The MCU is all set to move into Phase 4. So, how about we look back at what one of the greatest cinematic worlds of Hollywood has offered us over the years till now.
25 films is not bad. While some of them are downright bad, I think most of them are pretty cool. There’s something charming about the universe in totality, which would account for its unparallel popularity over the years.
It’s not like Marvel stuff is only a decade or two old or something. It has been there for long, maybe not on big screen. But what the big screen did (like it always does) is give the imagination of a number of generations a visual representation.
The Marvel films can be divided into four distinct phases –
Phase 1 (2008-2012) consisting of 6 movies, which focuses on the growth and formation of the OG Avengers, Phase 2 (2013-2015) having 6 movies focusing on the impact of the Marvel heroes on the world, Phase 3 (2016-2019) with ten movies which involves the build up to and the actual Infinity War with Thanos.
We are slowly moving into Phase 4, with a bunch of new superheroes and the building up of the idea of the multiverse.
Apart from all the logical reasoning, chronology of events and plot construction details, the Marvel movies can be brutally judged in terms of its cinematic quality as well. Yup, just because it’s Marvel doesn’t mean the movie can by default be considered great.
Though, most Marvel movies are pretty good, in the most part. So, here’s my ranking of all 25 Marvel movies which have released till now. Feel free to disagree. In fact, you most probably will.
I have divided the 25 MCU movies into 5 main categories for a better ranking. The categories are:
- Classics (No. 1-5) – the absolute best of the MCU
- Superior (No. 6-10) – Not the absolute best, but superior quality
- Good (No. 11-15) – Good stuff, worth watching.
- Average (No. 16-20) – Not too bad, but not great either.
- Meh (No. 21-25) – The worst of the MCU.
Here goes the ranking, from the MEHs to the CLASSICs.
25Iron Man 2 (2010)
This one is a least favorite for a number of reasons. There was clearly the pressure of the shared universe. Apart from that, the storylines were half baked and too many plotlines were clubbed into one movie.
More so, the universe was not ready for all of that mix- S.H.I.E.L.D, Black Widow, Pepper and Stark Industries etc. The plotlines were so disconnected and unbalanced that it feels like a strain to watch the entire film.
It’s kind of sad, because Iron Man is our favorite. The film is watchable only because of Robert Downey’s incredible screen presence and the growth of Iron Man as a character, but yet it is mediocre compared to the rest.
24Ant Man and the Wasp (2018)
If we DC fans needed one movie to prove our point about how bad Marvel is, it would be this one! Just kidding.
On a serious note, the problem with Ant Man and the Wasp is again, a number of plotlines which were not well balanced and did not seem coherent enough.
It depended too much on the charisma and screen presence of Ant Man aka Paul Rudd to hold onto its ground and it definitely works for a while, but we do need a plot to hold on.
The film was pretty forgettable for me. The only thing worth remembering it for was the post-credits scene which showed the aftermath of Thanos’ snap. It legit reminds you of Infinity War.
The trigger warning that a sequel is bad? If the only thing worth remembering about it is the scene that reminds you of another better film. All in all, too disappointing for the MCU.
23Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The main problem with this out and out bad cinematic experience is that it is bland and boring. Basically it is a classic bad MCU sequel- half-baked plotlines, no coherence in the plot connection and too much focus on the charisma of the leads.
Alan Taylor messed up when he tried to borrow Kenneth Branagh’s original style and replace with average CGI to create a Westeros or Star Wars-esque world in the MCU. In short, that does not work.
The writing is amateurish and the film fails to capture the essence of the MCU in general. However, the film is important in the sense that it first confirms the Infinity Stones explicitly. Otherwise, this one is a clear pass for me.
22The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Though many consider this the worst of MCU, I think it is not as bad as the other three I mentioned before this one. The issue with this one is the lack of anything unique or special.
The Incredible Hulk is more of a build-up and a connective thread to other MCU movies. It is full of Stark Industries and S.H.I.E.L.D Easter eggs that contribute to the build-up of Iron Man.
