I was only nine when Iron Man released back in 2008, and even back then I knew that it was the start of something special. Throughout the last decade, I’ve gone to pretty much every single Marvel Cinematic Universe movie on opening weekend if not opening night. I love these movies, and I grew up with them so it’s an interesting feeling knowing that Avengers: Infinity War is only a little over a month away. Infinity War, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, marks the culmination of everything Marvel Studios has been putting together over the last decade so I thought it would be nice to look back and rank all eighteen films. This is purely my opinion and could even change going forward. I will probably update this article next year when the untitled Avengers 4 releases.
Alright, let’s do this!
18. Thor: The Dark World
While Chris Hemsworth’s Thor himself is fine at best in this movie and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki steals the spotlight as always, my main issue with The Dark World is the villain. The only reason I know the villain’s name is that I’ve looked it up so many times that it’s just engraved in my memory now. Yeah, Malekith sucks. 90% of the movie is forgettable and the other 10% is only relevant because the far better Thor: Ragnarok jokingly references it. This was a pretty clear last place for me, but I’d still give it a passing 6/10. It has some fun popcorn entertainment and again, Loki so there’s that.
17. Avengers: Age of Ultron
I feel bad for Joss Whedon, but I’m putting this near the bottom of the list anyways because that’s where it belongs. This is a prime example of what I’m afraid of for Infinity War – too many characters and subplots. This is packed to the brim with new heroes, romantic plotlines, and clear, blatant setups for future films. It’s no secret that Whedon faced considerable pressure from the studio to one-up everything that came before, but sometimes bigger isn’t necessarily better. However, the film has some awesome moments including an incredible battle between The Hulk and Iron Man wearing the Hulkbuster suit. It’s a mess of a movie, but it’s overall a fine mess.
16. Iron Man 2
I think Iron Man 2 gets way too much hate. It’s definitely not as good as the first film, but director Jon Favreau at least makes a contained movie with a good character arc for Tony Stark. This movie came out when Marvel was really trying to sell us this Avengers concept so there are scenes in here that are explicitly for setup (like a whole subplot with Nick Fury claiming Tony Stark isn’t worth being a part of the Avengers initiative).
15. The Incredible Hulk
Don’t get me wrong, Mark Ruffalo is way better as The Hulk, but I think Edward Norton did a pretty good job and this film is underrated. Most people forget it happened because the only thread that came from this movie in the grander MCU story was Thunderbolt Ross, who comes back in Civil War. However, The Incredible Hulk works as a standalone story about a man with serious anger issues, and Norton plays Bruce Banner with a distinct persona.
Shakespeare meets magic in this Marvel entry. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Thor follows the origin of the God of Thunder as her earns his right to use his hammer. I like this movie more than most people because I really like fish-out-of-water stories since they make for compelling character arcs. As with it’s successor, Loki is the highlight and his arc realizing his whole life is a lie is fantastic. The first Thor was a Shakespearean tale of two brothers fighting for their father’s attention, which makes a story about gods fairly relatable. However, the film’s third act is probably the biggest drag in the MCU. The Destroyer is just a giant CGI thing like many other generic villains, and the final battle did nothing to impress me.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Director James Gunn had a tough task after 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy unexpectedly garnered both critical praise and box office glory. Most people who loved the first movie enjoyed Gunn’s sense of humor and found the wacky superhero tale refreshing in a world where these things release like every other month. It made sense that the sequel doubled down on the jokes, but in doing so, it averted the risk of telling an emotional story. This could have easily been the best MCU movie if every emotional scene wasn’t cut off by a joke. The story dealt with Peter Quill’s dad, someone who Peter spent a lot of time talking about in the first film. This opens the door for plenty of conflicts, but instead it’s ultimately played off for humor. I really like this movie, but Marvel’s decision to not take major storytelling risks keeps me from absolutely loving it.
12. Iron Man 3
This is another MCU film I like more than most people. I’ll defend Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 – it strips Tony of his armor and reminds us why he earns the suit. In Spider-Man Homecoming, Tony claims that if you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it. He definitely earns the right to say that in this movie. The film also touches on how demons from the past can haunt you and puts Tony through an emotional journey of self-discovery. Sometimes, when you’re in an all-powerful suit of armor, you tend to forget that you yourself are human, and Iron Man 3 shines a spotlight on the man behind the armor after he’s practically permanently bonded with it (he injects himself with tech to control his armor at will). I know people have issues with The Mandarin bait-and-switch at the midpoint of the film, and I agree so that’s why I’m not putting this higher up on the list. Like GotG Vol. 2 did years later, Iron Man 3 plays off a menacing villain ultimately for jokes. However, it opens with Eiffel 65’s Blue, a great choice to represent 1999 in a flashback.
