Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies

Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe still has four more movies to go, but I feel like it’s a good time for a ranking since several movies have been released in this part of the franchise’s schedule.

Just a note, this will only be about the movies. The only MCU series I’ve watched are “Wandavision” and “Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” and I don’t have much interest in the rest.

Also, keep in mind that when it comes to the top 15 or so, some of the films become a little interchangeable. Film is subjective and evolving interpretation, it’s not an exact science or mathematical. So when I have one movie in front of another, there are cases where it’s only barely so.

Most importantly, there will be spoilers.

29. Eternals (2021)

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Chloe Zhao is a wonderfully talented director. I thought her 2017 film “The Rider” was powerful and I named “Nomadland” my No. 1 movie of 2020. Yet her venture into the MCU turned out to be the weakest entry in the series.

I can appreciate the effort the movie puts in trying to build all of these characters and making sure they have personality. Yet the way the movie goes about this feels far too repetitive.

So many scenes are just the main character recruiting others. They find that person, ask them to join, there will be a flashback and then the Eternal in question will get on board. It’s like watching a two-hour “let’s get the band back together” montage.

The film is lacking in other areas, too. Angelina Jolie is wasted playing a character with little personality, there’s a big evil force in the universe that feels more exhausting than imposing considering world ending threats in previous Marvel movies, and the humor really undercuts much of the emotional weight in the picture.

Even the action wasn’t all that impressive, and the designs of the monsters left a lot to be desired.

28. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

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Remember that show “Pimp My Ride,” where X to the Z Xhibit would have a shop “fix” up an old car? But in reality all they did was a put on a new coat of paint, some shiny rims and a new speaker system, instead of the engine actually being fully repaired? That’s kind of the case with “Doctor Strange” 2.

The Marvel formula has a lot of miles on it, it’s starting to show a bit of wear and tear. So, notable filmmaker Sam Raimi comes in and leaves his mark on the MCU, bringing his visual style and flair to the table. But that was only like putting a new coat of paint on. Simply put, “Multiverse” is high on style, low on substance.

The film is only driven by plot devices, like the main characters having to get a book to do a thing. It’s also terribly tied up by the MCU network, one has to have watched “Wandavision” to know what’s going on, there’s some Marvel cameos trotted out and it ends with a teaser for a sequel. No, not a post credit scenes. It ends by teasing the next movie.

A lot of it felt like it was studio-driven. Sure, it has Raimi’s style on display, but it still feels like a cog in the machine. It also seemed like Marvel assassinated Wanda’s character, not just making her an anti-hero or a figure that straddles that line between good and bad, but making her downright evil.

27. Black Widow (2021)

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I really do feel bad for Black Widow. She was the third Avenger introduced in the MCU, after Iron Man and Hulk, yet she wouldn’t appear in a solo film until 11 years after her first entry.

Sadly, her only stand-alone film is one of the MCU’s weakest. What’s worse, it really didn’t have to be. Black Widow is a spy, and there’s so much filmmakers can do with the genre.

You can have a suave spy with impressive gadgets who has plenty of quips like James Bond. Or you can go with the gritty, serious approach, used in the “Bourne” films.

But what audiences got in this film about Marvel’s deadly spy was basically a family sitcom. So much of the movie was Natasha having a sibling rivalry with her sister and learning to work with her goofy dad.

When “Black Widow” isn’t playing out like an episode of “Full House,” it’s dealing with a rather lame story. One just thought that Black Widow was a codename that Natasha has, but there are actually a ton of other widows, and they all have some type of mind control thing and can be used by a bad guy who doesn’t really have a goal other than being HYDRA-lite.

This could have been a really interesting movie, featuring Black Widow on a dangerous mission, where she has to go back into the dark spy world one last time to take out some type of threat. And have her do it on her own, so the movie is actually about Black Widow, and not her clear replacement for the future of the MCU.

Maybe have a more grounded final action set piece, too. But I guess they needed a giant floating sky lab to explode. That didn’t really make the movie any better, though.

26. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

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“Thor: Love and Thunder” was quite a disappointment, considering how strong the third installment was. The whole movie is underwhelming, for a number of reasons.

The movie is about “the power of love,” yet the loving relationships on screen seem underdeveloped. We barely get to know Gorr’s daughter, who’s the catalyst of the movie, and Jane has been missing from the MCU for nearly a decade, so her suddenly returning and rekindling a romance with Thor isn’t as endearing.

The latter is also undercut by the film’s excessive humor, as the movie does more to make jokes around the awkwardness of being with an ex again, rather than just an honest look at a relationship. A lot of the humor is just the same joke getting repeated, too.

I don’t mind there being humor in this either, “Ragnarok” had it, too. But “Ragnarok” also had much more meaning and subtext, while “Love and Thunder” feels shallow.

Additionally, there’s little urgency in the movie, despite a group of children being kidnapped. I’m not sure if I particularly like the end of the film, either, where Thor is raising a little girl who, again, we barely know, to be a deadly killer. Like, the parenting in “Kick-Ass” wasn’t supposed to be a good example.

25. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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The direct “Thor” sequel has been a bit of an MCU punching bag, often ending up near the bottom of these lists. I tend to agree with the take. I think there’s certainly some bright spots in “The Dark World,” such as the complicated brotherhood between Thor and Loki, especially the part where they fake-out the villain in the second act.

Thor has less of a character arc for himself this time around, though. In the first movie he went from being a spoiled prince and a war hawk to a warrior prepared to fight for just reasons. This time around his character’s journey is played a bit too loose.

It also didn’t help that the villain was completely forgettable. Powerful, sure, but with the personality of a block of wood.

The supporting cast left a lot to be desired, too. Jane’s fellow scientists are there for only comic relief, so they don’t add all that much, while Thor’s Asgardian friends are all pretty generic.

I was at least happy with the final action sequence which involved jumping between different planets and locations constantly, with Thor’s hammer struggling to keep up.

24. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

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“Shang-Chi” got off to a good start. It introduced some good fantasy elements at the beginning and immediately follows things up by introducing a protagonist who seems like an everyman.

We as an audience know Shang-Chi has a past where he learned martial arts, but him living a normal, working life and his friendship with Katy make things feel grounded, relatable and realistic. And then the first fight starts and he’s fighting on a train, using his surroundings to his advantage, reminiscent of old Jackie Chan pictures.

Then a guy with a laser sword for a hand shows up. From there, the movie’s quality starts to dip. The second act for example, could have been an interesting segment revolving around Shang Chi and his father, with the two being at odds, yet the movie spends more time seemingly tying up loose ends from “Iron Man 3.”

Then the third act is a lot of exposition about a magical world connected to Earth and a subplot where Katy randomly learns to become an archer despite never even showing interest in the art. Again, the opening scene made it seem like this was going to be a grounded film with mystical martial arts displayed in a modern setting.

Instead, it’s a CGI fest in a world that feels completely separated from our own. It’s still a fine action/adventure film, I gave it a 3 out of 5, but it felt like it could have been a lot more.

23. Iron Man 3 (2013)

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“Iron Man 3” has its fair share of positives. Stark dealing with PTSD from the Battle of New York and having (justified) fear of a future invasion adds a good layer of depth to a character who’s normally been extremely confident.

It makes the character more vulnerable, and a viewer can appreciate his struggles. The movie also has Tony solving problems without his suit, and it’s entertaining watching him overcome obstacles with his mind.

However, the movie also has many issues. One of them being the little kid sidekick who shows up just for the second act. It just seemed too sappy and out of place for this action picture.

There’s also quite a few shifts in tone that a person can nearly have whiplash. The biggest example being a part where Tony thinks Pepper, the love of his life, died, and then not long after he makes a quip. You’d think Stark would be in a rage and summon all his remaining suits available to absolutely crush Killian. Honestly, I thought Iron Man attacked Thanos with more vigor.

However, the biggest issue was the villain. I get why they wanted to change the villain, since the actual Mandarin in the source material is a racial stereotype. But, the route they take is awful.

