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Every MCU Movie, Ranked, From Iron Man to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Avengers (and every MCU movie so far) assemble!
Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently underway, and the interconnected storytelling maelstrom now has over 30 movies in its canon. It also has a few television shows weaving in and out too, but we're not going consider them in this the impossible task we've chosen.
What is this impossible task? Ranking all 32 movies.
RELATED: Kevin Feige digs into Phase 5 of the MCU: 'Fantastic 4,' 'Blade,' 'Thunderbolts,' 'Spider-Man 4' & more
It feels impossible because we like every single one of them. There aren't any that we don't enjoy watching; we just like some more than others. Some of them are only possible because of what other entries did previously, and some don't have the benefit of being shiny new releases, the most recent being Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. While Star-Lord, Groot, and Rocket are fighting the High Evolutionary, we'll be here ranking best and worst movies from the MCU.
32. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Directed by Alan Taylor in 2013, this second romp with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Asgard gang didn't do anything particularly big or bold, story-wise, hence why it is often regarded among fans as a low-point in the MCU.
However, Thor forced to work with adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a highlight; Hiddleston steals every scene he's in, especially in his final "death" knell. Anthony Hopkins continues to hone the "Odin shout" that he introduced in the first Thor, and the third act's inventive, multi-realm chase involving Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), Thor, and Mjolnir is wonderful. Watching this after the third Thor movie as well as the Loki streaming series makes it a more complete viewing experience.
31. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
It may be ranked near-last, but there are moments from this 2008 take on Bruce Banner from director Louis Leterrier that are entertaining to watch. Edward Norton is solid in his first and only Hulk movie, though if his replacement, Mark Ruffalo, had been cast to begin with, Incredible Hulk likely would rank higher on the list.
Liv Tyler is a delight as Betty Ross (she should come back to the MCU) and the set pieces are action-packed, popcorn entertainment. Parts of this movie continue to find their way into the rest of the MCU, including General Ross (William Hurt) and Abomination (Tim Roth). It was also the movie that let us know that MCU connections were going to start happening — the Stark Industries logo is seen often, and Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr.) pops up in the post-credits scene. A larger world was beginning, and we had no idea how far it would truly go.
30. Iron Man 2 (2010)
This breaks our hearts. Some of us here want to put this one in the top 10, but that would be crazy. Jon Favreau's 2010 sequel is not as fast and fresh as the original, but this movie does have some immense joys within it.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) doesn't just have a cameo, he's in multiple scenes for the first time. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is also introduced, and she introduces her "poser pose." Rhodey (Don Cheadle) is at odds with Tony for most of the movie, and though it's uncomfortable to watch these two fight, their scenes are very good. Both of them fighting drones in the finale is very brief, but it's great while it lasts.
The real highlights, though? Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, and the way he says "bird" over and over. "Bird" becomes "Booeerrddd" and we're obsessed with that. We're also obsessed with every single beat of Sam Rockwell's performance as Justin Hammer. He's having the time of his life, and this movie shines anew every time he's on screen.
29. Eternals (2021)
We're gonna have to sit with this Phase 4 entry a while longer. That said, lists have to be made. Here we are.
Director Chloé Zhao gave us something really different with this movie. It's not like any MCU movie that has come before it, and because of that we didn't really know what to make of it when we first saw it. We still don't know, but the thing is ... we keep thinking about it. We can't stop thinking about it.
The story of Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), and the rest of their dysfunctional space family has stuck with us. All 10 of the titular Eternals have at least one stand-out moment, and that's no small feat, especially since we're meeting them all for the first time. Kit Harrington is on hand as Dane Whitman, proving that he's not all Jon Snow shadow and doom. A completely un-powered character almost steals everything, however: Harish Patel kills it as Karun, assistant to Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani).
In case all of those characters weren't enough, the movie adds in Pip the Troll (Patton Oswalt), Eros (Harry Styles), and Blade (Mahershala Ali) right at the end. Again, we still don't know what to make of this thing, but we're ranking it here because we're still thinking about it well after the point when we normally wouldn't be.
28. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Director James Gunn's second round with the a-holes in 2017 is beautiful. Why is it so low on this list? Some of the character beats that we had thought were learned in the first movie had to be learned again. There's a slight feeling of "we've already seen this" going on, needledrops included. We love it anyway.
