A few months back when the quarantine life began, I came here with my off-the-cuff rankings of all 23 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At the time, I had not watched any of the films since the holidays and had not binged them in quite some time. This helped spurn the project over at the dot com that wound up being “Marvel Week,” which has been going the last number of days as our theme for the week on the SB Nation network.
In the time since my initial ranking, SB Nation and Streaking the Lawn’s Caroline Darney and myself re-binged the movies, ranked them and seeded them for the site competition. My rankings did change upon rewatching the movies and I’m re-sharing them today with the adjustments that were made.
So here we go!
23. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
This movie hardly feels like it even exists within the timeline given that Edward Norton stopped being Bruce Banner/Hulk after this chapter of the MCU. There is a ton of cringe-worthy dialogue in here and it just kind of exists. The final fight is awesome, though. Ripping a police car in half to use as boxing gloves? That rules.
22. Iron Man 2 (2010) [Previous rank: 21]
I want to reiterate I like all of these movies, but this one is a big giant nothing-burger. There is not really a ton of growth in the character here and most of the run-time feels like it is a setup for The Avengers. If you asked me to summarize what the plot of this movie is, I honestly could not tell you. This movie took a slight dip when I rewatched it.
21. Iron Man 3 (2013) [Previous rank: 18]
I struggle with this one. It’s superior to Iron Man 2, but when you cast Ben Kingsley to be your villain, who is Iron Man’s archenemy, and he winds up being a fraud and a beer-drinking moron (sorry, it hits too close to home) it kind of feels like a slap in the face. This movie was made to be the final chapter in this Tony Stark’s story, which makes the ending and his re-appearance in Age of Ultron two years later kind of jarring. It is a decent movie, but it just does not add much to the universe for me.
20. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) [Previous rank: 22]
Most of the time, I dislike this one every additional time I watch it. This last time, I had fun with it despite its flaws. The first Avengers movie was nearly perfect in what it was as a crossover, but this is too quippy (especially James Spader’s Ultron), has an awkwardly forced romance plot thread with Black Widow and Hulk and spends too much time setting up the future. Also, in a series of films that has magic cosmic stones that can alter reality, dropping a city out of a sky as a master plan is still odd to me. This is the Iron Man 2 of Avengers movies.
19. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The dark elves are pretty dumb and Malekith is a bad villain, but I liked exploring more of Asgard. And as it turns out, this wound up being a pretty important movie in this timeline if you saw Endgame.
18. Doctor Strange (2016) [Previous rank: 16]
The special effects in this movie are awesome and despite the odd casting (at least in my opinion), Benedict Cumberbatch totally works here and he fits right in with the rest of the MCU. The drop on this list has more to do with me liking what came above it just a little bit more.
17. Captain Marvel (2019)
This is the point in the list where everything gets difficult and a tier above what we just covered. Captain Marvel is a blast, especially the 90s setting, but her place in this phase of movies is kind of odd. She’s positioned as the inspiration for the Avengers and someone who’s introduced a film before the end of the saga. It feels like we should have got her sooner, but she is awesome and I’m pumped to see what they do with her.
16. Thor (2011) [Previous rank: 20]
I was sort of surprised by how much I enjoyed this more upon a rewatch. Outside of Hemsworth’s blonde eyebrows and the weird Dutch angle shots, this movie is simple and a lot of fun. It lays a great foundation for the characters moving forward.
15. Ant-Man (2015)
This movie oozes heart and is a fairly simple heist flick, which I’m always a sucker for. Paul Rudd playing a super hero was strange to think about, but this was another Marvel casting that they nailed.
14. Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Because of the team-up aspect of this movie, along the fact that I love how they pulled off bringing several storylines together, I give this a nod over the first movie. Both Ant-Man flicks are quietly two of the most fun in the MCU.
13. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
This movie takes us all the way back to World War II and they nailed the period aspects of it and the visual style is so cool. There’s a lot of original trilogy Star Wars-feeling things in here, which is not a surprise given that director Joe Johnston worked in visual effects and art for several George Lucas and Steven Spielberg productions.
12. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
There’s a certain point in the MCU where the filmmakers basically started doing genre movies with superheroes as main characters. A lot of people are turned off by how Peter Parker is so tied to Iron Man in these movies, but at least it was something different. Taking a page out of the John Hughes “coming of age” type of films from the 1980s. was a nice breath of fresh air. Also, Michael Keaton is incredible and the twist with who he relates to in the movie was one of the most stunning in the MCU.
11. Iron Man (2008) [Previous rank: 7]
Ah yes, the one that started it all. This movie is how you take an origin story and use it to kick off a cinematic universe. There has never been a better superhero casting than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and everything from the cave sequence, the test flight, etc. is pitch perfect. It also gave us Jeff Bridges’ best line of cinematic dialogue since “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man” in The Big Lebowski. I love this movie, but it is another example of something that becomes a victim of what came after it on this list. There are too many good Marvel movies!
10. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
I had no idea how they were going to pull this off after Endgame, but they gave us about as good of a movie as they could have here. Again, it relies on Spider-Man’s relationship with Tony Stark, but handles it well coming out of the events of Endgame. The Mysterio Illusion scenes are some of the coolest I have seen in any movie ever and were done flawlessly.
9. Black Panther (2018) [Previous rank: 6]
Right off the top, I want to say the CGI in this movie is really wonky and cartoony at times. But other than that, this movie is tremendous. The obvious cultural impact it had and the fact that it even grabbed a Best Picture nomination is so impressive. There are shots in this movie, like the scope of the waterfall fight scene, that honestly darn near bring a tear to my eye and take my breath away. It is another example of what I have more fun watching outranking it.
8. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) [Previous rank: 11]
This Thor movie is ranked above all the rest because Kat Dennings isn’t in it. Ok, so actually because it is a ton of fun and Taika Waititi did something different with it. They basically made a Flash Gordon movie, except with Thor and put Cate Blanchett into the Ming role. It slid up a few spots on the list upon rewatch.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) [Previous rank: 9]
This is another one that people will yell at me is too low, but at this point, they’re all just about interchangeable based on personal preference. This is by far the biggest surprise hit in the MCU and opened things up to the cosmic side of things. Each character is cast perfectly, but for as much heart and charm as it has, Ronan is a bad villain and bringing him back in Captain Marvel didn’t add much of anything to his character, either. This movie boasts an all-time soundtrack.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) [Previous rank: 8]
I give this film the nod between the two because Kurt Russell is awesome as Ego and Michael Rooker is tremendous again as Yondu in an expanded role. The stakes are much bigger here than in the last one, yet it does not feel ridiculous (other than all of the cosmic space stuff and also another movie with a tree and a raccoon as main characters). I think this movie will age extremely well as people go back and watch.
5. The Avengers (2012)
This movie had to work for everything that came after it to be successful and boy, did it ever work. This was a masterclass in the results of building an interconnected phase of filmmaking and the third act is some of the most fun you will ever have watching a movie. Everybody has a moment to shine and nobody (except for maybe Hawkeye) gets the short end of the stick. It’s weird to think how low the stakes were here compared to what came after it, but there is so much beauty in how simple it is.
4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
We’ll call this the “Russo Brothers Tier” seeing as they make up the rest of this list. It has come to my attention recently that there are people who do not like Civil War and that is sort of odd. Maybe because some of their heroes took a side they did not want them to take, I love how they mixed this in as both a breakup of the Avengers team and also the third part in Captain America’s trilogy (but obviously not the end of his story). The fight scene at the airport tops everything that had come before it, but it’s not even the best fight in the film despite how fun it is. That would be the Iron Man-Cap-Winter Soldier fight at the end, which is a gut punch and feels like your uncles throwing down at family dinner.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
We spoke before about how some of the more recent Marvel movies fit into sort of a style or genre. That certainly applies here, as this is a political thriller of sorts. Here, we truly get to see how Steve Rodgers is adjusting to modern life as a “man out of time” and finding out everything he stood far prior to this movie was kind of thrown out the window. The action sequences are the best of any solo film in the MCU, the twists are all great and the way this movie threw everything out of whack going into the next Avengers film could not have set things up more perfectly (which is kind of why Avengers 2 bothers me so much).
2. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
This is The Empire Strikes Back of the MCU, yet on a much more massive scale, obviously. Half the population of the world is wiped away and the bad guys win, leaving the world in chaos that has to somehow be undone with the next movie. This movie does not slow down or give anyone time to catch up and rewards those who had seen everything else leading up to it. For as great as the Avengers film that followed it was, this might be the most re-watchable of the two because every single scene has you on the edge of your seat. It also gave us (to that point) the best MCU moment to date.
1. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Maybe it’s recency bias, but Marvel had the impossible task of trying to stick the landing on this saga and they did it perfectly. We knew that we would wind up seeing everything reverse and our heroes saving the day at the end, but they still found a way to make it shocking, heartbreaking, thrilling and more in three hours of movie. Despite that, it never feels like it overstays its welcome and even with the the weight of this entire universe on its shoulders, it finds time to breathe and send everyone off in logical, sometimes stunning ways. I saw this movie at 8 a.m. on the Friday of opening weekend in IMAX, yet the theater was packed and it was like being at a playoff game. I have never been so exhausted by a theatrical experience in all of the best ways.
So there you have it. You might be seeing more on this topic from me in the near future, but feel free to chime in below in the comments section