The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding more and more every day. Either behind the scenes, in promotion, or in theaters, new and exciting movies are constantly being added to the catalog.
Twenty-eight movies, one saga, and three different Groots later, the MCU is already the most successful movie franchise ever. And they are still going. ADVERTISEMENT
We have collected over a dozen different writers from TheDirect.com to rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. This is a mixed bag of die-hard MCU and third-party fans of the fantastic. Nonetheless, these are professionals who have immersed their lives in these beloved universes.
Many writers who have voted on this list will not agree with the order, just like those who may be reading. The range of opinions on virtually every project is vast. But, this is the only consensus comic book movie writer rankings list of its kind.
Let’s dive into it. ADVERTISEMENT
28. The Incredible Hulk
In 2008, Marvel Studios pushed in all of their chips and bet it all on Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, which would be the foundation of the MCU. However, that was not the only movie released by the studio that year. They hedged their bets with The Incredible Hulk.
With so many big swings taken in Iron Man, they played it safe with a more traditional early 2000s style superhero movie in The Incredible Hulk. Lacking that now-patented MCU style, this one seems out of place on the list. But, of course, it also doesn’t help that the future of this character lies in Mark Ruffalo, not Edward Norton. ADVERTISEMENT
It was unable to be a genuine part of the machine that has been the MCU. Add in the most popular recasting in the league, and the result is the forgotten child of the family. Still, it lays the groundwork for a core franchise member then, now, and moving forward.
27. Thor: The Dark World
The Thor franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe experienced a one-of-a-kind roller coaster of support from fans. Of course, coming off of Thor and the Phase One culmination of The Avengers, Marvel Studios was looking to the moment with a run of sequels for the big three. ADVERTISEMENT
On paper, it is an adventurous galactic geopolitical Thor story. It is the debut of the phrase “Infinity Stone” and features what many consider Tom Hiddleston’s best performance as Loki. It even gets superlative votes for one of the best death scenes in the MCU. However, this sequel also has the cardinal sin label of the popcorn movie genre: Boring.
With some of the most exciting players available, the lack of energy in this movie is magnified on rewatch. Thor: The Dark World is regarded as the weak link of Phase Two. It was also released just ahead of what would become the blueprint for the cosmic branch in the MCU. So not a standout in its time and a forgotten cosmic entry puts this movie consistently in the bottom five.
There is something to be said about the first of its kind. MCU Cosmic is a branch of the franchise that has evolved into a large-scale, colorful space opera. But it all started with arguably the most mild-mannered movie of Phase One. Thor was the slightest taste of what would eventually become the brand’s most enigmatic type of movie.
Introducing future MCU hall of Famers like Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, looking back on this movie feels nostalgic to most. Elements of Asgard and the relationship between science and magic are felt throughout the Infinity Saga and beyond. And despite a lack of the tonal features that would eventually bring the Thor franchise into a top-tier conversation, the heart of this movie ages surprisingly well.
It is also worth noting that while Iron Man had a unique style, this was Marvel Studios testing the idea of a subgenre superhero movie. The romantic comedy vibes between Hemsworth and co-star Natalie Portman are a precursor to the genre-balancing act seen in the MCU to this day. ADVERTISEMENT
- Ant-Man and the Wasp
Some movies in the MCU are enchanted by being such a vital part of the greater story. But unfortunately, other films are hurt by being a part of the greater story. Ant-Man and the Wasp is the latter.
Coming off of 2015’s Ant-Man, this was a franchise that had already overcome marketing the character’s obscurity. After the cliffhanger of Avengers: Infinity War, the next obstacle was getting people excited about another story in such close proximity. Regardless of their efforts, the charismatic roster on the team, and some of the best posters in the MCU to date, nothing was stopping the momentum of Avengers: Endgame, and Ant-Man and the Wasp was a case of wrong place, wrong time. ADVERTISEMENT
There are plenty of pros and cons throughout the film, but most fans will remember seeing the Avengers: Endgame poster in the theater more than the movie they visited.
24. Iron Man 2
Redeemability is something that many projects at the bottom of any MCU rankings list have. This is a primary reason why the MCU bar is set so high compared to other movie universes. Their bottom-tier projects usually have a handful of characters, concepts, or moments that shine throughout the rest of the universe. ADVERTISEMENT
Iron Man 2 embodies that philosophy being the only sequel in Phase One. Unable to fully recapture the magic of the original while also not taking any significant steps forward in style, this movie’s quality is further from the mean than most. However, that is not to say that there is not a ton to love about it.
