Twenty-one movies and a couple wars later, this is where the MCU stands.
21) Thor: The Dark World (2013)
You’ve gotta start somewhere. The Dark World is one of the rare instances where Marvel just didn’t get it right. At all. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are great (as always) as Thor and Loki, but are overshadowed everything around them (not in a good way). Kat Demmings and Natalie Portman wager a competition with the script for which can be worse, and both win. The plot is among the worst of all superhero flicks, and director Alan Taylor does his best to show you every character except Thor and Loki. Also, name the villain from this movie, I dare you. You can’t.
20) The Incredible Hulk (2008)
While the first outing for the Hulk in the MCU isn’t bad, it’s something arguably worse – completely forgettable. Being forgettable is one thing, but over time, the movie has proven to be unnecessary. Remember when Edward Norton was Hulk? Yeah, me neither. Along with almost everything else in this film, he disappears somewhere in the quantum realm. Thunderbolt Ross shows up in Infinity War and Civil War, but even then, it’s only for a matter of seconds. One redeemable thing from Hulk? The score. It’s in the upper echelon of Marvel music. Does a good score make for a good movie? God, no.
19) Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Webster-Merriam’s definition of nonessential. Basically the forgettable qualities of Hulk mixed with the plot quality of The Dark World, but it has Paul Rudd. Everyone except Rudd seems to be phoning it in for this one, even the director. Characters like Ghost and whatever Walton Goggins was scream wasted potential, and the plot they’re given is sleep-inducing. Besides Rudd’s great performance, the movie is pretty lackluster on all fronts.
18) Iron Man 2 (2010)
Everyone loves Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, but the second Iron Man movie is a blatant filler. Iron Man 2 has its moments, but they’re few and far between. The plot throws the viewer in all sorts of directions: jumping from setup for more movies, to alcoholism, to Howard Stark exposition without any sort of warning or even payoff to the plot lines. The tone of the movie changes faster than Usain Bolt in the hundred-meter dash – instead of progressing naturally, it does whatever is convenient at that moment for the film to keep going. At least we got Justin Hammer dancing!?
17) Captain Marvel (2019)
Yes. Don’t click off this rankings list now. Captain Marvel is a pretty considerable jump in quality from the films below it on our list, but it’s just not better than anything else in the MCU. There are too many weird directorial choices that hinder the movie from being even a mid-tier one. Brie Larson shows neither emotion or an ability to stand out in her own movie, and Samuel L. Jackson is forced to carry the workload and attempt to make Larson charismatic. Even with Jackson’s strong performance, he can’t escape the downright stupidity of the script (a cat did that? really?). The newest addition to the universe is a low-tier phase one movie that came nine years too late.
16) Thor (2011)
The first and last twenty minutes of Thor > the rest of Thor. The God of Thunder’s first appearance in the MCU is set up incredibly well in the stunningly vibrant Asgard with interesting characters and a good plot – but is immediately thrown out the window when Thor lands in God-Knows-Where, New Mexico. Chris Hemsworth gets stuck in the middle of the most boring setting in film history with an awful Natalie Portman performance and her annoying friends to boot – while you, the viewer, are stuck praying that Thor goes back to Asgard. Everything involving Thor in Asgard is terrific, but (roughly) forty minutes of greatness doesn’t make anything special.
15) Iron Man 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3 is a movie that should be great, but attempts to be too different – which ultimately results in a film that is just fine, but alienates many fans in the process. The film is more focused than its predecessor, but the topics that it focuses on are just dumb. Trailers for the film promised an epic conclusion to Tony Stark’s trilogy, with The Mandarin primed to be the best Marvel villain yet; but it ends up being just another Shane Black movie. What could’ve been a mess is saved by great outings from Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle.
14) Ant-Man (2015)
Contrary to Iron Man 3, which aspired to be too big, Ant-Man went small (no pun intended); and delivered a simple, fun story that reminded fans of the beginning of Marvel. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) leads a cast of lovable characters, including the hilarious Michael Peña in his debut as Scott Lang’s right-hand man, Luis. Ant-Man is one of the most small-scale Marvel movies, but it proves that the studio can do anything right.
13) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)
Vol. 2 is more of the same from the Guardians, but is held back from potential greatness with an extremely weak plot. The movie feels like it’s constantly trying to evade the week plot line, with jokes taking away from any serious moment that is supposed to hit home. Despite director James Gunn’s obvious lack of confidence in his plot, you can’t help but love the Guardians and the mischief they create on screen together. In a mixed bag of a movie that wastes Kurt freakin’ Russell, Baby Groot and crew still prove to be enough fun for a good time.
12) Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther won over the hearts of many viewers with its release last February, but there are some serious problems that bog the movie down. Chadwick Boseman is a great choice for the role of T’Challa/Black Panther, but he gives one of the most stale performances in recent memory in his own movie. Michael B. Jordan counters with a truly wonderful performance as Eric Killmonger, but only when he’s on screen – the plot for the film works against Jordan, as he’s on screen for around twenty minutes, but his appearances feel few and far between. The pacing is jarring, director Ryan Coogler throws you randomly (but slowly) in many directions through a plot that you’ve seen done better multiple times (The Lion King, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). Despite its problems, Black Panther still pulls together as a solid entry in the MCU.
11) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The First Avenger is far from the best directed, fundamentally sound, or scripted thing put to screen by Marvel, but the movie stands the test of time years later with it’s pure heart. Chris Evans doesn’t waste a single second proving that he is the choice for Captain America, providing iconic moments from the first scene he’s in (I can do this all day). Agent Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) is the strongest female character in any Marvel movie to date, and adds plenty of soul and charm alongside Evans. The casting is perfect down to Howard Stark’s brief appearance, and the movie is still a joy to watch to this day. Beautiful scenes (I had a date) keep the movie a wonder to this day.
10) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ultron is a gift and a curse. It has its moments, but the movie ultimately proved that Joss Whedon wasn’t the right guy to direct Infinity War and so on. Being somewhat of a letdown upon release, it’s easy to remember Ultron as being worse than it actually is. Whedon still gives audiences great character sequences, including the Avengers After Party and Hawkeye’s Farm scene. While Ultron himself is a bit of a letdown as a villain, he still causes the emergence of great new Avengers such as
Quicksilver (too soon?) Scarlet Witch and Vision. Every character gets a turn to shine in the second Avengers outing, and the film plants the seeds for the future of the universe seamlessly.
9) Doctor Strange (2016)
The most under-appreciated Marvel movie. The visual effects alone give the film a top ten spot, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s perfect portrayal of Dr. Stephen Strange only makes the movie that much better. Doctor Strange isn’t the greatest story of all time, but the pure ambition makes up for any downfalls in the movie. The writing is clever when it has to be, and Cumberbatch is as developed as any hero through their first film.
8) The Avengers (2012)
We’re officially in top-tier territory. Avengers acts as the official gap on our list that separates the big boys from the rest. The movie looks like a TV show at moments (especially the beginning), the dialogue is extremely spotty, and the final battle is a stereotypical “save the world from aliens” fight. There are plenty holes that can be poked in Avengers, but the movie pulls together wonderfully as the defining moment as when the MCU got big. Everything about our favorite characters teaming up for the first time is just plain fun. It’s the first movie that gave fans the experience of a huge comic book on screen, and with that, Marvel officially changed the summer blockbuster forever.
7) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Marvel was already on a roll by mid-2014, and then Guardians of the Galaxy happened. Nothing says ‘we can do literally whatever we want,’ like making a tree, raccoon, green lady, and other misfits into a hit movie. The universe’s first huge trip to outer space is a non-stop thrill ride that is uncompromising in making us laugh, but always knows when to tug at the heartstrings.
6) Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Civil War went big, but more impressively, it delivered a deep, personal story that services all characters in the universe. Every character down to Scarlet Witch has a reason to play a part in the war, but Tony Stark and Steve Rogers take center stage in a deep personal battle. The introductions to both Spider-Man and Black Panther are among the best in the universe, as both fit like a glove in (and add to) the story. There are plenty of places where Civil War could’ve gone wrong, with a plethora of characters to service in just over two hours, but every character is serviced excellently.
5) Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Theres the first two Thor movies, and then there’s Thor: Ragnarok. Taika Waititi’s directorial introduction in the MCU does everything it should and more. Chris Hemsworth was always a great Thor to this point, but in Ragnarok, he finally gets a script that lets him prove just how good he can be a the God of Thunder. Outside of Hemsworth, every character is at peak performance. Loki has never been more likable despite his conniving schemes, Hulk is finally a real character and not just a big green monster, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) replaces Natalie Portman’s love interest role in the best way, and Korg… Oh Korg, you’re irreplaceable.
4) Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
The Sam Raimi had its moments, but ended up in flames. The Amazing experiment was far from amazing. Homecoming, however, is the Spider-Man movie we all deserve. Tom Holland is Spider-Man, love it or hate it, he’s the web-slinger down to the core. His absolute purity as Peter Parker shines through the screen in every scene he’s in. Holland’s big introduction is great, but Michael Keaton’s return to superhero flicks as The Vulture is a show-stealing performance as well. The acting is great, the script is great, the movie is great. No complaints here.
3) Iron Man (2008)
Iron Man did it first and did it right. To this day, no movie has jokes that still work like Robert Downey Jr.’s do in Iron Man. Good jokes are one thing, but the origin story for a then C-list villain is unprecedented and kicked off the whole run of Marvel dominating mainstream movie audiences. It’s pretty stereotypical to say that Iron Man is one of the best MCU movies by now, but it’s for good reason. Also, without the success of this film, there is no “MCU.” God bless Mr. Downey and Jon Favreau.
2) Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
Winter Soldier was the mark of a new turn in the MCU. It’s the official movie that showed fans that Marvel Studios was truly growing up, and was ready to tell more intuitive, real, mature stories. There’s not a second of the story that’s wasted; characters are constantly being expanded upon and subtle plot threads are woven in from the first frame. Contrary to movies like Iron Man 2, Winter Soldier has immense payoff for everything in it, and even payoff from The First Avenger – it’s exactly what a sequel should be. Iron Man may have put the entire universe into gear, but Winter Soldier gave it a second one, and provided a new blueprint for stories to come in Marvel.
1) Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Yes, it’s a cop out answer, but no other film in Marvel is filled start-to-finish with our favorite characters, moments, and battles like Infinity War is. In a movie that balances damn near every hero in Marvel, the villain still becomes the best character by the end. There was no doubt that fans were excited to see all their heroes together going into the movie, but Josh Brolin’s convincing performance as the Mad Titan Thanos is what left a lasting impression on everyone after it. Putting the Avengers in a cosmic battle allows for every frame to be dripping with color, only further elevating the already groundbreaking CGI put to use by the technical team. Infinity War is stuffed to the brim with everything a Marvel fan could ask for, and is the definitive MCU movie.