It might seem an obvious way to start a piece counting down every entry in the biggest movie franchise in history with an over-used quote from the same franchise. But we’re going to do it anyway, so take it away, Nick Fury:
“There was an idea…”
Said idea was different to almost every version of the big screen superhero seen previously. Rather than each costumed hero existing in their own sealed-off vivariums, what if they could all share one interconnected universe containing a single ever-evolving and expansive story?
Once the idea gained traction, billions of dollars, and many “phases” of franchise continuity, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) became the envy of every studio with a lucrative intellectual property to siphon and thus many attempts were made to replicate the success of the “Marvel Formula”.
Much like the James Bond series in the decades before it, the MCU is primarily a producer-led franchise, the ultimate mastermind behind the project being Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, though distinct directors like Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon and Taika Waititi have certainly left their mark on their respective entries in the ongoing series.
What keeps us (and wider box office audiences) coming back, aside from the ever-increasing levels of superhero spectacle and long-form storytelling borrowing liberally from 80-plus years of comic books, is the time you’re afforded to grow to love the characters and their relationships with each other, especially in the ambitious team-up Avengers movies.
In this edition of Ranked we at The Film Magazine are assessing every entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and because fans have very different opinions on the best, the worst and everything in between regarding this series, we’ve attempted to find a balance between average critical consensus and general audience reception, as well as genre innovation and the lasting impact on popular culture, to order all of them definitively from worst to best.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration… Every MCU Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Ranked.
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33. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
“A guy dressed like a bee tried to kill me when I was six. I’ve never had a normal life.”
The Ant-Man films are probably the most inconstant sub-series in the MCU, quality wise, but because the final chapter of their trilogy tries to go both big and small, it well and truly overreaches itself.
Pitting the Lang/Van Dyne family against Kang the Conqueror in the Quantum Realm, force of nature Jonathan Majors playing a fascinating villain isn’t quite enough to save Peyton Reed’s threequel from being just an eye-catching jumble of mismatched, tonally confusing ideas.
For Kang’s first, less maniacal appearance and the start of this whole Multiverse Saga, make sure to watch Season 1 of ‘Loki’.
32. Eternals (2021)
“We have loved these people since the day we arrived. When you love something, you protect it.”
Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) is a great director, no doubt, but she was just not a good fit for the MCU in this story of space gods guiding humanity’s progress. Considering the usually grounded and singular vision of her work, this was a particularly crushing disappointment for most audiences.
The ambition and epic millennia-spanning scope of Eternals sadly did not pay off in this jarring, misjudged slog of a final product that couldn’t even be saved by a stellar and diverse cast.
31. The Marvels (2023)
“Listen to me, you are chosen for a greater purpose. So you must go. But I will never let you go.”
The Marvels smartly builds a lot of its appeal around its central team-up of Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau and Kamala Khan as their power usage causes them to swap places across the universe, but their found family warmth and oodles of charisma can’t overcome all the film’s flaws.
This needed more purposeful storytelling, a villain that doesn’t feel like a retread of what came before and more direct confrontation of the darker implications of the story. The musical elements will likely make an already decisive movie more so, but the MCU overall could do with some more audacious imagery like what Nia DaCosta does with alien cats.
Watching ‘Wandavision’ and ‘Ms Marvel’ through beforehand will certainly help you connect with two of the three leads that bit quicker.
30. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
“Whosoever holds these weapons, and believes in getting home, if they be true of heart is therefore worthy, and shall possess… for limited time only, the power… of Thor!”
Taika Waititi is the kind of distinct voice that gave the MCU a jolt in the arm when it was most needed, and he was vital in reinvigorating the Thor series, but the tonal balance and technical polish certainly felt off in 2022 release Thor: Love and Thunder.
Good performances from Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale, and some memorable set pieces aside, Thor’s latest adventure battling a god-killer with his now superpowered ex-girlfriend Jane Foster at his side feels like too many mismatched stories smashed together.
Recommended for you: Taika Waititi Films Ranked
29. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
“One son who wanted the throne too much, and other who will not take it. Is this my legacy?”
The God of Thunder’s third film appearance tries to live up to its title with a story of dark elves trying to snuff out all light in the universe. Sadly, a late change in director – Alan Taylor taking over from would-be Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins – and extensive Loki-centric reshoots didn’t help an already disjointed film feel any less so.
Thor’s dynamic with his Earthbound friends is still funny and more Loki (shoehorned in or not) is always a good thing with Tom Hiddleston in the role, but the storytelling is inconsistent at best and Christopher Eccleston under heavy prosthetics as Malekith may be the most boring villain in the MCU so far.
28. Iron Man 2 (2010)
“The suit and I are one. To turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn over myself, which is tantamount to indentured servitude or prostitution, depending on what state you’re in.”
The MCU’s first direct sequel went bigger and darker with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark fighting a vengeful Russian inventor, a rival industrialist and potentially fatal health problems. Unfortunately, this ended up being a much less focussed, overblown and not all that compelling movie.
Scarlet Johansson makes her debut as Black Widow here, though she’s just a generic sexy spy at this point and not yet given the dimensions other writers would later bestow. The action is decent enough, but you wouldn’t lose out on much of you skipped over Iron Man 2 on your next MCU rewatch.
27. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
“You know, I know a few techniques that could help you manage that anger effectively.”
Lacking the clear intentions and boldness of many subsequent MCU movies, The Incredible Hulk is stylistically old-fashioned but works slightly better if you view this as a big-budget tribute to sympathetic monster movies (this one was made by Universal, after all).
A movie filled with false starts and one-off appearances (most obviously Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner would be recast with Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers in 2012), very little was carried over to the wider franchise right up until Tim Roth’s reappearance in ‘She-Hulk’ fourteen years later.
This is generally uninspiring stuff, with its most interesting man-on-the-run elements cribbed from the 1970s ‘Incredible Hulk’ TV show.
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