Cinematic universes are trendy right now, and if you want to know why, look no further than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel (read:Disney) has released a ton of media, including shows on Netflix, Hulu, and good old fashion satellite television, and a total of 23 films (so far), all existing in the same universe. Something could happen on Marvel’s Agents of Shield television show and it would be canonically consistent with all of the big screen films moving forward. It’s truly been a spectacle to watch unfold, and based on the record-shattering box office, I’m not alone in thinking that.
However, not all of the MCU’s movies were created equally. Some were incredible, and some… well some weren’t. Here’s my ranking of the 23 films that appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe… so far.
Ranking Every MCU Release (So Far)
This list is based on my opinions. As an avid comic book reader (just dropped $69 on Marvel Unlimited, and you should too!), I went in to each and every one of these movies with my own preferences and biases based on my knowledge of characters and storylines. If you disagree with any of my rankings, let me know in the comment section and we can have an incredibly nerdy argument that devolves into exchanging insults almost immediately.
23. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
This movie was really, really, really bad. It made less money than any other MCU movie, and frankly, exposed something unfortunate about Marvel’s not-so-jolly green giant. While the Hulk is a great comic book and even cartoon character, he’s not really a cinematic leading man. You can only do so much with the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde dynamic of Bruce Banner and the angry green guy. It’s a good thing that Iron Man was such a success or the failure of Edward Norton’s Hulk might’ve doomed the MCU before it ever got going. It’s nice to see that Hulk has found his niche as a strong supporting character though, and that a bad box office didn’t ruin the character forever.
22. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
If you take away Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, this movie is unwatchable. This movie is so bad, it made Natalie Portman essentially quit the MCU. This is actually the worst ranked movie from the MCU on Rotten Tomatoes (66%), and I can see why. I don’t want to beat up on this movie too bad, because we all know it’s bad, and I’m gonna GO IN on the MCU movies I actually hated, but here’s the skinny. They didn’t know what to do with Thor’s character to make him relatable on the big screen, and they had to introduce another Infinity Stone somehow, so they did the best they could.
Unfortunately, it ended up being a really slow, really boring movie with forgettable characters that didn’t make a lasting impact. Seriously, Loki is the only reason this movie isn’t the worst part of the MCU, Tom Hiddleston did a fantastic job with that character.
21. Iron Man 3 (2013)
This ranking might be a little divisive because you either love this movie or you hate this movie. The “you just don’t get it” crowd will scoff that I was too invested in my preconceived notions about characters like the Mandarin or what an Iron Man movie should be. And that’s fine, if you like this movie, like it, I really enjoy watching Batman: Forever, which is objectively terrible. To each their own.
I can forgive taking creative licence with the Mandarin. Sometimes subverting expectations works out! I could almost get past tonedeaf writers having no idea what a panic attack looks like, because again, creative licence. I glossed over the lack of a lot of actual Iron Man in the second one, I suppose I can do it again for the third one. I could even get past yet another stuffy businessman with an axe to grind for Tony, but one thing happens in this movie, which in this context, is really, really stupid.
At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that Tony could remotely control Iron Man suits this whole time. Literally this whole time, Iron Man could’ve existed without Tony Stark suiting up. Sure, this sets up Ultron, and even Edith down the road, but in this context, talk about an underwhelming ending.
Also, the bad guy literally turns into fire. He breathes fire. Sure, this is a universe with magicians, aliens, and giant green guys, but this guy uses science to breathe fire? Oh, okay.
But God forbid you say anything bad about a Shane Black movie. Don’t you know how great Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was, you uncultured swine?! He can do no wrong, and we’re just going to pretend The Predator didn’t happen.
20. Iron Man 2 (2010)
I love Sam Rockwell, so I was devastated to see him saddled with such a bad movie. Firstly, this Iron Man movie doesn’t have a ton of Iron Man, and while you need to know the man under the mask as well, this movie doesn’t feature anywhere near enough of the mask itself. It’s like a mopey, behind the scenes on how Tony Stark adjusted to life with his secret identity being public knowledge, featuring actual Elon Musk, and Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash, who spends more time talking about his bird than his father’s legacy.
19. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Right, so I was always going to hate this movie, even if they knocked it out of the park, because it’s so far removed from the source material. In the comics (adjusts horn-rimmed glasses), the Civil War angle takes place because a group of mutants, The New Warriors, who are the stars of a superhero reality television show, engage a group of villains, and one of them, Nitro, causes an explosion that not only kills most of them, but hundreds of civilians as well.
Responding to the death of hundreds of innocent people, the government moves to make heroes government employees, surrendering the privacy of their identities and violating constitutional freedoms in exchange for insurance, getting paid, but most importantly, being held accountable for collateral damage.
Captain America, true to his name, is usually complicit with whatever the government (namely S.H.I.E.LD.) says, but he resists in this instance because commitment to the freedom of other people is kinda his deal. Tony, on the other hand, is always trying to make up for past sins through sacrifice, and feeling second-hand guilt, aligns with the government, so there’s a super hero civil war because both sides have strong, justified feelings about safety vs. freedom.
THIS IS THE EPITOME OF CAPTAIN AMERICA. He prioritizes freedom and liberty over everything, even potential safety, because he is CAPTAIN. FREAKING. AMERICA.
In this garbage movie, Marvel didn’t have the rights to the X-Men yet, so they decided to, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, run with the same plot that Batman vs. Superman did literally two months earlier. Because instead of one devastating bomb, they blame heroes for everything that’s happened as collateral damage in every big fight leading up to Civil War. Which would’ve been fine… but ultimately the movie ends up being about how Captain America misses his friend Bucky, who may or may not have killed Iron Man’s parents because he was being brainwashed by Nazis.
Captain America turns his back on his friends and the other avengers because of his buddy from his previous life and it becomes about his inability to move on, something he literally never ends up doing in these movies, incidentally. This movie is less about civil rights and more about Steve being gullible and nostalgic.
Yeah, I’m Still Going
The comic angle is great because both sides are right. Iron Man thinks heroes need to be held accountable and Captain America thinks everyone’s rights and privacy should be respected. This is a timeless moral debate that is executed perfectly on paper. It feels like Steve is right, but you can make an argument for Tony’s side. In the movies, a Nazi scientist manipulates Tony and Steve, and all the other heroes pick teams because… uh… why, again?
It took literally all of my willpower not to rank this dead last, purely out of spite. In the comics, Captain America is killed shortly after Civil War and this film is still the worst assassination of his character.
18. Thor (2011)
They had to crawl before they could run with Thor’s movies and they did a fair share of stumbling. While the Norse god of thunder is an iconic comic book character, his film counterpart struggled to find his place at first. Chris Hemsworth is a good Thor, but this movie is kinda boring for the most part.
It’s slow, the characters don’t have great chemistry, and the joke of “this giant man doesn’t belong here” was a lot funny when Arnold did it back in Twins (1988, though regrettably, not part of the MCU). This movie simply exists to introduce Thor into the MCU, like the Incredible Hulk but significantly better with the inclusion of Natalie Portman and everyone’s favorite snarky villain, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.
17. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Firstly, I love
Robert California’s James Spader’s Ultron. I still think it is kinda funny that a movie featuring a mo-cap villain AND Andy Serkis didn’t let Andy Serkis play Ultron, but that’s just me.
This film is fun. It’s everything you expect from an Avengers movie, there are cool moments, great special effects, and fun dialogue. The characters are all very likable, especially the villain, and it does a decent bit of world building.
But other than that, what does this movie really give us? We’re a year away from Civil War, which we assumed (wrongly) would be a good movie, and the whole thing felt a little underwhelming. The Ultron arch is fantastic in the comics. Ultron is the consequence of everything that makes Iron Man a great hero and that plays on both his guilt and his arrogance. It’s a perfect piece in his universe. But in this movie, it becomes about everything else.
Joss Whedon introduces Scarlet Witch and her brother, Quicksilver foolishly after A. actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen were just a married couple on-screen a year earlier in Godzilla, and B. a much, much, much, much better version of the Quicksilver character debuted in the X-Men movies in 2014. The witch gives the Avengers dreams… that don’t amount to much of anything for most of the characters.
