Ranked | The Entire MCU

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: April 30, 2018 (Last updated: December 28, 2023)
The MCU - Ranked

With Avengers: Infinity War currently breaking box office records with all the casual indifference of Thanos pimp-slapping Scarlet Witch, now seems as good a time as any to irritate the fanbase by ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in its entirety. Nothing annoys people like lists, after all, and I’ve long-since discovered that my personal tastes are those of a clever person and that most people are idiots. So my lists are especially annoying. If you’ve ever wondered why the best Avengers movie isn’t even an Avengers movie, how Shane Black saved Iron Man, what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming kind of rubbish and why The Winter Soldier isn’t the best Captain America movie, I’ve got you covered.

Anyway, this ranking includes all the feature films and each season of the Netflix shows. I left off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Inhumans because I didn’t watch them and Agent Carter because I only saw the first season. And I did see Runaways but I’m not sure how it fits into the continuity or really if it has anything to do with the rest of the MCU at all, so I didn’t include that either. (You can read my recaps of each episode, if you’re interested.)

So, let’s start from the bottom and work our way to the top. Use the buttons at the bottom to navigate through the pages.

27. The Incredible Hulk

As well as parts of it hang together as a straight-up monster movie, The Incredible Hulk doesn’t really feel of a piece with the rest of the MCU. Edward Norton is good, but not Mark Ruffalo good, and it’s kind of hard to look at it retrospectively without feeling a little bit short-changed that he’s in the leading role. And also that very little that happens in it really matters much to the broader continuity.

26. Iron Fist

It’s kind of an impressive feat to render a string-pulling secret society made up almost entirely of magic ninjas completely inert and boring, yet here we are. I didn’t really hate Iron Fist like a lot of people did, and I’m on record as insisting that it isn’t racist, either, but it’s a slog nonetheless; hampered by a distinctly unlikeable lead character and go-nowhere subplots written mostly like the whiny travelogue of a gap-year student who went travelling in Tibet.

25. Thor: The Dark World

The most telling thing about Thor: The Dark World is that I’ve seen it twice and still remember almost nothing about it. We even did a podcast episode on it, and I just had to look at the Wikipedia synopsis to remind myself of what went down. It seems that some of that stuff should have been way more memorable than it ended up being. Also: Malekith. Bet you couldn’t remember that guy’s name, could you?

If the MCU has one movie that’s technically good and holds together well enough, and is enjoyable in the moment but is also really forgettable and actually kind of close to being flat-out bad, this is that movie.

24. Iron Man 2

Despite a stellar supporting cast and the distinct advantage of being one of the first MCU movies to really feel as if it was incorporating the entire preceding mythology, Iron Man 2 was still kind of bullshit and doesn’t really get the flak it deserves for only being a moderately better sequel to its original than Thor: The Dark World was. I guess Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma still counts for something, but even that limitless font can only do so much for a movie that jogs in place quite this much.

Also, Mickey Rourke’s plastic surgery still constitutes the least-impressive visual effect in the entire MCU.

23. Luke Cage

It’s an unpopular opinion, but I wholeheartedly feel like Luke Cage being a beacon of neo-Blaxploitation African-American cultural reclamation led a lot of critics to ignore the fact that everything in its second half was complete bullshit. Sure, at the time, we needed a bulletproof black dude at the forefront of popular culture, but that shouldn’t distract from the fact that everything not involving Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth was horribly-paced, dramatically inert and cripplingly repetitive. This would actually be lower on the list if its uplifting socio-political viewpoints weren’t so integral to the season’s first half, but Wu-Tang forever.

22. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Even though it’s one of those big team-up movies and its finale turns out to be maybe the most significant event in the franchise in terms of defining who the Avengers are and what they mean to each other and the world itself, Age of Ultron just doesn’t feel as though it has that kind of impact. Yes, it’s partly a consequence of being awkwardly-placed in the overall continuity; the heroes are all coming together, but in the middle of their individual stories, so there’s no thematic or dramatic nexus where all that prior build-up actually means anything. It has some bits I really like, but it’s the first of these things that really felt overburdened by its franchise-building obligations, and it spent a little bit too much time and emotional energy on Black Widow eagerly seeking out that Hulk smash.

