Marvel Cinematic Universe Films Ranked from Worst to Best

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If you do not wish to read the entire post, here is the ranking as a tier list (made using TierMaker).

A+ (THE BEST): Black Panther, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Endgame

A/A- (EXCELLENT): Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Doctor Strange, Iron Man

B+/B (SOLID): Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Iron Man 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Captain America: The First Avenger, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Marvel’s The Avengers, Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: Far from Home

B-/C+ (FAIRLY DECENT): Captain Marvel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 2, Ant-Man, Thor

C/C- (MEDIOCRE): Thor: The Dark World, The Incredible Hulk

Recommended Films to Watch First (if you’re not interested in watching all of them in order of release date):

  • Phase 1: Iron Man, Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Phase 2: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Phase 3: Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Captain Marvel (but watch this with the Phase 1 films)

All Assembled Now, Are We?

Ever since I started creating these movie marathon rankings, I’ve been asked many times to watch and rank all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.  At first, as someone who is not the biggest fan of superhero films, I was hesitant to do so, but after I watched The Dark Knight Trilogy as part of my Christopher Nolan marathon, I warmed up a bit to this inevitable task.

(And to be honest, I did this mostly because I want to watch WandaVision.)

For the few of you who do not know about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, allow me to briefly explain what it is and how it impacted cinema in the past decade.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a collection of films, TV shows, and other forms of media that take place within the same universe, based on Marvel’s superhero comics.  Since 2008’s Iron Man, we have yet to see the end of this franchise, which, as of March 2021, spans 23 films (with 11 more expected), 14 television series (with 10 more expected), 8 short films (with 1 short film series expected), 2 digital series, 33 comic book tie-ins, and 12 video games. 

Not only has this franchise resulted in strong commercial success for Marvel Studios, a subsidiary of Disney, but very likely, it has boosted interest by other studios to create their own shared universe film franchises, leading to the creation of the DC Extended Universe, the MonsterVerse, the Dark Universe, and the attempted Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe (that I don’t really want to see the light of day, and this is coming from a huge fan of classic cartoons).  While the MCU is far from the first shared universe franchise, I cannot imagine that any future film franchise will take no inspiration from the MCU in creating and connecting complex worlds and characters to one another.

Additionally, the MCU sets itself apart from its superhero film franchise counterparts with its generally positive reception from audiences and critics alike, and as you can see from my tier list above, I believe this praise is well-deserved. 

As someone who prefers to experience action and fighting in video games than in film, I was somewhat turned off by the MCU initially.  I did see Thor, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Black Panther when they were first released in theatres, and I distinctly recall the fighting scenes to be my least favorite parts of these movies.  Even throughout this marathon, I was often tempted to fast-forward through many of the action sequences, but I did not do so because I am not someone who weighs in his personal enjoyment (or lack thereof) of films whenever I critique them.  (I do want that point out though, that I did enjoy some of the fights, especially that airport one in Captain America: Civil War.)

So do I like films about goody-goody superheroes and how they fight “I-want-to-destroy-the-world-because-I’m-inexplicably-bad-for-no-good-reason-*evil laughter*” villains and “get the [conventionally attractive] girl [whose only purpose is to serve as a supportive love interest]” in the end?  Uh…no, and that is still the case after watching this marathon (though, I will say that some of its best films subvert some of these formulaic tendencies).

I still, though, have incredible respect for the work of many of the folks involved in the MCU.  These movies, in my opinion, are not lower-quality films by virtue of being big-budget, action-heavy, superhero comic book adaptations.  Remember – I reviewed the Scary Movie and American Pie series, and even though I love comedies, most of these movies were not at all great.  At the end of the day, I’m just not a person who likes to think of certain genres of art as “higher” or “lower” quality by nature.  That type of thinking is unfair to people who create and are positively impacted by supposedly “lower” forms of art.

This now brings me to Martin Scorsese’s infamous comments on the MCU, in which he stated that this franchise, along with other modern, big-budget film franchises, is “not cinema.”  His opinion, supported by other legendary filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, speaks less of his distaste for the MCU and more to his fears of how it and its counterparts can negatively impact future filmmakers, crew members, and actors who may not want to be involved in large film franchises.  This, to me, is a valid concern that I also feel, but I do not think Scorsese needed to devalue the MCU in order to make this point.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, in my opinion, is cinema, and I understand that its massive commercial success, never-ending string of sequels and follow-ups, influence on other studios to make franchise films, etc. can hinder opportunities for filmmakers to be riskier (i.e. – make standalone films that are not part of any franchise).  I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of this yet in cinema; however, I think this issue with successful franchises (1) is better exemplified by other types of films, such as Disney’s recent live-action remakes and (2) is in a much more apparent and worse shape in other types of media, particularly in video games and music.

Could you imagine if Donkey Kong (1981) remained a standalone game, never leading to the Super Mario series?  Would hip-hop fans be okay if Kendrick Lamar never released an album again?  Why is it that after Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s 2018 release (and still ongoing DLC development), people on YouTube have been making videos about they want from the next Smash Bros. game?  Did you know that steaming services are encouraging artists to constantly release music in order to remain profitable (as opposed to providing better payout rates)?

