All MCU Movies from Worst to Best

May 10, 2023

Taken as a whole, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an undeniable achievement in cinema. It began with a simple idea, thrown in after the credits of the first, risky movie: “You’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.” That idea blossomed into movies that crossed over with each other, sometimes with incredible results and other times with diminishing returns.

We decided to look back at the films in the universe and rank them from worst to best. You will likely disagree with our rankings.

RELATED: How to Watch Marvel’s One-Shots: Where to Stream the MCU Short Films

32. Iron Man 2

If Nick Fury’s words to Tony Stark at the end of Iron Man were a confident declaration about the intentions to create the “Avengers Initiative”, then Iron Man 2 is tripping over your shoelaces and faceplanting.

Iron Man 2 suffers from trying to do too much in the span of one movie, and no one seems to agree on what needs to take priority. Yes, there needs to be some time given to setting up The Avengers, but Iron Man 2 does it awkwardly by introducing Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) but forgetting to give her a character. It tacks on the Coulson stuff, which is still a little stiff, but Clark Gregg does his best to make it work even though his dialogue may as well read: “Thor: Coming Next Summer!”

The Avengers stuff could be forgiven if the A-plot worked a little better, but like just about every Marvel movie, it suffers from a weak villain with lousy motivation. While Mickey Rourke definitely had some clout coming off The Wrestler, director Jon Favreau just got a campy performance out of the actor, who clearly thinks the material is beneath him, as opposed to Darren Aronofsky, who got the best performance of Rourke’s career.

This is to say nothing about Tony’s palladium poisoning and how it just so happens that his dad invented the one thing that could save his son’s life, built it decades before his son miniaturized it, and then hid the plans in a table. It makes you wonder if Howard Stark put any other revolutionary ideas in furniture.

The one consistently great aspect of Iron Man 2 is Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, and it makes sense considering he’s pretty much freed from the sinking ship of everything else going around him. He’s not caught up in Avengers business, he’s pretty much making fun of Rourke’s lackadaisical performance, and he gets to look good doing everything. But when an actor who doesn’t even get top billing is the one who steals the movie, something has gone amiss. — Matt Goldberg

31. Thor: The Dark World

Image via Marvel Studios

You can pinpoint the exact moment when Thor: The Dark World goes from being a slog to being a good movie. The entire movie picks up at Freya’s funeral (killing off a female character to give your male heroes motivation is a tired trope, but it’s a deeply flawed film), but it takes a while for the film to get there. First, you have to go through Sad Thor cleaning up the Nine Realms, unceremoniously ditching Hogun for some reason, Jane meandering around Earth, Loki trapped in a cell, and yet another dull Marvel villain who suffers from a dearth of personality.

But after Freya’s funeral and Loki getting sprung from captivity, the film takes off and finds its energy. Between Thor and Thor: The Dark World, it’s not enough to have just Thor or even Thor and Jane. You have to have the relationship between Thor and Loki because that’s where these movies get their power. Even after Loki “dies”, his presence is still felt as a driving force for Thor and the movie keeps up the energy it found in their relationship.

It’s also clear that what Thor movies need more than anything is a sense of humor. The first half is pretty remote and dour, but the second half finds a pulse and throws in plenty of jokes and memorable little moments that give the movie a personality. Yes, it can be a little slapstick in some regards, but Thor shouldn’t take itself so seriously. When the stakes are interdimensional, that’s about all the seriousness these movies can handle, and it’s better to let the God of Thunder just have some fun. — Matt Goldberg

30. The Incredible Hulk

Image via Universal Pictures

It’s almost unfair to include The Incredible Hulk on a list of MCU movies since it was clearly added to the Universe after the fact. There are a few second unit shots and additions to make it feel like it’s part of something bigger (like a quick glimpse of the “Stark Industries” logo), but it’s so clearly meant to stand on its own, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I’m not of the opinion that just because these movies are part of a shared universe they’re somehow lesser because they’re not actively sharing all the time.

The problem with Incredible Hulk is that it’s tonally so dissonant from the other movies, and it’s actually a bit of a downer. It’s a film that, when paired with Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, makes you wonder if the character can carry his own movie or if he needs to be paired with other superheroes to work to his full extent. Left to his own devices, you have a character who rejects his own superpower and feels ambivalent about it at best. You need other characters to draw it out as a force for good and to give the loner Bruce Banner a sense of belonging.

The Incredible Hulk is too early in the MCU to take advantage of this kind of dynamic, so it’s adrift, and as a result lacks the proper tone, voice, and attitude to quality as a proper Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Until William Hurt pops up in Civil War, it’s the only movie where its actors don’t appear in other Marvel movies. Edward Norton is acceptable as Banner, but Mark Ruffalo is so much better in a well-rounded version of the character. It seems like Marvel didn’t know what they had yet with Hulk, so everything is just slightly off-center.

That doesn’t make The Incredible Hulk a “bad” movie as much as it’s a painfully mediocre one that’s constantly trying to reconcile its tone and its lead character, and while it has yet to figure out the former, we’ve at least come to a good place with the latter. — Matt Goldberg

29. Doctor Strange

Image via Disney

Doctor Strange is a weird beast. It feels cobbled together in a way that it goes by the familiar beats of previous Marvel movies–notably Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy–but it also feels rote and uninteresting despite the trappings of putting its protagonist into a magical world. It seems like Marvel stuck close to a familiar playbook because they knew they were making a bit of a leap with “magic”, but when it came time to make that magic, it was fairly uninteresting.

I understand the difficulty Strange presents with magic because magic needs rules or else everything falls apart. That being said, the film leans far too heavily on the “cocky guy becomes a nicer guy” story Marvel has done before, and does so in a largely uninteresting way. Benedict Cumberbatch is fine in the title role, but there’s always a feeling of “been there, done that” with the movie even its eye-popping action scenes that feel either ripped from Jack Kirby or Inception on steroids.

