Editorial: Ranking the MCU Movies Before Avengers: Endgame
We’re in the Endgame now! Whether you love or hate it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken the cinematic tales of Marvel superheroes by storm; presenting 21 feature films within an unprecedented 11-year time span (more on a decade) of origin stories, continuing narratives sequels, and massive team up blockbusters that share an interconnected shared universe. Now, on the eve of climatic and highly anticipated film Avengers: Endgame, we look back at the 21 films of the MCU (thus far) and ranking in the order from worst to best.
21: Iron Man 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3, the third installment of the Iron Man trilogy, ended on a less-impactful role that what I expected it to be. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. was still up for the task and still brought his “A game” to the role of Tony Stark / Iron Man, which always made the Iron Man movies great. However, the movie was inconsistent in its tone, lackluster in major of its plot points, weak character build / development, and just completely felt underwhelming (from start to finish), especially come off the massive success of The Avengers. And, let’s not forget the whole “bait and switch” of the whole Mandarin character, which definitely deflated the movie (in my opinion). It definitely was a shocker, but a bad and disappointing one at that.
20: The Incredible Hulk (2009)
This movie is kind of hard to categories within the retrospect cannon of the MCU as it has the least “connections” to the overall arching franchise (with the exception of the small cameo of Tony Stark and the brief mentioning of the “super soldier” program). Maybe this was because the MCU was in its infancy stages and the studio didn’t know how to “big” this shared universe could be. Regardless, looking at the movie for itself, The Incredible Hulk feels tonally off. There’s a lot of story development, which doesn’t amount to much or go anywhere, felt cartoon-ish in some of its more serious moments, and leaving cliffhangers moments left hanging. Of course, actor Edward Norton was great in the role (yet to be replaced by actor Mark Ruffalo for the future) and the battle between the Hulk and the Abomination was met with satisfaction, but the film just left a lot to be desired. It’s definitely better than 2003’s Hulk (leaps and bounds better), but its one MCU movie least forgotten movies out there.
19: Iron Man 2 (2010)
We continue with the Iron Man movies, with 2010’s follow-up sequel (Iron Man 2), which felt underwhelming and problematic from the start. Yes, there’s plenty to like about it, especially since it was the third MCU and the sequel to the massive success to the original Iron Man feature. As to be expected, Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark / Iron Man anchored the film and led credence to the feature’s more stronger character moments as well as introducing actress Scarlett Johannsson as Natasha Romanov (aka Black Widow) and there were a few “cool” action scenes, including the whole race track scene with Ivan Vanko. Unfortunately, the movie falls prey to the whole “sequel” syndrome of trying to “go big” and ends up being mediocre. There’s plenty of plot holes throughout, numerous inconsistences, a weak bad guy in both characters of Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer (despite being played by fine actors), and just an adequate storyline, which was bloated by trying to “expand” the cinematic universe. Still, at least the film’s end credits scene of finding
18: Ant-Man & the Wasp (2018)
Ant Man & the Wasp, the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man, continued the trend of being a “smaller scale” adventure over the large-scale endeavors of “saving the world / universe ending doom” that a lot of other superhero features take in their cinematic storytelling. Plus, the film was plenty of fun, providing a lot of comic relief from its cast (most of which returned from the previous film) and seemed to be enjoying themselves on this project. As before, actor Paul Rudd still had the loveable and charismatic bravado throughout the film as well as actress Evangeline Lilly proves to expand her character in making her a “badass” female character (in a sea of male superheroes in the MCU). What weighs the film is the feature’s lack a sense of narrative substance (both in story and some character builds), struggle in pacing throughout and momentum its third act, a bland villain, and just felt bit inconsequential (in the grand scheme of the MCU), except for the fact of the Quantum Realm (the big thing of the movie). In the end, Ant-Man and the Wasp maybe the weakest installment in the MCU’s Phase III saga, but it offer plenty of lighthearted distraction when characters aren’t saving the world from over-the-top villains and bad guys.