On paper, this is the dumbest idea Marvel has done. A guy shrinks… and he’s gonna save everyone… yeah right. Director Petyon Reed clearly understands the absurdity of the situation and uses the concept as an asset for well-timed humor. I’d say this is Marvel’s first full-on comedy, and Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang makes for the perfect protagonist. If there was an award for funniest superhero with the best supporting crew, Ant-Man would take it. My big problem with Ant-Man is the villain again, but that’s the case with most MCU movies. However, compared to other Marvel movies, at least Ant-Man scales down (see what I did there) the universe. Scott references The Avengers multiple times saying that this is a job for them, but Michael Douglass’s Hank Pym argues that someone like Tony Stark cannot solve this. This makes Ant-Man actually have a reason to exist in this massive world of gods and Hulks. There’s a big scene in which he fights the Falcon, but that’s about it.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
Star-spangled action headlines this patriotic flick. Joe Johnston’s take on the famous superhero is full of gold-ol’ fashioned Allies punching Nazis. Chris Evans is as likable as it gets, and reminds us why Steve Rogers is the perfect American leader. While the Red Skull doesn’t provide much new territory for Marvel villains, Hugo Weaving clearly had fun playing him and his character really is just a punchable Nazi. Captain America: The First Avenger is Marvel’s love letter to the 1940s, a time when the lines between good and evil seemed evil. This sets up Cap’s future arc in Winter Soldier all the more compelling he starts to see that not everything is so black and white.
9. Doctor Strange
Man, this movie trips hard. Imagine Inception made a baby with Iron Man and that’s what you get. Benedict Cumberbatch shines as Dr. Stephen Strange, but his performance is rounded out with a phenomenal supporting cast including Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, and Mads Mikkelsen. This is easily Marvel’s most visually stunning movie in the bunch, combining enchanting spells with cities folding in on themselves. While it has a fairly predictable plot reminiscent of most Marvel movies, the MCU formula works here thanks to horror director Scott Derrikson’s clear passion for the film. While Dr. Strange and his supporting heroes are given a lot to do, Mads Mikkelsen’s villain (who I had to repeatedly look up the name for – Kaecilius) is one of the more bland entries into the Marvel villain roster.
8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Alright, now we’re getting into the pretty good ones. Top 8, quarter finals people, it’s game time. Spider-Man: Homecoming brings Spidey back to the MCU in the best way possible – he’s actually a kid this time. After the events of Civil War, Peter Parker is back to being your average high schooler, but he’s still riding the high of being a superhero. He loves the job and wants to be an Avenger just like his new mentor, Tony Stark. Tom Holland is clearly having fun with this role of a lifetime. This movie is part superhero and part John Hughes with clear references to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club. I think this film cracked the code going forward – do the superhero thing, but mix it with another genre and you’ll be fine. It’s tough to make the sixth Spider-Man film and third rendition in 15 years refreshing, but director John Watts pulled off just that.
7. Black Panther
The most recent film in the MCU, Black Panther was showered with both critical and financial success, and it deserves it. At its core, the film is a family drama about acceptance and shielding yourself off from the rest of the world. In that sense, it answers what it means to truly be a hero. Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa is unlike no other MCU character since he’s a king with almost unlimited power in his area. However, like Iron Man, we see him stripped of his power and he has to earn his right as the protector of his nation. Black Panther also has one of the best MCU villains ever in Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. Jordan is the most interesting character in the film, and the only reason I’m not putting Black Panther higher up is that I wished they could have fleshed his character out more. Instead, the film reels us in with Andy Serkis’s Ulysses Klaw, who was in my opinion the most confusing character in Age of Ultron. Also, some of the CGI in the film is some of the worst in any Marvel movie (I’m talking about that train scene). I won’t really hold that against the film, but it’s worth pointing out. Regardless, Black Panther is still one of the smartest superhero films to date.