The film’s greatest strength is in its thematic subtext where Strange’s arc is learning that he has to be okay with being broken. Although I think the film could have leaned a little more heavily into this, I still like that the climax of the movie is Strange–a man who has spent his life fighting death–embracing death in order to save mankind. Yes, the willingness to sacrifice one’s life is a standard part of MCU heroics, but Strange does it on overdrive, and it actually means something to the character’s arc.

But overall, Doctor Strange is largely disappointing. It wastes a terrific cast, features mostly uninteresting characters, and struggles to find the sense of whimsy of humor found in most other Marvel movies. Walking out of Doctor Strange was the first time I felt with a Marvel movie, “Yeah, I’m okay if we don’t get a sequel to this.” — Matt Goldberg

28. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Image via Marvel Studios

As far as visuals go, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is exciting and spooky, employing the skills of Sam Raimi and leaning into the horror of the premise did a lot for this movie. Adding to that Danny Elfman’s strong soundtrack, and a great performance from Elisabeth Olsen as Wanda/Scarlet Witch, it seems like Multiverse of Madness was poised to be another hit following up No Way Home. Unfortunately the problem with this sequel to Doctor Strange is that it feels very much like a vehicle toward the future of the MCU, rather than something that is embracing the moment that it is in. Jammed full of cameos, one of the scenes that they teased early on was the presence of an alternate universe Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), but the scene involving Professor X also brings with it the most cameo-heavy scene of the film. But instead of using these characters in any meaningful capacity, they are shown for the applause and excitement of the audience and then quickly and brutally killed off. Was that the one and only time we’ll see John Krasinski as Reed Richards? Probably.

Cameos aside the show narratively picks up after the events of both No Way Home but also of Wandavision. As one of the most thoughtful shows from Disney+, Wandavision was a deep exploration of grief and love and overcoming grief without losing that love. It gave us an incredibly nuanced performance not only from Olsen but also from Paul Bettany as Vision. The conclusion of the season was sad but felt like closure. Unfortunately, everything gets walked back in Multiverse of Madness. With her hands on the Darkhold, Wanda has fully become corrupted by it. She is willing to kill anyone, even children, in order to find a universe where her sons are alive and she can take them (even if it means taking them from another version of herself). It takes a fully dimensional character and flattens her into a villain. Given how well Marvel has treated villains who lean more into being an anti-hero, like Loki (Tom Hiddleston), it’s puzzling why Wanda lost that opportunity. There is no real redemption for her at the end of all of this. She dies, the ultimate penalty for her crimes, even if it is freed from the darkhold’s possession.

On top of all of this, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is all snark and sarcasm, and while this might have played well early in the MCU, after meeting so many snarky characters, Strange comes off more as an asshole than anything else. He doesn’t inspire heroics and instead it’s more up to his supporting characters like Wong (Benedict Wong) and America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) to pick up the slack. For what it’s worth, both Wong and Gomez are enjoyable and we appreciate the introduction of Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa. — Therese Lacson

27. Ant-Man

Image via Marvel Studios

When you consider that it had a rough pre-production, Ant-Man turned out far better than it could have. That being said, it still feels like a film that’s caught between two visions, and the vision it settled on is the less exciting of the two. That’s not trying to show favoritism towards Edgar Wright, and I’m eager to see what director Peyton Reed will do when he has full run of the show on Ant-Man and the Wasp, but his version of Ant-Man feels like it’s been stripped down to My First Heist Film.

It meets the genre requirements, but it meets them in such a simplistic way that it feels like the greatest achievement is so that Kevin Feige can point to Ant-Man as an example of saying “We don’t make superhero movies; we make heist movies,” and then compares Captain America: The Winter Soldier to a 70s political thriller even though it’s only like those movies in the loosest sense of the genre possible. It’s fairer to say that Ant-Man is a superhero movie through the lens of the heist genre, and once you’ve checked your expectations, it’s fairly enjoyable.

And yet (no pun intended), there’s a feeling that Ant-Man should go bigger. It has terrific stakes—a father wanting to earn his way back into his daughter’s life—and it’s a nice palette cleanser after the “Something big is going to drop from the sky” climaxes of the previous four MCU movies. And yet it doesn’t give us a particularly complex character with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is a nothing villain, and the Quantum Realm could have been a really exciting, psychedelic place, but instead it’s just a pretty kaleidoscope.

Thankfully, the movie ultimately hints at something grander just around the bend, and while the first Ant-Man may not achieve everything it wanted to, it succeeds as a minor Marvel film that still manages to charm despite some glaring shortcomings. — Matt Goldberg

26. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp is pretty much like the first Ant-Man in that it’s perfect for background viewing. It doesn’t really demand your full attention because it’s just a silly, goofy romp, and sometimes that’s more than okay. We don’t always need the world-ending stakes of an Avengers movie, and for its part, Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t even really have antagonists for the most part. It’s a caper movie where the Macguffin is a building, and then you have Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly bouncing off each other.

The flip side is that there’s nothing particularly memorable about the movie. Peyton Reed does a good job playing with the relative size of the characters and objects, and it’s a nice story about a family trying to reunite after 30 years apart. And yet for all the emotional stakes, it’s a film that also takes nothing, including itself, seriously. It’s like Thor: Ragnarok minus the impressive visuals–always going for the gag at the expense of everything else. There’s nothing really bad about the movie, and goofball comedies have their place, so this is one I won’t mind revisiting even if it will start disappearing from my memory the moment the credits roll. — Matt Goldberg

25. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Image via Marvel Studios

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is only slightly better than the other Ant-Man films on this list because of how it improves on concepts that the first two films only occasionally played around with. Director Peyton Reed’s third adventure with Scott Lang focuses far more on the relationship between Scott and his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) than the previous films, and plays more with the size-changing craziness than we’ve ever seen before. For quite a bit of Quantumania, it seems like this might be the realization of this concept’s true insanity, especially when the entire cast shrinks down and becomes trapped in the Quantum Realm. Previous Ant-Man films doled out the weirdness, but Quantumania looked like it might be the first film to completely give in to it.

