Perhaps it was inevitable (to quote a colossal CGI character) to do a ranking of all the MCU films after nearly fifteen years and thirty films under Kevin Feige’s direction (and plenty more to come). They’ve brought us action and comedy, broken our hearts, and blown-up pop culture to extreme levels. It may be getting out of hand too much with relying on the IP, but one’s opinion varies. Please remember that all the films are watchable, even if they range from lackluster to astounding.
So, without further ado, here are all the MCU films ranked.
(Note: spoilers are ahead, you’ve been warned. And this is only a ranking of the MCU films; no TV shows attached. Plus, it has been updated to include the recent release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.)
31. Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Box Office: $644.78 Million
In this case, the Asgardian space opera attempted to go dark but missed the mark substantially. The plot incidentals are unsurprisingly generic and fail to conjure up much reasoning to watch, alongside a weak villain and wasted direction. Consequently, most of the film is narrative junk, lacking proper stakes or emotion surrounding Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster getting involved with otherworldly threats.
What makes it passable is its A-level cast, buoyed by Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki chemistry and moments together. It ups the feature’s momentum once both band up to go rogue and head off-world. And the final battle in London is pleasingly neat, with the teleportation between worlds as the hero and villain duke it out. Outside of that, this feature contains little substance with its lush production set and small doses of humor interwoven.
The frustrating part is its development for (most of) the cast is stale, with folks like Portman becoming wasted in the grandiose of it all. It hurts to point out, but it would explain why she didn’t return to the MCU for years.
Even if Alan Taylor claims that Marvel deconstructed his set film piece, Thor: The Dark World is a sequel that merely exists to present an Infinity Stone for the setting stages of later (and better) film products in the Infinity Saga. A considerable downsize from its 2011 predecessor, even if it’s watchable.
30. Eternals (2021) – Box Office: $402.06 Million; ATM’s Review
What frustrates many regarding Eternals isn’t its gorgeous visuals or intriguing themes about the deconstruction of superheroes in a modern-day world; it only provides little for many to care about once the credits roll. Director Chloe Zhao went the Zack Snyder route to subvert expectations (which can be argued as incredible). Still, its continued mannerisms delve into something we’ve seen countless times, plus not letting the characters get enough time to evince an agency of their own.
It maintains an identity of educating audiences of this new side of the MCU, filled with lore and objectives from the “Eternals” and their counterparts, the “Deviants.” The information jars alongside a densely-packed feature, introducing ten new members and juggling their powers/storylines in every manner possible. However, that pacing becomes incredibly confounding as we launch from one time to another and different locations and try to keep pace with their objectives or why they should band together once more. It comes off as evocative and lethargic as what was attempted in Joss Whedon’s Justice League, simply wasting time until the grand finale of “teamwork” and “one’s realization of long-suppressed potential.”
Even with some stunning elements splintered within, praising this feature is problematic because it shows you what to look at yet lacks any discernible benefit once the credits roll. Thankfully, the feature does have some standout performances with Kumail Nanjiani’s charismatic Kingo and Brian Tyree Henry’s strong Phastos. Lauren Ridloff and Barry Keoghan have underrated chemistry as Makkari and Druig, respectively, and Angelina Jolie’s Thena brings gravitas and weapon prowess. And the post-credits are strikingly intriguing for the time ahead.
However, with that said, the film makes us more eager for the future than to revisit it. Perhaps Eternals 2 may finally blow us away and show why Chloe Zhao is a rising director not to question.
29. The Incredible Hulk (2008) – Box Office: $264.7 Million
Hey, remember when a Hulk solo film was a thing? Well, it did occur, under the MCU banner…back in 2008. But it was with a different actor instead of Mark Ruffalo; yes, Edward Norton took the role but then was displeased with the studio and parted ways before the first Avengers work.
Anyway, the film is okay. Nothing spectacular occurs within its mundane plot other than a conflicted individual with raging green invulnerable powers who wish to control them. Simultaneously, he gets hunted by the U.S. Army, led by William Hurt’s General Ross and Tim Roth’s power-hungry Emil Blonsky/Abomination. The action and design for Hulk are a significant step up from Ang Lee’s 2003 take, and the fast-paced direction keeps it afloat. But its gimmickry can only stand for so long, as the demolition and CGI cannot cover up its lack of heart and wit. It is a feature the MCU is somewhat strangely ignorant of, constantly reminding folks behind the scenes that pulling the rights for the titular character from Universal seems more like a distant memory.
Luckily, Kevin Feige and Co. have brought in a few tie-ins with the anarchic She-Hulk show, and Tim Blake Nelson will return in Captain America: New World Order as “The Leader.” It’s time for us to pay attention again, even if it’s a by-the-numbers product.
28. Iron Man 2 (2010) – Box Office: $623.93 Million
The short answer is that Iron Man 2 is a sequel with more of Tony Stark and friends with personal problems until The Avengers arrives onscreen.
The long answer is that this sequel collapses in the face of its predecessor due to dull villains and a lack of character-driven ideals. It succumbs to many of the same concerns as other sequels and brings about excessive noise and confusion. Tony Stark’s second adventure is the very definition of “the first ride on the rollercoaster was fun, but the second time around was fine.”
Fortunately, we get some worthwhile introductions of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s Agent Romanoff/Black Widow to bring vivacity to a feature primarily anchored on Downey. When done correctly, the film shines with bursts of adrenaline and a nary sense of fun. However, it’s another sequel lost in the fog as it only holds a little justification for its existence other than to hold off for the big team-up that arrived two years later.
27. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) – Box Office: $955.77 Million; ATM Review
Before anyone throws a fit about the placement of this feature, hear the case out.
The sequel to the 2016 feature had many changes made, from Scott Derrickson stepping down as director to Sam Raimi joining on board with more reshoots and a completely different direction undertaken. Not to forget, the fallout from WandaVision ties directly in, as Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff becomes the Scarlet Witch. And Benedict Cumberbatch’s multiverse (messy) scheme in Spider-Man: No Way Home would have some indication of this one’s impact. It was almost guaranteed we would get something enervating from Mr. Raimi’s stylistics, but those only come in special moments.
The pacing for the sequel is all over the place and burns out the potential for many compelling moments. Balancing the plot, character, and multiverse prospects became confounding and hurt the ambitions the production team tried to reach. Since they’re not going all in on the multiverse, what ends up happening are hollow tidbits surrounding the characters becoming prevalent as Wanda’s grief, Doctor Strange’s unspoken love, and America’s unconfident tone take center stage. Sewing these elements from other shows and films and propelling them with a Marvel budget solidifies it as a Frankenstein film.
The (wholly leaked) cameos serve to only shock audiences instead of providing compact storytelling, and the CGI ranges from rudimentary to macabre levels. At the very least, it’s a silly, fun ride with some tasty Raimi elements added on.
It’s popcorn entertainment, undoubtedly, but it doesn’t have enough sustenance worth remembering.
26. Black Widow (2021) – Box Office: $379.75 Million; ATM Review
Whichever genius decided this feature needed to come out two years after the titular character’s sacrifice in Endgame, rather than immediately following the events of Civil War, needs to have their eyes checked. It’s the one crippling factor of the solo film that came too little, too late for one of the main Avengers. Scarlett Johansson deserved better than that.
Anyway, this is a peculiar feature, trying to balance the espionage thriller elements with drowned-out themes of familial loyalty and the dark sides of human trafficking. It was a good idea to change genres for a tangential MCU film, but it feels mediocre and slightly derivative of James Bond, Moonraker, and The Americans. So we spend a lot of time taking steps back into Black Widow’s past instead of moving forward in the current circumstances.
Kudos to Florence Pugh as she brings stellar shades of strength and vulnerability, and her chemistry with Johansson is unique. David Harbour and Rachel Weisz also bring their flavors on board, and the low-stakes plot makes it more amicable than universe-threatening altercations every other day.
It’s a shame this movie dropped so late, as its presence feels like an afterthought. Thankfully, Pugh can shine and bring more gusto to her future involvements.
25. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) – Box Office: $760.93 Million; ATM Review
The fourth chapter of Thor contains a lot of fun and a commanding performance from Christian Bale’s take on Gorr. It offers up exactly what’s in the namesake title, providing lots of CGI-lightning, rock n’ roll beats, and a return to the (strange) love affair of Thor and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, who also dons the Thor title while quietly dealing with Stage 4 cancer. Russell Crowe and Tessa Thompson also steal the show where they get their character moments to shine in a splendid visual atmosphere.
That’s sadly where the compliments end. As the fourth title in the series revolving around Chris Hemsworth’s journey with the character, it becomes surfeit with its juvenile stunts and chaos masquerading as pathos. The most unengaging aspect is how Hemsworth’s Thor, who got a rejuvenated (and arguably mesmeric) arc in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, becomes left in a state of purgatory with a clueless buffoonery act that dampens his character. What exactly was Marvel intending to do here, bring him back to his 2011 roots with more silliness? Apparently so, as they went full-on disrobing the man on camera. (At least the ending gives optimism for his next ride with the character, assuming he wishes to return after fate has not struck his personal life well.)
That aspect also pivots to another concern, as its absurdity collides with competing tones and subplots that sometimes produce a dull affair. It’s the embodiment of overkill this time, whereas, in its predecessor Ragnarok, it was much more justifiable with ingenious satire and a balanced tone. Director Taika Waititi somehow gets too anxious with the script and his work as his fun Korg character becomes frivolously annoying alongside the screaming CGI goats. So it’s understandable to go full-blown nuts when it regards love and thunder, but committing this time with nonsensical fluff and no sustenance leaves an unnourishing palette and the desire for something beguiling.
A fun ride and great performances by Bale and Portman push it past others, but it is one of the faintly consequential entries in the universe. Regrettably, it also turned back on the clock for the weighty “Marvel fatigue” discussion.
24. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania – Box Office: $100 Million (and Counting)
The latest threequel of the MCU that officially kicked off Phase 5 feels grandiose yet lacking simultaneously. Director Peyton Reed and screenwriter Jeff Loveness took the baton this time and upscaled to an Avengers-like scenario, although one could easily argue it was more in line with Star Wars. In this installment, the idiosyncratic family with Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, his daughter, and the Pyms all get trapped in the Quantum Realm and must fight their way out. Along the way, they discover the true, scary intentions of Kang the Conqueror (played by Jonathan Majors), along with meeting new friends and a returning foe.
The action and cast performances (particularly of Rudd and Majors) are notable and provide the light tone we’ve become accustomed to regarding the tiny hero. However, its ambitions this time get the best of its ego, and we’re left with a sprawling mess of overstuffed expository notes, some tiresome gags, and a lack of inner conflict between the family (which firmly powered its two predecessors). Instead of giving more time to build wit and character, we’re plunged into the action due to the namesake title.
