We’re just hours away from the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War — the crossover event to end all crossovers. Early reviews have been about as positive as any fan could have possibly imagined, with many declaring that the new film is the best that the series has ever seen. We’ll have our own review up on Friday morning, but in the meantime, we decided it might be fun to rank the first eighteen Marvel movies from worst to best.
The ranking you are about to scroll through isn’t based on review scores or public opinion, but rather the judgment of a sole, fallible man. That said, if you disagree with any the decisions, you are objectively incorrect. You are welcome to express your displeasure in the comments, but who knows — you might actually agree with me.
18. Iron Man 2
With eighteen movies under its belt, Marvel was always going to lay at least one egg. The good news is that it came early in the MCU with the catastrophic sequel that was Iron Man 2. The plot is bloated. Tony Stark’s motivation does not make sense. The villain is the worst of any Marvel movie to date. Other than helping to set up The Avengers and supplying some ammunition for future movies, Iron Man 2 is a totally inessential MCU movie.
17. The Incredible Hulk
Despite being the most removed of all the MCU movies, The Incredible Hulk wasn’t all that bad when it followed up Iron Man in 2008. The problem with this angsty drama is that it just doesn’t fit within the MCU, tonally or otherwise, a decade later. And while it will continue to have its place in the oeuvre until Marvel gives us a Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo, it doesn’t feel much like it belongs next to The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.
Thor might be the most forgettable movie of the MCU. The titular Asgardian is banished to Earth, and every moment spent there feels like an eternity. Thor is one of the strongest characters in all of comics — we don’t want to see him bumble around and fall in love with an Earthling. Each successive Thor movie would learn the strengths of the character and his world, but the first Thor simply doesn’t play up to nearly enough of those strengths.
15. Thor: The Dark World
More compelling than its predecessor (but not by much), Thor: The Dark World picks up where The Avengers left off, with Thor returning to Asgard alongside Loki, who is imprisoned for his crimes. The fight scenes are bigger and better, the plot is more compelling, and even the love story… well, that’s still pretty unpleasant. But The Dark World at least brings us closer to the Thor we all know and love from the latest Marvel flicks.
14. Avengers: Age of Ultron
After handling the first Avengers movie so skillfully, and then hitting its stride in Phase Two with two of the best movies in the series, it was inevitable that Marvel would eventually make a misstep. That’s not to say that Age of Ultron is a bust, but it is arguably the messiest of the big team-up movies, with a pretty lame villain to boot. Ultron is a solid comic book character, but he just doesn’t translate to the screen, at least not in this story.
The smallest Marvel movie (in more ways than one), Ant-Man is one of the few entries in the MCU that works just as well as a standalone feature as it does as part of the larger universe. It’s a relatively simple heist movie about a man who is trying to turn his life around, but also features a fight scene with an Avenger, just because it can. And Michael Peña steals the show every time he’s on the screen. More Michael Peña, please.
12. Iron Man 3
One of the quietest and strangest Marvel movies is also surprisingly effective. Iron Man 3 follows Tony Stark post-Battle of New York as he attempts to recover from what he has experienced. The villain is goofy, but interesting, Downey Jr. gets a chance to breathe and the final fight scene is among the most entertaining in the series.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
You’ve probably noticed that the bottom of the list is mostly populated by ill-fated sequels, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to avoid that sophomore slump for the most part. While not quite as explosive or thrilling as the first, Vol. 2 delves deeper into the back stories of the Guardians, introducing us to Peter Quill’s dad and giving Yondu the send-off he deserves. Plus, it gives us one of the best scenes in MCU history.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
Everyone loved Iron Man right out of the gate, but Hulk couldn’t carry his own movie and Thor didn’t have much to do in his movie. So expectations for Captain America: The First Avenger weren’t quite as high as they might have been, but it was Marvel’s last chance to make a good impression ahead of The Avengers.
Despite taking its sweet time to ramp up to the actual plot, The First Avenger hold up better than any other origin story from Phase One (other than Iron Man). Chris Evans is a likable and charismatic as anyone in the MCU, filling Captain America’s shoes as well as anyone else in the franchise. The First Avenger also effectively threads several important needles, setting up multiple storylines that are still in play in the latest movies.
9. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The third Spider-Man franchise in 15 years is the first that actually captures the spirit of the character. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering it’s the first time that Sony collaborated with Marvel to bring Peter Parker to life, but that doesn’t make it any less special that Tom Holland completely owns the role in Homecoming.
The only thing holding Homecoming back was how much it had to balance. It was a sigh of relief not having to see yet another Spider-Man origin story, but between all of the Tony Stark stuff and the lack of Spidey swinging around New York City, it could have been more focused on the things fans of the character wanted to see.