Well, that is until Jonathan Majors comes along and completely steals the film, introducing the MCU to Kang the Conquerer, the next big bad for the foreseeable future of the MCU. Majors is excellent in Quantumania, and it’s hard to not get excited about what his involvement in this universe could mean for the next few phases. Yet Scott Lang’s adventure and Kang the Conquerer’s introduction both feel like they’re from two different films, crammed together for the sake of setting up future films. There’s a lovely story about a father and daughter finally ending up on common ground, it’s just a shame it comes in a film that has to do a ton of other set up as well. — Ross Bonaime

24. Black Widow

Image via Marvel Studios

I really wish this one was better. We waited so long for Black Widow to get her own movie, and it was too little, too late. The central problem is that because the movie arrived so late in the MCU that Natasha had already died in Avengers: Endgame, so a prequel story was already drained of stakes. To revisit Natasha’s family life felt like ceding ground rather than illuminating anything new about the character. If anything, it felt like Black Widow was kind of a backdoor pilot of sorts to introduce Yelena (Florence Pugh) rather than do justice to Natasha.

The saving grace here is that Pugh is so good as Yelena. The plot of Black Widow is whatever (the concept of liberating other women should feel more immediate, but within Black Widow it almost plays like an afterthought to everything else going on with the clumsy family dynamic the film is trying to manage), but when you’ve got Yelena bouncing off other character or kind of poking fun at the very concept of superheroes and the Avengers, you’ve got a strong new character to play in the MCU, and you’re excited to see where she goes from here.

But while Black Widow may be a good launchpad for Yelena, it’s sadly an off-key swan song for Natasha. It’s also confusing why Marvel, if they were so intent on doing a Black Widow prequel, didn’t make the movie about her defection to S.H.I.E.L.D. and friendship with Barton rather than this weird bridge chapter between Civil War and Infinity War. Of course, the answer is that this story needs to be told for Yelena’s sake, not Natasha’s, and it leaves a bitter taste to see a longtime character, particularly a woman, discarded so casually. — Matt Goldberg

23. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Image via Marvel Studios

There’s a lot that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does right. It’s a huge step forward for Asian representation in films. It’s awesome that the film’s prologue is basically all subtitled. The action is easily among the best in the MCU. On a basic level, Shang-Chi accomplishes what most Marvel movies accomplish: it’s fun, funny, and pretty entertaining. However, the biggest hurdle for an origin story like Shang-Chi is making you care about its title character, and that’s where this film struggles. Its plot is fairly uninteresting, and constantly jumping between the present and the backstories of Shang-Chi, his sister, and his father saps the film of momentum.

My biggest qualm with Shang-Chi is a similar one I had to Doctor Strange: I didn’t feel compelled to see more stories about this character. That’s not to say that future movies won’t make him more interesting (just look at how much more fun Strange was in his supporting turn in Avengers: Infinity War), but in his first movie, it’s tough to discern what Shang-Chi’s character arc even is beyond reconciling the legacy of a perfect mother and deeply imperfect father. There’s also a nice story about not being held prisoner by the past and grief, but that falls a little flat when the film constantly throws you flashbacks.

Shang-Chi has an edge over other lower-tier MCU movies simply because of the strides it makes in representation, and the action is masterful, but storytelling and character need to be the core virtues of these movies, especially as the MCU begins in a new chapter in Phase 4. We obviously haven’t seen the last of Shang-Chi, but hopefully, we’ll see him in a stronger story for his next outing. — Matt Goldberg

22. Eternals

As of March 2022, Eternals has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating of any Marvel movie, which feels undeserved. I suppose the question you have to consider is whether you want bland competency that delivers a modest success or would you rather have something more audacious that simply bites off more than it can chew. Eternals may not have the light charm of the Ant-Man movies or the basic origin story structure of Shang-Chi and Doctor Strange, but at least director Chloé Zhao was trying to break the Marvel formula a bit. The problem is that the Marvel formula fought back.

Eternals’ biggest problem is that there’s simply too much of it. The cast is huge for an origin story (ten characters), the story spans millennia, and it has cosmic ramifications about whether these characters can turn their backs on their faith to protect humanity. It’s a movie where the superheroes literally oppose the will of their god to save the world, and that’s super interesting, but Marvel reduces it down to standard superhero fare. The film can’t go anywhere truly interesting because it has to adhere to the superhero genre. Marvel producers and filmmakers can talk a big game about how the studio can play in different genres, but they’re always superhero movies first, and Eternals shows the limitations of that thinking.

And yet I’m glad that Eternals at least tried to do something more than your typical Marvel fare. It doesn’t always work and the story desperately needs more time to breathe, but it’s a Marvel film that at least stayed in my mind after watching it rather than quickly evaporating. If Marvel is going to be the biggest kid on the blockbuster block, then it should take chances like this one even if the end result is deeply flawed. — Matt Goldberg

21. Thor

Thor seems fairly counterintuitive: Here’s a Norse god. He has awesome powers. Now let’s strip him of those powers for the majority of this movie and stick him in New Mexico.

Thor’s lesson of humility in the Land of Enchantment is at least tempered by the fact that director Kenneth Branagh, despite having the incredibly poor idea to constantly use canted angles when filming, was dead on when it came to casting, especially Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. So much of the MCU’s greater success rests on these two actors that if you messed up this part, other films would suffer. The same could be said of casting on other movies, but Branagh basically found two unknowns and trusted that they could serve as bridges between the lofty realm of Asgard to the most mundane places on Earth. He absolutely succeeded, and when Hemsworth grins, you don’t care that the film has taken away his superpowers. When Hiddleston seethes, you love being wrapped up in the grandiose family dispute in Asgard.

