One of the largest (if not THE largest) film franchises is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU. Packed to the brim with action, adventure, love, friendship and superheroes, Marvel films have so much to offer for super fans and casual viewers alike.
The MCU usually brings people together, be it the collective emotions over the death of a character or the overwhelming excitement when a new project comes out. However, most recently seen with the release of the few Disney+ series, people typically argue on what projects are the best and what are the worst.
Though this list is subjective and only includes shows and movies that are incorporated into the official MCU timeline (i.e. not including Daredevil, Cloak and Dagger, Jessica Jones, etc.), here’s a list of every MCU film and Disney+ series ranked from worst to best and why:
31. Thor: The Dark World
This last place slot might be controversial. Though the first Thor film is packed with charm and Thor: Ragnarok is almost always a crowd favorite, the second Thor film falls short — ridiculously so — of what fans have come to expect from Marvel storytelling. The story is slow-paced and boring and, OK, the setup is necessary for future films, but it could’ve been done in a much more exciting way. However, I will say at least this film still had incredible performances from Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Natalie Portman (Jane) and more.
30. Iron Man 2
Two words: Mickey Rourke. His performance is so off-putting, it’s almost entirely the reason this film ranks so low. As with the Thor series, Iron Man’s second film falls short of the expectation. The first Iron Man packs a punch and gets even Tony Stark haters excited for the rest of the series, and the third has so much excitement it’s nearly overflowing. The second film, though not a complete skip in the series, leaves many bored and wanting for the next Marvel film on the list.
29. The Incredible Hulk
A lot of people debate whether or not this film should count because it was made before Mark Ruffalo became the official Hulk in the MCU and Edward Norton was the smashing doctor. More than anything, the lack of Ruffalo’s front seat is the reason this one falls lower on the list. Frankly, too, the animation of the Hulk is kind of terrifying and nowhere near the level of the Ruffalo animated transitions. Though this isn’t necessarily the film’s fault, as it was a product of the technology available, it still just isn’t the greatest and definitely not one to recommend.
28. Agent Carter
While it’s enjoying to watch the lovely Hayley Atwell diving into her role as Peggy Carter, action shows like this usually fall flat of my expectations for a great MCU production. This is definitely one where all the love goes out to the performances, but not a lot of favorability goes to the show itself.
27. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It’s basically canon that without Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), there would be no Avengers. So, it’s only fitting that in the seven-season show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Phil gets a little more screen time than just a tragic death. Phil Coulson and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are the silent heroes of the Avengers, and it’s amazing to get a sneak peek into more of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that do the work to help the superheroes. We also get to see more of an attack on Hydra, which always pumps up the audience to get a win.
Like the first Iron Man or Captain America films, Thor is just a lovely classic. It’s not always one that people will look to rewatch or think about often like some of the other films and shows, but it has so much charm and great moments that are memorable to the audience. Additionally, it has a great message for all ages about needing to find worthiness within yourself rather than relying on material possessions or titles/rank to determine your worth.
This film scores so high almost primarily for the dynamic trio of Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly as Hope Pym. The film has funny and touching moments, but the three of them together is pure dynamite. The first film isn’t as great as the second film, but it’s still a great hero origin film, especially one that’s out of the box.
24. Guardians of the Galaxy
These films almost seem like they wouldn’t be a part of the timeline, but their connection to the infinity series is really well done. The ragtag group of anti-heroes are incredibly entertaining, but it’s more of a slow burn to get them to be in the spot where they’re a chosen family for each other. Plus, watching the tension between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is excruciating because we all know they’ll get together at some point.
23. Iron Man
In the same way as Thor, the first Iron Man film is just iconic. It kick-started the MCU, it became the most iconic role for Robert Downey Jr. and, simply put, it’s the perfect way to set up Tony Stark’s merit in terms of brilliance and his sarcastic, confident yet loveable attitude. Arguably no one in the MCU is as well cast in their role as RDJ is for Iron Man, and between that, the flirtation with Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) and the first reveal of his high-tech suit, Iron Man is definitely one to rewatch.
22. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
This film would be on an equal level with the first Guardians film, but this one has slightly more of an interesting plot line and the incredible addition of Kurt Russell as Ego. We also get a fantastic display of Yondu (Michael Rooker)’s power with his head fin and arrow — which, in my opinion, is the coolest weapon in the entirety of the MCU. There’s no exposition of the Guardians’ relationship forming to get through, and we get more bonding between Gamora and Star-Lord.
21. Ant-Man and the Wasp
Ant-Man and the Wasp brings one of the most complex and interesting villains (who isn’t really a villain), which makes it all the better from the first film. We also get some great moments with Scott Lang (Rudd) and his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Plus, the mid-credit scene is so devastating it still gives me chills to just think about it.
