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17. THOR

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson, Rene Russo
Comic fans didn’t know what to make of Thor leading up to its release. With an unproven actor (Chris Hemsworth) playing the Norse God of Thunder, and sketchy production stills that made Asgard seem like a set from The Chronicles Of Riddick, Marvel’s first big entry into the Summer 2011 blockbuster season had great potential for failure. So it remains one of the year’s best surprises that Kenneth Branagh’s triumph rivals the humor, wit, visual splendor, and overall fun of the first Iron Man flick.

And, much like Iron Man, Thor benefits immensely from its superlative leading man, Hemsworth, who checks in with an eye-opening showcase of authentic physicality and larger-than-life charisma. It’s no small feat that the Australian newcomer isn’t overshadowed by Thor’s mighty effects, nor is the equally impressive Tom Hiddleston, who nearly steals the show as the antagonistic Loki.

Branagh, to his credit, was the perfect choice to direct, a veteran of Shakespearean productions capable of handling Thor’s familial conflicts, yet, more importantly, surprisingly able to maneuver around grandiose action. Thanks to Branagh, Hemsworth, and Hiddleston, one of Marvel’s least mainstream characters is now set to be one of The Avengers; biggest draws. Let’s hope Captain America: The First Avenger falls in line.