17: Ant-Man (2015)
In 2015, Marvel’s tiniest avenger arrive on the scene, debuting with the film Ant-Man. The movie definitely had a lot going for it, with a great cast, more lighthearted tone, and just a more simple and “smaller” scale (no pun intended) superhero adventure rather than large scale “world ending” doom endeavors. Plus, comedian actor Paul Rudd proved to be an effective central hero protagonist and had the acting chops to be in the same lead character roles as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and other prominent actors and actresses. However, the movie did feel uneven at times and lacked a well-rounded villain and just simply felt a lacking greatness, especially since Ant-Man closes the MCU’s Phase II saga out; a cinematic saga that had several big fan-favorite features within its six feature installments. Still, Ant-Man had enough fun and charm to be an entertaining in a sea of big action and big stakes adventure superhero endeavors.
16: Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Coming off of the success of directing several episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones, director Alan Taylor seems like the perfect fit to direct a sequel to 2011’s Thor, with the movie Thor: The Dark World. Despite that a lot of fans out there considering this movie to be the “worst MCU film”, I’m going against the grain as I enjoyed it. Of course, I do understand why people hated it. There’s an underutilized antagonist, there’s the whole “Aether” (that acts as the McGuffin for the whole film) of which doesn’t quite pan out correctly, some underwhelming character development. However, there’s plenty of superhero fun to the project, seeing a lot of the fantasy-esque aspect play an instrument part to the feature as well as seeing expanding upon the characters from the first Thor movie (and the cast of actors and actresses that play them). It’s definitely the weakest entry of the Thor trilogy and definitely could’ve been better, but Thor: The Dark World was an amusing MCU film.
15: Captain Marvel (2019)
The last MCU film release before Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel acts as the final piece before that climatic superhero blockbuster; introducing the titular character to this shared cinematic universe superheroes, gods, and monsters. Directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the feature film sees the iconic Marvel superhero character in her first solo motion picture, delivering on providing her character with her own origin story of sorts for the popular MCU franchise. Well, the movie does struggle in its second act (pacing issues) as well as a few nuances that are atypical for an MCU endeavor, the movie does find its stride keeping the fresh, some interesting concepts, and solid performances from its cast, especially in Larson and Jackson. To me, I liked this movie. Yes, it wasn’t my personal favorite in the MCU’s Phase III saga, but it was still a successful entry in this shared universe that was both fun and entertaining (and that’s what I look for in an MCU movie). All in all, while not incredibly stellar me of the latter entries in the franchise, still succeeds in being a favorable installment in this on-going shared comic book movie universe and a step forward for female lead characters in the age of cinematic superhero films.
14: Doctor Strange (2016)
The MCU has had plenty of realms, arenas, and landscape to explore within its cinematic franchise; offering a wide range from Earthbound “grounded” narratives to the more “cosmic” fantasy / sci-fi adventures. One of the more “stranger” realms that the MCU ventures into is the mystical one multi-verses worlds, other realities, and astral planes in the movie Doctor Strange. The film takes viewers on a wild and sometimes “trippy” ride through Strange’s introduction to this fantastical world. However, while the can’t escape the familiarity pitfalls of mast MCU features, including a weak villain and a standard story plot origin tale, the visuals were extremely impressive and the cast was solid, especially actor Benedict Cumberbatch and actress Tilda Swinton (even though some might consider her role as the “Ancient One” a bit of Hollywood whitewashing). Still, there’s plenty to like about this movie and has a lot going for it. In short, Doctor Strange offers up an expanded view of MCU while crafting a magical realm for Strange’s introduction tale. And, for what it’s worth, it’s nice to see a new Marvel character come into focus.
13: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The true heart of a hero isn’t measure by physical size and stature, but rather doing what is right and helping the defenseless in the face of evil. Such is the notion in the 2011 MCU film Captain America: The First Avenger, the first entry in the Captain America trilogy. While the tone had some issues with consistency, some unbalanced tone, and few corny dialogue lines (here and there), the movie has great foothold in the MCU franchise, especially thanks to the classic narrative being told, a fun / entertaining feature, an solid WWII atmosphere backdrop setting time period (both familiar and fantastical), and a talented and diverse collection of actors and actresses, including the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, Haley Atwell, and (of course) Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America. Additionally, the movie lay the groundwork for a lot of foundation concepts for the rest of the cinematic universe, including the tesseract (the first Infinity Stone to be shown), the appearance of HYRDA (Hail, HYDRA and all that), and the ultimate step for Captain America’s involvement within the MCU. Altogether, Captain America: The First Avenger maybe be everyone’s least favorite installment in the Captain America trilogy, but it still holds its own as a starting point to one of the big three superhero characters (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America) of the MCU’s overall arching narrative.
