Throughout its remarkable journey spanning over a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has undeniably established itself as an unstoppable force in pop culture. With numerous films already released and more on the horizon, it’s inevitable that some entries excel while others fall short. The burning question remains: which of these cinematic gems reign supreme, and which ones offer the perfect opportunity for a quick refreshment break during your epic Marvel movie marathon?
Get ready to don your shield or wield Mjolnir, if deemed worthy, as we traverse through the realms of Wakanda, Xandar, and the enigmatic Quantum Realm. Our mission: to meticulously dissect and evaluate each cinematic installment within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Brace yourself as we navigate from the lesser-known heroes to the pinnacle of must-see movies. Prepare for a nostalgic trip as we revisit every movie in the franchise, meticulously ranked from the bottom to the apex. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
32. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
While “Age of Ultron” may suffer from an abundance of plotlines, “Thor 2” encounters the opposite predicament. Featuring a stellar ensemble led by the ever-charming Chris Hemsworth and drawing inspiration from the renowned “Thor” comic book arc penned by Walter Simonson, which introduced iconic characters like Malekith and Kurse, “The Dark World” fails to fulfill its initial promise.
On paper, “Thor 2” boasts a plethora of captivating elements that sound absolutely exhilarating. Picture a thrilling “Star Wars”-esque assault on Asgard orchestrated by spaceships piloted by dark elves, illuminating the Asgardians as interdimensional beings with technology that seamlessly merges with magic. Witness the mighty rock monsters from Thor’s earliest comic book appearance reduced to rubble through epic clashes. Experience the powerful alliance between Thor and Loki as they unite to avenge their mother’s death, culminating in a breathtaking fistfight that propels them into alternate dimensions.
Unfortunately, the grandiose concepts in “Thor 2” fail to deliver on their initial allure, especially when it comes to the notion of punching someone so forcefully that they are transported to Jotunheim. Instead, a lingering sensation of uncertainty permeates the viewing experience, leaving viewers questioning if they are missing vital pieces of the narrative. Even the characters themselves express their own bewilderment about how events are supposed to unfold, further adding to the overall sense of ambiguity.
31. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Capturing the true essence of the exhilaration that unfolded in real-time is a challenging task for those who didn’t witness it firsthand. The momentous appearance of Nick Fury in the post-credits scene of “Iron Man,” teasing the concept of a fully interconnected superhero universe, was an electrifying experience. However, when “The Incredible Hulk” premiered just a month later, the excitement seemed somewhat diminished, even with Tony Stark’s cameo in the credits, laying the foundation for the future Avengers initiative.
In all fairness, “The Incredible Hulk” may not stand out as a standout film in the franchise, often overshadowed and forgotten among its counterparts. However, it is disheartening to overlook its merits, considering the many things it gets right. Firstly, the casting choice of an actor renowned for his role in “Fight Club” to portray Bruce Banner, a brilliant scientist grappling with formidable anger issues capable of decimating an entire town, is undoubtedly a commendable decision.
Furthermore, the film’s creative team made a conscious effort to distance itself from Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” recognizing that its release just five years prior meant that a comprehensive origin story was unnecessary for audiences to catch up. Instead, they opted for a revised origin intertwined with Captain America and the Super Soldier program, marking an initial attempt to lay the foundation for the expansive shared universe these movies would eventually inhabit. Regrettably, this endeavor fell short of expectations. Following the release of two films in rapid succession, it would be two more years until the next installment in the MCU arrived and four years before the Hulk would make a return, this time with Mark Ruffalo taking over the role from Ed Norton.
30. Eternals (2021)
Despite the accolades it received for its inclusivity and ambitious vision, Chloe Zhao’s “Eternals” fell short of expectations in terms of storytelling. Set in the present day, the central narrative revolves around the relationship between Sersi (played by Gemma Chan), one of the immortal Eternals, and the human Dane Whitman (portrayed by Kit Harington). When Kro, a Deviant—an invasive alien species the Eternals were created to combat—launches an attack, Sersi’s former partner with superhuman abilities, Ikaris (played by Richard Madden), arrives to save the day. From that point on, the plot takes complicated turns, and we’re not just referring to the love triangle.
In contrast to the majority of MCU movies, “Eternals” feels like a laborious undertaking. With a multitude of new heroes and villains to introduce, the film becomes a crowded and meandering experience. Despite notable talent both in front of and behind the camera, this cosmic epic falls flat, sparking ongoing discussions about who bears responsibility for its failure. While the inclusion of acclaimed director Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”) generated excitement, industry insiders often argue that she was constrained by Marvel’s rigid—and by now, predictably formulaic—creative framework.
Despite its potential for setting up future projects, “Eternals” falls into a convoluted mess that disappointingly ranks among the lowest in the MCU lineup, considering the talent attached to the project.
29. Iron Man 2 (2010)
While Justin Hammer may not possess the world-beating power of Ultron or the captivating complexity of Loki, he undeniably shines as a formidable MCU villain. With Sam Rockwell’s portrayal, the sheer joy of watching him dance across the stage while presenting his army of Iron Man drones is truly delightful.
While Sam Rockwell’s dance scene in “Iron Man 2” is a standout moment, the film falls short compared to its predecessor in certain aspects. The introduction of Whiplash as a counterpart to Tony Stark adds unnecessary complexity to the story, and the scene where Stark creates a new element in his basement with a particle accelerator ventures into the overly goofy territory. The lack of clarity surrounding the new element, referred to simply as “a new element,” including J.A.R.V.I.S.’s casual acknowledgment of its addition to the Periodic Table, contributes to its overall sense of ridiculousness.
