It’s been a minute sincehit theaters and made . Things have been strange since all but halted big screen movie releases. Marvel movies were hit hard by the pandemic. so many times we’re starting to wonder if it will ever come out.
But hopefully 2021 could see the return of the MCU, so now is as good a time as any to rank the Marvel movies that already exist.
22. The Incredible Hulk
We’re going from worst to best, so we have to start somewhere. The Incredible Hulk isn’t a bad movie — in my opinion no film on this list is bad. That said, it’s certainly not great. It failed to make the relationship between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross worth caring about and was devoid of much of the humor the MCU is now known for. It feels like a movie that was at first made independent of the MCU and then had MCU ties grafted onto it.
However, the final fight between Hulk and The Abomination still holds up for its visceral, kinetic fun and inventiveness, and I still love the last shot (before the Tony Stark cameo) of Bruce with the glowing green eyes suggesting he’d achieved a level of control.
Best moment: Hulk clapping his hands together with such force he essentially snuffs out an explosion that had started only a split second before.
Thor does a good job establishing the Norse god as a being that could exist in the same world as Iron Man. “Your ancestors called it magic and you call it science,” Thor says. “Where I come from, they are one and the same.”
Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston turn in star-making performances. But the love story with Jane Foster and some of the sitcom-like humor (which doesn’t hold up well all these years later) keep this film from being truly great.
Still, the Shakespearean family dynamic (especially between the two leads) and Anthony Hopkins as Odin hold it together long enough to make for an entertaining film with a surprising turn or two toward the end. It’s a classic redemption tale told well that never takes itself too seriously, but brings in enough weight to make most of the relationships believable.
Best moment: After bringing the Frost Giants to Asgard to kill his father, Loki turns the tables on them at the last possible second.
20. Iron Man 2
The best thing in Iron Man 2 is Robert Downey Jr. He’s just as charismatic as he was in the first movie. But this just feels like a late ’90s or early 2000s superhero movie. And not in a good way.
The film takes some far-fetched leaps of logic (the solution to the arc reactor problem comes off as kind of silly) and many of the narrative decisions don’t come from character motivations, but instead feel like they’re shoehorned in to fit where the filmmakers wanted the movie to end.
Still, the performances are great across the board and the action is entertaining. I’m just glad Marvel was able to learn from a lot of the mistakes it made in these early days.
Best moment: Iron Man and War Machine teaming up to destroy a bunch of robots. Simple, effective and fun.
19. Thor: The Dark World
The biggest problem with The Dark World is that it services Loki better than it does Thor. As a result, Thor, is one of the movie’s least interesting characters. He’s trumped only by Malekith — Marvel’s dullest villain ever — in his inability to make the audience care about his needs and wants.
Still, Tom Hiddleston is completely dialed in here as Loki and is easily the most engaging character of the bunch. The production design is great and the Asgardian world building is cool. There are also some awesome and inventive action sequences. It’s just too bad that Thor the character gets lost along the way. Thankfully, that all changed with Ragnarok.
Best moment: In his battle with Malekith, Thor is teleported from Earth to an entirely different planet without his trusty hammer, Mjolnir. The weapon (which always comes to him when he beckons it) beelines it out of Earth’s atmosphere on a course to meet the mighty Asgardian light-years away.
18. Captain America: The First Avenger
This was the first MCU film to get the love story right (before Marvel realized it didn’t need a love story in each movie). The mutual respect and adoration between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter that organically grew as the story progressed was something few films (superhero or otherwise) nail as well as this one does.
Chris Evans’ earnest portrayal of the self-sacrificing guy who just doesn’t know when to quit only works as well as it does because Hayley Atwell’s Peggy is a real person with her own arc. She isn’t at all marginalized and isn’t there to motivate the hero. To the script’s credit, their characters operate almost equally narratively, elevating the film way above lesser “love interest” fare.
The action is fine compared with what we’ve seen since, but it’s still entertaining in an homage-y kind of way.