There’s also the linking of Hulk’s origins to the super soldier serum from Captain America three years before Rogers made his debut.
All of that is okay, but the build-up film doesn’t exactly serve the actual purpose: it fails to explain or establish the presence of Hulk in the MCU and how he would work in a wider context. For a film titled “The Incredible Hulk”, that is quite a problem.
21Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Another big disappointment of the MCU. If you have been a Marvel fan for a long time, you probably know about the hype that grew around it.
Considering this was the sequel to one of the most well-made standalone films in the history of the MCU i.e. The Avengers, there was of course the pressure to match up. But even then, what is bad is bad.
The performances are mediocre, the pace and plot is all over the place and there’s nothing extraordinary in terms of execution either. Age of Ultron is basically the result of an experienced CGI team meeting a weak and hollow script.
The direction falters at a serious level as well. It is really sad to watch our heroes not only fighting the evils on screen, but also the evils of filmmaking – such as a bad script, bad direction and half-baked plot holes.
20Captain Marvel (2019)
Captain Marvel as a film is great at some parts, while it falters heavily in other parts. The quality is definitely not consistent. The Skrulls and their whole purpose is all pretty fascinating to watch, while some chunks feel so out of place.
There’s also a bit of a feminist aspect to it, which is great, coming from a universe largely based and thriving on the male saviour complex and machismo. The first solo female MCU superhero emerges breaking off external restrictions to find herself again, the storyline did have a spark.
But again, the concept maybe cool, even the film at parts, but the lack of consistently good storytelling is missing and somehow the viewer and the maker is never on the same page with this film. Some big questions are also left unanswered.
19Iron Man 3 (2013)
If there’s an MCU movie that I had to call underrated, it would be Iron Man 3. Shane Black keeps it in his own style – the narrative technique, the Christmas setting, the humor and it does not become victim to the typical Marvel formula, which subsequent films would.
In other words, this film is a little different from the usual Marvel. Another thing I like about Iron Man 3 is that though it does not remain faithful to the comics (which film does, really?), it is set in tone with the real world because terrorism is a problem of the real world.
Iron Man 3 is largely criticised because of Mandarin, and it’s true, to an extent the film had a villain problem.
The film promised an interesting battle between Tony Stark and his archnemesis with a modern twist and it does exactly that, just in a different way and the twist was a little too much for some people to handle.
But despite those tidbits of positives, Iron Man 3 majorly lacks the spirit of Marvel. There’s hardly any major boost in the climax and it falls flat, being victim to bland storytelling. There’s no pace and the film majorly lacks focus.
The idea of the twist was nice IMO, but the execution is so poor that it could not save the film.
18Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 (2017)
Guardians of the Galaxy used to be my most favorite part of the MCU when I first began watching the films. Too bad that GOTG: Volume 2 does not even have a proper plot.
Guardians 2 had a lot of potential, but again, it is unable to build up on it. In fact, after the entry of Ego in the scene, there is hardly any development for the next 20 minutes or so. Like, why?
The film raises several points about the nature vs nurture debate and talks about the idea of parentage and adoption, but it is just so disappointing that none of it comes together in the end.
I had a lot of expectation from Groot as the uniting thread, but his character remains one of choric comic relief for the most part.
Nevertheless, Guardians 2 is definitely better than the other lows hit by the MCU, considering the honest effort and the issues raised. Also, I have a soft spot for the Guardians.
Antman was a nice distraction from the general nature of the MCU films and its heroes. This character was to become a superhero where the Avengers already exist and the formula was pretty much a given.
So of course, it took more than just a punch to get Antman to hit the correct points.
The film has its positives and negatives. The part which Antman gets absolutely right is the casting. Paul Rudd as Scott Lang is an incredible addition to the MCU and an interesting twist to the existing Marvel hero trope.
Apart from Rudd, the supporting cast is also quite splendid and is able to hold onto the audience as they navigate through an otherwise standard average storyline.
Where Antman really falters is the action bit. A Marvel movie with bad action sequences and technology is a rare phenomenon, but Antman manages to hit that ball. Antman is an interesting addition, but even as a character, he is not a strong hero TBH.