While “The Incredible Hulk” may have stumbled, “Iron Man 2” confidently advanced the MCU, introducing pivotal characters like Black Widow and War Machine. It laid the groundwork for the complex dynamic between the government and the heroes, which would play a significant role in future films like “The Avengers,” “Winter Soldier,” and “Civil War.” Additionally, it teased the imminent arrival of Thor in the next installment. Despite its flaws, there are plenty of enjoyable elements in the film, and Justin Hammer’s memorable dance moves will forever remain a highlight.
28. Thor (2011)
While “Iron Man 2” paved the way for expanding the Marvel Universe, it was “Thor” that truly showcased its vast scope and potential.
Taking a daring leap, “Thor” ventured into uncharted territory compared to the previous MCU movies and other superhero films set primarily on Earth. The film introduced us to the magnificent realm of Asgard, showcasing its grandeur with its rainbow laser-powered Bifrost, thrilling battles against the frost giants of Jotunheim, and, notably, the iconic Jack Kirby-inspired headgear that seems to be beloved by the Norse gods.
The brilliance of “Thor” lies in its ability to blend the realms of Asgard and Earth seamlessly. The film initially takes us on an otherworldly journey, showcasing the grandeur of Asgard and featuring epic battles against the formidable Destroyer. However, it also grounds the story by emphasizing Thor’s humanity, allowing Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal to resonate with us, mere mortals. This connection to his human side ultimately sets the stage for Loki’s pivotal role in “The Avengers,” making the movie as much about the dynamic between Thor and his brother as it is about anything else. “Thor” successfully strikes a balance between inter-dimensional high fantasy and relatable human elements, contributing to its overall appeal.
27. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Here’s the thing about “Iron Man 3”: It rules.
Undoubtedly, “Iron Man 3” stands as one of the most underappreciated gems within the entire MCU. It exemplifies the essence of what makes these films so captivating. Drawing inspiration from Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s “Extremis” comic storyline, it skillfully weaves a character-driven narrative that revolves around Tony Stark’s personal growth, thanks to the masterful storytelling of writer/director Shane Black. Black’s directorial flair is evident throughout the film, incorporating his trademark elements seen in movies like “Lethal Weapon.” The snappy dialogues, the presence of a witty young character, and the unique choice of setting the story during Christmas all bear Black’s signature style. However, it is precisely this style that seamlessly intertwines with the superhero backdrop, allowing the exploration of Tony’s internal struggle with the repercussions of his own actions within an evolving world.
And that’s precisely what sets it apart. By this point, we had ventured beyond the confines of Iron Man’s individual story and delved into a cinematic universe brimming with unprecedented colossal threats. Through the collaboration of Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr., the film delves into the challenges faced by the brilliant protagonist as he navigates a world rapidly transforming into something beyond his foresight. It’s a remarkable exploration of a superhero grappling with anxiety, offering a refreshing and captivating perspective. Moreover, it leaves a lasting impact, serving as a catalyst for the events in the “Age of Ultron” and “Civil War.”
Plus, without revealing too much for those who missed it initially, the revelation regarding Mandarin is nothing short of brilliant.
26. Doctor Strange (2016)
The announcement of a high-budget “Doctor Strange” movie took many long-time comics readers by surprise. It left them wondering how the mind-bending, psychedelic sorcery and mystical elements from the Marvel Universe would be successfully integrated into the film franchise. This was especially intriguing considering that previous films had only provided glimpses of this mystical realm through the blend of high fantasy and science fiction in “Thor.”
The positive aspect is that visually, the filmmakers succeeded in portraying the mystical elements in an impressive manner. The fight scenes with fractal realities were visually stunning, and the depiction of the ethereal plane where battles for the Earth’s fate unfolded unseen was a great way to highlight the unique world of Stephen Strange compared to other Marvel superheroes. However, on the downside, from a storytelling perspective, it felt like they essentially replicated the formula of “Iron Man,” but with magic instead of technology.
The narrative arc of Dr. Strange’s transformation from a self-centered surgeon to the Sorcerer Supreme followed familiar beats to the extent that it became somewhat distracting. Even Benedict Cumberbatch’s humorous banter, including references to Beyoncé, felt reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr.’s style without any substantial reimagining. It is only during the climax, with Strange’s time-manipulating deal with Dormammu, that “Doctor Strange” truly distinguishes itself and presents something unique to its titular character. While that aspect is excellent, the journey leading up to it treads a path we have already traversed.
25. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
We’ll delve deeper into this topic when discussing the first “Avengers” movie. Still, one of the major challenges in assembling numerous superheroes into a single film, especially after having two or three standalone movies for each character, is that it often leads to a dilution of their individuality. With limited screen time, it becomes difficult to give each character the depth and development they received in their respective solo films. As they vie for attention, the character arcs tend to be more generalized, lacking the nuance and complexity found in their individual stories.
However, in “Age of Ultron,” the challenge of balancing a large ensemble cast starts to take its toll. Consistency and depth are compromised as characters’ traits become exaggerated. Captain America appears overly rigid, Thor becomes overly brash, and although Iron Man’s characterization fares relatively better, the growth he experienced in “Iron Man 3” seems disregarded. Moreover, Tony Stark’s creation of a murderous robot poses a significant problem. Additionally, certain character developments feel forced and awkward, such as Black Widow questioning her own identity as a “monster,” Hawkeye’s sudden reveal of a secret family that seems contrived, and the unexpected romance between Hulk and Black Widow. These inconsistencies and questionable character choices detract from the overall cohesion of the film.
