As the world’s biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) super-fan, it was only a matter of time before I took to the internet and bravely ranked the Marvel movies in order from most forgettable to most iconic.
(Note: This list was originally published in May 2021, and most recently updated in July 2022.)
For the first time in 13 years, we have waited longer than a year for a new Marvel movie. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Black Widow and The Eternals were pushed back to 2021. And with Spider-Man: Far From Home being the most recent Marvel Cinematic Universe film released in theaters—in July 2019—that means we are coming up on (I gasped when I fact-checked this) two years since our last MCU film.
The good news? We have never had a better opportunity to reflect on the MCU’s impact on cinema. So let’s do it.
Oh yeah, that movie was made, wasn’t it?
I don’t think any MCU movie has been downright bad, so we begin with the movies that have simply made the smallest impact on the universe:
29. The Incredible Hulk
With a list of all 23 MCU movies in front of me, this was easily the most forgettable. I wouldn’t necessarily call this an abomination, but a Tony Stark end-credits cameo is all that ties this movie to our main universe, so I tend to forget it exists.
I saw this movie once in 2008 when it came out, and have never felt the urge to revisit it since. I would say that is a sure sign: The Incredible Hulk gets last place.
- My favorite moment: . . .
28. Black Widow
This was easily the most disappointing movie on the list. Offensively bad at parts. It is very tempting to put it in last place.
But there were a couple cool parts and I liked Natasha’s white outfit, so.
- My favorite moment: Natasha crashing and coming face-to-face with a brutal, mysterious new enemy.
27. Thor: The Dark World
This one has the Reality Stone before it was a stone. That’s pretty cool! But can I remember anything about the plot besides Freya dying and Loki fake-dying? No. No, I can’t.
- My favorite moment: Loki’s impersonation of Steve Rogers.
There was an idea . . .
At this tier, each movie has memorable moments, but none rise above the average quality we expect from the MCU:
TBH, I have surprised myself with this ranking. Because, like Black Widow, Eternals really just did not do it for me. But at least it attempted big ideas, showed us some fierce new powers, and featured probably the most diverse cast in MCU history.
I just haven’t felt a movie draaag like this in quite some time. The humor rarely paid off. The plot made little sense. I feel unsatisfied.
With all that said, I do look forward to seeing some of these characters in future MCU projects.
- My favorite moment: Makkari and Phastos letting Ikaris have it on the beach.
25. Thor: Love and Thunder
I just surprised myself.
With every new MCU movie, I scroll through my list and go “Do I like it more than this movie? How about this one?” And as I scrolled, I realized I could put it no higher than this.
Here’s the thing: Gorr is awesome. The last 30 minutes of the movie is cool. Broken Mjolnir is cool. And I like what they did with Jane’s story, despite her insufferably MCU-ified personality between The Dark World and now.
But the first hour, hour and a half? Inexcusable.
Ragnarok was heavy on jokes too, but it managed to strike a balance to at least be a fun movie overall. Love and Thunder is so jam-packed with jokes that didn’t even make my nostrils exhale in brief laughter.
It just wasn’t funny.
So, in leaning on the humor for the first two-thirds of the movie, the story felt very empty and tedious.
It makes me sad, because Gorr (like Hela) is such a visually cool character. I really wish he got a larger share of the screentime.
Everything from the colorful journey to the shadow world and onward is pretty good. I like the choice they give Jane. I like how Thor’s story of loss continues, like a tragic destiny he can’t escape. I like the child wielding an electric stuffed bunny.
It just felt a little too little, too late.
- My favorite moment: Thor’s bare ass.
Paul Rudd is both a dad and a daddy. That isn’t nothing.
And you have to appreciate the unique sense of humor. Small-scale conflict opens the door to hilarious scaled-down drama (I think of the freight train explosion zooming out to a toy train gently falling off its wooden track).
But Ant-Man just seems a little small compared to the other movies in this universe. Its characters aren’t terribly interesting, its villain is one of the most basic, and its plot isn’t up to par with the rest of the series. I don’t hate this movie, but it certainly leaves much to be desired.
- My favorite moment: Luis’s long-winded storytelling, which has become a meme.
Of the six films in the MCU’s first phase, Thor is easily the weakest.
However, I do appreciate its unique vibe. It’s the first story that takes us to the cosmos and expands the universe deeper into the, well, universe.