8. Doctor Strange
One of the most pleasant surprises of the MCU, Doctor Strange manages to shift its tone without disrupting the rest of the series in the process. Strange is a broken man filled with regret, but over the course of the movie, learns to harness and utilize his new powers to turn his life around and save those he cares most about.
Doctor Strange also gives us a taste of magic in the Marvel universe, which had not been explored in any MCU movie before it. This makes for some of the most exhilarating special effects sequences in any superhero movie, and opens the door to all kinds of exciting battles in movies to come (including Infinity War).
7. Captain America: Civil War
Although Civil War is technically the third Captain America movie, it’s really more of an Avengers movie, with virtually every character from every other movie Marvel had released (and a few it hadn’t) making an appearance. Spider-Man and Black Panther both made unforgettable debuts, while the airport battle will always be remembered as one of the most creative and entertaining every shot for the MCU.
The only reason Civil War is this far down the list is because the central conceit isn’t quite as interesting as all of the other threads that run through the movie. Marvel simply didn’t have enough time to make the disagreement between Stark and Rogers feel as believable as it needed to in order for it to carry the movie.
6. Iron Man
The movie that started it all holds up shockingly well. Between Iron Man and Infinity War, Marvel has had ten years to tinker with the formula, choose which characters to focus on and which story threads to follow up, and yet, the studio’s first instinct was spot on. Audiences were indeed ready for superheroes to take over the box office.
Iron Man is a gripping, well-paced blockbuster that does an incredible job of setting up a cinematic universe that has thrived for nearly a decade now. And all it took was a 30-second tag at the end of the movie to get an entire planet full of nerds stoked about the potential for the most ambitious crossover event in history.
5. Black Panther
Save for the Avengers movies, Black Panther might have been the most anticipated Marvel movie of all time ahead of its release. And yet, once again, it managed to live up to (and even surpass) expectations for many. As if the ultimate cast and director weren’t enough, the character is one of the most interesting in Marvel’s endless rolodex, and yet his supporting cast still threatens to overshadow him at every turn. It’s a good problem to have.
Save for a somewhat repetitive plot structure, Black Panther is one of the tightest, most complete Marvel movies to date, and the fact that Avengers: Infinity War is basically Black Panther 1.5 (at least, that’s what the trailers seem to suggest) means we’ll be back in Wakanda just weeks after we left it.
4. Thor: Ragnarok
Balancing humor and action with drama and plot development is something that Marvel movies have excelled at, but Thor: Ragnarok manages to check nearly every box while also being the funniest movie in Marvel’s catalog. When he was first introduced, Thor was played for laughs because he didn’t understand how anything worked outside of Asgard. He was a god, after all, so it only made sense that he would need an adjustment period.
While it would have been nice to see that adjustment happen sooner so that the other Thor movies (which you may notice are much further down the list) were more watchable, it’s incredibly impressive that director Taika Waititi was able to rocket Thor up the charts of beloved Marvel on-screen heroes over the course of a single movie.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
There were two very important lessons to be learned from the triumph of Guardians of the Galaxy. The first, and most obvious, is that the Marvel name can carry virtually anything at the theater. Just slap “Marvel” in front of it, and people will go see it, even if they have no idea who the heroes in the movie are or what it’s about.
The other lesson is one that Marvel has clearly taken to heart: Hand over the reigns to talented creators. James Gunn knocked it out of the park with Guardians of the Galaxy, putting together a team of bonkers cosmic characters that we care about just as much as, if not more than, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes themselves. Not many origin stories manage to accomplish as much as Guardians does, especially taking into consideration all of the characters.
2. The Avengers
Avengers: Infinity War might be the culmination of a decade of world-building the likes of which the industry has never seen, but The Avengers proved that Marvel knows how to stick the landing. After introducing Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor in their own movies, Marvel had to make good on the promise of the post-credits scene of 2008’s Iron Man and bring them all together (plus Black Widow and Hawkeye) for an earth-shattering climax.
The fact that The Avengers not only worked, but worked well, is worth celebrating. This was a make or break moment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it couldn’t have gone better. The success of The Avengers has colored every movie (and TV series) from Marvel since its release in 2012, and will continue to do so for years to come.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
If you want to know why the Russo brothers were handed the keys for Infinity War, look no further than their first Marvel movie: The Winter Soldier. If you had any trouble buying Cap as the leader of the team in The Avengers, the Russo brothers wiped away that doubt in one fell swoop with the best Marvel movie ever made (at the time of writing, anyway). The perfect mix of action, intrigue, meaningful interpersonal relationships and superheroics.
The Winter Soldier capitalizes on the potential of a cinematic universe in a way that no other solo movie yet has, with twists and turns that will actually surprise you and a villain you genuinely understand. If the directors can check all the same boxes in Infinity War, they might have a chance of usurping their own masterpiece.