Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Pierce Turner, Features Editor

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Avengers: Infinity War is just over a month away and it promises to be the epic culmination of the 18 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that precede it. Sounds like a perfect opportunity (excuse?) to look back at those films and decide the best of the best. Here is the internet’s definitive ranking of the MCU from worst to best.


  1. Thor: The Dark World
Marvel Studios.

Thor’s second solo movie is the embodiment of all the problems in the MCU. Weak villain, basic story centering on a macguffin and annoying comedic characters. Antagonist Malekith (say that five times fast) is truly the worst MCU villain, devoid of any personality or relatability. He also looks like a mix between Voldemort and the emperor from Star Wars.

Image result for malekith gif
Marvel Studios.

That being said, there’s plenty to like in the movie. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are still excellent as Thor and Loki respectably. Though most of the comedy from the Earth characters falls flat, these two still have plenty of humor to provide.


  1. The Incredible Hulk
Marvel Studios.

Hulk’s only solo outing in the MCU is heavily flawed, but underrated. The titular character is played by Edward Norton, later replaced by Mark Ruffalo. This is the only major actor change between Marvel movies aside from Rhodey/War Machine. Norton plays a more somber, depressed Banner than his successor, but it’s a solid performance. The Villain, Abomination, is a classic Marvel cliché: the villain has the same powers as the hero but stronger (think Venom to Spider-Man or Iron Monger to Iron Man).

As the second film in the MCU, IH had the responsibility of proving the connectivity, and it succeeded. The last scene with Banner finally controlling the Hulk sets up the big payoff in The Avengers and when Tony Stark showed up, everyone knew this was real.


  1. Iron Man 2
Marvel Studios.

The biggest problem with Iron Man 2 when it released was that it wasn’t the first movie. Looking back, it’s still a funny, spectacle-filled entry in the franchise. Like the first film, it falls apart hard in the third act (mostly because of the lame villain), and there’s a little too much universe building. However, any movie with Robert Downey, Jr. as Stark is worth watching. It’s worth mentioning that this film introduced Black Widow, War Machine (now permanently played by Don Cheadle) and is the first major role for Nick Fury.


  1. Thor
Marvel Studios.

Poor Thor. Two of his movies are in the bottom four, but it’s not his fault! Hemsworth is one of Marvel’s many perfect casting choices. He can pull off the medieval nature, the physicality, and the comedy of the character. Unfortunately, his film is held back by the supporting Earth characters. The film is saved, however, by Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the best MCU villain.


  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
Marvel Studios.

What’s amazing about the MCU is that even this low on the list, the movies are actually pretty good. That’s the least we can say about a movie that managed to make Captain America cool on the big screen. Cap’s debut doubles as a superhero movie and a war film, taking place during WWII. Red Skull and the Nazis make obviously strong villains to root against as Steve proves he is morally the strongest character in the MCU. The biggest setback for the film is the action. It wasn’t until Avengers and really until Winter Soldier that Marvel nailed Captain America action scenes.


  1. Iron Man
Marvel Studios.

Noticed a trend yet? Most of the movies we talked about are in Phase One of the MCU. That’s because Marvel seems to just keep getting better. Yes, Iron Man began the MCU, therefore it’s probably the most important film on the list. The first half of the origin movie is some of the best content in any superhero movie, telling the story of a transformed Tony Stark, mentally and physically. However, it falls apart in the third act when it actually becomes a superhero movie about beating the bad guy. Still, RDJ’s debut as Iron Man is an incredibly important achievement.


  1. Iron Man 3
Marvel Studios.

Every time I watch Iron Man 3 I appreciate the twist a little less. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s controversial to say the least. The whole movie is a bit too much of a comedy. There’s a tremendous number of times when something cool is going to happen but it fails and turns into a joke.

What makes Iron Man 3 edge out over the first film is it’s much stronger third act, better villain, and Tony’s arc. This is the first film to follow The Avengers, you know, that movie where aliens attacked New York? Naturally, Tony is a little shook from those events and suffers from PTSD. It’s Stark at perhaps his most vulnerable, and it’s one of the very best character arcs in the MCU.


  1. Doctor Strange
Marvel Studios.

This movie is about magic, bro. Benedict Cumberbatch is example number 1,264,005 of Marvel’s perfect casting. He goes from cocky doctor jerk, to humbled sad man, to cocky magic jerk effortlessly in one movie.

Doctor Strange is the most visually unique film in the MCU, and for good reason. There’s a lot of potential with Strange’s powers and the movie capitalizes. There’s a visual flair to his powers that no other hero can match. Though the villains aren’t anything special, the way the good doctor fights them (or doesn’t fight them) is good stuff.


  1. Ant-Man
Marvel Studios.

Who else but Marvel Studios can make really good movies for characters like Ant-Man? The movie shouldn’t have worked as well it did, mostly because of the troubled production, but the end result is funny and visually stunning. Again, shrinking scenes probably shouldn’t work so well, but they’re incredible here, especially when Scott enters the Quantum Realm. Pro tip: watch out for something kind of spooky in that scene.


  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Studios.

