Marvel Movies Ranked: The Best and Worst MCU Films

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marvel-movies-ranked:-the-best-and-worst-mcu-films

This article contains spoilers for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We haven’t seen the back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In amongst all the chatter about superhero movie fatigue, Marvel Studios continues to build out two brand-new phases. From The Marvels to Captain America: Brave New World, Thunderbolts, Deadpool 3, Secret Wars and beyond, we reckon there are loads of blockbuster opportunities for Marvel in the future – and there’s certainly plenty more gas in the storytelling tank, with decades of Marvel Comics stories yet to be explored.

But today, we’re taking a look back at everything that came before. The MCU now consists of 32(!) big budget movies, and we’re ranking all of them. Now, let’s start counting down to the very best the MCU has to offer…

Marvel's Thor: The Dark World (2013) Loki (Tom Hiddleston)

32. Thor: The Dark World 

Ah, the wasted potential of this one. Thor: The Dark World made some good decisions, notably in how much of the action it set in an appropriately comic book-y version of Asgard and its use of a villain (Malekith the Accursed, played by Christopher Eccleston) from Walt Simonson’s all-time great Marvel Comics run. There are shadows of what this movie could have been peeking through, but ultimately it feels a little forgettable after Thor’s triumphant turn in the previous year’s Avengers. It’s a stepping stone to far greater things for this corner of the MCU, but that’s about all. 

Marvel's The Incredible Hulk (2008)

31. The Incredible Hulk 

The Incredible Hulk is virtually a forgotten MCU entry. The second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the first to hint at even wider connections to come in a profound way, with our first hints of Captain America and the super soldier serum, the connections to Tony Stark, and more. 

Star Ed Norton ultimately departed the role of Bruce Banner after this film (to be replaced by the now ubiquitous Mark Ruffalo), making it feel even more like a relic of another era. Still elements of this film did eventually become relevant again, with Tim Roth’s Abomination making a cameo in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Hulk mythology further explored on Disney+ within the She-Hulk series. While The Incredible Hulk may not be your favorite Marvel movie, it might be worth a revisit for the lore at least. 

Mickey Rourke as Ivan Hanko in Iron Man 2

30. Iron Man 2 

If Iron Man showed the potential of what the MCU could be, Iron Man 2 was a warning about the Marvel Method’s drawbacks. This sequel keeps much of the creative team which made a classic two years earlier, yet despite ostensibly being about Tony Stark dealing with the fallout of fame, the chaotic result seems more distracted by the need to set up other priorities. There’s Scarlett Johansson’s underdeveloped intro as Black Widow; an entirely superfluous subplot involving Nick Fury and SHIELD; and some empty Avengers Easter eggs. The finished patchwork leaves only time for Tony and his enemies to smile for the cameras. 

Thor: Love and Thunder

29.Thor: Love and Thunder

It doesn’t seem too long ago that the first trailer for Thor: Love and Thunder exploded onto the internet, thrilling MCU fans who were hyped to see Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi back at the helm of another adventure for the God of Thunder. But when the movie was eventually released back in 2022, the difference between a good trailer and a good movie had never been clearer.

Where Thor: Ragnarok had delicately balanced humor and pathos between its characters, Waititi had crafted Love and Thunder as a straight up wacky comedy, and the whole thing ended up being rather frivolous. Some fans felt that former Batman Christian Bale was wasted as the terrifying villain Gorr the God Butcher, but most could definitely agree that Natalie Portman deserved better. Still, we got Ted Lasso‘s Brett Goldstein as Hercules for about three seconds in a post-credits scene! Only time will tell if Marvel will waste him, too.

Paul Rudd and Karthryn Newton in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

28. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

The first film to be released under Marvel’s Phase 5 plans unfortunately put blood in the water for the MCU, especially at the box office.

It’s true, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has many problems. The visual effects aren’t quite up to standard, and the villain seems like he’s stuck in a much less light-hearted movie, but the main issue with the film is that it forgets what makes Ant-Man work. Scott Lang’s grounded, low stakes adventures are part of why the first two family-focused Ant-Man films are so rewatchable. Taking Scott out of his world and putting him in a strange quantum land where it’s hard to visualize how his size makes an impact on anything just turns this particular tale into something inherently forgettable and disposable.

