The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been with us since Iron Man in 2008 and has been comprised of three phases. Twenty three films later, the MCU’s Infinity Saga is now complete with the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, which heralded the conclusion of Phase Three of the MCU.
Now it’s time to rank all the MCU films to date. We’ve done this before back in 2015 when Phase Two ended but since then eleven more MCU films have been released which changed the previous ranks of films. Also, upon further viewings the older MCU films have either aged well and are actually higher ranked or are haven’t aged well and went down in ranking.
Looking back at the films, it is remarkable and necessary to note that there isn’t a terrible film in the lot, which is amazing considering there are 23 films. Even the lowest ranked films have their merits and are better than many other films of different franchises. Not all the films are classics, but almost all are solid and enjoyable superhero films that are among the best of the genre.
23. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Coming in at the bottom of the list is the first sequel to Thor. Despite Chris Hemsworth’s star power and natural charisma as the God of Thunder, Thor: The Dark World is a very routine superhero film that is quite forgettable.
It has its moments such as Tom Hiddleston, who is always reliable as the mischievous Loki and the final fight. But the film was listless and wasted Christopher Eccleston’s talents as Malekith, an uninspired enemy with lazily thought-out motives and background.
22. Iron Man 2 (2010)
This sequel to Iron Man could have been good, even great. It featured many interesting subplots and with some tinkering the villains could have been among the MCU’s best. Instead, we got a mishmash of conflicting plots that don’t go anywhere.
Thanks to the film’s scattered tone, Tony Stark regressed in character and reverted back to being an unsympathetic, narcissistic jerk. Adding to the flaws was that it was obvious that the film was being over-managed by film executives who wanted to use it to lay the groundwork for the MCU instead of ensuring this was a good film in its own right.
21. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
This sequel to Ant-Man is not a poorly made film, it has many fine merits such as a winning cast and great effects. The problems with Ant-Man and the Wasp is that it doesn’t have the same energy as Ant-Man, often the humor comes off as forced, and feels more pedestrian than its predecessor. Not even the unusual sight gags are as funny or inventive as in the original.
Making matters worse is that the film featured some of the worst villains in the MCU. They make the much-criticized Yellowjacket in Ant-Man seem like Thanos, yes, they’re that uninteresting. Still, it’s not a bad film but should have been so much better.
20. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The first sequel to The Avengers is sometimes frustrating to watch because it reeks of 1) wasted potential and 2) having too many cooks in the kitchen or rather execs in the editing room. Reportedly, director Joss Whedon was ordered to include scenes and subplots that had little to do with the main story and his frustration showed in the final product.
But worse than that, Avengers: Age of Ultron felt by the numbers and crammed with too many characters. It was unable to recreate the fun and energy of the first film. But, there are some terrific sequences, namely the battle between the Hulk and the Hulkbuster and the party scene where Steve Rogers nudges Thor’s immovable hammer, so there is that.
19. Captain Marvel (2019)
This is a fine, decent film that does a better than expected job of showing how the modern MCU was set up. More than that, Captain Marvel expands the cosmic side of the MCU while laying the groundwork for the future of the cinematic universe.
What holds this film from ranking higher is that it’s rather flat at times and feels like a formulaic superhero film. Captain Marvel is alright for what it is, but it doesn’t truly stand out like many MCU films. Making things worse is Brie Larson’s sometimes wooden performance as the title character.
18. Doctor Strange (2016)
The Sorcerer Supreme’s debut film might have ranked higher on the list if only it didn’t feel like we’ve seen this kind of film before. An arrogant tool learns some humility and becomes altruistically heroic in time for the end credits. This doesn’t mean that Doctor Strange is a bad film, not at all. It’s professionally put together with amazing special effects and imagery that has never been seen before. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch is an inspired casting choice for the title character.
However, Doctor Strange sometimes feels formulaic and routine in between the hallucinogenic magic shows. Downgrading the film further is its main villain, a rather forgettable evil wizard with murky motivation and cliché dialogue. More screen time should have gone to Dormammu, the ultimate big bad revealed at the end. The confrontation between Doctor Strange and Dormammu was ingenious and its resolution was a welcome change from the typical fisticuffs.