Thor as a character? Hot, but kind of dumb. If you think that gets him a free pass to the upper tiers of my list, you’re wrong this time.
Loki, in contrast, is immediately sympathetic and interesting as the God of Mischief. He is introduced as an adopted son who feels out of place within his family, but will go on to have numerous iconic moments in the next ten-ish years of the franchise.
Asgard, too, will continue to play an important part of the MCU story for years. So while I don’t feel the need to revisit this movie often, it’s at least memorable as an icebreaker.
- My favorite moment: “Another!” *smashes coffee mug*
22. Ant-Man and the Wasp
I have to appreciate how they followed up on Ant-Man‘s promise to give Evangeline Lilly wings in the sequel.
Ant-Man’s second movie features a villain with more interesting powers, and plenty of fun dynamic-duo action.
This one kept us satisfied between Infinity War and Endgame, with an end-credits tie-in to show us what Scott and friends were up to when Thanos snapped.
Unfortunately, between two of the most epic Avengers movies is about the toughest spot to be in if you want to impress audiences.
So when I look at the 23-title list and put the Marvel movies in order from worst to best, Ant-Man and the Wasp loses quite a bit of hype. If it had been released in 2010, it might have been a different story. But aside from a deepened backstory for the original Ant-Man and his Wasp, there isn’t a ton to keep this movie from phasing out of my memory.
- My favorite moment: Everything about the quantum realm, which nicely sets up Avengers: Endgame.
21. Iron Man 2
You know what? This might be the worst of the three Iron Man movies. But upon re-watch, it’s really not that bad!
Iron Man 2 features Tony Stark at his cockiest, in a way that’s sometimes embarrassing to watch. I don’t know about you, but I don’t love watching my heroes get drunk and act a fool at their mansion parties.
But the movie addresses this as a personality flaw, and forces Tony to grow up before he can save the day.
I think we can all remember Whiplash, even if we don’t remember exactly why he hates Tony. We remember War Machine making his debut, Iron Man’s leap into the future with a briefcase suit, and the beginning of the “why-didn’t-you-start-with-that-move” running gag.
This one doesn’t always deliver for me, but it’s not bad.
- My favorite moment: Tony stepping into a portable Iron Man suit for the first time.
I can do this all day.
From this point forward, every movie is enjoyable on an average day.
20. Iron Man 3
Tony Stark is always quipping. Always on top of everything. Always two steps ahead.
So to see him really struggle with his mental health—and spend much of the movie surviving without a suit of armor—really humanized the MCU’s central character for me.
Over the years, I’ve heard many criticisms of the villain in this movie. But to me, it never really mattered who the villain was. I agree that the villain is one of the MCU’s most forgettable. However, this movie is all about deepening the character of Iron Man and pushing him to places he’s never been. So, by that measure, I would say it’s among the franchise’s most successful. And, yes, it’s my favorite of the Iron Man movies.
After two Iron Man movies and one Avengers movie, we needed to explore new avenues with this character. Iron Man 3 totally accomplishes this.
- My favorite moment: Tony throwing his old arc reactor into the ocean.
19. Captain Marvel
This one isn’t half as bad as some fans will tell you. It’s a perfectly fine addition to the story Marvel Studios has been building for more than 10 years. So, why is it so low on my list?
Sis is just way too powerful.
I love how Carol has to piece together her life. And I think the plane crash sequence is actually really cool. But overall, Carol Danvers is such a strong character that there is very little doubt she will rock the bad guys’ shit at the end of the movie. And therefore, there is very little tension.
This movie is inoffensive in its approach, and not bad by any means. It introduces the Skrulls, who have already made appearances in other MCU projects and promise to be permanent additions to the universe’s lore. And it’s fully faithful to Goose’s ridiculous powers as a Flerken. You have to love it!
- My favorite moment: Goose coughing up the Tesseract like it’s a hairball.
18. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The sequel to the instantly-iconic Avengers and the endcap to the MCU’s phase two doesn’t reach the same mark as its predecessor. I think most fans and critics would agree that the plot and pacing here leave much to be desired.
However, it is difficult to name another movie in the series that has had a more significant impact on the current state of the MCU. Therefore, I feel Age of Ultron has aged really well.
I mean, look at the material!
