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MCU 2023 ranked: The best and worst Marvel movies and Disney+ shows of the year

Published Dec 30th, 2023 9:01AM EST
Mobius (Owen Wilson) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in Loki season 2 trailer 1.
Image: Marvel Studios

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It’s that time of the year when we have accomplished over the past 12 months and plan to do better in the 12 months ahead. When it comes to Marvel and its expanding MCU, it hasn’t been the best of years.

The problem wasn’t the strikes that hindered Marvel’s ability to produce new movies and shows or to promote existing ones. The quality of the MCU movies and Disney+ series we got in 2023 simply wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios.

Improving the MCU has to be on Marvel and Disney’s list of New Year’s resolutions for 2024. While we wait to find out how that turns out, I’ll remind you of all the MCU movies and TV shows we saw this year and rank them from worst to best.

As a reminder, the titles below are all streaming, with The Marvels being the sole exception. We still have to wait a few months for that. Also, I’ll point out what should be obvious; spoilers will follow below. You should return to this list later if you’re still catching up.

I’ll also point out another thing that should be obvious: What follows is my opinion, and it’s subjective. Some will agree, others won’t. There’s no perfect way to rank art. Like it or not, the MCU also falls into that category.

So, let’s start with the worst MCU project of 2023 and count down to the very best.

#6: Secret Invasion

I’ve never been more disappointed by an MCU show than I was with Secret Invasion. This could have been one of the tentpoles of the Multiverse Saga. Like Loki, but with more familiar stakes. Secret Invasion could have been a spy thriller that would have added an amazing layer of complexity to the MCU.

You wouldn’t know what superheroes to trust, but they’d still be your only hope in stopping an invasion of aliens that have it out for humanity.

Sonya Falsworth (Olivia Colman) in Secret Invasion trailer.
Sonya Falsworth (Olivia Colman) in Secret Invasion trailer. Image source: Marvel Studios

But that’s not what Secret Invasion is. It’s a massive waste of time for viewers. Of money and opportunity for Marvel. And we lost some great characters for no reason.

The cast is amazing, and I want some of the characters it introduces to appear again in the MCU. I’m looking at you, Sonya Falsworth (Olivia Colman).

I will also take this opportunity to appreciate something that others hate. Secret Invasion brings a big twist for War Machine (Don Cheadle), which I totally love. He’s been a Skrull since about Captain America: Civil War, or around then, and that actually excited me.

#5: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

After I saw Quantumania, I didn’t think the MCU could get worse this year. But that was the beginning of 2023, and I hadn’t seen Secret Invasion yet.

I will say that, like Marvel, I thought Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania would be a pivotal MCU story. It had Kang (Jonathan Majors) in it, so it could be a precursor to Secret Wars, setting the stage for bigger events down the road.

It might have done that to a certain degree. But the events in Jonathan Majors’s life practically killed that legacy. Majors is no longer the MCU’s Kang, so the character who might have died at the end of Quantumania doesn’t matter.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania trailer 1.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania trailer 1. Image source: Marvel Studios

That’s not why I’m placing Quantumania this low on my list. The truth is that the sequel doesn’t tell a very good story. I was disappointed in this Quantum Realm war. The over-the-top complications, the characters we didn’t need, and the giant conflict that I never cared about.

As expected, Paul Rudd was great as Scott Lang, and I hope he shows up in Spider-Man 4, as some rumors claim. Michelle Pfeiffer was also brilliant as Janet Van Dyne. Sadly, this Ant-Man and the Wasp sequel also didn’t have enough Wasp (Evangeline Lilly).

#4: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy fans might be surprised to see me place Vol. 3 this low on the list, especially considering that it made more money at the box office than The Marvels, which premiered a few months ago.

I will remind you that The Marvels dropped right at the end of the strikes, getting no promotion from the movie’s stars. It also had to suffer the consequences of a generally lukewarm reaction to the MCU at large over the past few years. Not to mention the toxic, unwarranted hate that Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) has been getting.

Rocket (Bradley Cooper) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Relax TV ad.
Rocket (Bradley Cooper) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Relax TV ad. Image source: Marvel Studios

Back to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — I loved the movie and the focus on Rocket (Bradley Cooper) rather than Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). It was a heartbreaking adventure, filled with amazing action and featuring a hateable villain that I’d love to see again in the MCU. Hopefully, that will happen, as the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) did not die.

