Over the past ten years, Marvel Studios has released a plethora of groundbreaking superhero films that take you on journeys and leave you wanting more. From Iron Man to The Avengers to Guardians of the Galaxy, no other franchise has had a bigger impact on the pop culture world than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the culmination of all of the movies, Avengers: Infinity War, finally out, it’s time to take a look back at the world built over the last decade and rank every film from worst to best.
19. Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 is a mess. It’s a poor attempt to replicate the success of its predecessor and lives on as ultimately a shadow of that film. The script is a mess, being too serious at points and then turning the tables, becoming too campy as well. There are way too many subplots, and the film ends up feeling like a disjointed and sorry attempt at a superhero movie. Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) is one of the poorest excuses for a villain Marvel’s ever offered to us, and the action sequences are ultimately forgettable. Tony Stark ends up being extremely obnoxious and you begin to wonder if he learned anything from his first outing. The other characters don’t get that much to do. Some bits are entertaining, but Iron Man 2 is largely unmemorable. You could most likely skip this one and not miss much.
Thor isn’t as mediocre as Iron Man 2, but it comes close. For a movie that’s all about the God of Thunder, he really doesn’t get to do many godly things in the film’s runtime. Everything on Asgard is great. Learning about the mythology and exploring it is most certainly the best aspect of the film. Then Thor gets dropped to New Mexico and it goes from smart to dumb. The humor is dry and campy, and the characters are poorly written. That is, save for Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who steals the entire film with his emotional and captivating story arc. Chris Hemsworth gives an okay performance as Thor, but you’ll be longing for the movie to end. It’s pretty much at par with Iron Man 2 in terms of characters and writing. However, the action sequences are fantastic and visually stunning. It’s worth watching at least once.
17. Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World definitely learned a couple things from the mistakes of its predecessor, but not many. This time, Thor isn’t on Earth as much, which is a win. He also has much more to do this time around. However, it makes the same mistake the first film did by giving too much time to the characters that aren’t as important or relevant to the story. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is still one of the worst characters the Marvel films have given us, and her intern Darcy is even more annoying than she was the first time around. The villain, Malekith, is still one of the dullest additions to the franchise, but at least we get a look at the Reality Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones. The action sequences are (for the most part) enjoyable, and Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki is, once again, the best part of the film. The “twist ending” is still a disappointment, though.
16. The Incredible Hulk
Considering it was released a month after the first Iron Man, it’s no surprise that this is one of the more overlooked films in the MCU. The Incredible Hulk really doesn’t have that much of a place in the franchise, as Edward Norton was recast, with Mark Ruffalo taking over for him since. It’s unfortunately bleak and the main antagonist, Emil Blonsky/Abomination lacks any sense of depth. In addition, the special effects are atrocious and the characters look sluggish and fake. However, there’s a pretty good film in here once you look past those elements. The story and rock-’em, sock-’em action are both very strong. It’s void of any real character development, which is why it isn’t up higher on this list, but Norton’s performance is under-appreciated. Give this one a second look if you get a chance. It doesn’t get the appreciation it most certainly deserves.
15. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron was never going to be as good as its predecessor. The first Avengers raised the bar for superhero films, so it didn’t come as a surprise that its sequel was a bit of a letdown. It has a few plot points that feel unnecessary, mainly the Black Widow/Hulk romance and the Ulysses Klaue subplot. There is also a boatload of characters that don’t do much until the end or don’t serve any purpose at this point. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are shoe-horned into the plot until they’re made use of in the third act, and the Vision isn’t really interesting. At all. That being said, the action sequences are spectacular, and the scene where Scarlet Witch manipulates the Avengers’ minds is beautifully bleak, giving us every inch of development these characters deserve. Age of Ultron isn’t a perfect movie, and its villain isn’t that memorable, but the hate it gets is most certainly undeserved.
14. Iron Man 3
Ah, Iron Man 3. When you look at the fact that it was released a year after The Avengers, there’s definitely a reason as to why it wasn’t as loved by fans and critics. To be fair, that film is much better, but Iron Man 3 never really was given an opportunity to shine, especially because of its story elements and the way it handles its characters. They’re both much different than anything seen before in a Marvel film, focusing on Tony Stark’s PTSD and past mistakes instead of giving fans a lot of action, which many were hoping for. Guy Pearce’s villain is mostly unmemorable, and the action sequences aren’t that enjoyable, but the character development is perfectly executed. Robert Downey Jr.’s well-rounded performance, coupled with the genuinely great humor, come together to create one of the more underrated films of the bunch. Also, that Mandarin twist really isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be…
13. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok chose the same route the two Guardians movies took and delved into the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking a more light-hearted approach to Thor, the film pitted him against the Hulk in a gladiatorial arena on a planet called Sakaar. The most lighthearted entry in the MCU, Ragnarok is without a doubt fun, but it sometimes feels dumbed-down because of its humor. It’s an enjoyable experience, and the characters (both old and new) are more interesting to watch, but it lacks emotion, surprises, and a great central villain. Hela (Cate Blanchett) is another boring antagonist who wants to conquer simply for the sake of conquering. Then there’s her army, another batch of faceless goons. The third act also suffers from pacing problems, though the scene set to “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin is pretty much perfect. Also, Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) is hilariously maniacal.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The first Guardians of the Galaxy film defied every expectation, living on as one of the most surprising superhero movies of all time, as well as one of the best. So, like Age of Ultron, it was nearly impossible for this sequel to live up to its precursor. It isn’t amazing like the first was, but it has some genuinely great moments. Choosing to focus on family and giving a boatload of character development worked in its favor, creating a more grounded approach to the heroes we’ve grown to love. The movie isn’t without issues, as it lacks a truly good antagonist. Ego is given too much development, while the Sovereign isn’t given enough. The humor can be dry in places, feeling forced like in Ragnarok, and the action sequences feel pointless in some areas, but the soundtrack is just as great as the first film and the ending is so emotionally wrecking. It truly breaks you. Notable as well is the adorable Baby Groot, who steals every scene he’s in with his cuteness.
