When Marvel first pitched their idea for an Avengers movie franchise way back in 2008, they were met with much skepticism. Fortunately for them and for the fans, we now have thirteen fun films with plenty more on the way. Everything is connected, and that only makes the experience even better.
Starting with the “invincible” Iron Man himself, the critical success and performance of the movie fully facilitated more movies in the same universe to be made. But that’s all one big history lesson, and you’re not here for history.
We’ve got thirteen movies to sink our teeth into over the past eight years, and there’s tons of debate over which of them reigns supreme. Is it that box office behemoth The Avengers? The quirky but lovable Guardians of the Galaxy? Well, a lot of that depends on what you define as a good film as well as what appeals to you the most.
For this list, I’m ranking movies based on critical acclaim, lasting impressions, and fan response, as well as a few of my own opinions as to what makes a movie good. This list is by no means a measure of fact. Seeing as a lot of these types of lists are subjective, you’re welcome to agree or disagree. This is all just for good fun, after all. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are our rankings of the MCU films, ranked from worst to best.
13. Iron Man 2
Sitting at the lowest spot is Iron Man 2. After the success of the first Iron Man, which largely served as an experimental standalone title, Marvel was eager to start building their world to get audiences aware. Unfortunately, the result was largely dull and frankly annoying. Tony’s character seems to take two steps backwards, and more time is spent with SHIELD than say Iron Man. Even the battle at the end of the film was pretty lame, taking up only a few minutes total. Then there was the issue of Whiplash of being uninspiring and a lot of time spent with Black Widow. Did I mention this was supposed to be an Iron Man movie?
12. The Incredible Hulk
Easily the most forgettable Marvel movie to date, The Incredible Hulk was the studio’s last attempt at finally creating a good film about their green rage monster. Unfortunately it was panned by critics and audiences, and because of Edward Norton dropping out of The Avengers, it was pretty much left to rot. For some reason, then, Marvel decided to bring back Colonel Ross (who is now Secretary of State) for Captain America: Civil War to remind us all that this movie did happen and is still considered canon. Yeah, I try not to think about it too much.
Now things are starting to look up a bit. Thor is by no means a bad film, but it’s not exactly great either. Telling the story of the arrogant Prince of Asgard was a bold move for sure, and made the character much more relatable. However, it’s his brother Loki who steals the entire show. Heralded as the only good villain the MCU has to offer, Thor is a must watch for that character alone. Some of Thor’s comments on Earth life are laugh-worthy and learning how to gain humility is a great lesson that even little kids can pick up.
10. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is kind of a weird experience, and I had a hard time figuring out where to place it. You see, as a movie on its own, Iron Man 3 is not bad by any means. It has good build up, nice character moments, and a decent plot twist near the end. Unfortunately, as a Marvel movie, that’s where the problems occur. Many can agree that the use of the Mandarin was abysmal. For some weird reason, we spent quite a bit of time with Stark’s butler Happy Hogan, as well as Pepper. Then we don’t really see him fight in the Iron Man suit very much. To top it all off, it felt really isolated, especially when you consider it came out after The Avengers, the movie which brought the MCU together in the first place.
9. Thor: The Dark World
Granted I don’t think that Thor: The Dark World is a significant improvement over the first Thor film, but it still does some things right. For example, seeing Thor go to other planets is truly every fantasy lover’s dream- it seems like they really embraced the Norse lore. Introducing the Aether was a great way to directly start building up the Infinity Stones. But again, it’s all of the Loki scenes that really steal the show. His performance is heavily improved on in the second film and you really get a sense that he’s dancing on this thin line between good and evil. If only Malekith made more sense.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger
Of all the Marvel movies in Phase 1, this is easily my favorite, but I do not think it is the best. I simply enjoyed it the most. The first Captain America film is one of those rare cases where you get exactly what was teased in the trailer. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though. It was a solid film overall, but it had some odd pacing throughout. Ultimately, it most likely felt like an elaborate set up for The Avengers. I still can’t get through Steve and Peggy’s last conversation without becoming an emotional mess though.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Is Avengers: Age of Ultron a disappointment compared to what we were promised? Yes. Is it a bad movie? No. Age of Ultron is a result of a director having a lot riding on his shoulders and buckling under the pressure. It doesn’t quite handle all of its characters as nicely as it could, and the set ups to Phase Three are pretty heavy-handed. However, the action is sublime, and you get the sense that the Avengers have really started to come together as a team. And for what he was, Ultron was pretty decent as well.
Everything about this movie was pointing toward it being terrible. The directors changing at the last minute, the laughable hero himself, and casting comedy legend Paul Rudd in the lead role. And those are just the issues I can name off the top of my head. I can say we were all pleasantly surprised that Ant-Man was an enjoyable ride, if also a predictable one. Crossing a superhero and a heist film is something that definitely needs to be done more often. Almost every actor brought their A-game, and the connections to the MCU are well-constructed.
5. The Avengers
This ended up being my most surprising choice on the list. You’d think I would’ve put this movie a bit higher, but as a film, I don’t think it should be. Yes, seeing “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” team up for the first time on the big screen is a real treat, complete with amazing sequences, and the return of Loki. However, the first half of the movie is still kind of a drag and could be paced a bit better. Don’t get me wrong though, this movie is a must-have for any comic book fan. Avengers assemble!
4. Iron Man
When Marvel doesn’t have to worry about building up their universe and they can create a good standalone flick, they almost always do a good job with it (as opposed to some that rely more on other characters). Iron Man is proof of this, being the perfect introduction to the MCU. Robert Downey Jr. kills in the role, and his growth throughout the film is believable and worth the time spent in it. Because of the movie, AC/DC will forever be a staple of the billionaire genius, and it was also the first one that introduced us to the “Avengers Initiative.”
3. Captain America: Civil War
Of all of the Phase One movies that I thought would outdo themselves with their sequels, I never thought it would be Captain America. It was really hard to order these last three movies, but I figured Civil War would be placed at number three, only because it suffers slightly from having so many characters and it has to quickly get through things so it can get to the good stuff. However, Civil War featured the best performances we’ve seen from Chris Evans and Robert Downey. On top of that, Black Panther and Spider-Man were perfect renditions of the characters we know from the comics. Then there’s that action sequence at the airport, which is easily the best fight in a comic book film- ever.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
It pains me to put this movie at number two, because it is my personal favorite MCU film of all time. However, I couldn’t give it the top spot because tonally it’s very different, the villain was a bit underdeveloped, and it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s still a fantastic film, complete with fun references, jokes, and characters. It’s a marvel (pun intended) that they were able to pull off a movie about some of their most obscure characters, let alone make it a pretty darn good one at that. I never thought I’d love a movie with a talking raccoon and a sentient tree.
1. Captain America: Winter Soldier
Taking the top spot is Captain America: Winter Soldier. It excels in pretty much every aspect you can think of. It is excellently paced, well-acted, has amazing action… the list goes on and on. It was a vast improvement over the first Captain America, but still had plenty of ties to Cap’s World War II adventures. The reveal that HYDRA had been infiltrating SHIELD all this time was shocking and amped up the tension to an eleven. We saw a different Captain America than what we saw in the Avengers. Then there’s the introduction of Falcon and Winter Soldier, which set up for some truly inspiring action. It’s no wonder that Marvel had the directors of this film produce Civil War. My hat goes off to you, Russo Brothers.