Mentioned earlier, Marvel Studios is something of a gambler. The creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a gamble and films like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Ant-Man (2015) defied the established convention of the MCU. Even Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was a risk by applying its newly refined formula for its signature film making and basing it in World War II. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) was no different. A suspenseful action thriller, Winter Soldier took the costumed superhero Captain America and planted him in the world of espionage, putting him on the lam from the authorities and trying to uncover a government conspiracy with world domination as a consequence for failure. Likely inspired by Captain America: Secret Empire, Winter Soldier features the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson) uncovering a conspiracy within his organization and employs the services of Steve Rogers/Captain America to investigate this infiltration before Fury is nearly assassinated by the mysterious Winter Soldier (a brainwashed Bucky Barnes). With the help of Black Widow, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (played by Cobie Smulders), new ally Sam Wilson/Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie), and Fury, Cap learns Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and planned to use their Helicarriers to conquer the Earth. Rogers must not only stop Hydra, but also try to find a way to save his best friend in Bucky from their clutches. The MCU formula has been brought up repeatedly and without a doubt, Winter Soldier is the perfect recipe of this concept. Cap is in a position where he is almost completely alone, unable to trust anyone, and has the entire world after him as the distinction between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra is impossible to readily distinguish. It is to the character of Captain America and his portrayal by Chris Evans that inspires hope, that in the face of these innumerable odds, it’s the strength of his convictions and the heart of a hero that makes you believe he will overcome (be it saving the world or in rescuing his friend from a pit of darkness). In the film, there’s a scene where Rogers gives a speech over the loud speaker of S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters where he must convince the staff therein that the S.H.I.E.L.D. that they know, that they’ve sacrificed over, has been usurped by Hydra and will defy everything the peace keeping organization was created to protect. For a lesser actor or less iconic character, this speech could have been a throwaway moment to simply bring the viewer up to speed on the situation and what’s at stake (as the reveal of Hydra’s infiltration was something of a slow burn in the movie). But for Winter Soldier, it was a defining moment. It inspired the characters in the film and the viewer, rallying against Hydra with “…the price of freedom is high. It always has been. And it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.” Cap was talking about testing friendships (as only Hydra agents knew who were their own or not), standing up to authority (Hydra was in charge), and risking lives (most of the staff were not spies or soldiers). In essence, Cap urged treason based solely on his word and reputation. In a manner, the Winter Soldier was almost like a story about revolution based on the price of freedom and security. All within the context of cyborg assassins and mobile flying fortresses.
Honorable mentions: Thor: The Dark World and The Incredible Hulk.