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Marvel: The 6 best MCU movies & TV shows ever (according to me)

Popverse's Graeme McMillan picks a personal playlist of his favorite Marvel Studios productions to date

Marvel 6
Image credit: Marvel Studios

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There have been, by this point, 33 movie installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in addition to the many streaming series, shorts, and one-off specials that Marvel Studios have produced across the past decade and a half. By this point, the MCU has grown so large that you’d need a guide to help you navigate it. But, as the saying almost goes, with great heaps of viewing comes great responsibility to choose your favorites — and that’s exactly why we’re here.

What you’re about to read are, bluntly, my top six MCU projects. I emphasize the “my” part of that because, in sharing this list with other members of Team Popverse, it’s become clear that the line-up I came up with is far from universal, and that there are omissions that some consider surprising, if not downright shocking. (Spoilers: there’s not an Avengers movie to follow. Nope, not even 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers, nor 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. Sorry.)

Think of the following as a Rorschach test of sorts, perhaps — you’ll know more about me as a viewer and a fan as a result, even if you realize that I have a somewhat skew-whiff taste in some departments. But enough about me — let’s talk about Marvel (and me)! Here are my Popverse 6 Marvel Cinematic Universe picks.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Image credit: Marvel Studios

The second Captain America movie was, at the time, a revelation: a sequel that didn’t just expand on the mythology of the character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the point where it (potentially) offered a status quo-changing finale — albeit one that was never really followed up on in any meaningful way*, but who knew that at the time? — but also brought a new tone to the Marvel movies with its 1970s-conspiracy-thriller-via-Mission:-Impossible vibe.

Simultaneously faithful to its comic book inspirations and freewheeling in its approach to the wider shared continuity of the other movies, The Winter Soldier is a glimpse at a MCU that could have been but never came into fruition, and all the more watchable because of that… and you get Batroc the Leaper, as well!

* Personally, I would have loved to have seen some genuine attempts to show what happened with the public release of SHIELD’s databases, as well as the seeming collapse of SHIELD as an entity at the end of the movie, but both things arguably would have broken the MCU too much at such a nascent stage. File under “missed “opportunities,” I guess.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Image credit: Marvel Studios

For all that Marvel’s initial comic book success came from being, as Stan Lee put it, “the world outside your window” — with heroes having problems just like their readers’ — Marvel’s movies aren’t the same thing; there’s a glamour in the world onscreen (even with all its militaristic focus) and a distance between the everyday reality of Marvel Studios’ heroes and their audience. Spider-Man: Homecoming still has more than a little surface gloss all over it — it is a Marvel movie, after all, even coming out under Sony’s auspices — but it’s the closest we’ve come to a legitimately grounded Marvel movie about regular people who just happen to be caught up in unusual situations.

It’s helped by some great performances — Tom Holland, Zendaya, and Michael Keaton are really good in the movie — and a screenplay that keeps an emotional through line despite the pyrotechnics going off all over. After no less than five earlier attempts, this is the movie that finally got Spider-Man right on the big screen.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok
Image credit: Marvel Studios

I feel as if time has not necessarily been kind to Taika Waititi’s first Thor outing, very much because of the impact of his second, far-less-enjoyable Thor outing. But Ragnarok remains a joyful movie upon rewatch — arguably the closest Marvel has come to an outright comedy to date, and all the better for it. It’s silly, it’s filled with a number of over-the-top, camp performances — Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, sure, but Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a joy as well — even as Chris Hemsworth finds a new gear by playing up Thor’s well-meaning buffoonery as the center of the movie.

It’s silly, yes, but that’s kind of the point. More Marvel movies should lean into that. (I’m looking at you, Eternals.)

Related: From Beyond the Spider-Verse to a Brave New World, here's every upcoming Marvel TV show and movie (plus their release dates!)

Hawkeye (2021)

Image credit: Marvel Studios

Here’s a strange thing: Hawkeye is one of my favorite Marvel comics characters, but I am neither a big fan of the Matt Fraction/David Aja series from a decade-or-so ago, neither am I a big fan of Jeremy Renner’s version of the character in the MCU. So why, exactly, is the Jeremy Renner-starring miniseries that takes its lead from that same Fraction/Aja comic on my list of favorite MCU projects? Because, somehow, in merging the two disparate versions of Hawkeye together, they came up with something that fits my version of the character surprisingly well: a good humored, unlucky dude caught up in circumstances that are both freewheeling and surprisingly upbeat, considering. Would that all Marvel shows (TV and movie) could be as, well, just plan fun as this is.

Oh, and we get to meet Hailee Seinfeld’s Kate Bishop, who turned out to be note-perfect as the Hawkeye wannabe who gets to inherit the role through force of will as much as anything else. Let’s get more of her, a soon, please, Marvel.

Ms. Marvel (2022)

Ms. Marvel
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Talking of the future of the MCU, and of fun — while I think most people were hopeful that the Disney+ adaptation of G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s fan-favorite comic would retain the good-natured joy and optimism of the original, I doubt many were prepared for just how well Iman Vellani would embody Kamala Khan in all her glory — or, for that matter, how well the series (expertly shown by Bisha K. Ali) would navigate the changes deemed necessary by Marvel Studios to keep things in line with that larger continuity while keeping the heart and spirit of the comic intact. (Who really could have imaged the Clandestines to show up, really?)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Image credit: Marvel Studios

I didn’t expect this when I went into the theater, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 might be my favorite superhero movie ever. It’s got everything: heart, humor, tragic origins — I cried when we saw what happened to Rocket’s cellmates, I’ll admit — and a moral line in the sand where a hero refuses to kill the villain when he has the chance (and, let’s be honest, the perfect reason). In many ways, it feels very much the closest thing we’ve had to an individual voice in the MCU, as well as the perfect endnote for these characters, despite the tease that we’ll see at least one again in the future.

As the MCU continues to grow and move forward, GOTGV3 seems like what future projects should aim for, that ideal mix of ingredients that embodies the best of the superhero genre (including just a little bit of shamelessness and silliness, two essential pieces of the puzzle) while still feeling like a complete story in and of itself, and not just the journey towards the next step of a never-ending story happening elsewhere. Just imagine…!

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