In July of 2017, months before the box office success of Thor: Ragnarok, the Marvel Cinematic Universe successfully passed $12 billion in worldwide box office grosses. That’s $1.3 billion a year in less than a decade. Having far surpassed other major franchises like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series, Marvel is showing no sign of slowing down. But the franchise hasn’t always been a certain success. In the beginning, there was quite a bit of skepticism about how a project this ambitious would fare. And along the way, despite almost consistent box office victories, the quality of the movies have been uneven at best. Not all Marvel films are created equal. Here are the 21 films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ranked from worst to best.
21) Thor: The Dark World (2013)
20) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Two years later, I still couldn’t tell you who Ultron is and what his age was. If there was any semblance of plot in this movie, memory of it has been pushed out of my brain in favor of about 30 billion superheroes hitting each other until I felt like I’d just gotten off a mildly dangerous carnival ride. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
19) The Incredible Hulk (2008)
18) Thor (2011)
17) Iron Man 2 (2010)
16) Ant-Man (2015)
15) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
14) Iron Man 3 (2013)
13) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
12) Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
I hope you like hearing the term “quantum.” Ant-Man’s second entry has so much nonsensical techno-babble that it makes Star Trek sound like Steinbeck. Compared to Avengers: Infinity War, which came out a month earlier, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a breezy, inconsequential entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s a refreshing comedic detour in the franchise.
11) Doctor Strange (2016)
10) Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
While the penultimate film in the Avengers title doesn’t continue with the progress seen in other 2017 and 2018 Marvel titles, it does much better at balancing the dozens of moving parts than its predecessor. If only the greatest heroes in the universe were better at protecting these stupid stones. Maybe Thanos deserves to win…
9) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
8) Captain Marvel (2019)
Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel deserved a better movie. Although, this film managed to rewrite 50 years of comic book history to give the character the place she deserved, Captain Marvel is too focused on finding its place in the MCU films before and after it to really shine as a stand-alone movie.
7) Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
In a refreshing change of pace, Marvel turns a Spider-Man movie into a funny teen drama that gives the supporting characters a chance to feel alive. The biggest accomplishment here, though, is making the sixth Spider-Man movie (with the third actor to play Peter Parker) in 15 years somehow not suck. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
6) The Avengers (2012)
The idea seemed doomed. How could Marvel put so many stars, so many heroes into one film? How could they pull off the balancing act of an interconnected universe consisting of a half dozen blockbuster films and fit them into one movie? Though a touch uneven and dizzying, Marvel pulled off one of the most impressive and ambitious feats in the big movie business. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
5) Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Where previous entries felt stuffed to the brim, overwhelming, and just plain messy, Marvel finally found a good balance of the number of superheroes-to-story ratio. Even with appearances from literally everyone—and an introduction to the new Spider-Man—Civil War still somehow feels like a Captain America movie. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
4) Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
After two very bad Thor movies, director Taika Waititi somehow managed to not only save the franchise, but provide a promising formula for the next generation of Marvel movies. Thor: Ragnarok is a hilarious, exciting, and unexpected Marvel movie that stands out from every other film in the MCU, while proving to be one of the best big-budget blockbusters of 2017. Pre-order on Amazon.
3) Iron Man (2008)
It’s the movie that started it all. Iron Man changed not only the superhero genre, but the movie industry as a whole. Plus, this was the movie that brought Robert Downey Jr. back, and the only Iron Man movie in which Tony Stark is a lovable asshole rather than just an asshole. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
2) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians has everything a Marvel movie should be: an awesome soundtrack, a hilarious script, a unique visual style, its own attitude, an ensemble of fully-developed characters, a talking tree, and the rare ability to stand-alone among the rest of the universe. Guardians is at once part of the MCU and literally in its own galaxy, yet it still provides the backbone for how all these worlds are connected. It’s proof that audiences are open to (slightly) new ideas, and don’t require something familiar and rehashed every time. Buy/rent on Amazon and iTunes.
1) Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther is unlike any other Marvel movie, one that says something about our world in ways the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t (despite their best intentions). Featuring a phenomenal collection of actors playing some of the most complex characters found in a superhero movie, Black Panther‘s pairing of Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan as bitter rivals results in a nuanced thematic conflict that puts most Marvel plot lines to shame. Most importantly: It’s fun as hell, visually dazzling, and a refreshing addition to a film series that desperately needed a boost to keep it from becoming stale.