With “Avengers: Infinity War” coming out next Friday, and pretty much kicking off the summer movie season, it might be the right time to take a look at the 18 films that have already come out in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Nearly every film brought something creative to the table, and it was only a matter of time for all of these heroes to come together. From “Iron Man” to “Black Panther,” I decided to take a look back and rank all of the films. And keep in mind this is how I personally feel about these films.
Without further ado, here’s my ranking for all the films in the MCU.
- “Iron Man 2” (Jon Favreau, 2010, Phase 1)
By far the weakest in the “Iron Man” series, and it deserves to be. “Iron Man 2” tried too hard to build upon the rest of the universe instead staying more grounded with what they got. Most of the action is very well-handled, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow got a great introduction and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer brought some levity. But it’s Mickey Rourke's villain, Whiplash, and a rushed storyline that makes this follow-up fall short of its predecessor. If it had spent less time setting up stuff for “The Avengers, ”it might’ve been a lot better, in my opinion.
- “Thor: The Dark World” (Alan Taylor, 2013, Phase 2)
“Thor: The Dark World” honestly is one of the more forgettable superhero movies. It’s not a terrible sequel, but it’s simply dull compared to the first film. Between the romance between Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) feeling nonexistent, and thereby eliminating her purpose in the film, and the humor that just doesn’t land that much, it’s still just mildly okay years later. Chris Hemsworth still gives a great performance, and Tom Hiddleston's Loki still brings entertaining moments that make him a likable bad guy. But this also suffers because of Malekith, the weakest and the most underdeveloped MCU villain of them all.
- “Captain America: The First Avenger” (Joe Johnson, 2011, Phase 1)
Coming out the same year as "Thor," "Captain America: The First Avenger" could’ve gone a bad direction as a solo film during Phase 1. Instead of making it corny, it went for a more serious tone. The way that director Joe Johnson brought this hero into this World War II period didn’t turn out terrible. Chris Evans was the perfect choice to portray Steve Rogers/Captain America, as just a small guy who wants to fight for his country. The reason why this isn’t any higher is that, though the action was amazing, most of it was montaged through and the film lost some of its energy after a while.
- “The Incredible Hulk” (Louis Leterrier, 2008, Phase 1)
"The Incredible Hulk" was the second film released in the MCU and come out a month after "Iron Man.” A lot of people seem to forget that this was a part of the franchise. We definitely needed a second attempt at raging green monster after Ang Lee’s bottle of Nyquil released five years before. What worked well in this iteration is the action sequences, the relationship between Banner and Betty Ross, and Edward Norton giving a good performance as Bruce Banner/Hulk. This is in spite of the fact that it’s his fault for not returning later on, but Mark Ruffalo is the definitive answer to the title role. It also has that MCU trope of the hero fighting someone with the same abilities (Hulk vs. The Abomination). Though it’s been forgotten as time passes, "The Incredible Hulk" shouldn’t be slept on.
- “Iron Man 3” (Shane Black, 2013, Phase 2)
As a fan of Shane Black, I was very excited to what he could do with “Iron Man 3.” Taking place a year following the events in “The Avengers,” the film is definitely better than the second; although I still consider it just alright. We do see more Tony Stark than Iron Man, which was different, but it made sense with him trying to get back on his feet and want to show some redemption for the character. It delivered some amazing action throughout and Downey Jr.’s performance is nothing but great. However, the big twist with the Mandarin, Iron Man’s greatest enemy in the comics, honestly dropped the film’s quality and it ruined the rest of the film for everyone when he turned out to be a bumbling, drunk actor.
- “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (Joss Whedon, 2015, Phase 2)
The hype for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" was really high, as everybody was excited about the darker tone that this sequel was gearing towards, judging from all the trailers. Did we get that? No, but it still has its moments of awesome action sequences, including Hulk vs. the Hulkbuster fight. Simply put, "Age of Ultron" didn’t have the same impact the first film had, with nothing particularly amazing. Ultron (voiced by James Spader) was trying to be both a sarcastic and menacing villain for the most part, and that’s about it. For some reason, it didn’t feel like Joss Whedon gave his all here. At least we get to know more about Hawkeye’s family life, and we get the introduction to Vision. That’s cool, I guess.