Best moment: Steve doesn’t hesitate one second to jump on a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers. One of the best acts of self-sacrifice I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Ant-Man may be the MCU movie I was the least excited about (I only saw it three times in the theater). I was never a huge fan of the character in the comics and there was nothing in the trailers that gave me cause to feel differently.
A few years removed, it’s still great, but better MCU movies have sent it barreling down the list. Paul Rudd is perfect as Ant-Man, and the movie does a great job showcasing his powers, heroism, needs and wants, making you care about why he becomes a hero. I love this movie still and the Falcon cameo is one of the best hero versus hero fights ever in a film. Luis also is one of the movie’s high points.
Best moment: The training montage that culminates with an actual mission to break into Avengers HQ is incredibly well-edited and fun!
16. Iron Man
Director Jon Favreau set the bar high with the first outing of everyone’s favorite genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist. And because this is where it all began, the film will always have a special place in my heart.
Upon subsequent viewings, however, it becomes clear the first half of the movie is far better than the second, which suffers from a few too many superhero movie tropes (the villain has the same powers and Iron Man isn’t fighting at full strength for the finale), but I’d watch Tony Stark invent stuff in his garage for eight hours if I could.
Iron Man is still a fun movie, but Marvel has gotten so much better.
Best moment: The entire opening scene, ending with the title card. It immediately gets you invested in Tony Stark and his story.
15. Iron Man 3
This is the best Iron Man movie, thanks to a sharp, hilarious script and strong character work. With Tony Stark out of the armor for most of the running time, the film really has time to dig deep into what really makes this guy so compelling.
The villains are credible and threatening and the final fight with Aldrich Killian is still great. The movie also does a good job of making the audience think it’s going one direction only to turn a cliche or trope on its ear, with mostly hilarious results.
Not everyone appreciated “the twist,” but I did. It made me confront how quickly I bought into the prepackaged obvious villain instead of the real threat.
Best moment: The midair rescue of Air Force One is spectacular because it’s an actual real-life stunt and still one of the more cleverly heroic action sequences you’ll see anywhere.
14. Ant-Man and the Wasp
This is first and foremost a comedy, with action thrown in. Not a Ragnarok-style spectacle comedy, but a much more grounded movie that never takes itself too seriously.
The action scenes, especially the San Francisco car chase involving Ant-Man, Wasp and Ghost are really inventive and fun, but the film is always about the characters. I love how Scott continues to make big mistakes for the right reasons and how Hope comes into her own as a full-fledged badass superhero.
Best moment: Agent Woo explains the Sokovia Accords to Cassie.
13. The Avengers
Imagine living in a reality where this didn’t work. Where all the pieces failed to come together in such a rousing, entertaining way. Despite all the problems in this world, if there’s one thing I’m grateful for it’s that The Avengers exists in the same universe I do.
I don’t really know why it works as well as it does. The Avengers is incredibly fun to watch. It’s not a perfect film — the first third is shaky but the rest of the film easily makes up for it. While the novelty of watching characters from different franchises interact in the same movie has waned, the interactions still feel right and are entertaining as hell.
Best moment: The single tracking shot of superhero teamwork bliss I thought I’d never live to see captured in live-action.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy
Great characters you immediately care about, interacting with one another in fun ways, coupled with well-directed action with a copious amount of heart thrown in — that’s why Guardians is so good. From the late title card reveal to the final dance-off, the movie strongly establishes its tone and doesn’t deviate for over two hours.
The fact that people actually watched this movie and came to care about a talking raccoon and a walking tree is a testament to the skills of Marvel, director James Gunn, the writers and actors.
Best moment: To dilute the overwhelming power and pain caused by an infinity stone, the team hold hands in a touching act of self sacrifice.
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man 2 is one of the best superhero movies ever made and that train sequence is one of the most memorable action scenes ever put on film. From an action standpoint, nothing in “Homecoming” stands up to that train sequence and yet, Homecoming is easily the better movie of the two.
