Marvel Studios has built something incredible over the last decade that is unlike anything we’ve seen in the history of film. They took the decades of stories around comic book superheroes and decided to adapt them for the silver screen. But who could have guessed that years later, they would become ubiquitous? Marvel essentially created a genre that is now anticipated and accepted as the highest-grossing genre of the year… every year. With DC lagged behind, their only competition seems to be themselves.
To look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe now is daunting, especially for those who may have resisted comic book movies. Not everyone was waiting around until the end of the credits to catch a glimpse of the next film in the franchise. There are now 20 films released with three more on the way in 2019. It may seem impossible to catch up with the scope of some of these later films, and the inter-connected story lines. But, Marvel, to their credit, have made an incredibly accessible franchise. If you’re not a huge comic book reader or even just missed a few films over the years, here are all the films in Marvel Cinematic Universe, ranked, just for you.
20 THE INCREDIBLE HULK
This is one of the more forgettable films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most notably because the character was recast after this film’s release. Mark Ruffalo is now the face of Bruce Banner and this film was mentally kicked to the curb for many fans. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s certainly a lot of smash and not a lot of character development.
This is likely because Marvel was banking on a sequel. It underperformed critically and then in the box office, which was only highlighted by the success of Iron Man. After the 2003 Ang Lee version and this one were met with middling responses, it’s no surprise there hasn't been another standalone Hulk film. Instead, the character has developed through his appearances in the other MCU films.
19 THOR: THE DARK WORLD
The best part of this film is the dynamic and chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. This was one of the few aspects built upon from the first film. The story took the front seat over characters in this rendition, which was a misstep.
The film is bogged down with connecting plot points and moving on to the next step, without giving us anything of substance to sit with. This is not an easy film to track for non-comics aficionados and honestly wouldn’t really be worth it to put in the effort.
18 AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
This follow up to The Avengers is just a messier version. It’s certainly a challenge to juggle all the characters in a film like this one, even with the massive run times that these films boast. Other films do a far better job however at achieving this balance. Avengers: Age of Ultron takes on too much, and it shows. It seemed like an effort to tackle and it is a bit of strain to watch.
There’s no space for humanity here and the real, compelling issues from this film are better addressed in the aftermath. There is something to be said about the risks Joss Whedon took, but it is still one of the worst in the franchise, especially for someone without prior investment in these characters.
17 DOCTOR STRANGE
The cards were already stacked against this film because of Doctor Strange's inherent complexities. There’s a reason the first film in 2008 wasn’t a Doctor Strange story. There’s a lot of lore and leaps of logic for an audience to get on board with and it doesn’t provide the same ease as one like Guardians of the Galaxy.
To the film’s credit, the score is more distinct than most films in the franchise, but with the problematic casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One and the rest of the supporting cast remaining underdeveloped, this film is more trouble than it’s worth.
16 GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
This follow up is far less accessible and far less interesting than the first. The soundtrack remains excellent but the humor doesn’t land as well. The film focuses on side characters more like Yondu and Nebula, who are not strong enough characters to be so involved.
The film acts under the assumption that Baby Groot is the most charming and lovable character we’ve ever seen, milking moments with him for longer than necessary. As a sequel, it was expected that this would delve more into some of the characters back stories but those moments feel forced and distracting from the fun we were having the first time around.
15 IRON MAN 2
The charm and fun of the first film are not completely lost here, but it’s a significant downgrade. The set ups for future Marvel films here are heavy handed and forced, with a lot of exposition for non-comic book readers. All of this could be looked past if the rest of the film were more spectacular.
There are no really memorable set pieces or cause for character investment. It’s a lot of flash and shoot ‘em ups, without much pay off, especially with the film’s underwhelming finale. At the end of the day, we’re given a film that few fans will be rushing to re-watch.
14 THE AVENGERS
There are no glaring problems with this film and it deserved any and all the praise it received back in 2012. Looking back, however, it is clearly not the greatest display of this franchise’s potential. The Avengers walked so Captain America: Civil War could fly. In a film without a lot of character development or internal exploration, it is purely spectacle.
But, after a few years of seeing these characters on their individual adventures, we were due for some spectacle. There is satisfaction in witnessing the team assemble to save the world, but it’s tough to praise it now, given what has come since.
13 ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
The only real strike against this film is how unnecessary it is. In a year with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, this is an afterthought. If you liked the light-hearted nature of the first Ant-Man, you’ll be welcomed with more of the same.
It is refreshing to see a film in the franchise where the stakes are not the fate of the universe, because that can get exhausting time and again. Instead we’re given a fun romp that allows us to forget about the devastating end to the last film. You can’t help but feel the lack of impact though as the credits roll on this one.
This is a good first installment for the character but it may not be the best choice for non-comic book readers or those unfamiliar with the lore. The film does its diligence to be accessible but it’s a tall order, given how much of the story is taking place in a brand new world. Beyond this, the film has a few issues.
The tone is a pendulum that swings too far in either direction, asking to be taken quite seriously at some points and overplaying the fish-out-of-water comedy at others. Natalie Portman isn’t given much to do and the final battle on earth is pretty weak, but overall, it does its job in bring this character to a new audience.