Sadly, the rest of the film isn’t as strong as its two lead characters (I consider Loki as much of a lead as Thor, which is one of the reasons the character succeeds as a villain; Marvel should really take note of how they did this character right and apply it to their other antagonists). While Branagh succeeds at bringing Asgard to life, which is an impressive task, everything on Earth feels fairly limp.

Additionally, as time has gone on, we’ve seen that Thor’s willingness to sacrifice himself isn’t a unique trait as much as it’s something that Marvel superheroes are just willing to do at the climax of every movie. If that’s all it takes to wield Mjolnir, then more than just Thor, Vision, and Captain America should be able to pick up the hammer. — Matt Goldberg

20. Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is pretty much on par with Thor with maybe a slight edge because it’s got a good buddy comedy thing going between Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But overall, you have a character who’s much better than her debut movie. Nothing surrounding her, from the direction to the script, is really on par with what Larson brings to the character and how she makes Carol Danvers come to life. And that’s important! Imagine not getting Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Chris Evans as Captain America or Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Sure, there might have been another actor out there who could do the job, but these guys were perfect for their respective roles and so is Larson.

I just wish that the film she was in was better. Directors Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck don’t bring the flair and imagination the movie needs, especially given its cosmic settings. Directors like James Gunn and Taika Waititi were able to make the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe feel weird and trippy, but there’s none of that boldness here and the world, whether it’s 1995 Earth or the cosmos feels depressingly mundane. You also have the issue that despite Captain Marvel’s dazzling powers, most of the set pieces are pretty bland and fail to make her skills all that impressive.

The script also suffers from trying to obscure the origin story, and while it’s understandable that they wanted to mix things up a bit in terms of structure, the screenwriters’ decisions ultimately deprive Captain Marvel of an arc. She goes from someone who doesn’t really remember her past and doesn’t have full use of her powers to someone who remembers her past and has full use of her powers. That’s not particularly satisfying, and the only reason it even remotely works is because we’re rooting for Captain Marvel as a character even if the story kind of lets her down. — Matt Goldberg

19. Spider-Man: Far From Home

Image via Marvel Studios

While not quite as strong as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home does what these MCU Spider-Man movies do best, which is provide a look at the world of the MCU from the eyes of non-superheroes. While Spider-Man (Tom Holland) may be at the center of the action, he’s surrounded by normal people who are reacting to massive events surrounding them whether it’s something the audience forgot like the BARF technology from Captain America: Civil War, or something vital like the Thanos’ snap. Giving these characters time makes the MCU feel real and inclusive, not just a world belonging to superheroes that happens to have normal people in it.

Far From Home also shines by making sure that the villainy, like the villain in Homecoming, has a real relation to our world. It does need to be overtly political, but it comes as close as it can with the observation that people will believe anything, and that a “post-truth” world serves powerful bad guys far more than it serves regular people. While some Marvel movies are about themes like family or responsibility, Far From Home doesn’t shy away from an inherently political subtext.

Where the film struggles is in its pacing and giving him killer drones. By taking Peter and his pals on a European vacation that then becomes a spy thriller of sorts, it loses the tightness and focus of Homecoming, a movie that knew its touchstones (John Hughes movies) and had a true North in showing Peter Parker as a high schooler. That’s been lost somewhat here, and while it still takes Spider-Man to some interesting places, the film occasionally loses sight of the personal stakes that makes this such a rich adaptation of the character. — Matt Goldberg

18. Avengers: Infinity War

On the one hand, Avengers: Infinity War is loads of fun, and it’s staggering in its ambition to bring together almost every Marvel superhero into a single film. There’s also a delightful payoff to mixing and matching characters, so you get to see Thor hanging out with Rocket and Groot or Hulk and War Machine coming to Wakanda. The vastness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is on display here, and it’s easy to get swept up into it.

But the film’s greatest strength—putting most of its characters into one movie—also ends up being its greatest weakness. Because it’s trying to get around to everyone, it ends up getting around to no one. Everyone is pretty much the same character they were at the start of the movie. There’s been no catharsis, no realization, no growth. It’s fun to watch the characters bounce off each other, but unlike other Marvel movies, Infinity War isn’t really about anything. There’s no character arc or even a thematic arc beyond questioning how we value life.

Thankfully, there’s a strong villain with Thanos, whose motives may be weak (his solution to overpopulation is to just cut the population in half), but who gets a sympathetic, weary performance from Josh Brolin. The film wisely decides to move away from the character’s sadism and instead opts for someone who believes he has the will to do what must be done even if he’s not enthusiastic about doing it. The Avengers may have the title, but the film really belongs to Thanos. — Matt Goldberg

17. Thor: Love and Thunder

Image via Marvel Studios

While it’s not perfect, Thor: Love and Thunder proves that the god of thunder and his stories are the most sustainable and entertaining stories in the MCU. It’s clear that Taika Waititi had a mammoth task ahead of him when creating Love and Thunder. He had to offer something new while also trying to recapture the lightning in the bottle success of Thor: Ragnarok. The very complaints that Matt mentions in his section about Ragnarok are addressed here in Love and Thunder but if you try to satisfy everyone you end up satisfying no one. Waititi brings back Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, this time giving her a hammer and turning her into the Mighty Thor. Her romance with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is on full display, complete with flashbacks to simpler times and a bittersweet farewell as Jane dies but goes to Valhalla. The film similarly leans farther into mythology, into fantasy. We have soaring Viking ships through space, we meet a whole pantheon of gods, we suffer/enjoy the presence of mythologically-accurate goats!

But the problem when you have so many boxes you want to check is that sometimes things that warrant more exploration fall to the wayside. While the humor for me was perfect, it’s understandable that that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (especially those who do not like Waititi’s brand of brash humor). The film underutilizes Christian Bale’s Gorr, who is aptly terrifying but deserves more to work with. Both Bale and Portman offer amazing performances, able to achieve the dramatic highs of playing villain and hero, respectively, while also able to achieve subtlety in presenting their characters. The parallels between the two characters is not explored as fully as it should be.

