It seems as though every movie fan on the planet has put together one of these lists ranking the Marvel movies. That alone gives me reason enough to get off my high horse and join in, even though I'm honestly not big on ranking things and feel my choices could change at any minute. Nevertheless, let the following list be etched into my tombstone as opin-yo-fact for all time.
I'd like to add that I'm not including The Avengers. To me that feels like a slightly different deal than the rest of these. It would be number one, though.
The Incredible Hulk
Very little of this film generates any excitement for me at all. Even as a snore-fest I endure for a couple scenes of Hulk action, I can't justify watching it ever again. And with Edward Norton's Bruce Banner replaced by Mark Ruffalo, I have to go even harder out of my way to remember that this counts as a Marvel movie at all. It's the only one that feels generic and on par with other mid-level comic book films.
Charmed by casting and some surprisingly effective comedy beats, I was big on Thor when it first came out. Since then I have cool considerably, largely because the film is a lot more boring the second time around. And puny. It's almost like a local theater version of the Marvel films we have today.
Iron Man still has a lot of the charm that made it so popular in the first place, but now you can get all that charm and more in much better films, significantly eliminating any urgency to watch this one again, unless you're interested in revisiting Terrance Howard's version of James Rhodes or Jeff Bridges' surprisingly sinister Obadiah Stane. I don't think Iron Man is bad, necessarily, just that it's been replaced.
Iron Man 2
This movie is a mess. But I prefer a crazy movie that doesn't work to a boring movie that does. There's too much good here to dismiss: The Party scene. Mickey Rourke's almost completely nonsensical Whiplash character. Tons of awesome Sam Rockwell action. Gary Shandling's metamorphosis into a pre-death taxidermy project. All great. And while the story certainly isn't one of Marvel's best, I like that it still stems from character, in this case Tony Stark being an out-of-control dick.
Thor: The Dark World
I just watched this for a second time last night. Had I made this list yesterday, I automatically would have put it higher than Captain America. But upon a second viewing, I see that while super entertaining and fun, it's no longer as engrossing or memorable as I once believed. Excluding the big planet-hopping finale, Thor: The Dark World works more like a fun time hanging out with old pals than a vital movie in and of itself.
Captain America: The First Avenger
This is easily the most heartfelt Marvel movie, which ends up counting for a lot over time. If the montage-heavy second half were anywhere near as good as the first I would love it unconditionally. As it stands, I think I just really like it unconditionally. I also think Red Skull might be the best onscreen Marvel villain yet.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
More than anything, I can't believe what an incredible action movie this is. Without sacrificing character or story The Winter Soldier provides a near constant stream of heavy-hitting, well-shot action set pieces that remind you of films way outside the comic book movie spectrum. On top of that, its Captain America-Black Widow-Falcon team-up stuff during the second half makes the film feel at times like a mini-Avengers movie. And for the first time ever, Nick Fury actually gets to do something cool. Not just cool, even - he gets what I consider to be the film's best action sequence. I'm still not certain how well the conspiracy plot will play on repeat viewings, but as of right now, this represents the best of what these movies can do, both for character and for the larger cinematic universe they explore.
Iron Man Three
Everything I just said about Captain America: The Winter Soldier would indicate a cozy place at the top of my list, but that honor goes to Iron Man Three. I've seen this film three times, and I love it just as much now as I did a year ago when it first came out. I get a kick out of everything about it: The action, the further evolution (and satisfying completion, seemingly) of Tony Stark's story, the villain, the dumb kid, the harder edges provided by a highly recognizable Shane Black, the big Mandarin surprise - everything works in a way more attuned to my personal tastes than the way everything works in The Winter Soldier. It's an Evan Saathoff all-timer.