The Films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked, Black Widow Edition

Well, here’s a thing that I haven’t done in quite a while. The last time I wrote out a full ranking of the films in the MCU there were only 14 entries in the franchise. Only. Now, there are 24, plus the three limited series on Disney+, and if that doesn’t sound like a lot? There are ten movies and ten series on deck in the next two years.

If you had any doubts about the Marvel money train slowing down? Think again!

For the purposes of this list I am only looking at the films, and thinking back on how they all work (or not). This list is obviously my opinion, but feel free to agree or disagree with me here or on the social medias.

Without any further ado, here are all the Marvel films ranked from worst to first, according to Matthew.

Ok, I lied, one more bit of ado:

Honourable Mention: Marvel’s One-Shots (2011 – 2014)

I don’t know if this is a hot take at this point, but I really liked the Marvel One-Shots. I liked that we used to get them with the home video releases of the movies, and much like the Star Trek Short Treks, they are a fun way to explore the universe further. If they had kept going, they would have been a fun way to try out new concepts and genres, too.

I am not placing them in the ranking, but I liked all of them except one, and All Hail The King is my favourite of the bunch.

Ok, now onto the list.

#24: The Incredible Hulk (2008) ★★☆☆☆

Here’s the thing: I liked Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, but this movie feels a little…well let’s just leave it at the fact that the squabbling behind the scenes is far more interesting than the film itself. We’ll never know what a Hulk franchise with Edward Norton’s influence would have looked like exactly, and maybe that’s a shame, but it’s hard to feel too bad when the character has become so beloved in subsequent films. Still, I do really like that the film eschewed telling a full-blown origin story.

#23: Iron Man 2 (2010) ★★☆☆☆

My fundamental issue with Iron Man 2 is still that it seems far too concerned with seeing up the rest of the Marvel Universe than it does with telling its own story. Add to that the fact that its story is a pretty close copy of Iron Man with some extra daddy issues thrown in, and you a recipe for a movie that is… fine. it’s fine.

#22: Thor (2011) ★★☆☆☆

It’s weird how much of phase one is near the bottom. Thor isn’t actually a bad film; it just feels a little small and is a little boring. The direction and production design are excellent, and the performances are good, and of course, this film was the big break for both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, but it’s a little weird that a film about ancient gods is set mostly in a tiny desert town. My favourite thing in the entire film is the idea that this race of ancient god-like aliens are also all cosplayers, though.

#21: Thor: The Dark World (2013) ★★★☆☆

Another film where the behind the scenes drama is more interesting than the film itself, Thor: The Dark World is also the film with the most boring villain in the MCU. Still, Thor gets some decent growth and so does his relationship with Loki. Also, if this one had become a big deal we might not have gotten Ragnarok in the form we got it in, so it has that going for it.

Also, I will never not like machine-gun equipped flying space canoes. Once again, the idea that the Asgardians are so advanced they started cosplaying renaissance fair enthusiasts is a little bit hilarious to me, and I wish they’d done more with that.

#20: Ant-Man (2015) ★★★☆☆

This is, perhaps, the most unfair ranking in the whole lot. Ant-Man is a perfectly serviceable film and was a great palate cleanse after Age of Ultron. It is, however, kind of hard to watch without the spectre of “what would an Edgar Wright version of this have looked like?”

Still, Paul Rudd is perfectly cast, Michael Peña is the best non-powered character in the entire MCU, and the film is legitimately funny. I like it!

#19: Captain Marvel (2019) ★★★☆☆

And here we hit the first film in this list that many people have a bad opinion of that I don’t understand. Captain Marvel is fine. It’s totally fine! The character and Brie Larson are accused of being overly cocky, but have you watched Iron Man? Or Doctor Strange?

Where the film has issues that, for better or worse, it feels the most … Marvel. Like it rolled off a factory line. The big CGI action sequences feel entirely discordant with the rest of the film, and the rest of the film has little personal stamp on it. It’s worth noting, though, that the final scenes in which the movie’s themes pay off are great.

#18: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) ★★★☆☆

Another fun entry in the franchise, Ant-Man and the Wasp maintains the humour and fun of the first one without any lingering expectations. The stakes are personable and relatable, and the car chase is one of the best action sequences in the entire MCU.

Also, I legitimately love that Scott is concerned with being a good dad to Cassie without also trying to break up Maggie and Jim’s happy marriage.

#17: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) ★★★☆☆

Spider-Man’s first film in the MCU after two separate franchises had already come and gone came with some choices, namely whether or not to include his origin story. On the one hand, Spider-Man’s origin story is like Batman’s: so well known you don’t have to tell it. But, on the other, the choice to barely mention Uncle Ben and to use Tony Stark as a stand-in kind of makes this one feel not quite whole.

