Every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, ranked from worst to best

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“Avengers: Infinity War.”
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Marvel Studios/Disney

  • The 21st movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Captain Marvel,” hit theaters over the weekend.
  • Business Insider ranked all 21 movies from worst to best.

After 11 years, 21 movies, and billions of dollars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no signs of slowing down.

“Captain Marvel” hit theaters over the weekend and is breathing new life into what has been a lackluster box office so far in 2019. “Avengers: Endgame” is also projected to break records at the box office when it’s released next month, and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” comes to theaters in July.

But a lot will change for the MCU after this year.

Disney, which owns Marvel, will own the film rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four after merging with Fox. The producer Kevin Feige has said he expects that to happen within the first six months of this year, at which point he’ll get the green light to develop projects with those characters.

It comes at a good time, as “Endgame” marks the end of this era for the MCU, and veteran actors like Chris Evans (who plays Captain America) are expected to retire from their roles.

But before the MCU faces a big shakeup, we ranked all 21 movies – including “Captain Marvel” – from worst to best.

Here’s every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, ranked:


21. “Iron Man 2” (2010)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Jon Favreau

After the highs of “Iron Man,” it didn’t take long for the MCU to plummet to its lowest.

If the “2” in “Iron Man 2” meant that everything had to be doubled – the villains, the characters, the number of MCU movies Gwyneth Paltrow is in that she didn’t watch – then “Iron Man 2” succeeds. But it’s just too overstuffed for its own good in an attempt to get audiences ready for “The Avengers” two years later.

The MCU has since become a well-oiled machine that knows how to balance it all. But in 2010, it was still working on that.


20. “Thor” (2011)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

There’s nothing particularly horrible about “Thor,” but there’s nothing memorable either. It’s impressive that the movie works at all, considering that Thor, an alien god with daddy issues, was such a little-known character at the time, and Chris Hemsworth was not the superstar he is now. But James Gunn managed to turn even lesser-known and weirder characters into MCU standouts in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It would take a while for Thor to really come into his own.


19. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008)

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Marvel

Directed by Louis Leterrier

We now know Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk, but in the second MCU movie, Edward Norton was in the role.

Out of all the MCU movies, “The Incredible Hulk” feels the least connected to the universe. Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest, has never appeared again, and neither has Tim Blake Nelson, who was teased as the Hulk’s archnemesis, the Leader.

But even with that tease, a sequel never happened, and the only character besides the Hulk to have any meaningful connection to the MCU has been General “Thunderbolt” Ross, played by William Hurt, who popped up again in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”


18. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013)

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Disney / Marvel

Directed by Alan Taylor

It’s almost pointless to compare the first two “Thor” movies, as they’re both toward the bottom of the MCU barrel. But “The Dark World” is a tad more fun than “Thor,” and it’s integral in introducing one of the Infinity Stones (the Reality Stone) that Thanos ends up using to destroy half of humanity.

But Marvel still hadn’t realized that Hemsworth’s best attribute in the role is his humor, and the character – and the first two movies – suffer because of it.


17. “Doctor Strange” (2016)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Scott Derrickson

“Doctor Strange” is the most overrated movie in the MCU. By 2016, movies like the Russos’ “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” had progressed the MCU into new territory, but “Doctor Strange” felt like a step back. Sure, the magic was cool, but it also relied on a formulaic plot with a forgettable love interest. (How do you not give Rachel McAdams more to do?!)


16. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)

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Marvel

Directed by Joss Whedon

This “Avengers” sequel made the same mistake as “Iron Man 2”: cramming too much into its plot to serve the future of the franchise.

The movie features some cool action sequences, notably the Iron Man-Hulk battle. But it fails to distinguish Ultron, the Avengers’ biggest enemy in the comics, from other two-dimensional MCU villains, and it spends too much time setting up future movies. (What exactly is Thor doing?)


15. “Ant-Man” (2015)

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Marvel

Directed by Peyton Reed

“Ant-Man” is a fun little Marvel movie, but not much else. Paul Rudd is charming in the lead role, and Evangeline Lilly is more than just a love interest as Hope van Dyne (the future Wasp). But the movie still falls into familiar territory, including a lackluster villain in Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket.


14. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)

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Disney/Marvel

Directed by Joe Johnston

“The First Avenger” is arguably the first movie that “mattered” in the MCU. While “Iron Man” is better, “The First Avenger” sets up “The Avengers” better than “Iron Man,” which basically acts as a prequel to the big team-up movie.

“The First Avenger” would prove essential to the movies that came after – even “Infinity War” with the unexpected return of a character thought to be dead.


13. “Iron Man 3” (2013)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Shane Black

“Iron Man 3” is the most divisive movie in the MCU, and for good reason. It takes some wacky turns, with a major twist that ruined the movie for plenty of people. But I admire that Black just went for it with this movie and delivered something that fans still argue over.


12. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Peyton Reed

While it’s not necessarily an “essential” MCU movie, it improves on the first “Ant-Man” in nearly every way, with plenty of heart and humor.

Reed came back to direct after replacing Edgar Wright at the last minute on the first movie, and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels as if he was more adjusted to the job, with some well-polished action sequences and a great handle on the characters.


11. “Captain Marvel” (2019)

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Marvel

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Maybe in time “Captain Marvel” will inch higher on this list. But for now, it’s a solid entry into the MCU, but not a fantastic one.

Boden and Fleck are at their best in the character-driven aspects of the movie. Unfortunately, it’s the action the movie is lacking, which hurts it by the end.

Brie Larson is perfect in the title role, though, and her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury makes the movie. There are also some surprising twists that elicited plenty of reactions from theater audiences. If anything, this is a worthy appetizer for “Avengers: Endgame.”


10. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Jon Watts

I didn’t have a strong positive reaction to “Homecoming” when I first saw it, but it’s grown on me. Peter Parker’s motivations throughout the movie to be a hero – impressing Tony Stark – rubbed me the wrong way at first. But it’s hard not to like Tom Holland’s spot-on portrayal of the character, and the movie knows exactly what it wants to be: high-school ’80s classic meets modern superhero flick. And Michael Keaton is truly menacing as Adrian Toomes/Vulture in what began a hot streak for villains in the MCU.


9. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017)

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Marvel

Directed by James Gunn

Though “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a step back from the first movie, it’s still the most underrated MCU movie. The “Guardians” movies are unique entries in the franchise, and it’s a shame Gunn was given the boot from the third movie, which is in limbo.


8. “Iron Man” (2008)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Jon Favreau

The first movie – and still among the best – “Iron Man” kicked off what has become the most lucrative movie franchise of all time. But in 2008, it was just a fun superhero origin movie that defied the odds.

Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, and it’s hard to think of anyone else who could have embodied the role with so much of the necessary charisma to sell a character who casual audiences hadn’t cared about.


7. “The Avengers” (2012)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Joss Whedon

Four years after “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” proved that Marvel had what it takes to pull off a connected universe of movies. It’s even more impressive considering that the early MCU movies, like “Thor,” “Iron Man 2,” and “The Incredible Hulk,” are some of the worst in the franchise. But “The Avengers” course-corrected, delivering a bona fide blockbuster that hadn’t been achieved before.


6. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)

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Disney/Marvel

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

2014 marks the point when the MCU really got it together. There have been minimal low points since, and it’s because Kevin Feige and crew finally had the machine running smoothly with low-profile directors who could deliver surprising superhero movies.

Among those filmmakers were the Russos, who have become somewhat of the architects of the universe. After “The Winter Soldier,” an expertly crafted espionage thriller posing as a superhero movie, they went on to direct “Civil War,” “Infinity War,” and “Endgame.”


5. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)

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Disney/Marvel Studios

Directed by Taika Waititi

“Thor: Ragnarok” is the most absurd movie in the MCU, but that’s only part of what makes it so good. This is when Marvel finally realized that Chris Hemsworth is an extremely funny guy with loads of charm and built a movie around that.

It’s also probably the closest thing we’ll get to another Hulk movie in the MCU.


4. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

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Marvel Studios

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

“Civil War” is loosely based on a 2007 comic-book event of the same name that pits Marvel’s superheroes against one another over the ethics of a registration act making it illegal for any superpowered person to not register their identities with the government.

The MCU version is obviously more contained, but that’s what makes it so good. It takes a huge storyline and successfully tells it through Captain America’s perspective, making it even more personal.


3. “Black Panther” (2018)

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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Ryan Coogler

“Black Panther” is a lot of firsts: the first superhero movie to be nominated for best picture, the first movie to win Oscars for Marvel Studios, the first superhero movie with a predominantly black cast.

It was more than just an MCU movie – it was a cultural event. And its box office reflects that. It was the highest-grossing movie in the US in 2018, breaking barriers and riding its success all the way to Oscar gold.


2. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)

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Disney

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

“Infinity War” is an order of magnitude bigger than “Avengers” or “Civil War.” With a cast of over 20 characters, “Infinity War” is the culmination of 10 years of universe-building.

The Russos pulled it off, and they’re not done yet. After the most shocking ending in an MCU movie, the story will continue in “Endgame.”

But on its own, “Infinity War” is an impressive balancing act, and Josh Brolin’s Thanos lives up to the hype.


1. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

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Disney

Directed by James Gunn

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was the first MCU movie that really felt disconnected from the rest of the universe, but not in a negative way like “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s an important entry in the franchise from a story standpoint – but it’s also just a hilarious, fun, self-contained movie that turned an unknown group of characters into fan favorites.

It’s the most rewatchable movie in the MCU, with a brilliant soundtrack, but it’s the characters that really make it, from the dynamic between Rocket and Groot to the oblivious Drax. They don’t like each other at first, but the audience loves them as soon as they’re introduced.