Much like Love and Thunder, it goes for competing tones when charismatic Scott fends off bad guys and wants to protect his daughter. Then Kang’s brooding demeanor feels exceptionally mismatched in the ensuing chaos. Consistency has been coming to haunt Marvel’s door recently, it appears.
This is pure popcorn entertainment at least, so folks know they’ll still have a blast with all involved. And the door is still left ambiguously open for the vision of the Multiverse saga once Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars arrive. Kang has been unleashed!
23. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Box Office: $1.402 Billion
The much-anticipated sequel to the first Avengers is overstuffed with lots of details and characters, and director Joss Whedon might’ve pushed his limits too far with excessive quips and stunts (for his last ride in the MCU). That’s an indicator of why not folk talk about it concerning its Avengers’ siblings, as it plays more off as an obligation before parties move onto something they vastly want to do.
But credit where it’s due: Age of Ultron betides with eye-popping set pieces and some fascinating moments. The Maximoff Twins’ presence is welcome, and James Spader’s Ultron is wonderfully arrogant and immature, despite being undermined by a jarring plot than performance. Whedon allows the characters to settle in more appropriately this time, trying to involve Iron Man’s demons (since the Battle of New York) or Hulk’s continued insecurities about his presence in the world. Not everything lands, but it redefines the scale we’ve come to expect from these superhumans giving their lives for the world.
If there is one thing this feature does outstandingly well, it sets the plots in motion for the majority of Phase 3. Thus, solidifying the stakes are higher than ever, including the severance of the Avengers, the introduction of new possibilities, and the inevitability of Thanos and his universe-threatening objective. That alone is a feat we should praise Whedon for doing, even if his affairs since its release haven’t been joyous.
Age of Ultron will stand as the lowest of the Avengers series (thus far), but it still has many great moments to push it past the more mediocre outings of this franchise.
22. Captain Marvel (2019) – Box Office: $1.128 Billion
The quite-low ranking for Brie Larson’s standalone feature doesn’t have anything to do with political sandbagging or ugly internet noise (or it being a terrible movie to admire). Still, it contains a fundamental dissonance when incorporating her titular hero’s plights and a shallow entropy of a script.
The point of a film is to leave a mark, the chance to allow one’s imagination to run wild with vibrance and finesse after exiting the multiplex. Arguably, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck give the film much of what any Marvel diehard fan enjoys: fun, action, and visual splendor. But it leaves no lasting impression on the casual or comic-book-salivating folks who come to witness Larson’s take on the latest Avenger. So what exactly is the plot of the movie again, colorful CGI dudes are attacking villainous CGI folks when the roles are reversed, and a woman cursed with powers finds out who she is through splintered flashbacks/memories?
Thankfully, it does give Larson time to shine along with comrades Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lashana Lynch. The chemistry between all propels the movie forward in more manners than none, and Lynch carries that pathos to believably bring a sisterhood love between her and Larson’s characters. The action is solid, albeit unspectacular, getting the job done when the moments are necessary. The Kree vs. Skrull storyline is a mixed bag, leaving folks like Jude Law and Annette Bening in an awkward bind when trying to elevate their characters beyond the average fares. Some people may enjoy the 90s nostalgia if Radio Shack and Blockbuster were your things, but it may come off as more uncomplicated to look up past images and memoirs.
The origin story gets the ball rolling for one of the most vital folks in Marvel history, but it’s another Marvel film that doesn’t foreground its gender politics well. (If you want a better version of a superhero feature led by a female, try Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.)
21. Iron Man 3 (2013) – Box Office: $1.214 Billion
This threequel is arguably one of the most cumbersome to place on this list. On paper, the idea of one of our beloved heroes dealing with PTSD after the Battle of New York sounds fascinating as it promotes continued insecurities about his life and his armor-developing obsessions. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is thrust into a much darker environment than his previous films, learning to fight his enemies without the complete fortitude of his home and allies. Downey, at this point, knows how to catch audiences with his hilarious verbal spars and ticking ego; he’s solidified himself as Tony Stark in reality.
While slickly enjoyable for its visual niftiness and irreverent humor from director Shane Black, something feels quite hollow here. The machinery throughout takes care of itself, dropping storylines and resurrecting them when the plot finds the convenience. Stark’s concerning relationship with Pepper Potts becomes a disquietude one moment and then fades away until the final act. The befriending of an eight-year-old boy is a superkick laugh riot until the narrative trucks back to dealings with the murky villains and the Mandarin.
Speaking of the Mandarin surprise, it feels almost like a cop-out. What could have continued the path of reigning terror across the world (under the guise of the Ten Rings) becomes another spoof in an already plenty comical feature. No offense to the fantastic Ben Kingsley, but this surprise jars and frustrates many viewers like other moments in the movie.
At least this blockbuster aims to entertain the viewer and succeeds in its objective. It trucks past the forgettable second installment and is a satisfactory ending to the Iron Man trilogy, even if Stark’s story doesn’t end here yet (and rightfully so).
(That shot of all his suits showing up was pretty damn satisfying in the final battle.)
20. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) – Box Office: $622.67 Million
A relatively light and warm MCU sequel that has its doses of continued character development for Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang and setting a triumphant introduction for Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp to kick butt in her suit. Their chemistry continues to build on from the predecessor, with more nifty toys and gadgets to make inventive use of the shrinking/growing in the action sequences. Michael Pena’s Luis is always a treat, and Abby Ryder Fortson brings superb gravitas in her moments with Rudd.
The objective of the feature remains transparent as the titular pair of heroes work with the genius Hank Pym to retrieve his wife from the Quantum Realm. Obviously, certain obstacles get in the way of them accomplishing this quickly, with foes attempting to exploit the machines to get into the Realm and Ant-Man trying to lie low as he’s been under house arrest since the events of Civil War.
The filler subplots with Walton Goggins’ Sonny Burch and Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost don’t get much momentum, so they stick out like sore thumbs each time the film progresses. Instead, director Peyton Reed brings a sunny disposition and flair, but it moves with less urgency and more self-accepting.
It’s a sequel that’s extremely hard to dislike, and sometimes, that’s the selling point to get folks to watch. But the buzz is temporary, so the fun stays while it lasts.
19. Thor (2011) – Box Office: $449.32 Million
The first Thor film isn’t remarkably stellar, but it offers glimpses between the mortal and godly worlds. Director Kenneth Branagh offers great vigor and colors for the different locations (Asgard, Earth, and Jotunheim). He takes pride in showcasing the various elements, such as the cold, darkening blizzards of the Frost Giants’ home to the golden, beautiful palace look of Asgard.
Chris Hemsworth’s fish-out-of-water comedy fits very nicely as his god character gets banished to Earth for spurring potential warfare between the realms. We also get lovely tidbits from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Anthony Hopkins’ Odin. Again, the portrayal of a conflict between an unbending, weary father and his headstrong son, along with a treacherous (adopted) son, remains fascinating. Outside of that, we’ll have the audacity to say any other performance of the solo feature is underwhelming, servicing only the moments that build up the drama between Thor, Loki, and Odin. Everything else doesn’t matter here, promoting the commercialization of calculation over creativity. Natalie Portman gets to enhance her character’s love story with Thor, but it comes off as more convenient than organic.
The action and visuals are sufficient, but it’s a movie that feels more in line with a comedy-drama than an all-out superhero spectacle (which isn’t necessarily bad). And even when placed this low on the list, the first standalone Thor film is an all-right time.
18. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – Box Office: $863.75 Million
James Gunn’s great hit with the first Guardians caught us all off guard thanks to its irreverent humor, dazzling visuals, and memorable soundtrack. The sequel continues with the same fun elements, even if it’s evident he’s trying a little too hard to entertain.
The sequel brings us back to 2014 when the Guardians are learning to become more integrated as a family despite their flaws and significant differences. But that is the tipping point for Gunn to shine further in this one, grounding our characters with more heart over father issues and friendship struggles. Karen Gillan’s Nebula attempts to reconcile with her sister Gamora, and Michael Rooker’s redemption arc as Yondu is one of the best performances. Kurt Russell also gives an energetic yet loose performance as Peter Quill’s father, Ego, snatches his biological son’s heart before destroying it in the third act. And Baby Groot is your new best friend.
Marvel bloat does get to this one a bit since it feels more like Age of Ultron (or standard Marvel fare) than recapturing the first ride’s magic. Thankfully, Gunn gives more personality to his characters that it feels more like a sequel to return to than one to stuff away forever.
17. Doctor Strange (2016) – Box Office: $677.71 Million
It was tempting to place this one much higher since it’s visually transfixing and drops incredible kaleidoscopic CGI. Still, the narrative at its core is something we’ve seen almost always. Yeah, Benedict Cumberbatch’s rich, harshly arrogant character is another take on Tony Stark’s Iron Man, but with less heart and a more stringent direction. It doesn’t also help that his ex-girlfriend, played by Rachel McAdams, only serves as an item of story convenience instead of a well-developed love interest.
Another gripe of the story is a lot of Strange’s arc doesn’t feel earned; it all comes off as rushed and stressless. So you expect a neurosurgeon to learn another mystical art in days (it seems) and still act like he’s the right one in the room every time? Also, a poor villain with muddled motivations doesn’t help matters either.
Nitpicks aside, this is a solid solo film with spectacular visuals, a fine cast, and a creative way to mess with the element of time in the final act. More of us need friends like the Cloak of Levitation and Wong (played by Benedict Wong) from time to time. And believe it, we’re all returning to say, “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain” an infinite amount more.
It’s an introduction to a wizard hero that’s more than another exploration of another Infinity Stone (clears throat, looking at you, Thor 2); this adds visual-flair fun to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
16. Ant-Man (2015) – Box Office: $519.31 Million
For a light and playful-toned movie with some off-centered humor and stylish CGI, Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air. And yes, perhaps its finesse could’ve been further amplified with Edgar Wright still at the helm, but we’ll work with the touches of Peyton Reed.
Paul Rudd is the genuine delight in this feature, bringing that nonsense out in grand, disarming fashion and promoting his ex-con character Scott Lang into something redeemable for the sake of his cute daughter. Much like the Black Panther series, the tiny Avenger’s story works best when confined to the local boundaries, straying away from the exquisite sensation of others in its genre. With his hilarious friend Luis (played by Michael Pena), a strong voice of reason from Evangeline Lilly’s Hope, and a classy mentor in Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym, this is a good time.
