By George Bate
With the new release of Thor: Love and Thunder, the beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe has reached yet another achievement few ever saw coming. 29 theatrically release films. 7 television shows. And, from what Kevin Feige and company are teasing, this is just the beginning. Let’s take the time to look back at every chapter of the MCU, ranking each and every film and show from worst to best.
36. Thor: The Dark World
Recent, somewhat questionable revisionist takes aside, the second solo outing for Thor’s biggest offense is how dull and uninspired it is. Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor was brought in to add a certain sense of scale and grandness to the Norse God, but the film never quite achieves its goal.
35. Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel showcases a new hero in Brie Larson’s hero and sports a terrific twist in making the Skrulls good guys and the victims of the villainous Kree. However, the film that preceded the mammoth event that was Avengers: Endgame struggles with a convoluted, at times incomprehensible narrative and a sense of humor that never clicks like other MCU efforts.
34. Black Widow
The long-awaited solo debut for Scarlett Johansson’s spy superhero did not give the character the sending off she deserved. In already knowing Natasha’s fate, Black Widow served as an ultimately inconsequential story and a set-up for Florence Pugh’s Yelena.
33. Iron Man 3
One of the most divisive Marvel films to date, Iron Man 3, in many ways, lives and dies on its Mandarin twist. Unfortunately, that twist doesn’t land and the film around it ends up being a meandering follow-up to the big team-up in The Avengers.
32. Ant Man and the Wasp
The follow-up to 2015’s Ant Man directly followed the release of Avengers: Infinity War and, in turn, the shocking ‘snap’ ending. Ant Man and the Wasp is a serviceable MCU entry. The jokes are fine, the story is straightforward, the villain is alright. The film doesn’t do anything particularly poorly, but is ultimately a bit dull.
31. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron suffered from its responsibility to set up an array of different characters and future films. What’s left is a somewhat bloated movie that has some excellent moments and introduces the MCU to fan-favorite characters Vision and Wanda Maximoff.
30. Thor: Love and Thunder
The newest MCU film is undoubtedly entertaining, despite suffering from messy editing and inconsistent CGI. The return of Jane Foster and Russell Crowe’s hilarious turn as Zeus make up for an underutilized Christian Bale as the lead villain and an uneventful arc for Thor.
29. What If…?
What If…? marked the first animated entry in the MCU, which turned out to be a mixed bag. With each episode being isolated from the next, iffy or slower episodes didn’t linger. Some premises were stronger than others and, therefore, led to more interesting stories. Chadwick Boseman’s last time playing T’Challa is a particular highlight.
28. Iron Man 2
A maligned sequel to the MCU’s first entry that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Robert Downey Jr. shows how a performance can elevate an otherwise standard superhero outing. The race track action sequence though is superb. Mickey Rourke’s villain is hilarious and strangely captivating. And audiences were introduced to Don Cheadle as War Machine.
27. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
A stunningly uneventful pilot and woefully underwhelming finale aside, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was an engaging political thriller set in the MCU. Anthony Mackie brilliantly assumes the role of Captain America. Wyatt Russell excels as the threatening US Soldier.
Visually beautiful, the first Thor movie excellently and seamlessly introduces the God of Thunder into the MCU. It also brings one of the strongest and most enduring Marvel villains to the forefront in Loki.
25. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings
Despite Shang-Chi’s debut is too formulaic and predictable, the film is visually unlike other Marvel entries and delivers the action and humor fans love from these movies.
24. The Incredible Hulk
Perhaps the most overlooked MCU film, The Incredible Hulk is the oft-forgotten second installment in the sprawling franchise. Edward Norton assumes the role of Bruce Banner before handing the baton to Mark Ruffalo in future films and captures the character’s vulnerability and intelligence to perfection.
23. Doctor Strange
Ultimately too formulaic, Doctor Strange makes up for some narrative shortcomings by introducing a terrific hero and a new, mystical realm of the MCU.
22. Black Panther
A cultural phenomenon, Black Panther will go down as one of the most important films of the 21st century. The film transitions from narrative to narrative a bit too much and the titular character is overshadowed by the brilliance of Michael B. Jordan’s villain.
21. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Peter Quill and the gang return in an adventure full of laughs, brilliant music, and emotions. The plot proves to be quite meandering and the CGI is certainly heavy handed. Nonetheless, Kurt Russell makes for a great villain and few Marvel directors and writers pack the emotional punch that James Gunn does.
Similar to Black Widow, Hawkeye never received his solo outing in a pre-Avengers: Endgame, but finally got what he deserved, albeit a little too late. The Hawkeye series is festive in being set in and around the Christmas holiday. The late introduction of Kingpin underwhelms, although Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop is certainly a new MCU hero.
19. Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel is a genuinely refreshing entry in the MCU, in large part due to the plot focusing on an exciting young character and the creative liberty the show takes stylistically.
The only MCU film to earn the dreaded ‘Rotten’ label on Rotten Tomatoes, Eternals struggled to introduce so many new characters and world-building elements in a single film. That being said, Chloe Zhao delivered a relentlessly entertaining movie that, hopefully, gets the attention it deserves in years to come.
17. The Avengers
The first team-up film in the MCU will always be iconic. The film hasn’t aged as well as other entries, but it’s still such a fun ride.