Then out of left field, we find out Hawkeye is a family man and he owns a farm and he’s comic relief. He’s literally never shown any of that before, but cool, the best kind of character development comes from absolutely nowhere, right? Marvel agreed, they wanted this scene cut from the movie entirely but Joss insisted.
Black Widow’s Mistreatment
Hey remember cool, edgy, badass super-spy Black Widow that infiltrated Tony Stark’s inner circle to gain info about him for Nick Fury? Well now she’s romantically linked to the Hulk because… reasons? Out of nowhere, like seemingly all of Whedon’s character changes. Also she’s inexplicably saddled with an infertility side-story from her spy days that she feels guilty about.
This. Is. Not. In. The. Comics. Joss Whedon wanted to make Black Widow a sympathetic character so he made her shame herself for being infertile (something that never gets resolved or addressed later?), and romantically linked to someone she can’t be with because he gets big and angry when he gets excited. Don’t worry, she gets a big redemption arch in this movie. Wait, what? She doesn’t? She gets ghosted by the guy she can’t be with anyway. Super.
You’d think the guy who wrote Buffy would be better about writing a strong female character but… yikes.
16. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
ENDGAME SPOILERS: This movie is the reason the Avengers are able to go back in time and save everyone from the snap. Technically, in storyline, this is the most important movie in the franchise. However, the fact that it’s so low on the list despite that tells you everything you need to know about it.
Paul Rudd is charming, literally everyone on Earth loves this guy, and it’s nice to see Laurence Fishburne acting on the big screen again. But honestly, I think I forgot about this movie by the time the post-credit scene started. Good, charming, but ultimately, the least memorable movie in the series.
15. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
People don’t seem to like this movie. They say it’s kinda dry, Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers is a little dry and hard to relate to, and the plot doesn’t do enough to entertain them. But then they turn around, with a straight face, and love DC’s Wonder Woman which is literally the exact same movie except the big fight makes sense in Captain America.
Literally, the exact same movie. Superhuman helps the allied forces in World War II while the enemy tinkers with power beyond their control, only to fall in love with someone they have to leave when they inevitably move into the future.
Now, I prefer Wonder Woman, and I agree with the critics of this movie, but seriously guys, they’re the same movie except I think Gal Gadot is gorgeous and Chris Evans is… wait a second.
14. Ant-Man (2015)
This movie is pretty close to the halfway point in the ranking and appropriately so. From here on out, the movies on this list are okay, then they’re pretty good, and they’re amazing. Ant-Man is, by that ranking, okay. It’s just fine. You won’t really miss out on anything in the MCU if you don’t watch this movie, but you’ll miss out on some really fun shrink-special effects, a couple of good jokes, and Paul Rudd, who again, literally everyone on Planet Earth loves.
13. Captain Marvel (2019)
Brie Larson certainly doesn’t have a filter, and I think her outspoken media appearances have soiled some people on what was admittedly, a pretty fun movie. Getting to see a young Nick Fury was fun, especially with the new knowledge that he loves cats, and guess what folks, 90’s nostalgia sells like hotcakes. (note from the author: I always thought “sells like hotcakes” was referencing the McDonald’s breakfast versions. It was not. Carry on).
SPOILERS: A lot of diehard comic book fans didn’t like the twist that the Skrulls might not be bad guys, and at first, I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed. I was looking forward to a Secret Wars arch, but I guess it remains to be seen. However, if they weren’t good guys, we wouldn’t have gotten a fun portrayal of Talos or the confirmation that Dumbledore is evil, as I’ve always suspected. Or maybe that’s a different Jude Law movie. Beats me.
12. Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange has a fitting name. It doesn’t feel like any other Marvel movie and is maybe the only Marvel movie I’d go see again while paying extra for some kind of HD 3D experience. Benedict Cumberbatch ends up being the perfect casting for the Strange one, as when he shows up in other movies, you understand there is a person underneath the stoic snark. Also, Rachel McAdams is in this movie, did you know that?
Seriously, it’s visually incredible. All of the trippy psychedelic stuff that the movie does makes it easy to watch over and over again and I’m excited to see more of Dormammu than a giant floating head.
11. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The third time was the charm for the god of thunder. In the other movies, Thor was never portrayed a very bright guy, but he was always very stern and arrogant. These are not relatable character traits. However, making him a big, lovable goof that can be serious when he needs to be? Now we’re cooking. Ragnarok got rid of the side-characters that he didn’t have chemistry with, brought back Loki, and introduced actual national treasure, Jeff Goldblum to the franchise. This movie is a ton of freaking fun, and gave the Russo brothers the confidence to let Thor be Thor in Endgame.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
I’ll be the first to admit, before I saw the first one, I’d never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The first movie stole my heart and I have rectified that mistake since. The second one is just so much fun. Sure, it hits a ton of the same notes (not literally, mind you) as the first one, but there are some really great scenes (Groot’s mission to retrieve Yondu’s fin is my favorite), and cameos by PAC-Man and David Hasselhoff. Equal parts fun action movie and comedy, this film ends up having quite a bit of heart as we get to know our favorite misfits a little better. Now listen to this song and cry again.
9. Black Panther (2018)
The only Marvel movie to be nominated for Best Picture barely cracks my top ten, and I’m not sorry about it. I liked Black Panther, I saw it in theatres twice, and Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger was awesome, top three villain in the MCU. But…
The movie is kinda boring, and frankly, it chickens out politically. T’Challa was so awesome in the aforeburied Civil War movie, but in this one, he’s kinda lame. He rarely shows any real emotion, and Chadwick Boseman, a really good actor, kinda underwhelms.
My biggest issue with this movie is that it approaches big issues like racial disparity in the first world, child soldiers in Africa, and even slavery, but it never actually goes through with any of it. The world building is wonderful, and the supporting characters are fantastic, but this movie dips toes when it should jump in headfirst. It feels like they want to praise for broaching subjects, but they don’t have the heart to actually tackle them. Let me explain.
I Get Political, Sorry
We never see examples of racial disparity. T’Challa hesitates to help the outside world, and he changes his mind at the end because he and his cousin, who just tried to kill him, share a moment. What if, while Killmonger assumes T’Challa is dead, he has to go somewhere and experience what it might be like for a person of color outside of Wakanda? In Wakanda, he’s a king, and he walks among his people with the safety of two armed guards. But what if he had to walk through Oakland while he investigated his cousin and had to encounter a problematic police officer or common crime? We see how wonderful Wakanda is, but he never has to face reality outside of his Utopian home.
There’s a scene early in the movie where he goes to retrieve Nakia from an undercover mission where one of her abductors is a child soldier, and they never revisit it. In fact, it kinda sucks that he stops this woman from helping people in Africa that need help so she can be at his graduation.
T’Challa decides to help the rest of the world at the end of the movie, but we don’t really see what he plans to do, and we probably won’t until Black Panther 2. Not only that, but there’s no weight to his action because you still don’t really appreciate what kind of change he hopes to make, especially considering racial inequality is what makes Killmonger such an empathetic villain.
I still really like the movie as a comic book movie, and it is nice to see a predominantly African American cast, but it just feels like it could’ve done more. But Wakanda is awe-inspiring, the cast is arguably the best in the MCU, and the soundtrack slaps. Maybe I hold Disney to too high of a standard when it comes to the subtext that I believe slipped through the cracks.
8. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
The first real Avengers movie is awesome, just because of what it is, but as an actual movie… meh. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, and the passing of time has made the experience of seeing so many big name superheroes on the screen at the same time less impressive than it was at release. However, the Avengers isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, and is really only fun because of them.
That sounds like a dig, and I don’t want to get negative about another top ten movie, so I’ll just speak plainly about this movie. Joss Whedon does a fantastic job of blending several movies into one action-packed, well written adventure. The cultural significance of successfully pulling off a big-screen team-up movie can’t be understated and makes up for how paint-by-number the film is objectively.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
From here on, only praise as we’ve reached the elite (the, the elite) Marvel movies. These are the best of the best, starting with 2014’s surprise blockbuster, the Guardians of the Galaxy. This movie elevated D-list hero faction, the Guardians of the Galaxy into the mainstream, taking Chris Pratt and Dave Batista with them.
