As much of a pleasant surprise as Iron Man was back in May 2008, an even bigger surprise was waiting for audiences after the credits. Agent Nick Fury informs Tony Stark that he’s “become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
Little did anyone know at the time, his message would apply to the audience just as much as it did to Tony.
In just over eleven years since Iron Man’s debut, Marvel has released twenty-three movies that are all a part of the same world: the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Whether you’ve collected comics well before these movies came out or have just casually enjoyed the films, Marvel has found a way to bring many of their iconic characters to life in ways that appeal to all types of fans.
If you’re deciding to just now jump into the madness, you’ve probably asked the question, “What movies do I need to see to get caught up?” My answer: All of them.
There are two different schools of thought on how to watch the MCU. There’s the “order of movies by release date” (my personal recommendation), or there’s the “order of movies chronologically.” You can’t go wrong either way, and you don’t need any prior knowledge about Marvel and their heroes before watching the movies. The movies themselves will cover everything you need to know.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is now out in theaters and concludes The Infinity Saga, the first three “phases” of the MCU. The next slate of MCU movies won’t begin until July 2020, so to help you look back on The Infinity Saga, here are my rankings of all twenty-three MCU movies to date, from “worst” (even the lowered ranked ones are pretty solid movies) to best. Enjoy!
Oh, and there will be spoilers from here on out! You’ve been warned.
23. Thor: The Dark World
This one’s typically found towards the bottom of most lists that you’ll see. Thor: The Dark World features a mostly forgettable plot, side characters, and an even more forgettable villain. The heart of the movie is with Thor and Loki, their volatile relationship as brothers, and both of their relationships with their parents, Odin and Frigga.
Outside of the interesting family dynamics, this movie is not nearly on the same level of entertainment as the others.
(Avengers: Endgame does make this movie worth at least one more watch – which is almost an accomplishment in it of itself.)
22. The Incredible Hulk
While the MCU has managed to avoid recasting the majority of its roles over the years, that unfortunately wasn’t the case here. After Edward Norton plays Bruce Banner in this movie, he’s replaced by Mark Ruffalo from here on out. With that, it seems like Marvel’s tried their hardest to move on from this movie altogether and to get us to do the same. Not much carries over to future films (surprisingly, William Hurt’s character as General Ross is the one thing that really does), which makes it that much more difficult to take seriously.
While most of the movie is uninteresting, watching Hulk do what he does best is always a treat, and the final battle of the movie is exciting enough.
21. Iron Man 3
There are two things that I genuinely enjoy about this movie.
- Robert Downey Jr. providing a very believable performance in how Tony Stark deals with the trauma that he’s faced from previous movies (which superhero movies tend to gloss over).
- The movie explores what exactly makes Tony Stark/Iron Man a superhero by putting him out of his comfort zone in some really unique ways.
Everything outside of that misses the mark for me. The movie’s script just seems a bit off, it sort of is an uninspired Christmas movie, I didn’t care for the kid sidekick, and the movie’s “big twist” is a massive letdown. Fortunately, The Infinity Saga features Tony Stark/Iron Man in several others films – all of them better than this one.
Up to this point, the MCU had mostly revolved around powerhouses such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and them teaming up for two Avengers movies. With Ant-Man, it was a nice change of pace for the studio to scale down (figuratively and literally!) to a much more contained story.
It’s a fun enough heist movie that largely focuses on the father-daughter relationships between Scott and Cassie Lang as well as Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. The villain is cringe-level bad, and ultimately the movie just doesn’t measure up (get it?!) to the majority of the MCU. But don’t worry, by the end of this movie, it’s obvious that the Ant-Man portion of the franchise will soon be on to better and bigger things. Okay, I’ll stop with the puns now, I promise.
