At this point, Marvel Studios has become one of the most successful studios in cinematic history. During a period when superhero movies were really hit and miss with fans, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was introduced and created a shared continuity that produces out some of the most highly anticipated movies each and every year since 2008. And with the billions the MCU has shown itself capable of bringing in, it’s no wonder Disney bought up the studio. But even with the MCU’s incredible success, it has still had some setbacks.
Looking at both the MCU’s movies and TV shows, we’re going to determine how each individual franchises within the universe stacks up against the rest. At the time of this writing Black Panther and Captain Marvel have yet to come out, so those heroes will be excluded. But all the other franchises in the share universe are still fair game, from the surprise hits to the absolute misfires.
This is Every Franchise In The MCU, Ranked From Worst To Best.
Who would have ever thought one of Marvel's newest properties would also be its worst? You'd think the studio would have gotten all the kinks out of their storytelling early on, but even after building a strong movie universe and a successful universe on Netflix, Inhumans still stumbled hard.
For those who think the DCEU has gotten a lot of bad reviews because critics are all Marvel fans, you can just check out the 10% approval rating Inhumans currently has on Rotten Tomatoes.
Critics tore into Inhumans for its bland characters and its plot that was by turns painfully predictable and just totally confusing. The series was even bolstered by an IMAX release for its debut episodes, to show off how the whole series was captured with movie-quality filming techniques. But that shiny coat of paint could not hide the other flaws.
18 IRON FIST
This was the series that proved the MCU on Netflix could indeed stumble and fall. All the other solo heroes on Netflix have been huge hits with the fans, but Iron Fist was getting criticized right off the bat.
Many took issue with a white actor being put into the culture of Eastern Asians, particularly since there's a precedent for the comic book Iron Fist being Asian. Fans tried to justify it by saying Iron Fist had also been white in the comics, but most outlets weren't accepting that as good enough.
Once the show came out, the reviews weren't great. People found the protagonist dull and cliché, and many mocked his perm and weak fighting skills. Even though it's only been one season, reviews have been so bad for Iron Fist that many have called for the franchise to be cancelled already. It's possible Danny managed to charm audiences a little while opposite Luke Cage in The Defenders, but it could be rough going for him in season 2.
17 THE INCREDIBLE HULK
It's a sad fact that there hasn't really been a great Hulk solo movie yet, and there might not be for a long while since Marvel Studios currently only has the rights to include the Hulk in other character's films. But when Marvel Studios did still have the rights to do solo films for the Jade Giant, it introduced the actor who they thought would be their Hulk at least through Avengers: Edward Norton.
It turned out Norton wasn't that keen on being locked into superhero movies for the next decade, so he stepped aside for Ruffalo. Perhaps it was that lack of commitment that became a stumbling block for this movie, since it really wasn't anything special. Considering this was the second movie in the MCU, it certainly did not measure up to the bar set by the first Iron Man.
At this point, the Incredible Hulk is pretty much forgotten and fans are left hoping that one day Ruffalo gets his crack at a solo movie to reinvigorate this franchise.
16 The DEFENDERS
After The Avengers proved such a hit at the movies, the MCU took on the task of trying to duplicate its success in the world of television. Starting with the release of Daredevil, the MCU was getting expanded on Netflix in what was ultimately the build up to The Defenders.
The Avengers got rave reviews as the culmination of four different superhero franchises, and this was the test of whether the MCU could do it again. The answer to that ultimately was more of a... "sort of."
While seeing the four heroes interact was fun, it didn't quite feel worth the several year wait fans endured. The plot that brought the Defenders together wasn't that strong, and without a major villain it was hard to get too excited about the series. Each of the heroes (aside from Iron Fist) seemed to do a lot better in their solo shows.
15 AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was one of the MCU’s first attempts at branching out into the world of TV and it certainly was not a smooth transition. The first season had a rough time figuring out what it wanted to be, and some fans were thinking of quitting on the show. The fun part of superhero stories is the superheroes, not usually the people who help them. So a show that basically guaranteed no appearances from the likes of Tony Stark or Bruce Banner wasn’t going to have an easy time.
As the episodes went by, the show did finally manage to begin finding its footing - particularly once Captain America: The Winter Soldier's reveal of HYDRA within the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. opened up rich storytelling ground. It even got to the point that there was a lot of buzz surrounding season four for bringing in Ghost Rider and helping us forget Nicholas Cage’s portrayal of the character. Now season five is already on the way, making this the MCU’s longest running show to date.
14 AGENT CARTER
As of right now, Agent Carter is the only part of the MCU that is guaranteed to not be coming back. After flirting with cancellation due to low viewership for a while, the plug was finally pulled, to the dismay of its small but vocal fan base. It’s actually quite surprising that Agent Carter was the first to fall since it had a strong reception among critics. Many people would agree that the prior shows on this list would have been much less surprising had they been canceled instead.
Maybe it was the lack of a recognizable superhero that led to Agent Carter not getting a lot of attention. Despite the show’s connection to Captain America, it was still kind of its own isolated story without much chance for crossovers due to the period setting.