Marvel's Eternals Team Shot

27. Eternals

Even before it was released into a sluggish pandemic box office landscape, Eternals had an uphill battle. Two and a half hours may sound like a long time, but when you consider the task of introducing ten new characters to the MCU not long after Endgame did such a good job reminding us of how much we love the ones we’ve already got, it’s not very long at all. Chloe Zhao does an admirable job with the time she is given, but inevitably the tale of a family of ancient superpowered individuals and their millennia-long struggle to kind humanity towards a more utopian future is only moderately successful. 

Ultron

26. Avengers: Age of Ultron 

Another sequel that appears to be a victim of its predecessor’s popularity, the second Avengers movie is a film divided against itself. Is it a grand adventure about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes fighting sentient A.I. or an origin for Vision and the Mind Stone? A stripped down sequel where the team loses its sci-fi toys or a setup for Thor: Ragnarok? It’s all those things and none of them. Ultimately, it’s just a lot of bloated noise where even the snappy Joss Whedon dialogue sounds flat. But hey, at least it teased Cap and Mjolnir.

Ant-Man and Wasp

25. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp is by no means a bad film. It’s a sequel packed with laughs and excellent character moments that explores what it’s like for often-sidelined characters like Scott Lang, Hope van Dyne, and Hank Pym to focus on the tiny dangers inside our realm while the Avengers are off trying to save the universe, but its arrival between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame shaped it into a frustrating MCU entry that didn’t do much to soothe the need to find some resolution in the larger Infinity Saga, so upon its release it was treated as quite a trifling effort.

Viewed as a fun Disney and Marvel caper that stresses the importance of never giving up on your family, your friends, or even your enemies, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a perfectly fine film to watch on a Saturday afternoon in your pajamas.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

24. Thor 

Can you believe that Thor was the first Marvel superhero to star in a fourth solo movie? Not even Iron Man did that. And it all started with the fourth entry in the then-young MCU and the franchise’s first full-blown foray into realms (nine of them to be exact) beyond this little blue ball we’re doing our best to destroy.

Thor isn’t a “great” film, but it has plenty of striking moments, introduces concepts like Asgard and alien technology being the basis for human mythology, and features knockout performances from breakout Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder himself. Marvel took one of its unlikeliest heroes seriously, and opened the doors for more to come.

Brie Larson as Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel

23. Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel came at a fairly inopportune time in the MCU. Wedged between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, this ‘90s-set story is a sojourn back to Marvel’s past to introduce an important character and establish some intergalactic lore. While the film, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, is a bit all over the place (seriously: it’s hard to recall many plot details without Wikipedia assistance), it’s hard to argue that the MCU isn’t a better place with Carol Danvers in it. The Tesseract-powered Captain Marvel is truly a force to be reckoned with. 

Doctor Strange

22. Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is a tale of two movies. The first is a simple superhero origin story, in which an arrogant goateed rich man is humbled by a traumatic injury and decides to use his superior intellect to enrich the world rather than just himself. Sound a bit like another Marvel origin story? Yeah, that’s kind of the problem with the first half of Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange. The second half, however, is a revelation. Once Stephen Strange is fully entrenched as the Sorcerer Supreme this film becomes a thrilling kaleidoscope of fracturing realities, culminating in one of Marvel’s most creative boss battles.

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in Black Widow

21. Black Widow

It came way too late (10 years after Natasha Romanoff’s introduction in Iron Man 2), but when Black Widow’s standalone finally arrived, it was worth it. Cate Shortland’s funny, family espionage actioner was a new flavor for Marvel and it gave Nat the send off she deserved.

Florence Pugh as Yelena, Nat’s estranged little sister made a welcome addition to the MCU and her sparring and banter with Scarlett Johansson’s Nat was electric as the two join forces with parental figures Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz) to take down one of the franchises most despicable baddies, a man so resolute in his hatred of women he tortures his own daughter. Ok, things fall from the sky at the end, and ok, Ray Winstone does not nail a Russian accent, but Black Widow is a brilliant all-rounder: an action-packed, character-driven romp with a feminine touch.

Yellowjacket

20. Ant-Man

The Ant-Man films never seem to be very high up on your average Marvel fan’s list of favorites, and they haven’t achieved the kind of box office domination that Iron Man and Captain America have with their solo efforts, but they persevere regardless because they fully embrace one key factor that most other MCU installments don’t: they really are family movies.