Something we'd never seen before, in any movie, was a giant Pac-Man fighting a celestial Kurt Russell. As Ego, Russell nails every moment ... we just aren't as fascinated by the parentage of Peter Quill as we once were. Pom Klementieff is also added to the cast as Mantis, but her best lines in the MCU come in other movies.
Michael Rooker's Yondu walks (or flies) away with the whole thing. His epic arrow assault on the Ravagers, the line "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all," and his final lines to Quill make us love Yondu more than we ever thought we would.
27. Thor (2011)
Could a Norse space god truly be a part of the same cinematic universe as a guy in a fancy metal suit and a green rage monster? Kenneth Branagh let us know in 2011 that the answer was yes. It didn't seem possible, but now we can't imagine the MCU any other way.
This addition shouldn't have worked, but the Shakespearean gravitas given to it by Branagh helps to ground it. Anthony Hopkins further grounds things as Odin, and we live for every time he deploys an "Odinshout." The real masterstroke here was the casting of Hemsworth and Hiddleston, two unknowns who have now grown into mega superstars.
Hemsworth didn't suddenly become funny a few movies after this (though later films would capitalize on it more). His entire "fish out of water" journey in this movie is hilarious, especially his mug smashing. He also has great chemistry with Natalie Portman's Jane Foster. The designs, the style, and the general mythos of this movie opened up an entirely new section of the MCU and made it bigger and better. Not to repeat ourselves again, but things just went so much further after this ... and in the case of Jane Foster, they will continue to.
26. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
With Thor: Ragnarok (which you’ll find much higher up on this list), Taika Waititi finally did something the MCU should’ve done a long time ago: Let Thor truly be funny. And, just as importantly, let Chris Hemsworth actually showcase his talents as a gifted comic actor. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated follow-up, Love and Thunder, proves there can be too much of a good thing.
With some exceptions — a pair of screaming goats gets a laugh every single time they shriek, for instance — Love and Thunder’s jokes feel a little too ... calibrated, like Waititi and Co. are trying to recreate the lightning in a bottle that was Ragnarok without any real sense of purpose. Love and Thunder brings Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster back to the MCU, introduces a delightfully unhinged Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher, and does some neat things with visuals in a typical very same-y looking franchise. And yet, it all feels a bit vapid, in part because the focus on humor comes at the expense of any real sense of stakes. The parts of the movie that do feel heavy, like the death of a child by starvation that kicks off the film, aren’t impactful so much as jarring in this context.
Love and Thunder isn’t bad. It just feels more akin to “Like and Static” than its actual bombastic title.
25. Ant-Man (2015)
Somewhere around the fight in the falling briefcase, we realized that we'd been smiling the entire time this movie had been playing. Directed by Peyton Reed in 2015, this comedic gem is often forgotten in the grand scheme of the MCU, but it always goes down smooth.
Paul Rudd is charming and funny as Scott Lang, and what a shock that was! Not really. Evangeline Lilly plays a perfect foil/ally to him, and Michael Douglas grounds everything as Hank Pym. The way Reed toys around with scale is exciting as well as hilarious, and Thomas the Tank Engine growing huge and bursting through a wall is always appreciated. The movie also gifts us with Luis (Michael Peña) and the way he tells stories.
It's a whimsical heist movie, and it establishes all of the major skills for the character. Other movies would show us what he was truly capable of.
24. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Peyton Reed took us for another walk on the wacky side in 2018, and boy did we need it after Avengers: Infinity War. Much like the first Ant-Man, this movie is a fun romp. When it's not romping, it's bringing the tears with the introduction of Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).
The scene of Scott being stuck in mid-transformation and having to escape a school looking like a mutated Hobbit stands out, but when we think of this movie we really think of the very long chase scene that makes up most of the finale. Both Hannah John-Kamen and Walton Goggins are involved, so what's not to like?
Some may say that you can skip this one, but that's a hard no. Lilly's first go at being the Wasp is a joy to behold, and everything that we learn about the Quantum Realm proved to be very necessary.
23. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Including the team-up movies, this was our fifth outing with Holland as Peter Parker, and our love for him in the role had only grown. Even though he spent most of this movie abroad, he had even more trouble juggling his superhero life with the life of an ordinary school kid. Compounding everything here are the five years of the "blip" which the movie doesn't ignore.
