Ranking all 29 of the MCU movies and shows from worst to best
Including Shang-Chi, Black Widow, What If...? and Loki.
2020 gave us our first year without an MCU entry since 2009! The pandemic shunted back some of the movies and shows we were supposed to get, but it has just made 2021 a bounty for Marvel stuff!
What If...? is still playing out on Disney+ right now, while Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home are all heading to your local cinema before the year is out.
But before then, it is time to take stock of what we've got already, including the five 2021 entries (so far).
(And before anyone points it out, we're only including Marvel Studios productions, which is why there's no Agents of SHIELD, or Daredevil, or Jessica Jones, because they were all produced by ABC, or Netflix, or whomever.)
Oh, and obviously, SPOILERS:
29. IRON MAN 2
Let us just start off by saying that there hasn't really been a bad Marvel movie or TV show (yet), but in terms of pure laziness, Iron Man 2 takes the cake. Despite Mickey Rourke having a ball playing a bad-guy from, tonally, a completely different movie, there isn't a lot going on here that doesn't just feel like wheel-spinning. It exists just to make money and set up future movies, which it did, but not much else.
28. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
The Eric Bana-starring Hulk isn't part of the MCU, and the jury is out on whether that one is better or worse than this one. Either one, inexplicably, Mark Ruffalo's version has yet to get his own movie, which is a real shame. Regardless, Edward Norton was ... fine, Liv Tyler was ... fine, Tim Roth was actually pretty good as the bonkers baddie, but this was mostly just about one big CGI green guy punching another big CGI green guy.
27. THOR: THE DARK WORLD
There's a lot wrong with the second Thor movie - the red evil bubble thing, Natalie Portman literally being asleep for most of it, the completely forgettable villains - but there's also a lot right with it. Primarily, it is actually very funny. From Thor hanging up his hammer on the coat hook when he arrives in a guest's home, to the Portal-inspired climax, there's some great bits in here. Too bad it gets overshadowed by the "Bigger = Better?" storyline.
26. BLACK WIDOW
We're sorry, but it just wasn't great, was it? We waited a LONG time for Black Widow to get her own movie, and when it finally arrives, it ends up feeling like a two-hour-plus set-up for a post-credits sequence for a different, better story. Florence Pugh is fantastic here, and her chemistry with Scar-Jo is off the charts, but unfortunately they were dropped into a story that didn't really do anything with these fantastic characters. An enjoyable but mostly entirely forgettable watch.
25. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Chris Evans is perfectly cast, Red Skull is a great bad-guy, and the old-school, Boys' Own vibe works for some of the run-time. But it keeps falling between the stools of being a big superhero epic or a down'n'dirty war epic, and never really nails either of them. It sets up a lot of stuff that won't pay off for AGES - Steve still holding a candle for Peggy, his ride-or-die BFF Bucky Barnes - but alone, in this movie, it doesn't amount to much.
This was initially to be directed by the guy who gave us Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz (amazing!). Instead, the job went to the guy behind Yes Man and The Break-Up (eh.....). Coasting on the pure charm offensive of Paul Rudd, who is ably assisted by Evangeline Lilly and Michael Pena, this is a fun comedy, but a very mediocre superhero movie. Which is fine, not every superhero movie needs to be huge and OTT, but it really does feel like they're getting this one out of the way so they can have more fun in the bigger sequels.
23. WHAT IF....?
While it did eventually tie its many, many disparate strings up into a neat little (and also massively explosive) bow by the end, the journey felt a bit messy and languid in places. The episode involving some of the Avengers being assassinated in impossible scenarios was a perfect example of the show's biggest problem: great set-ups and that felt like they didn't really know how to end properly. Of course it was great to hear Chadwick Boseman back one last time, and some of the episodes were genuinely A LOT of fun (Party Thor comes to mind), but hopefully they can hone their storytelling for the inevitable second season.
Whereas the sequel went maybe a little too silly, the first Thor went maybe a little too serious. Director Kenneth Branagh brought his Shakespearean background to the mix, casting the film impeccably, giving a rich visual sheen that still stands out. Loki is arguably still the best Marvel movie villain, but his big plan to... release a big robot in a small American town (?) isn't exactly what great movie villains are made of.
21. DOCTOR STRANGE
A rich genius with a sharp tongue and sharper facial hair is involved in a terrible accident that forces him to push his boundaries and come out the other side a different, better man... No, this isn't Iron Man, but it might as well be if it weren't for those amazing, trippy LSD visuals. Hopefully now that the origins is out of the way, Strange can get, y'know, a little stranger and not stick so rigidly to the Marvel routine.
20. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
We can't even begin to imagine how difficult it must be to round-up so many famous people with so many growing careers into one movie, let alone come up with a script that explains why some of them are there and some of them aren't. Ultron is a great villain (voiced immaculately by James Spader), but despite the great action scenes and dizzyingly witty script, there is sometimes a sense that none of it really meant anything other than to have a $250 million reason to introduce us to the Scarlet Witch and Vision.
19. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
It has much the same issues as Age Of Ultron, to be honest. Yes, it is great to see the gang back together, but does any of it really mean anything in the end other than introduce us to Mantis (Pom Klementieff) into the team, and get Nebula (Karen Gillan) from a pure villain to a ..... well, she's not exactly a team-player, but she doesn't seem as murderous as before. The action and the funnies are back, but replacing the surprise element of the original is a sense that everyone already knows they are on to a winner. Which is totally understandable, but there's nothing here that will remain particularly memorable in the grand scheme of the MCU.