To me, Thor is underappreciated as one of the biggest leaps of faith that the MCU has taken because it’s the first time the franchise introduces us to a place beyond our own world – in this case, Asgard. Coincidentally, the most interesting parts of this movie mostly take place off-Earth as opposed to what’s happening on it (a common theme with the Thor movies). Thor introduces us to several key characters we’ll be seeing in other films, and the best part of the movie is the journey that Thor takes to prove himself worthy of power and all that comes with it. At the end of the day, Thor’s a good movie that doesn’t age as well as some of the earlier MCU movies, but it’s place in the MCU is important nonetheless. (Just try to ignore Chris Hemsworth’s dyed eyebrows in this one.)
18. Iron Man 2
After bucking the trend of pretty much every superhero movie before it, Iron Man ends with Tony Stark announcing to the world that he is, in fact, Iron Man. Iron Man 2 deals with the consequences of that decision along with Tony’s issues with his health and self-destructive behavior.
We get a lot more in this movie – Tony and Pepper’s relationship, Nick Fury is more than a cameo, War Machine (another recast, this one also for the better) gets in on the action, and we meet Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow who owns one of the movie’s more memorable scenes. Even though we get more, it doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first film. As opposed to being its own movie, Iron Man 2 often feels like it’s an extended trailer advertising better things to come.
17. Captain America: The First Avenger
Although Captain America: The First Avenger definitely has its fair share of extremely hokey 1940s montage moments, it serves as a great introduction to Steve Rogers, who most importantly is a good man well before becoming Captain America. We also meet Peggy Carter and Bucky Barnes, both not only playing pivotal roles in this film, but for the entirety of Steve’s character arc in the MCU.
This movie makes Steve Rogers easy to root for from the very beginning and lays the groundwork for some very satisfying moments for the character later on… even up to the final scene of Avengers: Endgame.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Perhaps what’s most frustrating about Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t necessarily the movie itself, but what the movie was initially advertised to be.
While Ultron is at times an imposing and terrifying villain, there’s also moments where the movie tries to make him humorous and it feels disjointed. There’s plenty of other jokes but quite a few miss their mark, parts of the plot are rather choppy, and while the action scenes are a spectacle, they’re largely without the emotional thrill of the first Avengers. The highlights of this movie are seeing how our favorite heroes cope with more adversity/legitimate discourse and there’s definitely the beginnings of a fractured, not-so-perfect team which we’ll get to see play out over time.
Although it never exactly lives up to the high expectations placed on it, Avengers: Age of Ultron has actually been more of a joy to rewatch over the years thanks to the direction the MCU goes from here.
15. Ant-Man & The Wasp
Ant-Man & The Wasp builds on what was established by its predecessor and in turn is an upgrade in every aspect. The importance of family carries on as a running theme (with Scott and Cassie’s relationship once again being a highlight), Hope/Wasp has a much more centralized role, the action scenes are stellar, maybe that whole Quantum Realm thing will be crucial at some point, and best of all, Paul Rudd as Scott Lang is clearly having a good time.
While it doesn’t have particularly high stakes and is lacking in plot, Ant-Man & The Wasp is light-hearted and has a lot of heart to it.
14. Captain Marvel
Although it had been long overdue, the MCU’s first female-led movie is a worthwhile addition to the franchise. Captain Marvel is a nice change of pace from typical superhero origin tropes with Carol Danvers already an established hero, but no memory of her life before becoming one.
The movie takes a while to get going, but Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol Danvers does the character proper justice and by the end of the movie, we’re cheering for her just as much as we are for the heroes we’ve seen before. Captain Marvel is most likely going to be leading the MCU’s future phases for the foreseeable future, and this movie shows us that the future is in good hands.
13. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange follows the same formula that other origin stories in the MCU use (specifically Iron Man), which is a criticism for some, however the formula actually works well and that once again is the case here. Thus far in the MCU we’ve been to a variety of planets with all sorts of different species, but this movie takes us to entirely different dimensions and is a visual tour de force. Not only does Stephen Strange learn about the mystic arts, he most importantly learns to overcome his arrogance and selfishness to serve an even greater purpose protecting this world. Where most MCU origin movies fall short in the third act, Doctor Strange arguably gives us the finest one to date, highlighted by the incredible “Bargain” scene featured below. After another strong showing in Avengers: Infinity War, I’m even more excited for Doctor Strange’s eventual sequel.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
First, the bad: Truth be told, I have this movie ranked quite a bit lower than what you’re likely to see on other lists. The main reason is that there are too many ongoing gags that repeatedly pull me out of what else the movie is trying to accomplish. The jokes just didn’t do it for me to the point where it made me not enjoy the movie as much as I wanted to.
Now, the good: On the other side of the coin, this movie somehow manages to have even more heart to it than the first one. You can tell that director James Gunn truly cares about these characters and their stories. While several films in the MCU have family as a central theme, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 explores the meaning of family on an even deeper level. The last 45 minutes or so of the movie are an emotional rollercoaster that give us even more reasons to love and relate to these very flawed, very real characters.
11. Iron Man
The one that started it all. Even though it’s been over eleven years since Iron Man hit theaters, one of the greatest aspects of this movie is that it has stood the test of time and remains a worthwhile, enjoyable rewatch to this day. Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect Tony Stark and much of the MCU’s success is thanks to him and the character he’s established.
This movie has everything that makes an MCU movie great: strong character development, sharp and quick humor, exciting action scenes, solid side characters, and a tease for what’s to come. Although the MCU has continued to improve over time, Iron Man will always be a timeless classic.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
A talking racoon. A giant tree that also talks, but only says three words. A WWE wrestler playing an alien. The guy everyone mainly knew as Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec playing the lead role in a superhero movie. This movie had a lot of reasons on paper that it shouldn’t work, but on screen it’s a total hit.
Guardians of the Galaxy is instantly lovable because it fully embraces its zany nature, adds some great music to it, and has so much fun along the way. In turn, we as the audience can’t help but also have fun with the movie and fall in love with characters that so many of us had never really heard of before. If the MCU ever caught lightning in a bottle, it happened here.
9. Black Panther
Black Panther is one of the most successful, impactful, and well done movies both within and outside of the MCU. It’s evident that the cast and crew put their whole heart into this movie and the final product is tremendous. The country of Wakanda is as vibrant and powerful as the people that live there. We get just as invested in the supporting characters as we do with T’Challa, if not more.
In addition, the movie also features the best non-Thanos MCU villain to date in Erik Killmonger, one of the few comic book movie villains that has genuinely relatable motivations. Much like Captain Marvel, Black Panther gives us plenty of hope and excitement for the torch to be passed to the MCU’s next phase of heroes.
8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
We’ve already seen this origin story done a few times too many, so the MCU chooses to forego Peter Parker’s life before he became Spider-Man and instead gives us a 1980s teen movie-esque coming of age film for Marvel’s most popular character. Tom Holland nails the role as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and the movie understands that the character is most interesting when his two worlds collide and create conflict.
This is accentuated by my favorite twist in the MCU to date, which is worth staying away from spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet. One of the most enjoyable films in the MCU, Spider-Man: Homecoming is made even better with the mentor/mentee relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker, which will definitely bring you to tears in future movies.
7. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok is a pure blast that turns the dial up to 11, especially when Led Zeppelin is playing in the background. Director Taika Waititi (who also plays the lovable Korg) lets Chris Hemsworth play to his comedic strengths, takes Thor’s family drama to new heights, gives us the MCU’s best showing of Hulk, throws in a Doctor Strange cameo, pits Thor against a worthy villain played by Cate Blanchett, and essentially asks Jeff Goldblum to just be himself once the camera starts rolling.
There’s a lot of reasons why this movie is extraordinary and why it’s a favorite of so many. I just hope there’s enough reasons for there to be another Thor movie directed by Mr. Waititi.