Holland is as charming as ever, but it is his chemistry with the equally charming Zendaya that makes Jon Watts' second Spidey film special. Her M.J. is no dope, she has known for a while who Peter Parker really is. Their long, awkward, teenage courtship is precious, and it's nice to add someone else in on the big secret.
Spider senses, or the "Peter tingle" is finally introduced in this movie, and this gives us another classic MCU action scene. Using only his tingle, Peter takes out a huge swarm of drones. The end of the movie slammed us in the face, with the unexpected (yet very welcome) return of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. The image of Simmons blowing Peter's secret on every screen in New York was the perfect way to close out Phase 3.
22. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
One of the big team-up movies ranked at #20? Madness! Yeah, tough decisions all around. Ask us tomorrow and this could easily jump five or six slots. Joss Whedon's 2015 follow-up to his first Avengers movie is great, we just don't like it as much as all of the other big team-ups.
The Avengers themselves show off how well they've come to work with each other, and James Spader is inspired casting as Ultron. We meet Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) for the first time, and as good as Olsen is, she soon becomes truly great in future appearances. This is (as of now) the only appearance of her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) but he makes the most of it, and the beat of him trying to catch Mjolnir sticks out. Paul Bettany comes along as Vision for the movie's final third and decides to walk away with the whole thing ... almost.
The first Avengers skimps on Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), so this one features him a lot. His quips are good, but his speech to Wanda in movie's finale ("you step out that door, you are an Avenger...") might be the best Hawkeye scene in the entire MCU.
It we had to gripe about anything, it would be that this movie takes place over the course of a few days, which is hardly an "age." Natasha doesn't fare very well either. We're not gonna gripe, though. We'd love to see Spader return as Ultron.
21. Doctor Strange (2016)
Speaking of origin stories where the lesson is service over self, here's Dr. Stephen Strange. Director Scott Derrickson took us all for a ride on the magical side of the MCU in 2016, and the wizards have been here to stay ever since.
On looks alone, it's a beauty, and the colors absolutely dazzle. The inventive journey of Strange is fascinating to watch. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect in the part, and he gets better every time he pops into a movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor is also great (when is he not?) and though there's not much of her, Rachel McAdams is in it too. Bonus points for her presence.
The two connections that keep us coming back to this movie are Strange's growing relationship with Wong (Benedict Wong), and what he learns from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). As she is dying, she imparts Strange with the most important wisdom of all: it's not about you. The endless timeloop with Dormammu also helps this movie's ranking, as does the incredible score from Michael Giacchino.
20. Black Widow (2021)
We haven't had as much time with this Phase 4 movie (or the others in Phase 4) as we have with the others, so the rankings of all of them could easily change.
In 2021, we finally got Natasha Romanoff's backstory. Directed by Cate Shortland, the movie put Johansson front and center, retroactively squeezing this story between Civil War and Infinity War. It has a very real message, and it also features stand-out performances from Johansson, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz.
It's Florence Pugh who comes to conquer as Yelena Belova, however, and the movie makes us love her instantly. Her banter with Johansson is fantastic, and her own quips to herself are joyous. Scenes of the entire family together are highlights of the movie, because in no time at all we have come to care about all of them. The action doesn't necessarily let us down, but the character beats are the reason to watch.
The only real problem we have here is that this is a Phase 4 movie. We already know what happens to Natasha in Endgame, and that isn't reversed. This is a prequel, and it would have been really great if the whole movie had happened years ago instead of being done like this. Still, it gives some closure to Natasha and it introduces Yelena. We're happy to have it. It has so many pockets.
19. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
In SYFY WIRE’s interview with the directors of Everything Everywhere All at Once — a movie that’s also about a multiverse that’s not lacking in madness — the pair pointed out a fundamental flaw in multiversal storytelling. “The multiverse is so anti-narrative, because the moment you introduce it, no decisions matter,” Daniel Kwan said. Kwan and Daniel Scheinert overcame this pitfall in their own way, but with the Doctor Strange sequel, director Sam Raimi took a different approach. His movie leans into the bonkers, irreverent and disposable nature of the multiverse.
