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.
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