We’ve grown used to a lot of things in the past decade-plus, with one of the best being big-budget, high-quality superhero movies.
Marvel started its multi-phase movie takeover in 2008, and since then has shelled out dozens of movies and now TV shows about Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel – and sometimes all of them, as with Avengers: Endgame.
With so much to choose from, how do the movies stack up? To celebrate the release of Avengers: Endgame, we’ve updated our ranking of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Enjoy.
26. Iron Man 2 (2010)
A tepid followup to the sleek brilliance of Iron Man, the sequel gives us a sinister yet funny Mickey Rourke but does the franchise no favors with its creative decisions. We meet Black Widow, but not without some classic 2010 misogyny, which is the root problem with Iron Man 2; the first film was all about Tony’s growth as a person, and the second doesn’t let him mature nearly as much. There’s still a long road before this is the Tony we see in Endgame, but it’s too slow on that path.
25. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Sure, it’s part of the MCU canon, but The Incredible Hulk was so aggressively meh that its title character got recast and was only made palatable by The Avengers. Since it’s not an origin story, we don’t get to watch Edward Norton as Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk; he already is. We don’t watch him fall in love with Betty (Liv Tyler), because he already is. What we do get is a lot of the big green guy getting angry, which may have been cool in 2008 but pales compared to the visual effects that followed.
24. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ultron has a lot of good moments but is not overall a good movie. It’s sloppy and it drags, even with ambitious action sequences in Sokovia, and struggles to build Ultron’s disdain for humanity. The main Avengers have a fun dynamic – look no further than the party scene at Stark Tower – but the new characters don’t fit in (especially since X-Men: Days of Future Past basically owns Quicksilver). Black Widow, at the time robbed of a solo movie, gets a disproportionate consolation prize of becoming Hulk’s girlfriend and a woman defined by her biology.
23. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The Dark World brings back Natalie Portman as Jane, yet even as the physical host of a literal Infinity Stone, she’s somehow underutilized. There’s a lot of levity, particularly between Thor and Loki, and a surprising amount of gravity in Loki’s “death” – which is once again undone before the movie ends. Oh and some dude named Malekith is mad… don’t worry about it.
22. Doctor Strange (2016)
Credit: Marvel studios
Iron Man minus the charisma, it took five years for Marvel to retread this territory and make Strange interesting in time for Phase 4. Benedict Cumberbatch is great, but he’s always great, so let’s not give out free brownie points. Strange received appropriate flack for whitewashing Asian characters and lore for the story, and tragically sidelines Rachel McAdams in every way. Visuals: Yes. Everything else: Meh.
21. Eternals (2021)
With no familiar faces and little connection to the wider MCU, Eternals had a gargantuan task set forth from the start. Helmed by Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao, the film introduces no less than a dozen new characters, a rushed history of their cosmic presence on Earth, an apocalyptic threat in the form of Earth becoming a Celestial, and an explanation for how the entire Marvel Universe was created. It’s sometimes slow, sometimes muddled, and a little too enthralled with its white male antihero — but it’s also a visual feast, a huge victory for representation, and a banger of a soundtrack.
20. Thor (2011)
Thor isn’t a top Marvel movie, but it’s a classic fish-out-of-water story that teases how much fun this character will be in time. The film also gives us our first dose of Loki, one of Marvel’s best villains to this day. It’s easy to forget the magnetism and subtlety of Hiddleston’s original performance, and Thor is one of Loki’s best arcs: The sensitive sibling growing up in Thor’s shadow and coming to terms with the truth about his past.
(Also Chris Hemsworth’s eyebrows are blonde and it’s terrible.)
19. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Credit: Ben Rothstein / Marvel Studios
In some ways, Ant-Man and the Wasp is more even-keeled and sure-footed than its predecessor. It delivers zippy action, tons of laughs, and the nicest cast of characters we’ve ever seen in the MCU. Mostly this movie is just so sweet, whether it’s Scott bending over backwards to impress his darling daughter or Hope and Hank going to great lengths in memory of Janet. Oh, and speaking of Hope, she more than holds her own as the MCU movies’ first true leading lady. – Angie Han
18. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3 lets Tony get vulnerable as he faces his post-Avengers PTSD. The film gives ample time to guest stars Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce, and Ty Simpkins, all the while remaining true to Tony’s internal struggle and getting in a few CGI-battles. The Mandarin reveal is fun (more fun as of 2021), even if Killian is still a boring baddie.