Trevor Slattery being a front for the actual bad guy? Fine, but did he have to be a total moron in reality? The main villain wasn’t much better, either. Killian wanted revenge because Tony skipped a meeting? Kind of poor motivation, and it’s not like he has a clear goal, other than wanting more power by kidnapping the president, even though he’s already rich.

By the way, did Killian really think he could get away with this long term? Even if you bench Iron Man and War Machine, he’d still have to deal with Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor and the Hulk. It was a nonsensical plan which ultimately makes the conflict of the film feel flimsy.

22. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Director Joss Whedon had a heavy task with the second “Avengers.” On top of telling the Ultron story, he also had to fully introduce the Infinity Stones, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.

The result is a film that feels bloated and disjointed, as it’s clear some of the storytelling revolves around building bridges to future MCU projects. That’s not the only issues, though, as the film seems a bit too dedicated to the humor.

I get it’s a Marvel staple, but Tony making jokes during his fight with the Hulk when there’s the potential for several civilians to be killed in the mayhem was a bit much. The same is true for Ultron.

Despite having a great voice provided by James Spader, Ultron makes far too many jokes during the film. Have him be a cold, deadly robot, Terminator style.

What I did appreciate were some of the character interactions that show increasing divisions on the team. Tony and Steve have arguments where they both show how much they want to do what’s right, but also why they have disagreements. It’s good stuff.

I also appreciated the potential romance between Bruce and Natasha, as both of them finally feel comfortable with the Avengers team after years of being on their own.

The action is solid, too. Some of the combo attacks featured, such as Thor batting Cap’s shield with Mjolnir into several Ultron robots is great.

21. Thor (2011)

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“Thor” is a film about becoming humble. The God of Thunder is a good guy, but having been raised in a culture with a history of war and conquest, as well as being a prince who was able to get away with a lot in his life, meant he needed to learn a lesson.

He gets that on Earth in meaningful ways. It’s represented both in Thor’s acceptance that he can’t lift his hammer and his interactions with people of Earth, whether it’s him going out for drinks with Erik or starting a romance with Jane.

Tom Hiddleston was also a great addition as Loki, and his schemes to get the throne add a Shakespearean element to the picture.

Like the “Dark World,” though, the supporting cast leaves a bit to be desired. Sif and the Warriors Three are so damn forgettable, and Kat Dennings’ Darcy has always been a bit too much.

The film is also rather small in scale. By this point “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2” and “Incredible Hulk” had all been out, and each of them featured a plethora of locations and major battles. Here, the film is mostly contained to New Mexico and the big battles don’t feel as impactful.

20. Iron Man 2 (2010)

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“Iron Man 2” was kind of like “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The director-writer team of Jon Favreau and Justin Theroux had to do some heavy lifting for the MCU, not only telling an Iron Man story, but building up Shield, Black Widow, Nick Fury and the continued development of the Avengers Initiative.

It all makes the sequel feel a bit too overstuffed. Because, on top of that, the film also wants to expand on Tony and Pepper’s romance, Rhodes becoming War Machine, Stark’s irresponsibility and his arc reactor impacting his health.

I do appreciate Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, though, who’s clearly a Stark wannabe. The film’s other villain, Whiplash, is pretty good as well.

While his final battle with the heroes is a bit anticlimactic, his fight with Iron Man on the track is awesome and his comments about “making God bleed” in his conversation with Tony in the aftermath is a highlight.

It was great to see both War Machine and Iron Man fighting the drones back-to-back, too. It could have gone on longer, for sure, but seeing them in action together was a real treat.

19. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

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“Spider-Man: Far From Home” was a nice little wrap-up for the Infinity Saga. It dealt with some of the fallout from “Endgame” and told a superhero story through a fun road trip comedy.

What hurts the picture is the villain, or villains for that matter. The villains in “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” “Iron Man 3” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” were all guys who were burned by Tony Stark. The fact that the MCU went to that well again for Mysterio not only felt creatively empty, but also unnecessary.

How about Mysterio is just a guy who’s a megalomaniac who wants the attention of being a super hero and happens to have the tech to put it together? Or, what if he has a personal grudge against the Parkers?