12: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
With the success of 2012’s The Avengers, Marvel Studio proceeded forward with its Phase II saga, offering a continuation of its already established character, a few new ones, and another superhero team up entry with 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Based on the comic book story arc of the same name, the movie, which again was directed by Joss Whedon, gave us (the viewer) another round of larger superhero adventure for the Avengers to tackle. While its movie’s narrative juggles a lot with unnecessary sub-plots set-ups for future projects (i.e. the cameo appearance of Ulysses Klaue, the subtle conflict between Stark / Rogers for Captain America: Civil War set-up, and Thor’s visions of the Infinity Stones) and the wonderment of a superhero assemblage doesn’t resonate as much as it did in the previous film, its comic book integrity and grandiose blockbuster spectacle was (for the most part) left in intact (as well as a great cast of characters); cultivating in a highly enjoyable sequel that will please many fans out there. All in all, while the movie may be the weakest entry in the Avengers superhero team up movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron definitely was a solid and great movie that deliver on being a spectacle superhero endeavor.
11: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok, the third installment in the Thor trilogy, was definitely a fan-favorite amongst both Marvel fans and causal moviegoers, offering up a different side to the Asgardian God of Thunder’s journey. Director Taika Waititi’s film takes the iconic Marvel superhero character and places him (and his fantastical tale of gods and monsters) underneath a new light, crafting a humorous and visual space adventure for Thor and company to navigate through. While the movie’s new direction doesn’t necessarily break the MCU formula mold as well as the second act story being more prevalent than the actual main story (losing character development / moments with that decision), the film is still a lot of fun and an entertaining entry within Marvel’s cinematic universe, especially within the Waititi’s vision and in the casts theatrical charisma. Plus, it was quite amusing to see Hemsworth ease up on the character of Thor (who knew he had a fun side). Personally, I liked it. It was definitely a departure from the first two Thor movies (both the positives and the negatives viewpoints), but was still able to holds its own, especially within the visual style, comedy aspect, and entertainment value. Although, I still prefer the original Thor movie as my personal favorite of this trilogy (then Ragnarok and then The Dark World).
10: Thor (2011)
While many loved Thor: Ragnarok as the best of the Thor movies, I personally loved the first Thor movie slightly better. Of course, it’s definitely more of a serious / dramatic endeavor than Ragnarok was and delves the cinematic creation of the character of Thor, setting the stage for how he (and lot of other characters) were gonna be portrayed throughout the course of the MCU. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the movie is a bit “smaller” scale adventure than either The Dark World and Ragnarok, but the film definitely has a certain Shakespearean vibe throughout, especially the tragedy of Loki’s backstory and the handling of Thor’s narrative character journey arc in the movie. Plus, who couldn’t forget the one scene where Thor couldn’t pick up Mjölnir (definitely a defining moment of the feature). Plus, (for its time) the visual aspect of Asagard was quite compelling to see (loved how it all looked). Additionally, the film’s cast was great, especially actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as the two Asgardian brothers Thor and Loki as well as seasoned actor Anthony Hopkins as Odin. In the end, Thor represent a fun “fish out of water” tale that’s part superhero film, part fantasy, and part mythology.
9: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
In 2017, everyone’s favorite “webslinger” superhero swung back with a new face (Tom Holland) and new challenges into theaters in Spider-Man: Homecoming. While actors Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield have already played the character of Peter Parker before, Tom Holland’s charismatic energy and meaningful sincerity to the character is what sold me (and a lot others). Director by John Watts, Homecoming worked on multiple levels, working as both a high school comedy and a MCU comic book tale about a youthful, but inexperienced superhero. The movie doesn’t necessarily move the MCU’s overarching story forward, but ultimately succeeds at being more of a standalone (and smaller) entry rather being dependent on its own cinematic universe world-building and “larger story” components. The story was solid, the cast was great (especially Holland and actor Michael Keaton), and it was an entertaining summer blockbuster. It will be interesting to see how Holland’s Peter Park / Spider-Man will develop in future installment, most recent with the Spider-Man: Far from Home acting as the first entry in the Marvel Phase IV saga (presumably taking place Avengers: Endgame).