Utilizing the film’s premise as a “heist feature” also allows it to sink more into an original, neoclassical comedy role and gives variety for a universe that has lived off cliché-riddled directions. And the fight scenes play in a snazzy manner; come on, who wasn’t enjoying Thomas the Tank Engine for one bright moment?
The only things that genuinely suck about it are A) it has another forgettable Marvel baddie and B) the coherence feels strangely offbeat due to a haphazard assembly before the production got moving.
15. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) – Box Office: $1.131 Billion
Talk about an underrated sequel in this diverse universe. That line may be subjective, but this feature doesn’t get talked about nearly enough (probably because it’s directly after the mega-team dream event that put diehard fans into comatose states).
Coming off the most enormous financial success and explosive story in Avengers: Endgame, Marvel pivoted back to their friendly-neighborhood Spider-Man to journey across Europe for a summer vacation. The problem is it’s not going to be a vacation with CGI elementals around, Spider-Man’s emotions getting the best of him with the loss of his mentor Tony Stark and the teen-budding romance that develops between Tom Holland and Zendaya.
Credit to where it’s due, both bring a very awkward but pleasing teen chemistry between their characters, along with the fun Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds and Jake Gyllenhaal nails the earnestness of his identity as the (supposed) hero, Mysterio. It brings that zesty sensation after an incredibly full rollercoaster of emotions in Endgame and puts the MCU in an intriguing position to wrap up Phase Three. The effects of “The Blip” might be glanced at, but it becomes more encompassed once Phase Four rolls. And the revelation of Spider-Man’s identity in the post-credits is the icing on the cake, leading to a desperate situation for the web-slinger in No Way Home.
If one can forgo the lack of sincerity and hefty effects, they should have a good bit of entertainment in Far From Home.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Box Office: $370.57 Million
Old-fashioned blockbuster entertainment is sometimes necessary, and Captain America: The First Avenger provides all the goods.
The feature jumps into the 40s settings, where Nazi Germany continues to thrive as the American army attempts to thwart their grand, devilish efforts. After being injected with a super-soldier serum, Steve Rogers gets pulled into combat and becomes the one instrumental weapon to turn the tide of war to their side. Chris Evans embodies the super soldier extremely convincingly, fortifying the character on both the physical and mental fronts. Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, and Sebastian Stan also provide worthwhile performances, and Hugo Weaving’s commanding Red Skull enchants as the antagonist.
Director Joe Johnston brings that retro vibe to a feature engaged in WW2 times and gives an essential introduction to the one and only Captain America. Unfortunately, the routine nature doesn’t leave a lasting impression like Iron Man, but it’s a good enough template.
13. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) – Box Office: $855.2 Million; ATM Review
If there is one feature where the fingerprints of its deceased king were all over it, this is it. Wakanda Forever comes as a swift and crushing blow due to the absence of the late Chadwick Boseman and carries that dejected tone throughout its runtime.
We should be forgiving as director Ryan Coogler, and all parties were put in an awful predicament with the sequel’s layout, which left many questions about if it could contain such a blow. The superb acting and fascinating dynamic between Wakanda and brother nation Talokan raising awareness about minorities make it a must-see. However, the dragging runtime becomes compounded with frustrating storytelling tactics that hurt the legacy of this sequel.
In a broad sense, it’s a film that everyone should see due to unforeseen circumstances. It contains such a wonderful atmosphere when not bonded to the ongoing universe-ending schemes or Avengers tie-ins that Marvel tends to rely on too abruptly nowadays. Yet, despite that, this sequel is incredibly long, making it more strenuous to witness multiple times thereafter.
If willing to forgo its length, this sequel will continue shattering one’s emotions because it does a damn fine job otherwise.
12. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – Box Office: $880.16 Million
If second reboots can deliver as colorful as this one, we should invite others to the party.
Spider-Man: Homecoming delivers on all fronts with a light tone story, with an optimistic Peter Parker at the helm. Tom Holland shines brilliantly in this role and (arguably) pulls off the duality element better than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. His character’s aspiring ambitions to become a full-fledged Avenger entangle with his school life and crush distinctly enough to produce a grounded and youthful personality. Jacob Batalon’s Ned and Zendaya’s Michelle are both scene-stealers, and Robert Downey’s Iron Man serves a fitting “mentor” role for the young Parker well to boost his character’s arc.
Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture is one of the MCU’s best villains, with director Jon Watts realistically grounding his motivations. And that car interaction with Spidey and Toomes is indubitably tense and terrific. The action scenes and some moments become muddied, probably because the six screenwriters can’t work in unison. Simultaneously, they continued to realize that the partnership between Sony and Disney only lasted if both sides were happy.
Cast all the behind-the-scenes stuff aside, and you have an entertaining origin feature that brings Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to the major leagues.
11. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) – Box Office: $432.24 Million; ATM Review
Speaking of fun, Shang-Chi is another blast thanks to some awe-inspiring martial arts choreography and a mighty representation of Asian culture. Much like Black Panther, this offers that empowerment stance for the Asian culture and doesn’t get involved with cliches and stereotypes of bad accents/drivers. It’s simply a martial arts feature at its core, making it worthwhile for your time.
The feature feels less like a superhero movie and more imbued with that wistful grandeur typically associated with Disney’s live-action fairy tales. So yeah, it doesn’t meld together at times, especially when you toss in another hard-ridden CGI third act, but before that is a winning blend of Marvel’s continued formula.