This is a movie that’s full of bait-and-switches, one that weaponizes fan service against the audience in a way that some fans might not like, but people with a sense of humor will dig. It’s a messy, nasty, scary, gory and silly movie, much more so than any other MCU entry. For all the MCU’s strengths, the franchise does suffer from a sense of sameness, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels different in a madcap way. Raimi’s love of dutch angles certainly helps.
18. Iron Man Three (2013)
An MCU Christmas miracle! Coming from director Shane Black in 2013, the third Iron Man movie kicked off Phase 2 in crazy style. Tony is suffering from PTSD following the events of The Avengers, and he's built an army of suits. His latest suit, Mark 42, barely works. He's a mess, and this movie charts his breakdown as demons from his past come calling.
Here's one scene that makes us love the whole thing: Tony storming into a compound armed only with items that he got from a hardware store. As he says in the end, they can take away his stuff, but he's still Iron Man. He proves it in that scene. He's out of the suit a lot of the time here, but he still kicks ass. His banter with Don Cheadle shines in the finale, and Gwyneth Paltrow gets in on some hot action as Pepper Potts.
As for the infamous villain twist with the "Mandarin?" We didn't hate it then, and we don't hate it now. Ben Kingsley is gold on both sides of that reveal, and heaven help us, we love him as Trevor Slattery. He panicked, but then he handled it? Why do we love Trevor; why do we love Hopkins shouting; why do we love Justin Hammer? No idea, we just do. The truth of the Mandarin would eventually come, and that helps a lot. As for Trevor, we hear his Lear was the toast of Croydon. Wherever that is.
17. Iron Man (2008)
The summer of 2008 was packed with big movies. The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Hellboy II: The Golden Arm were all on the docket. Nobody thought that an Iron Man movie from Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. was going to be anything more than a blip on the radar, but look what happened.
Downey was magical in the role. The movie itself is perfectly paced. The action was great, the humor was solid, and most important of all, you cared. By the time Tony's extended stay in the cave is over, you care about him. You love him.
It's a brilliant origin movie, and not just for Tony Stark. The DNA of the MCU is all right here. Action, comedy, fun, but most importantly: character. They make you care about the heroes and they make you want to rage at the villains. It seems like a no-brainer, but how many movies fail at that? The MCU exists because Favreau absolutely nailed this movie.
16. Captain Marvel (2019)
We have nothing to prove to you. We love this movie. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck in 2019, this cosmic origin brought Carol Danvers to the MCU at long last. It showed off the Kree homeworld of Hala, and then went on to show off ... the '90's. It was a lot more fun than we thought it would be.
Brie Larson is perfect in the role, in every aspect. A de-aged Samuel L. Jackson has a ton to do here too, and he has great chemistry with Larson. There's also Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, who turned out not to be an antagonist after all. He has many of the movie's funniest lines, especially when he's asked if he can turn into a filing cabinet.
The scene that we always remember though is when Carol finds her strength. Flashing back, she remembers that what has always set her apart is the fact that she always gets back up. Yes, she falls. She gets back up every time. Right after that, she unleashes herself from the Kree ... and that's that. When her former mentor (Jude Law) challenges her, she just blasts him like a flea.
They also put a Flerken in the movie.
15. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania continues to push the boundary of what’s possible in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, delivering insane concepts and imagery that would have been unthinkable when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) first hit the big screen almost a decade ago. But if you think about it, there was no one better to kick off Phase 5 of the MCU, aka the second leg of our journey through the Multiverse Saga that leads to The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars.
The microscopic hero’s post-Endgame adventure in the Quantum Realm alongside Hope (Evangeline Lily), Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hank (Michael Douglas), and Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is delightful comic book storytelling at its most inventive.
The mile-a-minute screenplay from Rick and Morty alum Jeff Loveness throws every conceivable idea at the wall to see what sticks — and pretty much all of it does. A guy with broccoli for a head? Sure thing! A happy-go-lucky slime creature who excretes an ooze that allows you to speak the local language? Check! Bill Murray playing a douchey Quantum lord? You better believe it! Returning director Peyton Reed expertly weaves these seemingly disparate elements together for a satisfying culmination to the subatomic saga of a dude who talks to ants — all while setting up the MCU’s next Big Bad in Kang the Conquerer.
Jonathan Majors absolutely dominates the screen as the dreaded warlord, barely containing the swirling vortex of inter-dimensional rage he is about to unleash upon the multiverse. Put another way, Quantumania represents a terrifying follow-through on the warning given by He Who Remains in the Season 1 finale of Loki: “If you think I’m evil ... well, just wait ‘till you meet my variants.”
