All 31 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies Ranked, Including Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania
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The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest entertainment franchise the world has ever seen, and that's because it's also the most prolific big franchise we've ever had, with 31 movies in 15 years. And now we have a bunch of TV shows, too. But today we're focusing on those movies.
When we first watched Iron Man all those years ago, few of us could have expected that it would spawn [frantic waving] all this. Even Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, who was the face of this whole idea from the beginning, would probably be lying to you if he said he expected the MCU to turn into this much of a juggernaut. Hoped? Maybe. Expected? Never. Even after the first Avengers film took superhero movies to new box office heights, it would have been pretty hard to see this coming.
But here we are. The MCU has been a bit shaky since Avengers: Endgame, even for many of the most die-hard fans, thanks largely to there simply being too much of it, with few of the pieces interconnecting in meaningful ways so far.
But Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania has just begun Phase 5 of the franchise, and that means it's a new day for the MCU. While the franchise has been gearing up for the Multiverse Saga for a minute now, this new story of Kang the Conqueror is finally taking center stage. But how does this third Ant-Man film stack up against the best movies in the MCU? Let's find out by looking back on every single MCU film and ranking them.
31. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Do you like your summer mega-blockbusters to look like an episode of CSI, complete with TV-quality CGI? Then Joss Whedon's Avengers 2 is for you. It's really remarkable that an Avengers movie claims the worst CGI of any MCU film. The visual effects are so bad that Iron Man looks like he flew in from a Spy Kids movie during the big final battle.
30. Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania
Quantumania lacks pretty much everything that made the previous two Ant-Man movies work in favor of putting Ant-Man and his family at the center of a Guardians of the Galaxy movie. And there's no authorial stamp from director Peyton Reed here, so we're left with just a piece of Marvel formula that has no substance or meaning.
29. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
I like Destin Daniel Cretton a lot, but not as the director of a Marvel movie. Or at least not of this one, which starts out well but then turns into an ugly CGI-fest that looks like the season finale of a Disney+ show. Awkwafina and Ben Kingsley keep it watchable, at least.
28. The Incredible Hulk
Every time I go back to this one, it tries to trick me. That slow-burn first act is seriously compelling stuff, following Bruce Banner as he tries to hide out in Brazil while keeping his greener side under wraps. But then, suddenly, a switch flips. And the film then makes it very clear very quickly that it's not some hidden gem from the early MCU.
27. Captain Marvel
I was frustrated with Captain Marvel when it came out because it bore no relevance to the rest of the MCU beyond introducing a character who would play a minor part in Avengers: Endgame, which came out six weeks later. Now, I also find it frustrating because it's an assembly line movie that has no real substance to speak of.
26. Avengers: Endgame
When you make a time-travel movie, there's one thing you absolutely must do: set your internal time travel logic, and then stick with it. Endgame talks about time travel rules that other movies have, but loses track of its own within minutes. And it's not any better with its characters or other areas of storytelling--this movie was three hours of naked pandering at the expense of making any freaking sense.
25. Spider-Man: No Way Home
No Way Home feels like somebody wrote a Spider-Man movie, and then did a revision every time they signed a cast member from one of the previous Spider-Man movie series. The result is a film that feels like it has a half-dozen different plots that don't really function well together. And since it was probably written to take place after Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, nothing that Strange does makes any sense.
24. The Avengers
We all fell under the spell of this crossover even when it came out, but Joss Whedon's faux-literary dialogue and network TV-quality shot composition have really not held up at all in the decade since. The MCU's first real declaration that it was extremely serious about the shared universe thing deserved better.
23. Thor: The Dark World
TV veteran Alan Taylor did his best with a movie that packs quite a visual punch, but endless retooling (Taylor was the film's second hired director after Patty Jenkins dropped out, and major plot changes occurred in reshoots) ultimately rendered this one an incoherent mess.
22. Ant-Man & the Wasp
All the comedy of the first movie but without any kind of coherent plot. Your enjoyment of this movie will depend on whether you can put the second part out of your mind. Since I'm the sort of person who actually cares about the big picture, it really bothers me that the story is nonsense. Even Paul Rudd's considerable charms don't help.
21. Spider-Man: Far From Home
It's pretty lucky that every single character from the first movie was snapped by Thanos. It makes it very easy to not deal with the fallout from Endgame. But Jake Gyllenhaal is a great MCU villain, and it would be pretty hard to not enjoy the return of JK Simmons as J Jonah Jameson. It's still weird that its big plot twist was that it isn't a multiverse movie immediately before starting a multiverse saga.
Remember when they let Kenneth Branagh direct a Marvel movie? It's not great or anything, but it's definitely a Kenneth Branagh movie. Which is to say this whole affair has a whiff of a classy Shakespearean stage production. That's turned it increasingly into a nice little early MCU curiosity because it's so out of step with the entire rest of the franchise.
19. Captain America: The First Avenger
There's nothing really exceptional about this film, aside from its relentless competence. Its throwback visual style is a nice outlier for the MCU, its plot pretty much stays under control, and every member of the cast--from the core of Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, and Hugo Weaving on down--is great. And it's a World War II movie. If they tried to make something like this now, it would be worse.
17 (Tie). Guardians of the Galaxy 1 + 2
Is a PG-13 James Gunn movie really a James Gunn movie? There's plenty to like about both of these films, and yes, they're better Star Wars movies than any actual Star Wars flick from the Disney era. But without Gunn's edge, they're just missing something, and the result is two similarly entertaining movies that have the same fatal flaw.