21. Jessica Jones Season 2

The first season might be one of the best and most important parts of the MCU, but the second initially underwhelmed me and then continued to perplex and irritate me with one terrible decision after another. The revelation about Jessica’s parentage made for an intriguing wrinkle but left behind more plot holes than I care to count, and the systematic, incoherent decision-making of everyone involved just aggravated me on the way to a conclusion that seemed to bend over backwards – and betray a lot of established characterisation – just to make a miserable and unconvincing thematic point. As much as I get that Jessica overcoming Killgrave’s male dominance is pretty much explicitly what the character and show are about, it pains me to say that I really don’t think she’s better off without him.

20. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Yes, I know, I’m going to get some heat for this one. To be honest, if there’s one movie I wish I liked more than I do its Spider-Man: Homecoming, as so many people like it so much that I feel as though I’m missing something. But, nope, sorry, I still don’t think it’s that good. I’m too far removed from the gossipy high-school aesthetic to care about that kind of s**t, and when you divorce the movie from that aspect it’s really not much more than a fairly generic comedic actioner – albeit one bolstered by a really charismatic leading performance from Tom Holland, who is justification for not having skipped over Peter Parker and gone straight to Miles Morales for the MCU’s web-slinging duties.

19. The Defenders

The Defenders got lots of small things wrong, but the big thing that held it back was its peculiar choice to focus on all the leftover magic-ninja death cult stuff from Iron Fist and Daredevil. The novelty of these characters coming together for the first time was still enough to sustain the season, especially because Marvel and Netflix had the good sense to trim it down to only eight episodes, and some shoddy writing notwithstanding I liked it well enough. It just didn’t feel like a just reward for putting up with two years and 65 episodes of often-lackluster television.

18. Thor

I’ll always have a soft spot for how ably it used fish-out-of-water comedy to introduce viewers to the more outlandish cosmic side of the MCU, and Chris Hemsworth was kind of a revelation here. Having said that, Thor has tumbled down my rankings a little in recent years for feeling a bit too… let’s see, compromised, I guess, in how it devotes a lot of time to relatable “Earth stuff” that it would eventually abandon completely just to not seem overwhelming in its weirdness. Yeah, the MCU did Natalie Portman dirty and I’d have very much liked to see Kat Dennings return to this universe in one form or another, but in truth, I’d have preferred these movies not to bother with either of them at all.

17. Doctor Strange

Even though structurally and thematically it’s basically a reiteration of the first Iron Man in that an arrogant rich dude is humbled, forced to expand his thinking and embrace a new, more altruistic responsibility for other people and in this case the universe itself, Doctor Strange is a fun, pacey movie that plays like Inception on steroids and knows to really lean into that to paper over the cracks. Not the most culturally meaningful or emotionally resonant Marvel movie, I’ll grant you, but its trippy LSD-charged aesthetic is a winner with me.

16. Ant-Man

I really don’t think I’ll ever understand the antipathy towards Ant-Man. Yeah, sure, it would have been amazing to see what Edgar Wright did with the material and it’s easily the least-consequential movie in the MCU as far as the broader continuity is concerned, but it’s also a legitimately smart and funny flick with great pacing, extremely likable characters and top-shelf perspective-skewing action beats. It’s right up there with Doctor Strange as far as visual inventiveness goes, but it has a lot more charisma and energy and he can talk to ants. Seriously, what more do you want?

15. The Punisher

Even though our current political climate kind of prohibits a superhero from defining themselves on the basis of being an angry gun-toting white dude rolling up in underprivileged neighbourhoods and getting his bloody revenge one bullet at a time, Marvel and Netflix both were smart to capitalise on Jon Bernthal’s instantly-iconic turn as Frank Castle in Daredevil and they did a damn good job of making the series palatable for a contemporary audience. Directing his grievances at big-government corruption rather than low-level hoods, and grounding his psyche in the mistrust and alienation felt by veterans returning home from conflicts started and puppeteered by those governments, was a really smart direction to take the character in. And that big sequence where he booby-traps his lair and annihilates everyone absolutely f*****g owned.

14. Iron Man

As the starting point of this whole thing, Iron Man is pretty much universally beloved. I’d be lying if I said Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t genius casting and it’s impossible to overstate how much his limitless smug charisma has buoyed the MCU even when this movie’s own sequel threated to sink it. That having been said, I still don’t think this is the best Iron Man movie and I certainly don’t see it as a Top-10 MCU entry either. It’s good, it’s fun, it has two of the most solid opening acts in the history of superhero origin stories, but it totally runs out of steam towards the end and if it wasn’t for that awesome “I’m Iron Man” closer you’d remember it a lot less fondly.   

