I saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” the day it came out, and since then, I’ve had several different variations of the following conversation.
“Well, it may be one of the best of the Marvel movies, although I think ‘The Avengers’ is still No. 1. In third place is the first Iron Man movie, while the second Iron Man flick is at the bottom of the list, or maybe second from the bottom, with ‘Thor: The Dark World’ in last place. Oh, wait. Does the first Hulk movie count? You know, the one with Nick Nolte’s crazy hair and the stupid Hulk dogs? Because that’s at the bottom if it does.”
And on and on it goes.
For the true geek, it’s impossible to see a movie like this without ranking it alongside what came before. As near as I can tell, this newest movie is near the top of all Marvel movies and in the top five to 10 of all superhero movies in general. “The Dark Knight” is usually held in highest esteem if we’re including all the superhero movies, but I’m still partial to the original Christopher Reeve Superman flick as being the all-time great, whereas the fourth Reeve movie is the worst, or perhaps tied with the worse with “Batman and Robin,” which on a scale of 1 to 10 probably earns a score of -42, give or take.
So what’s the deal here? Why do we feel a compulsion to quantify, to list, to assign each thing a specific slot on an arbitrary grid? Why on earth does this matter? I don’t know. But does it matter?
Why, yes. Yes, it does.
It’s impossible to go anywhere on the Web without seeing scads of pop culture lists, and it's also hard to ignore the passionate debates that crop up in response. What do you mean “The Fugitive” is the best TV-to-movie adaptation ever made? Shouldn’t “The Untouchables” get the top spot? What about “The Muppet Movie”? What do you mean that’s not the same thing? Of course it is. “The Muppet Show” was a TV show — “The Muppet Movie” definitely qualifies. What, you want me to rank the Muppet movies from best to worst? OK, the original comes first, and then the reboot, then “Muppets Take Manhattan"
I say “Aaaaargh” only to acknowledge that some people might find this obsession with ranking movies to be silly and a frustrating waste of time. But I only do so to be polite. The fact is, I can’t get enough of this stuff.
To wit, I can recount the proper ranking of Star Trek movies at the drop of a hat — “Wrath of Khan,” followed by “Undiscovered Country,” “First Contact,” the J.J. Abrams reboot, “The Voyage Home,” “The Search for Spock,” “Insurrection,” the first movie, “Into Darkness,” “Generations,” “Nemesis” and, finally, the flaming pile of smoldering refuse that is “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.”
If Star Wars is more your thing, the correct order is Episode V, followed closely by Episode IV and then Episode VI, with Episode III being marginally better than the irredeemable disasters of Episodes I and II, which are tied for first place of last place. These films equal or perhaps exceed the wretchedness threshold of “Batman and Robin,” which is the worst Batman movie ever, with “Batman Forever” being somewhat less worse, and “Batman Returns” being third less worse, and “The Dark Knight Rises” being the best of the bad Batmans, while Adam West’s Batman movie is the worst of the good Batmans, of which “Batman Begins” is the second best, behind, of course, “The Dark Knight,” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” not counting the Hulk dogs.
I’m sorry, where was I? Oh, yes. This is easily my seventh best column ever, if you don’t count the one about William Shatner’s toupee.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.