I get that this Peter was very much an understudy of Tony, but couldn’t he get his own villain? It undercuts this really being Peter’s fight.

Also disappointing was the post-credit scene which reveals both Nick Fury and Maria Hill were Skrull aliens for a certain amount of time. We as an audience have been following Hill and Fury at this point for nearly a decade, and we see them having some great moments here.

Then the rug is pulled out from under the viewer, as the audience learns that the characters they’ve grown attached to weren’t actually those characters.

Fortunately, the interactions between the main protagonists are really good, the humor is on point, the action is entertaining and the budding romance between Peter and MJ is endearing.

18. Ant-Man (2015)

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The MCU had reached quite a grand scale by the time “Ant-Man” came around, so it was refreshing to see a more grounded film that didn’t have world-ending implications. Making it a heist movie also gave the film a unique angle, and watching a character learn how to use their new abilities or equipment is often compelling, and it’s true again here.

I just wish they had followed through with the heist aspect, because it’s pretty much abandoned when things go south during the big attempt and the protagonists have to fight their way out. The villain’s development from shady business man to ruthless killer was also rather rushed.

Still, this film is a good time. It’s a movie about second chances and both father-daughter relationships featured are heartfelt. The final battle in a child’s play-set was also fun and the three characters who work with Scott are a riot.

17. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

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This sequel is about on the same level of its predecessor. However, it has one advantage, a battle couple.

It was awesome seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp work together in the film, and it’s something that’s been a bit of a rarity in the MCU. Seeing a couple be superheroes and overcoming obstacles together was a real treat.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly have good chemistry on screen together, too, so their relationship works. Another aspect that works are the returning trio of Ant-Man’s business associates.

I think adding the Ghost plot was giving the movie more than it could chew, though. There’s already drama in the film from the protagonists trying to save Hope’s mom and evading the authorities, as well as the black market dealers.

Speaking of which, I think this would have been a great opportunity to bring back Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, who could have played the black market arms dealer, rather than the character they had.

16. Doctor Strange (2016)

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Doctor Strange’s entrance to the MCU was quite good. It works so well, juggling both Strange learning new powers, becoming more heroic in the process, and introducing a whole new fantastical world.

Like “Thor” and “Iron Man,” the “Strange” movie is also about a person being humbled. In this case, Strange has his life of being a top notch surgeon stripped away and has to basically start over.

He does this by going back to his roots, in a way. The Ancient One reminds Strange that he got to where he was by being studios and learning, which is just what he does.

He channels some med school energy and bulldozes through spell books, reawakening who he used to be, the guy who wanted to help people. That’s ultimately what he does in the end, making for a satisfying hero’s journey.

I was a bit disappointed with the supporting cast, though. Rachel McAdams’s Christine Palmer was an underutilized romantic interest. Karl Mordo played by Chiwetel Ejiofor was a rather dull character, to the point where he wasn’t all that necessary to the picture. His role could have just been filled by having Wong’s screentime increased.

I did appreciate how the film’s conflict is resolved, though. Instead of a big fight where the bad guy is punched into submission, Strange negotiates and eventually makes a deal to eliminate the threat in a clever way. Plus, the mind-bending visuals are superb.

15. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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There’s plenty to enjoy in “Captain America: Civil War,” from the great introduction of Black Panther to the interesting debates between Tony and Steve on how the Avengers should operate. It’s a good movie and the tension because of the conflict at play makes it a captivating feature.

However, the film also is plagued by issues that make it difficult to fully enjoy. Maybe the biggest issue is how much luck is involved in Zemo’s plan.

What if his code with the Winter Soldier didn’t work? What if Iron Man didn’t flip out when he saw the video tape and stayed committed to the mission? What if the Accords weren’t set up to be passed, meaning there’s less tension with the Avengers? It just seemed like there were too many convenient coincidences.

The movie also suffers because of how the big battle at the airport isn’t taken all that seriously. All the characters are making jokes as they fight each other, and what should be a gut-wrenching moment doesn’t have the impact it should.