Yes, the Guardians split up, and the new team could be equally exciting to see down the road. Also, I won’t mind getting more of Nebula (Karen Gillan) in the future.

But I’m placing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 fourth on this list because it’s too much of a standalone story. Sure, the MCU needs standalone stories that focus on the various heroes, new and old. But Guardians Vol. 3 goes out of its way to avoid any meaningful connections to the MCU. And you can’t have the MCU without those connections.

#3: The Marvels

I already covered the poor reception at the box office for The Marvels, so I won’t get into that again. I will say that the sequel isn’t as bad as people say; far from it.

It’s a great addition to the Carol Danvers story, offering us more background into this character. We finally know the heartbreaking reason why Carol hasn’t been back on Earth for so long. She’s been so ashamed of her villainous status on other planets that she couldn’t face Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) until she fixed it.

We also get a great crossover: Carol, Monica, and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) are great together. Often, Kamala steals the show. On that note, I wish Monica got more attention, and I know some of her key scenes might have been cut.

Iman Vellani, Brie Larson, and Teyonah Parris in The Marvels.
Iman Vellani, Brie Larson, and Teyonah Parris in The Marvels. Image source: Marvel Studios

Unlike Guardians Vol. 3, The Marvels is a great standalone story that also has plenty of hooks to the rest of the MCU. In fact, this is the first time we see an incursion event almost happen, yet the titular heroes do not know what’s happening.

Not only that, but The Marvels introduces a key link to Fox’s X-Men, seemingly confirming that all those Deadpool 3 rumors are true. Those X-Men are likely to jump to the MCU, at least for one more fight.

Also, it sets up the Young Avengers, with Ms. Marvel at the center.

The problem with The Marvels is that you might not fully understand where Kamala and Monica come from if you haven’t watched Ms. Marvel and WandaVision on Disney+.

As I said before, The Marvels is the only Marvel 2023 project that’s not streaming on Disney+, at least at the time of this writing.

#2: What If…? season 2

If it weren’t for Loki season 2, which I’ll get to in a minute, What If…? season 2 would be the most exciting Marvel project of the year. It’s not because it was released around Christmas or that we got a new episode every day for over the week. And it’s not because it features the multiverse, making the whole concept easier to understand than Loki.

It’s because the What If…? season 2 stories are more entertaining than everything else Marvel did. It all feels familiar, and that’s the magic of the MCU, yet it’s all different. We see how the reality of the universe we’re following might have differed, and we get exciting new characters, or versions of the superheroes we already love, in familiar but different scenarios.

What If...? season 2 features plenty of Iron Man. From other realities, of course.
What If…? season 2 features plenty of Iron Man. From other realities, of course. Image source: Marvel

And don’t get me started on Kahhori (Devery Jacobs), an incredible new Marvel character that we should absolutely see more of in the future of the MCU.

Thankfully, since we’re in the Multiverse Saga, many of these What If…? adventures could be important to the overall story. We might see some of these characters down the road in live-action form.

#1: Loki season 2

By down the road, I mean Avengers 5 and Secret Wars, of course. And Loki season 2 sets the stage perfectly for the conclusion of the Multiverse Saga. It even gives us a perfect explanation for phasing out Kang in light of the verdict in Jonathan Majors’s case and his firing from Marvel. As a reminder, Marvel shot and finished Loki season 2 well before that.

The entire Loki TV show is a must-watch. In hindsight, the best way to see it is to binge-watch seasons 1 and 2. Just watch all 12 episodes like it’s one long massive MCU movie. It’ll make you see the entire MCU in an entirely different light.

Most of Loki, especially season 2, happens out of the regular flow of time. Therefore, everything in this TV show can impact the Infinity Saga and Multiverse Saga. It might sometimes be difficult to understand with all the time travel complications, but it’s worth the investment. It’s hard to put down once you start; even season 2, which gets off to a slow start.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki.
Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Image source: Marvel Studios

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), Mobius (Owen Wilson), OB (Ke Huy Quan), and the rest of the Loki gang definitely deserve praise, as does the crew that made Loki possible.

Loki is, without a doubt, the best Marvel project of 2023 for me. And if you’re not subscribed to Disney+, Loki is one incredible reason to join. You won’t understand or enjoy Avengers 5 and Avengers 6 as much without seeing this one.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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