This is an article that we have been excited to write at The Direct since we launched our site almost a year ago. With 2020 being the year it was, we were unsure we were going to find the right opportunity to get this list put together; however with Marvel Studios getting ready to launch Phase 4, and the new era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we at The Direct have decided to let you know where we stand. We have polled our 20+ staff members and have compiled our list of the best-to-worst MCU films.
Obviously, this list will be contentious by nature. And there is a fair amount of disagreement within The Direct staff, but we are excited to show you all where we slot these projects as a group. And after every new movie or TV is released (and completed), we will make sure to update these rankings.
So with all that being said, please let us know what you agree and disagree with, here are our official rankings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's movies thus far:
23. The Incredible Hulk
Kicking the list off is the forgotten child of the MCU. The Incredible Hulk was made as somewhat of a safety net for the home run swing that was 2008’s Iron Man. Execs thought that if the revolutionary and bold storytelling from Tony Stark’s first adventure wasn’t well-received, at least fans would have a more traditional Hulk movie to soften the blow.
As a result, the MCU’s second-ever film falls at the bottom of our list. But I will say, if you re-watch the MCU in chronological order with Captain America: The First Avenger first, this movie gets some much-needed universe points.
22. Thor: The Dark World
Easily the biggest roller coaster in the MCU thus far is the Thor franchise, and at the core of that polarization is Thor: The Dark World.
The Dark World did a lot of things that hinted at the weird and wild direction these movies were heading. Dark elves, black hole grenades, and a host-seeking red sludge. But, much like in the first Thor, it seemed this movie attempted to do two things at once, with a space epic meeting a shakespearian family drama.
While some people enjoy that, we see later in this list what happens when they embrace the weird and wild.
21. Ant-Man and the Wasp
You know when you are at a concert and you are trying to enjoy the opening act but you can’t because you are just too excited for the band you paid to see? That is the unfortunate feeling that people get when watching Ant-Man and The Wasp.
Coming off the shock of Infinity War, and the excitement of Endgame on the horizon, Ant-Man and the Wasp, with its unique concepts and interesting characters comes out as an MCU filler episode. Granted, this movie ALSO has the awkward task of being an Ant-Man sequel and a huge set up story for Endgame.
There is going to be a theme throughout this list of these movies getting better as they go along. Rome was not built in a day, and Marvel Studios didn’t figure out the secret sauce to these characters right away either.
Iron Man was raised into the movie theater rafters for its character-first realism and grounded vibe. Fiege and co. attempted to replicate that with a space god landing in New Mexico, but for the Phase One Sci-Fi Rom Com it tries to be, it succeeds on the most basic level. Legacy round of applause for Thor.
19. Iron Man 2
Thor was a victim of being a Phase One movie that helped pave the bumpy roads of the MCU template. Ant-Man and the Wasp was a victim of following up an instant classic. Iron Man 2 tends to fall victim to both of those things.
A tough villain character and a crowded script has this movie rounding out our bottom five; however it does begin the trend of universe builders getting better as their successors shine. People forget there are four Avengers in this movie if we are counting the guy with the eye patch.
18. Captain Marvel
Just like the first Captain America, this movie jumps back in time to introduce a pivotal character right before we get an epic team up movie. Personally, I am not ready to cast my vote on the Carol Danvers character yet, but I understand both the positive and negative takes on Captain Marvel.
The reality of this movie is that this is an origin story set 25 years in the past that is hard to appreciate when you know Endgame is right around the corner. Bold prediction? This movie moves up this list as time goes on.
17. Iron Man 3
Is it weird to think that this movie would be higher on the list if it wasn’t in the MCU?
Phase One did something that no comic book movie universe had done before, bringing together over six characters we had grown to love into one mega event of continuity. So Phase Two beginning with a stand-alone character story is a bit jarring. And even though it is strange to see such finality in Tony’s character by the end of this movie, it allowed us to get the Tony Stark we got moving forward.
Ahh, the palate cleanser. Our first example of a Phase in the MCU ending with a grounded solo story following a major team-up event.
Ant-Man is the MCU formula at work as we get a great blend of comedy, action and character development. Another reason this film holds as the fourth best Phase Two film is the added depth to this universe Ant-Man provides with our first look at an Earth based, non-avenger hero.
15. Doctor Strange
For all the gripes people have with the first two installments of the Thor franchise, we need to take a step back and appreciate the doors they opened in the MCU. Introducing the concept of magic is tricky, it inherently involves a level of suspension in what you believe. Due to the bricks laid by Thor and Thor: Dark World, Doctor Strange was able to build one hell of a house of magic.
This is a great example of these movies getting better as the universe grows around them. You are allowed to get more weird if you ease people into it. That is Doctor Strange in a multiverse nutshell.
14. Avengers: Age of Ultron
As I write this article I keep in mind I am speaking for the entirety of The Direct staff, but I need to stand up for one of my favorite movies that I have labeled Mr. Misunderstood.
This is arguably the greatest example of a movie that retroactively gets better and better. People want to point out some subjective story flaws with this film, but we cannot overlook how the seeds planted in this movie continue to grow and be appreciated through Phase Three and beyond.
(Are you excited for WandaVision? Thank Age of Ultron)
13. Captain America: The First Avenger
Ladies and Gentleman… Steve Rogers. When you see a character arch so beautifully played out over the course of 8 years, it is hard not to look back at his or her origin with doe eyes. Rogers' arch is the fine wine of the MCU, as fans see so much pay off from this character and the elements introduced in this first film. Also, one minor detail: this is our first look at one of the best “goobers” in movie history, The Infinity Stones.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
As we head into the top half of our rankings, we leave our back half with arguably the most “fun” MCU story.