The film is still benefited, though, by a really compelling final fight and the strong performances from the cast, especially by Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr.

14. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

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“Homecoming” was the first “Spider-Man” film where Peter Parker actually felt like a real high school student experiencing life at that age. So a viewer can enjoy a high school comedy that also happens to be an entertaining action picture.

It’s has all the heart and humor that a good coming of age, high school flick should, and it delivers on the action, too. What makes the latter interesting to watch is that Spider-Man hasn’t quite got the hero business down yet, but his heart is in the right place, so it’s like watching a rookie develop on the field.

I was also happy to see Michael Keaton continue his career resurgence with his take on the Vulture. He has some really great moments, especially the scene where he meets Peter.

Keaton’s characters turn to being a villain seemed a bit underdeveloped to me, though, and I would have appreciated that being explored more. I also think Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan character is completely unnecessary in the movie, since we really don’t need a middle-man in the mentor-student relationship of Tony and Peter.

Overall, though, “Homecoming” is a really solid entry.

13. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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“Captain America: The First Avenger” was less a superhero film and more of a World War II epic. To be fair, the superhero genre is definitely present, but it’s told through a WWII lens.

The film certainly captures that era, with an aesthetic similar to other WWII movies, such as “Saving Private Ryan.” I’m not comparing the two films, obviously, but the look of the film, with the grime and grit of war is on point, as is the muted color pallet.

What the film gets really right is portraying Captain America as a man with a heart of gold who’s willing to fight for the greater good, but never appears as jingoistic. While he wears a uniform different from the rest, with the stars and stripes present, he sees himself as another soldier in the fight against fascism and never considers himself as above anybody.

Chris Evans was a great pick for Captain America and the supporting cast is solid. Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as the tough as nails commanding officer, Hugo Weaving fits as the Red Skull, Sebastian Stan is great as the rugged soldier Bucky, and Hayley Atwell works as the iron-willed Peggy Carter.

While the story can go into some generic territory, it still succeeds as a strong introduction to the First Avenger.

12. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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The fact that this is rated a 2.5 out of 5 on the film site Letterboxd is a shame in my opinion. “The Incredible Hulk” is a really good man-on-the-run type film with a very reluctant hero.

The film is reminiscent of the “Bourne” movies, with a smart protagonist who can think critically and get out of trouble, but mostly just wants to lay low. Of course, being a “Hulk” film, one also expects it to deliver some big smashing action, and it does.

It plays that hand slowly, though, building it up. The Hulk’s first appearance is in the shadows, almost like a monster. The next is in an open field where he’s taking on the military but isn’t going all out, and then in the finale, Hulk is let loose against Abomination, a foe who can go toe-to-toe with Banner’s alter ego.

It is true that the movie’s CGI looks dated, so the Hulk and Abomination don’t appear entirely convincing. Also, the romance is one of the weaker relationships featured in the MCU.

I think Liv Tyler is fine in the role, but their scenes together don’t quite have the chemistry as others that have been featured in these pictures. I did think Edward Norton was great as Bruce, though, capturing how the character is stressed and tortured because of his issue.

William Hurt is also spot on as General Ross, and Tim Roth captures the egotistical, violent nature that pushes his character into becoming Abomination.

11. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

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Did this movie have some nostalgia bait? Yes. Tasty, delicious nostalgia bait. It was a sensational experience seeing all of the Spider-Men we as an audience have come to know work together on screen, taking down their classic villains in the process.

However, “No Way Home” didn’t just rely on its characters from past motion pictures. The movie was very much a film about the MCU Peter Parker, and gave him his biggest struggles of the series.

Like the other MCU “Spider-Man” pictures, it captures a period in someone’s youth, this time with high school seniors applying for college and having the fear of what the future can bring. It also has a grand adventure with love and loss, all of it leading to Peter growing greatly as a character.

It can’t be expressed enough how well the ending of the movie brings everything together perfectly, too. The finale of the movie is rather melancholy, considering what the web-slinger has gone through, but the Spider-Man at the conclusion has been made stronger and the future in front of him is full of possibility.

