UPDATE: List updated following the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Original list can be found here.
Since beginning in 2008 with Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown, expanded, and shifted into the all-powerful realm of Disney. New films continue to come out each year—most of which fit somewhere between good and great on the quality spectrum. MCU fatigue is a growing concern, but I plan on updating this list with each new release in the ever-growing franchise.
Here they are, ranked from worst to Guardians of the Galaxy:
15. Iron Man 2
I don’t know how it’s possible to be genuinely bored during a superhero movie, but it happened here. I struggled to sit through Iron Man 2 practically from the beginning. I’m sure it’s not as bad as I remember it being, but that boredom still eats at me from time to time.
14. The Incredible Hulk
Pre-Mark Ruffalo Bruce Banner just doesn’t hold up. Edward Norton is a phenomenal actor, but his sole film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t have a story compelling enough to support its hero.
13. Thor: The Dark World
The Dark World is a perfectly fine MCU film. It’s not bad, and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, but it flounders compared to its franchise brethren.
12. Iron Man 3
Shane Black’s entry in the MCU is a blast, but its big twist is a lot less enjoyable on subsequent viewings. His unique voice fits well with Tony Stark’s persona, though, and some of the action set pieces in Iron Man 3 are truly spectacular.
The MCU’s introduction to the fantastic, Thor is an enjoyable film worth seeing just for Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston’s introductions to the franchise. It’s a lot of fun throughout, with some real fish out of water moments for its titular hero, but I can’t even begin to tell you what happened in anything even approaching detail.
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron isn’t bad, but its predecessor gave it a lot to live up to. Having to follow the MCU’s stellar 2014 didn’t give it much of a chance, either. It felt way too crowded for its own good, but it still had plenty of satisfying moments for fans—I mean, how awesome is that opening sequence?
9. Captain America: The First Avenger
99 percent World War II period piece, and all the better for it. The First Avenger was the first entry in the MCU (excluding Iron Man, for obvious reasons) to really feel unique. Chris Evans nailed every aspect of Steve Rogers—something he’s continued to do in every MCU appearance since then.
8. Doctor Strange
Great visuals and a real sense of magic combine with a character who’s essentially a redux of the MCU’s Tony Stark to create an objectively good, sadly middling movie. There’s a lot to love about Doctor Strange, but there’s also an ever-present sense of having seen it all before with a different skin on it.
Michael Peña’s comedic moments would have been enough for me to recommend Ant-Man, but it’s enjoyable all around.
Good heist film + shrinkable hero + flying ant friend = success.
6. Iron Man
Where it all started. And started well, too. Thanks to previously sold film rights, Marvel Studios hung its cinematic prospects on a character who was second tier at best. Robert Downey Jr. was the perfect choice for Tony Stark, easily capturing the brilliant scientist and smarmy playboy elements necessary for the character.
5. Captain America: Civil War
Civil War is, for all intents and purposes, a third Avengers film. Featuring a massive cast with Steve Rogers at its center, it expanded the Marvel Cinematic Universe even farther with the introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man.
That airport fight is enough to make this one worthwhile, but the rest of it is pretty good too.
4. The Avengers
2012’s The Avengers was the culmination of the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We were still learning what the MCU could be, and Joss Whedon’s first entry in the franchise took it to new heights. An excellent blend of blockbuster fun and fan-pleasing moments, it rightfully set records (which have since been shattered, of course).
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A tense political thriller that just happens to be about a superhero. A story about relationships, past and present, colliding. An elevator fight scene that’s among the best moments in MCU history.
The Winter Soldier is an excellent film, superhero or otherwise.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
We are Groot.
But seriously: Guardians of the Galaxy is the perfect blend of fun, action, drama, soundtrack, and dancing baby Groot. It was my most anticipated MCU movie from the moment it was announced, and its larger than life characters are every bit as good on screen as in the comics the film is based on.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I made a prediction that I would end up declaring both Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 number one on this list, but I can’t cop out like that. There was a lot of deliberation, both internal and external, but I’ve come to a conclusion I’m (mostly) happy with.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 retains much of the humor and charm that permeated its predecessor, but it doesn’t stop there. The original might be more fun overall, but Vol. 2 adds major development for individual characters and several pairings of key characters both new and old. It’s filled with emotion in ways the original simply wasn’t, to the point that it made me want to cry. A lot.
It’s not perfect, but what it does well is done so well that it’s impossible to deny GotG Vol. 2. Also:
Note that I’m not 100% confident in this, and I could place the original over Vol. 2 just as often as I could order it as seen above. They’re both fantastic in their own ways, but you deserve better than a cop out at the top of this list.
2017 will feature two more updates to this list, followed by three in 2018. I’ll go ahead and make predictions about how they’ll shake things up.
Spider-Man: Homecoming will place somewhere in the top half of this list. Thor: Ragnarok will end up just south of the middle. Black Panther will be among the top debut solo films in the MCU. Ant-Man and the Wasp will place near its predecessor (above or below fully dependent on how much Michael Peña it has).
Avengers: Infinity War is a little tougher to judge. There hasn’t been any real progress on the Thanos front in years, so it’s going to be tough for the film to be a satisfying culmination of everything before it. Rumors put the majority of the MCU’s heroes showing up at some point, which could easily be overwhelming. On the other hand, it’s written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the writers behind all three Captain America movies, and directed by Winter Soldier and Civil War directors Anthony and Joe Russo.
That’s a lot of words to say I hope it outperforms at least the other Avengers movies on this list but I’m not convinced it can.
What does your MCU ranking look like? Let me know in the comments.