I don’t have any detailed answers to these questions, but I will just say that, in addition to what Scorsese talked about, they all point to the issues inherent in the commercialization of art, in which authentic creative expression can be thwarted, restricted, and in this case, unnecessarily repeated by business models in the name of profit.  I’m not saying that is makes buyable art “bad” in and of itself, and I’m also not saying that all art would be “good” if it were released in some alternative model of distribution/consumption that rewards standalone, “riskier” works better.  I’m not here to offer any solutions, and there’s still a lot more I could learn before even attempting to do so. 

In fact, I’m really just trying to say it’s upsetting that sometimes, we can’t just appreciate a movie, a video game, an album, etc. without thinking about “what’s next.”

How about we just get to that ranking?

Oh, but before we get started, I just have one more thing to say about the MCU: Phase 3 > Phase 2 > Phase 1.  Not even a question.


Suit, Don’t Fail Me Now!

BOTTOM 5TOP 5
19. Iron Man 25. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
20. Ant-Man4. Guardians of the Galaxy
21. Thor3. Avengers: Endgame
22. Thor: The Dark World2. Captain America: Civil War
23. (THE WORST) The Incredible Hulk1. (THE BEST) Black Panther

23. (THE WORST) The Incredible Hulk (2008; Phase 1)

hulk
Image via Marvel Studios, Valhalla Motion Pictures, Universal Pictures

TL;DR Review: 

Hulk SMASH?

(Okay, it’s not Hulk (2003) bad, but goodness gracious, what a boring movie!)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%

Metascore: 61/100

My Grade: C-

22. Thor: The Dark World (2013; Phase 2)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Thor: The Dark World is a very by-the-numbers superhero film with a coat of mythology-colored paint…but…ugh! Thor is arguably the funniest MCU supehero, so why are his movies so bland? May Taika Waititi help us all!

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%

Metascore: 54/100

My Grade: C

21. Thor (2011; Phase 1)

Image via Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures

TL;DR Review: There are some pretty interesting characters here, and the overall concept of the film is fine.  It just suffers from being a generic superhero movie…and gratuitous Dutch angle cinematography that enters Battlefield Earth territory.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%

Metascore: 57/100

My Grade: C+

20. Ant-Man (2015; Phase 2)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Ant-Man (or as I’d like to call, Honey, I Shrunk the ‘Good Thief’) is a big-budget superhero film that could have provided an excellent and humorous exploration of morality, relationships, and power, but unfortunately, it does not size up to its potential.  (Haha – get it?  I said “size up” because he’s…uh haha…small.)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

Metascore: 64/100

My Grade: C+

19. Iron Man 2 (2010; Phase 1)

Image via Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures

TL;DR Review: Iron Man 2 is an adequate extension of Iron Man, but with the loss of its predecessor’s excitement, it’s very clear that this film is designed to serve as a bridge between said previous film and The Avengers.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%

Metascore: 57/100

My Grade: B-

18. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015; Phase 2)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron, like its predecessor, reunites its lead heroes and is full of mildly-to-impressively executed action sequences.  However, in its attempt to introduce new characters and conflicts to the MCU, the plot stretches itself quite a bit too thin.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Metascore: 66/100

My Grade: B-

17. Captain Marvel (2019; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Many may find the first third of this film a bit drab and convoluted, but it does pay off in establishing a well-acted and 90’s nostalgia-driven introduction to a great MCU hero (who probably should have been introduced in Phase 1).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Metascore: 64/100

My Grade: B-

16. Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019; Phase 3)

Image via Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing

TL;DR Review: Spider-Man: Far from Home? More like Marvel Cinematic Universe: Far from Over!

Alternate TL;DR Review:

Hey everyone, here is a summary of Spider-Man: Far from Home, made by yours truly in iMovie! (Just imagine that Thanos is Jake Gyllenhaal’s character.)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Metascore: 69/100

My Grade: B

15. Avengers: Infinity War (2018; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Avengers: Infinity War effectively assembles the various heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to take on their most formidable villain.

Alternate TL;DR Review:

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Metascore: 68/100

My Grade: B

14. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012; Phase 1)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Whether you like it or not, The Avengers solidifies the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the action-packed, special-effects heavy, box-office dominating force of the 2010s.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Metascore: 69/100

My Grade: B

13. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Guess what, everyone –  Ant-Man finally sizes up to its potential!  (That’s right; I did it again!)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Metascore: 70/100

My Grade: B

12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011; Phase 1)

Image via Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures

TL;DR Review: 

Captain America…let’s see…

  • Introduces new MCU hero from a non-modern American setting – check.
  • Obligatory superhero film romance – check.
  • Setup for future MCU films – check.

Hmm…yep! This movie’s just like Thor, but this time, it’s less funny and more…uh…good. Cool.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

Metascore: 66/100

My Grade: B

11. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017; Phase 3)

Image via Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing

TL;DR Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming provides a funny, youthful and relatively lighthearted break from its deeper and more serious Phase 3 counterparts.

