Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best
In the mid-2000s Marvel was in trouble. Comics were a thing of the past and superhero movies were at a crossroads. Rights were scattered across a number of different studios making it difficult to wrangle any of these heroes into a single franchise. Then Marvel Studios had the crazy idea to attempt to bring some of what were then considered B-list heroes under one roof to launch a new cinematic universe. It was unprecedented and no one thought it would work—especially by anchoring this massive undertaking with a nobody like Iron Man. But, the Robert Downey Jr.-starring film was a hit, and history was made.
Having far surpassed other major franchises like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series, Marvel has reached the end of this era with the climactic Avengers: Endgame. And along the way, despite almost consistent box office victories, the quality of the movies have been uneven at best. Not all Marvel films are created equal. Here are the 21 films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ranked from worst to best.
22| Thor: The Dark World (2013)
When even Chris Hemsworth’s biceps aren’t enough to make a movie watchable, you know you’ve fucked up horribly.
21| Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Two years later, I still couldn’t tell you who Ultron is and what his age was. If there was any semblance of plot in this movie, memory of it has been pushed out of my brain in favor of about 30 billion superheroes hitting each other until I felt like I’d just gotten off a mildly dangerous carnival ride.
20| The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Remember when Edward Norton was the Hulk and then very suddenly not? Yeah, I still don’t remember what happened there? Was that ever explained? Is Norton okay?
19| Thor (2011)
A superhero movie posing as a cheap Lord of the Rings knockoff, Thor ended with a team of LARPERs fighting an empty CGI suit of armor.
18| Iron Man 2 (2010)
At one point Mickey Rourke, who is some sort of trashy Russian hacker, attacks a car race, which sounds like some shit that actually would happen in 2017.
17| Ant-Man (2015)
In one scene, Ant-Man shrinks down to a microscopic level and then Neil deGrasse Tyson ruins the movie magic by explaining how that’s not actually possible in science.
16| Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
It's sad that the idea of Captain America punching a Nazi would probably be controversial if this movie were released today. At least this movie harkens back to a time when good and evil seemed kinda clear.
15| Iron Man 3 (2013)
The best thing to say about Iron Man 3 is that it was a little bit better than Iron Man 2.
14| Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Sadly, what started as the best entry to the Marvel Universe quickly ruined a good thing by trying too hard to make it bigger and better in the subsequent sequel. What a very Marvel thing to do.
13| Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
I hope you like hearing the term "quantum." Ant-Man's second entry has so much nonsensical techno-babble that it makes Star Trek sound like Steinbeck. Compared to Avengers: Infinity War, which came out a month earlier, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a breezy, inconsequential entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that's a refreshing comedic detour in the franchise.
12| Doctor Strange (2016)
Don't worry if you were too stoned to follow Doctor Strange. The movie looks good enough to make up for its indecipherable plot.
11| Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
While the penultimate film in the Avengers title doesn't continue with the progress seen in other 2017 and 2018 Marvel titles, it does much better at balancing the dozens of moving parts than its predecessor. If only the greatest heroes in the universe were better at protecting these stupid stones. Maybe Thanos deserves to win...
10| Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Even though it falls into the familiar Marvel trap of a big, stupid ending, about two-thirds of Winter Soldier is a riskier and smarter entry into the MCU than most.
9| Captain Marvel (2019)
Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel deserved a better movie. Although, this film managed to rewrite 50 years of comic book history to give the character the place she deserved, Captain Marvel is too focused on finding its place in the MCU films before and after it to really shine as a stand-alone movie.
8| Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
In a refreshing change of pace, Marvel turns a Spider-Man movie into a funny teen drama that gives the supporting characters a chance to feel alive. The biggest accomplishment here, though, is making the sixth Spider-Man movie (with the third actor to play Peter Parker) in 15 years somehow not suck.
7| The Avengers (2012)
The idea seemed doomed. How could Marvel put so many stars, so many heroes into one film? How could they pull off the balancing act of an interconnected universe consisting of a half dozen blockbuster films and fit them into one movie? Though a touch uneven and dizzying, Marvel pulled off one of the most impressive and ambitious feats in the big movie business.
6| Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Though the stakes remain low in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—particularly low because of lazy plot devices—Endgame does its best to create emotional conclusions for some of the most iconic heroes of the last decade. It might be much of what fans expected from this movie, and what we've come to see from Marvel, but it brilliantly wraps up 10 years of movies and takes the time to actually focus on its characters.
5| Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Where previous entries felt stuffed to the brim, overwhelming, and just plain messy, Marvel finally found a good balance of the number of superheroes-to-story ratio. Even with appearances from literally everyone—and an introduction to the new Spider-Man—Civil Warstill somehow feels like a Captain America movie.
4| Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
After two very bad Thor movies, director Taika Waititi somehow managed to not only save the franchise, but provide a promising formula for the next generation of Marvel movies. Thor: Ragnarok is a hilarious, exciting, and unexpected Marvel movie that stands out from every other film in the MCU, while proving to be one of the best big-budget blockbusters of 2017.
3| Iron Man (2008)
It’s the movie that started it all. Iron Man changed not only the superhero genre, but the movie industry as a whole. Plus, this was the movie that brought Robert Downey Jr. back, and the only Iron Man movie in which Tony Stark is a lovable asshole rather than just an asshole.
2| Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians has everything a Marvel movie should be: an awesome soundtrack, a hilarious script, a unique visual style, its own attitude, an ensemble of fully-developed characters, a talking tree, and the rare ability to stand-alone among the rest of the universe. Guardians is at once part of the MCU and literally in its own galaxy, yet it still provides the backbone for how all these worlds are connected. It’s proof that audiences are open to (slightly) new ideas, and don’t require something familiar and rehashed every time.
1| Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther is unlike any other Marvel movie, one that says something about our world in ways the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn't (despite their best intentions). Featuring a phenomenal collection of actors playing some of the most complex characters found in a superhero movie, Black Panther's pairing of Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan as bitter rivals results in a nuanced thematic conflict that puts most Marvel plot lines to shame. Most importantly: It's fun as hell, visually dazzling, and a refreshing addition to a film series that desperately needed a boost to keep it from becoming stale.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.