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Ranking the Films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Today brings the return of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the big screens, as Black Widow hits theaters. Of course, while the MCU has been cinematically on pause due to COVID, the Disney+ small screen versions have come to life. WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and now Loki have kept us all satiated while Black Widow was repeatedly delayed. Now, it’s out, you’re all able to see it, and the next phase of the MCU is upon us. To commemorate the occasion, I’m going to be ranking all of the films that Marvel has released so far, from Iron Man to Black Widow. Who doesn’t love a list?

Below, you can see how the MCU stacks up, post Black Widow. Obviously, I’ll keep doing these and amending as Marvel puts out more movies, but for now, this is how I feel. Your mileage may vary, so be sure to tell me in the comments where it all lands for you. Now, on with the list…

Disney

Here now is my current ranking of the films that make up the MCU:

24. Thor: The Dark World – So, if this is the worst that Marvel can do, we’re in a good place. Thoroughly acceptable but without much of a spark, this sequel has Thor pretty much doing the same thing as in the first one. The enjoyably larger role for Loki saves it from turning into a slog, as does the slight re-evaluation Avengers: Endgame gives it. Again, if this is the bottom of the barrel, things are just fine over at the Marvel offices.

23. The Incredible Hulk – More a byproduct of not knowing how to use Hulk properly than anything else, this outing shows Marvel as a studio still finding their footing in the world. The fact that it’s more or less not referred to at all in the canon of the MCU should be telling, though it’s not unenjoyable at all. Still, this and the title above are the clear weak links to date.

22. Iron Man 2 – The downside of overt world building. The one film in the series that got too concerned with setting up The Avengers, there’s plenty to like here with Tony Stark/Iron Man just as fun as always. At the same time though, it’s a bare bones plot where the sequel building is unfortunately the prime focus. It’s middle of the road for Marvel in just about every way (though by proxy fairly low on this list), and definitely should have been better.

21. Thor – Okay now. From here on out, the titles move to the good/very good/great range, with the God of Thunder perhaps just suffering from being their least interesting character. There’s nothing wrong with this movie, and the Hawkeye cameo is pretty cool, but it’s on the forgettable side, that’s for sure. The character is still at his best when not going solo and partnered with other heroes, if you ask me.

20. Iron Man 3 – Making this the Tony Stark show as opposed to watching him just use the suit for two hours was a top notch decision. Besides just showcasing Robert Downey, Jr. in a big way, it mixes up the formula, which was needed. If this is how the Iron Man solo films wrapped up, and it likely is, they went out on a solid note.

19. Avengers: Age of Ultron – As much as this is certainly good summer blockbuster entertainment, I found myself hoping for a little bit more. Considering what was still to come, being slightly disappointed by it wasn’t an overreaction. Part of that might just be that we’ve now seen the group together already, so some of the magic is gone. Still, this is more than effective and well worth seeing.

18. Captain America: The First Avenger – Admittedly a bit cheesy at times, but intentionally so, this is the most throwback of any Marvel outing to date. The ending is very solid, but up until then it’s basically an unexceptional World War II tale. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, but it’s put to shame by its sequel (now its two sequels, until the next one), as you’ll be seeing below within this particular list.

17. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – While there are diminishing returns from the first one, it’s still a massively entertaining adventure. It does way more right than it does wrong, including finding an interesting way to have one of Marvel’s more creative villains. The charm is in full effect, and while it does the least to advance Phase Three of the MCU towards its conclusion, it remains a welcome change of pace.

16. Ant-Man – One of the sillier Marvel outings to date and a riskier one too, this probably shouldn’t have worked, or at least not as well as it did. The original combination of Paul Rudd working with Edgar Wright had many pumped up, but Wright obviously left the project, ultimately leaving it in the hands of Peyton Reed. At times Reed lets things get a little generic, but the script is still partially credited to Wright and it shows. His clearly influenced moments are by far the best, but it’s a fun flick throughout. It’s at its best when the ridiculousness of the idea isn’t being shied away from. Plus, it’s just enjoyable to watch MCU fight scenes done on a totally different scale.