There’s a realness to the characters, the relationships and the world that really inspires the most grounded MCU film so far, but thankfully the spectacle keeps pace and is almost as satisfying as the character interactions.
It’s also really, really funny.
Best moment: Trapped under a couple tons of debris, Peter Parker transforms from scared teenage boy into the Spider-Man.
10. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange was the best single character origin movie the Marvel Studios had made when it was released.
Sure, the humor is hit or miss. But great acting, spectacular visual effects and attention to detail (the movie never lets us forget the heavy price Strange pays for choosing to be a sorcerer) elevate this to something much greater than the sum of its parts.
Doctor Strange proves that magic and sorcerers can work in the MCU by flipping a few movie tropes on their heads and having an abundance of really cool ideas.
Best moment: Strange forces Dormammu to kill him over and over and over again until the demon can’t take the endless monotony of it all and gives the Doctor what he wants: a bargain.
9. Captain Marvel
I love Carol Danvers. She is unlike any hero in the MCU before her. She’s sarcastic like some other heroes are, but her wit and sarcasm are less defense mechanisms than just organic parts of her confidence and personality. She just likes to eff with people sometimes. She’s great.
The movie has a ’90s film look — think Terminator 2, but with an indie tone. There’s a raw and real moment when Carol, after discovering a clue that what she’s been told about her history might be false, speaks to Jude Law’s character. Brie Larson plays it perfectly as a person who is trying to once again accept the lie she’s been told even though her instincts are telling her she’s being played. It’s those moments, along with the humor, action and effects that make this something truly different in the MCU.
Best moment: After listening to the blackbox recording at Maria’s house, Carol has a crisis of self. She isn’t who she thought she was and it’s her best friend, Maria who reminds her of what she really is. Powerful.
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron asks some interesting questions of its heroes. Why do they do this? How long can they continue doing this? It goes deeper with the characters than previous movies.
While the first film is one of the best examples of a purely fun blockbuster, Ultron is a completely different beast. It takes more narrative chances and as a result (at least from a character standpoint) has bigger payoffs.
Age of Ultron isn’t The Avengers, and thankfully it isn’t trying to be. It’s something much more interesting, thought provoking and (dare I say it) profound.
Not everyone gets an interesting arc (sorry, Thor) but pretty much every Avenger is confronted with intriguing character challenges that are handled in an elegant way.
Best moment: “The Vision, Iron Man and Thor shoot Ultron with their beams!!” is the way I would describe my favorite moment in this film if I were 8 years old.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
There’s a scene at the end of this movie that absolutely wrecks me. It’s the funeral scene that Cat Stevens’ Father and Son plays over. As I watched it unfold I was surprised by just how heavily it was affecting me. It’s a beautiful sequence and it’s the moment I realized I was watching one of the best MCU movies.
There’s so much character depth here it’s almost staggering. Story arcs are interwoven between multiple characters and every scene and every line seems to have meaning behind it. And I’m not even going to go into the amazing effects, editing, action scenes and acting. If you thought the filmmakers used ’70s and ’80s pop music effectively in the first movie, this is another level. The first Guardians had catchier tunes, but the ones in the sequel have much more meaning.
Again, the movie is all about how its characters relate to one another. By the last shot in the film, there were tears running down my face. As the onscreen characters realized what they’d lost, the path they’d chosen and what it meant for their opportunity for redemption, I was in awe at the movie’s staggering accomplishment.
Best moment: The whole sequence that begins with Father and Son is payoff after payoff and completely wrecks me.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Winter Soldier is Three Days of the Condor mixed with The Raid, with a little Heat and Return of the Jedi thrown in. If you never thought Captain America was an interesting character, this was the first film to have a legit shot at changing your mind.
The movie takes some bold actions and its ramifications can still be felt years later in the MCU. We also get much more time with Natasha Romanov and Nick Fury, going much deeper with those characters than before.