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Instead of going for a large-scale blockbuster, Marvel stuck close to the ground with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Portraying the life of a superhero through the eyes of a high-schooler, Marvel broke their formula with a relatable protagonist and a believable villain, in addition to serving as a great solo outing for the web-slinger. Choosing to focus on the present instead of an origin story was a wise move on the writers’ parts, which partly contributes to the film’s success. The other key factor? Tom Holland’s central performance, giving insight into the duality of Spider-Man while not becoming too unrealistic. Unfortunately, the film spends too much time setting up future films, as well as focusing on Peter trying to live up to the legacy of Tony Stark. However, Vulture, the main villain, is sympathetic, enabling you to get behind his motives and understand the way he thinks. Homecoming is, without a doubt, one of the finest entries in the MCU.
10. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange is by far one of the weirdest superhero films ever made. It’s basically Iron Man with magic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great, because it most certainly is. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the most arrogant characters put to screen, but Cumberbatch’s performance is one of the best of the bunch. The transformation from jerk to hero is definitely formulaic. It’s how he transforms that’s brilliant. Character development is spot-on, and the special effects are phenomenal. Every scene is breathtakingly beautiful, filled to the brim with colorful visuals, contributing to the stylistic flair of this movie. The fascinating atmosphere and great writing add to the complexity of this tale, that is, however, dampened by some weak central performances. The villain, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), is a sadly underwhelming addition to the MCU’s library of villains. In the end, though, Doctor Strange is a well-told, stunning entry in the franchise.
In some points, Ant-Man doesn’t feel like a Marvel film or even a superhero film at all. For the majority of the movie, it masquerades as a heist flick, one populated with a slick hero, quirky and awesome side characters, and complete with a wise mentor. Paul Rudd is phenomenal as Scott Lang, and his driving force is incredibly realistic. The parts that focus on the relationship between him and his daughter are beautifully executed. And then there’s Luis, the hilarious and awesome sort-of sidekick who steals every scene he’s in. The action sequences are utilized brilliantly, enabling some great gags to be thrown in. Some of the characters are wasted, mainly Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket, which leaves much to be desired. Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne is also squandered for most of the runtime, not being able to do as much as other characters. That being said, it’s a worthy conclusion to Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, proving superhero movies don’t have to be monumental to be good.
8. The Avengers
The Avengers was the culmination of every single Phase One film. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes came together in this awesome, action-packed adventure. Filled with extraordinary character dynamics and development, as well as striking visuals and a compelling villain. Loki definitely wasn’t as interesting or emotionally investing as he was in Thor, but Tom Hiddleston’s eccentric performance is crazily entertaining. The banter between the heroes is extremely fun, and the side characters also feel relevant to the story, unlike others in recent memory. Characters that didn’t feel fully realized in their solo outings are given a second chance to shine here, but the movie also has emotional depth and complexity. The action sequences (more specifically the Battle of New York) are phenomenal, and the team aspect is much appreciated. The more casual approach to the film leaves you satisfied with the end result, and the overall fun to be had is massive. This is by far one of the best and most important movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
7. Iron Man
Ah, the film that started it all. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man still holds up as one of the greatest entries in the MCU. Robert Downey Jr. gives an extraordinarily charismatic performance as the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark. The first hour or so does have some pacing issues, but in retrospect, this is a largely well-told story with some great morals. The action scenes are breathtaking, especially the Gulmira assault. Jeff Bridges’ villain Obadiah Stane is still one of the best in the franchise, and the complex motives are something of a rarity nowadays. The visuals are dark but thrilling, and the writing is smart and funny at the same time. The final fight is ultimately lacking in realism and fun, but the humorous undertones are enjoyable. Iron Man‘s extremely well-written characters and evenly-paced story elements go together to create one of the most influential superhero films of all time.
6. Captain America: Civil War
The first entry in the third phase of the MCU, Captain America: Civil War gave us something we all knew was coming. One could only imagine how it would play out. This is a tremendously beautiful film. The airport battle scene is still one of the most stunning action sequences ever put to screen, filled with great character interactions, fun action, and a satisfying conclusion. Tonal consistency is key here, and while there is humor, the darker areas add to the overwhelming complexity of this tale. The cinematography is stunning and overshadows the sloppy editing in some scenes. While there were definitely certain plot points that felt forced, contributing to the overstuffed factor, but the final product is brilliant. The rift between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers is still one of the greatest things to come out of Marvel Studios, possibly because it forces you to look back on their pasts. Who do they fight for? What time period did they grow up in and how did that contribute to their ideals? These are key elements that play into the film’s overall lasting effect on the audience.
