Since 2008 the Marvel cinematic universe has continued to grow. What started with the first Iron Man film, has now escalated into something much larger. From men in metal suits, to frozen soldiers, to talking trees we now have a series of films that have been wowing audiences of all ages. And with Avengers: Age of Ultron released in cinemas this week, what better time than now to look back at the entire franchise so far.

10. The Incredible Hulk

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Despite being one of Marvel’s most popular characters, The Incredible Hulk has had a rough time of it on screen. The first big screen iteration, in the pre-cinematic universe days, starred Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly and was directed by Ang Lee and yet failed to have the “it” factor that many fans yearned for. Five years later, Marvel sought to reboot the character with Ed Norton on board and the more action orientated Louis Leterrier now directing. But still, it didn’t seem quite right, sure it was better than Ang Lee’s effort but garnered little more in box office receipts than it’s poorly received predecessor.

Reports of fallings out behind the scenes perhaps sullied the final print, and Norton’s insistence on being credited as a writer meant he would not be returning to the role. It remains to be seen what’s next for the Hulk on the big screen, and it would appear that outside of Avengers: Assemble, that no one is quite sure on how to handle a standalone film for the big green range monster. There has been talk of Planet Hulk and World War Hulk getting the film treatment, but nothing has been confirmed yet, and until then we will have to make do with two meandering films and one stand out performance by Mark Ruffalo in Avengers: Assemble.

9. Iron Man 2

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Iron Man 2 was not a great film, nor was it a particularly bad film. It was just a distinctly average one. After the events of the first Iron Man film shook things up for superhero films and their adoring public, it was, arguably, always going to be a hard act to follow. Marvel was also still in its infancy here, and perhaps remained unsure on how to expand its universe while also making a quality sequel. What resulted was a disjointed effort that didn’t quite have the focus of the first film.

Still, Iron Man 2 remained entertaining in parts, even though it went over a lot of things we’d seen in Iron Man. Mickey Rourke was an OK villain, and Sam Rockwell had fun as Tony Stark’s other more intellectual nemesis. The film also introduced us to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, and had people asking questions leading up to the inevitable, Avengers film.

8. Thor: The Dark World

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Sitting in between the very good Iron Man 3, and the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was 2013’s follow up to Thor. Here, in Thor: The Dark World it felt like we were getting a filler story. Little was achieved here other than adding to what may happen in future Marvel films and adding an intriguing plot to what may lie ahead for Loki. The plot was more absurd than most and involved a wasted Christopher Ecclestone attempting to destroy the universe with his army of dark elves.

As in Iron Man 2, this felt more like a film that was trying to expand its universe rather than tell an interesting story based upon its title character. Director Alan Taylor took over from Kenneth Branagh and, despite his credentials, appeared to be nothing more than a safe pair of hands. With all Marvel films, Thor: The Dark World maintained an element of fun, and the partnership between Thor and Loki was a joy to behold and handed the film its best scenes. It was a just a shame the film could not maintain the swagger it had in those moments.

7. Thor

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The first Thor film was a lot of fun and served up a film that was probably better than it deserved to be. Kenneth Branagh held the reign for Asgard’s first adventure, and gave the film a sense of excitement to go along with the Shakespearian theatrics. Chris Hemsworth made the role his own and his performance as a man (God) in a foreign land were pitch perfect. The core cast provided solid support, and the addition of Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s father Odin was nothing other than a masterstroke.

Of course, Tom Hiddleston as Loki was an utter delight, providing many of the films best moments. Hiddleston hammed up the villainy while setting himself up as being one of the major players in Marvel’s cinematic universe. As with the first Iron Man film, Thor was completely aware of its silliness, but embraced it with an integrity that made it a wholly worthwhile watch, and was a great introduction to the god of thunder.

6. Captain America: The First Avenger

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The final film before Avengers: Assemble was Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger. The film managed to tell a cohesive origin story for Steve Rogers, and felt more like a Saturday morning serial crossed with Indiana Jones. It also built anticipation for future films, Avengers: Assemble in particular, nicely. Chris Evans made the transition from the Human Torch to Captain America without fault, and gave a credibility to the noble Steve Rogers.

