With the launch of Disney+, you can now access 16 of the 23 total MCU movies right now. So I figured now was as good a time as any to rank these films, from worst to best. Let’s face it, they can’t all be winners. What you are reading right now is considered by many* to be the definitive ranking of all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
23 - Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Dark Elves. Aether. The Kursed. This movie just isn’t anywhere near as good as any other in the MCU. Because people basically skipped this movie, the Russos had Thor give an exposition of it in Endgame to explain where the Reality Stone was. Only watch this film if you’re a stickler for making sure you’ve seen everything.
22 - Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
This film was looking to trade in on the success of the original Avengers and the films that followed. The end result was kind of a hodgepodge of storytelling that never really found its footing. Ultron is an incomplete character, and his motives are muddled and clumsy. Not the worst movie, but again only watch this if you want to see them all. On a positive note, the movie introduced Vision.
21 - Thor (2011)
Poor Thor, occupying 2 of the bottom 3 films. It’s like he’s the NY Jets of the MCU. This movie is kind of clunky but it’s necessary to introduce Thor and some peripheral characters such as Jane Foster and Dr. Selvig. It’s mostly forgettable and Thor is better used in the ensemble pieces as well as the third and fourth installments of the Avengers movies.
20 - The Incredible Hulk (2008)
People forget that this is technically in the MCU, with good reason. It was a soft reboot/sequel to Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003. Edward Norton tries to be a good Bruce Banner and the film tries to establish stronger footing for Hulk, but the film never really feels quite right. If I were to describe The Incredible Hulk in one word, it would be “meh.”
19 - Iron Man 2 (2010)
Even the most successful heroes can hit a speedbump from time to time. It turns out even the Invincible Iron Man can hit a wrong note. Mickey Rourke’s antagonist Ivan Vanko is never fully fleshed out. Sam Rockwell tries his best as Justin Hammer, a competitor of Tony Stark’s, but even he can’t save this movie from falling flat. On the positive side, Nick Fury is in it, as is the introduction of Natasha Romanoff, better known as Black Widow.
18 - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Lots of people liked this sequel, but it didn’t really resonate with me. I liked Kurt Russell as Ego, the living planet. Then again, I’ll watch Kurt Russell in just about anything - he’s forever Snake Plisskin as far as I’m concerned. The movie served to further the relationships between the Guardians, as well as introducing two “members,” Mantis and the newly conflicted Nebula. Yondu the Ravager sacrifices himself to secure Quill’s fate, and the Guardians are able to survive.
17 - Ant-Man (2015)
Here’s where I start to really enjoy the films. I liked Ant-Man. Paul Rudd is a ridiculously likable guy. He seems like the kind of guy who would be fun to hang out with on a Saturday night. His Scott Lang plays off of Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym very well. However, Michael Pena’s Luis steals the film. Overall it’s a fun movie, more lighthearted than most of the MCU films.
16 - Doctor Strange (2016)
Trippy. Pink Floyd music. Bending time and space. I really enjoyed this movie. I highly recommend you watch it. See what I did there? Lots of people were on the fence about Doctor Strange, but I was pleasantly surprised. Benedict Cumberbatch finds a happy place between dickish and humble.
15 - Iron Man 3 (2013)
If you were wondering who the lone, solitary kid was at Tony Stark’s memorial service in Endgame, this is where we meet him. Iron Man 3, directed by Shane Black (who I’ve never really thought was a good filmmaker, but oh well). In this film, Tony is dealing with what amounts to PTSD after the events of The Avengers. He creates a ton of new suits, only to destroy them at the end. Better than Iron Man 2, but not as good as the original Iron Man, this movie is a competent completion to the trilogy. I liked Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, and Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian.
14 - Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
This movie had the potential to be really bad, as most modern movies set around WW2 usually are. However, it finds a balance between earnest storytelling, comic book elements, and the establishment of what will eventually become The Avengers and all the peripheral components of the MCU. Red Skull is a great villain, and there is literally nobody else who could have portrayed Steve Rogers/Captain America better than Chris Evans. That dude will forever be Cap. Ok, he’ll also be Curtis Everett from Snowpiercer.
13 - Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Take what I said about the original Ant-Man movie, and add Evangeline Lilly (hubba-hubba) as the Wasp, Laurence Fishburn, Walton Goggins, and a pretty dope villain - the Ghost. This is a good sequel, better than the original IMHO. Again, it’s fun, funny, original, and the mid-credits scene directly impacts Endgame.
12 - Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
Tom Holland is a fantastic Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I really loved the Sam Raimi films and thought Tobey Maguire was spot-on, but Holland completely eclipses him. This movie is a successful sequel and a great first foray into a post-Endgame MCU. It advances lots of stories, introduces a new antagonist in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. Jon Favreau is great as Happy Hogan, and he stumbles along in a quasi-relationship with Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May. The movie is really good.