8: Iron Man (2008)
The one that started it all. The origins of the MCU back began in 2008 with the release of Iron Man and definitely had the makings of something great. However, it was definitely a gamble, especially since the film’s end credits scene (the first of many in a “time honored” tradition of superhero features) promise something larger to come and definitely could’ve been a “one and done” type superhero movie. Fortunately, the gamble paid off, launching a cinematic superhero franchise, with Iron Man acting as starting point foundation of which the MCU has been built upon. The movie has a lot of ground to cover within its 126-minute runtime; so much so that it becomes a little bit “story / plot” heavy more than enjoying superhero entertainment escapism. There’s action in it, but more delegated towards the end (and few scenes in-between). However, those ends justify the means as Iron Man succeeds on a lot of other fronts. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the movie lies with actor Robert Downey Jr., who has completely made the on-screen character persona of Tony Stark / Iron Man his own; embodying the character to make him both a compelling character and endearing one at that. Plus, the film’s direction by Jon Favreau help showcase what future MCU entries could be, especially in terms of action sequences, storytelling, and character build moments. In short, Iron Man launched the MCU, showcasing what future superhero movies could be… not just for the MCU, but for the superhero film genre to come.
7: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
The Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s cosmic “ragtag” band of misfits are for another “awesome” adventure to save the galaxy in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. Director James Gunn sequel film to his 2014 blockbuster hit has a lot to like about, collectively creating a cinematic story of heart, humor, and sci-fi action nuances. While it may just be out of reach of the “magic” that it predecessor had (substituting the narrative to common troupes of storytelling and a minor sluggish second act), Vol. 2 has plenty to offer with dazzling array of visual appeal, humorous bits, strong character driven moments, and the sounds of Star-Lord’s “Awesome Mix Vol.2”. Personally, I loved this movie (I knew I would). While the first one is slightly better in my opinion, Vol. 2 is still a solid and well-liked sequel follow-up feature, which will please many fans and moviegoers out there. In truth, I haven’t laughed so much at 2017 movie than I did with this one. In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 didn’t surpass the first film, but was still a worthy successor to its 2014 film.
6: Black Panther (2018)
An African kingdom stands upon precipice of its involvement in the world’s affairs as the crown prince becomes king, taking up the mantle (and responsibilities) as its ruler as well as the masked superhero character of the Black Panther and facing down an enemy that has close ties that he thinks. Director Ryan Cooler was tasked by bringing to life a secondary Marvel superhero into the MCU and delivers masterpiece on creating both a solid superhero movie and entertaining feature to be sure. While there some small minor complaints I have about it, Black Panther has a lot to like about it, especially thanks to Coogler’s direction (presenting and pacing) and handling of the project, a compelling narrative, a rich world-building, solid characters (played by talented actors and actresses), a powerful commentary message, and (above all else) makes a strong representation of African Americans in a lead superhero role. In the end, Black Panther stands as a testament that the Marvel’s cinematic universe is continuing to evolve and bring in new characters and ideas within the shared superhero franchise. What do I have left to say…. Wakanda forever!!!
5: The Avengers (2012)
The very first superhero team movie that literally got everyone excited about. Before Endgame, Infinity War, and Age of Ultron, there was an idea….an idea to bring a group of remarkable people in the movie The Avengers (or Marvel’s The Avengers to some). It was the first superhero team up blockbuster endeavor for the MCU, gambling on the idea of its list of character (from the previous five installments) and making a large-scale cinematic adventure for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The film was fantastic, delivering on very aspect that was promised and did have plenty of superhero fun throughout It was truly amazing to see some of these characters come together (on-screen) for the first time and have plenty of witty banter / conversation in amongst each other. Plus, the whole Battle of New York was a climatic third act sequences that deliver on pure spectacle comic book / blockbuster fun and the idea of using the character of Loki (an already established character) as the film’s main antagonist. In the end, The Avengers succeeded in being a major blockbuster contender and prove that the culmination of the MCU’s Phase I saga was indeed a “box office” hit with moviegoers everywhere.