The retro setting was one of the films strongest points, and gives the film a different feel to that of many of its counterparts. Also, unlike other superhero films, the tone was refreshingly light with an optimism that is also missing from many films of its kin. The film overcame many odds, including making the suit look good, and was one of the better setups to the blockbuster event that was next.

5. Iron Man

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The film that started it all in 2008, Iron Man was a rock & roll show masquerading as a superhero film. Robert Downey Jr. was the singer and lead guitarist rolled into one, while everyone else simply had to turn up and follow his lead. The billionaire industrialist and inventor who takes an unexpected tour of an Afghan cave was the first step for Marvel in its bid to start a shared cinematic universe, and is still one of the most popular films the company has made to date.

The film shares the confidence and playboy attitude of its lead, and simply revels in Downey Jr’s aura. It’s difficult to imagine, but before Marvel bought back the rights to the character, Tom Cruise was actually in line to star as Tony Stark for New Line Cinema. With that it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. playing the role. Of course, the film also introduced the post-credit scene. Here, Samuel L. Jackson turns up in Tony’s home informing him that he is not the only superhero out there, and therefore blowing every geeks mind with what could come next.

4. Iron Man 3

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As Iron Man kicked off Phase One for Marvel, it was only right that Iron Man 3 kicked off Phase Two. Shane Black took over as director, with Jon Favreau stepping away after directing the first two Iron Man films. Black took Tony Stark on a solo adventure that would test his nerve and see him suffering many a restless night after nearly dying at the end of the first Avengers film. Black maintained the tone expected of an Iron Man film, but also gave it the feeling of an international spy thriller, with our hero isolated from his friends and his endless array of gadgets and suits.

Credit must really to go Shane Black for keeping everything that makes the Iron Man films such fun, while giving them an edge and adding layers to Tony Stark’s character. The film also provided one of the most thrilling endings to a Marvel film as Stark calls upon an army of remote controlled suits to take down Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, a finale that Joss Whedon has even admitted will be hard to top.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Less a superhero film, and more a cold war like thriller, Captain America: The Winter Soldier filled the gap between both Avengers films and provided an action packed outing for Steve Rogers. Not only did the film bring into question everything that Captain America stood for, but it also threw a curveball to fans in regards to what to expect from a Marvel film. Of course the film was fun and action packed, but it was also a highly political film that asked questions about national security and whether it’s safety or fear that is required.

The Russo Brothers took over from Joe Johnston and delivered a slick, fast paced film that shook things up in a way no one saw coming. The Winter Soldier himself was a worthy adversary for our hero, but it was the revelation regarding HYDRA that shocked everyone. Not only are the Russo brothers down to direct Captain America: Civil War but they are also confirmed as directing the Avengers: Infinity War Part One & Two.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Without a doubt, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most popular films in the Marvel canon. For a film that starred characters the wider cinema going audience had never heard of, one being a talking racoon while the other was a talking tree, in an unfamiliar setting, was the studios biggest gamble to date. But boy, did it pay off. The film made Chris Pratt a star, while the soundtrack and rebellious vibe made the film feel more Star Wars than Marvel.

Maybe that was the beauty of the film. It is so far away from anything else that we’ve seen, that it didn’t feel necessary to have seen every film or TV episode that came before it to understand what was going on here. To a degree, it would be nice for future Guardians films to follow suit and allow a Marvel film to not be shackled by all that has come before it.

1. Avengers: Assemble

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Despite the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Assemble is still the pinnacle of superhero films. Granted the film itself did take a while to get into its stride, but once everyone is onboard, anything it did before is forgivable. Director Joss Whedon was brought in to oversee Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and made a film that had no right to work, but became one of the best summer blockbusters in decades.

Whether you saw every film that came before it, or whether you saw one or even none, you could safely watch Avengers: Assemble and still enjoy every glorious moment of it. Whedon brought his usual flare for ensemble pieces, and made a Loki an even more brilliant villain, while bringing his usual style of wordplay along. What resulted was a superhero film on the grandest of scales, with a scenario we’ve seen a million times before somehow made fresh and enjoyable.

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