Alternate TL;DR Review:

(Just imagine that Deadpool is Iron Man and that Black Panther is Happy Hogan/Aunt May/Michael Keaton’s character.)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Metascore: 73/100

My Grade: B+

10. Iron Man 3 (2013; Phase 2)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: The MCU kicks off Phase 2 with a story-focused return to form for its star superhero.

Alternate TL;DR Review:

Mandarin reveal be like (last SpongeBob reference, I promise):

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Metascore: 62/100

My Grade: B+

9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Sure, it’s a “more of the same” sequel, but that is far from a bad thing for a Guardians of the Galaxy film.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Metascore: 67/100

My Grade: B+

8. Thor: Ragnarok (2017; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Taika Waititi adds a much-needed comedic flair to the Thor series, making for what is easily the best Asgardian MCU film to date.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Metascore: 74/100

My Grade: B+

7. Iron Man (2008; Phase 1)

Image via Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures

TL;DR Review: 

Hey, so, Batman Begins, do you have, like, a cousin or a friend or a rival or something?  Like, not exactly you, but a lot like you, except not as dark and serious, and uh…it’s also funny and has a lot of great special effects and Robert Downey Jr. really owning the lead role.  You know what I’m talking about?

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Metascore: 79/100

My Grade: A-

6. Doctor Strange (2016; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Existentialism?  Metaphysics?  A British actor playing an American?  Yep, this is a Christopher Nolan film, except it uses CGI (really well, I might add) instead of practical effects.  Dope.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Metascore: 72/100

My Grade: A-

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014; Phase 2)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, filled with suspenseful action sequences and great acting performances, is a captivating deep dive into the lives and stories of S.H.E.I.L.D. and its agents.

Alternate TL;DR Review:

Spoiler (?) Warning

This Pulp Fiction reference satisfies my soul.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Metascore: 70/100

My Grade: A

4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014; Phase 2)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

TL;DR Review: 

Review: I am Groot.  I am Groot.  I am Groot.  I am Groot.  I am Groot. I am Groot.

Translation: Guardians of the Galaxy is the stylistic, humorous, action-packed, and, most importantly, character-driven narrative that sets itself far apart from its MCU counterparts.  This is a “comic-book adaptation” in its truest sense.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Metascore: 76/100

My Grade: A

3. Avengers: Endgame (2019; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

(Not So) TL;DR Review: 

Avengers: Endgame is an epic, monumental film that neatly ties together the stories of its twenty-one predecessors.  It is far from the end of this superhero franchise, and while there may come a day when another cinematic universe overshadows the MCU in popularity, you can at least say that, as long as you consider Spider-Man: Far from Home an epilogue, “The Infinity Saga” went out with a cosmic bang.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Metascore: 78/100

My Grade: A+

2. Captain America: Civil War (2016; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

(Again, Not So) TL;DR Review: 

Captain America: Civil War, as an Avengers film that reunites most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes, introduces new characters, and creates new conflicts, accomplishes everything Avengers: Age of Ultron did but in a far superior package.  By keeping the tensions internal, the character development and interactions are at the forefront, morality becomes increasingly complex, and it all culminates in some of the best fighting scenes in the MCU.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Metascore: 74/100

My Grade: A+

1. (THE BEST) Black Panther (2018; Phase 3)

Image via Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (Also, RIP Chadwick Boseman)

TL;DR Review: 

Along with The Dark Knight, Black Panther is a superhero film whose relatively minor imperfections are greatly eclipsed by its impact.  By “impact”, I am not just referring to its excellent story, its morally complex villain, its insanely beautiful Afro-futuristic aesthetics, its sociopolitical commentary, its positive critical reception, or even its powerful representation of Black people in a major Hollywood film. Rather, Black Panther is impactful because even years after its release, this film continues to influence its counterparts to dive deeper and add complexity to the formulaic struggle between “Hero” and “Villain,” and it also continues to invite insight into and conversations about several heavy-handed topics that go beyond the realm of a typical superhero film, garnering perspectives from people who may not even agree with all its sociopolitical stances

Regardless of what it wants to tell us, Black Panther, from what is shows us, is a masterpiece because in exceeding its goal of adding backstory to a secondary MCU character introduced in Captain America: Civil War, it presents itself as a modern cultural phenomenon.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

Metascore: 88/100

My Grade: A+

Published by Miles Ndukwe

Some guy with glasses.

2 thoughts on “Marvel Cinematic Universe Films Ranked from Worst to Best

  1. Lol you’ve unironically put black panther as number 1 ? literally 2nd worst movie in MCU only beaten by captain marvel by a slim margin and not even sharing same plain of existence with 3rd worst movie which is Thor dark world. Before you call me “bigot” or racist go and re-watch that movie and think about it for a minute. That movie was full of plot holes and fucked up so much of established universe that even if you are biggest black supremacist you can’t put it above 5/10. Also in what universe is Endgame better than Infinity war ? Endgame broke the universe almost as much as black panther but at least had beautiful fights and strong scenes. Infinity war on the other hand is Masterpiece, i know its not perfect but it is as perfect as it can be and i would argue best movie in whole MCU.

    Like

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