The definitive ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies: From worst to best

With Avengers: Endgame in cinemas, here’s our ranking of the 21 films in the massively successful and popular Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Avengers: Endgame is the 22nd feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and marks something of a conclusion for a group of characters fans have been following since 2008’s Iron Man. And while the MCU will continue with Spider-Man: Far From Home, it looks like we’ll be saying goodbye to a few beloved characters – perhaps even permanently.

Related: Every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie confirmed for 4K release

So what better time than to look back on the MCU and rank every film? Trusted Reviews‘ biggest Marvel film fans have knocked their heads together and rated the films in order of worst to best. Some of our choices may surprise you, others may induce a rage-out befitting of the Hulk.

Nonetheless, it’s impressive to go back and see where the MCU started and how far it’s come in what has been an entertaining and at times impressive feat of movie-making magic. Read on to find out who our champion is.

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21. Thor: The Dark World

Marvel Cinematic Universe

The votes are in and the The Dark World is the runt of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is it terrible? No. But it is a tonally confused film.

While Ragnarok is thought of as bringing the comedic chops to the table, The Dark World, like the first Thor, has its laughs.

However, they sit uncomfortably next to a dour plot that sees a race of Dark Elves led by Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith wake from a millenia slumber and take revenge on Asgard. It aims for an epic quality a la Game of Thrones, but the execution is muddled and not helped by an unmemorable villain.

Not even Chris Hemsworth’s massive biceps or Tom Hiddleston’s scheming Loki can turn the tide for a film that sees Marvel still figuring out its sequel formula.

Best scene: Thor resting Mjölnir on a coat hanger. Simple, but effective.

Words by Kob Monney

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20. The Incredible Hulk

Marvel Cinematic Universe

I seem to be the only person in the office that adores this movie, and I’ve tried to figure out why. It’s not Ed Norton’s performance as Bruce Banner, which largely involves him looking tortured that he can’t have sex as it raises his heart rate too high, or delivering the movie’s best line − “You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry” − in broken Portuguese.

No, The Incredible Hulk is great because of Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky. Roth is near perfect as the tactically-sharp Blonsky, frustrated at both his ageing form and failing reflexes, a lifelong soldier bound for the scrapheap when he’s drafted into taking out the Hulk.

The Hulk is a force of nature, and Roth isn’t so much a villain as a man realising he’s out of his depth, and happy to take any advantage to try and level the playing field. That doesn’t go well for him.

Best scene: General Ross, Blonsky and the U.S military ambush Banner at a university. Hulk smashes.

Words by Jake Tucker

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19. Iron Man 2

Marvel Cinematic Universe

The MCU’s first sequel had to live up to the first Iron Man, set-up future storylines and introduce new characters. It didn’t quite work.

Flirting with the late 70s Demon in a Bottle arc, Iron Man 2 grapples with the idea of legacy and mortality. After owning his mistakes, what does Downey Jr.’s Stark want to leave behind? That’s compounded by issues with the Arc reactor in his chest: the very thing keeping him alive is also poisoning him.

The film doubles down on villains in Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko/Whiplash and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, but the former is underutilised and the latter a cheesier Stark clone. And despite better action sequences, Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes/War Machine entering the fray and the introduction of Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Iron Man 2 is clinical rather than compelling.

Best scene: Iron Man and War Machine obliterating Hammer drones.

Words by Kob Monney

18. Thor

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Thor feels like a forgotten film, which overlooks what was a sizeable risk − especially in terms of tone – that could have left Marvel with egg on their faces.

If Iron Man through to Iron Man 2 were realistic(ish) stories with fantastical elements, Thor was the opposite and the first film to hint at the comic’s cosmic trappings. Similar to J. Michael Straczynski’s run on the comics, it’s a charming, fish-out-of-water tale of an arrogant god (Chris Hemsworth) banished to Earth to seek humility.

It’s not particularly original but it is effective, the mix of Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare (amplified by director Kenneth Branagh) and good casting (Tom Hiddleston could have been Thor) make for a fun and likable adventure.

And it did give us Loki, who has proven to be one of the MCU’s most enduring aspects.

Best scene: Thor gets his mojo back and battles The Destroyer.

Words by Kob Monney

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17. Ant-Man & the Wasp

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Ant-Man & the Wasp is the first MCU film with a female character in the title (about damn time). It’s also the first film released after Infinity War, which didn’t help expectations for it.