However, criticisms aside, after slogging through Multiverse of Madness and being bombarded with cameos in both that and No Way Home, it was fun to finally get back to just the heroes that we have now. Investing in Thor, a character we’ve known for so long and seen through so many phases of his life, feels like a worthy choice for the MCU. He’s good as the prince of Asgard, as a visitor on Earth, as the defender of his people, as a space adventurer, and yes, also as a dad god to the adorable Love. It doesn’t hurt at all that the aesthetics for the movie are top notch — lightning effects always look amazing — and that the needle drops are catnip for anyone who loves Guns N’ Roses. — Therese Lacson

16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Image via Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is probably going to be a divisive film among MCU fans because, like Iron Man 3, it seems largely unconcerned with the plots of the other movies or even with its own plot. If you’re someone who thinks that the MCU’s greatest strength is in how it’s basically a gigantic TV show, and that to eschew universe building is to avoid what makes the MCU unique, then GOTG 2 will probably be a letdown. But if you believe that it’s great when Marvel lets filmmakers tell their own story without worrying about setting up the pieces to future movies, then Guardians 2 is a rousing success. I fall into the later camp.

It’s not that I mind movies that build connections to sequels, and the first Guardians does a nice job of balancing its own personality with links to future Marvel movies. But given the choice between leaning heavily on plot or heavily on character, I like that James Gunn’s sequel choose the latter. Vol. 2 isn’t in a hurry to get anywhere. It splits up the team and focuses largely on the characters. There’s no MacGuffin to obtain and the movie’s true villain isn’t even revealed until about halfway through the picture.

Instead, Vol. 2 is focused on characters and tone, and it works wonderfully. While some have leveled the criticism that the movie is “bloated”, I think that’s an unfair accusation. If anything, its plot is shockingly thin because it’s mostly interested in just meandering with its characters. It knows that you like these people, so it just hangs out with them. It’s Everybody Wants Some!! but in space and with Kurt Russell instead of Wyatt Russell.

And despite being a largely plot-free picture, it never loses sight of its thematic core, which is to further the theme of family, specifically how we’re raised, which was introduced in the first movie. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is really the full package; the question comes down to whether or not this is a package MCU fans want. — Matt Goldberg

15. Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is a fascinating and incredibly divisive film in the MCU. It’s a film that should carry the entire burden of The Avengers on its back, and instead just shrugs it off, and shrugs off the responsibility of being part of a shared universe to just go off and do its own thing. It’s kind of a “Fuck you” to people who have expectations, not just in terms of the MCU, but also with the Mandarin Twist, and yet that irreverence is also part of the film’s charm.

Shane Black is a filmmaker who likes messing with conventions, so in that sense, perhaps he wasn’t the best choice to tackle the first post-Avengers film. And yet if you support filmmaker-driven cinema, he’s one of Marvel’s most inspired choices, and he gives Iron Man 3 a personality that’s completely unique to the MCU rather than having a film that could have just as easily blended in and faded away. Iron Man 3 is a terrific litmus test even if its plot is a bit scattershot and overstuffed.

That’s the complication of Iron Man 3: Do you view it as a standalone feature, as a sequel to two Iron Man movies, a sequel to The Avengers, or a continuation of the MCU? It doesn’t seem like Marvel was entirely sure how to approach a post-Avengers world, and yet given the choice between a movie that can work on its own merits and one that’s constantly trying to do housekeeping for the larger franchise, I’m going to side with the former, warts and all. Iron Man 3 is a bold film that doesn’t always work, but I love its enthusiasm and attitude. — Matt Goldberg

14. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Image Via Marvel

Avengers: Age of Ultron is far from perfect, but I have an admiration for it because of how imperfect it is. It’s a film whose greatest sin is in trying to do too much, but it does so much of it well that I don’t begrudge the picture in the same way I do other movies that are larger just for the sake of being larger. AoU is bigger by the studio and audience demands of sequels being bigger, but it also carries bigger ideas with it too.

Where Age of Ultron could really stand to be stronger and where it needs its spine is in making Ultron a better character. James Spader does what he can, but ultimately, we never get to know more of Ultron and the gap between what Joss Whedon wants his antagonist to be and how he actually comes across is a bridge too far. There’s not enough menace, not enough sadness, not enough humanity in his detached robot, and while he hates The Avengers, it feels like he hates them because they’re the protagonists rather than any ideological difference. In hindsight, Ultron is a character that probably should have been birthed out of Iron Man 3 or at least the inklings of the character (this is if the studio leaned hard on a cohesive vision; Iron Man 3, as I said, is torn between being part of the MCU and an independent vision).

And yet there’s so much of Age of Ultron that goes right. The Hulkbuster fight is everything you could want from a set piece. The relationship between Hulk and Black Widow is thoughtful and inspired. AoU gets flack for not playing into audience expectations, but those expectations overlook everything that Whedon was doing right rather than judging the movie on its own merits. If he comes up short on his own attempt, its fine to call him on it (like trying to wedge in the Thor subplot), but don’t try to call Whedon out on your pre-conceived notions.

Perhaps more than any other MCU movie, Age of Ultron demands a second or third viewing, one that’s freed from expectations and where you can see the film’s strengths and weaknesses with the benefit of time. — Matt Goldberg

13. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Ryan Coogler had the impossible task of creating both a cathartic goodbye to one of the MCU’s most iconic characters, while also creating one of the most highly-anticipated superhero films in recent memory. But with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Coogler balances both beautifully, allowing these characters plenty of moments to explore their pain and loss, while also celebrating both the life of T’Challa and, more importantly, Chadwick Boseman.