Simu Liu and Awkwafina offer great performances, but Tony Leung’s Wenwu wins all the scenes with his calm, narcissistic malice as he asserts the full force of the Ten Rings and anguish over the loss of his wife. Also, having Ben Kingsley return to clear up his shenanigans for taking the “Mandarin” role in Iron Man 3 was a nice touch.
Aesthetically, it feels very different from much of the MCU flair, and that is both a win and a massive sign of optimism for the future. But don’t let the main character get rowdy, director Destin Daniel Cretton.
10. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Box Office: $2.048 Billion
After ten years’ worth of wait, the significant, bold result lived up to the grandeur it promised. Avengers: Infinity War is a dazzling, epic feature that offers plenty of intergalactic stakes, thrilling action, sensational moments, and a shocking climax that leaves us desperately waiting for the result in Endgame.
The Russo Brothers contended with a bunch of characters here, ranging from the split Avengers (after the Civil War fallout) to the Guardians of the Galaxy to the gorgeous empire of Wakanda. It succeeds mostly, even if the pacing sometimes feels very disconnected in balancing the film’s parameters. You’re with one group at one point, and then you come back to them what feels like an eternity later. Thankfully, everyone gets a moment to shine before their inevitable collapse in the face of the big, evil Thanos.
Speaking of Thanos, this is his epic and vivacious tale. Josh Brolin’s character seeks the six Infinity Stones to cut the universe’s population in half due to his hardened belief that overpopulation is devastation to all (resembling the philosophy of Thomas Robert Malthus). Brolin infuses Thanos with a slit-eyed cunning glower, simultaneously bringing a captivating and menacing presence in each blockbuster scene. He decisively showcases why Thanos is the gravest threat the Avengers have faced in minutes and makes each situation hopeless for our beloved heroes. His journey toward salvation also brings sincere ramifications, and the collective understanding bestows his figure with an unexpectedly resonant emotional dimension.
It’s a grand feature with immense stakes and strong emotions to jerk at our hearts. But, it does require viewing the previous eighteen MCU films (in some capacity) to reap the rewards fully and falls shy of genuine catharsis as many were aware a follow-up had to come around. It was a feature never to stand judged in isolation, though. So when one invests time into this colossal universe, one will be pleased with its gargantuan ambitions in shaking up the series moving forward.
9. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) – Box Office: $1.916 Billion; ATM Review
Speaking of another film with unbelievable ambitions, Spider-Man: No Way Home brings along a truck of audacity without losing sight of its heart and humor. The essence of diehard dreams is witnessing past and present generations of Spider-Man team up against their greatest foes.
It may be fair to digress to recognize the multiverse shenanigans pulled in this feature need to be clarified, especially when evaluating character arcs and narrative flow. The foundation for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to cluelessly ask Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange for assistance in using magic to wipe folks’ memories about his identity brought to life does sound interesting, but the way executed feels dicey. Both men act muted rather than enraged and panicky. And to then pull only from past films rather than shake up the infrastructure makes it all sound sandwiched by studios’ philosophies than the organic establishment (no Miles Morales cameo?).
Anyway, this feature is rich with superb performances, chemistry, action, and emotion. William Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock get more time to shine, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro gets a little more charismatic after his awkward performance in 2014. Holland, Zendaya, and Jacob Batalon’s chemistry are priceless, and the (inevitable) inclusion of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire makes it eye-popping and ebullient. In hindsight, fans were given a concomitant taste of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 3, which is one hell of a consolation prize for Sony, who could not grace fan’s desires in the past when the moment called.
Tom Holland may affirm he’s the best portrayal of the superhero, but Garfield is a genuine delight and gets his beats of redemption here. At the same time, Tobey Maguire brings the maturity and fun that audiences once were accustomed to during his branch of solo stories. Also, we get more memes entrenched in our pop culture spectrum, so it’s another bonus for all to witness.
No Way Home is a damn fun ride for all involved, and it still speaks volumes about the integrity of the web-slinger’s purpose. And even once it concludes, it still doesn’t shy away from the character’s embodiment of values. Ergo, it hammers that iconic line from 2002, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” The trilogy capper for Tom Holland is a cherry on top.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Box Office: $773.35 Million
Director James Gunn took a group of silly misfits and stuffed them in a feature with distinctive flair, nonstop thrills, classic 70s anthems, and no shortage of humor. The result is one of the best and most zany features of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The loose, anarchic soul gets blossomed by a terrific cast and energy that encourages you to enjoy yourself with Star Wars vibes and nostalgic Saturday cartoon times. Chris Pratt’s winning performance stands coupled with an assassin-vibe Gamora (Zoe Saldana), muscular yet amusing warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), a wise-cracking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and a fantastic tree humanoid called Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). They travel the galaxy to prevent the evil Ronan from acquiring the Orb (containing an Infinity Stone) to prevent him from destroying Xandar.
Gunn’s pacing keeps the film briskly moving along, and it’s an enjoyable time that allows for some poignant moments sprinkled in its structure. Our group of weirdos learns how to become a team and a family. And we also finally get a glimpse of the commanding Thanos, who will light up the screen later (once Infinity War and Endgame come). The only glaring issues are the villains and the lack of suspense in this bright feature.
If Steven Spielberg says this is his favorite superhero movie, then you know it’s a refreshing confection of pop culture entertainment.
7. The Avengers (2012) – Box Office: $1.518 Billion
The first epic blockbuster to stir from Marvel’s resume is escapism of the highest order, and it raised the bar for many years to come.