13. Daredevil Season 1

If it wasn’t quite as good as people made out when the show debuted this new, adult, gritty slice of street-level superheroics, it was damn close. Matt Murdock might be a relatively bland and generic manifestation of Irish-Catholic self-penance, and there were way too many unimportant legal sub-plots bogging things down, but the overall tone was a breath of foul air in the cute and colourful MCU. Plus Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is still one of the finest villains in the entire continuity.

12. Daredevil Season 2

Just barely better than its predecessor, season two of Daredevil excelled by lending a lot of focus to the Punisher and upping the importance of Karen and Foggy, but it also had to really strain against the uncompromising dead weight of the Hand and Elodie Yung’s terrible take on Elektra. Most people would rank the first season higher because its low points aren’t quite so subterranean, and it hangs together slightly better overall in terms of pacing and structure, but what this season did well it did really f*****g well. How well? This well:

11. Avengers: Infinity War

Contrary to our five-star review that wasn’t written by me but that I nonetheless respect, I mostly believe that Infinity War was a peerless barrage of sight and sensation with an incredibly ballsy ending that probably won’t hold up quite so well with repeat viewings or subsequent revelations. It’s really good, it has a bunch of truly fantastic action sequences, jokes and character interactions, but to me it felt somewhat hobbled by its responsibilities to the franchise and overwhelmed by the sheer size of its cast. Lots of stuff to love, and a truly unique cinematic experience in terms of how much stuff it actually manages to incorporate, but as a standalone slice of entertainment (which, yes, I totally understand it’s not supposed to be taken as) I can’t justify putting it any higher in the list.

10. Iron Man 3

Jesus, you’re still annoyed about this one?

What are you annoyed about, exactly? Is it the well-observed and meaningful exploration of Tony Stark’s post-Avengers PTSD? Is it how his befriending and nurturing of that one kid was actually a metaphor for him coming to terms with his flaws and responsibilities and directly laid the foundations for his surrogate-fatherhood of Peter Parker that you f*****s all love so much? Is it the balls-tighteningly fantastic third-act blowout that saw countless Iron Man suits detonated while Tony Stark himself saved the day in what may or may not have been a pretty perfect metaphor for the man being more important than the machine? Oh, it was the bait-and-switch with the Mandarin, wasn’t it? I mean, you do know that in his original incarnation he was a thoroughly racist caricature who wouldn’t really work in a contempora – you know what? Never mind.

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Whenever I think about it, I’m impressed and surprised all over again that not only did Marvel make the Captain America sequel an espionage action thriller about unsanctioned state-surveillance, but they also made it work better than anyone could possibly have imagined. It might lack a little of Captain America: The First Avenger’s charm and energy, but it’s a fine and thoughtful bit of filmmaking that makes hot-button political commentary palatable within the context of a superhero film, and still delivers one of the best superhero films ever made like it isn’t even trying.

8. Jessica Jones Season 1

It’s a good job Jessica Jones has super-strength, because a character being a metaphor for the survival of sexual assault and for whom being superpowered is largely an excuse to suffer greater indignities for longer periods of time is some seriously heavy s**t. It wasn’t fun, per se, and I suspect Jessica herself would agree with you, but battling the literal personification of rape culture is as important a point as the MCU has ever made.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger

Yes, it’s above Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And no, I don’t care.

Look, I get that the general consensus skews way more towards the sequels, but in a lot of ways The First Avenger is the definitive Captain America movie. It has an exceptional screenplay that totally gets Steve Rogers as a conception without toppling over into macho nationalist bluster, it has the most understated supporting turn in the entire franchise in the form of Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter, it’s stuffed full of great character moments and Chris Evans sells them better than I think anyone in the past, present or future ever could, and it ties it all together in an exciting, pacey period adventure movie full of great action sequences and a villain who was thrown out of the Nazis for being too evil. Yeah, I know it’s clichéd to champion the underdog, but f**k you – I can do this all day.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy

Because on paper it was so unlikely to work, there’s a certain poeticism in quite how well Guardians of the Galaxy actually does work. It’s a comedic space adventure about a group of characters nobody outside of Marvel’s most die-hard fandom had ever heard of, yet it’s also the funniest and most emotionally-resonant movie in the entire MCU – besides its own sequel. A recurring theme in this ranking is that the movies which gave their makers the most significant amount of creative wiggle room tend to be the best ones, and James Gunn’s bizarre paw prints are all over Guardians of the Galaxy. It might stand out because of conceptual oddities like a giant tree that only communicates using the same three words, but it sticks with you because it only takes three words to make the movie’s entire thematic and emotional point. We are Groot, indeed.