6. Captain America: Civil War
Alright, now we’re getting to the amazing ones. I personally think these next six movies are almost perfect in every way. Feel free to disagree by commenting below, but I’m standing my ground here. I was a little worried when this film was announced because I thought that there’s no way Marvel can tell the famous Civil War storyline as a Captain America film. I was wrong. Somehow, Marvel created the superhero showdown we’ve all been waiting for and managed to simultaneously make a contained Captain America storyline. While this sometimes screams Avengers 2.5, it never fails to remind us that we’re watching a personal story between Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Bucky Barnes. The Russo brothers play with the central ideological conflict between Cap and Iron Man and raise serious questions about government intrusion in the midst of reckless actions. It also introduced us to both Black Panther and Spider-Man with ease.
5. Iron Man
Finally, the film that started it all. Iron Man redefined what we thought superhero films can be by introducing a wildly charismatic Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Downey Jr. has since become the face of the MCU, and it’s all because of this. Talk about perfect casting, they really got the whole character of Stark down. Directed by Jon Favreau, Iron Man is more than an incredible ride of fun, it’s a great story about modern day terrorism and the risks that come with weaponizable technology. Throughout the film, Tony goes through a fully realized character arc and basically becomes a completely changed person by the end of the film. I think Iron Man is the second best character piece of the MCU behind Winter Soldier, but we’ll talk more about that later.
4. The Avengers
“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people so that they can fight the battles that we never could.” These were Nick Fury’s words in Marvel’s ultimate powerhouse film at the time. This was everything Marvel had built to, and it was mindblowing for audiences everywhere to see the various dynamics between Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. Joss Whedon did a fantastic job dealing with a huge ensemble cast by giving each character their own reasons to be in the team.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Who would have thought that a movie based on a comic book that barely anyone read would be good? What if I told you it had starred a talking raccoon and a sentient tree? If you’re still not on board, I don’t blame you since Guardians of the Galaxy was easily Marvel’s biggest risk. Little known director James Gunn hadn’t really done much to wow audiences in the past (Scooby-Doo wasn’t anything special), but man he knocked it out of the park with this one. Everyone shines in this film, and while the villain isn’t the greatest, the heroes are phenomenal. Every character adds a unique dynamic to the team, and the film ultimately becomes a funnier Avengers in space. Guardians is also a more personal story than The Avengers and dives deep into every character’s motivations. Chris Pratt excels as Star-Lord, but the rest of the cast also bring their A game. The film also features one of the best song lists I’ve ever seen in a film.
2. Thor: Ragnarok
“That’s what heroes do.” This line from Thor in the beginning of the film about sums up why I love this movie. Thor: Ragnarok is unabashedly a Taika Waititi comedy with the right amount of Jeff Goldblum mixed in. After the first two Thor films were rather dull and formulaic at best, Marvel needed to take a whole new direction, and boy does it. Director Taika Waititi understands that this character is really weird on paper and deconstructs the God of Thunder in a way that makes him earn the superhero title. This is especially interesting riding off of two previous installments and two Avengers films. Moreover, Ragnarok has the best version of the Hulk so far. Mark Ruffalo actually talks this time as the mean green fighting machine, and his performance is both hilarious and at times heartbreaking. However, no one steals the spotlight quite like Jeff Goldblum does. He’s one of my favorite MCU performances so far as The Grandmaster, an ancient seductive weirdo with the most Goldblum-y Goldblum-isms ever. Overall, the film is pure, wacky comic book awesomeness at its finest.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It’s a bold choice, but I’m going with it. Captain America: The Winter Soldier stands taller than the rest of the MCU thanks to its personal story and relevant themes. The film elevates the source material by evolving Steve Rogers as a character. They can’t keep making jokes that he’s old anymore. Chris Evans’s Cap is modern and up to date with culture. This means that the film had have a grittier tone than the rest. I think I saw that pretty clearly when Cap straight up kicks a guy off a ship. At that point, I was like WOAH this is not your average Marvel movie. It also features the best villains other than Loki in my opinion with both Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon shines as the newcomer and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is better than ever. Moreover, I don’t really view this as a superhero movie as much as I do a political thriller. The film delves into deep current topics such as surveillance and counter-terrorism preventive measures. Everything about this film is perfect in my opinion, and that’s why I’m putting it at #1. It’s the only film in the MCU I can confidently say gets a 10/10 in my books.
So that’s my ranking of all 18 MCU films so far! What do you think about this list? Would you change anything? Feel free to let me know in the comments section below!
Also, if you like this, feel free to check out what we think about streaming might by ruining Hollywood. Thanks!