The definitive list of one insane man’s opinion on what are the best films out of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Over the past decade, Marvel and now Disney have put out some of the most high profile films of their respective years. Some of these have become economic titans that have dominated the box office. There has never been a bad Marvel film, but some aren’t as good as the others. And others still are Iron Man 2 which rise just above the level of, “it kind of sucks,” to reach to coveted position of, “oh yeah, I forgot about that one; it was alright.” Without being able to come up with any more filler, here is the definitive and 100% correct listing of the MCU films.
21. Iron Man 2
There are a couple of contenders for the worst film of the MCU, but this one has to take the cake. Iron Man 2 came two years after the original Iron Man and was only the third film in then fledgling MCU. It has what is likely the worst villain in the entire MCU in the form of Whiplash, a guy who liked birds and…whips? Nobody knows, but this film suffers the most as it feels the most like a corporate product of any of the 20 Marvel films.
20. The Incredible Hulk
Remember this one? It was so good that they made some other guy Bruce Banner the next time he appeared on the screen. Well, that is not entirely true, as Edward Norton may have left somewhat of his own accord so as to not be tied down by franchise obligations for a long time. Regardless, this is the only film that has featured the Hulk in the lead role, and there are several reasons for that. One is Universal still retains some of the rights, but the other is that this film didn’t really leave people wanting more either. The Hulk has proven to work wonders in limited time as a big accessory to the larger chaos happening in these cinematic battles, but his own film may overexpose the character.
19. Thor: The Dark World
While not the worst of the Marvel films, it is certainly the most forgettable. The villain in this one was some sort of…elf?…man?….guy? it doesn’t matter, as only the most hardcore of fans would even be able to tell you his name. I saw the film just a couple of months ago, and am struggling to remember key aspects of it. This was the low point for Thor as a character, as it appeared that he may have been destined to fall down the same hole as The Hulk before being revitalized a few years later.
18. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The bar was set very high for this one. The first Avengers was the ambitious culmination of everything Marvel had been building over the previous four years, and it achieved great success as a result. Age of Ultron suffers from the strange paradox of feeling as though it had too much going on, and not enough happening at the same time. The pacing of the film is way off as it has to 1000 miles an hour in order to cram everything in the already lengthy 2 hours and 20 minute run time. But we never really got to understand Ultron’s reasoning for doing anything in the film. He claims he wanted mankind to evolve, but for what reason? Was he scared of something? Did he just want to make some cooler people? And how exactly would dropping a city accomplish all of this. It cam be implied after that fact that he learned of Thanos via the Mind Stone, but lacking that info at the time hurt the impact of his actions, and of this film as a whole.
The first outing for the God of Thunder, and some of the issues that would eventually plague the sequel are present here. The films is just kind of dull overall. Thor was not all that interesting of a character, though this was helped a bit with by the fish-out-of-water plot structure. Marvel has been able to achieve the success it has because of how well it knows it’s characters, but looking back, it is apparent that they didn’t know Thor well enough- at least how he should be portrayed early on in these films. He didn’t really feel as though he belonged in the same way that Iron Man or Captain America did, and it is only recently that the character has really been able to come into his own.
16. Captain America: The First Avenger
It is at this point in the list where the number of negatives starts to dwindle, and the overall quality of each film starts to take over. The first entry for Captain America had a very good start to go along with an alright middle and an ok ending. A common theme of many of these early Marvel films is that the villains always took a back seat to the heroes in terms of quality, and that is no exception here, as, in spite of being one of Marvels most recognizable villains, Red Skull just didn’t menacing or well developed. To go along with this, the very promising first half gave way to a lackluster series of military sequences featuring Cap’s little team. And like Thor, Captain America was still in the process of having his character developed fully, and wouldn’t truly come into his own until later.
15. Doctor Strange
The first example of mysticism and magic in the MCU. Stunning visual effects and sequences were the highlight of this film, with the characterization of the Sorcerer Supreme coming in second. Once again, the film is brought down by a less than stellar villain, but he is not as bad as some others, and his actions and motivations are at least well understood. The largest setback for the film were the glaring tonal inconsistencies that plagued the film like an infection. Every nice moment of solid tension or anticipation would be broken up with some kind of stupid joke or quip. This was when it appeared as though the lighthearted Disney aspects of these films would begin to be their undoing, when it would actually go on to be Star Wars’ undoing with Marvel only getting stronger form this point on.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
At this point, there are a not a lot of negatives to speak of in these films, which is a good sign going forward. There are only more minor areas here and there which cost these films spots on the ranking, and for this film it is a combination of an alright, but not exceptional villain, and the simple fact that this one had a tough act to follow. The first Guardians film is one of the best beginnings for a Marvel film, as James Gunn nailed his portrayal of the charters. The second time, the novelty had worn off, and there was not quite enough there to build upon and push the characters forward. Revealing that Star Lord’s father was a Celestial was certainly interesting and raises his personal stakes going forward, but Ego just turned out to kind of be a dickhead.