Still, at least the show went out on top instead of hanging around to the point that fans got sick of it. There has been discussion of possibly bringing Agent Carter back somehow, but it seems like this story will stay a thing of the past.
When the trailer for Ant-Man came out, a lot of people felt like superhero films were beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. Yeah, Ant-Man is one of the founders of the Avengers, but his popularity is undeniably nowhere near on par with people like Captain America or Spider-Man. In fact, some fans looked at the Ant-Man movie and were just wondering why we still didn't have a Black Widow movie at the time. So could Ant-Man seriously measure up?
Ant-Man was certainly a passably entertaining movie, but it definitely did not measure up to most of the other solo heroes in the MCU. Ant-Man has intrigue, but his origin wasn't really one that fascinates a lot of people. His powers did make for some pretty cool scenes when he showed up in Civil War, though.
At this point everyone is just hoping for a more action-packed Ant-Man & the Wasp.
After how well-received Thor: Ragnarok was, it might surprise a lot of people not to see the Thor franchise rated higher. But one greeat movie does not get rid of everything that came before it. Thor had pretty much become the least interesting member of the Avengers for a while. The first Thor movie was passably entertaining and was given some slack for being an origin film. But The Dark World got spared no criticism for being perhaps the weakest movie in the entire MCU.
It was clear Thor needed a revamp for a third movie, so Ragnarok may have very well saved the character. Another movie as disappointing as Dark World, and it's iffy whether Marvel Studios would have invested more in the hero's franchise. But Ragnarok has launched Thor back into the good graces of fans, and keeps the Thor franchise from ranking even lower on this list.
The newest part of the MCU on this list still has some time to go before there’s a firm consensus on how it’s turning out, but so far it has been enjoyable.
Sure, it’s a little cliché to have misunderstood teenagers coming to terms with their special abilities, but in Runaways, the kids actually have a reason to have such combative relationships with their family since their parents are actually the villains. Plus, other than Spider-Man, the MCU hasn’t actually explored kids with superpowers that much.
Expectations were riding high on this one thanks to the strong reputation of the comic series, and so far the show has demonstrated some good promise. With how many superheroes are getting screen time these days, it’s gotten hard to do something unique, but the MCU finds some success here by tackling the kind of characters you’d expect out of something more like the Arrowverse. As long as it’s done well, it seems there’s still room for a few more new heroes.
10 THE PUNISHER
After Iron Fist failed to connect with many fans, it looked like Netflix’s part of the MCU might be in trouble. When The Punisher series was announced as a spinoff from season two of Daredevil, fans were split on whether the decision was a good move or not. Some were cautiously fearful that the Punisher would be a character used as an excuse for an overly edgy series full of over-the-top amounts of violence.
Upon the show's debut, fans found the story dealt with the typical themes of war and bloodshed that surround the Punisher in a more thoughtful way. Had The Punisher been released before any other Marvel shows appeared on Netflix it might have been viewed as a phenomenal franchise. As it is, The Punisher has promise for the future, but it feels disconnected from the wider MCU in a strange way. It's a great show, but maybe not a great entry into the MCU.
9 DOCTOR STRANGE
The Sorcerer Supreme was one of the more iffy properties of the MCU, since by this point we were delving into characters that casual fans were less familiar with. Everyone knows the Hulk, but would casual fans really show up for a Doctor Strange movie? And more importantly, would the movie actually be any good? Marvel hadn’t really tackled much in the way of magical characters, after all.
It turned out there was indeed room for one of the MCU’s more unique heroes to find success. In fact, the Benedict Cumberbatch-led film wound up being better than it had any right to be in an era when most superhero films have already moved onto massive team-up movies.
There was some initial backlash against the film due to Tilda Swinton being cast to play the Ancient One despite the character being Asian in the comics, but in the end the quality of the movie won fans over.
8 IRON MAN
Iron Man gets major credit for jumpstarting the MCU, but doesn't rank at the top of this list because fans were far less impressed with his subsequent movies. The first Iron Man is still pretty beloved and is one of the best superhero origin stories we've ever seen in a movie. But as for Iron Man 2 and 3? The villains were kind of a repeat of Obadiah Stane, and Tony Stark's schtick became grating for some fans.
Tony has still been a fun part of other heroes' movies, such as his recent appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming. But Tony's arrogance seems to be wearing thin at this point, and many are thinking he could be one of the characters who dies in one of the next two Avengers films.
Iron Man has been in more films than any other MCU character, and he deserves props for kicking the whole thing off, but his shelf life might be running out.
7 LUKE CAGE
The MCU had struck gold twice already on Netflix with Daredevil and Jessica Jones, so expectations were pretty high when it came time for Luke Cage.
This is one franchise’s placement that fans might dispute a bit since while Daredevil had a strong first season, its second season took a bit of a dip in quality. But Daredevil is still a very strong character even in season 2, so we’d still give him a bit of an edge over Cage for now. That could definitely change with Luke Cage season two, though.