In this movie, we are introduced to Scarlet Witch and Vision (see: beloved Disney+ show, WandaVision); Tony makes a mistake that leads to the divisive Sokovia Accords’ introduction in Civil War; Wanda’s mind tricks, as well as a dinner party game, heavily foreshadow Infinity War and Endgame; Bruce Banner ends up far, far away, and his relationship with The Hulk is forever changed;
and we get to spend time with Hawkeye’s family!
In retrospect, I cannot deny Age of Ultron‘s impact on the MCU, so it gets kudos despite being a little messy in execution.
- My favorite moment: Steve Rogers breaking a log in half with his bare hands.
17. Doctor Strange
On paper, Doctor Strange hits most of the same points that each hero’s origin story does in this universe.
But in stark contrast with Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America, this movie would probably be quite a trip to watch while under the influence of any kind of hallucinogenic drug.
Doctor Strange is a kaleidoscope of colors and ideas, which decorates its relatively simple plot skeleton. It comes into the MCU at a point when Thor, Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy have already dipped their toes into the otherworldly, and dials up the extradimensional spectacle to 11.
I would be flat-out lying if I said this universe’s magical combat is boring. I couldn’t honestly claim to hate the big-bad villain, despite his last-second appearance in the movie. And I have to say: the Ancient One is the coolest mentor figure in the MCU. (Tilda Swinton is everything.)
Here, we see the origin of one of the most powerful heroes in the MCU, but his appearances in later films are more memorable to me.
- My favorite moment: “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.” (Duh.)
16. Iron Man
If I put this movie any lower, I would probably get death threats.
Iron Man is the reason I’m sitting here writing this today. It launched this generation’s most expansive and successful movie franchise, and showed that Spider-Man and the X-Men weren’t the only heroes worth adapting from the Marvel canon. Without this film’s success, we would not have the Marvel Cinematic Universe, period.
So, ignoring its cultural impact, is Iron Man still a good movie?
Iron Man stands out to me with its honest portrayal of a human being learning from his mistakes. Tony Stark—now inextricably tied to Robert Downey Jr.—begins his story as a weapons manufacturer. But once he sees the destruction he has enabled with those weapons, he changes course to become a defender and, eventually, an avenger.
It’s incredibly cool to me that Tony’s superpower is his intelligence. His suit of armor—increasingly impressive in each iteration—is just a physical manifestation of that intelligence.
If we’re talking pure “cool” factor, Iron Man was probably the best superhero put to film at the time of its release.
- My favorite moment: Tony taking flight for the first time.
15. Captain America: The First Avenger
As I write this, I am aware that public opinion might not rank this movie so high. But this is my review, damn it, and I love Captain America!
I love Chris Evans’s portrayal of Captain America so much, it’s probably a little unhealthy. So, while the villain might be a little cartoonish and the story is paced a bit strangely, I can’t help loving Cap’s first movie in the MCU. What could have looked really goofy in live-action cinema felt down-to-earth and mostly convincing (save for Red Skull’s face reveal and the weapons crafted from the Tesseract).
Steve Rogers certainly beefs up after he’s injected with super soldier serum, but like Tony Stark, his superpower is built into his character from the start.
But where Tony’s power lies in his mind, Steve’s lies in his heart. Through the Infinity Saga (the first three phases of the MCU), Steve is consistently the moral center of the Avengers, and I just can’t help loving every scene he’s in.
The end of this film also begins a storyline that strings all the way to Endgame. I would say it’s the best love story in the franchise.
- My favorite moment: “I had a date.”
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
If you’ve been taking notes, it should be clear by now that I really like Guardians of the Galaxy. So, its sequel had some big shoes to fill. And I’m not quite sure it’s on the same level.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is mostly successful at capturing the essence of the surprisingly-successful first Guardians movie. It deepens the relationships between its characters while introducing lovable new members to the team.
I just wish the story was a little more significant to the overarching MCU plot.
Finding out Peter is half-god? Cool. Watching Baby Groot struggle to process instructions? Cute. Having Drax meet a clueless companion in Mantis? Nice.
But when I reflect on this movie, what actually stands out most is . . . Nebula?
Yes. Nebula. Because watching her relationship with Gamora evolve is actually my favorite part of this movie. And in Infinity War and Endgame, their relationship is one of the most important in the universe. The antagonist-turned-ally plotline is most satisfying to me. (This reversal actually takes place twice, with Yondu turning into Peter’s real father figure by the end of the movie.)
