The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Ranked by Editors

With the recent release of “Avengers: Endgame,” Arhan Chhabra and Toby Pouler discuss and rank all 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This article does not contain any spoilers for any of the recent films.

  1. Iron Man

The film that started it all. Iron Man was an instant classic that brought Marvel from the brink of bankruptcy in 2008 to the biggest blockbuster film franchise in the world today with its humor, high-quality action, and Tony Stark’s charisma. Jumpstarting the whole superhero industry, Iron Man defeated wide-spread stigma against superhero films. While it may not be the most stunning or most largest scale film, it is the one that contains the most legacy and started everything else on this list.

  1. Avengers: Endgame

The film that ended it all (well, at least for the time being). “Avengers: Endgame” finished many character’s arcs and brought the tale of the Infinity Saga to a satisfying close with tons of references for all the loyal Marvel fans out there. Every Easter egg and call-back was beautifully placed in a film that contained stunning action, beautiful shots, emotional scenes, and constant surprise. “Endgame” is an exhilarating experience from start to finish and lives up to the enormous hype.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Russo Brothers’ first Marvel film: “The Winter Soldier” felt like it came straight from the comic books. Starting a new arc for Bucky Barnes and Captain America, this film felt different  from almost all other MCU films with a spy thriller theme and more hand-to-hand, close combat scenes, such as the famous elevator confrontation, in which Hydra agents try to kill Steve Rogers. It also expands on the character of Steve Rogers, who was a bit underdeveloped  in the first “Avengers” film.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War

The start of the end; this film brought us the terrific and terrifying villain Thanos in a sad yet climactic finale which prepared audiences for “Endgame.” Leaving many mysteries to be explained in “Endgame,” this movie was particularly comedic despite its dark tone. With scenes and references straight out of full-page comic book panels, the visuals were stunning. “Infinity War,” like “Endgame,” lived up to the hype, and is without a doubt one of the most popular films in the MCU.

  1. Thor: Ragnarok

Of the three main original Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor), Thor’s first two movies were by far the least loved by fans and critics alike. However, the third installment transformed Thor from a handsome, boring powerhouse to a hilarious, multi-dimensional character (though still a powerhouse) whom watchers have come to adore. “Ragnarok” paired a completely new Thor with a host of fan-favorite secondary characters including Loki, Korg, and Hulk, who also grew as a character both in and out of Hulk form, and was the start of a new arc for Hulk from “Ragnarok” through “Endgame.”

  1. Captain America: Civil War

Civil War is one of the most well-thought-out movies in the MCU, with interesting villain Helmut Zemo, who is physically weaker than others, but utilizes his cleverness to achieve his ends. By managing to break the Avengers apart from the inside, emotional and visually spectacular scenes are created. Civil War also introduces Spider-Man and Black Panther, two of the most prominent characters today. Overall, “Civil War” made the Avengers more human and showed that even superheroes can have flaws and unforgiving emotions.

  1. Iron Man 3

Iron Man’s final solo movie; “Iron Man 3” deals with the mental effects on Tony Stark of the Battle of New York. Stark’s PTSD troubles him while he faces the very organization that captured him in the very first Iron Man movie: The Mandarin. “Iron Man 3” shows the human side of Stark and the stress that he has been facing among all his action while dealing with Pepper Pots and more villains, creating a movie that completes the Iron Man trilogy in a wholesome and beautiful way.

  1. Black Panther

The only Marvel movie ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award; “Black Panther” received positive feedback for its film mastery and its underlying assessments of race and culture. A blend of humor, fascinating technology, and one of the most multi-layered and best villains in the MCU, “Black Panther” draws together amazing acting performances and an excellent score, to form a film for both Marvel and general movie fans alike.

  1. The Avengers

Many critics claimed that an experiment combining superheroes from different movie franchises into the same film would be disastrous. They instantly had their theory disproved, as “The Avengers” broke several box office records and was well-received by fans. A somewhat dull story is made up for by the visual effects and epic moments, like the Battle of New York, as well as a simply amazing villain in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who challenged the Avengers both mentally and physically. The success of the first Avengers film ensured Marvel that the MCU was ready to move into second gear and would take the world by storm.

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger

Perhaps the most underrated film in the early MCU, the First Avenger is often lost behind the greatness of the other two Cap movies. However, an argument could be made that this is the best of three. It is one of the few Marvel movies that occur in the past, in this case, WWII, and it offers an interesting setting in which Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers emerges as the leader of the first generation of the MCU. A perfect score, along with Cap’s relationship with Agent Carter is the formula to a film that would direct the plot of many of the following MCU films.

  1. Doctor Strange

Introducing one of the most powerful characters in the MCU, as well as the 5th Infinity Stone, Doctor Strange is a unique and thrilling origin story that deals with the mystic arts. There are very creative visual effects that take advantage of the beauty of many of the locations that this film was shot in, such as Nepal and Hong Kong, while also extending the notion of “magic” to create kaleidoscopic and colorful shots.