It acts as a palette cleanser to Infinity War‘s three-course meal, and while Wasp continues the first film’s light tone, it feels inconsequential in the shadow of Infinity War. While the action sequences and interactions between characters are still fun, it is more of the same and a sequel should arguably strive for more.

Still, Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp kicks ass and we suspect this film has far more importance to Endgame than first realised.

Best scene: Ant-Man & the Wasp ape action film Bullit, but with the cars and the characters changing size.

Words by Kob Monney

16. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to following the groundbreaking first Avengers movie. With the core Marvel heroes united, Joss Whedon had to up the stakes and produce a plot-driven narrative rather than just a simple fun romp.

However, this Avengers sequel didn’t quite live up to expectations, with sprawling action sequences and a villain that proved less popular than Loki. Age of Ultron is also guilty of some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s worst moments, including Thor’s frolic in a pool and Hulk and Black Widow’s out-of-nowhere romance.

There are positives though, with Ultron setting up important storylines to come. We were introduced to characters such as Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), while it also provided an important arc for Tony Stark that leads straight into Civil War. 

Ultron may not be among the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films, but it’s certainly one of the more important entries.

Best scene: The Hulkbuster’s debut, as Stark dukes it out with Banner.

Words by Ryan Jones

15. Captain Marvel

Marvel Cinematic Universe

As the last MCU film to lead us into Endgame and the first in the franchise to be centred around a female protagonist, expectations for Captain Marvel were probably a little too high.

But it didn’t prevent Brie Larson from putting in a convincing performance as the all-powerful Carol Danvers. Part sci-fi invasion and 90s nostalgia ride, Captain Marvel makes the most of its period setting to crank out some solid jokes and references that only kids from the nineties will truly appreciate. Were computers really ever that slow? Yes, they really were.

Best scene: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel unlocks her potential and smashes a few Kree Destroyers in the process.

Words by Thomas Deehan

14. Doctor Strange

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Doctor Strange confounds expectations, in that it sketches the perimeter of a very well-worn template – arrogant protagonist suffers world-shattering event, seeks out mystical teacher to help rebuild – only to gleefully upend your expectations.

The ground literally shifts at multiple points, and the end showdown doesn’t lean on the typical Marvel pyrotechnics, resolving things with a neat, almost Whovian twist.

It’s closer in spirit and style to The Matrix. A sulky and reluctant hero with a big overcoat is encouraged to unlearn everything they know by an enigmatic baldy (in this case, Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One), urban fight scenes are accentuated with optical feedback, and there’s even casual literary signposting going on (Stan Lee is seen laughing at a copy of Huxley’s Doors of Perception, while Keanu Reeves opens a trick copy of Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation).

That’s probably why it’s my favourite MCU film so far – it’s smarter, slicker, and employs subtle, world-shifting effects. You’re invited to think about Doctor Strange’s world instead of just gawping at it.

Best scene: Steven Strange going on The Magical Mystery Tour.

Words by Thomas Newton

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13. Captain America: The First Avenger

Marvel Cinematic Universe

It’s almost impossible to think of anyone except Chris Evans as Captain America now. It’s a testament to Evan’s charisma that this movie works, considering so much time is put into how Evans went from skinny whelp to fascist-bashing Übermensch, before he’s hauled off on propaganda tours to help the US government sell war bonds.

However, literal Nazis are the perfect enemy and when Cap gets hold of his shield and tossed into the war to leather the baddies, Captain America gives us a great glimpse of a superhero tearing through World War II. It’s exciting stuff, and a little more of this would have no doubt seen it higher up the list.

Best scene: The final one, which sees Cap waking up in a 1940s hospital room, working out something was amiss and escaping into a modern-day Times Square.

Words by Jake Tucker

12. Iron Man

Marvel Cinematic Universe

The film that started it all and set the initial pace for the MCU. Iron Man isn’t a perfect film, though. The climax runs out of ideas and the trend of the weak villain found its origins here.

But it is a lot of fun and Robert Downey Jr.’s casting as Tony Stark is fantastic, getting Stark’s arrogance and joie de vivre correct, as well as hinting at more depth under the surface.

The first half is very engaging, as Stark is captured in Afghanistan, escapes and sets out about redeeming himself. The light-hearted tone played to the strengths of the source material and the chemistry between the performers is great. There are better films in the MCU, but probably few as important.

Best scene: “I am Iron Man”.

Words by Kob Monney

11. Ant-Man

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Avengers Assemble may have laid the groundwork for the MCU’s postmodern humour, but Ant-Man is the first film in the series to be a straight-up comedy. Taking the ludicrous concept of a tiny man who can control an army of ants, Ant-Man leans into its premise and milks it for all the comedic gold it’s worth.