While “Age of Ultron” delivers an entertaining final battle with thrilling action sequences, the overall film feels uneven in its execution.
24. Black Widow (2021)
Scarlett Johansson’s standalone Black Widow film faced numerous delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to the actor’s experience with postponed projects. As early as 2010, Kevin Feige confirmed plans for a solo movie featuring Natasha Romanoff, but it took more than a decade for “Black Widow” to finally release in theaters. The film also debuted on Disney+ simultaneously, a decision that reportedly resulted in Johansson losing around $50 million in box office share, leading to legal disputes. Despite the controversies surrounding its release, “Black Widow” received praise from the majority of critics who focused on its many strengths.
Set immediately after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016, Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow” prequel finally brings Natasha (who is now a wanted fugitive for defying the Sokovia Accords) back to Budapest to confront her past. There, she joins forces with Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, another Red Room trainee who once posed as Natasha’s sister. Alongside their ally David Harbour’s character, Alexei Shostakov, they embark on a mission to dismantle the Black Widow program.
Witnessing Romanoff finally confronting her past and seeking redemption after all these years is incredibly gratifying, and “Black Widow” excels by not burdening itself with setting up future MCU storylines. This standalone spy thriller captivates viewers and serves as a fitting farewell to one of the original Avengers.
23. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
While “Thor: Love and Thunder” may not quite reach the same heights as “Thor: Ragnarok,” it still delivers an exhilarating and enjoyable experience. Where else can you witness Chris Hemsworth battling nefarious extraterrestrials while jamming to the iconic tunes of Guns N’ Roses? Where else can you witness two colossal bellowing goats pulling a Viking ship across a magical rainbow? Where else can you witness Russell Crowe delightfully embodying the larger-than-life Greek god Zeus? Nowhere else but in the extraordinary and whimsical world crafted by director Taika Waititi.
In “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Thor may have shed the weight he gained after “Infinity War,” but he still feels a significant void in his life — love. Enter Jane Foster, Thor’s former flame, who now possesses the power of Mjolnir. With two Thors coexisting, there’s a palpable tension as they cautiously contemplate reigniting their relationship, grappling with the emotional risks involved. Meanwhile, a vengeful and formidable adversary named Gorr the God Butcher, driven by the loss of his daughter, sets out to slay deities and live up to his menacing moniker. Needless to say, this adds a considerable layer of complexity to the unfolding events.
While not every joke in “Love and Thunder” hits the mark, and there are moments where the zaniness goes a bit overboard, there’s no denying the hilarity that ensues when the humor connects. Surprisingly, the dynamic between Jane Foster and the God of Thunder finally clicks, marking a significant milestone in the “Thor” franchise. Natalie Portman delivers a standout performance as the Mighty Thor, showcasing her talent and commanding presence.
22. Ant-Man (2015)
It may be tempting to believe that “Ant-Man” defied the odds and exceeded expectations, given that the concept of a second-tier superhero with the power to shrink and communicate with ants doesn’t scream blockbuster success. However, Marvel’s history of turning lesser-known characters into hits shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the studio’s initial triumph came with Blade, a relatively obscure character from “Tomb of Dracula.”
While the adventures of Paul Rudd’s diminutive crimefighter differ greatly from Wesley Snipes’ vampire-slaying exploits, the underlying principle remains. Audiences have always been drawn to narratives that subvert traditional superhero tropes, and this is where “Ant-Man” truly excels. Instead of presenting Scott Lang as a miniature version of Iron Man, following a predictable hero’s journey, his story feels distinct, offering a refreshing take. Moreover, the seamless integration of the larger MCU adds another layer of enjoyment to the film.
While “Ant-Man” may stumble in a few areas, such as the frustrating justification for the delayed appearance of the Wasp until the sequel, it also boasts some truly memorable moments. This is a film where the hero’s defeat comes at the hands of a toy train, and Chekhov’s Gun takes the form of a colossal 60-Ton Soviet Tank. These unexpected twists and playful elements add an entertaining and unique flavor to the movie.
21. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” received a barrage of criticism from critics, making it only the second Marvel film to earn a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. The box office performance didn’t fare much better, as the movie experienced the largest second-weekend drop in MCU history. So with all the controversy surrounding the Phase 5 opener, what is our perspective on the film?
We’re genuinely puzzled by the harsh criticism directed towards “Quantumania.” It’s possible that a combination of superhero fatigue and Marvel’s extensive presence in the market influenced the negative reception. However, we firmly believe that this movie doesn’t deserve its rotten reputation. “Quantumania” is an exhilarating experience as the Ant-Family embarks on a thrilling journey through the Quantum Realm, facing off against the formidable Kang the Conqueror. Throughout their adventure, they encounter extraordinary elements like sentient buildings armed with guns, an army of advanced insects, a peculiar freedom fighter fixated on holes, and let’s not forget the unforgettable presence of MODOK, arguably one of the greatest characters in MCU history with his hilariously disturbing portrayal as the Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing.
The world-building in “Quantumania” is truly exceptional, evoking a delightful “Star Wars” vibe that adds to the film’s charm. While not every plot arc reaches its full potential, it’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s captivating performance as Janet van Dyne that steals the spotlight. She portrays a tormented character haunted by her past and forced to confront long-buried secrets. Additionally, Jonathan Majors delivers a captivating portrayal of Kang, emanating an icy and calculating menace that sets the stage for the thrilling Multiverse Saga to come. Let’s not forget the thrilling power core quest of Ant-Man, where he encounters countless variants of Scott Lang in a heist that proves to be the most significant of his life. In summary, the critics missed the mark on this one. “Quantumania” may feature a hero of diminutive stature, but it offers an immensely enjoyable experience for audiences.
20. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” kicks off a bit awkwardly. Still, it quickly finds its footing and delivers the most heartfelt and reflective installment of the trilogy, all while maintaining its signature sense of fun. However, before diving into the main story, there is the pressing matter of Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) to address.
In “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” Gamora’s presence adds an intriguing twist. Although she is alive, she is not the same Gamora from the previous films. Instead, she is the Gamora plucked from 2014 by Thanos in “Avengers: Endgame.” This alternate Gamora has joined the ranks of the Ravagers and no longer carries the sinister legacy of being Thanos’ daughter. However, she is still distant from the woman who could fully embrace love for Peter Quill. Zoe Saldaña embraces her role, immersing herself in the tougher demeanor of the character. Yet, she skillfully portrays the gradual transformation of Gamora’s resistance to Peter, creating an organic and earned development.
Fans eagerly anticipating the introduction of Adam Warlock in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” will be delighted by Will Poulter’s stellar performance. Additionally, Chukwudi Iwuji portrays the formidable antagonist, the High Evolutionary, with excellence. However, these characters take a backseat to the true adversaries of the film: regret, loss, and the relentless passage of time, all of which become paramount when the life of a friend hangs in the balance.
With Quill fully embracing his Zune, the soundtrack in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” becomes even more diverse and expansive. Once again, the film skillfully utilizes music to enhance the experience, notably incorporating the beloved Beastie Boys’ classic “No Sleep ’til Brooklyn” in a remarkable ensemble fight sequence that ranks among the best in MCU history. Combining humor and heartfelt moments, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” proves to be another formidable addition to the early phase of Phase 5.
19. Iron Man (2008)
It’s safe to say “Iron Man” surprised us all.
We didn’t anticipate it to be lackluster, either. Tony Stark’s origin story easily lends itself to the structure of a compelling Hollywood action film. With a stellar cast that included Jeff Bridges delivering a remarkable performance as the villain in one of the finest “Iron Man” narratives, and director Jon Favreau, known for his work on “Elf,” at the helm, there were promising elements in place. However, none of us could have predicted that it would surpass expectations to such an extent that it would become the cornerstone on which an entire cinematic universe was built.
At times, it veers away from the typical “superhero” movie and leans more towards an entertaining revenge flick, with the added bonus of a protagonist donning a remarkable flying suit. However, it excels at its intended purpose to such a degree that these occasional shortcomings become easily forgivable. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark goes beyond fitting the role; it breathes new life into the character across various media platforms, even reinvigorating his presence in the comics and cementing his status as a household name in the Marvel Universe after years of relative obscurity.
18. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” offers a multitude of impressive elements. Each set piece creatively explores the concept of size manipulation, presenting unique scenarios such as the Wasp skillfully navigating the blade of a thrown knife in a kitchen and Ant-Man utilizing a flatbed truck as a razor scooter. The film continuously delivers captivating moments that showcase the imaginative possibilities of changing size.
One of the standout aspects of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is its genuine humor. Considering the growing trend toward comedic elements in superhero movies, this might not come as a surprise. However, following the somber conclusion of “Avengers: Infinity War,” the film’s lighthearted approach to the superhero genre, focusing on more personal stakes rather than cosmic ones, offers a refreshing change in tone.
And that, in fact, is the greatest aspect of it. One of the strongest arguments for the MCU’s appeal is its ability to create a cohesive universe, much like the comic books themselves. It’s a universe filled with interconnected elements that build upon and influence each other, even when they’re not directly intertwined. The simultaneous events of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “Infinity War” exemplify this notion, showcasing the vast potential of the entire franchise. While Scott Lang finds himself navigating through an elementary school in an oversized hoodie due to his shrunken state, the looming threat of Thanos attempting to annihilate the universe adds an incredible depth to the narrative. This juxtaposition sets the stage for a powerful emotional blow at the film’s conclusion.
17. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Following his initial foray into the realm of mystic arts in his standalone film, Dr. Stephen Strange made notable appearances in various other Marvel movies. He played a crucial role in the battle against Thanos in “Infinity War” and “Endgame,” and he caused quite a stir for Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” However, six years after his debut, the enigmatic sorcerer finally returns as the protagonist in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” a highly anticipated sequel directed by the esteemed Sam Raimi.
Drawing inspiration from director Sam Raimi’s earlier works, such as the “Evil Dead” trilogy, “Multiverse of Madness” embraces elements of horror. In this gripping narrative, Dr. Strange finds himself tasked with safeguarding America Chavez, a young girl who possesses the unique ability to traverse between different universes. However, there’s a catch—America can only activate her powers when she experiences genuine terror. And it becomes evident that her fears are not unfounded. Wanda Maximoff, a beloved Marvel character known as the Scarlet Witch, has taken a dark turn. Driven by her desire to reunite with her fabricated children from “WandaVision,” Wanda sets her sights on America, intent on taking her powers and assuming the role of the multiverse’s most sinister mother.