- My favorite moment: “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”
13. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Sometimes it’s fun to go into a movie without any expectations one way or another. Frankly, I had never heard of Shang-Chi before his introduction to the MCU.
But this was a lot of fun! The story may have been formulaic at its core, but there is enough garnish and flair here to keep me interested anyway. The giant demon dragon? The Abomination cameo? Aquafina somehow subverting my hatred for excessive humor in these movies? I’m having fun.
And the ten rings themselves? The coolest weapon in the MCU, and you can quote me on that.
- My favorite moment: Shang-Chi is rescued by his mother, reincarnated as a serpentine dragon.
12. Spider-Man: Far From Home
If I had to guess where this movie was going to land in my ranking four hours ago, I’m not sure I would have guessed this high.
But guess what? It’s here.
The MCU’s second Spider-Man film came at an interesting time. To me, Endgame is the logical bookend to phase three and the Infinity Saga as a whole. So for this to come out three months later, but technically still be part of phase three? Odd.
But there’s a lot to love here. The high school kids are still great for the same reasons they were in Homecoming, and “the blip” (a five-year period where half of all students continued to grow while the others were gone) provides a comically realistic look at how life would be post-snap.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio? Absolutely perfect. He is the best way they could have adapted that villain for the big screen, and I am very pleased. His backstory is completely plausible, and his methods of villainy are ruthlessly cruel. It’s exactly the type of psychological trickery I would expect from a faithful representation of Mysterio, and it’s adapted in a way that fits seamlessly into the high-tech MCU. Basically, he’s perfect.
Peter Parker spends much of this movie grieving over Tony Stark, unsure of how to move on without his guidance. But by the end, I am excited to see more of this version of Spider-Man as he steps out of Iron Man’s shadow. Spider-Man is probably the most popular Marvel hero; I’m ready to see him take a central role in the new Avengers team.
- My favorite moment: Mysterio’s illusions, particularly in regard to dead Iron Man. He went there!
11. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
This is the toughest movie I have had to rank so far.
Doctor Strange 2 does SO much right, but at what cost?
I am pleased to announce that, while the humor here is goofy as hell, it at least feels distinct from most other MCU projects. It’s silly and mostly unsuccessful, but it doesn’t pull me out of the serious moments.
It’s tough to go from WandaVision to this. It kind of sucks to watch one of your favorite heroes turn irredeemably violent. But we all wanted to see the full extent of Wanda’s powers, and now we have.
Wanda is now irrefutably the strongest Avenger, if we can still call her one.
I love the creative uses of magic here. I never knew I needed a zombie Stephen Strange to fly up a mountainside using a cloak assembled from the souls of the damned. But damn, is it cool! When else are we going to see such a thing?
When else are we going to see Wanda turn strong heroes into silly putty? When else are we going to see her glide out from behind a sorcerer, sultrily whisper “Run” before slinking back out of sight, and completely dissolve a man’s will to defend his friends? When else are we going to see America Chavez punch glittering star holes in the fabric of the universe? When else are we going to see Stephen wield music notes to fight another Stephen?
Despite its flaws, this movie feels unprecedented, and it’s entertaining as hell.
There are so many creative choices here that might be questionable in the grander MCU. But in isolation, this movie is an awesome, well-paced tour of Wanda Maximoff’s full power.
- My favorite moment: “What mouth?”
This does put a smile on my face.
The movies in this tier would get an A on a report card:
10. Spider-Man: No Way Home
I remember wondering “Where are they going with this?” after the first 15 minutes or so, but after that? I’m finding it hard to think of serious flaws here.
The third MCU Spider-Man film delivers on every expectation and rumor we knew beforehand, as well as several story beats none of us expected. In a solo franchise criticized for making Peter too kiddy and reliant on Tony Stark, No Way Home finally forced Spider-Man to grow up.
As of updating this list to include No Way Home, I think it’s pretty much a gimme to put it in the top spot of the MCU’s fourth phase.
There are still some silly unnecessary jokes here, but overall this movie brings so much excitement, heartbreak, and comedy to a rocky era in the MCU. It scoops on the fan service without sacrificing the importance of the story.