17. Captain Marvel (2019)
Credit: chuck zlotnick / marvel studios
Even with the weight of Avengers: Endgame on its shoulders, Captain Marvel is primarily an origin story, and the MCU does those damn well, even if this isn’t the best one. We meet the staggeringly powerful Carol Danvers, a Kree warrior with the power to save the universe. Brie Larson and a fabulous cast make Marvel’s first solo female superhero outing one for the ages – a film that also doubles as the Nick Fury origin story we didn’t know we needed, and a star-making debut for Goose the “cat.”
16. Black Widow (2021)
Credit: Jay Maidment/ marvel studios
Marvel’s unexpected two-year movie draught ended with a long-overdue solo outing for Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) that takes place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. After years of grand-scale alien battles and CGI battle set pieces, Black Widow was a welcome throwback to human beings just beating the heck out of each other, with nary an alien, wizard, or android in sight. Natasha’s surrogate family (Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, and an utterly charming Florence Pugh) leave a lasting impression in a film worthy of the MCU’s first heroine.
15. Ant-Man (2015)
Kudos to this film for bringing us Paul Rudd in the MCU, the thing you didn’t know you needed. Rudd lends dimension and heart to his performance as Scott Lang, a reformed criminal and father to an adorable little girl. His chemistry with Evangeline Lilly crackles (even if they saved her good stuff for the sequel), and Scott’s everyman persona makes him an irresistible addition to the hero roster. Michael Peña shines as Scott’s best friend and Corey Stoll seems born to be a villain, even though it’s Michael Douglas as Hank Pym who steals the show with his embittered quest for revenge.
14. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Credit: marvel studios / Sony
Far From Home officially ends the Infinity Saga with a smaller-scale story about Peter Parker finding his place in a post–Tony Stark world. Highlights include Tom Holland hitting yet another Spidey performance out of the park, Jake Gyllenhaal as a pitch perfect Mysterio, and the best trippy CGI battle yet seen in the MCU (sorry, Doctor Strange). It’s not the best solo Marvel movie ever, but Far From Home does a lot of good work by closing one door and opening a new universe of possibilities.
13. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Credit: chuck zlotnick / marvel studios
For years, it all led up to this: Almost every Marvel hero you can think of, joining forces against the biggest threat this universe has ever faced. Infinity War is enormous in scope and spirit, with the budget to match its astronomical ambitions. And in its final moments, it packs a punch worthy of Thanos’ golden-gloved fist. If we have one complaint, though, it’s that this feels like half a movie – and many of us had to wait a year until Endgame. – Angie Han
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Credit: marvel studios / disney
Fans didn’t have any exorbitant expectations of GotG Vol. 2, especially when low expectations yielded such joy for the first film. Here we get Peter meeting his biological father Ego, fighting with his friends over said father’s intentions, and mocked by those same friends for his crush on Gamora, as exposed by Mantis. We also get loads of Baby Groot, who thawed many a stone cold heart, and the surprise emotional gut-punch of Yondu at the end.
11. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Cynics expected Marvel’s first theater-exclusive film in over two years to fail. It introduced brand-new characters, dense mythology, an unknown lead, and a good chunk of it is in Mandarin. The movie ended up shattering box office records and being one of the best MCU standalones in a long time, with huge stakes, rich characters, and transfixing family drama. Its jaw-dropping action sequences flex some of the best fight choreography in the MCU and Hollywood at large (bus battle, anyone??). Simu Liu belongs in the MCU and we can’t wait to see more of him in future Phases. Can we find a way to get more Tony Leung too?
10. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Credit: marvel studios
Civil War could be a tighter movie, but it’s doing a hell of a lot. Picking up with the fallout of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this movie thoroughly interrogates the toll of our heroes’ adventures and divides them harshly on how to move forward. Black Panther and Spider-Man make epic MCU debuts, while secondary Avengers like Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man still get their moments. The final fight is brutal as Cap and Tony come close to actually killing each other, and don’t even reconcile before the credits roll.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
It’s crazy to think that early trailers of Guardians looked silly when its rock ‘n’ roll comedy thrill ride model is now the template for action movie promos. We didn’t expect much from Guardians in any capacity; we had our avengers, our non-MCU Spider-Man reboot, yet here was this group of ragtag space trash in a movie that was so much better than it had any right to be. Chris Pratt may have debuted his six-pack, but more importantly, he and the cast set a new standard for comedy and chemistry in the MCU and all superhero movies.