Wakanda Forever also further expands the world of Wakanda, the stellar supporting cast that was introduced in the first film, and even explores the underwater kingdom of Talokan, ruled by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), who is also just trying to protect his hidden land. Coogler excels at letting the pain and loss of T’Challa permeate into the rest of the film, as everyone is dealing with this absence at the center of their story. This is especially true in the case of his family, be it through Shuri (Letitia Wright), who buries herself in her lab, and Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who is afraid of losing more than she already has.

But Wakanda Forever isn’t a somber affair, it’s a celebration of Boseman, and that love can be felt throughout this massive spectacle. King T’Challa might be gone, but Wakanda Forever shows that the spirit of Boseman will remain in the MCU for years to come. — Ross Bonaime

12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Image via Marvel

Marvel has never been good at saying goodbye to their characters, as there are plenty of in-world loopholes that seem to exist solely to bring back literally any character, dead or alive. But with James Gunn moving over to DC, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is likely the last time we’ll see many of these characters, and Gunn says goodbye to the MCU by showing that a satisfying conclusion can be given to these heroes.

Gunn manages to expertly juggle this large cast and give each character just the right ending to their individual arcs, while telling an exciting, hilarious, and surprisingly emotional story about the group at large—a blend of which seems like it could’ve only come from Gunn. As the Guardians fight their way through space in order to save Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), we finally get to see how Rocket became the way he is, and the traumatic experience that he had before meeting this new family. Even though the editing between the past and the present can be clumsy, it all works together in a way that doesn’t make the viewer mind the shaggy construction.

But if this is indeed the last time we see the Guardians of the Galaxy—and it certainly seems like we’ll never see the group in this iteration again—Gunn has created a beautiful conclusion to this story, and once again showed by the Guardians might be the best corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

11. Spider-Man: Homecoming

This movie is so much fun. For some Spider-Man fans, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie they’ve been waiting for their entire lives after being let down by the angst permeating the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb franchises. Whether you like the previous Spider-Man movies or not, Homecoming distinguishes itself by going all-in with its high-school-age Peter Parker and seeing his youth as a defining feature not just among Spider-Man movies, but in the superhero genre as a whole.

But what makes Homecoming stand apart are all the great little touches. This is truly Spider-Man as a novice and Peter Parker as a diminutive figure. He may be able to lift a row of lockers with one hand, but he’s still shorter than the girl he has a crush on. Rather than running from his responsibilities or trying to figure out how he’ll pay the bills, he’s totally focused on trying to be a hero even if he’s not sure exactly how to do it. It’s an endearing take on the character that doesn’t lose sight of the stakes.

The only thing that really stops Homecoming from being among the best Marvel movies is that it doesn’t really take any chances. Homecoming is all about putting the “friendly” and “neighborhood” into “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” It’s a cheerful film that doesn’t even mention Uncle Ben by name, and while I’m glad it isn’t weighed down by tragedy, it’s not weighed down by much of anything. And that makes it an incredibly fun movie, but one that doesn’t leave as much of an impression as other Marvel films. — Matt Goldberg

10. Captain America: Civil War

I really liked Captain America: Civil War the first time I saw it, and I still think it has plenty of great stuff going on. I think it shows the power of its lead characters by putting them both in the wrong and yet they’re still likable regardless. I don’t walk out of Civil War hating Captain America or Iron Man, and I hope that they’re bond can be repaired. It’s a movie that finds stakes outside of life and death, and what’s on the line is not only a partnership, but also the Avengers. Granted, we know that the Avengers will eventually be called back in, but now Infinity War has to deal with the fallout.

That being said, Civil War struggles to hold up on repeating viewings. It’s a movie that has some interesting ideas about government oversight and whether personal responsibility to all outweighs personal responsibility to an individual, but it really chugs along in order to get to these moments. It’s a big movie that feels like a big movie and at points it lumbers along like a big movie. There are a lot of moving parts, and while it’s nice to get a payoff like Spider-Man showing up, you also have to stop your movie to reintroduce Spider-Man. The character is thematically important, but he’s also a bit of fan service.

But what gives me greater pause for Civil War is that it’s a movie that’s highly competent, and yet bereft of personality. The Russo Brothers have shown that they’re highly adept at playing by Marvel’s playbook, and it’s a playbook that says, “Make me an expensive episode of television.” The film may feint at having big ideas, and it can spur conversations, but there’s nothing particularly daring about Civil War. I suppose it’s a risk to pack your movie with too many characters, but there’s nothing particularly challenging about the film. Its bombast and tone doesn’t match the scale of its rhetoric.

Civil War is still a fine film, and it has a lot that works for it, but I think when contrasted against other Marvel movies as opposed to the weak crop of superhero films we got in 2016, it has a harder time standing on its own. — Matt Goldberg

9. Thor: Ragnarok

In the broadest sense, Thor: Ragnarok is just joyous. It’s ridiculous, silly, and it’s all clearly in director Taika Waititi’s voice. It’s a credit to Marvel that they tried to do something radically different rather than keep plugging away at a Thor franchise that never clicked completely. Some may see Ragnarok as throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but after two movies, it smacked of a series that needed a new direction and to take advantage of its strengths: Chris Hemsworth’s comic timing and the cosmic setting. The result is a movie that’s not only hilarious, but also big, bold, bright and colorful.

On the one hand, I can sympathize with people who wish that they had gotten a Thor sequel that was more in line with the previous movies–more Thor/Jane Foster relationship, royal intrigue, leaning harder into the fantasy setting. But Waititi’s vision is clear, and it works, moving the Marvel superhero firmly into the realm of sci-fi comedy, and using that strong take to give the character definition that previous Thor films lacked.