- My favorite moment: We cut back to Happy’s apartment, where Peter is working on cures for the villains. Without any dialogue, we see Peter’s spidey sense go haywire. In a long, disorienting shot, we have no idea what is wrong, just that something is.
9. Black Panther
I don’t think there is a more culturally significant movie on this list.
Black Panther arrives at a time when Black lives are at the center of our daily conversations. And slowly but surely, we are making progress in providing all audience members with representation in media—including superhero movies.
The impact of the MCU’s first Black-led film is strongly supported by this fact: in the biggest franchise in modern cinema, with movies regularly pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars, it had the franchise’s biggest domestic box office numbers at the time (now beaten only by Endgame). Globally, the movie has earned more than all the MCU movies aside from the four Avengers titles.
But even if we set the film’s real-life importance aside for a moment, Black Panther is a treat.
The details are all just so right with this movie. I am especially fond of the musical cues, which sonically divide our Black African protagonist from our Black American antagonist, and herald the arrival of the Dora Milaje whenever they step onto the scene. Wakanda is unlike any place we have visited in the MCU; the cinematography and score leave nothing to be desired as they illustrate this new world.
The cons? Black Panther is pretty formulaic, if you break it down to its basic plot structure. T’Challa’s powers are granted by a magic herb, which isn’t the most interesting source of strength in this universe. And I feel like his most important lessons are actually learned in Civil War. So, his character arc here isn’t as intriguing as we know it can be.
But Black Panther is a vibrant entry into the universe. As more and more MCU movies come out, the ability to stand out from the crowd will get tougher and tougher. Black Panther does that successfully.
Tragically, Chadwick Boseman’s passing will force Black Panther‘s story to adapt abruptly. For what he represented in this character, the franchise really couldn’t have suffered a bigger loss. I am hopeful that whoever steps into the role next can continue the character’s legacy.
- My favorite moment: “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.”
8. Thor: Ragnarok
If you asked me which MCU movie is the most fun, it would absolutely be Thor: Ragnarok.
I mean, my god.
For better and worse, this is the funniest MCU movie. Korg’s soft-spoken joke delivery will always be hilarious. And Thor’s transformation into a comical hero is the choice that completely reversed the bland legacy of his movies so far.
If the humor didn’t detract from so many dramatically significant moments in the movie, this could very well be in my top 3. Heck, I’m pretty sure it’s in the top 3 for a lot of fans. But, to me, the humor sometimes crosses into obnoxious territory when it undercuts moments like Asgard being completely obliterated by a giant fire demon.
Overall, though, I think the MCU is pushed forward in a meaningful way here. And even if it weren’t, at least we have Chris Hemsworth at his hottest (well, almost his hottest).
Which is a great segue into the aesthetics of this movie. Hela? Stunning. The Valkyries? Yaaaass. Sakaar? What a ride! Thor: Ragnarok features a smorgasbord of colors, costumes, and settings. And I love that.
- My favorite moment: “What were you the god of, again?”
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
I remember seeing the trailer for this movie and thinking “Huh . . . that doesn’t look like Marvel to me.” I didn’t recognize any of the characters, and I wasn’t sure if this was really going to be as satisfying as the other Avengers’ movies.
So, imagine my surprise. Imagine how shocked I was when I left the theater and realized I had just watched one of the strongest films in the MCU at the time.
Guardians of the Galaxy is hilarious, emotional, colorful, and just plain fun.
Probably its most defining feature is its use of music, which will continue in Vol. 2 as well as Infinity War whenever its ensemble cast makes an appearance.
Guardians also plays an important part in the Infinity Saga: it introduces us to Thanos’s children, and shows us the Power Stone for the first time. This movie accomplishes the feat of making a disparate group of heroes not only interesting, but necessary in a universe that already has the Avengers.
This is the point where the MCU’s creators really went all-in on their comic characters, recognizable or not, and convinced me that there wasn’t any story they couldn’t get me invested in.
We have no choice but to stan.
- My favorite moment: “We are Groot.”
6. The Avengers
This was a make-or-break moment for the MCU, and my god, they crushed it.
The Avengers proved that a crossover superhero movie was not only possible, but incredibly worthwhile. Even this early in the universe (only five movies deep, and two being Iron Man films), there is so much to sink our teeth into.
