked at Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB rankings for the MCU movies and discovered that my rankings for some are very different. That got me interested in how much variation there was between different movie review sites.
I compiled average viewers scores from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB and Metacritic and average critics scores from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, rescaled them all on a 0-100 scale and calculated overall critic and viewer averages. There were two movies where the viewer average was 11 points higher than the critic average; Avengers: Infinity War and Thor:the dark world. There were also two movies where the viewer average score was more than 20 points lower than the critic average: Black Panther and Captain Marvel. I strongly suspect the latter two differences were due to racism and sexism respectively. The linear regression line on the plot below is calculated excluding these four movies and corresponds to a correlation of 85% between viewers and critics. I also noted that the Rotten Tomatoes scores for both viewers and critics were systematically higher than those from the others sites. It has also been noted elsewhere that the Rotten Tomatoes scores deviate much more from a normal distribution than those for the other review sites.
I decided to take a wider sample of rankings of the 23 MCU movies and used a very scientific sampling approach (Google) to identify 23 rankings of the 23 movies of the MCU. This included the 2 critics averages mentioned above, 4 viewer averages based on large samples, two box office based rankings, 7 rankings based on an average of the rankings of a group of writers, and 8 rankings by individual writers or bloggers. See Annex Table at the bottom of this post for details.
For each movie, I then calculated the median rank and the 25th and 75th percentile ranks of all the rankings. In calculating these percentiles, I gave rankings by individuals a weight of 1, those by writers groups a rank of 2, and those which were averages for large groups of critics, viewers, or box office takings I gave a higher weight of 3. The following figure compares my ranking of the 23 MCU movies with the median rankings.
As you can see, my rankings are very different to the median of the sample of rankings I analysed. And here’s the deal — my rankings are completely accurate and 100% correct. Art is subjective and your opinions are valid, but if you disagree with my rankings you’re wrong! So now you know which are the best movies!
But I was curious whether some of my more extremely different rankings fell outside the ranges of my sample of 23 rankings. So I plotted the 25th to 27th percentile range for each movie as a box, with the middle bar showing the median. Individual rankings that fell outside this range are plotted as blue dots and my rankings as red diamonds.
After extensive discussion with my sons, and being unable to convince them of the correct appreciation of the MCU movies, I understand why my rankings for some movies fall outside the range of sampled rankings. Some of my criteria and the weights I give them are quite idiosyncratic and likely quite different to most peoples’. In my next post, I will very briefly comment on each movie and why I gave it the ranking I did.
ANNEX TABLE: RANKINGS OF THE 23 MCU MOVIES ANALYSED ABOVE
Inverse (2020). Every Marvel Movie ranked by over 6,000 Inverse readers.
- BOX OFFICE +
Forbes (Box Office rankings) Travis Bean (2020). All 24 Marvel Cinematic Universe Films Ranked At The Box Office—Including ‘Black Widow’
Wired (2019). The best Marvel movies, ranked from worst to best