Even in the movie’s weakest moments, specifically when it goes for a joke over an emotional beat or having to spend time with Hela, you still have a movie that works. You may not get the emotional impact, but you’ll be laughing too hard at Korg’s dry humor. Hela may not have the sympathetic shading of someone like Loki, but it’s hard to argue with Cate Blanchett’s charismatic performance and how her character represents the past we try to bury in favor of a pretty mythology. — Matt Goldberg

8. Spider-Man: No Way Home

As one of the most hyped movies from the MCU, it was always going to be difficult for Marvel to keep all of their big secrets under wraps. And even though it was basically confirmed that Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire would be returning as their own versions of Spider-Man, the studio played dumb until the day of release. But even knowing that Charlie Cox’s Daredevil was confirmed to be in the movie weeks ahead of time didn’t manage to dull the shine of Spider-Man: No Way Home. Marvel deals a triple whammy, not only introducing the multiverse for the first time in its movies, but also bringing in the previous actors who played the role, and their villains in a Sinister Six-esque team up.

While Marvel has always struggled with a villain problem, out of the comics canon Spider-Man quite easily has the most exciting rogues’ gallery. Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina return, set primarily as the key villains while also redeeming Jamie Foxx’s Electro. While Harry Osborne’s heel turn is probably the least surprising moment in the film (and the following scene of Aunt May’s death is clinical fridging), Molina’s Doc Ock gets a surprising redemption story in the movie that acts as a cherry on top of this treat of a movie.

Structurally, the first half is not nearly as exciting. There is perhaps too much of a lag between the moment that Peter asks Doctor Strange to create the spell to make everyone forget him and the moment Garfield and Maguire appear in Ned’s house. But when the two Peters arrive, the moment is pure joy. Most impressive out of all of this is Garfield’s own redemption as the oft discounted Spider-Man in some fans’ memories. The success of No Way Home not only had Marvel raking in cash, but it catapulted long time fans of Garfield’s Peter into demanding a third movie for The Amazing Spider-Man. The masterful weaving of this story is MCU interconnectivity and kitsch at its most charming. From the comedic bits with Ned and his sling ring to the heart-racing moment when Garfield’s Peter dives and saves a falling MJ, No Way Home is firing on all cylinders.

As a conclusion to the (first) MCU Spider-Man trilogy, It’s hard to think that there could have been something better. It doesn’t rank at the top because while it is a conclusion of sorts, it’s merely the beginning of how far the multiverse stretches and what its implications are. In the end, the movie sets out to do what Marvel has been avoiding: creating a Spider-Man origin story. We get a dead parent figure, we get Peter out on his own again with the world none the wiser to him, and we get a clean slate. While it certainly ranks high on the list, time will tell if Peter’s return will verify if Marvel made the right choice of having everyone forget him, but for now let’s just enjoy what we have. — Therese Lacson

7. The Avengers

Image via Disney

Once you get past the rough opening twenty minutes (the film heats up once Black Widow goes to India to recruit the Hulk), The Avengers is pretty much the crown jewel of the MCU, and it’s easy to see why every studio continues to chase its success. While they might be able to mimic the formula of a cinematic universe, there’s only one Joss Whedon, and his understanding of character and tone is what carries this movie through even its weakest moments.

Thankfully, this movie had all the building blocks it needed to be superb, and when compiled together, they make Avengers a top-notch anytime movie. This is a film I’ve put on in the background and just let it play while I’m working because it’s just so much fun, but I don’t have to give it my full attention. It’s good company, it’s incredibly quotable, and it’s an unabashedly comic book.

The Avengers is just a barrage of what to do right, and yet it’s remarkable when you think about how it could have gone horribly wrong. What if these actors weren’t perfect for their roles? What if there was a weak antagonist? What if Whedon misunderstood the real conflict, which isn’t the Avengers against Loki but the Avengers against the Avengers? Everyone knew the score going in, and the audience was the beneficiary of the filmmaker’s wisdom, and cinema has few gambles that have paid off as big as The Avengers. — Matt Goldberg

6. Guardians of the Galaxy

Image via Marvel

This is just a fun movie. It’s not particularly deep. It’s not super challenging. And that is perfectly okay when your movie is this much fun. Looking back at Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a little bizarre how we treated it as such a “weird” film when really it’s pretty conventional, and it’s only the dearth of creativity in the larger Hollywood system that makes GOTG an outlier rather than the norm. There’s nothing inherently unusual about endearing characters or alien worlds, but we’ve come to accept that it’s the film that’s odd rather than Hollywood’s method of thinking.

Granted, there’s no way a studio would have greenlit this film without the success of Marvel’s previous hits, and it’s the strength of the Marvel brand that helped get people in the door, but Guardians is a fairly tame movie. Its band of outlaws aren’t bad guys; they’re outsiders, and they’re lovable outsiders at that. Hopefully, the sequel will let its sole female member, Gamora, get to have a little fun beyond just her excellent “pelvic sorcery” line rather than playing the straight woman to a bunch of boys having a good time.

Like with most other Marvel movies, you have to skip past the non-villain (He wants to drop something big from the sky and kill billions of people? Get in line, Ronan) and Thanos coming off quite poorly (the big bad of the MCU got dissed in an intergalactic Skype call), but this movie is about the heroes and that’s where it shines. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot are all lovable, and writer-director James Gunn gave them a big, shiny, colorful world to play in. — Matt Goldberg

5. Avengers: Endgame

The culmination of the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, well, a marvel. No movie has carried the weight of twenty-one other films with it, but Avengers: Endgame is able to serve as one hell of a payoff, not just simply taking viewers down memory lane, but providing a fulfilling conclusion to plenty of character arcs along the way. The spectacle is off the charts, and while the stakes couldn’t be higher, the film never loses sight of that breezy Marvel charm that has made this franchise just a success.

While the lead-up to the film was cloaked in mystery and a warning to not “spoil the endgame”, the movie still works beyond surprises. I’ve seen it twice as of this writing, and I only found it more fulfilling on a second viewing. While Infinity War clunkily moved along and felt hollow because Thanos was the protagonist rather than our heroes, Endgame puts the focus right back where it belongs and lets us remember why we invested in all these superheroes in the first place.