  1. Ant-Man

Coming out directly after the second Avengers, “Ant-Man” took audiences on a break from the action and large-scale battles to a literal smaller scale. Scott Lang’s character transformation is comedic and thought-provoking, brought to life  in a classic performance by Paul Rudd. While providing a fun new ride for fans, the film also introduced several aspects that would, in fact, become very important to future MCU films outside the Ant-Man franchise, adding higher stakes to an otherwise easy-going conflict.

  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Without having to do an origin story for Spider-Man all over again, “Homecoming” dives deep into the life of Peter Parker and how he balances working with the Avengers with being a friendly neighborhood spider-man. Tom Holland (Spider-man), Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), and Michael Keaton (Vulture) play their supporting roles perfectly, creating a funny and interesting movie with lower stakes and more fun.

  1. Ant-Man and the Wasp

The most creative MCU movie yet; Ant-Man and the Wasp is a feel-good thriller that will keep a smile on your face throughout. Managing two plot points at once – the hope for the revival of Janet Van Dyne as well as fighting away the Ghost – Ant-man and the Wasp is packed with hilarious jokes, amazing action, and deep insight on Scott Lang as a character. Its quantum technology also what sets up a lot of the MCU after, especially Avengers: Endgame.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy

If movie-watchers didn’t know who Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon were before 2014, no one would blame them. The first Guardians of the Galaxy film was a risky venture for Marvel, as they had yet to bring such little-known characters to star in their own major film. However, the risk paid off, as the new and exciting elements of the film made household names of the five leading characters. However, they carry the movie alone from start to finish, with the villains and supporting characters contributing little to the overall feel of the film (with the notable exception of Yondu). Overall, though “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a fun movie to watch with an awesome soundtrack and playlist of music.

  1. Avengers: Age of Ultron

This second Avengers film brings together the original six and introduces Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, otherwise known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, as well as the Vision, created by Tony Stark and Jarvis. The action scenes were especially creative and well-made, with some iconic scenes such as the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster (Iron Man armor) fight scene, as well as the amazing opening scene. However, while visually this was a stunning film, the villain Ultron had no clear motivation and was introduced and developed quite poorly. The “Age” of Ultron was more like a few days of Ultron.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

While only two spots below the first Guardians Film, Volume 2 is definitely the worst of the two. It fails in its focus on Star-Lord more than any of the other main heroes, spawning a dislike of his character in  fans and watchers alike. However, the film does recapture some of the magic that the first film displayed, even improving it, in parts. The opening sequence with Baby Groot, along with Yondu’s arrow scene, save the second Guardians movie from being a forgotten part of the MCU.

  1. Thor

Drawing on God-based source material may seem strange and risky: this was proven with the release of “Thor” toward the start of the MCU. While the film failed to create the same superhero magic as “Iron Man” or “Captain America,” the first Thor film managed itself well enough. Although the host of supporting characters are widely forgotten, the simple inclusion of the titular character, along with his brother Loki, makes Thor a fun experience in which watchers learn there are almost no limits to the MCU.

  1. Captain Marvel

An interesting origin story for Marvel’s newest addition, Captain Marvel is full of 90’s references, action, and intergalactic warfare. While covering the Kree-Skrull war, Captain Marvel’s backstory is explained and her powers are demonstrated on a planetary scale. While the film is overall an interesting addition to the MCU that helps explain a lot of Nick Fury’s past, Brie Larson has fallen somewhat flat as the leader of the new generation of Marvel, as fans have yet to accept her role.

  1. Iron Man 2

The second Iron Man film deals with multiple events from the comics and plotlines at once. Tony’s arc reactor consumes him while Russian villain Ivan Vanko, also known as Whiplash, tries to hunt Tony down. Additionally, Tony’s friend and army colonel James Rhodey steals an Iron Man suit, and technology rival Justin Hammer tries to kill Tony. While there were many interesting ideas and visual effects at play in the movie, the script was poorly written and the final scene was very anticlimactic. While this movie introduces Black Widow and is funny, it does not live up to the expectations that one would have for a Marvel movie.

  1. Thor: The Dark World

“Thor: The Dark World” is another comical (pun unintended) yet anti-climactic film that deals with villains who are poorly portrayed: the Dark Elves and Malakith. While introducing the Aether, also known as the Reality Stone, a basic and typical movie structure is used with a bland story. Even the genius character of Loki is somewhat diminished in this excuse for a Marvel film.

  1. The Incredible Hulk

It can’t be a surprise that Hulk would come out on the bottom of the list, as it feels completely disconnected from the MCU. For one, the Hulk is played by a different actor, Edward Norton, who has been lost behind the now-accepted face of the big green guy, Mark Ruffalo. Its stakes were not that high, and the Hulk himself did not appear nearly as much as he should have. This, coupled with a rage-driven one-dimensional villain, the Abomination, makes for the worst film in the MCU.