As expected, Dr. Strange is determined to prevent this dire outcome from unfolding. The result is a mind-bending odyssey into terror featuring haunting demonic entities, the signature “Raimi Cam” technique, and sequences reminiscent of the director’s acclaimed film “Drag Me to Hell.” However, “Multiverse of Madness” isn’t solely focused on scares. It strikes a perfect balance by infusing equal doses of excitement and enjoyment. The film introduces a plethora of fantastic cameos, offers glimpses into bizarre new realms, and allows Dr. Strange to delve deep into the exploration of his mystical powers. Notably, the captivating musical showdown between Strange and his alternate self stands out as one of the most exhilarating fight scenes in the entire MCU. Dark yet never overpoweringly so, the sequel to the adventures of the enigmatic doctor lives up to its promise of delivering an experience as peculiar as we all anticipated.
16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Just as the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie demonstrated the MCU’s ability to embrace the strange and cosmic while delivering exceptional entertainment, its sequel solidified the fact that this success was no mere coincidence.
If anything, the second movie delved even deeper into the cosmic realm. While the first installment introduced us to the Nova Corps and Ronan the Accuser as formidable foes, with the backdrop of the expansive Nova Corps and the presence of planet-destroying Celestials, the sequel took it to a whole new level. With a captivating half-hour sequence of superheroes engaged in an epic battle within the core of Ego the Living Planet, a colossal purple entity donning the face of Kurt Russell, this is just the beginning of the mind-bending and exhilarating sci-fi spectacle that this movie offers.
It immerses us in exhilarating starship battles, with swarms of space drones adding to the spectacle. The warp drive sequence acknowledges its inherent silliness, delivering a dose of self-awareness. Additionally, it boasts the most legendary Stan Lee cameo in cinematic history and showcases the ultimate utilization of a Zune device, surpassing any other instance. The only aspect that prevents it from surpassing the first movie is that the soundtrack falls slightly short, although “The Chain” still manages to rock pretty hard.
15. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Origin stories are often challenging to execute, yet they hold a special place in the hearts of audiences. While the predictable outcome of these tales can diminish some excitement, there is a strong desire to fast-forward through the training and self-discovery moments and dive straight into the hero’s epic battles against supervillains. However, “The First Avenger” manages to excel in this aspect and stands out among its peers.
A significant factor contributing to the success of “The First Avenger” is the remarkable performance of Chris Evans. In a franchise renowned for its exceptional casting choices, Evans achieves the extraordinary task of portraying a square-jawed, incredibly fit, and unwaveringly earnest individual molded by the military-industrial complex. His portrayal is so compelling that it becomes impossible not to admire and respect him. Beyond his superhuman strength, enabling feats like curling a helicopter and hurling a metal frisbee through a brick wall, his true superpower lies in instilling belief. Memorable scenes, such as a pre-Cap Steve Rogers picking himself up and declaring “I can do this all day” to a pair of bullies, leave a lasting impact and are skillfully referenced years later in “Civil War.” This film masterfully captures the essence of its character, making you wholeheartedly believe in him.
Not only does “The First Avenger” excel as a standalone film, but it also acts as a pioneering example of the superhero genre as a period piece. By delving into the past, it provides the MCU with a rich historical backdrop that predates the events of 2008 and Tony Stark’s transformative experience in the cave. This approach opens the door for other captivating projects that explore and expand upon this captivating history in incredibly enjoyable ways.
14. The Avengers (2012)
The fact that “The Avengers” manages to work is already impressive, but the level of success it achieves is nothing short of miraculous.
Even now, it’s easy to forget that “The Avengers” was a groundbreaking endeavor. It marked the first time such a grand-scale superhero team-up was attempted, uniting characters who had their own distinct films, tones, and styles within a shared universe. Joss Whedon skillfully navigated the realms of fantasy in “Thor,” the witty sci-fi of “Iron Man,” and the earnest heroism of “Captain America,” seamlessly merging them with the inclusion of Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. The challenge of bringing them all together for one epic adventure with high stakes was daunting, yet this film triumphs in achieving that feat.
However, it’s important to acknowledge the flaws of “The Avengers.” The high stakes mainly stem from a faceless alien army, and the notion that the Avengers required Phil Coulson’s death to unite as a team is somewhat questionable. Character development takes a backseat in certain instances, and there are moments that fall flat. For example, Captain America’s smug delivery of “there’s only one God, Ma’am” doesn’t quite land as intended. Nevertheless, amidst these imperfections, there are moments of pure enjoyment, such as Loki being Hulk Smashed like a character from a Looney Tunes cartoon.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The first installment of “Guardians of the Galaxy” isn’t just an entertaining film; it skillfully manages a multitude of elements, creating a seamless experience that keeps you immersed in the fun. Amidst the captivating storyline, there’s the endearing team of misfits overcoming their personal struggles while confronting an immense threat. The movie offers a glimpse into the vast cosmic realm of the MCU, introducing us to Celestials, the Nova Corps, and expansive interstellar empires. Additionally, the retro vibe, complemented by a classic rock soundtrack, evokes nostalgia without dwelling solely on the past.
It’s no easy task to juggle so many elements and deliver a captivating and adventurous story that solidifies Rocket Raccoon as a beloved character. However, writer/director James Gunn pulls it off masterfully. “Guardians of the Galaxy” breaks the mold in every conceivable way, culminating in a superhero team movie that concludes with a dance-off and the heroes ultimately saving the universe through the power of friendship. It’s a truly awesome and refreshing approach.
12. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Choosing to follow up the grand scale of “Avengers: Endgame” with a film that blends elements of a high school road trip and a romantic comedy is undoubtedly a bold move for the MCU. However, “Far From Home” serves as a perfect epilogue to the monumental “Infinity Saga,” which spanned an impressive 23 films. It offers a refreshing and fitting conclusion to the saga, showcasing the growth of the characters and exploring new dynamics in a delightful and entertaining way.