8. The Avengers (2012)
The first Avengers was and always will be a truly stellar teamup. The film doesn’t waste time on expository baggage, with plenty of witty banter and fascinating face offs instead (Mjolnir vs. Vibranium, anyone?). Tom Hiddleston does a magnificent job as Loki per usual — even without the believable motivation he had in Thor — working for some guy named Thanos who we don’t have to worry about yet. The Avengers also ends with shawarma, thus accidentally creating the best sub genre: Avengers-not-avenging. When can we green light that franchise?
7. Iron Man (2008)
As both the dawn of the MCU and the second coming of Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man shocked audiences who forgot superhero movies could be good (this was a year after Spider-Man 3). Downey is the perfect hubristic Tony Stark, an arrogant billionaire sobered by becoming a prisoner of war. It was a fun version of 2005’s Batman Begins with sex and expensive gadgetry to supplant the mask and the brooding, and it holds up.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Credit: marvel studios / sony
Homecoming is, simply put, a goddamn delight. Tom Holland is a born showman and a flawless Peter Parker; the cast is talented, funny, and diverse; it’s a view of New York we’ve ludicrously never seen and Vulture was the best villain since Loki when this film premiered in 2017. Not an exciting movie to be a female character, but Zendaya crushed every scene she had and has only gotten better in the sequels.
5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The final chapter of the Infinity Saga and of three phases, 22 movies, and 11 years of the MCU stuck the landing and made it look easy. We might spend years griping about time travel or lamenting the last moments between Steve and Bucky, but the simple facts are that Endgame hit an impressive number of emotional beats, including near-perfect conclusions for multiple O.G. Avengers. It’s a heist, a love story, and everything magnificent about the MCU, and we love it 3000.
4. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Credit: Marvel / Paramount / Kobal / Shutterstock
The Star-Spangled man with a plan was once a scrappy kid from Brooklyn, until a biological experiment made him
swole extremely strong. With the Help of Peggy Carter, Abraham Erskine, Howard Stark, and his day one pal Bucky Barnes, Steve becomes the kind of hero people remember for decades, even while he’s off literally cooling his heels in the Arctic. From Red Skull to the Howling Commandos to Bucky’s heartbreaking fall and that adrenaline-fueled first kiss, The First Avenger hits all the right marks.
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Credit: jasin boland / marvel
It took the better part of a decade, but Marvel finally figured out who Thor was with Thor: Ragnarok. Director Taika Waititi puts Chris Hemsworth’s considerable comedy chops to good use, resulting in a version of the character that feels fresher and looser than anything we’ve seen before. Toss in some stellar work by Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett, and Tessa Thompson, plus the return of Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, and you’ve got the most entertaining Thor movie yet.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Credit: zade rosenthal / marvel
The MCU had S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrated by Hydra and completely changed the game for the Avengers’ alliance. Winter Soldier sets the stage for Cap and Iron Man’s feud in Civil War, and for Steve and Bucky’s
love affair renewed friendship. It charmingly and skillfully introduces Falcon and has no less than four fighting female characters, none of whom functions as a love interest. Winter Soldier isn’t trapped in one genre; it’s a spy thriller disguised as a superhero movie and better for it.
1. Black Panther (2018)
Credit: Film Frame Marvel Studios 2018
Even the worst MCU movies are kind of good, which means that the best ones are truly exceptional — none moreso than Black Panther. Ryan Coogler, along with his talented cast and crew, crafted a film that has something to say, that feels distinctive in its style and point of view – while also delivering on the usual superhero movie goods, like lovable heroes, exciting action, and a compelling villain. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa feels fittingly regal, surrounded by admirable supporting players like Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, and Danai Gurira. Though it took far too long for Marvel to bet on a Black superhero at the box office, it paved the way for the kind of representation we want and need in future phases.
Angie Han and Alison Foreman contributed to this article.
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