15. Black Widow – Here is what I said in my recent review (here) on the site: “Black Widow is here, in all of its blockbuster glory. The Marvel adventure is a lot of fun and very well done, but there admittedly is a sense that this is coming a bit late in the game. The narrative is a solid one for Romanoff, but it works more as a filling in of the character, as opposed to the tribute it might have been at this point. Had it come out in Phase One or Phase Two, it would have been thrilling. Now, it’s very good, but lacks just a little something to make it great.”

14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – An out of nowhere spy thriller that could have almost come out in the 1970’s and been about the Cold War, this was one of the MCU’s most pleasant surprises. It’s no shock that the filmmakers here were then given the keys to the Marvel kingdom from here on out, taking over the massive Avengers sequels. The Winter Soldier has only gotten better as time has passed too, making this an underrated gem in the universe for many.

13. Doctor Strange – Easily the weirdest outing in the MCU to date, this is also definitely the most visual as well. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a great superhero and Tilda Swinton is a scene stealer, even if the casting is problematic. The odd look of the film is really what’s best here, but it’s also one of Marvel’s more effective origin stories as well. It’s all just a fun mix, giving you something a bit different. Even more so than usual, I’ll be eager for another adventure with this hero when he enters the Multiverse of Madness.

12. Ant-Man and the Wasp – What a pleasant surprise, this one was. Everything you like about the first installment is still in effect here, only better. This is also one of the most female centric MCU outings yet. Rudd’s comedic portrayal of a hero is totally on point too. With smaller goals than in probably any other outing for the company, there’s more opportunities for fun. The result is a blast in just about every way. Ant-Man is now a character I’m even more eager to see more from in his impending third flick.

11. Captain Marvel – One look at this and you knew that Carol Danvers was set to mess Thanos up. Brie Larson is an inspiration here. It’s rare to want to stand up and cheer in a superhero movie, where your protagonist is literally superhuman, but she brings that out in you. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck lean in to the science fiction aspects of the flick way more than expected, resulting in something rather odd at times. A re-watch could actually shoot it up into the top ten, that’s how impressed I initially was with this MCU outing.

10. Thor: Ragnarok – Simply put, this movie is utterly hilarious. It already seemed like a winner considering how it was teaming up Thor with Hulk, but the fact that filmmaker Taika Waititi fuels this with laughter is a stroke of comedic genius. Letting Jeff Goldblum go to town as well results in some great moments, including one of the funniest post credits scenes in the MCU yet. The whole tone just works. When it becomes more of an action outing, it’s a bit more generic, though still livelier than previous Thor flicks. The movie is supremely entertaining, cracking Marvel’s top ten

9. Guardians of the Galaxy – One of the biggest gambles Marvel has made since actually setting forth with the MCU concept, this turned out to be one of their biggest and most purely entertaining success stories. Taking their universe and truly making it universal, this space opera of sorts is as much Star Wars as a miniature version of The Avengers. It’s just so much fun, and has stayed that way on subsequent viewings.

8. The Avengers – It was all leading up to this one, so it was a joy to see just how well the meeting of Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor ultimately was. Probably the biggest superhero movie ever (at that point), it was lighter than the Batman franchise it was opening up the same year as, and while not quite as amazing, still more than blew audiences away. It may not 100% hold up to the euphoria we had when first seeing it, but it’s still definitely an iconic moment in Marvel history, and overall just a great time.

7. Captain America: Civil War – This is only a tiny step down from the top spot here, which makes it the best Marvel outing since the end of Phase One. In fact, it might be the best of the lot after a revisit or two. At the very least, it’s right on the level of the first Avengers film, which I’m currently slotting a minuscule bit below this one. This builds on Captain America: The Winter Solider in all the best ways. The main set piece battle is outstanding, but the story is just perhaps the best that the MCU has had to date, including finally having a villain that’s not easily dismissed, which has been something Marvel has occasionally struggled with.

