Here's our complete ranking of the MCU movies ahead of Avengers: Endgame. Marvel Studios has become the biggest force in Hollywood, earning $18.5 billion at the global box office in little over a decade and revolutionizing how studios approach blockbuster franchises. And while there's a litany of reasons why, one of the most fundamental is that their films are, for the most part, really good.
It's not that long ago that good superhero movies were exceptions that proved the rule about comic book movies, and even those shining examples - Superman: The Movie, Batman 1989 - eventually gave way to extinguished returns in sequels. Even after the triple-tap of Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man at the turn of the millennium gave the genre a sense legitimacy, the scales were still tipped against costumed heroes; the third entries of each of the series those movies formed were duds that ended the trilogies or led to reboots.
Marvel Studios brought a sense of consistency, almost by accident. When the company moved into film production, they lacked the rights to many of their major characters (before 2008, all Marvel movies had been licensed) so had to build icons out of then-B-list characters like Iron Man and Captain America. The focus had to be on the storytelling as much as spectacle, something that allowed audiences of all creeds - from die-hard comic fans to those discovering the likes of Thor for the first time - to embrace these characters. That it was all interconnected in one world where heroes eventually started crossing over only compounded the excitement.
Typically, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is broken down into its chronological narrative Phases: Phase 1 (six movies released 2008-2012) shows the formation of the original Avengers; Phase 2 (six movies released 2013-2015) the impact of superheroes on the world; and Phase 3 (ten movies released 2016-2019) circles the Infinity War against Thanos, along with introducing a new generation of heroes. This idea of narrative blocks has been at the core of the series since the very start, doubling as a way to hyper-focus audiences on what's important in the immediate future.
But it's also legitimate to take a look at them from a more critical perspective. These films do tell a narrative tapestry, but each one needs to work on its own. And, while the overall quality is uniformly high (few are out-right bad, and most are at least above-average), MCU movies can be broken into clear strata of quality, ranging from the sure-fire classics to misfires. With Avengers: Endgame bringing an end to the full scale experiment, here's our ranking of the MCU movies from worst to best.
22. Iron Man 2 (2010)
All of Phase 1 displays signs of a studio struggling to find its edge, but nowhere do you feel the strain of the shared universe as much as with Iron Man 2. Primarily, Jon Favreau's sequel seems to exist to move Tony Stark backwards from where he was left by the two post-credits scenes of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk - The Avengers plan changed and having Stark at the forefront of the team was no longer the starting status quo - which requires a lot of confused setup for the future, none of it very interesting. But if you strip out the big picture wheel-spinning (which included not only Avengers but nods to Black Panther, Captain America and Namor), then it's not got much to offer besides.
It's really a half-dozen different stories all pulling in different directions. Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Widow, Whiplash, War Machine, Justin Hammer and Pepper and Stark Industries all have their own subplots alongside Tony's demon in an arc reactor plot, and they're so disconnected that at one point Fury has to put the hero under house arrest so he can unlock enough power to get to the boss fight. So much of what made the first film work is undone, with confidence in the characters making way for repeated winking - Don Cheadle's first line is "I'm here, deal with it", Coulson draws attention to what may or may not be a prototype Captain America shield - and the distinct feel replaced with a visual style that jumps between generic late-2000s blockbuster and Bay-esque militaristic fetishism (and leery camera).
Robert Downey, Jr. and co. anchor the whole thing well, the Iron Man design and implementation is still amazing, and the goals are admirable enough, which is enough to make it passable, but it still pales compared to the rest.
21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
While it's often cited as an out-and-out bad film, Thor: The Dark World's real problem is that it's bland. The story is - like other low-ranking MCU sequels - multiple different threads all undernourished. The tone never embraces the full-on Kirby cosmic side to the extent the movie thinks yet neither passes as a knockabout comedy either. And there's so little ingenuity that its finale where all of reality hangs in the balance is set in one square at the University of Greenwich
Its relation (read: disregard) of the past is a particular problem. Alan Taylor took the broody, high-contrast style of Kenneth Branagh's original and replaced it with clean CGI, expanding Asgard in a superficial way that comes across as cheap Star Wars; and if that's what it was going for, the inconsistent story flow, set blocking and editing are more Attack of the Clones than The Empire Strikes Back. The director was allegedly picked to apply a Game of Thrones style to Marvel's mythic franchise, but there's no verve here and just a couple of bar scenes to pay lip service. Even the once good stuff doesn't really work; Anthony Hopkins' Odin performance is shocking and while Hiddleston is still fun as Loki, his arc and weird betrayal fake-out on Svartalfheim is amateurishly written. Later efforts from Taylor - equally unimaginative Terminator Genisys and Game of Thrones' dire "Beyond the Wall" reveal him as the likely core issue here.
What Thor: The Dark World does mark is the point where Marvel bias began to take hold. Thanks to the success of The Avengers and promise of growing inter-connectivity (this was the first movie to explicitly confirm the Infinity Stones), there was a lot of goodwill directed at Thor 2 upon release that feels incredibly in the moment and oblivious to its many flaws.
20. Ant-Man And The Wasp (2018)
Ant-Man and the Wasp is the Marvel movie everybody who dislikes the MCU sight-unseen thinks Marvel movies are. It's an unimaginative stringing together of multiple random plot strands that never fully pay off (the third act involves six different sets of characters and yet they barely connect up), instead repeatedly falling back on the charisma of its leads for quick laughs. The result is the most out-and-out boring entry in the series, one that does very little with its characters and is instantly forgettable.
With the production issues that restricted Ant-Man in the past and a cast family well-established, this could have been a real step up. It wants to be the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids family comedy of the MCU, yet Peyton Reed all-too-often falls back on formula meaning ideas are repeatedly left hanging: most applications of the Pym Particle size-changing are variants of "small thing becomes big" or "big things become small", and when things are a bit different, there's no story purpose (Scott Lang shrinks to the size of a child in a high school and nothing comes of it). It plays like a superhero movie of the 1990s, and not in an intentional way; at one point, the villain calls in motorbikes like he's Mr. Freeze trotting out another piece of plastic merchandise.
Viewed in the context of Avengers: Infinity War, the film weakens further. Far from the palette cleanser promised, Ant-Man and the Wasp is lacking any substance at all, with the only moment that really captivates being the post-credits scenes that show the effects of Thanos' snap. When the most exciting moment of a film is a reminder that a previous, better film happened earlier that summer, you know something's gone wrong.
Page 2 of 6: Avengers: Age of Ultron & More Of Our MCU Ranking
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019