10. Captain Marvel (2019)

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Sometimes critics of “Captain Marvel” claim its lead character doesn’t seem to have an arc. She’s powerful throughout the entire film and some see that as a detriment, because she doesn’t have as much of an obstacle to overcome when it comes to the villains.

However, that kind of misses the internal struggle that Carol goes through in the film. After being completely brainwashed, she is rediscovering who she was, and is. Her Vers alter ego is torn down in the movie, and she has to bring back who she was, while keeping what she had learned, to build the new Carol.

Brie Larson is solid in the lead role, too, bringing the right level of confidence to the character. Remember that movie “Top Gun” and its sequel with some guy named Tom Cruise? The pilots in those films were cocky thrill seekers who ultimately had a heart of gold. Carol Danvers very much has that type of personality, and she brings it to a super hero level, which is all captured by Larson.

The 2019 feature also works thanks to its buddy cop-like framework. Carol and Nick Fury make a good duo, and the film’s quality improves when they team up as partners.

It also helps that the movie has a kick ass soundtrack.

9. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

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When I wrote my review of “Endgame,” I compared the movie to a plate of Buffalo wings or a rack of BBQ ribs: it’s messy, but satisfying. The movie has a lot going on and can be a bit disjointed at times.

Shifting back and forth from some of the Avengers in the setting of the 2012 film and then going to another place in time can be a bit jarring. It just doesn’t all come together as smoothly as “Infinity War” did.

I think the film also suffers from not having as good of a villain, since the Thanos we see battle the Avengers isn’t the same one from the last movie. He doesn’t seem as complex as the version in “Infinity War” and him being so driven to destroy Earth when he doesn’t have the same experiences from the last film didn’t seem right.

However, there’s just so damn much to enjoy in the flick. Tony and Steve arguing in the beginning and getting it all on the table, before they later put their differences aside and work together again was compelling stuff. The scene where Tony gives Steve the shield back was a really meaningful moment.

Showing Thor’s struggles was also good considering what he’s gone through. His mom, brother and friend were all killed, his father died, his homeworld was destroyed and most of Asgard’s population was slaughtered. He had the chance to stop some of it and didn’t, so when he begs to be the one to do the restore snap, it’s heartfelt.

Speaking of which, it was also great to see Hulk get his big moment with that snap, being the one who could pull it off. All the strife he’s been through from being exposed to the gamma radiation all those years ago finally paid off with him bringing back trillions of lives.

Oh yeah, it also had the epic battle to determine the fate of the whole universe featuring the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ravagers and the Masters of the Mystic Arts. It’s one of the most amazing action film events in memory, leading to a great conclusion and a powerful send-off.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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James Gunn deserves a lot of credit for managing to make such a good sequel, proving the first wasn’t just lightning in a bottle. He kept the essence of the previous film, with the music, the humor and the personality all in tact, while still moving the Guardians forward meaningfully.

Peter’s romance with Gamora is advanced, and the latter of the two characters is also able to start making amends with her sister. Rocket finds a new mentor to give him perspective in Yondu, and Drax finds a new friend with the same level of social skills he has in Mantis.

Plus, Baby Groot is adorable.

The film also features a great exploration of the relationship between father and son, or father figure and son. Finding out why Yondu didn’t bring Peter to Ego and his line “he may have been your father boy, but he wasn’t your daddy” had so much meaning to it.

The film is also beautiful visually, from the bountiful action to the finale during Yondu’s funeral.

7. Black Panther (2018)

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“Black Panther” had some sketchy CGI at times and I really wasn’t a fan of Ulysses Klaue, but other than that, the film excels. The action set-pieces are exceptional, especially a chase through the streets of Busan in South Korea.

The dramatic elements in the picture are strong, too, with a pair of men fighting for a throne they both have the right to. It’s also strengthened by its social commentary, which is about not only the Black experience, but the complexities of geopolitics as well.

This is well portrayed by both the film’s idealistic hero and its radicalized villain. Black Panther confronting his fathers and forefathers about how Wakanda turned its back on the world, as well as Killmonger’s final words before death about how he should be buried, are just a couple examples of gripping scenes.