6. Spider-Man: Far From Home
After the universe-altering events in Avengers: Endgame, we get a chance to catch our breath and have some fun in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Tony Stark posthumously leaves behind an even larger shadow for Peter to be under, and all Peter wants to do is go on his school vacation to get away from the responsibilities of being Spider-Man.
Just like with Homecoming, this movie also realizes that the struggle between being Peter Parker versus being Spider-Man is the heart of what makes this character so memorable, and that struggle is taken to new levels here. The first half of the movie is once again a fun 1980s romcom that in some ways is a step behind its predecessor, but the second half of the movie is full of action, twists, and emotion – all being some of the MCU’s finest.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is the best Spider-Man movie, of any iteration, to date. The end of the actual movie will leave you wanting the sequel immediately, but the mid-credits scene makes waiting for it almost unbearable.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Some superhero movies go beyond the status quo and manage to stand above the typical tropes of the genre. Captain America: The Winter Soldier does so in being its own version of a political thriller and providing a more personal story for Steve Rogers while simultaneously expanding the universe. Rogers, once blindly loyal to the institutions he’s served, slowly realizes that they can’t necessarily be trusted and has to ask himself who/what, exactly, he’s willing to be loyal to.
Chris Evans’ portrayal of Steve Rogers is just as good as Robert Downey Jr.’s of Iron Man (yes, really) and this movie proves it. The MCU’s most underrated and under-appreciated movie just happens to also be one of its very best.
4. Marvel’s The Avengers
Technically, every superhero movie is somewhat of a leap of faith, but Marvel’s The Avengers is one of the more drastic ones as this was the first ensemble film of the franchise. And it’s nearly perfect, to the surprise of many (myself included).
The movie juggles all of the characters extremely well, Loki is an enjoyable villain, it’s absolutely hilarious, it takes itself seriously when it needs to, and it provides plenty of highlight moments. It’s the quintessential summer blockbuster film and is always a joy to revisit.
Shwarma for everyone!
3. Captain America: Civil War
On the completely opposite end of the spectrum from Marvel’s The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War is a much darker, more thought-provoking movie that has the Avengers divided on their moral convictions as opposed to fighting aliens in the sky.
Captain America and Iron Man lead the two different responses to The Sokovia Accords (a result of Avengers: Age of Ultron) and their fractured relationship serves as the focus of the movie.
By the end of it, we certainly feel like our favorite heroes suffered a defeat more than a victory in their own respective ways, which in part is why it’s one of my favorites.
2. Avengers: Infinity War
There’s more characters than ever to balance in this one, but the Russo brothers (the directors) manage all of them brilliantly. The movie jumps around to several different settings, each with their own objectives, but it never gets confusing and consistently keeps us on the edge of our seats. Again, there’s a lot going on here, and some of your favorites won’t get as much time on the screen until the sequel, but make no mistake – Avengers: Infinity War is Thanos’ movie.
After years of buildup and more in the shadows than in the spotlight, we get a true understanding of Thanos’ plans and what he feels he’s destined to achieve. This movie is truly epic, provides plenty of laughs even as serious as it is, and ends on the greatest, most heartbreaking cliffhanger.
1. Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame focuses on the original six members of the Avengers, how each of them emotionally respond to Thanos’ success in eliminating half of the universe, and how they rally together in the nearly impossible attempt to bring back everyone that they lost.
Where Infinity War jumps around to many different settings and characters, Endgame is more focused and character-driven on the handful of characters that have been with us since the very beginning. Even though it’s three hours, it certainly doesn’t feel like it with how quickly it moves. There’s no slowing down and every moment feels crucial. Although the mission and its consequences are dire, Endgame feels very much like a celebration of the entire MCU and our favorite heroes.
It is more than just a movie; it is a reward to the fans of the universe as an extremely emotional and deeply satisfying experience.
If you’ve made it this far, I genuinely appreciate you reading all of this! If you’re a fan of the franchise, I’d love to hear your own rankings and where we might differ and/or agree.