Over the past 13 years, Marvel has put together an expansive universe filled with plenty of fan-favorite characters from the comics. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t the first time that some of these characters appeared on the big screen, the franchise is certainly the most popular to ever feature them, and arguably the best.
Right now, there have been 28 entries in the franchise beginning with Iron Man in 2008. 2021 has seen three new additions to Marvel’s Phase Four so far, including Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and most recently, Eternals. In this article, we’ll take a look at all of these films and rank them in order to determine which are the best in the overall franchise.
28. The Incredible Hulk
When fans speak of the MCU at large, they often choose not to include 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and for good reason. Released shortly after Iron Man kicked off the MCU to the mainstream movie-going audience, this interpretation of the Hulk’s story went largely overshadowed. The film had its own problems, including a lackluster reception, and because of that it takes the last place in MCU ranking.
27. Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World was released in 2013 as a follow-up to the much more successful Thor. The film is full of high-stakes action and continues Thor’s gripping story, but it doesn’t quite stick the landing as well as the original. It does, however, act as an important vessel for introducing yet another Infinity Stone to the universe, which would pay off by the time Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame came around.
26. Iron Man 2
When Iron Man launched the MCU in 2008, fans eagerly awaited a follow-up. Starring an almost identical cast to the first film, the sequel looked poised to be another box office success, which it was, but for fans it failed to meet the mark of its predecessor. Whether it was the choice of villain, the tone of the film, or the challenge of living up to its predecessor, Iron Man 2 is widely regarded as the worst of the three Iron Man films. That said, we’re still giddy over Black Widow’s jaw-dropping hallway fight⏤her first showcase as a Black Widow in action.
25. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron was in a similar position to Iron Man 2 in that it was expected to live up to the spectacle that was the first Avengers film and didn’t quite manage to. While it was a huge success, critics and Marvel fans alike felt that it didn’t live up to the first entry into the series. The film had plenty of action and a compelling story, but something was missing that could have given it the allure of other Avengers films.
24. Black Widow
While having Black Widow receive her own film was great to see (despite taking way too long to reach fruition), the film struggles with pacing issues and boasts one of the worst villains in a Marvel film to date. The action sequences are expertly done and the performances given by Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Scarlett Johansson are fantastic, so at least the film has a few redeeming qualities.
Ant-Man was first introduced into the MCU in 2015 and was the title character’s first adventure on the big screen. Burdened by the challenge of having to explain the character to fans, this movie takes a slower pace than some others in the franchise and offers a lot to digest. Outside of that, it’s a fun action-packed film that feels perfectly at home in the MCU.
22. Ant-Man and the Wasp
As a follow-up to Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp was released in 2018 and got sandwiched right between the final two entries in Marvel’s Infinity Saga. The film is filled with action and plenty of humor to compliment, but as fans awaiting the epic conclusion in Endgame, Ant-Man and the Wasp felt somewhat out of place. All the same, that end-credits scene definitely took our breath away.
21. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
In the MCU, some of the most popular series tend to struggle in their second iteration, and this trend continues in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. There isn’t much else to say other than the movie is a perfect action film with plenty of comic relief sprinkled in, but it fails to live up to the Guardians’ first adventure in the MCU.
Eternals is a tough one to rank, as there is a great film somewhere within the movie, albeit not on the surface. Its pacing is all over the place and some of the characters feel extremely underdeveloped by the time it reaches its climax. With 10 new characters to introduce to the audience, as well as the film’s antagonists, there’s no real surprise for its pacing problems. Still, Eternals is definitely worth a watch and lays important groundwork for the rest of Marvel’s Phase Four. (It also introduced a stylish new character in its end-credits scene that is likely going to make quite a splash in future MCU films.)
19. Iron Man 3
What seemed to be the conclusion of Iron Man’s story in the MCU, Iron Man 3 showcases the growth of Tony Stark as a character and provides fans with a nonstop adventure with plenty of twists and turns along the way. After the otherworldly threat showcased in The Avengers, the villains in Iron Man 3 seem less significant, and while things look down for a short while, you never really fear for Tony Stark during the film. Because let’s face it⏤he’s just that good.
The first time we saw the Asgardian warrior on the big screen was in 2011, and Thor’s first film succeeded in bringing the idea of inter-realm travel to the MCU. Setting the base for what was to come in the sequels, not to mention a future fan-favorite in Loki, Thor does a great job at welcoming us to a new world and is a great action film in its own right.
17. Captain Marvel
In 2018, the MCU went back in the timeline to give us the origin story for Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel. What plays out as a buddy cop film, for the most part, is also a fun adventure that introduces viewers to one of the comics’ most powerful Avengers. Props must also be given to Samuel L. Jackson, whose character Nick Fury we also learn more about in this dual origin story that serves as a perfect lead-in to a certain gasp-worthy moment at the end of Infinity War.
16. Captain America: The First Avenger
You can’t have a Marvel Cinematic Universe without Captain America, and the first time his character was brought into the story lived up to the hype. In Captain America: The First Avenger, we’re introduced to the origin story of the character through the lens of a war-inspired action film. Fans who stuck around after the end credits were also teased about what was to come for a potential super-team led by one Fury, Nicholas J.
15. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange is a unique film because it boasts a completely different setting and tone than the others in the MCU. Being one of the lesser-known characters drawn from the comics, the movie explains the origin story of Stephen Strange as well as the greater multiverse that is present behind the scenes. Strange’s film is a crucial one, as he would go on to play a wildly important role in both Infinity War and Endgame.
14. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Having multiple Spider-Man franchises made by other studios before, there were some pretty big shoes to fill when the web-slinger made his way into the MCU. Fortunately, this iteration of the character was the best yet. Instead of telling the already well-known origin of the character, Homecoming picks up right in the action following Spider-Man’s involvement in Captain America: Civil War. This is one of the more fun entries in the MCU and most definitely the best interpretation of Spider-Man in a long while.
13. Thor: Ragnarok
The third film in the Thor series, Ragnarok completely switched up the tone of its predecessors, making a fun, humorous action film that utilized Chris Hemsworth’s comedic abilities to compliment Thor’s more serious persona. Much like Homecoming, if you’re looking for a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then Ragnarok may be the perfect choice for you.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy
After the success of The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy were the second group of heroes introduced to the MCU and found massive on-screen success. The film perfectly balances comedy and action while also laying the groundwork for the bigger threat to come in Phase Three. If you haven’t seen this film, then you should add it to your list immediately, as it’s a must-watch and considered by many to be one of the best Marvel films of all time.
11. The Avengers
The first time we saw The Avengers on screen was in 2012 and it was a testimony to the impressive world-building Marvel and Disney had accomplished with the prior movies. Without the record-breaking success of this film, there’s a good chance that the MCU would look substantially different today.
10. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
While it might not feel like your typical Marvel film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is one of the most unique films in the MCU so far. Taking a darker, more violent approach and mixing it with the classic Marvel formula under the guidance of director Sam Raimi, Doctor Strange explored the multiverse with a ton of cameos along the way.
Cameos aside, the highlight of the film is Scarlet Witch who has never been more substantial to a Marvel movie’s plot. While some fans may have been turned off by the horror-esc style, Doctor Strange 2 still places in the top half of our rankings.
9. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War functions similarly to an Avengers film, bringing together a huge cast of characters from previous MCU films, but its story is based around the tension between Iron Man and Captain America. While the underlying villain of the film is Baron Zemo, with the large amounts of the film dedicated to conflict between members of the Avengers, there was no way it could possibly be bad.
8. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Spider-Man: Far From Home takes all the best features of Homecoming and moves them to a more impressive setting. With another great villain, flawless performances by Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, Far From Home is one of the best films in the MCU. Plus that ending⏤it really did change everything for Peter Parker, setting the stage for the highly-anticipated Far From Home.
7. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
When it comes to origin stories, there are few Marvel films that have told the story as well as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Pairing great storytelling with top-of-the-line CGI, perfectly choreographed action that throws back to martial arts classic over the past 50 years, and enough Easter eggs to show the connection to the wider MCU without taking away from Shang-Chi’s unique story, this movie is a must-watch and definitely one of the best Marvel movies so far.
6. Iron Man
Kicking off the MCU, Iron Man is an origin story for Tony Stark that feels like so much more. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of the character is undoubtedly one of the best in the MCU and a huge reasons for the film’s success. Iron Man should be a go-to title for any Marvel movie fan.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
While most of the films in the MCU are action movies, The Winter Soldier is by far the most impressive. Without any space or magical interference, this film is simply a run-and-gun action movie and owns it through and through. It achieves everything a Marvel fan could want in a movie, balancing character development with exciting action sequences, plot twists, character reveals, multiple worthy villains, and one-liners that have stood the test of time.
4. Black Panther
Black Panther is another of the more recent additions to the MCU and the second time we see T’Challa on the big screen. Everything about this film is perfect, including the visuals, acting, complex storyline, and even its soundtrack. Black Panther takes number three on our list for being a perfect example of what it means to introduce a brand new set of characters in a preexisting universe and make us immediately care about and root for them.
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home
It doesn’t get much bigger than this multiversal adventure. Whether you’ve been watching Spider-Man on the big screen since 2002 or just his MCU outings, No Way Home is a perfect culmination of everything the character has to offer and it boasts more of his iconic villains than ever before.
2. Avengers: Infinity War
It would be hard to place any individual film ahead of the final two entries in the Infinity Saga. Infinity War lays the groundwork for the conclusion, introducing us to Thanos and giving fans an understanding of his reasoning. While not every Marvel character is present in the film, the roster of Avengers is substantial and the action sequences are grand. This film boasts the craziest and highest-stakes endings in Marvel movie history, leaving us breathless to find out what would happen in its follow-up, Avengers: Endgame.
1. Avengers: Endgame
It should come as no surprise that Endgame takes the number one spot on our list. Concluding over a decade’s worth of storytelling with one of the biggest movie action sequences in cinema, this film is a testament to the world-building of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the power of heroic storytelling as a whole. So far, this is undoubtedly the best film in the franchise.