The movie is also benefited by a superb soundtrack, as well as fantastic set and costume design.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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“Guardians of the Galaxy” seemed like a tough thing to adapt. A green-skinned assassin, a raccoon, a tree man and a guy who calls himself Star Lord all working together onscreen seamlessly?

Well, James Gunn pulled it off nicely. With good humor and even more heart, the Guardians of the Galaxy were all brought to life with tremendous personality, thanks both to the writing and the stellar cast.

It’s an absolute blast to watch the movie unfold, as these characters develop trust for each other over the course of a fun, expansive adventure. It’s also worthy of praise because of the fantastic soundtrack that’s used exceptionally well throughout the feature.

The acting, both on screen and in the recording booth for voices made the characters feel genuine. By the end, the camaraderie between them all makes it a special movie.

5. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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“Ragnarok” was an energetic entry in the MCU, full of great comedic moments. But there was really more going on with the film than just its memorable humor and action, though.

Thor’s arc, for example, is engaging, as he comes to terms with the fact that he has to be a leader for his people even when he doesn’t feel entirely ready. The film also features a Bruce Banner who is absolutely tired of fighting and is lost in more ways than one.

The movie’s character roster is well rounded with Valkyrie, who decides to confront her painful past and Loki, whose eyes are finally opened to the fact that he can be more than just someone who causes mischief.

Just as important is the film having its characters acknowledge Asgard’s past, as viewers learn that the extravagant home-world of Thor with its gold palaces was built through war, conquest and colonization.

It creates an interesting dynamic, with Hela wanting Asgard to re-embrace its history of war and continue it, while Thor wants it to be a benevolent kingdom. Not only does it add more in terms of world building and intrigue, it’s also commentary about how many nations in reality have built themselves on bloodshed, and that those historical elements have to be acknowledged.

The movie also features some amazing action set pieces, the Thor Vs. Hulk fight and the God of Thunder using his lightning powers to their full extent being highlights.

4. Iron Man (2008)

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The first MCU film is still one of its best. RDJ was so wonderfully cast that he almost makes the whole movie work by himself. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to.

The writing team made a fun and entertaining action film while also giving Tony a fine arc. Stark convincingly goes from a cocky playboy billionaire who has no issues with being labeled the “merchant of death,” to a cocky playboy billionaire who turns away from making weapons and looks to help the world after helping blow it up for years.

The movie allows Tony to still be Tony. He’s going to be an arrogant smart ass, yet he also wants to move in a new direction after having his eyes open while in captivity.

On top of Stark’s transformation, it’s also just engaging to watch him at work, especially in the cave. Seeing his genius on display as he builds a miniature power reactor and then follows that up by making a suit of armor that can fly from old missile parts and war scraps keeps a person tuned in.

I do think the film goes a route that’s a bit too predictable with its third act and final battle, but it really helps that the villain was played by the great Jeff Bridges. The cast is well rounded by Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow as James Rhodes and Pepper Potts, respectively.

Oh yeah, and it looks awesome. Watch this today, the Iron Man scenes still hold up, especially his first real battle. The first flight scene is also phenomenal.

3. The Avengers (2012)

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I grew up watching a lot of Marvel animation, where their well known characters would cross-over. For example, in the “Spider-Man” animated series, both Iron Man and Captain America show up on screen together to help the web-slinger.

I had been wanting to see it brought to life on the big screen in live action for a long time, but I also knew the risk involved. Could something like this really work? When you put these characters together on screen, it could certainly be a total mess. Thankfully, what we got was more than what audiences could have hoped for.

Outside of an opening that felt a tad rushed, “The Avengers” is a seamless cinematic event, where larger than life characters are brought together and fit  perfectly like a puzzle with all its pieces. Taking care of those characters with good writing and making sure their interactions worked was what made this excel, too.

Iron Man and Captain America are two men who want to help people and care about the world, but come from vastly different backgrounds and ideologies. The film features them banter, bicker and eventually work together, because they realize they have the same goals despite coming from different places.