Regardless, Luke Cage took the established building blocks laid down by the prior series and used them to tackle new subjects, such as race and class. The resident powerhouse of the Defenders wasn’t afraid to take on any comers due to his impervious exterior. You’d think being so tough to take down physically would make him hard to relate to, but we see how Luke Cage bleeds with his city and is willing to bust down some doors to defend it.
This was the one that started it all for the MCU extending its interconnected universe to TV. Yes, shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had come out previously, but they pretty much did their own thing. It was known right up front that Daredevil would be the first building block on the way to The Defenders, and also reinvigorated interested in the Punisher enough to get him a show as well. Of course, no one knew if Daredevil would be enough of a hit to justify that kind of slow burn storytelling, especially after the infamous Affleck-starring Daredevil movie.
The darker tone of Netflix’s Daredevil quickly set it apart from anything else going on in the MCU, and it was a hit with both critics and fans. All bad memories of Ben Affleck’s Daredevil were quickly forgotten, and it became cool again to say your favorite hero was a blind lawyer. Daredevil did for Netflix what Iron Man did for the movies, launching a bunch of other franchises off the back of its success.
5 CAPTAIN AMERICA
Even though Captain America had the potential to be the dorkiest MCU character, he's actually wound up with some of the most noteworthy films out of anyone. The First Avenger was typical superhero fun, but also had its own bit of unique storytelling thanks to being set in the past. What really set this franchise apart, though, was The Winter Solider, which many agree is one of the strongest superhero movies ever. It's always a good sign when the sequel in a franchise is better than the first movie.
Then we have Civil War, which despite seeming like another Avengers movie with how many characters were in it, was indeed a Steve Rogers film. Civil War not only had the clash of a bunch of superheroes to keep it fresh, but also marked the MCU debuts of Spider-Man and Black Panther for some added intrigue. Civil War wound up being one of the most successful movies the year it was released, cementing Captain America as the Avenger with the best solo franchise.
4 The AVENGERS
This was basically the franchise that the entire MCU was built toward. Rather than rush into releasing this one, The Avengers was given a slow burn by having each of the four main heroes established with their own solo films. Despite things getting a little messed up with the Hulk movie, necessitating in Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton, Marvel Studios got to its first big milestone and released The Avengers. And it totally changed the expectations for superhero movies.
The first Avengers was every bit the extravaganza it was built up to be, and became the benchmark for what successful superheroes should be. Age of Ultron left a lot of fans significantly less impressed, though the movie itself was still fine. The franchise so far has been so stuffed with action and characters that dramatic storytelling has kind of taken a backseat, but Infinity War may be the start of changing that.
It took six tries, but we finally got a great Spider-Man movie. Yeah, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 still has a lot of fans for its character arc of Doctor Octopus, but even then many were critical of the portrayal of Peter. Spider-Man: Homecoming was really the first Spider-Man film that had solid characterization all the way through. Plus it wasn't yet another movie featuring the Green Goblin, so that was definitely a breath of fresh air.
Homecoming had everything fans wanted in a Spidey film. It was funny, full of cool action, and it had a fresh villain. Plus we got to see Peter interacting with other heroes in the MCU, like his mentor relationship with Iron Man.
The movie was a hit, both critically and financially, and it's already confirmed we'll be seeing a sequel. Just like that, Spider-Man finally found success on the big screen thanks to the MCU.
2 JESSICA JONES
The MCU on Netflix looked to set itself apart from the tone of the movies in a big way by exploring darker, more mature themes. A commonly noted thing about the Marvel movies is that they are all very big on jokes and it can get a bit formulaic. So it was a smart move to use the Netflix shows to give a more R-rated look at some of the Marvel characters. Daredevil tested the waters for what fans would be willing to accept, and when that proved a hit, Jessica Jones fully embraced this new style.
Even though we have only had one season of Jessica Jones so far, it quickly became one of the most popular things the MCU had ever done. We finally had a dark, threatening villain in the form of Kilgrave, and Jones being a more serious character set her apart from the likes of Tony Stark. There's no doubt that season two of the show is one of the most highly anticipated parts of the MCU at this point.
1 GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
How ironic is it that the group of Marvel heroes that many fans had never even heard of a few years ago have consistently had the most high quality movies so far? The first Guardians movie was a surprise hit featuring characters that most casual moviegoers did recognize at all. Then the second movie was an even bigger hit at the box office now that fans knew how funny this group of sci-fi heroes was.
Marvel spent so many years building up to The Avengers as a movie about a team of humorous heroes saving the world. But by the time Age of Ultron rolled around, people had already grown critical of the franchise.
Meanwhile Guardians launched directly into that same premise and has been an enormous crowd pleaser. For a great combo of action, humor, and cool characters, you've got to go with Rocket, Drax, Gamora, Groot, and Star-Lord.
Which MCU franchise have you enjoyed the most? Share your thoughts in the comment section!
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