13. Captain Marvel
The first marquee outing for a female hero in the MCU is a bit of a step back to the mean. it feels like a origin story that could have come out a few years ago in that it is pretty standard. This is a very safe film, and unlike Black Panther doesn’t have the A+ antagonist, nor the small hints at something more ambitious for a comic book flick. It serves its purpose well enough though: it sets up Captain Marvel as the MCU’s ultimate badass who is one of the few beings in the universe capable of going toe-to-toe with Thanos in the climactic finale to Marvel’s grand experiment.
12. Iron Man 3
The final solo run for Iron Man, the true OG of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the man who started it all when he walked into that bar to speak to “Thunderbolt” Ross after the credits rolled on The Incredible Hulk. This one saw some of the most character development for Tony Stark, as his PTSD from the battle for New York left him scarred even fragile early on. His paranoia took him over as he continued to build more and more suits. Another alright antagonist limits this one, though it did set up a fun finale with dozens of autonomous Iron Man suits doing battle with powered up weirdos.
11. Iron Man
The very first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe back when the idea of a connected universe for all these characters to share seemed ludicrous and back when Iron Man was a B-level hero in Marvel’s ranks. That secondary status did not last long, as this first film really kicked off the MCU with a bang, still standing out as one of the better introductory films in the MCU. The revival of Tony Stark from the ashes of an attack on his military convoy was rivaled only by the resurrection of Robert Downey Jr.’s career as he now drives a Brinks Truck around town. One unfortunate aspect of the film that would continue to plague Marvel films for years was the the villain was marginal at best. The film culminated with Iron Man simply fighting a bigger, uglier Iron Man. Weak villains are the consistent theme with each film up to this point, though that won’t last long…
10. Thor: Ragnorok
Marvel finally figured out how to portray Thor in a film. At least, he was beaten, challenged, and actually had a semblance of a personality outside of being kind of pompous. A brief glimpse at some Planet Hulk was also much appreciated, as we also got one of the best Bruce Banner films with this one. To go along with Thor’s shiny new personality was an antagonist that was actually good- the only problem was that we did not get enough. Not only was the character herself solid, but she had access to the immense talents of Cate Blanchett, and we simply did not get enough screen time with her. But it was still enough to get this film into the top ten, and from this point on, there are only a few negatives poking out from the otherwise pristine structure of these films.
9. Captain America: Civil War
The third and final “solo” outing for Captain America simultaneously serves as Avengers 2.5, just as the second Captain America film was a half step between the first and second Avengers films. While the star of this film is Captain America, the lead is split up three ways between Cap, Iron Man and the previously hunted Winter Soldier. Captain America is the perfect counterpart to someone like Iron Man; Cap always takes himself and his role in this universe very seriously, and is the perfect vessel for a more serious tone in the MCU as a result. His films may not be the fun romps that others are, but they are slickly produced and critical in terms of the directions the characters are sent in as a result. Once again, the only real area where this film is lacking is a villain that is not big enough for a film such as this (at least not his on screen portrayal) and the fact that the conflict between Cap and Iron Man could’ve avoided coming to blows prior to the climax.
8. Black Panther
One of the newest films in the MCU is one of the most beloved, as it tops some other MCU rankings, and there is good reason for that. Killmonger is the best villain to appear in the MCU, and he is almost without competition. His motivations, actions, and character are not only the perfect foil to our hero, but they serve as an actual political commentary as well, as in many cases, he was right with what he wanted to do. It does not hurt that he had one of the best young actors in the industry playing him in Michael B. Jordan. However, where this film lacks is its adherence to tradition in the form of genre conventions. So many major beats within this film are the exact same as a film such as Thor, or The Incredible Hulk which were far lower on this list. The film showed some ambition in taking on some more complex sociopolitical themes in a comic book action film, but it was disappointingly unambitious with how it followed an expected comic book film structure.
7. Ant-Man and the Wasp
The first outing after the events of Infinity War is one that has no obvious flaws; it just doesn’t reach the heights as other films higher up on the list. This film features some of the best fights and action sequences in the entirety of the MCU due to their ingenuity and creativity. Scott Lang is the opposite of a character such as Captain America, as he does not take himself seriously at all, and in many ways, isn’t even the most capable protagonist of the film. That title falls upon Hope van Dyne as the Wasp who is much more of a no-nonsense hero whose first priority is to always get the job done. This film, like its predecessor takes major advantage of the fun-potential from having both a comedic lead, and a unique perspective thanks to the shrinking power of our heroes. A serviceable, but slightly disappointing antagonist is what keeps this film from having a shot at the top five.