A climactic fight atop a bunch of toy train tracks? Swatting the main villain with a table tennis racket? Double check. Throw in some great performances from the likes of Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Best scene? − Ant-Man and Yellowjacket “Disintegration” fight.

Words by Thomas Deehan

10. Iron Man 3

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Iron Man 3 pushed to strip Stark of all his toys and return him – in a figurative sense – to the Afghan cave in the first film.

And it works, resulting in the most complete Iron Man film. With Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) onboard, he along with writer Drew Pearce, craft a sequel that’s filled with plenty of surprises.

It’s also very funny, whether it’s Stark bossing around a little kid or Tony teaming up with Cheadle’s War Machine as the film turns into an 80s buddy cop comedy. The use of A.I.M. in Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian and the Extremis storyline smartly subverts expectations, though the finale again suffers from too much weightless CG action.

Best scene: Stark’s Malibu home gets blown to bits by the Mandarin.

Words by Kob Monney

9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Following on from the runaway success of original Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn returned to the hot seat and sought to go all in on the series’ unique blend of science fiction and raucous comedy for this sequel.

The theme in Vol.2 is one of family and while it might not be a better film than Guardians in the eyes of many, props are due for this film being one of the few entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to hit some significant emotional beats.

Plus, it features Star Lord (Chris Pratt) turning into a giant Pac-Man – how cool is that?

Best scene: Baby Groot, Yondu and Rocket escape the Ravagers ship.

Words by Thomas Deehan

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8. Avengers Assemble

Marvel Cinematic Universe

When Joss Whedon was tasked with creating the first major crossover in the MCU, it must have seemed like an insurmountable task.

After all, nothing quite like it had ever been done before. And if the film was unsuccessful, it could take the entire future of the MCU down with it.

Not only did Whedon pull it out of the bag, but Avengers Assemble changed the trajectory of the MCU. Suddenly, humour was just as important as the action, paving the way for the foul mouthed Guardians and the space orgies of Thor: Ragnarok.

Best scene: “That’s my secret, Captain: I’m always angry” – The Battle of New York.

Words by Thomas Deehan

7. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel Cinematic Universe

After two reboots, Marvel finally got the message that we didn’t need to see Spidey get bitten before watching his Uncle Ben cop it. Sparing us the introduction, Spider-Man: Homecoming makes his smaller scale adventure feel fresh and important.

Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man, stealing scenes in every Marvel movie he’s in, so it is no surprise that his own movie manages to highlight the childlike joy that’s central to the character.

We’re also blessed with one of the better villains in the MCU via Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Keaton takes a character that’s almost ridiculous, and creates a nuanced picture of a family man trying to do the best he can in a world rocked by the introduction of superheroes. Sure, that involves substantial amounts of crime, but what’s a guy to do?

Best Scene: Spider-Man bombing around the city, checking social media, practising his moves and solving minor crimes.

Words by Jake Tucker

6. Black Panther

Marvel Cinematic Universe

While you can arguably say it’s taken too long for diversity to be felt in the MCU, positive steps have been taken in recent films.

With a cast and crew primarily made up of black artists, no one had really tried this before at this scale. And Black Panther succeeds because it’s different to what preceded it. Wakanda is a vibrant, colourful place filled with Afro-futurist touches, the story painting a complex (for a comic book film at least) view of black identity.

The action is on the weaker side, but the ideas that flow through it make for a far more interesting film. In Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger you have a charismatic villain whose perspective you can sympathise with. The impact of Panther will hopefully be felt for years to come.

Best scene: Killmonger journeys to the land of his ancestors and speaks to his father in a quietly powerful scene.

Words by Kob Monney

5. Captain America: Civil War

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Civil War was Marvel’s most ambitious play yet, building on from Ultron by introducing the Sokovia Accords and turning its heroes against each other, creating reverberations that would echo into Infinity War.

Civil War could have been fatiguing, but the Russo brothers weave a huge cast of characters efficiently, using them when needed and making the conflict between Steve Rogers and Stark painfully personal, with Bucky Barnes right at its centre.

Tom Holland makes a great cameo appearance as Spider-Man and we also get Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, smartly weaving these characters into an already dense tapestry and whetting appetites for further adventures.

Despite the heaviness of the story, it still has fun with some impressively orchestrated action scenes and enjoyable interplay between the characters. Civil War showed a Marvel at ease with mixing complexity and entertainment.

