When the Marvel Cinematic Universe began all the way back in 2008, few could have predicted the legacy that it would go on to cement in the years that followed. In that time, the franchise has amassed what is undoubtedly the most ambitious shared universe in the history of cinema, bringing together multiple phases for one unique saga comprised of 27 films.
With the latest installment, Spider-Man: No Way Home, now upon us, let’s take this opportunity to reflect on every single cinematic chapter that got us to this point by ranking each of the MCU films from best to worst.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Hidden in the midst of louder Phase 1 films, Captain America: The First Avenger is often unfairly overlooked when fans recall their favorite MCU movies, but the fact of the matter is that this might be the most important of them all. At its heart, The First Avenger is the story of Steve Rogers—a man who, long before he ever becomes a revolutionary super-soldier, exhibits qualities of the world’s greatest superhero.
A strong goal and a solid antagonist, Captain America’s maiden voyage solidified Chris Evans as the beloved MCU icon that he is today. The love for Steve, however, would not be possible without his pure relationship with Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter which is, without a doubt, the greatest Marvel love story ever told.
2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Avengers: Endgame provided the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the closure that it had been building towards for more than a decade, and it did so by pulling together a number of different elements. Focused primarily on the events in the present, it dealt with the fallout of Thanos’s infamous snap, as the survivors sought out a way to undo the damage he caused. However, it also wasn’t afraid to call upon faces from its past (through a series of time-travel tributes) and its future (Captain Marvel and Spider-Man) in order to give fans the star-studded smackdown they had been waiting for.
The fact that it relies heavily on its predecessors may render it virtually unwatchable to those who haven’t seen Infinity War (at least), but therein lies the charm of the movie. No one thing functions on its own, as most of the story is an ensemble narrative in which every moving part relies on the other. And the emotional rollercoaster is worth every single laugh, tear, and look of awe, as the final battle exceeds expectations and could very well be the greatest cinematic showdown of all time.
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
A film that was one of the most anticipated of the decade, Spider-Man: No Way Home vowed to finally follow through on the promise of the multiverse that its predecessor teased us with, using that film’s cliffhanger to spawn a narrative that would see Peter Parker reach out to Doctor Strange to help change the timeline and make everyone forget that he was Spider-Man.
The subject of endless rumors about which actors and characters from Marvel’s past would surface throughout the movie, No Way Home had a reputation too big for even it to handle. Or at least that should have been the case. But it wasn’t, as the mammoth expectations ultimately fueled its success. Why? Because the movie was so good in spite of the returns of Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, Electro, Sandman, and the Lizard, not because of them.
4. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Instead of doubling down on the bleak tone from Thor: The Dark World, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok channeled the spirit of Guardians of the Galaxy for a more lighthearted, comedic take on the character. And the result was an off-the-wall, charming, and surprisingly hilarious adventure that pushed the boundaries of lunacy in the best possible ways, all while being enriched with a killer soundtrack and a beautiful aesthetic.
Aside from that, everything else comes together beautifully. Asgard once again stuns when on-screen, while Cate Blanchett embodies the multi-layered villain, Hela, perfectly. The real star, however, is Loki, who gets the attention we all wanted for him in The Dark World and, in doing so, highlights how far he has come as a character.
5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The beginning of the end, so to speak, Avengers: Infinity War was responsible for pulling the trigger on Thanos’s long-teased master plan and, in doing so, also pulled the trigger on the long-teased crossover between the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, who had, up until this point, only featured in their own films.
Infinity War was many things all rolled into one. It was a beginning, it was an ending, and it was something that had never been done before, bringing together a number of long-running arcs in a bid to give fans the best (and most shocking) opening to the bumper-sized final chapter of the MCU.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
There’s something to be said for taking a film about the world’s most star-spangled super soldier and turning it into an espionage thriller. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers is thrust into the midst of a war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the resurgence of Hydra, and, after failing to comply with the corrupt rules of either organization, is declared Public Enemy No.1.
The film was very specific about its supporting characters, adding only those who would thrive in this more realistic world, such as Black Widow, Falcon, and the Winter Soldier. And it all served as the perfect vehicle for Chris Evans, who really came into his own here as the modern-day iteration of Captain America.
7. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
With a vivid exploration of Asian culture, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is full of stunning visuals and heartfelt storytelling, solidifying its central character as not only a great protagonist for the movie at hand but a great hero for the future of the MCU.
The movie’s most impressive aspect, however, might just have to be the jaw-dropping fight scenes, which boast ambitious stunts and inventive choreography. Simu Liu’s casting as the titular character marked the first Asian-led Marvel movie, and its success will no doubt pave the way for more movies like it.
8. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
From its overarching sense of youthfulness to the strength of Peter and Ned’s heartwarming bond, Spider-Man: Far From Home took everything that was perfect about Spider-Man: Homecoming and magnified it to produce a more engaging, inclusive, and downright hilarious narrative. It also learned from its predecessor’s mistakes by giving Zendaya’s MJ the leading role that she deserved, which helped give the romance between her and Peter the room that it needed to breathe.