This wholesome Paul Rudd-led caper, which follows ex-con Scott Lang’s attempts to be a better father to his daughter Cassie, is super lighthearted and just good old-fashioned fun for all ages, and Rudd is effortlessly charming in Ant-Man as the redemption-seeking Lang, who rather accidentally becomes a problem-solving superhero that other, wiser minds discover they actually need in their lives. Lang’s personal troubles are nearly always rooted in the real world, and he stays grounded even when the universe throws its wildest concepts at him. Simply put: Lang is one of us, and we’re always delighted to see him. 

Robert Downey Jr In Marvel's Iron Man 3

19. Iron Man 3

Nearly a decade after its release, Iron Man 3 continues to be the most divisive movie the MCU has to offer, so it’s not surprising to find it in the middle of this ranking: you generally either love it or hate it! Following the disappointment that was Iron Man 2, Jon Favreau had departed as the franchise’s director, and Shane Black was brought in to write and helm Tony Stark’s third movie, deciding to make a character-centric action flick using bits from Warren Ellis’s “Extremis” comic book arc.

Re-teaming with his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director, Robert Downey Jr. seemed to be in his element here and took the character of Tony Stark to unexpected places. But that infamous Mandarin reveal was unacceptable to some, and Iron Man 3 is still viewed by many as an MCU mis-step. 

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

18. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Not nearly as divisive as Iron Man 3 but still pretty darn divisive was 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness! After changing directors and bringing on board a new writer (and villain) the sequel to Doctor Strange kinda feels like it came along a little late in the day and perhaps missed its window in the superhero zeitgeist.

With six long years between the first Sorcerer Supreme movie and the next, it did seem a little odd that Stephen was still stuck on his old girlfriend, and though he’d learned plenty during the ensemble events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, you get the sense that we lost some crucial time with the MCU’s primary wizard that could have paved the way for an interesting multiversal story for him that didn’t just revolve around Scarlet Witch’s latest meltdown. And it certainly didn’t help that the multiverse just…wasn’t that mad. But in the end, it’s hard to be too bent out of shape while watching a fun Sam Raimi joint!

Shuri in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

17. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

After the death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, Marvel and director Ryan Coogler decided to continue making a sequel without recasting T’Challa. Focusing on how Wakanda forges on in the wake of T’Challa’s passing, Shuri (Letitia Wright) takes center stage as the sovereign nation comes under attack by those who sense weakness in its global standing.

There’s a hole at the heart of Wakanda Forever, one that Coogler and co. were not able to fill in their grief. Boseman’s star was just too bright, and his death casts a shadow over both the emotional story of the sequel and our natural response to it. The film is filled with incredible visuals, art, and performances, but like us, it just misses Boseman too damn much.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

16. Spider-Man: Homecoming 

Marvel Studios finally nailed the intangible element that no other Spider-Man movie had managed to capture: Peter Parker and his friends are teenagers. The triumph of Spider-Man: Homecoming is just as much about what a perfect supporting cast that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is surrounded with, a style of light humor that feels perfectly suited to high schoolers, and some authentic New York City flavor.

Bolstered further by Michael Keaton’s menacing Adrian Toomes, one of the best villains the MCU has ever produced, you can almost forget that Homecoming has the added bonus of Robert Downey Jr. showing up as Tony Stark to help show Peter the ropes. Iron Man is a welcome addition to the proceedings, but ultimately, this is a movie that shines in its smaller, more “friendly neighborhood” moments.

Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

It’s a common criticism to say Marvel movies all look and play the same. Neither of which could be further from the truth when watching James Gunn’s visually dazzling and emotionally layered sequel. Indeed, the MCU never looked cooler than in cinematographer Henry Braham’s bizarre detours through the galaxy, nor has it seemed more personal than in Gunn’s diorama of parent and adult child dysfunction. The movie’s melancholic core about the death of bad parents provides the MCU with its most cathartic ending, and also sets up Nebula and Gamora to steal Avengers movies from the Avengers. 

Spider-Man: Far From Home

14. Spider-Man: Far From Home

The MCU’s Spider-Man has always been a bit too big-scale to be our “friendly neighborhood” anything, but the franchise’s depiction of Peter Parker has shone best when he’s just being a kid. While not every high schooler is lucky enough to travel across Europe with their classmates, most of us have been on a field trip, which makes Far From Home’s pairing of high-stakes superhero shenanigans and a class trip so ingenious. Far From Home strikes the perfect post-Endgame tone, melding Peter’s grief over losing Tony and his clash with Quentin Beck with a lighter exploration of teen romance and friendship. Throw in a game-changing ending, and you have the perfect film to close out Phase 3. 