This exists with other characters, too. Tony connects in a great way with Bruce not only because they’re brilliant scientists, but also for the fact their pushing the limits of technology and science has landed them with a life changing problem that they can turn into something useful.

One should also note the clear respect that builds between Thor and Captain America, as they both see each other as warriors who’ve seen battle before and both see themselves as fighting for  a good cause.

Yes, the humor goes a long way in keeping an audience in a light mood for a total romp and the action delivers from start to finish, but it’s how well the characters are written, how they all maintain their personalities and how those personalities interact is what makes the movie stick with you.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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“Winter Solider” shot up to the top end of the MCU list when it hit theaters and it has firmly stayed there in the eight years since. The film is less a superhero movie and more a grounded espionage action feature.

The spy genre is ever present, with Captain America and Black Widow having to go on a black ops mission at the start, followed by them having to lay low and go undercover as they’re made enemies of SHIELD. While being very much about the modern world, though, it also brings something from the past in the HYDRA organization.

An old secret society infiltrating a government institution gives the movie a sort of conspiracy-vibe, adding to the covert atmosphere. Where the first “Captain America” worked as a WWII epic, this one is successful as an action film for our time period, very much touching on the intelligence apparatus that has existed since the Patriot Act was established.

The action is top notch, from a great chase scene with Nick Fury to a gritty battle on a highway with all of the major characters. However, it’s the previously mentioned themes as well as the strong characters that really makes this movie work.

Captain America still being the boy scout who believes in freedom and liberty without acting jingoistic, being challenged on if his commitment to those values can work in a modern setting, and proving they can by his conviction to doing the right thing and taking down the corrupt SHIELD, is a great way to bring the character to the present day.

The supporting characters are on point, too. The Winter Soldier is a threatening antagonist and it’s compelling to watch Black Widow continuing to evolve from cold spy to righteous warrior.

Anthony Mackie was also a fantastic addition as Falcon, connecting with Cap right away about life as a soldier, and it was awesome to have Robert Redford as the big bad, too.

1. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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I thought “Avengers” was ambitious, but “Infinity War” goes above and beyond its 2012 counterpart. The third “Avengers” picture is massive in scope and cast.

There are more than 20 superhero characters alone when you include the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and Masters of the Mystic Arts. It also spans across not only numerous locations on Earth, but different areas of space, too.

Yet it all comes together so smoothly. I think a perfect example of how well everything gels is when the Guardians are introduced. This takes place long after several events have taken place in the movie, yet the Guardians arrival doesn’t make the film feel like we’re still just getting started because more characters are being introduced. Instead, it’s a very natural story progression that fits nicely in place to the overall narrative.

This happens a lot throughout the film. One example is the remaining Avengers deciding to go to Wakanda followed by Black Panther himself approaching the Winter Soldier to get him ready for the upcoming battle. Another is the battle of Wakanda turning south and getting more dire just as hope is building with Thor and company making Stormbreaker. It all fits together without a hitch and the pacing is very well done.

Like the other team up pictures, the film also works thanks to its heroes. Iron Man being confronted with the threat he’s been trying to be prepared for over the last several years, Captain America having to come back into the spotlight for the greater good, Thor’s grief-driven quest for revenge, Gamora’s past trauma and much more is all captured in this movie, adding to the depth.

That’s true with the villain as well, since Thanos is convinced what he’s doing is right and for the betterment of the universe. He even outwardly says he has respect for Tony after their battle and doesn’t kill any of the Avengers directly aside from Vision, choosing to simply subdue them instead. It’s a complex take for the main antagonist of the whole franchise to that point.

The film has been compared to “Empire Strikes Back” as our heroes are split up, face great adversity and end up losing at the conclusion. It’s a fair comparison, and another reason the film works so well. It’s a powerful, moving tragedy that unfolds on screen, sticking with an audience long after it’s over.

While “Endgame” had the biggest battle with all the characters together, I’d argue the more desperate battles of “Infinity War” were more engaging, and the film itself will remain the pinnacle of this franchise for years to come.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

One thought on “Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies”

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