16Black Widow (2021)
We waited long enough for Scarlet Johannsson to get her own solo movie, but the wait was not worth it.
The film is what I would say a victim to poor filmmaking and technology, and a wrong time of release. Black Widow should definitely have released in Phase 3 of the MCU, maybe somewhere at the same time as Doctor Strange of GOTG Volume 2.
But even as a standalone movie, Black Widow gives little context and character development to its protagonist and leaves hardly any scope for Johannsson to perform. Links are left unresolved.
While in other cases this would mean an unofficial confirmation of another movie, in this case it weakens the film narrative further because Black Widow is dead, remember? This is a film set in past events, so it needed to be more precise and crisp, which it isn’t.
There are certain films in the MCU which just win your heart because of the people in it. Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki does exactly that.
Thor as a film is average, having a good blend of comedy and fantasy. While The Dark World was all about trying to make it grounded and dark and Ragnarök is more focused on the comic element, Thor dwells in the line just in between.
Tom Hiddleston as Loki is a revelation, and the rest of the supporting cast such as Anthony Hopkins as Odin is also delightful. Kenneth Branaugh did give us an enjoyable film.
I won’t say there is a very strong negative aspect to Thor as a film, but it is more like in general it is good, not great. So I don’t have too many specific complaints. Probably it’s just that other MCU movies are better, but Thor is a good watch too.
14Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
The latest MCU movie and the second one in Phase 4 of the MCU gave me a Deja-vu. It reminded strongly of the old school Marvel films.
There’s that old school trope where a lesser known character is given the attention, which existed in the first phase of the MCU. With time, this trope became overused and the MCU films became too engrossed in building a universe and connections within to pay attention to individual characters.
Anyways, we did get a new protagonist and despite the focus on kung-fu and karate driven action, the climax is yet another CGI driven kaiju fight, which was kind of disappointing.
Shang Chi is a good standalone film, but his story still remains loose and focus could have been stronger on his own narrative. The protagonist becomes a victim to the bigger universe building, like is the case with most Marvel characters.
But this is just the beginning of Phase 4, so there is definitely a more promising future for Shang Chi.
13Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy is the perfect blend of fantasy and action, where Marvel meets the Star Wars-esque sci-fi tropes. There’s a talking raccoon and a walking tree, there’s the action as well as the spectacle.
The best part about GOTG is the confidence in film making. James Gunn creates a beautiful universe, where everything is weird, everything is unique. But in a world where everything is weird, nothing is weird, isn’t it?
The film manages to give the audience an experience, and builds a very different sort of a future trope. But it does falter in places where the character development is stagnant, and the plot lines are too many to be crammed into one film.
12Spiderman: Far from Home (2019)
This film is a blend of many genres: on one hand, it is a high school comedy, a superhero film and also, which is the most pressurizing, a fragment of the MCU.
Like Homecoming, the villain of Far From Home is the most interesting part of the film. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio was marketed by Marvel as a villain but it was worth it. He has some pretty amazing sequences, especially the vision one.
Far From Home actually grows on you and gets better on rewatch. None of the MCU movies except a select few can boast of a carefully crafted plot or very organized storyline, so all that is definitely applicable to this one as well.
But what it does well is the surprises and the balancing of the various themes in the narrative. Like Homecoming, this one is a great watch and gets better on rewatch.
11Thor: Ragnarök (2017)
A cosmic setting coupled with Chris Hemsworth’s comic timing, it really does make a good film. Thor is ridiculously funny, extremely witty and Hemsworth’s charm makes it an even better watch.
It is actually a great step for MCU as a whole to kick the ball out of the park and stepping out of the common superhero trope and overusing it.
It is a given that the best part of Ragnarök is the comic element. Taika Waititi takes a big risk by plotting a whole Marvel movie script around comedy and without much analysis, I just want to say that it is real fun to watch.
Waititi’s film gave Thor the character strength and dimension that the previous Thor films lacked. While I do realize that this is not exactly fitting as a superhero movie and definitely not what people expect of a Marvel movie, I think it is a unique film which is worth appreciating for the witty script and the cinematic quality.