There will probably never be another movie like Endgame outside the MCU because of the unique way this story was told. Yes, the time travel aspect is fuzzy at best, but it’s a minor quibble that even Endgame acknowledges as silly since characters admit their knowledge of time travel comes entirely from movies. But for a three-hour film, Endgame flies by, and it serves as a mighty fine conclusion even though the MCU will continue. I also suspect that the more I rewatch this film, the higher it will climb in the rankings. — Matt Goldberg

4. Black Panther

Black Panther is probably the only movie on this list that’s more remarkable for what it means in the larger landscape of blockbuster cinema than how it relates to other Marvel movies. Black Panther isn’t indifferent to the rest of the MCU, and it has its fair share of connections in terms of reaching out to Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron. But it’s far more revolutionary than just delivering standard superhero fare by fully investing in not only the world of Wakanda, but what the politics of that world mean as they relate to our own.

Director Ryan Coogler has made a deeply thoughtful and engaging experience not just with amazing characters and astounding visuals, but by providing a conflicting ideology of isolationism for the good of a country and what we owe to the rest of the world. While the villain, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan at his most seductive), believes Wakanda must reshape the world, his central premise—a powerful African nation owes African descendants a better future than the one they got from colonizers and slavers—is sound. This belief also presents T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) with his own conundrum as he struggles with his father’s decisions and how to be a “good man” and a great king.

Where the movie falters is in its climax as the traditional beats of a Marvel movie rear their head. It’s not that the climax of the movie is bad as much as it looks overly familiar. Watching Wakanda descend into a civil skirmish lacks much of a punch since we’ve never seen Wakanda’s tribal relationships to be particularly unstable, and we have yet another showdown where the hero must fight the villain who has a similarly-powered super suit. The ideas presented don’t get lost, but they get put on hold so Black Panther can go through the traditional Marvel motions even though the rest of the movie far exceeds the standard Marvel template. — Matt Goldberg

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Let’s set aside the “It’s like a 70s conspiracy thriller!” because that’s nonsense, and it’s trying to build up the movie to more than it is. Just because your movie has Robert Redford and addresses political surveillance, that doesn’t make you an heir to Three Days of the Condor. What’s frustrating about this description is that The Winter Soldier doesn’t need it. It’s an excellent film without trying to force a genre label.

It’s nice that the film has subtext about surveillance and that it comes within a superhero film rather than a straight drama (but again, that’s nothing new; mainstream entertainment usually carries messages about the day’s current events and issues), but that’s not what makes The Winter Soldier a top-tier MCU movie. It’s about what the darker issues of our world mean in relation to Captain America (Chris Evans).

The folks behind Winter Soldier were smart enough to understand that Captain America is an old-fashioned throwback and that he represents what we want the world to be. There’s a rich vein of conflict when he’s thrown up against what cynics cite as pragmatism and viewing the world “as it is.” From there, you get a character, who lifts us up and inspires us to be better rather than getting us dragged down in the mud.

This is all in addition to some of the best set pieces the MCU has had to offer. While I’m not crazy about the helicarriers falling out of the sky, all the stuff on the ground level is superb, and it takes full advantage of Cap’s strength and speed to make him look superhuman but not at the level of Superman. He comes off as the world’s toughest athlete times 100, but he’s not invulnerable. The action is top-notch, the characterization is insightful, and it’s helped to establish Captain America as one of my favorite superheroes. — Matt Goldberg

2. Iron Man

In the history of superhero movies, the importance of Iron Man can’t be understated. Here was a character that was largely an unknown, and through the strength of perfect casting and Jon Favreau’s unshakable vision (despite lacking a script through production), they came away with a film that largely defined the MCU. If Iron Man had faltered in any significant way, the MCU, and the landscape of superhero movies as a whole, would look largely different today.

As it stands, Iron Man is a joyful origin story that’s incredibly well told and rests comfortably on the back of Robert Downey Jr., rebooting his career. Keep in mind that back in 2008, Downey was still a huge risk, and yet fans knew that he was an inspired choice to play narcissistic playboy inventor Tony Stark. The stuff with the suit and the action scenes were important too, but putting character and casting first became a Marvel trademark, and it’s because they hit it out of the park on their first go-round with Downey.

The film itself remains an absolute delight. It sets the template for everything going forward, and it doesn’t have to worry about the implications of the larger MCU. While world-building is all well and good, the MCU got a strong start because the start focused on just one film rather than rushing towards The Avengers. We invested in Tony Stark and his journey rather than how a franchise will benefit a studio. When The Avengers finally came along, it was well worth the wait. — Matt Goldberg

1. Captain America: The First Avenger

Image via Marvel Studios

What gives Captain America: The First Avenger a slight edge over The Avengers is how it establishes Captain America as the hero we need for our time by pulling him out of our time. It’s an unapologetically rock’em, sock’em action-adventure movie that feels like a throwback in the best way possible. When Marvel head Kevin Feige talks about how their movies can transcend genres, The First Avenger is that transcendence. It’s a superhero movie where the character actually feels heroic.

Before I saw Captain America, I didn’t have any strong feelings about the character on way or the other. But after seeing the film, he’s become one of my all-time favorites. He’s perfectly cast, he’s unflinchingly earnest, and the character gets to the heart of heroism, which is what superhero movies should be about on some level. It’s not enough to simply say, “Don’t be a jerk.” It should be about the little guy who jumps on the grenade and knows the value of strength because he’s never had it before.

For those who dismiss the film because it’s not “complicated” enough, that’s kind of an unfair criticism because it’s not like the film was trying to confuse the audience, or that it needs to reach some pre-determined height of psychological complexity for us to take it seriously. Captain America: The First Avenger gets to the heart of the MCU at its best. It’s bright, colorful, funny, and surprisingly emotional (“I had a date,” gets me every time). There have been plenty of great movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for me, Captain America: The First Avenger is still the one to beat. — Matt Goldberg

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