A scene-stealing Corey Stoll rounds out the entire package as a sycophantic M.O.D.O.K. Again, who would have ever thought Marvel Studios could ever make a laughable character like that work onscreen? It works here, and it works sooo well.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
We didn't think that we'd ever care about Steve Rogers, and wow, how wrong we were. Some of us didn't know Captain America from the comics like many others did, and we didn't care to learn. Joe Johnston then came along in 2011 with his Steve Rogers origin story, mostly set in World War II, and everything changed.
We love the entire vibe of this movie, as Johnston makes it feel like a '40s comic come alive. We love the musical number, the action scenes, and we love Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell. The real reason this is ranked so high, though, is because damn ... it make us love Steve Rogers.
We love scrawny Steve, and we love bulky Steve. Like Iron Man before it, this movie make us care about him early. Many other MCU origins involve the lesson that it's about service, and not self. Steve doesn't have that problem. He doesn't need three movies to make a sacrifice play, he makes one in the first 15 minutes of his first movie. The moment Chris Evans tosses himself on that grenade (which he thinks is active), he has us. He is a selfless man of service.
Evans is another example of perfect casting in the MCU. After this movie, we were ready to follow him into hell. Without this origin, the team-up movie that came next would not have worked.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
The third Guardians of the Galaxy movie (and the final one to be directed by James Gunn, who is off to reboot DC’s cinematic universe and direct a Superman movie) feels like the end of an era. In some ways, Vol. 3 feels like even more of a capstone than Avengers: Endgame did. And, in part for that reason, it’s a strange, emotional, and surprisingly morose affair, albeit peppered with lots of Gunn’s trademark humor and absurdity.
Vol. 3 sees the team at a crossroads, with multiple members going their separate ways at the conclusion, either seeking closure or trying to chart a path for themselves for the very first time. It’s also an extended look at Rocket’s backstory, and it’s some of the most horrific imagery the MCU has produced yet. Seriously — a lot has been made about how this is the first Marvel movie with an F-bomb, but Rocket’s torture and experimentation at the hands of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) is deeply upsetting and emotionally effective stuff. This might be the first MCU movie that young kids probably shouldn’t see. And yet, despite (or because) of all this darkness, Vol. 3 is a tearjerking, affecting triumph. It’s a reminder of what the MCU can be when audiences actually care about these characters.
12. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) had already come to the MCU in Civil War, but director Jon Watts presided over his first solo movie in 2017. Parker was actually a high school student for the entire movie, and that alone makes this a very different Spider-Man affair than any previous Spider-Man movie.
Sure, this version of Peter has help in the form of Tony Stark, but he's still a nerdy genius. He makes his own web formula, and when Stark takes his fancy suit away, Parker proves that he's still got what it takes. A standout scene (taken directly from the comics) is when he has to get out from under a huge pile of rubble. He repeats the phrase, "Come on, Spider-Man..." again and again. Holland already had our hearts, but he won them all over again there.
Our overall favorite scene in this movie is also one of our overall favorites in the entire MCU. Michael Keaton appears as Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture. He's been fighting with Spidey for the first two acts, but then it's revealed that Toomes is the father of the girl Peter is taking to Homecoming. Keaton and Holland share a scene in a car, pre-dance, that is really two scenes in one. It's the big villain threatening the hero, but it's also a father threatening the guy who is taking his daughter out. That's one hell of a Peter Parker moment.
11. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
A Phase 4 movie this high? We've only rewatched it a few times, it's too soon, how could we put this so high? It really is that good and we love it that much, that's why.
Tony Stark built the MCU in a cave from a box of scraps in 2008, but cut to 2021 and director Destin Daniel Cretton is giving us a giant magical dragon fight in the realm of Ta Lo. No, Pietro, we did not see that coming. Simu Liu as Shang-Chi participates in some of the most beautiful action scenes that the MCU has ever seen, but this movie belongs to Tony Leung. Years after Iron Man 3, the true story of the "Mandarin" is told, and every single second of Wenwu is spectacular.