6. Spider-Man: Far From Home – Not only is Spider-Man: Far From Home another great Spidey adventure, one that ties into the past and future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s also another tremendous high school story. Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker and the best Spider-Man yet, Jake Gyllenhaal is tremendously fun, Zendaya continues to be an absolute spark plug, and the entire product is just a tremendous amount of fun. Plus, this movie has two of the best post credits sequences for the MCU yet, both of which are actually pretty important, plot wise. One actually works as a final scene for the adventure audiences just watched, which is a really bold move. It’s not spoiling anything to say that it really does change what you saw before. That’s the mark of a rock solid feature, that even the final moments can add to the enjoyment. Jon Watts and company really set the stage for Phase Four of the universe in a compelling and surprising manner.

5. Avengers: Infinity War – A spectacle unlike anything we’ve ever seen, with a bold cliffhanger ending to boot, this is something truly special. Assembling nearly the entire MCU lineup in a deeply satisfying way, the film is also unafraid to have a body count. The stakes are high, the humor is on point, and the action sizzles. If not for how amazing the conclusion is, this would be even more of a high point…

4. Iron Man – It’s hard to beat the one that started it all, and up until now, nothing had. RDJ is just perfection as the title character, setting up everything that has come since. If he hadn’t been at the top of his game, none of this would have turned out the same. For that alone, it’s worth heavy praise, but this is also a nearly perfect superhero film, helping to set the tone for what would come next. It stood tall among the MCU titles so far, though admittedly a few of the recent titles have closed in on it, but it took a certain webslinger and just recently a King to finally top it.

3. Black Panther – In time, this could easily become Marvel’s best. In fact, it probably is, but I want to sit on it for a bit. Black Panther stands out for many reasons, notably for both being their most auteur driven work (kudos to Ryan Coogler) and for giving the MCU perhaps their best villain ever (bravo Michael B. Jordan). Aside from some slight repetition and occasionally generic action, this is damn near perfect work. Everyone involved should be very proud. Now, the first Marvel film to win an Academy Award, the Oscar love has helped cement it as a cultural touchstone.

2. Spider-Man: Homecoming – This MCU outing was the best yet for a short while, to me. As much a high school comedy as an action epic, this is another nearly perfect superhero film. By combining their sensibilities with Spidey’s, it makes for something really different. Traditionalists might be split on how Peter Parker and Spider-Man are portrayed here, but I loved this take. Tom Holland is phenomenal too, blowing both Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire (and they were each terrific in their own right) out of the water. Integrating Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and even a bit of Iron Man into things fits the character into the MCU, but this is a much lower fi character, even with a Stark enhanced suit (which provides a ton of comic relief as he learns how to use it). It all just works.

1. Avengers: Endgame – No surprise, but Endgame stands tall. This is the best Marvel has ever done. Truly. Avengers: Endgame brings the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its initial form to a worthy conclusion, eliciting more emotion than any superhero movie yet. I laughed, I cried, and I was filled to the brim with joy. This is a triumph for anyone who has invested a decade and over 20 films worth of material into one giant story. Over three hours long but paced perfectly, you won’t want it to end. Somehow, Marvel, Kevin Feige, and the creative forces have exceeded expectations. It’s a stunning achievement, without question.

What is your ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let us know!

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  1. Actual Art:
    1. Black Panther

    Good:
    2. The Avengers
    3. Captain Marvel
    4. Thor: The Dark World
    5. Iron Man

    Slightly Passable, Depending on the Day:
    6. Thor
    7. Guardians of the Galaxy

    Bad, but with One Hell of an Ending Scene:
    8. Captain America: The First Avenger
    9. Avengers: Endgame

    Bad:
    10. Iron Man 2
    11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
    12. Iron Man 3
    13. Captain America: Civil War
    14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
    15. The Incredible Hulk

    Okay, Now I’m Just Bitter and Confused:
    16. Thor: Ragnarok
    17. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    18. Avengers: Infinity War

    N/A: Black Widow, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Written by Joey Magidson

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