This well written, well directed movie was so much fun, and the role that music plays in the film can’t be understated. I never turn down a chance to watch this film about a gang of unlikely allies that end up putting the fun in dysfunctional family. Nothing bad to say about this film.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
I guarantee someone is going to read this and complain that I put this film way, way too low, and I totally understand. Winter Soldier is more of a spy film than a conventional superhero movie. It’s full of intrigue, and weirdly, dances around the balance between freedom and security better than the Civil War movie ever dreamed of doing. Easily the best Captain America movie is more grounded than it’s MCU counterparts, and better for it. This movie is so good that it makes the secondary titular character, Bucky Barnes, seem interesting in the remaining MCU movies despite not really having a significant role after Civil War.
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
So confession time, when I started writing this article, it was actually going to be a ranking of the best Spider-Man movies, and then I got carried away. In that hypothetical list, Homecoming is number three, Spider-Verse is number one, and the next addition on this list was number two! Why? Because I love Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. This movie introduces a more fleshed out Peter Parker without putting Uncle Ben in a casket for the third time and introduces an empathetic, nearly likeable Vulture character as brilliantly portrayed by Michael Keaton.
But what I love about this movie the most is that while it is definitely a Disney-MCU film, it doesn’t feel like a Disney-MCU film. It doesn’t have the same snarky quipping dialogue or forced tension between characters. It’s just a high school movie that happens to feature Spider-Man. Love this movie, and I probably watch it once a month.
4. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Take everything I just said about Homecoming and multiply it by two. Michael Keaton’s Vulture was easy to like? How about… wait a second, this movie just came out. If you haven’t seen it, GO SEE IT. And then skip down to the next entry on this list so the film isn’t ruined! Jabroni.
Anyway, if you have taste/enough free time to see superhero movies, you know what I was about to say. How about Jake Gyllenhaal’s fantastic take as Mysterio? The plot twist is obvious but he’s so damn charming and his relationship with Peter is so real that you want desperately to believe he’s from another dimension. Then when the heel turn does happen, he’s so despicable that you hate his guts! Fantastic.
But I love it even more because it serves, rather unofficially, as the last Iron Man movie without Robert Downey Jr. filming anything new for the film. Nearly every scene opens with some shot of Iron Man, letting you know that the weight of Tony Stark’s death still lingers over Peter. Then, like Iron Man reborn, Peter finds himself banged up, in the middle of nowhere, without his suit, and he becomes the new Iron Man. The scene on the jet with Happy is my favorite scene in any movie, maybe ever. I almost cried and I do push-ups all the time.
3. Iron Man (2008)
This is the most important movie in the entire series. If this movie had flopped, there would be no MCU. Iron Man, a B-list superhero at this point, shot to the main event, reviving the career of Robert Downey Jr. along the way. It’s fun, it’s charming, it has heart, and without it, superhero films might’ve died with 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
A three hour spectacle that wrapped up a decade of movies, Endgame was more of a cultural event than just another superhero movie. Turning it into a time-travel heist was brilliant as well, giving us a chance to revisit a few of our favorite characters and moments in the history of the MCU. How about Tony having that chat with his father? When Cap can wield Thor’s Hammer? Spidey and Iron Man reuniting? “I am Iron Man” and “I love you 3,000” are quotes that weigh heavy on our hearts and give me chills writing them now.
1. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
To me, every other movie (with the obvious exception of movies that came out after it) was made so they could make this movie. This is it. All the years of introducing worlds and characters and Infinity Stones comes to a head when Thanos finally arrives on Earth. It really was the most ambitious cinematic event in history when it came out, combining a decade of films into one massive experience.
Earlier, I said subverting expectations could be good, and this movie proves that. Changing Thanos from a heart-sick tyrant to an empathetic sociopath (if such a thing can even exist) was brilliant, and having him actually win at the end of the movie was brilliant. Watching characters you’ve grown to love turn to dust and realizing that’s just how the movie is going to end is a movie experience I’ll never forget.
But that’s just me, I’m just obscene, what do you guys think? Was I too harsh on some of these movies? Maybe too generous? Let me know down below and we can talk about why Tom Holland should challenge Tobey Maguire to a fight.