We knew we were in for something special when Leung came across his future wife (Fala Chen) in a garden outside Ta Lo. It's partially a fight scene, and partially a love scene. It's banter through dance. It's like nothing else in the MCU, and it knocked us flat. When Shang-Chi uses similar moves later in the movie against his father, it's both heartbreaking and ass-kicking.
There's nothing unworthy here. Gorgeous creature design. Awkwafina singing "Hotel California" not once, but twice. Benedict Wong having an extended cameo. Ben Kingsley returning as the toast of Croydon. Every scene with Meng'er Zhang as Xialing. Every scene with Michelle Yeoh.
We cannot wait for the Ten Rings to return.
10. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
What should have been a triumphant return for King T’Challa in a post-Blip MCU instead became a heart-wrenching tribute to Chadwick Boseman, whose untimely passing cast a long shadow over the production of Wakanda Forever before it had even begun. Still, the long-awaited sequel from director and co-writer Ryan Coogler tackles Boseman’s death as well as fans could have hoped for.
The opening scene in which Shuri (Letitia Wright) desperately attempts to save her ailing brother tragically encapsulates the sense of loss and helplessness the world felt when Boseman left us in the middle of a blazing career made up of one dynamite performance after another. That inexpressible pain comes across in the central performances, so much so that Angela Bassett's fiery reprise of Queen Ramonda rightfully dabbed Marvel its first-ever Oscar nomination for acting.
Heavy themes of grief, family, leadership, responsibility, friendship, guilt, and revenge permeate the nearly 3-hour movie, which places the titular nation at odds with the rest of the world and the underwater kingdom of Talokan. Tenoch Huerta’s Namor (a longtime nemesis of Wakanda in the comics) sends Shuri down a path that sees her taking on the mantle of Black Panther. It’s a duty she never expected to inherit, but one that must be carried forward — one that perpetuates the ideals of fairness and cooperation prized by the late king.
9. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
One word: Airport.
This is almost a full Avengers movie disguised as a Captain America movie, as it's jammed with all kinds of characters from the MCU. T'Challa and Peter Parker both make their debut here. Ant-Man goes big for the first time, and the Wanda/Vision romance begins here too.
Still, Steve Rogers is the focus for this second jaunt from the Russo Brothers, which came out in 2016. Steve's ongoing journey with Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and his utter refusal to play by the rules of the Sokovia Accords are at the heart of the entire affair. The airport scene has the flashiest visuals and quips (and Team Cap definitely beats Team Tony), but the three-way fight with Steve, Tony, and Bucky at the end hurts more. After so much time with both Tony and Steve, we really don't want to see them fighting each other. That it hurts to watch is not only a testament to this movie, it's a testament to everything that came before it.
This is a much different way of doing the famous Civil War storyline from the comics. It is probably heresy to write this, but ... we like this version more? You're probably already throwing rocks, so just keep throwing.
8. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Director Jon Watts delivers the best, and most emotionally compelling, of his MCU Spidey trilogy with the nostalgia-powered Spider-Man: No Way Home, a movie that reaches back into past live-action Spider-Man movies and plucks some of their iconic characters to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The end result is one of the most crowd-pleasing blockbusters Marvel Studios has ever produced, a movie whose beating heart is less reliant on the show-stopping set pieces (though there are many) and more on the core relationship between Peter Parker (Tom Holland), MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon).
When the three wannabe MIT students are denied admission following their association with their friend and vigilante, Spider-Man, a somewhat selfless Peter tries to fix the situation for his friends by imploring Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to perform a spell that will erase certain peoples' knowledge that Peter is really Spider-Man.
That spell goes sideways and causes pockets of the multiverse to leak into the MCU timeline proper, where Holland's Peter Parker is forced to team up with other Peter Parkers (Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire) to battle a select group of foes from the previous Spidey's gallery of villains. The most effective and resonate of the bunch is Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborne, who once again flicks between tragic figure and demented Green Goblin as the former questions his place in a world where his son doesn't exist while the latter wants to drop pumpkin bombs and seize the power that allows for such multiverse tears to happen.
No Way Home wisely wears its heart on its sleeve as the emotional stakes of all the Peter Parkers' worlds couldn't be higher. All three of them need each other's respective skillsets, and emotional baggage, to find both solace and success in using their worlds to save this one. In between fist-pumping set pieces and poignant (and hilarious) interactions between the Spideys, No Way Home delivers an Avengers: Endgame-level good time at the movies.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
We never thought this would work (we've written that a few times already and write it again) but James Gunn proved that it could and would work in 2014. The Guardians were not well known characters at all, but thanks to this movie, they're close to being household names.