Best scene: Team Cap vs Team Iron Man. Whose side were you on?

Words by Kob Monney

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Winter Soldier is the first MCU film to have real ramifications. After emerging from the ice and joining the Avengers, Cap is still looking for a purpose and finds it in the S.H.I.E.L.D Strike team. But all is not what it seems with Hydra having infiltrated and taken over S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’d argue this is the MCU’s finest film. Taking cues from 70s paranoia thrillers like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor, Winter Soldier is swift, smart and at times relentless film with action scenes that ape the Bourne series and The Raid.

Chris Evans imbues Cap’s goodness and dogged determination to do what’s right. And the cast expands with the introduction of Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon with everyone getting more time to shine, including Johansson’s Black Widow.

While the end action scene is a bit too CG, it does have one of the more compelling antagonists in Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes, brainwashed to do Hydra’s bidding. Plus, that metal arm is really cool.

Best scene: “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”

Words by Kob Monney

3. Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel Cinematic Universe

With the amount of characters arcs and storylines that Infinity War had to juggle, it’s a miracle the film is anywhere near as good or as coherent as it was.

Still, having cut their teeth on both The Winter Soldier and Civil War, the Russo brothers had all the practice they would need to deliver on a crossover so big it makes Avengers Assemble seem tame. The film also made great use of its wide cast of characters for some fantastic dialogue. Think of Thor and Rocket’s bromance and the constant bickering between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange.

Also working in Infinity War’s favour is that ending. For the first time in the MCU, our heroes lose and lose big time. As soon as I realised what was happening, fellow cinemagoers were subjected to some pretty loud bawling from a man in his mid-twenties.

Best scene: The Snap…

Words by Thomas Deehan

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Cinematic Universe

On paper Guardians of the Galaxy shouldn’t work, but it does. Casting Chris Pratt as a leading man, Vin Diesel as a talking tree, Bradley Cooper as a talking raccoon and former wrestler Dave Bautista as comedic relief. Any one of these would be bold, but under the direction of James Gunn – better known at this point for bleak vigilante flick Super and slugs with teeth horror Slither – everything comes good in a fun space opera with a brilliant soundtrack.

The plot of Guardians is forgettable, but some stories sparkle in the telling. The level of creativity and humour is on show in a finale that avoids the usual superheroics in favour of a dance-off that somehow, tonally, makes a lot more sense than a whole lot of punching.

Guardians of the Galaxy showed that Marvel’s formula could be applied to a different genre, and in the making of this movie, the team behind it created a perfect homage to 80s science fiction. Good, tongue-in-cheek fun, with every character getting their standout moments.

Best Scene: Rocket Raccoon explains that Drax’s species is entirely literal, meaning metaphors go over his head. Drax, with a straight face, disagrees: “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.”

Words by Jake Tucker

1. Thor: Ragnarok

Marvel Cinematic Universe

When a third Thor film was announced expectations were, quite frankly, low. Following the disappointment of Thor: The Dark World, people weren’t exactly enthusiastic about a sequel. But when a certain Kiwi director’s name was attached, it suddenly didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

That director was Taika Waititi, best known for his offbeat comedies What We Do in the Shadows and the excellent Hunt for the Wilderpeople. After the somewhat drab and dreary tone of Dark World, he was the right man to inject some fun back into the franchise.

With a returning cast of Hemsworth, Hiddlestone and Hopkins, plus the addition of Cate Blanchett being hella villainous alongside Jeff Goldblum Jeff Goldblum-ing it up, you can tell the cast had an absolute blast on set. Waititi himself even makes a cameo (as Korg) and shamelessly gives himself some of the most memorable lines.

And while we might not see a dedicated Hulk film again any time soon, Ragnarok does give us an on-screen adaptation of the fantastic Planet Hulk comics. Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk features heavily and even throws down with the God of Thunder himself.

Even up against Guardians of the Galaxy, Ragnarok is one of the MCU’s most joyous films, right from the comedic beats courtesy of some very Waititi dialogue (“P**s off, ghost!”), to the distinctly 80s theme and rockin’ soundtrack by Mark Mothersbaugh. Thor: Ragnarok is the archetypal action comedy.

Best scene: The captivating and technologically advanced ‘Valkyrie Flashback’.

Words by Richard Easton

There you have it. Our ranking of the MCU. Do you agree or disagree? And if you’ve seen Endgame, where would it feature in this ranking? Let us know on Facebook or on Twitter @TrustedReviews.

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