- “Doctor Strange” (Scott Derrickson, 2016, Phase 3)
"Iron Man" but with magic? It worked. "Doctor Strange" is the trippy and fresh take on a new character that came out in 2016. This was probably the hardest character to pull off for a standalone movie, since it's built on the concept of magic in the MCU, and it’s close to fantastic. Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme really captured role perfectly (he can do no wrong). The film has the best visual style out of all these films, especially with the mind-bending moments that felt like looking inside a kaleidoscope (I wish I’d seen this in 3D). It kind of falls short in the story department, the story being just a bit familiar. Even so, "Doctor Strange" is a solid origin story.
- “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (James Gunn, 2017, Phase 3)
We all knew "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" wasn’t going to be nearly as great as its predecessor, but it’s still close to being more adventurous and more fun. James Gunn does a good job of fleshing out the characters in this installment, and I finally understand why certain people like Yondu or Nebula simply the way they are. Some people weren’t the biggest fans of the film because they think there’s too much humor thrown in. I highly disagree. Personally, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is one of the MCU’s more underrated movies. If people weren’t fixating on problems that aren’t big deals, then it would be appreciated more. It had a good balance of laughs and emotional moments and made for an entertaining sequel. Plus, who can hate Baby Groot?
- “Thor” (Kenneth Branagh, 2011, Phase 1)
Some were worried about "Thor" being cheesy when it was announced, but Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the God of Thunder was a surprise. The film came used a fish out of water storyline, and felt different, especially being the film first for the hero. Even when the film gets bogged down by too much Earth stuff and not that much on Asgard, it’s still highly entertaining. It also gave Chris Hemsworth the huge breakout role that made him the star he is today. And Loki is still considered to be the best villain in the franchise, and you can’t complain about that.
- “Black Panther” (Ryan Coogler, 2018, Phase 3)
Let’s all agree that Black Panther is one of the coolest characters created in the past two years. Even though I was hoping this was going to be in my top 3 favorites, “Black Panther” is still a great movie that had a new cultural impact. Ryan Coogler directed something that felt completely unique and different, and stood out from the rest of the other MCU films. Mainly, it’s because of the fantastic world-building of Wakanda. Chadwick Boseman’s role as T’Challa/Black Panther is one of the best portrayals of a superhero in ages. Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger’s motivation in the film is honestly relevant to today’s times. Providing strong, exciting action, as well as a vibe that stays consistent with what the tone was going for, “Black Panther” is an awesome comic book movie that we truly need right now.
- “Thor: Ragnarok” (Taika Waititi, 2017, Phase 3)
Director Taika Waititi should direct more colorful superhero movies, because he was a work of art when it came to helming “Thor: Ragnarok”. By far the best film in this now-trilogy, it’s both filled with a ton a fun action and hilarity. “Thor: Ragnarok” serves as a soft reboot to the Thor films. If, for some reason, the killer action didn’t work, or the performances from Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeff Goldblum or humor fell completely flat, then “Thor: Ragnarok” would’ve been deemed as garbage, but it stands out as one of the most fun films in a long while.
- “Ant-Man” (Peyton Reed, 2015, Phase 2)
It still would’ve been nice to see what Edgar Wright was originally going to do with “Ant-Man” before he left due to creative differences. Still, “Ant-Man” should get a lot more credit, because not only is the film a great superhero movie, it’s a surprisingly funny and entertaining heist film in between. The film itself was a surprise on a huge scale, following a ridiculous hero who shrinks down, and it turned out to be incredible. With some great performances from Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, creative action sequences and well-timed humor thrown in here, “Ant-Man” is a win. Yes, it’s another one with an underdeveloped villain, but it still ended up being the best comic book movie of 2015. And by the looks of “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, it could get even better.
- “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Jon Watts, 2017, Phase 3)
Out of all the “Spider-Man” movies that have come out in the past 16 years, there have only been two great films and three disappointing films that many, including myself, want to forget. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was a breath of fresh air as we finally got one of my favorites right. This didn’t follow the steps of the other films in having an origin story, seeing Uncle Ben get killed, or having multiple villains. It actually felt like a superhero movie in the style of a John Hughes film. This could’ve easily another disaster, however, it succeeded in staying true to what made this hero great to begin with, especially in high school. Tom Holland captures the spirit of the titular hero as the best Spider-Man we’ve ever had. And Michael Keaton as The Vulture was an intimidating villain that actually had a purpose. For me, this was the best MCU movie to come out in 2017.