The script is taut with enough surprises, texture and detail to surprise even the harshest superhero movie critic. And until Civil War, the action set pieces were the best we’d seen in the MCU.
Best moment: The highway battle, culminating in a fight between Steve and the Winter Soldier, is one of the best action scenes in any movie ever.
5. Captain America: Civil War
The third Captain America movie, Civil War, takes the pure popcorn fun of the first Avengers movie, adds the grittiness of The Winter Soldier and bathes it in the character depth of Age of Ultron. I got everything I wanted from this movie. Black Panther and Spider-Man are perfectly represented and woven seamlessly into the central conflict.
But what really surprised me was just how affecting it was. There were several times I found myself getting emotional at some of the character choices — from Natasha flying to London just so Steve wouldn’t be alone at a distressing time to Cap’s confession to Tony near the climax. The movie takes everything that’s come before in the MCU and uses that baggage to make an even better film than would have been possible otherwise. Because of this movie I’ve not been able to watch any of the previous films in the same way. It really does change everything and I love it for that.
Best moment: The airport fight is a comic book superhero fight scene come to life. Not just in the action, but maybe even more in the characterization and banter. It had never before been done as well as it was here.
4. Black Panther
I’m going to be honest, it took me four viewings of Black Panther before I fell in love with it. It took me that long to realize what a multilayered and brilliant work it is.
Nearly every aspect is top-notch — writing, acting, set design, editing and costumes. But most important are the characters. You could easily make an awesome Okoye, Shuri, Nakia or M’Baku movie.
It’s Erik Killmonger, though, and his effect on T’Challa that truly made this movie sit head and shoulders above the rest. And I love most of the films on this list!
There’s so much richness here. So much to unpack. This is Marvel Studios at its most mature. How ironic that it was its youngest director that brought it to fruition.
Best moment: Killmonger’s dream. This is the best scene in the MCU so far. Everything about it, from the acting and writing to the music, editing and even the set design, is perfect.
3. Thor: Ragnarok
To say this is the best Thor movie isn’t saying enough.
Thor: Ragnarok feels like when your favorite comic gets a new creative team and they have a different interpretation of the character. That doesn’t always work, but it absolutely works here.
It’s funny, it’s weird, it’s creative and it’s completely entertaining.
Best moment: After fully embracing his power, Thor jumps into a horde of undead as The Immigrant Song reprises. It’s definitely the most metal thing ever in a Marvel movie.
2. Avengers: Infinity War
This is the first movie ever which, to get the most out of its narrative, absolutely requires you to have seen at least most of the 18 movies in the series that preceded it. That’s not a criticism, but I think one of the movie’s biggest strengths.
As the culmination of this series of movies that has spanned over 10 years, and it only gets better if you’re more familiar with the huge amount of characters in the film.
Still, even if you have only a passing familiarity with these series, there’s still enough comedy, spectacle and suspense to sate your summer movie blockbuster hunger. And a fairly straightforward plot means it’s unlikely you’ll get too lost.
Best moment: Thor’s entrance into Wakanda is such a ridiculously earned moment. It was also the greatest fist-pumping moment of the entire MCU so far.
1. Avengers: Endgame
I’ve never seen a pop culture phenomenon end as perfectly as. As a bookend to 11 years of superhero movies, I’m not sure if it could have been done better. For me it brings to mind the final episode of The Wire or Return of the King. There’s just so much emotional payoff I was literally spent after watching it.
When the credits ran I sank back in my chair in complete awe of what I’d just experienced. Hours later, I’m still reeling. Everything works here. The cameos, the humor, the battles, the story. I cannot wait to watch it again.
Best moment: I won’t spoil it here, of course, but the best moment in this film is something I’d been waiting to see since these movies started to connect. It’s such a glorious moment of pure comic book fan bliss. Problem is, there are at least five of these moments in this film, so good luck guessing which it is.