It is an early look at MCU world-building with the proper introduction of Black Widow and Nick Fury. It features a classic MCU side character that steals their scenes in Justin Hammer. And finally, it bolsters Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Something that everyone can agree on is always a delight.
The peaks and valleys are wide margins, but this is a Phase Two style movie set very out of place in Phase One. ADVERTISEMENT
- Captain Marvel
If Iron Man 2 is a Phase Two movie stuck in Phase One, then Captain Marvel is a Phase One movie stuck at the tail end of Phase Three. Much like its predecessor Ant-Man And The Wasp, this movie is overshadowed by the hype of Avengers: Endgame.
In hindsight, had everyone invested known how much a success the MCU would be, this movie would have been made in the early 2010s as a part of Phase One or Two. By all accounts, the film is up to par with other origin movies in the league. However, being the project to introduce such a powerful player so late leaves a bad taste in a super fan’s mouth. ADVERTISEMENT
Another example of the greater story is a bar by which to judge the individual installments. For example, in rewatch, placing Captain Marvel at the beginning of the Infinity Saga enhances the experience.
On the flip side, this movie was almost instantly a candidate to be made better by a sequel.
22. Black Widow
Like Captain Marvel before it, Black Widow is a movie made well past its time. Since Phase One, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has been a foundational piece of this universe. Her solo film debut was a simultaneous tribute to the legendary actor and character and a launchpad to continue the Black Widow franchise. But unfortunately, released five years too late.
Only the third Marvel Studios movie clearly set in the past, following the period pieces of Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain Marvel. It was somewhat of a challenge for fans to get TOO excited about the first post-Infinity Saga movie being set in the middle of Phase Three. Black Widow was most impacted by the COVID-19 delays made it more of an uphill battle.
Despite the marketing woes outside this movie’s control, it salvages good graces with fans as it says goodbye to the Black Widow of old and introduces the Black Widow of the future. A transitional project plays more like a second epilogue to Avengers: Endgame. ADVERTISEMENT
This type of Marvel Studios entry may not reach the top half of many lists but is trusted as a starting point for a major player moving forward.
After the Infinity Saga, Marvel Studios had a new challenge to do it again. After telling the most successful cinematic universe story in movie history, Kevin Feige and company wasted no time moving to the next chapter. To embrace the trust they have built with fans and continue to push the envelope, new characters, bold stories, and unique filmmakers became a priority. Enter Eternals. ADVERTISEMENT
For a franchise like the MCU to be as successful as it has been, risks need to be taken. Fortunately, Marvel Studios has continually seen its most significant risks not just succeed but become elite-tier projects. Eternals was a Phase Four risk liken to Phase Two’s Guardians of the Galaxy. A huge galactic movie featuring a comic book IP the biggest fans do not follow, led by an incredibly specific and stylistic director.
Eternals takes big swings throughout the entirety of its long runtime and does so much to establish future stories for this corner of the universe. Eternals is the kind of project that MCU needs to keep making. The hit rate for big swings in Marvel Studios is too high for anyone to say they should stop taking them.
Phase One of the MCU plays like a prequel to the universe, with 2012’s The Avengers as the beginning. It is hard to imagine introducing four franchise characters (plus two super-assassins) that would be the core of the entire league. So when Phase Two began introducing even more characters outside the Avengers umbrella, it felt like the universe was expanding.
Ant-Man is the first Earth-based hero introduced after The Avengers and began a trend of street-level players making a huge impact. The character’s small-scale nature and story make this cinematic universe feel like the world outside your window.
It lacks the star player appeal and big-play excitement of the projects above it on this list, but Ant-Man is a vital piece to the puzzle of the MCU. It opens the door for characters to live in this universe without being tethered to The Avengers, which has become a strength of the franchise. ADVERTISEMENT
19. Iron Man 3
Nowadays, any filmmaker can get any project if the powers believe they are suitable for the job. That is the benefit of 14 years of largely successful movie-making. However, to get to that point, there needed to be calculated risks of the director coming in and taking stylistic risks, but for an established IP that will get people in seats.
The first of those risks was Shane Black and Iron Man 3. Compared to other hyper-stylized movies in the MCU, it is relatively tame, but at the time, this was something completely new and different for the MCU and the Iron Man franchise. ADVERTISEMENT
Executed as a potential send-off for the most-beloved player in MCU history, this movie has the most of what most fans love, Tony Stark. Of course, looking at it through a broader scope doesn’t fit perfectly, but the development from the character who started it is worth it for what comes next.
18. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Catching lightning in a bottle is no small task. However, capitalizing on that electricity is arguably more difficult. Guardians of the Galaxy is the most unique and revolutionary MCU movie ever made at the time. And the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is everything in the first film turned up to 11. ADVERTISEMENT
This means more color, comedy, and shockingly emotional attachment to D-list comic book characters. Taking an already obscure concept and magnifying what makes it unique creates less room for anyone who isn’t bought in. Guardians Vol. 2 is an example of that.
Not for everyone but for the people it is for, it is highly regarded as one of the MCU’s most underrated projects.
17. Captain America: The First Avenger
For the entirety of The Infinity Saga, one trilogy was regarded as the best in the league. Captain America: The First Avenger is the beginning of that trilogy and the introduction of the heart of the MCU.
This movie is an excellent example of how great the MCU was in Phase Three. Because the flaws in this movie are simply that movies moving forward have done what this movie does in a more grand fashion. Period piece unlocking the universe’s history with one primary objective– make people fall in love with Steve Rodgers.
While this movie as a solo project does not match up well with its predecessors as far as rankings go, some top-ranked projects on this and all lists owe their foundation to The First Avenger. ADVERTISEMENT
- Doctor Strange
By the time Phase Three rolled around in the MCU, Kevin Feige and co. were shooting left-handed without missing a beat. Finally, through high-risk, high-reward success stories like Guardians and Ant-Man, Marvel Studios was ready to take the gloves off and start pulling up from half-court. And it worked.
2016’s Doctor Strange was a visual and conceptual clinic of how to introduce new characters, concepts, and stakes into an already established movie universe. Setting the rules and regulations of magic in the MCU is the foundation of many significant moments moving forward. And Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange is now being positioned to be the focal point of the league. ADVERTISEMENT
If Captain Marvel and Black Widow were movies released at the wrong time, Doctor Strange is an example of a film being released at the perfect time. Allowing this IP to be a significant player at the end of a dynasty and building block moving forward.
15. Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are specific case studies throughout the MCU that clearly show why fans and audiences around the globe have an enate trust in Marvel Studios and why even the most mid-tier of MCU movies seem to get praise from Marvel fans. Avengers: Age of Ultron might be the best example. ADVERTISEMENT
When this movie was initially released in theaters, it was seen as a plateau of the original. It lacked signature energy, especially coming off of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. But the seeds planted throughout this movie would grow into the main plot for some of the MCU’s best entries.
Because of projects like Age of Ultron, most fans subscribe to the idea that even the movies that aren’t their favorites are essential to the overall story.
14. Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness
Phase Four of the MCU seems to represent the “MCU Formula” on hyperdrive. Marvel Studios released four movies and streaming series in the first year (primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Fans took this as an expedited track to Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, as it was seemingly tied into 4 of those nine released projects.
While the “madness” many expected would occur in this movie as it pertains to the future of the MCU fell short of expectations, there is no shortage of Multiversal action in this Sam Raimi thriller.
Featuring some of the most exciting players in the game, Multiverse of Madness is another example of Marvel Studios’ confidence in their product to take a giant swing. The first actual horror project in the MCU sacrifices a few traditional elements of the universe to favor a niche and specific thrill ride. ADVERTISEMENT
The expectation of this movie vs. the result indicates that MCU fans believe that every big movie is the next biggest movie of all time. While the masterminds at work at Marvel Studios continue to play a patient and cerebral game for the long haul. 13. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel felt the effects of being the movies between Infinity War and Endgame. On the flip side, Spider-Man: Far From Home feels the impact of having to follow up on what many consider one of the most satisfying endings of all time. ADVERTISEMENT
If Marvel Studios is going to put a movie in that difficult position, Spider-Man is the movie to do it with. Looking at where this movie ranks compared to the other projects feeling the hype train of Infinity War and Endgame shows that this movie holds its own.
Playing as an epilogue to The Infinity Saga and a sequel to Marvel’s most important character, this balancing act comes through in a big way. It also plays a significant part in raising the floor of arguably the only trilogy in superhero movie history to challenge the Captain America run of The Infinity Saga.
12. Shang-Chi: And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
Phase Four has been a mixed bag for MCU fans, with expectations, budgets, and green lights at an all-time high. Some projects leave fans who want that Phase Three feeling back disappointed. Others prove that even in managing the biggest story ever told on screen; there are still new characters to be introduced and grounded stories to be told. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings falls under “others.”
A true MCU throwback with an origin story allows fans to fall in love with the person first and the superhero second while holding everyone’s attention throughout. Simu Liu bursts onto the scene as the newest in a long line of charismatic and charming actors audiences want more of. Expanding the already monopolized roster of players that the storytellers of Marvel Studios can work with.