- “Guardians of the Galaxy” (James Gunn, 2014, Phase 2)
Even four years after its release, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the riskiest entry Marvel could’ve released, since nobody knew about these heroes. Who wanted to see a comic book movie with a talking tree and a raccoon? Everybody, apparently, since it turned out to be a standout hit of the 2014 summer season, as well as one of the coolest sci-fi movies of that year. Gunn’s take on the then-unknown property works on so many levels. I was amazed at how much I loved this when I saw it opening night. The best way to describe “Guardians of the Galaxy” is to cross “Star Wars” and “The Avengers.” For a group of intergalactic criminals that nobody knew, they were absolutely outstanding. Between Star-Lord (my personal favorite), Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket, there’s so much love to be found for this team. The action was great, the humor was top notch (the funniest movie thus far) and it also has the best soundtrack of the decade, which, surprisingly, actually plays a role in the story.
- “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (The Russo brothers, 2014, Phase 2)
This is one of the few occasions in which I can say that the second film is ten times better than the original. This is the movie that made many believe Captain America is actually pretty cool. This was my most anticipated movie of 2014, and it absolutely didn’t disappoint. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a political thriller/spy espionage film set inside a comic book movie, and it succeeded in setting that tone in ways that are almost impossible to imagine. Steve Rogers is now living in today’s world and discovers more about where he belongs working with S.H.I.E.L.D. The Russo brothers’ first outing in the franchise is outstanding, with some of the best action scenes so far, a fearsome villain in the Winter Soldier and a story that basically changed the rest of the world in the MCU.
- “Iron Man” (Jon Favreau, 2008, Phase 1)
The film that started it all ten years ago. Nobody, including myself, thought a superhero movie based on Iron Man would really work. And few non-comic book readers were familiar with the titular character. But it blew everyone away and became a groundbreaking origin story. My dad took me to see it opening day after school, and the more I thought about it, the more amazing it was. Besides simply being phenomenal, this film also launched Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback career with his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man. You clearly see the parallels between the actor and Stark. It was a risk to cast him for this part, and after all these years, you can’t picture anyone else. I loved all the action, it was smart, and honestly, Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane is an overlooked villain. If this movie failed at the box office and didn’t receive the positive reviews it did when it released, I don’t think we’d have all of the rest of the movies we love today.
- “Captain America: Civil War” (The Russo Brothers, 2016, Phase 3)
“Isn’t this basically ‘Avengers 2.5?’” you may ask. But still, “Captain America: Civil War” might be the most ambitious and personal film yet made in the MCU. The story hinges on a real conflict that has grown between Captain America and Iron Man in a way that’s going to impact the later films: Does the help of our heroes cause a lot of collateral damage in our world? It does a great job at showing two sides of the argument, and you’re not quite sure what side to take. Team Cap or Team Iron Man? That’s the dilemma that’s growing upon everyone. This also gave us the introduction to both Black Panther and Spider-Man, and they steal every scene they’re in. The airport battle sequence alone is hands down the best action sequence to ever be filmed. It became the one thing everybody remembers from “Civil War”. Once again, the Russo Brothers made another amazing action that balances out the tense and near heartbreaking moments. “Batman V. Superman,” take notes.
- “The Avengers” (Joss Whedon, 2012, Phase 1)
The ultimate crossover we never thought would come true did just that on the big screen. After setting up these characters in their own movies, it would be flat-out insulting if “The Avengers” didn’t end up being memorable. Seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye uniting together to stop the madness Loki wreaks upon the world was beyond spectacular. I remember that outstanding scene with the camera panning around our heroes, while Alan Silvestri's theme kicks in, and the tears of happiness that flowed before earth’s mightiest heroes take down Loki’s army in New York. This was one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had. I was even kind of sick that morning, and this made me feel better in two hours? Joss Whedon did such an incredible job helming this and seeing his vision capture everything without any problems is worth watching. To this day, “The Avengers” was my favorite movie of 2012 and is still the second-best comic book movie of all-time after “The Dark Knight”.