Be honest, how many of you even knew about the Guardians before this movie? Even core Marvel fans are a little iffy about the space team. In typical Marvel fashion, however, the film made the characters not only relevant, but updated them to be an endearing and hilarious team of misfits.

GotG brings the MCU to the cosmic, an incredibly important side of the universe. The big problem: Ronan is one of the lamest villains in the MCU. Hopefully the sequel has a better villain…


  1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Marvel Studios.

Yes, the second Guardians is better in just about every way. Without having to spend time introducing and bringing together the team, Vol. 2 gets right into the action and the comedy. The villain, without spoiling who it actually is, is also one Marvel’s best. Far more personal to the characters than Ronan ever could be. Surprisingly, the sequel also has one of the most poignant scenes in the MCU. Indeed, Vol. 2 will make you laugh and cry.


  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel Studios.

From this point on, the movies ranked are some of the best in the superhero genre. The Winter Soldier is the perfect example of how to make a sequel, do something completely different, and craft a movie that far surpassed the original. Cap’s second solo movie goes full on spy thriller as The Winter Soldier, a truly intimidating villain, haunts Steve and shakes up Shield in a way that changes the entire MCU. TWS also has some of the best action in the franchise with Cap making creative use of his shield. There are, however, maybe a bit too many cheap “gotcha” moments in the third act.


  1. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Marvel Studios.

In a lot of ways, Age of Ultron is actually better than the first Avengers. It has a stronger first act, deeper character arcs, and it’s even funnier. What holds the film back is the second act which takes breaks from the plot to set up future films. Still, character moments like everyone trying to lift Thor’s hammer are what make this movie and indeed the MCU special. Ultron is also one of the better MCU villains; intimidating, clever, and a little creepy with that Pinocchio song.


  1. Thor: Ragnarok
Marvel Studios.

Finally, Thor got the solo movie he deserves. All it took was to make it full comedy. Indeed, Ragnarok is the funniest MCU movie. In some scenes, it actually becomes a parody and makes fun of past films like The Dark World and Age of Ultron. The neon-drenched film has incredible fun in the first act, but once Hulk is introduced it becomes a ridiculous ride of hilarity. At the same time, Ragnarok is the best Thor, Hulk, and even Loki movie. New characters like villainess Hela, badass Valkyrie, and Jeff Goldblum’s hilarious Grandmaster could probably have movies of their own. For more, check out our review.


  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Marvel Studios.

Getting Spider-Man into the MCU is one thing, but giving him a worthy movie is another. Luckily, Marvel Studios absolutely nailed it. Spidey is the greatest superhero of all time, but his origin story has already been told in two different movies. Homecoming cleverly skips that and begins several months into his career and after the events of Civil War.

Image result for spider-man homecoming gif
Marvel Studios.

The Web Head(Tom Holland) is young, funny, and most importantly inexperienced, everything Peter Parker should be. He messes up a lot in this movie, and that’s exactly what Spider-Man should do. He grows through the film, learning from Tony Stark and from his own mistakes, and ends up becoming the hero everyone knows. Spider-Man is the most relatable superhero and the film nails this aspect. Homecoming also benefits from Michael Keaton’s Vulture, a sympathetic but terrifying villain. It’s good to have Spidey home. For more, peep Spinnaker’s review.


  1. Black Panther
Marvel Studios.

Marvel’s latest is also one of its very best. Black Panther is beautiful, full of incredibly memorable characters, and unique. Wakanda is the most realized place in the MCU: a colorful and cultural land that we can’t wait to revisit in Infinity War.

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The best part of Black Panther is Michael B. Jordan’s villain Killmonger. More than any other villain in the MCU or indeed any superhero movie, he presents a point of view that the audience could easily side with. He’s scary, but incredibly sympathetic. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give him enough attention. The third act dedicates plenty of time to him, but the first two waste it on the fun, but far less interesting Klaue. Check out our review for more.


  1. The Avengers
Marvel Studios.

The Avengers did what most people thought was impossible at the time: take characters from five different movies and cross them over into one big team up spectacle. Now that it’s been done again a few times since then, some might have taken it for granted, but what this film accomplished is still incredible.

Getting these characters into one film is impressive, but giving them all arcs and unforgettably fun and interesting interactions is what makes Avengers special. Loki is the best MCU villain and he shines more in this movie as an actual threat than any other, summoning an army of aliens and space whales onto New York. The battle of NY is about as iconic as superhero climaxes get.


  1. Captain America: Civil War
Marvel Studios.

As Captain America and Iron Man’s fifth films, they’ve been through a lot. Civil War is the best Marvel movie because it capitalizes on this history by bringing these characters to challenging places that feel earned. Steve can’t trust the government and the control it would place on him and Tony needs the Avengers to be put into check after Ultron, including himself. It’s astounding to see both characters come so far from their first appearances.

Image result for captain america airport battle civil war gif
Marvel Studios.

And then there’s the rest of the movie that brings together more characters than either Avengers film and manages to find balance. Spider-Man and Black Panther are introduced here and it somehow doesn’t derail the film. They all come together in the big fight creating the very best action scene in any superhero movie. Infinity War is going to be hard-pressed to surpass this.

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