In the mid-2000s Marvel was in trouble. Comics were a thing of the past and superhero movies were at a crossroads. Rights were scattered across a number of different studios making it difficult to wrangle any of these heroes into a single franchise. Then Marvel Studios had the crazy idea to attempt to bring some of what were then considered B-list heroes under one roof to launch a new cinematic universe. It was unprecedented and no one thought it would work—especially by anchoring this massive undertaking with a nobody like Iron Man. But, the Robert Downey Jr.-starring film was a hit, and history was made.
Now, after 23 movies Marvel has officially concluded what it calls its third phase of its Cinematic Universe with Spider-Man: Far From Home. Along the way, the MCU has far surpassed other major franchises like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series in terms of box office numbers. And though at this point the Disney property has crafted a reliable superhero movie formula, not all of the MCU movies are created equal. Here they are ranked from worst to best.
23) Thor: The Dark World (2013)
22) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Two years later, I still couldn’t tell you who Ultron is and what his age was. If there was any semblance of plot in this movie, memory of it has been pushed out of my brain in favor of about 30 billion superheroes hitting each other until I felt like I’d just gotten off a mildly dangerous carnival ride. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
20) Thor (2011)
19) Iron Man 2 (2010)
17) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
16) Iron Man 3 (2013)
14) Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
I hope you like hearing the term “quantum.” Ant-Man’s second entry has so much nonsensical techno-babble that it makes Star Trek sound like Steinbeck. Compared to Avengers: Infinity War, which came out a month earlier, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a breezy, inconsequential entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s a refreshing comedic detour in the franchise.
13) Doctor Strange (2016)
11) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
10) Captain Marvel (2019)
Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel deserved a better movie. Although, this film managed to rewrite 50 years of comic book history to give the character the place she deserved, Captain Marvel is too focused on finding its place in the MCU films before and after it to really shine as a stand-alone movie.
9) Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
In a refreshing change of pace, Marvel turns a Spider-Man movie into a funny teen drama that gives the supporting characters a chance to feel alive. The biggest accomplishment here, though, is making the sixth Spider-Man movie (with the third actor to play Peter Parker) in 15 years somehow not suck. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
7) The Avengers (2012)
The idea seemed doomed. How could Marvel put so many stars, so many heroes into one film? How could they pull off the balancing act of an interconnected universe consisting of a half dozen blockbuster films and fit them into one movie? Though a touch uneven and dizzying, Marvel pulled off one of the most impressive and ambitious feats in the big movie business. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
6) Avengers: Endgame
Though the stakes remain low in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—particularly low because of lazy plot devices—Endgame does its best to create emotional conclusions for some of the most iconic heroes of the last decade. It might be much of what fans expected from this movie, and what we’ve come to see from Marvel, but it brilliantly wraps up 10 years of movies and takes the time to actually focus on its characters.
4) Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
After two very bad Thor movies, director Taika Waititi somehow managed to not only save the franchise, but provide a promising formula for the next generation of Marvel movies. Thor: Ragnarok is a hilarious, exciting, and unexpected Marvel movie that stands out from every other film in the MCU, while proving to be one of the best big-budget blockbusters of 2017. Pre-order on Amazon.
3) Iron Man (2008)
It’s the movie that started it all. Iron Man changed not only the superhero genre, but the movie industry as a whole. Plus, this was the movie that brought Robert Downey Jr. back, and the only Iron Man movie in which Tony Stark is a lovable asshole rather than just an asshole. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
2) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians has everything a Marvel movie should be: an awesome soundtrack, a hilarious script, a unique visual style, its own attitude, an ensemble of fully-developed characters, a talking tree, and the rare ability to stand-alone among the rest of the universe. Guardians is at once part of the MCU and literally in its own galaxy, yet it still provides the backbone for how all these worlds are connected. It’s proof that audiences are open to (slightly) new ideas, and don’t require something familiar and rehashed every time. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
1) Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther is unlike any other Marvel movie, one that says something about our world in ways the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t (despite their best intentions). Featuring a phenomenal collection of actors playing some of the most complex characters found in a superhero movie, Black Panther‘s pairing of Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan as bitter rivals results in a nuanced thematic conflict that puts most Marvel plot lines to shame. Most importantly: It’s fun as hell, visually dazzling, and a refreshing addition to a film series that desperately needed a boost to keep it from becoming stale.
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