This week sees the release of Marvel's action-packed Black Panther, and early raves praise it as one of the studio's greatest movies so far. But which movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have topped the all-important Rotten Tomatoes list? Let's take a look.
13. Thor: The Dark World (66%)
Landing at the bottom of the pile is the hammer god's second adventure, one that failed to rouse the same level of enthusiasm as the first, despite some eye-catching effects and action sequences. Although Chris Hemsworth is as charismatic as ever in the title role, an underwhelming villain in the form of Christopher Eccleston and paint-by-numbers direction (let's face it, everyone wanted to see original helmer Patty Jenkins have a go at this) saw it branded as Marvel's weakest.
12. The Incredible Hulk (67%)
Back in 2008 the MCU was still in its embryonic stage. Although the release of the first Iron Man in May 2008 was one of the year's surprise successes, Hulk struggled to make much of an impact in its wake. Edward Norton was suitably brooding as the tortured Bruce Banner (taking over from Eric Bana in the 2003 version), but it wouldn't be until Mark Ruffalo that we got the definitive take on the character.
11. Iron Man 2 (73%)
The first Iron Man cast such an enormous shadow that a sequel was always going to struggle to live up to it. There's a lot to recommend Iron Man 2, namely Robert Downey Jr.'s typically witty central performance, the emergence of Don Cheadle's War Machine and Mickey Rourke's snarling villain, Ivan. But many agreed the magic got snarled in too many subplots and the movie lacked the streamlined joy of the original. It's still good fun though watching Scarlett Johansson's emergent Black Widow kicking ass.
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron (75%)
Talking of sequels being overshadowed by their predecessor, here's a quintessential example. Age of Ultron gains great mileage by presenting us with the unified Avengers team for the first time (the stuff of comic book nirvana), although its best moments are the smaller ones (the contest to lift Thor's hammer, for example, is typical Joss Whedon). Ultimately it went bigger and bolder but critics thought it lacked the spark of the utterly magical first movie.
9. Thor (77%)
Now here was a pleasant surprise. It's important to remember back in 2011 that the MCU wasn't burdened with the same level of expectation as it is now, and there was still a great deal of mystery surrounding its emerging characters. Outside of comic book circles, Thor was a bit of an enigma: a hammer-wielding Asgardian god talking in Shakespearean dialect? Wisely, director Kenneth Branagh plays the material as much for laughs as he does thrills, aided by an excellent cast including a breakout Chris Hemsworth.
8. Iron Man 3 (79%)
The third and final solo Iron Man movie caused controversy among loyal fans, with sticking points including the amount of time Tony Stark spends outside the suit and the twist surrounding the villainous Mandarin's (Ben Kingsley) reveal. But there's no denying writer/director Shane Black is out to get big laughs and this is what freshens up the formula, a pleasingly tongue-in-cheek yet still loving salute to the character who kick-started the MCU in the first place.
7. Captain America: The First Avenger (80%)
Quite possibly the most visually distinctive and beautifully designed of all Marvel's epics, the first Captain America movie benefits hugely from its period wartime setting. The sepia-toned World War II hijinks of the fledgling supersoldier (portrayed with great sensitivity by Chris Evans) are, refreshingly, not played for ironic laughs but instead for engrossing and surprisingly emotional impact. Plus Alan Silvestri's thunderously old-fashioned score is what superhero themes are meant to sound like.
6. Ant-Man/Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (82%)
Our first joint position sees a dead heat between Paul Rudd's miniaturised superhero and the affable Guardians' second adventure. The former defied somewhat low expectations to become a surprisingly snappy and sassy heist movie (albeit with eye-widening shrinking powers thrown in) whilst the latter, many agreed, was an enoyable follow-up that couldn't top its wonderful predecessor. Top marks for James Gunn's typically excellent Awesome Mix Vol. 2 soundtrack though.
Of all the Marvel characters, Steve Rogers is probably the one who's undergone the most interesting arc. The excellent, intriguing The Winter Soldier saw the noble Captain adapting to the morally murky 21st century, mixing political intelligence (including the appearance of sly conspiracy movie veteran Robert Redford) and cracking action sequences to superb effect. Meanwhile the first appearance of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sorceror Supreme won us over with its mystical, transdimensional effects sequences, east-meets-west mythology and nicely judged humour. We look forward to welcoming Doctor Strange back in this year's Avengers: Infinity War.
Another tie. Talk about a Marvel movie defying expectations – the first Guardians was that movie. The intial trailer was met with bemusement: a talking raccoon and a walking tree, seriously? Well no-one reckoned on the sheer rollicking attitude, sweet character interplay and rocking soundtrack that director James Gunn brought to the party. It truly was a Marvel movie like none before. Meanwhile Civil War was less a Captain America movie and more a proto-Avengers smash-em-up, bustling with incident and vibrant characters (including the first appearances from Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther and Tom Holland's Spider-Man). That central airport set-piece still remains one of Marvel's finest.
In 2012 the disparate Marvel superheroes were brought together for the first time by Joss Whedon, exercising his knack with ensemble casts (see Buffy and Firefly) to utterly winning effect. What was remarkable about the first Avengers movie was how funny and light on its feet it was, preserving each character's idiosyncrasies whilst building towards the future of the MCU.
In July 2017, another important figure took pride of place in the effervescent form of Tom Holland's Spidey, the first iteration of the character to officially join the MCU brand. As memorable for its hormonal angst as its crashing action, it secured Tom as possibly the best Spider-Man actor so far.
Then, last October, reviewers fell over themselves to praise Taika Waititi's bold and hilarious Thor: Ragnarok, a movie that steers the Marvel blockbuster into total comedy territory. Waititi brings his surreal sensibility to the movie's humour and retro-inflected visuals, Mark Mothersbaugh's score brilliantly riffs on 80s synth and the performers are having a blast, not least Chris Hemsworth who is clearly liberated by this quip-happy, irreverent new Thor. More, please.
2. Iron Man (94%)
The first movie in what was to become the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and for many still the best. There's a kind of innocence and purity to the first Iron Man, unencumbered by franchise expectations and clearly revelling in letting this second-tier character loose to do whatever the heck he wants. Director Jon Favreau marshalls an excellent sense of pace and convincing effects to pull us into Tony Stark's journey but really it's the casting of Robert Downey Jr. that's alchemical. The actor famously hadn't been in a good place for much of the 2000s and his synergy with the fast-talking, irreverent Stark is so utterly seamless it takes the breath away.
1. Black Panther (97%)
Currently sitting pretty at the number one spot, Black Panther has been praised as both a superior Marvel blockbuster and a watershed cultural moment. It currently has 173 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and its position could fluctuate, but critics and audiences have gone wild over its depiction of Wakanda, topical storyline and engrossing performances. Director Ryan Coogler brings the street level grit from his acclaimed Fruitvale Station and Creed, Chadwick Boseman anchors it as the noble T'Challa and the supporting cast is among the richest seen in any Marvel film. Standouts: Leittia Wright as T'Challa's quick-witted, gadget-tastic sister Shuri, and Michael B. Jordan as the compelling, anguished villain Eric Killmonger.