What seemed only like a distant hypothetical from Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury’s words in the end-credits of Iron Man about the “Avengers Initiative” became an embraced reality years later. Every feature developed before built this zenith, from solo films to introducing our main heroes and their arcs. Director Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige wisely pulled them together to create an unforgettable spectacle. The infamous Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) hatches a plan to subjugate the Earth to his rulings by bringing an army from space, and Nick Fury must round up the Avengers to stop his efforts.
Whedon finds a tonal assurance and rich reserves of humor to offset the formulaic aspects, yet still spends sufficient time in humanizing our heroes even further. Mark Ruffalo’s casting as Hulk was significant, as he plays his character calmly before exploding into a volcano. His performance, along with the charismatically devilish acting of Hiddleston’s Loki and Downey Jr.’s sharp-tongued Iron Man, becomes the highlights of the blockbuster. The stakes stand high, and the rifts between the heroes are something Whedon tugs at with precision before having them work together to save the world.
Admit that one sequence of all of them working together is fluid and spectacular in showing the battlefield of New York.
Some bloated cynicism might get in the way of a relatively epigonic script, but its potent development, acting, musical score, and visuals make this a contender for one of Marvel’s best.
6. Iron Man (2008) – Box Office: $585.79 Million
It doesn’t matter what anyone says: Robert Downey Jr. was born to play this role.
And in his first solo film, this does everything you need it to in crafting a resilient hero with flaws, and single-handedly paving the roadmap for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Director Jon Favreau rises above the simplicities of the genre with deft intelligence and detail that it achieves its goal of infectious fun. Downey Jr. single-handedly carries the show, as his billionaire character gets kidnapped and must escape, and then he channels that intelligence into a powered suit to take his place as Iron Man. His character deals with heart troubles, alcohol abuse, and intellectual property disputes neatly.
The CGI looks organic in amplifying his abilities, and it all feels cohesive in understanding the comic books. Jeff Bridge’s Obadiah Stane brings that calm, menacing outlook once his character’s intentions arise, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts has intriguing chemistry with Downey.
There isn’t much to nitpick about it. It’s one of the best solo superhero stories out there, and commits to every detail in the best manner possible.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – Box Office: $714.42 Million
The best “part two” sequel in the MCU, and it’s not even close.
It works so well because of its suspensefully charged atmosphere with little downtime. Each moment matters in its infrastructure, whether bringing more character elements to our heroes or having Captain America continually remain keen about morals in a world that still operates the same way it did 70 years ago. The hellbent paranoia its tone brings reminds us starkly of the foundation of The Dark Knight, and it plugs you into what is operating now.
The emotional resonance that Chris Evans’ character values stands potent here, especially when he finds out his best friend is his foe, The Winter Soldier. It feels palpable and brutal for both guys, and they continue that development for stories to come. The action sequences are magnificent, and the acting is top-notch from all the cast members (including the newly introduced Anthony Mackie as Falcon). Robert Redford’s god**** cutthroat leader drily understands the mathematics of power, and he alone elevates this feature’s attitude.
The Russo Brothers bring the zings and purposes alike, and it’s one of the best offered in terms of sequels and Marvel’s slate of productions.
4. Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Box Office: $1.153 Billion
Please don’t go anywhere; we’re sticking with the patriotic soldier. Somehow it gets even better with the third outing (which is also a genuine rarity outside of Toy Story 3, Harry Potter 3, and Lord of the Rings: Return of The King). And yes, many can claim this is “Avengers 2.5,” but it still manages to stick with our central arc of Captain America and the fallout from The Winter Soldier.
After a catastrophic event goes wrong in Lagos, the government calls on federal oversight of the Avengers. Captain America disagrees, while Iron Man does, and the two sides become split over the matter and their philosophies. The feature gets the ball rolling well once it dares to step into mature and thought-provoking themes. The idea of oversight for superpowered individuals is a conflicting perspective, and both sides supply great arguments. The Russo Brothers return and cautiously weigh out the arcs of all characters while not getting bogged down by futuristic plotlines or silly schemes.
Again, the main reason why it works exceptionally well is that we’ve spent significant time with all the characters, and Marvel could safely incorporate Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to bring in further revelations and concepts. Sorry Batman v. Superman, but Civil War makes its intentions matter substantially more. When something serious occurs, there are consequences laced in every aspect of this feature. It maintains its nary sense of fun with solid action sequences. Still, the cliches gyrate around this time into motifs of irreversible loss for both Iron Man and Captain America. The final battle between them is brutal and near flawless, founded on lies, betrayal, and a fundamental disconnect since their initial meeting in The Avengers. So even if one man walked away once it concluded, both lost something.
The villain Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) gets involved notably, fueling the Avengers to fight one another by using Bucky Barnes as his revenge for losing his family due to their ignorance (in Sokovia from Age of Ultron). Bruhl might not have the most charismatic or enriching performance out there, but he amplifies the story in more ways than none. And he gets to return later in the series to come closer to his comic roots.
Some characters may get squeezed into the margins for its sake, but you don’t care upon witnessing it. The blockbuster is one-of-a-kind and contains all the thrills and ambition Marvel fans come to expect. Furthermore, it has lasting consequences for the Avengers, and that fracturing leaves them in shambles in time for Infinity War when they’re not prepared for Thanos (a neat bit of long-term storytelling).