Still, Tom Holland is perfect casting and so is Michael Keaton. Casting remains Marvel’s secret weapon, and the reason that I –and I think most people– are so forgiving.

#16: Avengers: Infinity War (2018) ★★★☆☆

I don’t hold this up as one of the best Marvel movies, but it is endlessly rewatchable. It’s something else to watch the villain be the protagonist of the story and watch him win. I know there was a lot of handwaving at the time about how they were just going to undo the ending in the next film, but the ending is no less of a gut-punch for me. The last words spoken in the film are from Captain America, uttering “…oh god…” as he realizes the full scope of their loss is incredibly effective.

While it’s true that much of the damage was undone in Endgame, that was never the question. Instead, the question was how were they going to undo it, and either way: ending a major franchise film on such a devastating loss took, for lack of a better word, balls.

#15: Captain America: Civil War (2016) ★★★★☆

Civil War is one of the more well-regarded films in the franchise, but like some other entries, it strains under its own weight. While the airport fight remains one of the better spectacles in the franchise, it remains so because of its characters. The sides they each choose make sense, the stakes make sense because no one actually wants to be fighting, and ultimately both Captain America and Iron Man are right (although #TeamCap).

However, I do wish someone had piped up after General Ross gave his presentation and said, “yeah, but if we weren’t there, the world would have ended.” The whole setup for this movie is .. well, it’s flawed, anyway, even if I like that it follows from a brief clip at the end of The Avengers.

#14: Doctor Strange (2016) ★★★★☆

Much like how Ant-Man was Tiny Iron Man, Doctor Strange is Iron Man but Magic in a lot of ways. It’s a formula that works, even if we’ve seen it a bunch of times now. This film differs for me because I like how much longer it takes Strange to get the lesson and how much more impactful it is as a result. The scene on the balcony as The Ancient One lays dying perfectly encapsulates the theme of selflessness, and I adore it more every time I see it, even if the Ancient One should have been cast with an Asian actor.

#13: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) ★★★★☆

The Winter Soldier used to be a lot higher in my rankings, but subsequent re-watches have only even diminished the film for me. Yes, the relationship between Cap and Bucky is one that I care about, and I think that Black Widow gets some decent character growth, but this is the movie where the Russo Brothers weaknesses as directors come out the most. Almost every action scene cuts too much, making them feel fast but hard to follow, and the film lacks the personality of the 70s spy thrillers it is clearly drawing inspiration from.

That all sounds like I don’t like it, I still really do, but this is the first time I’ve written about it in a while is all.

#12: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) ★★★★☆

Here might be where my list diverges the furthest from most people I know: I have never really understood all the hate Age of Ultron gets. Yes, the handling of Black Widow is bad (though I don’t have a problem pairing her up with Bruce), but this movie answers the themes of “are we good, actually?” far better than Civil War does, and it looks better while doing it.

It’s true that it also creaks under the weight of all the phase two setup that was jammed into it, but it’s actually the only one of the four Avengers films that I would like to see a slightly longer cut of, so that that stuff all makes better sense.

Plus, you know, James Spader.

#11: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) ★★★★☆

A ragtag group of misfits come together to save the day from a megalomaniac bad guy in the best way possible. James Gunn created something special with the Guardians, but this one doesn’t feel as fully cohesive as its sequel. Seven Samurai, but in space, this film is full of offbeat charm, and I love that it opened up the cosmic side of Marvel more than Thor ever did (to that point).

#10: Black Widow (2021) ★★★★☆

Yes, Black Widow cracked the top ten for me. I’m happy that Natasha finally got an actual movie; I am glad that its themes are on point, and I am glad that the supporting cast was so much fun. Is it perfect? No. Is it one of the better-realized films in the franchise? Yes.

#9: Iron Man (2008) ★★★★☆

It’s an interesting experiment to go back and watch Iron Man now and try to spot all the franchise connections because there aren’t many. Wild that a decade later, these films would be so ubiquitous, and the connections between them so prevalent, that we have whole YouTube channels that analyze and debate them.

It’s hard to imagine that Iron Man wouldn’t kick off a franchise though, it’s an excellent film with an excellent lead performance, and when you distil a character like Iron Man down to the core concepts (and remove the barrier than is 40 years of continuity), you end up with something great.

#8: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) ★★★★☆

As with Ant-Man, Far From Home serves as a post-Avengers palate cleanse for the MCU. It returns the stakes to something a little more personal, deals with the aftermath of the universe-altering events of the film previous, and is –most importantly– a lot of fun.