20. The Avengers
I’d like to mention how hard it was to arrange the films from this point. To kick off the top 20, we’ll start with The Avengers, which is another MCU classic. The first point of seeing the Hulk (Ruffalo), Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Thor (Hemsworth) is nothing short of chill-inducing. The iconic circle shot when fighting against Loki is enough to put the film in the top 20.
19. Captain America: The First Avenger
While it’s shocking that this film isn’t higher, it’s solely because of the lovely Sebastian Stan (who was nothing short of born to play Bucky Barnes). Chris Evans’ first solo film as the iconic Captain America is wonderful, to be sure, but it’s nowhere near as good as the other films in his series. However, the romance with Peggy (Atwell), the friendship with Bucky (Stan) and the backstory of Cap’s story is really well done — not to mention the beautiful supporting role from Stanley Tucci.
18. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
As previously mentioned, I adore Sebastian Stan, so it’s no secret that his compelling performance in Falcon and the Winter Soldier knocked this show to the top 20. This show has Stan’s emotional liberation from the Winter Soldier persona, the creation of John Walker and his anti-hero/potential villain persona and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) finally becoming the Captain America we all need. It’s a brilliant action series with a lot of heart, and the Mackie/Stan duo is one people want to continue to see.
17. Avengers: Age of Ultron
A lot of people regard this film as one of the hardest or worst to watch because it’s so wildly frustrating. It’s the beginning of a great divide and conflict between the Avengers. However, it’s where we get to meet Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the wonder twins with a tragic backstory who introduce another infinity stone to the saga. There’s a lot of action in this film, and seeing the twins bond with the Avengers and getting an introduction to Klaw (Andy Serkis) makes this film incredibly gripping.
16. Spider-Man: Homecoming
After meeting Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, it’s clear the audience was getting a fantastic and accurate new take on the beloved character. That only grew and solidified through Spider-Man: Homecoming. Many say Tobey Maguire’s version was a great Peter Parker but a bad Spider-Man and Andrew Garfield’s version was a great Spider-Man and not a great Peter Parker, but Holland is perfect for both personas. Homecoming is packed with a phenomenal cast, a fresh and interesting story and c’mon, who wouldn’t love watching Zendaya play a goth take on MJ?
15. What If…?
This show is the most recent release on Disney+. Though it’s not technically in the MCU timeline, it should definitely be included for its originality and answers to questions some fans didn’t even know they had. Featuring narration from the lovely Jeffrey Wright, who acts as “The Watcher,” the show ponders questions like “What If… T’Challa Became Star-Lord?” and “What If…Zombies?” It’s so compelling, and also a great way to appreciate the late Chadwick Boseman, whose last project was the T’Challa voice over for What If…?
Another newer release on Disney+, Loki follows the events directly after Avengers: Endgame where 2012 Loki steals the tesseract. To say Tom Hiddleston was born for this role is an understatement. His portrayal of the god of mischief is perfect, and in this series, we get to dive into a new side of Loki as he deals with love, self-reflection and meets a whole new group of friends. The events of Loki send us directly into the multiverse, which will most likely be explored in Spider-Man: No Way Home, set to release in Dec. 2021, and definitely in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, set to release in March 2022.
13. Doctor Strange
Other than Black Panther, Doctor Strange is one of the best Marvel stand-alone films. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange deals with trauma, heartbreak and magic — not to mention the fate of the world at stake during all of it. Tilda Swinton and Rachel McAdams were perfectly cast, as well as Benedict Wong and Cumberbatch himself. This film sets up what could be the best character series of films, because there’s just so much potential with the character of Doctor Strange. The audience will see more when Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness comes out, and with his cameo in the upcoming film Spider-Man: No Way Home.
12. Captain Marvel
The number one empowerment film in the MCU is Captain Marvel. Anyone watching not only got an amazing plot with incredible plot twists, but also a fantastic, jaw-dropping performance from Brie Larson as the titular character. What makes Carol Danvers (Larson) so compelling is the fact that she is inspiring and powerful even before she gains her superpowers. Then, after gaining her powers, she becomes even more inspiring and, arguably, the strongest Avenger.
11. Black Widow
One of the newer releases from Marvel makes it into the top 15 and almost to the top 10. Black Widow not only gives the audience more context into Natasha (Scarlett Johansson)‘s backstory, but it brings in potential future characters like her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) and her mother and father for all intents and purposes, Iron Maiden (Rachel Weisz) and Red Guardian (David Harbour). It was a lovely way to officially say goodbye to Black Widow and Natasha Romanoff and hopefully usher in some new exciting characters.
10. Iron Man 3
To enter the top 10, these MCU productions are all ones I could rewatch any time any day. It starts with by far the most exciting film in the Iron Man series, the third one. The romance is alive and well between Pepper (Paltrow) and Tony (Downey Jr.), the villain is compelling and has a nice plot twist, it’s around the holidays so there’s always that fun aspect of it and we see Tony’s insanely brilliant technology in action.
9. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Two words: Jake Gyllenhaal. This film is the first release following Tony Stark’s death, so there is a lot to unpack for Peter (Holland) losing his father figure. The struggle of trying to be the adult and superhero that he thinks Tony wanted him to be versus just being a kid and spending time with his friends is ever-present in this film. With the Homecoming gang back and ready to take on the action, there are some great surprise twists and a devastating ending that will lead right to Spider-Man: No Way Home in December 2021.
8. Avengers: Endgame
I like Infinity War much more than I like Endgame. First off, only half of the Avengers squad is present in Endgame. Second, it lacks a lot of excitement and acts more as a wrap-up for some of the characters we’re going to have to say goodbye to by the end. Plus, how can I love it more than Infinity War when the audience is left wondering, “What’s next for the Avengers and who will run it from now on?”
7. Avengers: Infinity War
C’mon, this one had to rank pretty high. Though it has a frustrating ending, it’s the first time we see an Avengers team-up of this size and caliber. Nothing will beat seeing that film in the theater with a packed house gasping, screaming and cheering for all the same things. We have the Avengers meeting Wakandans, the Guardians of the Galaxy joining the fight and the big collection of infinity stones. It’s a definite must-watch.
6. Black Panther
Black Panther is probably the best standalone Marvel film. You could watch Black Panther (minus the end-credit scene) and be perfectly content with the ending and learning about the characters. Chadwick Boseman is another Marvel actor who was born to play their part. His portrayal if T’Challa is honest, moving and action-packed. The supporting cast is just as superb, featuring Angela Bassett as the queen, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia and many more. The vibe of the film helps to promote much needed diversity in the MCU and is a gripping story that everyone can appreciate. Plus, the soundtrack is phenomenal.
From this slot forward, it was hard for me not to make them all tied for first. I love all of these projects dearly, but these top five have had the most impact. Coming in at number five is WandaVision, which was the first Disney+ television series release. This show not only solidified my deep love for Wanda and Vision separately and together, but it also was a brilliant format of storytelling through shifting reality through different eras of television while having the real story on in the normal MCU setting. Olsen’s performance as Wanda is astounding and some of the best acting to date in the MCU. The audience also gets Kathryn Hahn as Agnes/Agatha, and she’s a treasure to the screen.
4. Thor: Ragnarok
The MCU has never produced a funnier film than Thor: Ragnarok. With Loki (Hiddleston) pretending to be king, the threatening presence of Odin (Anthony Hopkins)’s death and their sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) on a tirade to take over Asgard, there’s a lot going on in this film. The audience gets the Revengers team up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor (Hemsworth), Loki and the Hulk (Ruffalo), and there are some great new characters that will likely follow through the rest of the timeline. It was hard not to put this film higher up on the list.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Another huge contender for my number one slot is this incredible film. It’s one of the MCU films that has all the great special effects of a film from this year while still being a classic. Its success is largely due to Sebastian Stan’s performance as Bucky Barnes/the Winter Solider. It’s heartbreaking to watch this friendship between him and Bucky as it struggles through Hydra’s hold on Bucky making him the Winter Soldier. There’s so much great action in this film and wonderful acting moments for the main characters. It’s one you can rewatch over and over again.
2. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
This was a huge contender for my number one slot, which most might find surprising, as it’s a newer release. Though I respect the classics, I can’t deny Shang-Chi is one of the greatest Marvel films ever created. It has all the comedy of Thor: Ragnarok, all the intensity and excitement of a superhero’s first film (i.e. Captain America: The First Avenger or Iron Man) and the effects are wonderfully executed. There’s amazing representation in this film, there’s a great cameo from Benedict Wong and the film even brings back an old character that absolutely no one expected to see. Shang-Chi is an all around must-see.
1. Captain America: Civil War
The number one slot was hard to determine, and after changing it several times, I decided the best way to figure out what the number one slot would be is the one that I always come back to rewatching. Thus, my answer has to be Captain America: Civil War. Though this is technically credited as a Captain America film, it’s basically an Avengers grade film with the amount of Avengers cast crossover.
There’s just so much memorable content from this film. Steve (Evans) is trying to save Bucky (Stan), Wanda (Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are starting to get closer, we meet Holland’s Spider-Man for the first time, Ant-Man (Rudd) is thrown into the Avengers group for the first time and there’s an all out battle between the friends that is fascinating to watch. Civil War has prime entertainment that I am content to rewatch over and over again, and it also poses the Team Cap versus Team Iron Man debate that is so interesting to discuss with other Marvel fans.
All of the films and television series — except for both of the Spider-Man films — can be found on Disney+ for $7.99 per month or $79.99 per year in the U.S. Or, get the Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ bundle for $13.99 per month.
Photo provided via @marvelmovies on Instagram.