Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies Ranked: Worst to Best
By Matt Chieco
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, like it or not is something to be applauded. Twenty-three individual movies telling one overarching story, and since we're now halfway through 'Wandavision', we as a group at the Pop! Pour! Review decided to rank all of the MCU movies thus far. As the years go on and Phase 4 gets more underway this list is sure to change.
This was no easy task, not one movie in any of our lists lined up. Trying to sit down and negotiate which movie deserved which spot took some time. Let us know what you agree and disagree with! With that being said let's begin with the ranking:
23) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
This movie had a lot to live up to, given the success of the first 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' This movie had great moments but could have been reined in a bit more by not veering from the plot as much as it did. A great thing this movie did was add the character Mantis to the MCU.
22) Iron Man 3
Robert Downey Jr's last solo movie as Tony Stark left us wanting more, with an idea setting up for a good story. 'Iron Man 3' is our least favorite of the three films. The main problem is that they took Tony out of the suit for too long and removed one of the elements that initiated his journey as Iron Man – the arc reactor (which they brought back in a new way during 'Avengers: Infinity War'). Yet, one of the biggest challenges the movie faced was the decision to change Iron Man's arch-nemesis, the Mandarin, completely.
21) The Incredible Hulk
'The Incredible Hulk' is often considered the forgotten movie of the MCU. Marvel Studios aimed to integrate the Hulk into their universe, and this film was the means to achieve that. However, very little of what occurred in this movie has had a lasting impact on the MCU (though that might change with the upcoming Disney+ show 'She-Hulk'). If this movie hadn't been released right after the success of 'Iron Man,' it might have secured a higher position on this list.
20) Thor: The Dark World
'Thor: The Dark World' stands out as the black sheep of the 'Thor' franchise. Hindered by numerous behind-the-scenes issues, this movie faced a daunting challenge even before production began. I often find myself contemplating what the outcome might have been if Patty Jenkins, who was initially slated to direct, had actually helmed the sequel.
19) Captain Marvel
The MCU's first solo female superhero movie was something to be excited about; however, it didn't quite live up to the hype. The disappointment wasn't due to the character itself, but rather the director's vision (or lack thereof). While initially announced as a '90s film, that essence didn't fully materialize in the final product. Despite some notable highlights, I believe 'Captain Marvel's' second outing has the potential to be lightyears ahead of its predecessor.
18) Avengers: Age of Ultron
Any Marvel list usually places any movie with the word 'Avengers' towards the top. So why is the second Avengers outing ranked lower? 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' had a promising premise, but Marvel also aimed to use this movie to set the stage for the MCU's direction after phase two. While it introduced James Spader as Ultron, brought Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany as Vision, and featured one of the best sequences in the MCU (Scarlet Witch putting all of the Avengers in a trance), these highlights couldn't fully overcome some of the slower moments that the movie had.
17) Iron Man 2
This movie introduced us to Don Cheadle as War Machine and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, while also contributing to the expansion of the universe. However, beyond these advancements, the film didn't truly excel. As previously mentioned with ‘The Incredible Hulk’, ‘Iron Man 2’ struggled to match the brilliance of its predecessor.
16) Captain America: The First Avenger
Considered the weakest entry in the ‘Captain America’ franchise, this didn't hinder Steve Rogers from experiencing one of the MCU's most remarkable character arcs. Although not a subpar film, it did succumb to the common pitfalls of an origin story. Nonetheless, due to its placement far before the inception of the overarching narrative, it managed to retain its distinct identity and creative vision.
15) Ant-Man and the Wasp
This film was entrusted with a dual role: serving as a sequel while also following up on ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and paving the way for ‘Avengers: Endgame’. Although the end credit scene succeeded in stoking fans' anticipation for Endgame, this movie diverged from the path set by 'Avengers: Infinity War.' This deviation isn't detrimental, but it underscores the challenge of placing the film within the timeline. One of the sequel's strong points is Evangeline Lilly's portrayal of Wasp, and the engaging dynamic she shares with Paul Rudd's Ant-Man.
Amidst a mid-pre-production director change, this film managed to surpass many people's expectations. Despite Peyton Reed not injecting an abundance of creativity into the ‘Ant-Man’ franchise, he did infuse a revitalizing element into the MCU. The characters became more relatable to the everyday world, and the stakes didn't escalate to the level of the Avengers' grand scale.
13) Doctor Strange
‘Doctor Strange’ brought us into the realm of the mystical arts, expanding our understanding beyond the fleeting mentions of magic in the Thor movies. Stephen Strange led us on a journey into this realm, although there was potential for even deeper exploration. The film's captivating visuals and its embrace of the uncanny and bizarre elements contributed to the excitement surrounding the upcoming sequel.