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Box Office: $853.97 Million
In one fell swoop, Taika Waititi reinvigorated the Thor franchise with Ragnarok, a colorful and fun adventure across the cosmos for Chris Hemsworth’s character and Co.
From the opening shot, it’s unusually live and buoyant and doesn’t let that tone go for its runtime. Waititi might’ve taken a few notes from Edgar Wright as he parodies the superhero fluff in a wacky transfixing manner. Thor’s value goes from being one of the most uninteresting in the Marvel canon to something self-referential and goofy. And yet, it still works.
Thor meets his villainous sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) and gets cast to Sakaar, a Jack Kirby-styled world that he must escape to stop her from subjugating Asgard and the impending, prophesized Ragnarok. Waititi relaxes on all fronts with confidence and innovation in the characters, and it avoids repetition and brings out freshness. Hemsworth, Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, and Jeff Goldblum are all scene stealers in this fun extravaganza. The visuals, action, and turbo-charged music (such as the backdrop of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song) are all utilized exceptionally.
The threequel also contains an enthralling satire built at its core, quietly tossing out lines and exposition with insight into Asgard’s whitewashing and the themes of colonization and indigenous people. It may not amount to much for viewers tagging along for fun, but it’s mighty when scholars take the time to understand the villains’ perspectives. Hence, it may be something for audiences to ponder once they are through with such a rich feature. Also, who didn’t love Waititi’s take on the rock soldier Korg?
It’s such a good time that you wish Waititi would’ve done it right again five years later in Love and Thunder, which is unfortunately not the case. Fortunately, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor gets beautifully rejuvenated that he becomes a focal point of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame following this gem.
2. Avengers: Endgame (2019) – Box Office: $2.798 Billion
This is what Star Wars 9 wishes it could be. This is what Game of Thrones Season 8 also expects it could be. Heck, even Jurassic World Dominion begged to be in the same league.
In all practicality, Avengers: Endgame is the pure definition of catharsis.
One of the gripes of Infinity War was it became too overcrowded and rushed in dealing with the heroes attempting to stop Thanos. Endgame takes a much more patient, focused route with the surviving heroes who lost and brings a much more enchanting tale of them reuniting to utilize time travel to undo the damage done. And its perspicacious direction comes with superb action, surprisingly genius references to the past slate of Marvel films, and unalloyed drama becomes interwoven across each scene. The Russo Brothers crisply create a clever, funny screenplay and give the franchise a fitting capstone (even if we all knew it wasn’t the definitive end).
The main six Avengers get significant time to wrap up their arcs and take advantage of reality alongside Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, and Don Cheadle’s War Machine. Together, they venture into the uncertainties of a time travel heist to retrieve the Infinity Stones and snap everyone back into existence. One essential point here is the element of sacrifice comes into existence pellucidly, whereas, in the predecessor, it was about the desire to protect. The Avengers state they’ll do “whatever it takes” this time, and it proves efficacious in ensuring their victory this time.
The climactic battle is one of the most jaw-dropping, crowd-pleasing moments ever witnessed in cinema history. It’s best to relisten to the reactions online, as those bits come once-in-a-lifetime. But, of course, you can’t replicate such a spectacle, and that even goes for Martin Scorsese’s comments.
Even if his time in the feature is lesser than in the predecessor, Thanos still is the dagger in the remaining heroes’ hearts. His reoriented philosophy might appear as a downgrade, but it makes sense that Thanos becomes furious his entrenched beliefs about salvation will be met with resistance and attempts at undoing. His monstrous presence comes within a nanosecond of winning a second time against our heroes. If the MCU could craft up a stupendous villain like him again, audiences would not be able to bear it (Kang might have a chance).
Even if more Avengers films are coming, it’s doubtful they can topple this one. Avengers: Endgame is that amazing.
1. Black Panther (2018) – Box Office: $1.347 Billion
When the history books look back at the best superhero films of all time, they’ll immediately mention The Dark Knight, Superman (1978), and Spider-Man 2. And now, Black Panther joins the club thanks to its innovativeness, cultural representation, and unbelievably stellar storytelling.
Chadwick Boseman’s endearing performance as T’Challa/Black Panther stays amplified by his fun sidekick sister in Letitia Wright’s Shuri and his spectacular polar opposite in the form of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger (who is arguably the MCU’s best villain). Everyone else also brings their A+ game in this feature, promoting the provocative themes of isolationism and revolution exceedingly well. Politically, it remains in line with its existence and the questions the narrative raises, which is rare in modern superhero stories.
It is also an unthinkable feature that makes one embrace every aspect of its existence and hear the enticing perspectives. The development and motivations stand fueled by past brutalities that have fallen onto the African American people. And in turn, it somehow convinces the protagonist to listen to the antagonist’s vengeful argument about how Wakanda has selfishly abandoned their brothers and sisters and left them to collapse and die at the hands of white colonialization. The yin and yang elements are inscribed over this feature, as it wonderfully explores the mindset between the free and powerful in Wakanda versus the oppressed and chained worldwide.
Never has an MCU film singlehandedly revitalized the increasingly trite state of superhero cinema with remarkable technique on all fronts. The only unfortunate quibble is the CGI, which looks egregious and distracting when the film becomes more frenetic. But, when avoiding that issue, this movie leaves viewers well-satiated and then some.
As the late Chadwick Boseman shouts, “Wakanda Forever,” we all band together and agree with this sentiment forever.