While at this stage of the MCU, Shang-Chi may not be considered a huge “risk,” it is a classic example of fans not expecting much but being given the world. Unfortunately, this movie feels like a film that will be the worst of its franchise, despite being a smash hit amongst the MCU faithful. ADVERTISEMENT
- Black Panther
One of the most fun MCU facts around is that all the scenes that include Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War were filmed well before the theatrical release of Black Panther. That is how much confidence Marvel Studios had in the franchise.
One of only three true spinoffs where the title character was introduced in another project, Black Panther transcended the genre and became an instant classic. Black Panther relies heavily on its players, featuring a roster of lovable characters from front to back. Players such as T’Challa, Killmonger, Okoye, and more became household names overnight. ADVERTISEMENT
The future of the Black Panther franchise is up in the air after the tragic passing of leading man Chadwick Boseman. That side of the journey will get figured out. But, for now, fans will always have the memory of Black Panther and how big of a cultural event it was.
Rest in Power King.
10. Iron Man
It is fantastic to see what the MCU has done in the late 2010s and how big this universe has gotten. However, it is even more amazing to go back to the very beginning, made in 2008, and pinpoint the blueprint for the entire universe.
Charismatic, energetic, heartfelt, and sincere. Those attributes of Iron Man changed the superhero genre forever and gave Marvel Studios the secret recipe for popcorn success. The risk littered throughout the MCU takes the league to a whole new level. Iron Man is arguably the biggest of those risks that have paid off.
Marvel Studios put all of their chips in the basket of Robert Downey Jr., John Favreau, and Iron Man. If this movie didn’t succeed, the MCU would have never existed. Not only did it succeed, but it was also directly responsible for the patented tone and style that allowed the MCU to achieve. ADVERTISEMENT
Quality for this 2008 film becomes questionable as movies get better and better. But this is a Hall of Fame movie that will forever be remembered as one of, if not the most influential comic book movie ever made.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
When a player takes a big swing in baseball, the possible outcomes become rather binary. Either that player makes contact and hits a home run, or they miss, and it is an embarrassing visual. Unfortunately, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been and continues to be built on a shocking amount of big swings resulting in home runs. ADVERTISEMENT
Guardians of the Galaxy is the perfect example of a big swing that could have resulted in an embarrassing strike but instead was launched into the next town over. James Gunn was given the keys to comic book characters that the most die-hard Marvel Comics fans knew next to nothing about. It ended up being the perfect combination of timing, style, and storytelling.
This movie launched the cosmic branch of the MCU into a whole new stratosphere while introducing a style that has influenced every film genre. The characters, music, visuals, actions, emotion, heart, and comedy of this movie hold up to any other film on this list. As James Gunn once said… “You’re Welcome.”
8. Thor: Ragnarok
Eight IPs in the MCU have received a sequel. Of those eight, five have received the third film, with another on the way. Of those five MCU trilogies, no franchise has received a bigger glow-up from two to three than Thor.
Thor: Ragnarok is an example of knowing when to make the tough decision to rebuild an ongoing franchise. This is not a reboot of characters or story but a complete overhaul in style and tone. Embracing the foundation that Guardians of the Galaxy set up, Chris Hemsworth was unleashed, and fans loved it.
This movie was only made better by Marvel Studios capitalizing on this refreshed character in Infinity War and Endgame. The bells and whistles make this an instant fan favorite. The story and characters elevate it to a top-tier MCU movie. ADVERTISEMENT
- The Avengers
This was the moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that fans and critics learned what Kevin Feige seemed to know for a long time. As a result, this thing is going to be bigger than anything anyone has ever seen.
Six characters introduced across five different films in four years were brought together gloriously. The energy behind this movie makes fans feel like kids watching the greatest cartoon they have ever seen. Then they realize this is a huge budget live-action movie that features some of the best working blockbuster actors today. ADVERTISEMENT
Just one more example of Marvel Studios doing what many thoughts were impossible. This movie birthed the phrase “cinematic universe” and became the bar by which all movie franchises are measured moving forward.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. Those are the three most prominent names in comic book history, no matter how they are ordered. This is why bringing Spider-Man into this cinematic universe was such a big moment for fans everywhere. ADVERTISEMENT
After 15 years of Spider-Man movies from Sony, there was an inherent pressure to knock this out of the park. A soft debut in Captain America: Civil War allowed Spider-Man: Homecoming to hit the ground running to their first Friendly Neighborhood story with Peter Parker. Despite the expectations being so high and the margin for error being so low, Jon Watts and the crew did better than anyone could have imagined.