This movie converges six of our heroes’ paths to fight Loki, resurrected by Thanos himself. And it succeeds in nearly every capacity. The jokes are all funny. The fights answer questions like “What would happen if Thor’s unstoppable hammer slammed into Captain America’s unbreakable shield?” and “Just how strong is The Hulk?” And the heroes’ banter alone is worth the price of admission.
The Space Stone and Mind Stone are both featured prominently here. At the time, we weren’t really thinking of them in those terms. But looking back, this movie’s story is only strengthened by how it ties into the rest of the universe.
The Avengers changed modern cinema forever.
My only knock? Captain America’s outfit is at its worst. Talk about a downgrade!
- My favorite moment: “It appears to be running on some form of electricity!”
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The deeper we get into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the more difficult it is for its movies to stand out on its ever-more-crowded roster. On the flip side, the deeper we get into the MCU, the greater opportunity each movie has to surprise us.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very pleasant surprise.
Tom Holland is my favorite Spider-Man ever. This high-school portrayal of the character allows for charming teenage drama, but also promises so much growth and development over the coming years.
And this movie has one of the precious few moments in the MCU that made me tear up when I first saw it: Peter Parker, just a kid, crying out for help under a pile of debris before pushing through to save himself. Many entries into the franchise would have added a quip or a joke at that moment, but Homecoming chooses to show that Peter is in real danger here. I love that!
Don’t even get me started on Peter’s car ride to the homecoming dance. How many times are we allowed to be truly surprised in these movies? That was an instant bonus!
Overall, Homecoming is great. It’s funny, but not to the detriment of its story. It gives us a new take on Peter Parker (at least as he is portrayed in film). And, of course, it ties into the larger story of the Infinity Saga.
It may not be the best, but it’s difficult for me to think of one think I disliked about it.
- My favorite moment: “So. You got detention.”
Power at 400% capacity.
These are my elite picks, each a little better than the last:
4. Captain America: Civil War
Here’s the unofficial Avengers: 2.5. This is the biggest “What if?” movie in the series, as toy room action figure fantasies are translated to hero-on-hero fights onscreen.
I love Civil War‘s story because it trades in evil villains for more down-to-earth drama, like conflicting loyalties and the gray area of good intentions.
And, as in Homecoming, I was genuinely surprised by this movie’s revelation toward the end. At a time when the heroes’ beef with one another is supposedly over, things are thrown back into turmoil when a dark secret comes to light.
And Cap knew about it all along!? Gasp!
This movie goes deeper than “Which side is right?” It explores the moral ambiguity of saving the world at the cost of innocent lives.
And, just in time for the most threatening villain to step onto the scene in Infinity War, our team is divided. It’s the perfect setup for what’s to come, and arguably the most consequential movie in the series because of that.
On top of all that, we are introduced to two new heroes: Spider-Man and Black Panther. Each of them will go on to have great solo movies, but we shouldn’t forget that they were successfully thrown into a crowded playing field here and still managed to hold their own, narratively and combatively. (And, as I mentioned earlier, Black Panther’s character growth is actually more compelling in Civil War than in Black Panther.)
What’s not to love?
- My favorite moment: Captain America plunging the shield into Iron Man’s chest—the ultimate moment of betrayal and loyalty.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
For anyone who says all superhero movies are the same: here you go.
The Winter Soldier is the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to really try on a different genre for size. And OMG was it successful.
The most common critique of superhero movies is probably that they have no stakes and the hero always wins. And while that’s partially true here (there is a 0% chance that all our heroes will be assassinated, and we know that), Steve doesn’t actually win his fight with Bucky. And Winter Soldier marks the end of S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization that brought the Avengers together in the first place. I would say that is pretty consequential!
Quick note: Black Widow’s hair is at its best. Just fierce as can be.
And the sexual tension between her and Steve is so strong I am shocked it never returns in future movies.
But back to the task at hand.
When I put all the Marvel movies in order from worst to best, The Winter Soldier makes it this high because it is the most thrilling movie in the franchise. It makes you question everything and everyone you’ve met so far. It makes you wonder where else dark forces like Hydra might be hiding. It says goodbye to needless humor in favor of mysterious storytelling.
And, of course, it features Steve Rogers’s sexiest Captain America outfit. I mean, he looks like he’s ready to do work.