17. Iron Man (2008)
As the very first MCU film, Iron Man holds a distinctive place in many people’s lists. No doubt, the success of the cinematic universe is due to this solid superhero film that defied the odds. Before it was released, many doubted that the burgeoning Marvel Studios could pull off a successful superhero film with a B-list character. Thankfully, they were proven wrong. Robert Downey Jr. shone in the role of his career as Tony Stark and was one of the main reasons why the MCU took off.
But looking at it objectively, the film has its faults. After a thrilling and engaging first half, it bogs down as we impatiently wait for Stark to build and use the iconic red-and-gold Iron Man armor. The villain didn’t help matters either. Jeff Bridges is OK as Obadiah Stane but didn’t have much presence and this lessened the final conflict between the two. However, the film’s post-credits scene was a true zinger and gave birth to the MCU.
16. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The only solo Hulk film from Marvel Studios is its redheaded stepchild, which is a shame. There are so many admirable qualities to the film and it revamped the character after the ill-received film version from 2003. Besides, The Incredible Hulk was a favorite film of someone very dear to me, so it holds a special place. The film is often overlooked but it’s important to the MCU. As the first film after Iron Man it featured many references and Easter eggs that helped solidify the MCU. It also was the first MCU film to crossover characters as seen with Tony Stark’s appearance late in the film.
The film cleverly echoed the vibe from the successful TV series of the 70s and 80s by having its tortured hero Bruce Banner living life as a fugitive as he tried to cure his condition of turning into the Hulk. In his only appearance as Banner, Ed Norton, successfully captured the essence of his comic book counterpart in that Banner was a geeky, unassuming man who had a lot of pent-up rage. He actually was better at the role than Mark Ruffalo, but alas, studio politics and Norton’s actions during filming prevented him from reprising the role.
15. Black Panther (2018)
It may be heresy to admit it, but while Black Panther is a groundbreaking and captivating superhero film (and the first one to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar), it is overrated. Taking away its world building, merits and cultural impact, Black Panther has its flaws like some cheesy CGI and it takes a while for the film to take off during its first act. But when it does, wow, it soars off with great velocity. This happens when T’Challa directly faces the film’s villain Killmonger.
Michael B. Jordan is one of the film’s greatest assets as the savage Killmonger thanks to his compelling back story. His story intertwines finely with the film’s theme about the actions and sins of our fathers defining and shaping us. Once Killmonger enters the stage to claim the throne of Wakanda, the film grabs you much more than the eye-popping visuals of the advanced African country.
14. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Believe it or not, Iron Man 3 is a very well done film and unbelievably the best Iron Man solo film with exciting sequences. It created a lot of controversy when it was released due to the nature of the villains and certain plot twists. This turned off many fans, but the twists were genuine surprises that paid off.
What makes Iron Man 3 stand out is that it was basically a deconstruction of the title hero. We got to see Tony Stark at his most vulnerable as he grappled with PTSD from the events of The Avengers, and this made him more human. We saw there was more to this wounded man than his snarky jokes and false bravado. Then we saw how heroic and resourceful he was without his armor. This film certainly deserves another, more objective look.
13. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
There are many plot holes in the second Spider-Man MCU film, but it’s a blast with so much heart and boasts some of the greatest MCU post-credits scenes. As with the previous Spider-Man film, this followup showcases the precarious balance that teenage superhero Peter Parker holds between his normal high school life and that of his web-swinging, heroic alter ego.
There are many memorable sequences and laughs, though not all of them land. Overall, the film is fast-paced and engrossing with dazzling effects and fights. The main cast has perfected their performances in this sophomore effort. One of the highlights is Jake Gyllenhaal who plays the villainous Mysterio with obvious glee. The fight scenes between him and Spider-Man are some of the MCU’s best and at times emulate the trippy nature of the Spider-Man/Mysterio fights featured in the comics.
12. Ant-Man (2015)
This is quintessential little superhero film that could. Dismissed by many fans of director Edgar Wright after he left the project, Ant-Man surprisingly rose to the challenge and delivered a fun and exciting superhero yarn. Boosted by a winning and lovable cast, quirky script and ingenious set pieces, Ant-Man won over many fans who related to the main underdog hero.