6. The Avengers
The result of the first major ambition within the MCU still stands as one of its finest films. For the very first time, we get to see these heroes who we have gotten to know in action with each other taking on a truly insurmountable foe. This is also when we really get to see some of the high points for the charters begin to emerge as well. Captain America, Thor, and Bruce Banner all begin the process of becoming more interesting and integral characters in this film. The villain is Loki and his army, which are both very fine additions to the film. A bit of a slow middle bumps this film out of the top five, as does time as the stakes and challenge for this film which once seemed so high are downright quaint today- and its only been six years!
That’s right. Ant-Man stands out as one of the most fun films Marvel has made. Much of this is thanks to the casting of Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, but most of likely belongs to the first director of the film, Edgar Wright. Though he would eventually leave the project, his impact is obvious, as this still stands as one of, if not the funniest films in the MCU. This was also our first time seeing the different perspective thanks to our shrinking hero which resulted in some of the most fun fight sequences Marvel has produces culminating with an intense battle aboard a child’s train set. Unfortunately, Marvel had not quite gotten the hang of good villains at this point, as Yellow Jacket is not better than the Iron Monger from the first Iron Man film, but the exciting and clever fight scenes make up for his lack of impact.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
The last film with a weak antagonist on this list, as that is the only factor separating this film from the final three. Ronan the Accuser has very little screen presence in this film, and is little more than a pile of flesh to carry an infinity stone. Nearly everything outside of that is terrific, as the Guardians themselves are some of the best characters in the MCU, and Gunn is able to showcase them in ways that most other directors in this series have not been able to match. The performances, the writing, the script and the pacing are all stellar as this film stands alongside, if not a little ahead of Ant-Man in terms of humor and general fun. Special recognition needs to be paid to Vin Diesel as Groot who is able to make one statement, “I am Groot” as well as a series of grunts and screams into real and emotional dialogue that is able to craft a character that is infinitely better than this or most other antagonists in the MCU.
3. Avengers: Infinity War
The most ambitious film to come out of the MCU, is also one of its most impressive. The fact that this film is able to support the massive scale that it does without collapsing in on itself and turning into a complete disaster is extremely impressive. And that does not even account for what actually happened within the film- which is a lot. It won’t be spoiled here, but by now, it should be apparent as to how substantial the actions of this film are, and what Thanos did to our heroes. Speaking of heroes, this film is the culmination of a decade of development, and for many heroes, it stands out as some of their finest performances. Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Thor all have arguably their finest moments within the MCU in this film, and many others chipped in important outings for their characters as well. This is the first film on this list that does not have a real negative attached to it; it is a fine example of filmmaking that simply happens to be a big flashy action film.
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The finest Spider-Man to date is the second best film Marvel has put out. It has no real flaws, as it features one of the best villains in the MCU in the Vulture, and really kick-started the run of good villains that Marvel has been on recently. Tom Holland is perfect as Spider-Man, and is incredibly effective and believable as an unsure teenager who suddenly has this great power along with all the expectations that accompany them- mostly from himself. His desire to prove himself to his surrogate father figure in Iron Man is a magnificent bit of character development for both, and serves are real motivation for a young man trying to prove that he belongs as part of something.
1. Captain America: Winter Soldier
The best film in the MCU is the second outing for Captain America, as it is one of the most pivotal films in the entire franchise. It is in this film where the real character of Captain America emerges, and where he takes his role within the larger ensemble of the MCU. He is the character that takes himself the most seriously, and it makes him into one of the most interesting characters in these films. It is here where he begins to take on the role as a foil to Iron Man. At this point, Tony Stark has begun to distrust even himself and what the Avengers are capable of; as a result, he will seek some form of control in the future. Captain America begins his path toward the opposite end of that spectrum in this film, ironic considering his name. He experiences being a pawn of a larger system, first by Shield, then later by Hydra, and his distrust of people in bureaucratic powers takes hold- opting instead to trust even more in his own judgement and his own ability to do what is right. It is at this moment where Captain America becomes not only one of the most important, but one of the best characters in the MCU, even if he is not the flashiest.
And doing what is right began with saving Winter Soldier, who is actually his friend, Bucky Barnes. Winter soldier was the perfect antagonist for this film. He was an intimidating figure on the screen, as he was always accompanied by a chilling musical sting. The engagements between the two friends and super soldiers were also very well choreographed, as alongside Ant-Man and the Wasp, this film stands out with some of the best fight choreography in the entire Marvel catalog. Finally, all of this is in service to a pseudo-political thriller complete with espionage and backstabbing as Shield must be brought down in order to quell the spread of Hydra from within it. Captain America: Winter Soldier is one of the most significant films in the entire MCU for how it sets the stage for important films later on and how it changes characters within the franchise. It is also one of, if not the most finely made film within the MCU, standing side by side with a only a small handful of others which are able to match it in real cinematic quality