This was the MCU going cosmic, and aside from the ongoing Infinity Stone tie-in, it's barely connected to anything else. The outer space visuals are gorgeous, but it is the comedy that always stands out. The writing is sharp, and every actor delivers it perfectly. John C. Reilly's delivery about not knowing whether "anyone is 100% a dick" will always make us laugh.
Once again, it is the heart of the movie that makes it special. This wounded group of a-holes have no one else, and deep down they know it. They band together because of it. By the end, all of them have found their home. Also, come on: It's a big wacky space movie that features a guy with a Walkman, a green woman with multiple swords, a talking tree, and a sarcastic raccoon creature. How the hell this movie worked at all is a minor miracle.
6. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
It could be done! In 2012, Joss Whedon brought all of the MCU heroes together. The first big crossover event not only happened, it was really fantastic. Because Marvel took the time to introduce us to everyone (and make us love them), we were ready for this movie to rock socks. It did not let us down.
Seeing Iron Man and Captain America side by side for the first time was a Moment with a capital "M." Seeing Thor quip with the both of them in the woods was another Moment. Samuel L. Jackson presiding over everything, the sacrifice of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and the snarling return of Hiddleston's Loki all added to the magic until ... the Battle of New York.
Every Avenger was doing what they do best, and some of it was in long, continuous shots. Thor and Cap retrieved Mjolnir and shield, respectively, at the same time. Hulk punched out a metal space whale after his line, "I'm always angry." Stark went for the sacrifice play, and, come on, you saw it. Everyone saw it. If this movie didn't work, then the MCU wouldn't still be around. It's definitely still around, and this movie is still fantastic. The Avengers assembled a few more times after this, and each time everything got more epic. This was but a taste of what audiences would get later.
5. Black Panther (2018)
Chadwick Boseman. A hero and a king in this movie, a hero and a king in real life. We've talked about plenty of actors who have perfectly encapsulated everything that their MCU characters stood for, but no one touches Boseman in that department.
The 2018 smash hit from director Ryan Coogler focused on Boseman's T'Challa as well as Wakanda itself, and it was like nothing we'd ever seen in a comic book movie. The stylings of African art mixed with science fiction was incredible, as was the design of everything Wakandan. Coogler also wove in many real world issues, and the movie had something to say about the state of the world. It still does. Most of this is thanks to the film's antagonist, Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. He's not wrong in his thinking, he just goes about fixing things in the wrong way. T'Challa's journey is about finding a better way, which he ultimately does.
Boseman's loss was tragic, but his legacy will always live on through his work. This movie is a fine example.
4. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Go ahead and sue us, we had to do it. Taika Waititi's 2017 smash isn't bigger than either of the previous two entries, but it's a subversive bit of true inspiration and it is astonishing that a major corporate conglomerate allowed it to be made.
Thor has never been funnier than he is in this nigh-pixelated fever dream, and Hiddleston's Loki has also never been better. Ruffalo's Hulk joins in, as does Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. On the cosmic side of this movie there's also Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum. He's doing whatever he feels like.
On the Asgard side, Cate Blanchett rules as Hela. She uncovers the true bloody history of the kingdom, and it isn't pretty. Asgard is as big and as great as it is because they were deadly conquerors. The people of Asgard end this movie as refugees. What? Somehow Waititi put all of that in the same movie as Goldblum shimmy-dancing at a turntable.
He doesn't sit on it long, but Thor finally takes the throne at the end of the film, and the original Thor score by Patrick Doyle is heard. As Odin told his sons early on in the movie, Asgard is a people, not a place. The place may be gone, but as long as the people survive, Asgard survives.
It's only our opinion of course, but for us, this is the funniest MCU movie. It's also the most poignant. How it manages to be both of those things at the same time is astounding. We love it more than Steve loves arguing about Bucky. We love it more than Vanko loves his bird. We love it more than Endgame. Out of 26 movies, we love it the most of all. It is truly worthy.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
"Is that the one with Robert Redford?" - Someone's mother, probably.