11 CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
This introduction for Captain America is a bit of a missed opportunity. There was a lot of potential for his backstory and it is certainly not a bad film by any means, but is ultimately forgettable as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War blow this one out of the water.
Though admittedly a little hokey, the first act of this film is a perfect set up to see the cool, post-modern explanation for Captain America’s existence. Beyond that, most viewers probably only remember the post-credit scene with Steve Rogers and Nick Fury, which promises more Captain America stories to come.
This is a Marvel film that stands out amidst the giants because of its small size. It is a story on a much narrower scale, but that allows for a lighter tone and ultimately a stronger, more defined piece. In the same vein as Spider-Man: Homecoming, this Marvel movie lets humor shine through, providing a fun ride in the wake of the muddled mess of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Peyton Reed may have seemed like an odd directorial choice, given his previous filmography, but once again, this is a showcase that directing comedy can lend itself well to this genre. The timing in the action sequences lands just as well as Paul Rudd delivering a joke.
9 IRON MAN 3
The reason this film tops the first sequel is for the emotional stakes and ambitious storytelling risks taken with the character. The script is the star of this film, which highlights Shane Black’s ability to write witty and impactful dialogue.
Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect choice to deliver these lines and really keeps this film afloat. Although it doesn’t reach the former glory of the first Iron Man film, it was a well-played response to The Avengers, setting up the second wave of Marvel films.
8 CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
This movie did exactly what Captain America: The First Avenger couldn’t. It told a compelling espionage story, acting as a solid action film after the disappointing Thor: The Dark World. At times, it feels like a film from the original Bourne trilogy with Steve Rogers on the run from SHIELD.
The pairing with Black Widow and Falcon was an excellent choice to create a grounded team in this universe. Their abilities are all clearly defined and make for a film less focused on mythos or magic.
7 AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
This is the best of the Avengers films. This is the pinnacle of Marvel delivering high concepts to the masses. In a film that could easily alienate non-comic book readers, it instead gives us a fun adventure on a massive scale. As another film directed by the Russo brothers, it proves they have the best handle on the franchise.
With so much established, they really make the best of pairing unlikely characters for a series of fantastic scenes that feel like spin offs to our favorite TV shows. The comedy in this film is spot on, while also giving us some of the most heartfelt moments as well. With these directors at the helm, it bodes well for the potential of Avengers: Endgame.
6 GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
This film did a remarkable job at making some lesser known characters and their stories come to life. It achieved this by setting it apart from the rest of the universe, knowing it will tie in later. The marketing, casting and writing all allowed this film to stand strong on its own.
Marvel has done exceptionally well with maintaining a tone throughout the past decade with this film deviating slightly. The humor was ramped up, with a real sense that it didn’t take itself too seriously. The soundtrack is the biggest start of this film of course, drawing in new audiences and connecting this complex space epic to our own world.
5 CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Don’t be fooled by the title. This is much more than a Captain America film. This is a huge ensemble piece, which tackles one of the most interesting storylines from the comics. Superheroes are divided against each other and morality and ethics are questioned. You don’t need to know everyone’s backstory to easily become invested.
There is depth and edge added to characters who may have felt more one-dimensional until this point. Without the cartoonish villain character, a line is drawn between protagonists and provides us with one of the most compelling films in this franchise.
4 THOR: RAGNAROK
This film has the ambitious task of making Thor accessible to the masses. The first two films were middling but this one finally finds its footing with the help of Taika Waititi. His humor and sensibility comes through and works really well with the character of Thor. The dry, New Zealand dead-pan is evident, especially in the physical comedy.
The tone is set early on with the head of the Fire Dragon slowly sliding across the floor when Thor returns to Asgard. The bulk of the film is Thor and The Incredible Hulk on Sakaar, which makes for a fun, self-contained side story between two Avengers. This is certainly aided by the wildly colorful and grandiose setting as well as the performance of Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster.
3 BLACK PANTHER
This is the stand out Marvel film of the last few years. It is a beautifully distinct and impactful standalone film. The soundtrack is incredible and the score is a perfect meld of a Marvel score with a traditional African influence. The film’s only shortcoming is the humor. The few jokes feel misplaced and don’t land particularly well.
But beyond those is a movie with marvelous set pieces and excellent performances, especially by Michael B. Jordan as N’Jadaka. The film also sets up its own backstory and requires no previous knowledge to enjoy.
2 IRON MAN
It was a very wise move to start building the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the character of Iron Man. Casting Robert Downey Jr. was the cherry on top. He expertly portrays the role of Tony Stark, setting a solid tonal base for future films with his quick wit and sarcasm.
This film is obviously a great place to start watching because it was the first one released, but beyond that, it is an extremely confident and pace-setting blockbuster. Marvel took a lesser known character with a lesser known story and launched an empire.
1 SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
This is the best Marvel movie for non-comic book readers. The tone is absolutely perfect and the stakes are exactly what you want in a side story film like this. The audience gets Peter Parker dealing with high school problems while juggling his secret identity.
It ties in to the universe of course with Tony Stark’s involvement and the references to Captain America: Civil War, but the story is contained and very well crafted. This is one of the funniest Marvel movies and is a near perfect execution on a character who has been rebooted seemingly countless times.