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The Marvel Cinematic Universe from Worst to Best

We’re doing it too! After 11 years and 22 movies, we at Nerdist have collectively spent roughly four billion hours watching and thinking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve just completed the “Infinity Saga,” comprising some of the finest comic book movies ever made…and some not so fine. Using a very scientific voting method, and math skills I haven’t used since college, we now have Nerdist’s official ranking of all 22 MCU movies.

I asked members of our staff for their top 5 and bottom 5 movies and averaged them out to give you a good cross section of our tastes. Your personal lists will surely differ. Hell, most of our individual lists differ. But that’s the fun of this kind of thing. So, without further ado, the MCU, from worst to best.

22. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Only the second movie in the nascent MCU, The Incredible Hulk sticks out like a sore thumb. Not only does it give us a truncated origin for this version of Bruce Banner, it introduced two of the most forgettable villains: Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky and Tim Blake Nelson’s Samuel Sterns are supremely lackluster. Edward Norton doesn’t do a bad job necessarily, but he definitively stuck out a bit. Tellingly, this is the one and only movie in the series without Sarah Finn as casting director. She’s indispensable.

21. Iron Man 2 (2010)

More than one of us count the first sequel in the MCU as the only one we actively dislike. And a couple really like it. Not enough, though. Iron Man 2 gives us some great Tony Stark angst and a phenomenally sleazy performance by Sam Rockwell, but it’s just an overall ho-hum affair with hardly any actual Iron Man in it.

20. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

There are two or three excellent scenes in the second Joss Whedon Avengers movie. The afterparty scene leading to Ultron’s first appearance is one of the best ever. But this is a messy movie, and one that left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths for some of its character depictions. By all accounts a troubled production, so maybe it’s no wonder.

19. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

There are some people who staunchly defend this tale of magic and romance. It’s got a very exciting final act and some great Tom Hiddleston Loki action. But it’s overall pretty humdrum, and it didn’t let Chris Hemsworth explore his comedic space the way it should have.

18. Doctor Strange (2016)

Some fancy, trippy visuals, a clever and fun boss showdown (Dormammu! I’ve come to bargain!), and a Very Good Cape are marks for it. But the rest of the movie is definitely not as supreme as the sorcerer could be.

17. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)

The notion of finding your family among a group of outsiders is one we hold dear. And we relate to Peter Quill’s father issues and the sisterly bond that developed between Gamora and Nebula. But despite these things, and some beautiful colors, Guardians 2 goes for schmaltz in a way we just weren’t into. Also, Drax seemed to go out of his way to irritate us in this one. Didn’t happen in the other movies.

16. Captain Marvel (2019)

Carol Danvers is a character we’re so excited to finally have in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her rapport with a de-aged Nick Fury and a terrific performance by Ben Mendelsohn aside, Captain Marvel was just too down-the-line for a film this late in the saga. It would have made for a great Phase One movie. Late Phase Three? Nah.

15. Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man barely showed up in any of our voters’ top 5 or bottom 5 lists, only cracking one of the latter. There’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s also not a ton to recommend in it. Not when literally every other movie featuring Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is better.

14. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

One of the more divisive entries on the list. While the huge fight at the airport between all the heroes is comic book geek icing, the cake of the rest of the movie—pitting Steve Rogers and Tony Stark against each other—just doesn’t leave us with a great taste in our mouths.

13. Iron Man 3 (2013)

The first Phase Two movie was our number one most divisive. Three people had it in their top 5 and two had it in their bottom 5. A lot of issues voiced involved a muddy third act and the Mandarin fake-out. But those who love it take to its depiction of Tony Stark’s PTSD and fear of failure. And Shane Black dialogue is very Shane Black.

12. Thor (2011)

The first Thor movie, huh? Kenneth Branagh. Hemsworth with blonde-dyed eyebrows. Hawkeye’s first scene. It’s fine! Just a fine, fine movie.

11. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

I personally like this movie a whole lot more than some of the other folks on the crew. But, I also get it. Steampunk Nazis should have been a lot weirder than what we got, and maybe Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers wasn’t quite what he’d become. But it also has Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter in a role so beloved that she got a TV show out of it. In light of Endgame, Cap 1 feels like one of the series’ most important entries.