Paul Rudd’s performance as the plucky little hero elevated the film, as well as the supporting cast who all displayed great comedic timing. It also introduced the trippy quantum realm, which enticed us with what was to come from the MCU. There are many underrated MCU films but this one is probably the tallest of them all.
11. Thor: Raganarok (2017)
After the DOA Thor: The Dark World, the Norse god lost a lot of thunder, so to speak, among fans. Thankfully, the hero received a much-needed makeover in the third Thor film. By taking a more light-hearted and humorous approach, this film took advantage of Chris Hemsworth’s comedic gifts.
Although Thor: Ragnarok featured the expected lofty Asgardian aesthetics, it fully went off the wall and dove into the MCU’s whacky cosmic side. This allowed Thor to be seen from a different side and humanized him. Additionally, having the cop-buddy angle with his teaming up with the Hulk was not only hysterical but felt so natural.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)
This inspired sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy fully explored the characters and made them even more amiable. The visuals, cinematography and set pieces are at time jaw dropping in their complexity and richness. However, as with the first film the main feature and focus remained with the deep characters.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 suffers in that it’s not as well paced as the first film. Some scenes go on a bit too long and were overindulgent. Tighter editing would have solved this, but the film is lots of fun and carries a deeply emotional tone as it explored the nature of family. The bonus extra post-credits scenes were also a hoot and boasted some of Stan Lee’s best cameos.
9. Thor (2011)
Grandiose, eloquent and larger than life, Thor triumphantly introduced not only the concept of scientifically plausible god-like beings but the cosmic side of the MCU. The idea that Thor and his fellow Asgardians were just super-advanced aliens with magic-like technology was a stroke of genius and helped make the character and his situation more believable.
Not only is Thor filled with Shakespearean-like drama but it’s also a great character study of the main hero and his foe—his jealous brother Loki, excellently portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. At first, Thor is a pompous fool ready for war but his literal fall from grace was intriguing as was his fish-out-of-water stint on modern Earth and his eventual redemption. Plus, it has one majestic film score that befitted the God of Thunder.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Speaking of film scores, Alan Silvestri’s for the first Captain America MCU film is also quite memorable and goes perfectly with the title hero. Like with many early MCU films there was doubt that Marvel Studios could successfully introduce a patriotic hero in a period piece, but as with other films, they did it.
Chris Evans owns the role of Captain America/Steve Rogers as his hero is quite unlike the MCU template. He isn’t an arrogant jerk who becomes good, rather he was always good at heart and his conflict was on how to right wrongs. It may sound corny, but Evans and the film were able to sell it. Thanks to being a film mostly set in World War II, Captain America: The First Avengers stands apart from standard superhero films and captured the essence of that time quite well while being fantastical.
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
After his big introduction in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man got this terrific solo film that fully fleshed out his revitalization as a movie superhero. Spider-Man: Homecoming was just that for the character after many years languishing in Sony Pictures films that never quite appealed to fans of the comic books. Thankfully Sony entered into an agreement with Marvel Studios who collectively proved they understood the character better and how to make him work on film. The effort resulted in one of the very best Spider-Man films.
Spider-Man: Homecoming fully embraced the key nature of the comic book character and had Spidey as a relatable, everyday type who grappled with his personal life while trying to become a legitimate hero. The film cleverly tied Spidey into the greater MCU while standing out as an exciting and pleasing solo film.
6. The Avengers (2012)
The first MCU team film broke so many barriers and exceeded expectations. Making a film featuring different superheroes with their own backgrounds and history coming together seemed like a pipe dream. How could you gel all these disparate heroes into something that made sense? Well, writer and director Joss Whedon showed that it was possible with this EPIC superhero film.
It was great to see our favorite heroes meeting each other for the first time, fighting one another and finally coming together to confront a common enemy. Taking away the novelty of this concept, The Avengers is still a delightful romp with crowd-pleasing moments and in-depth character moments. What’s more, the characters were consistent to their established personality, which is remarkable given the scope of this film.