5. Thor: Ragnarok

Whenever I see someone insist that the point of Thor: Ragnarok is to be funny and lighthearted, I want to be sick in my lap. Is it funny? Yeah, sure, it’s hysterical. And it’s colourful and it has a jokey Polynesian rock-man voiced by the writer-director and hey, look, there’s Jeff Goldblum in a silly outfit! But it’s also a pretty explicit condemnation of colonialism and it features the ceremonial detonation of its polluted legacy as a thematic endpoint, so one can hardly say jokes are the only thing it contributes. Plus the rainbow-bridge scene with newly-electrified Thor slapping dudes around is easily a top-5 action beat in the entire MCU, and I waited for seventeen movies to see it.

4. Avengers Assemble

You just can’t overstate what this movie means both to the MCU as a thing and the contemporary moviemaking landscape. It holds up far better than it has any right to considering it was basically Marvel going all-in on the shared universe concept for the first time, and it’s so packed with iconic moments and terrific sequences that each re-watch is like going back in time to when you really couldn’t believe they’d pulled this off in quite this way. It’s a true classic of the superhero genre in every sense of the word and one of those rare movies that you can talk about entirely without irony in terms of how it changed movies forever. That’s one hell of an achievement.

3. Captain America: Civil War

I still persist that Captain America: Civil War is a better Avengers movie that any of the actual Avengers movies – and yes, that includes Infinity War, and in a few months when you re-watch it on Blu-ray you’ll realise I’m right. But more so than that, and as I said in my review at the time, Captain America: Civil War is the very best justification for Marvel’s entire shared-universe experiment. It works as a continuation of Captain AmericaThe Winter Soldier. It builds a dramatic conflict atop twelve prior movies that is complex enough that it wouldn’t work without that history, clear enough to not need any reiterative exposition and focused enough that it never feels muddled or diluted. It introduces two new heroes organically, making them both a core part of Captain America: Civil War’s story while also laying the groundwork for their own individual movies. It has a really cool and interesting villain. And, let’s face it, that airport scene is the best s**t ever.

2. Black Panther

It’s not an overstatement to suggest that Black Panther has not only completely redefined superhero moviemaking but also changed the world a little bit. And that sounds hyperbolic, but when you factor in certain inescapable realities like it being the first movie to play in Saudi Arabia after a 35-year cinema ban it’s kind of tough to disagree. And it accomplished all that with a politically-charged afro-futurist action-fantasy superhero narrative set almost entirely in Africa and featuring an almost entirely black cast. Every cent that Black Panther has made thus far, every kid’s day it has made and every barrier it has broken, it all feels like long-awaited just reward for centuries of systematic marginalization of black people, black culture, black identity and black representation. That it’s an incredibly well-made movie is a bonus, but it’s also somewhat beside the point.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I know you disagree. I know as you’ve scrolled through this giant ranking you’ve been wondering the whole time where this movie was going to show up, and as you’ve gotten closer and closer to the end you’ve gradually realised that, yep, he f*****g put Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as the best film in the MCU. Bet it was like watching Floyd Mayweather beat Manny Pacquiao all over again.

Still, here we are. The middle children (Thor: The Dark World; Iron Man 2) tend not to play all that well with their siblings, but here’s a film that took the awkwardness of not having an origin story to tell but also being stuck in place until the next major crossover event and essentially weaponized it. The character dynamics were expanded on, personalities and relationships were fleshed out in interesting ways, the action got bigger conceptually but tighter thematically, the jokes were better, the soundtrack was… a bit worse, actually, but still great, and the emotional payoffs were absolutely f*****g peerless. I’m immediately suspicious of anyone who says this was an inferior sequel and perfectly willing to declare it the best that the MCU has to offer.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a masterpiece. There, I said it. Now go and insult me in the comments.

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