5. Avengers: Infinity War
One of the most hotly anticipated films of all time, Avengers: Infinity War delivers on all fronts. The culmination of the eighteen prior Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, the Avengers remain divided as a threat arrives on Earth. Thanos (Josh Brolin), wants the six Infinity Stones that are scattered across the universe, and it’s evident from the opening scene how hell-bent he is on obtaining them. Infinity War does a great job of handling the plethora of characters introduced over the previous ten years, though some do end up on the sidelines a bit too much. It’s no surprise that some elements are a bit of a minor letdown, but considering the movie was unfairly overhyped leading up to its release, they’re forgivable. The real surprise is Thanos, who many were worried would be pure boilerplate. Not only did Thanos end up being emotionally resonant and entertaining, but one could even argue that he’s the protagonist of the film. Filled with grandiose, beautiful action scenes and an emotion-driven story at its core, Infinity War more than lives up to the hype.
4. Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger is a pretty straightforward film. Take a down-on-his-luck guy, make him super-powered, and throw in some bad guys to kick around. That being said, is it really that formulaic? The answer is no. It’s a story of heroism in a time where there was none. A time where lines were drawn and who you side with was chosen for you. The tale of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a brilliant one, told so expertly and with such heart that it becomes more than your average superhero movie. Throwing you into the life of the hero instead of watching from the sidelines is the wake-up-call we all needed from the genre and a franchise that had been struggling after its great first entry. One of the best parts of the film, though, is the throwback element. Who wants to see all superhero movies taking place during the present day? The World War II backdrop adds to the great story elements and the stylistic flair. The action sequences are fun and meaningful. The villain, Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is a force to be reckoned with. The First Avenger gets a lot of flak for being simple, but it’s without a doubt of the most overlooked entries in the MCU.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
While The First Avenger is in the top five because it sticks to its guns, Guardians of the Galaxy is amazing because of how different it is from the rest of the MCU. It’s incredibly weird, featuring a talking raccoon, a giant tree, a space pirate, and an assassin. The movie clearly draws influence from the ’80s icons it references, but that makes it even better. It’s something of its own, working to become a great solo film, which makes it one of the most rewatchable entries in the franchise. The villain is admittedly one of the weaker ones that we’ve been given, but that can be forgiven because of the sense that the movie isn’t trying to connect itself with other MCU films. It has an astonishingly unique sense of fun like no other superhero movie before it, and the dialogue and relationship between the heroes prove to be brilliant. Director James Gunn’s distinct visual flair never holds back here, going all-out with wild action and glamorous set-pieces. Every scene is well-executed, and the layered atmosphere adds to the glorious presentation. Guardians of the Galaxy is far and away one of the greatest feats ever accomplished in the superhero genre.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
When fans of the MCU look back on all the films, it’s clear where the franchise took a turn for the better. Up until this point, Marvel Studios only had three or four memorable movies, which isn’t that great considering the franchise was almost at its tenth entry. Captain America: The Winter Soldier continued the trend set by its predecessor, focusing more on a grounded narrative instead of mindless action. This movie took the series out of its comfort zone, placing Cap and Black Widow in the midst of a political conspiracy, something never seen before in a superhero movie. Not only could it keep an engaging pace and still tell a great story, but the new approach worked. It didn’t feel out-of-place, yet it was still different and interesting. The new characters and subplots don’t feel shoe-horned in, which makes the Russo Brothers’ first MCU film even more functional as something more. The Captain America trilogy will always be hailed as one of the best of all time, but it really owes that placement to its sophomore effort, which transcends every single genre trope and cliché that could be brought up while discussing the movies. It’s truly a masterpiece and is not to be missed.
1. Black Panther
Black Panther is undoubtedly the greatest film the MCU has offered in its ten years of service to the fans. After his glorious introduction in Captain America: Civil War, the Wakandan hero’s solo outing proved to raise the bar that all superhero movies are judged by. Offering an in-depth look at the duality of the superhero, in addition to the struggles of leadership. Chadwick Boseman’s performance as T’Challa will be praised for years to come, in addition to that of Michael B. Jordan’s villain Erik Killmonger. Killmonger is far and wide the crown jewel of Marvel villains. No other antagonist has caused me to cry twice during the film’s runtime, proving that we need more villains that can resonate with viewers. His motives are undeniably justified, and while how he goes about achieving them is wrong, what separates him from other villains is that he brings forth a change in the hero by the end of the movie. Another strength of this film is that it’s able to balance its side characters, giving them enough development so that they feel at par with the hero. Black Panther is the king of the MCU, showing off a political subtext never before seen in a comic book adaptation, as well as giving the viewer plenty of great action sequences and an undeniably phenomenal villain.
What’s your personal ranking of the movies? Let us know in the comments and remember…we…are…Groot.