The Russo Brothers made a name for themselves with this entry in 2014, and it's no wonder why they were soon given the reins for the Avengers on the whole. Where the first Cap movie was WWII pastiche, this one is all spycraft and espionage. It's not a world that Cap knows, and it's not one that he's comfortable with.
It played gorgeously in 2014 and it plays even better today. Anthony Mackie shines in his first appearance as Sam WIlson, and "on your left" became a thing. Evans gets a lot of time with Johansson, and their characters ping off of each other nicely. The relationship of Steve and Bucky is obviously hugely important, and both actors play the hell out of all of their scenes together. Stan also proves to be a formidable asskicker, featuring in almost all of the movie's most memorable action scenes.
The central twist is still our favorite part, though. The beloved agency that you know and love? Yeah, it's actually secretly run by Nazis. S.H.I.E.L.D. actually being HYDRA is a gut punch. Steve deciding to bring it all down, no matter what, is a punch the air moment. If you really wanted to pinpoint the movie where the entire MCU kicked it all into high gear, we'd probably say that it started here. We're with this movie to the end of the line.
2. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Shocker, the biggest Avengers movies are towards the top. What imaginations we have! Come on, there's a reason that they're always ranked so high.
We were having a nice summer in 2018, and then the Russo brothers came along and made Thanos (Josh Brolin) the star of this movie. They let him go ahead and snap half of the MCU out of existence, had him look at the sunrise, and that was that. As if that wasn't enough, the movie had the audacity of ending with the words, "Thanos will return."
Audacity all around, really, because how do you have the balls to end a movie that way? Readers of the comics definitely saw it coming, but they also probably didn't think that the MCU would go that far. A fourth Avengers movie was happening, but it was a year away. This movie not only let Thanos win, it dusted T'Challa, Peter Parker, most of the Guardians, and more.
Before that moment though, it's just movie movie movie for days. For days! Every time you think that it can't get bigger, it does. T'Challa and the Wakandans charge. Wanda joins the fight. Thor joins the fight. Steve stops Thanos' gauntleted hand for a moment. Tony Stark almost dies. Dr. Strange has a planet thrown at him. It is unrelenting.
It has roughly a million characters and the central villain, if done badly, would have come off as a wrinkly CGI Grimace. Thanos is anything but that, he's a towering achievement in a movie full of them. The entire MCU was building up to this movie, and it delivered.
1. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
How do you follow up a movie like Infinity War in any kind of satisfying way? How do you solve a problem like Maria? The Russos answered the first question in 2019. We'll never know the answer to the second question.
All of the original Avengers go on a grand quest through time (and the MCU) to set everything right again. What's different now? Scott Lang and knowledge about the Quantum Realm ... and Carol Danvers. In going back and recapturing the Infinity Stones to make a gauntlet of their own, Tony finally makes peace with his father, Steve realizes his days of fighting can't last forever, the Loki streaming show is made possible, and Natasha dies. Bruce Banner, now Professor Hulk, performs a snap. A different version of Thanos comes calling. Steve, Tony, and Thor have at him.
Did you see this in the theater? We bet you did. If so, you won't soon forget what happened next. Steve Rogers lifts Mjolnir, as these three heroes try to knock Thanos in the dirt. They can't quite get it done, and Thanos eventually calls out his giant army. Steve stands against them alone, with half of his shield strapped to his arm. It's one of the most visually stunning shots in the MCU.
And then? "On your left."
Portals. Everyone who was dusted comes back, and everyone, in every movie theater everywhere, lost their damn minds. The battle that came next managed to outdo Infinity War, and that was before Wanda decided to grease Thanos herself (which she almost does) and before Carol came flying in to bust up his ship. The day is won thanks to Tony Stark making the greatest sacrifice play of all, in a moment that paid off every movie since Iron Man in 2008.
The MCU would not be the same after this. Tony dies, Steve has some kind of timey-wimey life with Peggy Carter, and everyone has to move on. If there's a more epic MCU movie out there (or more epic comic book movie in general), then please let us know. Epic spectacle, but as always, that doesn't matter without heart. Infinity War rips it out, Endgame repairs it and puts it back. It doesn't get any better.
Wanna catch up on the previous phases of the MCU? Keep an eye on the SYFY schedule for frequent Marvel flicks on the calendar. Want to go even deeper into the Marvel fault? Catch the 2003 Hulk film streaming now on Peacock.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.