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker embodied the character’s spirit so many generations love, blending perfectly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movies that can accomplish multiple tasks like that at once seem to chart higher on these lists consistently.
Overcoming grand expectations is a guarantee for an elite-tier MCU movie. Which Homecoming is. ADVERTISEMENT
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Coming off of Phase One, there was a need to strike while the Avengers iron was hot. Iron Man 3 was a stylized Tony Stark story with polarizing a reception. Thor: The Dark World is widely considered a perennial bottom five MCU movie. So Marvel Studios needed Captain America: The Winter Soldier to be something special. It was.
This is the movie referenced the most when talking about the MCU’s ability to make a genre movie that just so happens to include superheroes. A political spy thriller featuring some of the most consistent players in the league, The Winter Soldier delivers one of the most consistent performances in the MCU. ADVERTISEMENT
This one plays as a stand-alone, builds upon everything built in Phase One, and contributes HUGE implications for the franchise’s future—arguably the most well-rounded entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
4. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Another movie is another example of Marvel Studios overcoming the odds. When the showrunners for this movie sat down and decided what it was going to be, they did not have to make it the climactic event representing 20 years of movies and fans. But they did. ADVERTISEMENT
An insane amount of fan service and big moments surround the conclusion to one of the best character arcs ever told. Being able to simultaneously bring back legacy characters from another universe while also telling a personal 616 Peter Parker story seemed impossible. But they did it.
Despite the amount of pressure from two decades of fans and twice as many decades of comic book readers, Jon Watts and co. were able to bring Marvel’s MVP to the end of one of the greatest trilogies ever told. All the while playing it as a three-part origin story.
They shouldn’t have been able to make it work. But they did it. They did it. ADVERTISEMENT
- Captain America: Civil War
This movie is the definition of a comic book brought to life. When talking about Captain America: Civil War, most fans usually start listing reasons it is NOT their number one overall. Things along the lines of “It is Avengers 2.5”, “It is just as much a Tony Stark story as it is a Steve Rogers story,” and “It has Spider-Man in it.”
These are all reasons fans point to as “unfair” to other solo movies that don’t have these pieces available. This movie DOES have most of the Avengers. It DOES have a heavy dose of Tony Stark. And it DOES introduce Spider-Man into the MCU. With all of that on top of a well-crafted and hyper-interesting Captain America story, it only makes sense this movie is a perennial top five. ADVERTISEMENT
The final chapter of what many consider the greatest comic book trilogy of all time also plays as a masterful piece of the larger MCU puzzle. The aftershock of the Civil War is still being felt in projects today.
2. Avengers: Endgame
Sticking the landing has proven to be one of the most challenging things to do in long-form storytelling. Especially when the story you have been telling has built its name on the payoff and satisfying resolution. Avengers: Endgame is one of the most remarkable feats of sticking the landing ever made. ADVERTISEMENT
Being able to balance this many characters coming off of one of the biggest cliffhangers in cinematic movie history is seemingly impossible. But, to do it with such grace and satisfaction left MCU fans speechless. A true clinic of how to make fans feel every feeling they are capable of feeling.
This movie brought upon the narrative that MCU movies have turned into sporting events. This was the Super Bowl of comic book movies. This movie’s reactions alone are some of the most awesome fandom content ever made.
Now and forever, movie studios across Hollywood are looking at their available IPs and trying to find a way to create their Endgame. Good luck. ADVERTISEMENT
- Avengers: Infinity War
The discourse is one of the greatest aspects of fandom, specifically comic book fandom. The debating back and forth over movies or shows you like more than others. The conversations in the hallways of movie theaters after the credits roll.
There are a few exceptions where everyone in a group of fans seems to agree universally. Avengers: Infinity War, one of the greatest comic book movies ever made, seems to be one of those universal agreements. ADVERTISEMENT
From the moment this movie begins, fans are constantly being encapsulated by the story being told while also being washed over with payoff at the same time. Every line of dialogue and movement by the countless heroes feels like a personal thank you to everyone who followed along. Throughout this nearly 150-minute journey, every time someone starts to wonder what is happening with a specific character, they appear on the screen.
The most impressive balancing act in movie history accompanied by what is widely considered the greatest villain in the MCU, it is difficult to find a flaw in this one. But, to bring everyone on such a roller coaster of emotion and excitement to finish the movie with half the cast fading away? And we love it?
How do you not get romantic about the Marvel Cinematic Universe? ADVERTISEMENT