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger

13. Captain America: The First Avenger 

It seems that Captain America: The First Avenger has seen something of a renaissance with fans in recent years. Maybe it’s because of how beautifully Avengers: Endgame put a cap on the Steve Rogers/Peggy Carter romance which was seeded in this film. Or maybe it’s just because folks have finally realized that this film’s first half is as perfect a superhero origin story you’re ever likely to see, encapsulating all of the elements of Cap’s golden age adventures with a nostalgic, high-adventure flavor reminiscent of the Indiana Jones flicks. Charming, unpretentious, and good fun (just like Steve Rogers!) The First Avenger gives little indication of just how far the MCU will take its title character, and feels more essential now that you know how his story ends.

Tom Holland and Zendaya in Spider-Man No Way Home

12. Spider-Man: No Way Home 

Yes, Spider-Man: No Way Home leaned into fan service perhaps more than any other MCU installment before it. But by bringing the current Peter Parker (Tom Holland) into the multiverse to team up with the Spideys played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, No Way Home both acknowledged Marvel’s fractured past as a film franchise while giving those versions of the character — not to mention several of their villains — a proper coda to their own studio-abandoned stories. As for Holland, he gave what may be one of the best superhero movie performances of all time — in a different world, he’d have easily been up for an Oscar.

Simu Liu in Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

11. Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings

It’s amazing the difference a good villain can make. While the MCU doesn’t have “a villain problem” in the way it used to, Black Widow proved that Phase 4 isn’t above making redundant (e.g. boring) superhero movies. But not on Tony Leung’s watch. The Hong Kong cinema legend came into the MCU and made portraying a supervillain look easy, bringing complexity to his portrayal of Ten Rings leader and Shang-Chi’s father Wenwu. Throw in some of the MCU’s best fight choreography in years and an exploration of Chinese diaspora, and you’ve got the best MCU solo film since 2018’s Black Panther

The Avengers (2012) Cast

10. The Avengers 

They said it couldn’t be done. But Marvel carefully laid the groundwork with five previous movies, culminating in this groundbreaking and truly spectacular team-up: a rip-roaring, character-driven adventure that brought 50 years of comic book dreams to the screen. Say what you will about whatever Joss Whedon is, but his innate knowledge of the comics and clever writing, combined with Marvel’s confidence in the idea and an all-star cast that fully committed to the material, took the MCU to a whole new level and proved that audiences would come along for the ride if they believed in where you were taking them. The Avengers did just that and changed the game forever.

Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy 3

9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 marked a perfect end to James Gunn’s MCU trilogy before he moved on to transform the DC universe. Not only does it give us one of the most hateable supervillains of all time in High Evolutionary, it gives each of the Guardians the send-off they deserve.

We could never have predicted how emotionally devastating it would be to have to say goodbye to a team that initially seemed quite ridiculous all those years ago. (A talking raccoon and a tree? Nonsense!) But Gunn pulls out all the stops as he makes his way to the end of the line for Rocket, Peter, Nebula, and the rest of our faves, telling a thoughtful trilogy of tales through the lens of a found family. Sniff.

Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man

8. Iron Man 

Without Iron Man, there would be no MCU. It’s an easy observation to make. Perhaps a more interesting consideration, then, is to realize that without the MCU, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man would still stand on its own as a grand cinematic adventure. More so, even. Divorced from the formula which would smooth and smother the edges of other successors, Favreau made wild choices—none bigger than casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.

Anchored by Downey’s incorrigible delight at being the leading man again, there’s a giddy screwball energy to the way the actors play off one another here, and how Downey elevates the material with a human touch. In retrospect, it’s still refreshing. 

Guardians of the Galaxy

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy marks the beginning of what could be called Marvel’s “Running Up the Score” period. At this point in the studio’s history it already had successful films built around its A-list characters and was readying the second Avengers team-up effort, Age of Ultron. What better time to tap horror auteur James Gunn to tell a space-faring adventure about some Marvel comic nobodies? This teamup origin story featuring Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and more brings a beautiful and much-needed Han Solo energy to the beginning Marvel’s outer space era.