5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
While the third Captain America film was a loose adaptation of the famous comic book mini-series it was a brilliant effort. The film kept its focus on the inner and outer conflict between Steve Rogers and his comrade Tony Stark. Events and clashing ideologies would bring the two men and their friends into a tragic confrontation.
The airport battle between the two sides was one of the best superhero battles ever shown on film that was later topped by the climatic battle between just Steve and Tony. It was difficult to root for one side because the film wisely chose to present both sides of their argument on equal terms. Plus, the film spectacularly introduced two new superstars to the MCU, Black Panther and Spider-Man.
4. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The final (to date) Avengers film is a captivating conclusion to the Infinity Saga that satisfactorily concludes the arcs of many major heroes. As a direct sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, the fourth Avengers film wisely takes time to explore the ramifications of the previous film’s events. The heroes are battered and wounded from their failure and are reduced to their most human, vulnerable side. They deal with their lot in different ways such as moving on like the Hulk or retreating from life like Thor who becomes the Thorbowski.
Then Avengers: Endgame becomes an adventurous time-travel romp before devoting its final arc to the greatest superhero battle ever shown on film. The last throwdown between Thanos and his forces and literally every MCU hero truly defines the word epic. Coming in at three hours, Avengers: Endgame breezes through its runtime and never has a dull moment.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Not only is the second Captain America film the best film about the title hero but one of the greatest superhero/action films of all time. Joe and Anthony Russo exploded into the cinematic world with their first MCU effort and displayed amazing directing skill. The fight scenes were expertly choreographed and agonizingly brutal. The result were unusually grounded and gritty for an MCU film. At the same time the film was a tense political thriller that resonates with our times.
More than that Captain America: The Winter Soldier took time to show in quieter moments that Steve Rogers was simply trying to find his way in a complex world. Never giving in to self pity, Steve showed a quietly heroic fortitude during normal activities. Then he had to grapple with his inner values as he faced not just his former friend but an institution that had become corrupted, forcing him to use his own moral compass to do what right. This made him much more amiable to viewers and is why Captain America became such a popular superhero.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
James Gunn directed and co-wrote this oddball, comedic space fantasy, which best personifies the goofier and lovable side of the MCU. The sci-fi film is not a true superhero film, but it doesn’t matter since it’s so great and has some of the MCU’s best and most endearing characters. These eccentric losers became the ultimate heroes and beloved by fans.
Guardians of the Galaxy is also a grand space adventure that rivals established sci-fi/fantasy classics. But as mentioned before, the characters are what help it stand above many films. Each of them from the goofball Peter Quill to the sarcastic talking raccoon called Rocket, to the too-literal warrior Drax, to the quietly heroic tree creature Groot, to the emotionally wounded assassin Gamora, have endearing moments and many hysterical scenes. It is so easy to root for these lovable underdogs as they reluctantly join forces to save the galaxy.
1. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Picking the best film of the MCU was a difficult task. Each of the top six films could easily have been the best one and legitimate arguments can be made for each of them. An easy solution would be to announce a six-way tie and call it a day, but still one film had to be chosen. And the honor for best MCU film goes to Avengers: Infinity War.
The impossible was pulled off with this superhero magnum opus. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo managed to put together a smooth-running, ambitious blockbuster with a literal all-star cast. There are so many complicated plotlines and character interactions that it could have caused the whole effort to come apart, yet the Russos effortlessly crafted a coherent and exciting film. Stuffed to the brim with wall-to-wall action, interesting character encounters, laughs and excitement, Avengers: Infinity War is relentlessly intense and poignant.
Of course, not enough can be said about its premier villain, Thanos, who is arguably the film’s main character. Thanks to Josh Brolin’s mo-cap performance and a well-written script, Thanos became one of the greatest film villains of all time. His cause was both captivating and horrific as was the valiant effort by the combined heroic MCU forces who tried to stop him.
So, there you have it, all 23 MCU films ranked. Naturally, as more films come out, the ranking will change, but that is for another time. How would you rank the MCU films in your own list? Do you agree or disagree with this list? Remember it’s all subjective but be sure to drop a comment or two below. Thanks.