One of the notable aspects of “Far From Home” is its exploration of the MCU’s landscape in the absence of Tony Stark, the hero who initiated the entire universe with his debut in 2008. Furthermore, with the departure of other beloved heroes following the events of “Endgame,” there is a void that needs to be filled. Spider-Man, a character deeply ingrained in Marvel Comics history, symbolizes the potential to step up and carry the torch. Likewise, Mysterio’s intricate and delightfully comic book-inspired plot stretches back to the early days of the “Iron Man” film, interweaving with the broader events of the MCU. The ability to connect these narrative threads and pay homage to the end of an era is an impressive achievement, showcasing the remarkable storytelling prowess of the film.
Moreover, “Far From Home” delivers everything one would expect from a Spider-Man narrative. Peter Parker grapples with an overwhelming sense of responsibility and the accompanying self-doubt. The relationship between Peter and MJ is genuinely heartfelt and endearing. Finally, the film addresses the consequences of Spider-Man frequently exposing his identity, a long-overdue aspect. The mind-blowing surprises unveiled in the mid-credits scene and the ingenious decision to feature a villain who manipulates special effects in a grand-scale blockbuster are added to the excitement. All these elements contribute to an incredibly enjoyable cinematic experience.
11. Captain Marvel (2019)
“Captain Marvel” faced significant expectations as the first Marvel film centered around a female superhero—an anticipation that had been building since Black Widow’s debut in “Iron Man 2.” While every MCU installment contributes to the larger puzzle, this film also served as an introduction to a character with the potential to influence the monumental superhero spectacle that was unfolding greatly. Bearing such weight on its shoulders, “Captain Marvel” effortlessly rose to the occasion instead of buckling under the pressure.
Rather than adhering to the familiar “Iron Man” formula used for introducing characters like Doctor Strange and Ant-Man, “Captain Marvel” took a different approach by presenting a quest for identity and exploring the concept of fulfilling one’s true potential. This theme was cleverly woven into the narrative, which revolved around an intergalactic conflict. The protagonist’s journey, depicted through her radiating cosmic powers and fierce spaceship battles, served as a captivating metaphor for unleashing one’s full capabilities. Undoubtedly, this unique take on the superhero genre made “Captain Marvel” undeniably cool.
While some might argue that “Captain Marvel” occasionally leans towards being heavy-handed and even ventures into the realm of corniness, it’s important to recognize that this lightheartedness actually translates into an honest and unapologetically enjoyable experience. With its mix of cosmic battles and witty references to Blockbuster Video, the film unquestionably surpasses expectations and delivers on its well-deserved anticipation.
10. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
The shadow of Chadwick Boseman’s tragic departure looms prominently over “Wakanda Forever.” The film begins with the heart-wrenching news of Boseman’s beloved character, T’Challa, passing away. In a departure from the typically exuberant Marvel Studios intro, silence fills the screen, setting a somber tone. The story unfolds with T’Challa’s funeral, an emotional event where the Wakandans honor their departed king. Grief permeates the entire film as we witness Princess Shuri grappling with the profound loss of her brother.
However, “Wakanda Forever” goes beyond being an emotional rollercoaster. It seamlessly blends humor, excitement, and exhilarating action, delivering some of Marvel’s most unforgettable moments. The film boasts two standout set pieces—the awe-inspiring flooding of Wakanda and the climactic battle aboard a Wakandan warship. Director Ryan Coogler’s talent shines brightly, crafting an enjoyable superhero experience while paying homage to Boseman. Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett deliver phenomenal performances as T’Challa’s royal family. One can feel their genuine emotions, and their strength becomes a much-needed source of solace in the absence of Boseman. Despite his absence, “Wakanda Forever” honors his legacy and captivates audiences with its remarkable storytelling.
Undoubtedly, Tenoch Huerta steals the spotlight in “Wakanda Forever” as Namor the Submariner, providing the perfect counterbalance to Shuri. Like her, he has experienced the loss of his family and understands the pain of foreign forces encroaching on his homeland—a struggle Wakanda has been confronting since T’Challa’s passing. Empowered by vibranium, he seeks retribution against the surface world, and while we may question his methods, his motivations remain clear. Meanwhile, Shuri’s journey in the film revolves around grappling with her brother’s demise, navigating between resistance and acceptance. It is a truly captivating transformation within the backdrop of a magnificently crafted film.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
“The First Avenger” laid the foundation for Captain America’s greatness, and “Winter Soldier” fulfills that promise with remarkable precision.
Every aspect of this film reinforces the notion that Captain America is the perfect candidate to wield the power of saving the world. His notebook is filled with cultural references that he earnestly tries to understand to his deep friendship forged through shared wartime experiences with Sam Wilson. His unwavering loyalty to his friends drives him to risk everything to rescue Bucky. Even in the face of adversity, he offers his opponents a chance to retreat before engaging in a fierce battle against a treacherous elevator full of foes.
While the individual set pieces in the film are undeniably great, their collective impact is what truly makes “Winter Soldier” incredible. And that’s even before considering the sheer joy of watching Steve Rogers unleash his righteous fury on the villains. The film strikes a perfect balance between thrilling action sequences and engaging storytelling, resulting in an immensely enjoyable experience.
8. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
According to Deadline, Marvel’s aim with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was to replicate the success achieved by “Black Panther.” The studio set out to introduce a new hero who would seamlessly blend Asian and Asian-American themes, brought to life by filmmakers of Asian and Asian-American descent. Since the project’s announcement in 2018, comparisons to “Black Panther” persisted leading up to the film’s release, and the discussion continued even afterward. Critics, however, generally agreed that “Shang-Chi” represented another positive step forward for Marvel. The film’s predominantly East Asian cast, its narrative inspired by Chinese folklore, and its exhilarating martial arts sequences served as a testament to Hollywood’s increasing responsiveness to calls for greater Asian representation on the big screen, as highlighted by the BBC.
“Shang-Chi” adheres closely to Marvel’s familiar origin story structure but distinguishes itself through its exceptional action sequences. Director Destin Daniel Cretton pays tribute to the dynamic choreography reminiscent of Jackie Chan, notably showcased in the thrilling bus fight scene. The film also draws inspiration from Chinese wuxia films, presenting a vibrant visual palette and gravity-defying feats. Simu Liu embodies the lead role with a perfect balance of humility and heroism, while Awkwafina, Tony Leung, and Michelle Yeoh deliver standout performances. With the addition of surprising and uproarious cameos, “Shang-Chi” emerges as a resounding success. When it comes to sheer enjoyment, few Marvel movies can rival its exhilarating experience.
7. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
While Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes undeniably take center stage in the film, one could make a compelling case for renaming it “Avengers: Civil War” instead.
With its extensive ensemble cast, “Captain America: Civil War” could easily be dubbed “Avengers: Civil War.” The film goes beyond mere cameos, showcasing the full roster of superheroes in action. Ant-Man plays a pivotal role, showcasing his abilities in an epic clash alongside Hawkeye. Scarlet Witch’s character experiences significant development, paralleling her growth in “Age of Ultron.” War Machine faces a significant setback, and the Avengers find themselves divided by the manipulations of a cunning villain who successfully achieves his objective. Adding to the film’s impact, “Captain America: Civil War” introduces iconic characters like Black Panther and Spider-Man to the big screen.
One of the notable achievements of “Captain America: Civil War” is its ability to give each character their moment without sacrificing depth. The film skillfully navigates the extensive cast, ensuring that everyone has a chance to shine. This approach allows the conflict between the main characters to unfold and intensify, eventually leading to the team’s disintegration.
6. Black Panther (2018)
The introduction of Black Panther in “Captain America: Civil War” was undeniably the standout moment in an already remarkable film. This momentous debut set the bar high for T’Challa’s standalone adventure. Director Ryan Coogler and actor Chadwick Boseman not only met those lofty expectations but surpassed them, crafting an exceptional superhero film that ranks among the greatest of all time.
Perhaps it’s the parallel between Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa and the character’s own internal struggles that make Black Panther’s story so captivating. T’Challa grapples with the immense pressure of living up to his father’s legacy and leading a technologically advanced nation amidst a world of extraordinary events, where cities plummet from the sky and enraged green monsters rampage through the streets. Like Boseman himself, the Black Panther rises to the challenge, but the path he embarks on is rife with intricacies that truly captivate. Unveiling the truth about his father’s past, coupled with a formidable antagonist fueled by justifiable anger, presents a moral quandary that transcends a mere climactic battle. Black Panther possesses the ability to reshape the geopolitical landscape, potentially more than any other hero we’ve encountered. While other heroes may need to learn the weight of responsibility, T’Challa is already aware of it. The question that plagues him is how to wield that responsibility effectively.
Marvel movies truly shine when they fully embrace the exhilarating cosmic adventures that unfold in a universe where the Infinity Stones possess reality-altering power, and cosmic entities orchestrate gladiatorial contests. However, “Black Panther” fearlessly treads its high-tech comic book origins while crafting a narrative deeply rooted in the real world, and it accomplishes this with remarkable finesse and beauty.
5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
While “The Avengers” demonstrated the successful convergence of individual heroes into a cohesive team to combat a global threat, “Infinity War” elevates this concept to unprecedented heights. This film transcends boundaries by assembling the entire universe, skillfully managing an extensive ensemble of characters, and uniting them against a formidable villain who poses a threat to the very existence of the universe.
Above all else, “Infinity War” encapsulates the essence of a comic book crossover event, embracing the twists, turns, and interconnected narratives that superhero enthusiasts have come to anticipate. The film weaves together multiple storylines simultaneously, each with its own distinct tone and atmosphere, yet seamlessly interconnected at every level. It magnifies and bridges individual heroes and their respective arcs, ensuring that each character, from Gamora to Spider-Man, Doctor Strange to Black Panther, shines in their defining moments. As the climactic battle unfolds across multiple planets, the gravity of the unimaginably high stakes becomes palpable, resonating not only with the characters but also with fans who have invested a decade in these films.
Successfully executing such a complex narrative structure is already challenging in comic books, where they have honed their skills since at least 1985 with “Secret Wars.” Witnessing this feat accomplished in a grand cinematic production, where the story unfolds like a serialized journey, akin to progressing from an issue of “Doctor Strange” to one of “Thor” until the pieces converge, is truly unprecedented. No other film has achieved this level of storytelling, and it’s difficult to envision another movie achieving such mastery.
4. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
“Homecoming” stands out as one of the MCU’s finest offerings, largely due to its interconnectivity with the larger universe. It’s a film that thrives on its ties to the expansive Marvel universe and wouldn’t have the same impact if it were detached from it.