Far From Home also benefits from being a great Spider-Man story, allowing Peter to grow into this own as a person and hero.

Plus, best post-credits cameo in the whole franchise.

#7: Iron Man Three (2013) ★★★★☆

Not only a great Iron Man story but a decided Shane Black movie as well, Iron Man Three is another film that I have never understood why people don’t love it more than they do. It has excellent action, excellent dialogue, and excellent character growth for Tony, who finally accepts that he can be the hero. It’s the closest we’ll probably ever get to marvel actually adapting one of their darker storylines (In this case, Demon in a Bottle), but it also is one of the few solo movies where the answer to the question “why doesn’t he just call in The Avengers?” makes both thematic and story sense.

It is also one of the films with the most overt personal stamp from a director, and I love that about it.

#6: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) ★★★★☆

It’s weird to remember that the first phase of Marvel films started with a bang, then had three not so good entries, and then this before finally getting to The Avengers. As much as Iron Man started the franchise and functioned as the catalyst for the rest of the films, Captain America was, and is, the heart of the whole thing.

Director Joe Johnston really nails the period aesthetic, and Chris Evans is –to this day– the best casting choice that Marvel ever made.

The First Avenger isn’t a perfect film, but the stuff it gets right (namely, Captain America himself), it gets so right that the rest of it doesn’t really matter. This is the film with the most heart, the most compelling stakes, and despite the bummer ending, one of the best final scenes in the franchise.

#5: Avengers: Endgame (2019) ★★★★★

They really did stick the landing. It’s hard to imagine that a story taking place over 22 films could come to any kind of satisfying conclusion, but that’s exactly what happened. The Russos managed to cobble together a little something from every character, a little something for every viewer, and made movie history.

I love that they lean into the damage done in Infinity War rather than handwaving it away; I love that they show the consequences for each character, and I love that even that some of them have to lose for all of them to win. It would have been easy to re-assemble the Infinity Gauntlet and wipe the slate clean, but it wouldn’t have been such a good movie.

#4: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) ★★★★★

I know that most of you prefer the first film to the second, but Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2, hits me in an emotional place that the first one simply doesn’t. All of the father-son stuff is great, as is the sibling stuff, and the last scene in the movie (in which a talking space raccoon cries because he realizes he is loved and will be missed when he dies) brings me to tears most times I watch it.

#3: Black Panther (2018) ★★★★★

Black Panther has everything that I love most about Marvel movies going for it, from the personal stamp of Ryan Coogler to the astounding and unique production design, to the villain who is doing the wrong thing but for the right reasons. Killmonger remains one of –if not the– best solo villains in the franchise, and I hope they find some way to bring him back for the inevitable Thunderbolts movie, but more than that, I love that the big cathartic moment of realization that allows Black Panther to self actualize and win is that he recognizes that Killmonger was right, and his father was wrong.

Perfectly cast, excellently directed, and decidedly unique. It’s a wonder Black Panther didn’t win best picture.

#2: Thor: Ragnarok (2017) ★★★★★

Speaking of unique stamps from a director, Taika Waititi’s soft reboot of Thor is one of the best things to happen to the MCU. Not only does it capitalize on the fact that Chris Hemsworth is hilarious and lean into the fact that cosmic Marvel is weird as hell, but it also has that certain Taika Waititi tone that is impossible to replicate. Add in themes of reconciling with colonialism and significant growth for both Thor and Loki, and you end up with one of the best films in the franchise.

True fact: One of the things I like least about Infinity War is that Thor, who spends this entire movie learning that he doesn’t need his hammer, spends most of that film trying to get a new hammer.

#1: The Avengers (2012) ★★★★★

So here we are, with my favourite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers was a movie made, it feels, specifically for me: the shy nerdy kid who read comic books. While there had been comic book movies before, this is the one that proved that movies could be interconnected like comic books, and I adore it for that.

It is also tied to one of my favourite movie-going experiences where at a midnight showing of the film on opening day (remember those?), as the Avengers assembled for the first time, there was a literal standing ovation. The only thing that has come close to recreating that kind of magic is when Cap picks up Mjolnir in Endgame, but this movie did it first, and I love it as a result.

It does have its problems, namely how the invading army is defeated, but the whole thing is so much fun and proved so much that I am willing to forgive all of it. It remains magic to me, seeing all these characters interact for the first time, and the movie gives me literal chills to this day every time I watch the Helicarrier take off. The Avengers isn’t just my favourite Marvel movie; it’s one of my favourite movies.


So then, what do you all think? Agree with me? Disagree with me? Did I choose your favourite or do it dirty? Sound off, and let me know!


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