A sci-fi comedy does not have too many takers in the film making world, so it’s really promising to watch something different once in a while.
10Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)
The trope of the villain being the hero’s love interest’s father is a pretty common trope to those who are familiar with the pattern of commercial cinema, but Jon Watts’ film treats in on a deeper level.
The film is well balanced, well-articulated and one of the best MCU movies IMO, which is why it made it to my top 10.
Also, the version of Spiderman that we meet is one rooted back in the early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics, which is amazing considering how the whole reboot is done. Spidey is placed in a modern world, and his personalities are given a new twist.
Tony Stark is a fitting father figure, the twists are phenomenal, there’s a good deal of action and Tom Holland delivers a brilliant performance as the awkward teen as well as the superhero saviour. The shift is well balanced as well.
Another place where the film succeeds is in establishing Peter Parker’s character and giving him his agency. He may not be an out and out hero yet, but he is trying to be one, which makes him more human and closer to the heart.
Homecoming definitely is a winner for me.
9Black Panther (2018)
When Shuri says, “Just because it works, does not mean it cannot be improved”, she was probably indirectly referring to the MCU movies.
Jokes apart, Black Panther is definitely a film that works and one of the best standalone films. What is worth appreciating is that even if you aren’t an OG Marvel fan, you will not have a problem understanding the film.
In most cases, MCU movies are so full of references, hints and flashbacks to other related movies (yet another side-effect of trying to build a universe rather than focusing on quality of individual films), it is difficult for a newbie to understand what the hell is going on.
Black Panther manages to strike that balance, where OG fans as well as newbies can enjoy the film as a cool superhero flick. It is an example of how to do a Marvel movie right, while also drawing the necessary connections.
It presents and develops the character of Blank Panther connecting it to the Civil War introduction. Killmonger is another brilliant addition and he is one layered villain the MCU has given us.
Another important aspect is how the focuses on the perils of colonialism and provides a logical take on it, while not making too satirical and obvious. Amazing, to say the least.
8Captain America: Civil War (2016)
There was a lot of controversy surrounding Civil War because of its uncanny similarities with an awaited DC Universe release, Batman VS Superman: Dawn of Justice. But DC pushed the release further, paving way for Civil War.
And Marvel rocked it this time.
Civil War is a well-made film in terms of building and bringing threads together. Characters get the needed boost and development, and threads from previous films are brought together. The script is quite concise, which is difficult to pull off for a film at such a large scale.
Steve Rogers’ own narrative, his duties, responsibilities and own guilt definitely forms the crux of the narrative, as it should. All in all, it is a striking example of a good film despite having the responsibility to tie loose ends together.
7Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Does this one really need any introduction? It the MCU was a living breathing person and had a heart, it would be Avengers Endgame along with its prequel, Infinity War.
The build up to this film took years, and with all the flaws and ills that it brings, it really is the heart and soul of the MCU and an emotion for every Marvel fan.
Having said that, Endgame is also messy and confusing to a large part, with its strange take on micro continuity. It is definitely not perfect, but very character driven and offers the audience an incredible climactic emotional catharsis.
There is absolutely no doubt about the brilliance of technology and action associated with this. This one might not be a great one as a standalone film, but as a MCU gem, it definitely must rank among the top 10.
Also, “I love you, 3000.” *teary eyes*
6Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The Russo brothers’ first entry into the MCU was definitely a smashing one. The action sequences are brilliant, there’s a touch of reality in an otherwise superpower-esque dystopia and the character development is brilliantly done.
Every single character has a proper arc and has something to contribute into the story and nothing seems too out of place. Besides, there were the early times when the pressure of the universe building had not set in, so the focus on the film was still there.
The consequences of the twists are meaningless and subsequent films were unable to build on it, but that cannot really be a weak point for Winter Soldier as a film. All in all, as a standalone film The Winter Soldier is well made and a great watch.
5Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Infinity War is a summation of a dozen or more existing character arcs with a number of heroes facing one big villain. The culmination and build up to this movie took years and Part 1 of the coming together of the Avengers phase of the MCU was surely worth it.
The master stroke of the Russo brothers in Infinity War was the introduction of the perspective of Thanos, arguably one of the greatest villains in popular culture itself.
Thanos has numerous layers to his character. While Killmonger had right motives but the wrong method, Thanos is a downright psychopath who wants to destroy half of the universe. But yet, he is given a layered trait to his character, which is great TBH.
Infinity War is a hard film to analyse, considering there’s so much to analyse and talk about and of course, the loopholes. They’re there. But nevertheless, it is where the MCU’s heart lies and all in all, this film fulfils the MCU dream.
4Doctor Strange (2016)
An arrogant, upper class, privileged rich man suffers an injury. But through his injury, he discovers new powers that he possesses now. In a nutshell, that’s what Doctor Strange is all about.
The theme is pretty Nolan-esque, and this one is a very mature MCU movie. While the MCU gives all action and entertainment sort of vibes, Doctor Strange holds onto to the idea of that time is the real enemy and death is the ultimate fear.
The film is uniquely uses all existing tropes and creates a brilliant work of cinema, which if not anything works as a standalone good film. The direction is on point, the themes are perfectly in sync and Benedict Cumberbatch fits so beautifully into the role of the sarcastic doctor with a goatee.
3Iron Man (2008)
Iron Man is hands down one of the best origin stories that I have seen. The impact of Iron Man on superhero movies in general cannot be understated.
The film is a great watch altogether, and it introduces us to our beloved Tony Stark, and Robert Downey Jr, fits so perfectly into the role that it is hard to imagine Iron Man without Downey for us today.
Again, the advantage of these earlier MCU films is that it does not have the additional baggage of connecting and building a bigger universe. The film is a delightful watch as it keeps its focus in place and tells us the story of Tony Stark, rather than trying to connect everything to some other multiverse.
Perhaps if Marvel would focus on films rather than the universe building for a while, they would still be able to give us brilliant films to remember, such as this one.
Even in terms of filmmaking, Iron Man is a winner. The cinematography is brilliant, the plot is well constructed and the performances are supported with a good script. Basically, a good film.
2Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Finally, the one that takes the crown. It was a tough choice between The First Avenger and The Avengers, but Cap gets an edge because it gave us the hero that our time desperately needs by pulling him out of our time.
The film has every element to become a successful and entertaining piece of commercial cinema, while also being deep rooted in its themes. Steve Rogers is perfectly cast, there’s the right amount of humor, action and even emotions!
While many would not rank this one high enough because it is not complicated enough, I believe that isn’t a valid reason. The film was not meant to confuse the audience. It is a classic origin story of an ordinary man taking his first step towards an extraordinary journey, and the film does it well.
It is colorful, energetic, charming and one hell of a watch which is bound to make Captain America one of your favourite characters, much like Iron Man.
For me, that is what MCU is all about and The First Avenger does it the best.
1The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers was the first step of the MCU towards becoming a franchise. The focus was in the right place.
While there was a lot of potential for it to become a gimmicky mess of a film, the style of filmmaking is what managed to stop that. The Avengers is one of the best Marvel movies till date and also the one largely responsible for giving a boost to Marvel Studios.
It released at a time when superhero movies were debated to be going “out of fashion” and there was also the added pressure of having released two months before The Dark Knight Rises. DC- Marvel aren’t rivals for nothing, mate!
Nevertheless, the Avengers is one of the best examples of bringing together a number of influential characters and yet not messing it up. Those good old days, when the MCU was about movies and not the multiverse.
If you want to explain to someone why MCU became such a big thing, make them watch this film. A spectacle and an experience all in all.
About Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is an American media franchise and shared universe centered on a series of superhero films, independently produced by Marvel Studios and based on characters that appear in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.
The franchise includes comic books, short films, television series, and digital series. The shared universe, much like the original Marvel Universe in comic books, was established by crossing over common plot elements, settings, cast, and characters.