Avengers: Infinity War Heroes

6. Avengers: Infinity War

Though Avengers: Endgame stormed into theaters a year after Avengers: Infinity War’s release and undid a lot of its downbeat story elements, it’s hard to forget that feeling of sitting in the dark in complete shock as the credits rolled on Infinity War knowing that, for once, an MCU villain had been triumphant and killed off so many Marvel superheroes (and half the universe) with a simple snap of his fingers.

Essentially, the blockbuster is simply a matter of watching people you already like arrive in a string of scenes for over two and a half hours, but that doesn’t make the process any less enjoyable, and that end battle against Thanos and his hordes could have been ripped straight from an Avengers event comic. From the death of Vision, to our heroes’ feeble attempts to thwart the Mad Titan, to the shocking demise of Black Panther, Spider-Man et al, Infinity War unveils an end sequence like no other. It’s still a punch in the gut even now, and it’s hard not to hit play on Endgame straight afterwards as a kind of tonic for your grief.

Falcon and Winter Soldier in Captain America: Civil War

5. Captain America: Civil War 

Often less of a Captain America movie than Avengers 2.5, Captain America: Civil War asks you to pick a side between two of the most popular characters in comic book history and it makes valid points for choosing either, as Tony Stark collects together a found family of superheroes only for co-parent Steve Rogers to be torn between making it “Sokovia Accords official” or betray his values and the only brother he ever really knew. Marvel’s first Phase 3 film boasts a character roster the likes of which a normal action movie would struggle with, but returning Winter Soldier directors the Russo brothers make it all look easy, and even throw the MCU introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man into the mix.

More than a rehearsal for their Infinity War and Endgame double bill, Civil War makes you watch a family of beloved but broken individuals disintegrate before your very eyes while Daniel Brühl’s villainous Helmut Zemo views the brawl passively from the sidelines, knowing that whoever loses will ultimately make him the winner. 

Chadwick Boseman as Marvel's Black Panther

4. Black Panther 

Black Panther is the only Marvel movie to be nominated for Best Picture. That kind of intense recognition both spotlights and obscures its cultural relevance. The first (overdue) Marvel movie to be led by a Black superhero was immediately celebrated for elevating often marginalized voices. But what Ryan Coogler, Chadwick Boseman, and company did with that voice is where it truly transcends.

Disguised as a superhero movie, Black Panther presents a global allegory about the legacy of African diaspora, and a comic book drama where the supervillain’s motivations are painfully righteous. When brought to life by a kinetic cast, it becomes one of the best movies of its genre.

Chris Evans in Avengers: Endgame.

3. Avengers: Endgame 

It was one of the most highly anticipated films of all time, and it delivered on that promise — and more than 20 films’ worth of epic world-building and storytelling — in ways that make it easy to see why it became the second-highest grossing movie of all time. The finale to Marvel’s Infinity Saga didn’t just resolve the cliffhanger at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, but it concluded the journeys of several characters, including Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow, whom the world had grown to love over the previous 11 years. Full of warmth, huge fan and character moments, and an irresistible energy that made it soar through its three hours, Endgame was a worthy capstone to the MCU’s first decade.

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Winter Soldier did what Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World could not: improve on its predecessor. It helps that The First Avenger has such a game-changing ending. Steve wakes up after 70 years in the ice to find the world he once knew gone. In The Winter Soldier, he must grieve that incalculable loss while at the same time figure out how best to be a hero—processes he begins in 2012’s The Avengers but that get much more narrative space here.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely brilliantly blend Steve’s individual journey with elements of the spy thriller genre to ask thematically rich questions about the failure of corrupt institutions and the elasticity of patriotism. There have been plenty of entertaining MCU installments; The Winter Soldier is the rare superhero movie that has something deeper to say about our world and the nature of power in it.

Chris Hemsworth in Thor:Ragnarok

1. Thor: Ragnarok

In the best Marvel movies, “Marvel” isn’t just the name of the studio but a stern command. No superhero movie inhabits Marvel’s desire for its films to be, well…marveled than Thor: Ragnarok. This third installment in the Thor series completely reinvigorated Chris Hemsworth’s title character and the MCU overall at the time of its release.

As directed by the now-divisive Taika Waititi, this is a heavy metal album cover of a film fit-to-bursting with bright colors, hilarious gags, and thrilling action set pieces that make you feel like you could pick up Mjölnir, yourself. This is superhero storytelling at its most reckless, fun, and free.

The post Marvel Movies Ranked: The Best and Worst MCU Films appeared first on Den of Geek.

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