16. Iron Man 2
The MCU's first sequel has a reputation for being incoherent, but it's not really any worse on that front than the vast majority of other Marvel movies. Swapping out Terrence Howard for Don Cheadle was a huge step up in terms of entertainment value--Terrence Howard is not funny at all--and Cheadle has a great rapport with RDJ from minute one. And Sam Rockwell's tech CEO with no practical skills is a character who has aged so, so well--it makes the Elon Musk cameo all the more hilarious in hindsight.
15. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Multiverse of Madness is perhaps the film most emblematic of the troubles of the MCU's Phase 4. It takes place directly after Spider-Man: No Way Home but makes only one single reference of any kind to the events of that film. It takes place after WandaVision but has Wanda repeat verbatim the exact same character arc she had on that show. And it has director Sam Raimi doing awesome Sam Raimi things for the middle hour or so of the film--but the rest of it is more of the overtuned CGI nonsense that has been such a drag on the MCU and Disney+'s Star Wars shows.
That said: the awesome Sam Raimi things might be the peak of the whole MCU. Does that make the entire movie good? No.
14. Captain America: Civil War
It's a generally pleasing action flick that is, for the most part, really well put together. It's also the movie that solidified the MCU formula, and it's tough to not hold a little bit of a grudge for that. But, to be fair, the reason why this movie became the Marvel template is because Civil War hit its spot so effectively.
13. Thor: Love and Thunder
It is basically unforgivable that they would set up Asgardians of the Galaxy in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, and then just abort it after the opening scene of Love and Thunder. But, like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there are portions of this movie that are quite awesome--the cosmic black-and-white sequence and the part with Russell Crowe's Zeus come immediately to mind. But, also like that Doctor Strange film, the movie is significantly less than the sum of its parts.
Genuinely funny heist comedy in the guise of a low-level superhero flick, the first Ant-Man is a textbook example of how the MCU should handle smaller, standalone movies--by keeping the stakes low and focused, instead of churning out yet another world-threatening baddie.
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man's first standalone adventure in the MCU is a relatively low-key high school affair with a villain who's the dad of the girl he's crushing on. It's also really funny and touching in the way that the best high school comedies usually are.
10. Black Widow
Cate Shortland put together a solid little Bourne-like spy flick that managed to make me care about a dead character's family drama. The two big CGI action sequences are both awful and unnecessary franchise insertions, but the other 85% of Black Widow's running time is quite good.
9. Avengers: Infinity War
While certainly not free of flaws, Infinity War was the last time we had an MCU film that didn't feel like it was straining the formula from the start or like it had been retrofitted with a new plot in reshoots by different filmmakers (or both). And the Snap continues to be one of the great pop culture moments of the century, because the ending really was that good.
8. Thor: Ragnarok
Taika Waititi managed to make both a pretty good Thor movie and a pretty good Taika Waititi movie at the same time, and that combination made for an excellent and extremely memorable MCU entry. And it's still the best use of Mark Ruffalo's Hulk in the entire franchise.
7. Iron Man
Before anybody had ever heard of the MCU, and before Marvel had established any kind of formula, and well before we had any sort of major expectations from the biggest movie franchise on Earth, we had a pretty normal superhero movie from the director of Elf. And it was great! Whether the MCU should have permanently modeled its entire sense of humor on Robert Downey Jr.'s performance is another discussion.
Chloe Zhao made the most aesthetically distinct film in the MCU. That alone makes it better than most of the rest of the franchise. And that cast! Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok, and Game of Thrones stars Richard Madden and Kit Harington? It's an incredibly watchable group of actors in a movie utterly unlike anything else in the MCU, and so of course the fans hated it. Their loss.
5. Iron Man 3
We can't help but pine for Shane Black's original vision--where Rebecca Hall was playing the main villain, but Marvel Comics wouldn't allow it because, according to Black, "that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female." But Guy Pearce is at least still fun as the bad guy we ended up with, and this re-pairing of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Black with Robert Downey Jr. is every bit as clever and energetic as we could have hoped for.
4. Black Panther
Director Ryan Coogler arrived in the MCU with the best version of the Marvel template we've ever seen. While its aesthetics fell firmly within the norms of the franchise, its energy and subject matter did not. And with a seething Michael B. Jordan as the baddie playing against Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa, it was basically impossible not to get sucked in.
3. Doctor Strange
A mostly self-contained movie with its own unique aesthetic that explores a corner of the MCU--alternate dimensions--that even now has yet to be meaningfully dealth with any further. Now that we're 30+ movies into this franchise, that uniqueness has helped this film age shockingly well.
2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
There are really two movies in this one. There's Ryan Coogler's Black Panther sequel, which is hands-down the best movie in the MCU. That makes up probably 80% of Wakanda Forever. The other movie is every scene involving Martin Freeman or Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and both CGI-heavy battle sequences--these parts of the film would be awful in a vacuum, but they're extra terrible when you mix these scenes in with Coogler's visionary work elsewhere.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Basically a Mission: Impossible movie in Marvel clothing, The Winter Soldier is too good for this franchise. How many other one-off performances from prestigious name actors in the MCU are we going to remember as much as we remember Robert Redford in this? Russell Crowe as Zeus is the only competition.