The success of Guardians of the Galaxy was unexpected and incredibly influential. So with the sequel being set shortly after Vol. 1 (in canon), James Gunn had the unique opportunity to turn it up to 11. An interesting way to watch this movie is to focus on Gamora, Nebula and Rocket. Their development in this movie pays off handsomely in Infinity War and Endgame. Also… this soundtrack. *chef kiss*
11. Spider-Man: Far From Home
We have entered the top half of this list with the final movie in the Infinity Saga, and what a finale it was.
Avengers Endgame did the unthinkable, wrapping up multiple storylines while also asking cliffhanger questions. Spider-Man Far From Home simultaneously answered many questions left about the semantics of Endgame (time travel, “the blip”, etc.), while also developing one of the most beloved heroes of all time.
Who else is excited for Spider-Man 3?
10. Iron Man
Tone Setter. Trailblazer. The bar by which all superhero movies will be judged moving forward.
When Iron Man hit theaters in 2008, the world was captivated by the unique and character-driven storytelling. We knew from this point forward, that if Marvel stuck to their guns and followed the mold, they were on to something special. It is so fitting that the first movie in the MCU is our first movie in the top ten.
Good work team.
9. Black Panther
Few comic book movies that do not involve a large cast of heroes gets the “instant classic” label after only the opening weekend. Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2... these are movies that left people in awe over what they just saw.
Black Panther hits that vibe and more. The story, characters, relationships and community built in this movie stole the hearts of audiences everywhere, and that is before the cultural impact of this film even comes into play. Add that to the amazing presence of the late great Chadwick Bosemam (Rest in Power King) and you have a winner.
8. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor had the task of introducing magic, space and alien godlike beings into a grounded universe. Thor Dark World tipped their toe in the waters of the weird. And Thor Ragnarok is the full on, head first, dive into those waters.
A comedy? Sure. A colorful space epic? Absolutely! But what this movie does for the MCU’s most criticized character can not be understated.
What an incredible turnaround for a once overlooked franchise, and the solidification of the MCU Cosmic Realm. But how did we get here?
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
The Guardians of the Galaxy gets extra points on every list it lands on for pure shock value.
The ultimate underdog movie that captivated fans with great comedy, stunning visuals and a surprisingly hyper-relatable cast of characters. What Guardians did for the MCU was create a new brand only described as MCU Cosmic.
Just looking at Thor Ragnarok, you can tell that GOTG has set the tone for every MCU space adventure that comes after it.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Before claiming MCU fatigue was cool, Spider-Man fatigue was the talk of the town for comic book movies. After two iterations of the most famous Marvel character had been done, 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming needed to stand out and be different. Well… they nailed it.
After one Peter Parker that looked much older than his script said he was, and another who looked liked People’s 'Sexiest Man Alive', Tom Holland’s take on the Friendly Neighborhood Webslinger brought a youthful and new spin on the character. Add in an elite level villain and arguably the most grounded Spidey story to date, and we get a top six MCU film.
5. The Avengers
This was the moment when every comic book movie fan sat back and exclaimed “they did it.”
The idea of a cohesive and intricate movie universe with multiple movies and characters meeting in one mega event was the stuff of dreams. But as soon as the famous circle shot in the Battle of New York hit screens, we all knew we were seeing something special.
This was our first taste at the classic MCU payoff we have all come to expect. The origin movie of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has not only stood the test of time, it is still being built upon to this day.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This was the MCU’s first real attempt to make a niche-genre superhero movie. And the grounded, spy, political thriller has become the best pure solo film Fiege & Co. has ever produced.
To blend the character development, action sequences, storytelling and world-building we get in this movie is no small task. The Russo Brothers used their MCU debut to prove to everyone they deserve the keys to the MCU’s biggest and best, and as we head into our top three on this list, you’ll see that was the right decision.
3. Avengers: Endgame
We talked about our first taste of MCU payoff when we discussed 2012’s Avengers. Now imagine the feelings you felt for the circle up scene amplified by a thousand and you will start to scratch the surface of what Endgame made moviegoers feel.
It is so difficult to close out a movie, a series, or a saga; but when you build trust, and make 21 top tier movies leading into your finale, you earn as much fan service and epic moments as you can get. The MCU used this movie as an homage to the actors, directors, production crew and fans of every other movie on this list.
The biggest and most successful movie ever made. What more needs to be said?
2. Captain America: Civil War
Probably the most debated slots on this list is 1-3. And while Avengers Endgame met and exceeded all the loftiest expectations, at the end of the day, a lot of fans vote for the movies they have the most fun with. Captain America Civil War is truly a comic book brought to life.
What is better than watching a team of heroes you love battle AGAINST each other with real stakes, real drama, and easily some of the best action the silver screen has ever seen?
It is almost cheating to have this roster in a “Captain America” movie' hoever beyond the popcorn factor this movie brings, people forget this is one of the best stories told in the MCU. Until...
1. Avengers: Infinity War
This is the result of what makes the MCU the greatest movie franchise in history… patience. There are over 60 characters in this movie that have been introduced over 18 other films, and the Russo Brothers manage to balance every single one of them to perfection.
This movie is remembered for the pieces being put together in such a way that keeps your eyes glued from beginning to end, all the while introducing the main character of this movie, Thanos, after years of being teased. It is hard to believe we will ever see this level of execution on such a scale ever again.
The number one film on this list is Avengers Infinity War and it will take a masterpiece to knock it off the top spot.