Peter’s character arc was a more well-defined version of his original journey—only this time, he wasn’t trying to prove that he was a good hero; he was trying to prove that he was worthy of carrying Tony Stark’s legacy. An emotional narrative that set the stage beautifully for his showdown with the villain, and one that Tom Holland portrayed beautifully.
9. The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers was a huge gamble for Marvel, if for no other reason than the fact that it was their initial endgame. If it hadn’t worked, everything they had been building towards for five years would have been for nothing, and it would have left the MCU in a state of uncertainty. But it didn’t just work—it excelled.
The conflict felt very natural and the dynamics between the members of the new super team were great from the start. And it all set the stage for a memorable showdown in Manhattan as the Earth’s mightiest heroes do battle with the Chituari in a pure blockbuster brawl.
10. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Captain America: Civil War owes a lot to its predecessors, weaving the serious tone from The Winter Soldier with some long-running plot threads from previous MCU movies, culminating in a division between Captain America’s team and Iron Man’s team (including the newly introduced Spider-Man.)
The plot is crafted in such a way that it’s hard to outright root for one side, and although it is Steve who is ultimately right about everything, it’s hard not to feel for Tony at the same time. This was, very much, the end of the MCU as we knew it—and what an unforgettable way to go out.
11. Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther explored the character of T’Challa to a much greater extent than what we already saw of his appearance in Civil War and ultimately allowed him to prove himself a worthy king of the people of Wakanda. Chadwick Boseman delivered a wonderful performance as T’Challa, and he was joined by a supporting cast of exceptionally strong characters, such as Ramonda and Shuri who, thanks to powerhouse performances from Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright, stole the show on a number of occasions. And, of course, Michael B. Jordan’s turn as Killmonger deserves his spot amongst the greatest MCU villains we’ve ever seen.
However, the icing on this already-perfect cake was undoubtedly the visual wonders that graced our screens on a regular basis throughout the film. From the aerial views of Wakanda to the beautifully shot car chase in the streets, our eyes were constantly blessed with this near-perfect film that was absolutely worthy of its Academy Award nomination.
12. Black Widow (2021)
Giving Scarlett Johansson's beloved Natasha Romanoff the spotlight she deserved long ago, Black Widow offers up a grounded tale that brings the MCU back to reality—something that only the Widow would have been capable of doing. It also places the spotlight on her mysterious past, showcasing how the Red Room molded her into the assassin that she became while also filling in the gap between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.
The movie is much more serious than the vast majority of films that it shares a universe with—as evidenced by the haunting opening credits sequence—and it thrives because of that. It also doesn’t play too heavily on the action and instead gives us a compelling look into how Natasha Romanoff became the Black Widow on her quest to clear some of that red in her ledger.
13. Thor (2011)
Thor introduces us to the God of Thunder for the very first time, offering up a tale of redemption for the all-powerful Asgardian, who must learn of the humility that comes with being a triumphant hero.
There is a triumphant and uplifting feeling to Thor that few modern-day superhero movies possess, and it manages to balance the emotionally heavy stuff with plenty of well-timed humor. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable outing that tells its tale perfectly without ever taking itself too seriously. And finally, it has what may just be the best score of any MCU film.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
If anyone could make a film about a rogue space pirate, the daughter of the deadliest being in the universe, a literal destroyer, a talking raccoon, and a tree work, it’s Marvel. And just in case you don’t believe that, go and watch director James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy.
The best part about the whole thing, however, has to be the soundtrack. From “Hooked On A Feeling” to “I Want You Back,” there is such a retro feel to the film that you absolutely never tire of hearing it, and, quite frankly, it gets better each time.
15. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Focusing on Peter Parker’s teenage life, Spider-Man: Homecoming has all the ingredients of a John Hughes movie, giving it a refreshingly youthful vibe that instantly set it apart from everything that came before it.
With a strong goal (to prove himself to Tony) and perhaps the best standalone villain the MCU has ever seen in Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture, Peter’s character arc was a compelling one and provided one of the most relatable superheroes to ever grace our screens.
16. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Set in the aftermath of the larger-than-life Avengers, Iron Man 3 had to kick-start Marvel's "Phase 2" of movies by letting audiences know that the MCU wasn’t going back to producing filler films. From here on out, everything would connect.
That benefited the story really well, as Tony found himself struggling with post-traumatic stress following his near-death experience in The Avengers and, as a result, he struggled to move on with his life. However, thanks to the heartwarming bond he had with his new friend, Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins), he discovered that there was life—in both him and the MCU—after The Avengers.
17. Iron Man (2008)
It’s hard to imagine what the superhero landscape would look like today had Marvel Studios not released Iron Man all the way back in 2008. The first in what is now a 27-film saga, the film wasn’t tasked with setting up an entire shared universe of superheroes—it just had to introduce us to its primary superhero.
A darker tale than the two Iron Man sequels, the film used Tony Stark to highlight how one man can undergo an extreme character change upon realizing the error of his ways. Upon witnessing how dangerous his technologically advanced weapons could be if they fell into the wrong hands, Tony took it upon himself to use that technology to create something instead. And just like that, Iron Man was born.