4: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Acting as the middle point of the MCU’s Phase II saga, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was definitely a “game changer” for this cinematic universe of superheroes. While the first film was set in WWII and did have a little “campy” tone in a few areas, The Winter Soldier definitely stepped up its game by making the film’s tone more “grounded” superhero adventure (less comic book fantasy) that was part superhero endeavor, part political nuances, and part espionage adventure that works wonder on-screen. It’s exciting, fun, serious, and definitely has some of the best sequences than most MCU standalone movies have to offer. Plus, the cast was great, with actor Chris Evans leading the charge again as Steve Rogers / Captain America, a strong supporting introduction to character Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon), and a re-introduction of character Bucky Barnes in such a great antagonist character. However, the story aspect of The Winter Soldier was great, especially since the idea of HYDRA infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D (total shocker), which sent ripples through the rest of the MCU (including the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D TV show). In the end, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was incredibly solid entry in the MCU, changing up the formula from the first film and improving upon the character of Cap in such a fun and intriguing way as well as changing many things to come within the future projects within the MCU.
3: Captain America: Civil War (2016)
In 2016, the MCU’s Phase III saga began and boy did it begin with a fantastic bang with the release of Captain America: Civil War, which acts as both a semi-Avengers type movie (with plenty of superhero character in the film’s roster) as well as third entry in the Captain America trilogy. The Russo Brother have delivered on another great movie for Steve Rogers, culminating with some fantastic “real world” ideas, superhero action and fun, and even some emotional (and poignant) storytelling moments at heart. While the man antagonist is actually the weakest part of the film, the movie succeeds in bringing large scale action (the whole entire airport scene was amazing) as well as some personal moments, including the whole fight between Captain America and Iron Man (definitely love that scene the most). Plus, the Russo directors did a fantastic job in introducing Black Panther (as a supporting character) in the movie as well as solid cameo-like appearance setup for Spider-Man. Collectively, Captain America: Civil War promised a blockbuster endeavor and justly so deliver it….in a way that’s meaningful, exciting, and entertaining all wrapped up in one enacting feature film.
2: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Up to this point, the MCU has utilized the same roster of superhero characters (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, etc.) to tell its cinematic stories, which were more big / recognizable property names. 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit, bringing a slew of new characters and expanding upon the MCU by telling a more sci-fi cosmic adventure story (something reminiscing of a Star Wars-esque adventure) rather than a more traditional superhero endeavor. Directed by James Gunn, the film was tremendous fun, thanks to Gunn’s direction / tone of the feature, an incredible cast (including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and several others), an engaging sci-fi story, a stunning visual presentation, and “awesome” musical selection that kept the movie fun and upbeat. Altogether, Guardians of the Galaxy has a distinct charm and a confident swagger about it. It’s a bold, fast-paced action summer blockbuster film that’s enormous fun (a lot of laughs) and highly entertaining, while, at the same time, dancing to the beat of its own drum. I personally love this movie and it definitely still has the same “movie magic” as it did when I first saw it.
1: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
You all knew that this was gonna be my #1 movie on this list. The penultimate culmination for the MCU began in 2018 with the release of Avengers: Infinity War, bringing the story of the Mad Titan Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Stones to the foreground and using the incredible roster of established superheroes (within the MCU) to fight against him and his forces. Plus, not gonna lie…I was super excited to see several members of the Avengers meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy. As can imagine, I’m a fan of superhero movies and this one absolutely delivered on its own hype and exceeding my own in the process. Infinity War succeeds in almost all categories that it was trying to measure itself (cinematically speaking). It was such an awesome big-screen / blockbuster adventure that delivers on its promise of being not just a grand spectacle, but also a poignant turning point for the franchise. Add in the film’s beautiful visual effects, the Russo’s direction and handling of the enormous project, and the incredible cast of talented actors and actresses of this well-developed pool of characters, and you get the ultimate fruition of superhero movie. The scope and grandeur of the film was massive, the story was climatic, the cast was incredible, the classic Marvel heart and humor was there (and in rare form), and the ending cliffhanger left me wanting more (and that’s a good thing), making Infinity War one of the best Part 1 endeavor ever.
With arrival of Avengers: Endgame arriving just a few days, the stage is set for the epic and dramatic conclusion to the story that began in Infinity War and will definitely shake-up the MCU’s future forever.
So what do you guys think of this list? What is your “worst to best” for the MCU films?