Now that I think about it, I don’t think any of the Infinity Stones are featured in this film. And yet, it still manages to have lasting consequences for the Avengers for the rest of the Infinity Saga.
- My favorite moment: “The price of freedom is high. It always has been. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.”
2. Avengers: Endgame
Where do I even start?
Avengers: Endgame is cinematic history.
To anyone who isn’t a fan of these movies, it probably wouldn’t even crack the top five of their ranking. But to the millions of us who have been invested in these stories for over 10 years, it is the most concentrated dose of satisfaction we have ever experienced in a superhero movie . . . maybe even in action movies as an entire genre . . . arguably, in movie history.
After all, when was the last time twenty-plus movies were tied together by a shared universe?
This opens up so many opportunities for callbacks and references that reward you for watching closely. The filmmakers took virtually all of those opportunities when making this movie.
The narrative structure is (I’ll be honest) not the best in the series. It’s a little clunky at times, especially when juggling numerous time heist missions. But by the end, that hardly matters at all.
The movie is still successful because of the finale of the previous movie. Remember how we talked about the no-stakes critique for superhero films? This time, the heroes have already lost. That opens up a completely new avenue, because we know what’s at stake. We’ve seen it happen once already!
So, when all our characters struggle to keep the gauntlet out of Thanos’s hands at the climax? It’s more stressful than any other boss fight in the franchise. For one brief moment, we even think he’s going to repeat history and snap again.
Now, let’s talk iconic moments.
Thor, Steve, and Tony get their asses handed to them again in a 3-on-1 fight with Thanos. But just as Thanos comes close to butchering Thor with his own axe, we see a close-up shot of Mjolnir, previously tossed to the ground, lifted meaningfully into the air.
Steve Rogers catching Thor’s hammer is possibly the most explosive moment I’ve ever experienced in a theater. But it would only hold that distinction for about 3 minutes.
Because the portals opening up and 500 allies stepping through to fight Thanos, his children, and the Chitauri?
I have never seen something like it, and I’m not sure I ever will again.
And to end it all, Iron Man ends his story by sacrificing himself to save everyone else. “And I . . . am . . . Iron Man” may be as iconic as “No, I am your father.”
I could write 10,000 more words on how Endgame caps off the Infinity Saga in the best way imaginable. But to summarize, it is simply an unmatched experience in cinema. So for any and all narrative flaws it might have, it rises to mountainous heights regardless.
It is history.
- My favorite moment: Sparks appear behind a beaten and bruised Captain America. “On your left.” A portal opens. T’Challa, Shuri, and Ramonda step through the portal. Holy shit.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
Girl . . .
Avengers: Infinity War is the best superhero film ever made.
I can’t even imagine trying to balance—let me count—thirty heroes, a plethora of side characters, and four mini-bosses, all while fleshing out a central villain and making him the most compelling one in the series so far. But, because we live in a blessed universe, they pulled it off.
Infinity War stands out to me with its airtight pacing, its successful use of the MacGuffin trope (the Infinity Stones might be a fetch quest, but damn are they cool!), and it’s ruthless execution on its promise of dire consequences.
For the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, our heroes lose. And they lose bad.
The sequence at the end of the movie is handled so well, I could cry.
It would be one thing to have our heroes dissolve into thin air while a mournful, dramatic score played. But instead, they chose to have the snappening take place in almost complete silence. It is absolutely the most profound, haunting thing to happen in any of these movies. And while I try to stop it, “Mr. Stark? I don’t feel so good” makes me tear up every time.
Infinity War really has it all.
It has some of the series’ best jokes without forfeiting any drama. It may give certain characters more screen time than others, but everyone has something to do here. And it has some of the coolest fights in the MCU.
Someday, I may write an entire essay on this movie. It brilliantly subverts what audiences expected (I figured Thanos would get to five Stones before being stopped). It gives our villain real motivations and rationale. And it makes our heroes pay for their refusal to do whatever it takes to survive.
(Also, Thor briefly overtakes Steve Rogers as my main MCU man candy.)
My favorite moments? It’s a three-way tie:
- Thor arriving in Wakanda with Stormbreaker
- Steve Rogers appearing in the shadows to rescue Wanda and Vision
- Thanos snapping
Thanks for joining me as I put the Marvel movies in order from worst to best! I plan on updating my list as new MCU movies arrive, so be sure to bookmark this page for future reference.