18. Doctor Strange (2016)
While a Tony Stark redemption of sorts is always an intriguing one to watch, the thing that truly made Doctor Strange stand out was the man behind the magic cloak, as Benedict Cumberbatch brought every one of the character’s eccentricities to life.
The film isn’t without its faults, such as the fact that Tilda Swinton’s Sorcerer Supreme isn’t fully utilized to the best of her ability and Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius never feels fully developed. That aside, however, the movie is still an awe-inspiring spectacle with some inventive visual effects.
19. Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Ant-Man was such an unexpected mix of both comedy and heart that it seemed unlikely that they could recapture that in a sequel—and yet, that’s exactly what Ant-Man and The Wasp accomplished in 2018.
It was funnier than its predecessor in just about every way imaginable. And much like Spider-Man: Far From Home felt after Endgame, it was a delightful reminder of just how ridiculous the Marvel Cinematic Universe could be.
20. Ant-Man (2015)
With a family-centric story and a goofy premise, Ant-Man is an example of the MCU’s light-heartedness at its finest. It’s fully aware of the fact that nobody is going to take it seriously, and, as a result, it doesn’t take anything seriously. It’s incredibly funny, a little baffling, and completely enjoyable—and the eclectic mix of characters really makes it something special.
21. Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2014)
The long-awaited direct sequel to The Avengers, 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron attempted to be bigger and better than its predecessor without actually destroying Manhattan in the process. Was it successful, though?
There are times when Age of Ultron poses some thought-provoking questions, but there are also times when it feels like it’s outwitting itself in its attempts to be clever. There’s also the rather sudden Natasha/Hulk subplot that progressed far too quickly and confused us even more than the complicated plot did.
All that aside, it was still successful in its attempts to be an entertaining superhero movie. Though it pales in comparison when compared to the other Avengers movies, Age of Ultron is enjoyable enough without context and delivers some of the most impressive visuals in the entire MCU.
22. Captain Marvel (2019)
Captain Marvel made some long-overdue history when it became the first female superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first-ever female-led film to cross the $1 billion mark at the box office. Starring Brie Larson, the film is essentially a prequel to the MCU as it tells the 1990s-set tale of Carol Danvers, who comes to Earth when it’s caught in the midst of an ongoing war between the Krees and the Skrulls.
There’s a lot to love about Captain Marvel, but nothing more so than the way in which Larson effectively brings Danvers to life. And pairing her youthful charm and powerful presence with the incomparable Samuel L. Jackson was a stroke of genius, as the two become quite a dynamic duo.
23. Eternals (2021)
Eternals boasts a star-studded cast, with the likes of Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie all bringing the MCU’s oldest superheroes to life. But as adventurous as the movie is, it isn’t without its faults, with its exposition-heavy script, convoluted timeline, and extended runtime all hindering the flow of the story.
24. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Guardians of the Galaxy was such an unlikely success that a second offering was inevitable. But could a sequel really recapture what made the original so great? Well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came close.
The cast was as vibrant as ever, with Dave Bautista’s Drax once again stealing the show while Hollywood icon Kurt Russell nailed the ambitious Ego, serving as the perfect yin to Chris Pratt’s yang. And then, of course, the sounds of Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol.2 bring this colorful adventure to life with a soundtrack that could rival its perfect predecessor.
The film’s main pitfall, however, lies in its plot—or lack thereof. In a way, it feels like it tried too hard to recreate the successful formula of the original that it left itself a little light in the story department.
25. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The God of Thunder’s second offering gets a lot of unwarranted flack, but it is admittedly hard to overlook the fact that it took its title far too seriously. With dark elves who want to use their dark weapons to plunge us all into a dark world, the film was, for lack of a better word, dark. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it was just too far removed from the whimsically hopeful tone that made its predecessor so enjoyable.
The film’s use of Jane Foster is also rather questionable. In The Dark World, she became the archetypal damsel in distress, waiting to be saved by Thor at every turn. As a result, she remained at the center of the story throughout the whole film without ever really being involved in it.
That said, the movie is still an enjoyable spectacle that deserves more credit than it gets (the Asgard portion of the film is visually stunning). And as usual, the movie gets some much-needed energy every time that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is on-screen—it’s just a shame that his screen-time barely amounts to 15 minutes.
26. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
You’d be forgiven for getting that The Incredible Hulk ever took place in the MCU, since Marvel Studios essentially retconned the film out of the shared universe and recast Hulk for The Avengers.
That being said, it’s not just the behind-the-scenes changes that differentiate the film from all the rest: The Incredible Hulk has a different tone than much of the MCU, with some Hulk- and Abomination-centric scenes coming off as terrifying in comparison. Still, the story itself is rather strong, and the relationship between Bruce (Edward Norton here) and Betty (Liv Tyler) was one of the most endearing we have seen from the MCU.
27. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 came along at a time when the MCU hadn’t really figured out what it was. Sure, it was still dropping hints, but, at the time, it was still primarily focused on the task at hand. As a result, the film was little more than a direct sequel to its 2008 predecessor. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, this just very much felt like “another adventure with Iron Man” and the fact of the matter is that the adventure wasn’t all that great.