10. Iron Man (2008)

The one that started it all. If Iron Man hadn’t been the box office smash it was, or the critical hit it was, we wouldn’t be here. And it’s truly testament to Kevin Feige’s vision that the first movie—still a favorite for many people—is only tenth on this ranking. “I am Iron Man” is a mantra for the ages.

9. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

I’m actually fairly surprised this one’s so low comparatively. I think we all agree it’s a well put-together movie, and three of us even had it in our top 5. Thanos is a standout character who made the movie so much more interesting than it might have been. It’s also an amazing turn for Doctor Strange and Thor. But it’s a bummer! If you don’t want sadness from your Marvel movies, it’s not gonna be at the top of your list.

8. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Maybe the most surprising placement on the list. A couple of us absolutely love this movie, and someone even had it as their number one movie of them all. Personally, I really enjoy the movie and think it’s a damn fun superhero caper. But top 10? I dunno, man.

7. Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther was our number one movie on our 2018 best-of list, and it’s a truly phenomenal piece of work. The best solo Marvel movie maybe ever, and, Thanos aside, the best and most complex villain they’ve ever introduced. Just a super good movie, only beaten because of sentimentality.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

It took way too long to get Spider-Man into the MCU. Tom Holland and his portrayal of Peter Parker as an absolute highlight in Civil War and we just hoped his solo movie would deliver. And boy, did it! Setting up Tony Stark as Peter’s mentor was a stroke of genius and making sure the webslinger remained a “friendly neighborhood” hero was exactly what the character deserved. And dear heavens, can we just talk about the performance of one Michael Keaton as the Vulture? True menace. Welcome to the MCU, Spidey.

Here we go! Our Top 5 MCU Movies of All Time!

5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Maybe we’re all working with recency bias, but it’s because of our love for this franchise that its final installment ranks so high. It paid off not only Infinity War but every single character to whom we’ve become attached. We’ve talked a lot on the site about the movie already, but suffice to say, we’re happy with how it turned out.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

There’s no getting around what a delightful surprise this movie was upon its release. It had characters most people didn’t know in a setting the franchise had barely touched. But it had heart, humor, true heroism, and a soundtrack that launched a thousand wedding reception playlists. It’s a big, fun space adventure with a team of a-holes who’ve become household names. And not for nothing, it’s the first appearance of Josh Brolin as Thanos.

3. The Avengers (2012)

If its big, rule-breaking team-up film hadn’t been the monster hit it was ($1.5 billion worldwide), the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have been but a fun novelty. Now it’s a global powerhouse. The Avengers brought together disparate characters and forced them to eventually get along for the good of the planet. This movie made each of the previous films better somehow, and it finally made the Hulk the cinematic icon he always needed to be. Thunderously important, to Marvel and cinema.

2. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor had always been a great character in team-ups but (as this list shows) his solo films weren’t always the most engrossing. With Ragnarok and its focus on both cosmic weirdness and hilarious comedy by writer-director Taika Waititi, the character became a fan favorite. If not for this movie, his turns in Infinity War and Endgame wouldn’t have been as impactful. Hulk was an outstanding foil, and finally getting the Thor/Loki team-up we’d hoped for was very welcome. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie all but launched her own religion among fandom. One of the most crowd-pleasing films I’ve ever seen.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

It’s often said that Steve Rogers is the heart of the MCU. That happened, I think, because of The Avengers. But if his first solo film after that hadn’t been a barn-burner, he might not have rivaled Tony Stark as the franchise’s star. What a great stroke to put Black Widow with Cap to juxtapose modern espionage with WWII-era ethics. Famously an attempt to hearken back to ’70s thrillers, it works as a relatively grounded sci-fi actioner. Several tremendous sequences with a centerpiece involving a highway battle between Nat, Cap, and the Winter Soldier himself. Stucky ships began here, folks. Easily the movie with the most #1 votes on the Nerdist staff and two-thirds of us at least had it in our top fives. We salute you, Captain Rogers.

And there you have it. No doubt you’re very angry about this ranking. And you know what? So are we. Damn you, math. Share your own ranking in the comments below!

Images: Marvel

Kyle Anderson is the Editor at Large for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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