‘Thor’ often finds itself underrated within the MCU, but upon closer inspection, it stands out due to its Shakespearian undertones. Its unique approach adds a distinctive flavor to the overall franchise. However, this underrated status doesn't negate the fact that the movie has its share of flaws.
Furthermore, it's important to acknowledge that without the film, we might not have had the pleasure of witnessing Tom Hiddleston's iconic portrayal of Loki, a character who has become a fan favorite and a central figure in the MCU.
11) Spider-Man: Homecoming
With the arrival of Tom Holland, a new era for Spider-Man began. Prior to this, rebooting the character had become a recurring trend. The unexpected inclusion of Spider-Man in the MCU turned our dreams into reality. ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ provided a unique perspective, giving us a glimpse of what it's like to be a kid navigating a world filled with superheroes.
An important aspect worth noting is that this iteration of Peter Parker actually looked and felt like a genuine kid, which added a layer of authenticity to the character's portrayal.
10) Black Panther
Black Panther's narrative was intricately woven, the characters were captivating, and every minute detail was infused with a distinctive style. While it stood apart from the rest of the MCU in its own unique way, Black Panther also encountered some of the typical superhero tropes, both positive and negative. Nevertheless, only a handful of movies, particularly within the realm of comic book adaptations, have managed to leave such a profound cultural impact on society as ‘Black Panther’ did.
9) Guardians of the Galaxy
‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ stands as one of the most astonishing surprises within the MCU. Who could have anticipated that a film featuring a tree with a limited vocabulary and a chatty raccoon would evolve into the beloved and successful franchise it is today? Director James Gunn skillfully infused his passion for music and an affinity for the unconventional, creating a unique and captivating experience that enriched the Marvel universe in a truly exceptional manner.
8) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel Studios has gained a reputation for pushing the boundaries of genre, and ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, serves as a prime example of this artistic versatility. The concept of melding a superhero narrative with the complexities of a political thriller might seem improbable, yet Marvel once again defies expectations.
The Russo Brothers, who helmed ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, skillfully demonstrated their skills in crafting a seamless blend of genres. As a testament to their directorial aptitude, the Russos were subsequently entrusted with some of the most significant projects in the studio's history.
7) Captain America: Civil War
Dubbed by some as "Avengers 2.5," Steve Rogers' final solo adventure, ‘Captain America: Civil War’, masterfully translated the essence of a comic book onto the big screen. The film's crown jewel is undoubtedly the epic airport fight sequence, a spectacle that solidifies its place among the top entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Team Iron Man and Team Cap had the ability to spark ongoing debates and resonate with audiences to this day.
6) Avengers: Endgame
‘Avengers: Endgame's' monumental impact on the cinematic landscape is undeniable. As the culmination of the Infinity Saga, it masterfully tied together narrative threads from over a decade of interconnected films, providing a satisfying and emotional conclusion for many beloved characters. Its record-breaking box office success further solidified its status as a cultural phenomenon.
While opinions on its ranking may vary, it's clear that ‘Avengers: Endgame’s’ significance goes beyond its position on a list. The film's ability to deliver closure to long-running storylines while leaving the door open for new adventures is a testament to the skillful storytelling and character development within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
5) Spider-Man: Far From Home
‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ indeed built upon the success of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and elevated the character's journey within the MCU. The film not only continued to explore Peter Parker's growth as Spider-Man but also delved into the emotional aftermath of ‘Avengers: Endgame’. Fans are now only more excited about the upcoming ‘Spider-Man 3’.
The addition of Jake Gyllenhaal's Mysterio provided another great villain to the MCU roster.
4) Thor: Ragnarok
One thing ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ taught us was that it’s okay to get weird in the MCU. Director Taika Waititi took a more serious character and stripped him of everything. The result was ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, a funny and colorful space adventure (featuring the Hulk). Thor was changed for good and audiences were ecstatic with the new version.
3) Iron Man
The movie that started it all, ‘Iron Man,’ led by the legendary Robert Downey Jr. and directed by Jon Favreau, set a high bar for what a well-crafted superhero movie could be. With its super (no pun intended) grounded story from start to finish, the OG film will always be one of the greats.
2) The Avengers
Back in 2002 when Sam Rami’s ‘Spider-Man’ was released, who would have thought that 10 years later there could be an idea to put together multiple different franchises into one single fleshed-out, action-packed movie? You can thank Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige for making this a reality and changing the playing field for the future of movie-making.
1) Avengers: Infinity War
If you think ‘Avengers’ had to fit a lot of story into one movie, the Russo Brothers would agree to disagree. While ‘Avengers: Endgame’ had a final battle scene with over thirty MCU characters, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ featured that and more throughout the whole movie, perfectly balancing (see what I did there?) the characters we've grown to love over the years with the big bad Thanos.
To conclude this list, I must mention that combining 'Avengers: Infinity War' and 'Avengers: Endgame' results in one of the best comic book movies of all time.