16. Ant Man
A true showcase of the draw of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant Man proved that Marvel can take totally unknown, even ridiculous sounding characters and turn them into franchises worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Ant Man is one of the funniest MCU films and also works brilliantly as a heist flick.
15. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Sam Raimi stepped into the director’s chair for the Doctor Strange sequel and ended up making one of the most visually exciting and unique MCU films. Equal parts Raimi superhero film and Raimi horror film, In the Multiverse of Madness features a fast-paced, multiverse-hopping story line, some genuine scares, and terrific cameos.
14. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Probably the Spider-Man film that feels least like a Spider-Man film, Far From Home took Spidey out of New York City and into some of Europe’s most lavish locations. With it comes a tale full of laughs and emotional maturity. Jake Gyllenhaal makes a fantastic villain and the post-credits scenes are shocking.
The MCU’s first venture into the land of television excellently capitalizes on the new medium for Marvel storytelling. WandaVision is a stark stylistic departure from all other previous Marvel efforts, with each episode structured and built around a sit-com from each decade leading to the present day. There’s an ominous undercurrent that runs throughout WandaVision, which only dissipates upon the flat and action-heavy season finale.
12. Moon Knight
Moon Knight drew from Split, Primal Fear, and Memento in delivering an identity amnesia tale mixed with a superhero epic. Oscar Isaac is nothing short of superb in the (multiple) lead roles. Moon Knight’s penultimate episode remains one of the most emotionally impactful pieces of Marvel storytelling to date.
11. Thor: Ragnarok
The film that single-handedly rejuvenated Thor as a character, Taika Waititi’s bow into the MCU is a colorful and hilarious buddy comedy. Arguably the funniest entry in the MCU, Ragnarok’s banter and one-liners are unrivaled. Amidst the laughs is a terrific story of loss that gives Thor some much needed depth as a character.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man’s solo debut in the MCU works equally well as a superhero movie and a coming-of-age story. The John Hughes influences are felt from start to finish as director Jon Watts crafts a look at what it means to balance teenage life with Avengers-level responsibilities.
The best MCU television series to date has to go to Loki. The time-traveling adventure deals with a lot of lofty concepts that could easily overwhelm, but sharp writing and masterful directing allow for an approachable and enthralling story. Tom Hiddleston shines in the lead role, commanding the series from start to finish.
8. Captain America: Civil War
Avengers 2.5 in many ways, Captain America: Civil War is a terrific standalone film and culmination of all of the precious MCU stories. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. deliver their best performances as Captain America and Iron Man respectively. Audiences are also introduced to Black Panther and Spider-Man in a sprawling, intelligent political thriller narrative.
7. Captain America: The First Avenger
Steve Rogers’ debut is one that works on so many levels. It’s a perfect superhero origin story encased within a period piece, all wrapped up in a package that fits nicely into a broader cinematic universe. Chris Evans proves he was born to play the role.
6. Spider-Man: No Way Home
The MCU’s first real adventure into the multiverse concluded newest the Spider-Man trilogy. An emotionally powerful film that brilliantly incorporates nostalgic throwbacks with the inclusion of past Spider-Men and villains, No Way Home is unique in, despite being the third installment of a trilogy, feeling like the perfect origin story for the MCU’s Spider-Man. One of the most endearing, heartfelt, and crowd-pleasing movie going experiences, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a real winner.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier strips Cap of his red, white, and blue suit and plummets the superhero into a story of political intrigue and espionage. What results is a thriller that (re)introduces one of the MCU’s most compelling characters in The Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes.
4. Avengers: Endgame
The movie that broke every record in the book, grossing a whopping $2.8 billion worldwide, Avengers: Endgame had to make the top five. Endgame is a three-hour epic that ties together every installment that came before it in resounding fashion. It’s the perfect send off to Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, and it features the most epic and sprawling battle in Marvel movie history.
3. Iron Man
The film that started it all also remains one of the best MCU movies. Robert Downey Jr. became forever synonymous with Tony Stark the second audiences were introduced to the arrogant billionaire in the back of a military vehicle. Iron Man boasts impressive visual effects and an entertaining story, but, at its heart, is a surprisingly meditative and emotional exercise.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
James Gunn’s Marvel debut is perhaps one of the most influential movies of the 21st century. Guardians of the Galaxy is an epic space opera unlike any other. Fantastic characters are coupled with hilarious jokes, a wild space adventure, and genuinely heartfelt moments and themes in one of the best comic book movies ever made.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
It’s not small feat to make it to the top of a list of 36 movies and shows that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, but Avengers: Infinity War takes the crown. While some may argue Avengers: Endgame is the most ambitious MCU film, Infinity War doesn’t get the credit it deserves in this area. The third Avengers movie propels forward from the first frame and doesn’t let up until the devastating conclusion. Avengers: Infinity War amazes in balancing so many characters and plot threads so effortlessly. It could easily feel jarring to follow so many characters in a film that boldly positions the villain as the main character, but the Russo Brothers triumph here. Avengers: Infinity War provides some of the best superhero interactions in the MCU and arguably the franchise’s most epic moment with Thor arriving on Wakanda. The film concludes with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger finale that will be talked about for years to come. Avengers: Infinity War is the most rewatchable, entertaining, and, ultimately, triumphant MCU effort.