11 - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Marvel took a risk basing a movie on a group of comic book characters that most people had never really heard of. I had only read a few of their comics, but certainly not enough to retain anything meaningful. Rocket stood out above everyone else I thought. However GotG totally surpassed any and all expectations and resonated with audiences. I’m sure you’ve all seen this, so I won’t really get into what makes it good.
10 - Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Ok, I really like this one. It’s very loosely based on Mark Millar’s seven-issue comic story. It’s like Avengers-Lite. The movie poses the question - should the Avengers be licensed and overseen by the UN? Tony Stark says yes, Steve Rogers says no. This, among other elements, creates friction and eventually fractures in the team and everyone’s friendships. The film introduces Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Ant-Man to the original team. I’ll watch this each and every time I see it on TV.
9 - Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
This is a fun movie. As I stated earlier, Tom Holland is a perfect Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He navigates the choppy waters of high school life with the challenges of being a superhero, all while trying to keep his secret safe and pining for his crush. Michael Keaton as the Vulture absolutely steals the film. Overall, it’s a really really entertaining movie. Jacob Balaton as Ned, Peter’s best friend, is great, as is Zendaya as MJ.
8 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
This is by far the best Captain America film. It’s akin to a 1970s political thriller. There is so much to unpack here, but absolutely none of it gets convoluted. The film has Black Widow working with Cap, introduces Sam Wilson as Falcon, and has a great antagonist in Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier. Throw in Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and you have yourself a fantastic film.
7 - Iron Man (2008)
People tend to forget, but this was a gamble by Marvel back in the late 2000s. They were putting the weight of their emerging Universe on the back of a character who wasn’t even their most popular or famous. Tony Stark was regarded as a cheap ripoff of DC’s Bruce Wayne/Batman - a rich person with no discernable or remarkable abilities. However, this film took off like a rocket and propelled the MCU into a juggernaut (no pun intended). Robert Downey Jr was absolutely perfectly cast as Tony Stark. Remember, RDJ was regarded as a has-been, an alcoholic and a druggie, a multiple-time rehab loser. Iron Man served as his personal and professional renaissance. The film may seem quaint now, but it was a great kickoff to an amazing series of films.
6 - Black Panther (2018)
Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, T’Challa, was introduced in Civil War, but he really demonstrates that Black Panther can stand on his own without everyone else in the MCU. The film was a testament to this. While it follows some origin-story tropes, the movie was a cultural event. It was carefully written, adeptly directed, wonderfully acted, and it just felt important. Because it was. The wait was well worth it, and the movie was a monster success.
5 - Captain Marvel (2019)
Ok, this movie was great. It had great actors/characters, a very well-written script, awesome set pieces, and the soundtrack was phenomenal. Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, the titular Captain Marvel, is a necessary addition to the MCU. She is the most powerful superhero and needed to secure a win over Thanos later on. This is on par with Black Panther as a fantastic origin story. It’s also another culturally important film.
4 - Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The first half of the big payoff, building since 2008. This one is a gut-punch, proving that all satisfying movies need not have a happy ending. The whole movie is emotionally draining, and it’s a great start to the end of 11 years of storytelling. It really feels like Thanos’s movie, serving to explain his actions.
3 - Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Holy fuck, this is easily the most fun and most entertaining film in the entire franchise. It has everything and everyone - Thor, Hulk, Loki, the Grandmaster, Hela, and Valkryie. Taika Waititi directed it with a deft touch, balancing humor and action along with great characterization. Easily the best of the Thor films, this is such a great rollercoaster ride that you’ll want to watch it twice in a row. It’s so damn good.
2 - Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The payoff. The absolute end of 11 years of storytelling and filmmaking. If you haven’t seen it by now, you’re an idiot. It is satisfying on every level. Every beat of this film is measured perfectly. It has a gravitas not seen in any of the previous films in the franchise. Watch it. Watch it now. Or watch it again. Just watch it.
1 - Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
Could this movie work? Could this many superheroes share the screen without it being either overwhelming or watered down? People genuinely didn’t know if this ensemble could work or not. The end result was, of course, a massive success. Marvel gambled, and Marvel won big time. In addition to it being an incredibly satisfying movie, the MCU finally found its Hulk in Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo brought a certain insecurity to Bruce Banner and palpable anger to his Hulk. The whole movie is one big payoff. I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, but on the really small off-chance you haven’t, get off your dumb ass and watch.
So there you have it, the definitive ranking of the MCU films. You never need to read another ranking of them again. This is the be-all, end-all of MCU rankings. Go get Funyuns and watch them all again.