With the advantage of being positioned within the expansive Marvel universe, “Homecoming” not only stands strong as a standalone film but also benefits from the absence of an origin story. Instead, it leverages the narrative groundwork laid by its predecessors, resulting in a remarkable thematic progression. The movie cleverly references Tony Stark’s character arc, highlighting the stark contrast between Peter Parker and the hero he idolizes. This stark contrast is exemplified by the climactic battle centered around the attempted theft of a cache of Arc Reactors. Furthermore, the underlying conflict of a superhero-infused world intersecting with ordinary lives drives the entire story, adding depth and substance to the film.
Even without considering its larger context, “Homecoming” shines brightly with its exceptional characters, thrilling action sequences, and standout moments that rival the best in the franchise. However, when taking into account its place within the Marvel universe, the movie becomes even more enchanting, infused with a touch of pure magic.
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The Marvel movies truly excel when they embrace the essence of their comic book origins while adding their own unique twists to the live-action medium. While staying true to the source material is important, it’s equally vital to adapt and innovate. “Ragnarok” stands out in this regard, as it not only benefits from the fantastic source material but also showcases a brilliant fusion of inspiration and creativity.
To say that “Ragnarok” draws heavily from Walt Simonson’s legendary mid-’80s run on “The Mighty Thor” would be an understatement. Nearly every aspect of the movie takes direct inspiration from Simonson’s work, with additional elements borrowed from Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan’s “Planet Hulk” storyline, including the Hulk’s gladiator attire. However, what sets Taika Waititi’s film apart is how it deconstructs and reimagines these familiar pieces, creating a fresh and distinct narrative. Rather than a simple retelling, the movie captures the essence and spirit of the original comic, encompassing its interplanetary grandeur, the fusion of sci-fi and mythological elements, and the monumental stakes at hand. In the realm of cosmic Marvel movies, “Ragnarok” stands as an unparalleled achievement.
In addition to its cosmic spectacle, “Ragnarok” delivers genuine hilarity. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Taika Waititi’s background in co-directing the vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows.” The film effectively capitalizes on Chris Hemsworth’s impeccable comedic timing, resulting in moments that are both side-splitting and character-revealing. Furthermore, the inclusion of Doctor Strange, who is immediately prepared to confront Loki as a peculiar and magical threat to the planet, proves to be a standout moment for the character, surpassing many of the memorable scenes in his own solo film.
2. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
In 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the collision of three generations of “Spider-Man” movies creates a spectacular and highly successful cinematic experience. While Tom Holland’s Peter Parker remains the central focus of this threequel, “No Way Home” transcends its predecessors by embracing an Avengers-style team-up approach. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange plays a significant role, stepping in to assist Parker when the weight of public scrutiny becomes overwhelming. Strange agrees to erase everyone’s memory of Spider-Man’s true identity to alleviate the pressure. However, Parker’s last-minute doubts and hesitations disrupt the spell, leading to unintended consequences: The emergence of villains from other universes who possess knowledge of Spider-Man’s real identity.
In a revelation that came as no surprise to many MCU fans, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, and Willem Dafoe return to reprise their iconic roles as Electro, Doctor Octopus, and the Green Goblin, respectively, alongside other notorious villains. However, what truly amps up the excitement is the arrival of the Spider-Men from their respective film series. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield make their appearances, offering Tom Holland’s Peter Parker invaluable guidance and the solace he desperately needs.
In this film, Holland’s portrayal of Spider-Man reaches new heights as he finally confronts the weighty mantra of “with great power comes great responsibility.” It’s a pivotal moment that resonates deeply and will stay with you long after the credits roll. Backed by an exceptional ensemble cast, Holland delivers his most accomplished performance yet in the iconic Spidey suit. “No Way Home” solidifies its place as the greatest “Spider-Man” movie to date, a title it seems destined to hold for years to come.
1. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
“Endgame” could have easily been the most challenging film in the entire franchise to execute successfully. Not only does it have the daunting task of following up on the emotionally devastating conclusion of “Infinity War,” but it also serves as the grand culmination of 21 interconnected movies. The sheer complexity of weaving together numerous plot threads and striking the delicate balance between action, humor, and heart-wrenching moments presented countless opportunities for the cast and filmmakers to stumble. With that in mind, acknowledging their achievement goes beyond simply recognizing that they made a good movie (although “Endgame” certainly is exceptional). It’s acknowledging that they accomplished something close to a cinematic miracle.
The film is brimming with clever callbacks to nearly every installment of the MCU thus far, weaving subtle connections that may go unnoticed until you pause to reflect on them. Captain America leads a support group, mirroring Sam Wilson’s earlier role in “Winter Soldier.” Thor established New Asgard precisely where Odin suggested “this could be Asgard” in “Ragnarok.” Black Widow redeemed herself by erasing the lingering guilt she mentioned in “Avengers” through her selfless actions. These moments of payoff are abundant, yet they never come across as mere fan service. This achievement in itself is monumental, as it truly captures the essence of a satisfying conclusion.
Yet, aside from its callbacks, “Endgame” manages to captivate audiences with a multitude of remarkable moments that effortlessly fill its epic 3-hour runtime, leaving viewers wanting more. The time-travel escapades, the unconventional emergence of a new incarnation of Hulk, the audacious leap forward of five years, depicting a world where our heroes suffered defeat, and the awe-inspiring sight of Captain America tightening his shield and bravely facing the impending apocalypse—all of these scenes are etched into the memories of moviegoers. It truly serves as the climactic crescendo that fans have eagerly awaited ever since Nick Fury’s first appearance in “Iron Man.”