18. CAPTAIN MARVEL
It was... fine. Brie Larson and the supporting cast were all great, the soundtrack was great, and nods to the nineties were great, but by trying to reinvent an origin story movie - which we've seen done to death, to be fair - we got a very convoluted way of introducing us to an already very convoluted character. If any of the Avengers needed a straightforward "This is how they got here" movie, it was Carol Danvers. Still though, now all the hard work is done, we look forward to seeing what we might be getting in the sequel.
17. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Arriving directly after the dour and tear-enducing Endgame, it was fun to go back to something big and bright and fun, and that is exactly what Far From Home represents. However, there is also a feeling of it being slightly inconsequential, a bit of a wheel-turner to help us all figure out the post-UnSnaptured world. The biggest plot push doesn't even take place until the mid-credits sequence. Despite all of that, this confirms Tom Holland as the best Peter Parker by a mile, and Jake Gyllenhaal has a blast as the layered partner-in-fighting-crime Quentin Beck.
16. THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
Ironically, for a show involving a guy who flies around a lot, it didn't quite the stick the landing. Overall, we got some great action, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan were a fun double-act, and we got a brilliant look at how being a black hero can put more targets on your back than, say, a Steve Rogers-wannabe might get. But for all of the heaving double-crossing plots, the actual story didn't amount to much. You can check out our full breakdown of the show's final episode right here:
15. BLACK PANTHER
Picking things up pretty much directly after the events of Civil War, with the new king of Wakanda (the late, great Chadwick Boseman) finding it difficult to stay true to his father's wishes of what the future of the country should be, and wanting to push forward for the good of the planet. An amazing cast fleshing out some incredibly well-rounded characters, and the visuals are a spot-on interpretation of Afro-futuristic sci-fi. The script is filled with some very smart nods towards some very current race issues, and the villain (if you can even call him that) is one of the most well-thought-out bad-guys in Marvel history. It just isn't very exciting, is all. And that dodgy, Star Wars prequel-esque finale was a mess.
14. AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
Looking back it is very easy to overlook just how massive an undertaking the first Avengers movie was, but at the time we were all jaw-dropped by seeing these huge characters share the screen to help save Manhattan from giant space metal worms. It was also very funny, with some great and natural chemistry by everyone involved, and barely an ounce of fat to be found on the run-time. But hindsight has definitely taken the sheen off, thanks to a re-used villain (Loki again, this time with a magic stick!), and maybe the one of the originators of the Big Blue Space Laser final fight.
Unlike WandaVision, which was great all the way up to the very last episode, and unlike Falcon/Winter Soldier, which started to come apart at the seams about two-thirds of the way through, Loki started great, and ended great, but had a bit of a saggy middle where things started to feel very Doctor Who. Despite that, Hiddleston remains fantastic in the role, the quirky, unique energy of the show felt like a breath of fresh air, and the finale represented some very real, very interesting consequences for the future of the MCU. You can check out our full breakdown of the show's final episode right here:
12. SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS
Simu Liu's charm offensive as Marvel's latest potential Avenger takes the centre stage with ease here, thanks to some brilliantly choreographed action-scenes that borrow equally from Jackie Chan, James Bond, The Matrix and Speed. Yeah, it all devolves into a total CGI tsunami at the end, but this is still one of the freshest breathes of fresh air within the MCU in some time.
11. IRON MAN 3
Reuniting with his director from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Robert Downey Jr. got his most interesting iteration of Tony Stark here, mainly by being kept out of his Iron Man suit for the majority of the movie. The villains are cack (one breaths fire, the other turns out to be entirely fake), but by focusing more on the hero and what makes him so interesting, we get one of the more psychologically interesting insights into what it must be like to be a hero every single day.
10. ANT-MAN & THE WASP
If it wasn't for Spider-Man: Homecoming, this would be the funniest movie in the MCU. After the dodgy first movie, everything feels much more confident here, with Rudd and Lilly killing it in the leads, while new additions Michelle Pfeiffer, Lawrence Fishburne, and Hannah John-Kamen all doing great work. The visuals are some of the best and most original within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while anything and everything that involves Michael Pena is worth the price of admission alone.
9. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
The opposite of Age Of Ultron, here we get so much happening that it's hard to keep up with events. The Avengers are told they have to abide by the world's governments' rule, which causes a massive split down the middle, and pits Captain America's "Thanks, but no thanks" group against Tony Stark's "A little regulation never hurt nobody" team. We also get introduced to Black Panther and Spider-Man, that massive airport scrap, and a bad guy that doesn't want to rule or blow up the world. He just wants some good old fashioned revenge.
Did we really need a show about these two characters? After the first two wobbly episodes, would we even continue watching? It turns out the answers were "Yes", and "YES!" Giving us an incredible look at grief, depression, repression, and heartbreak, we get an incredible pair of central performances from Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, both given so much breathing room to expand their characters. And then, of course, there was Katherine Hahn as the nosy neighbour. If you've watched the show, then you already know how fantastic she was. Turning the concept of the sit-com inside out, we'd love to see the MCU take more creative risks like this.
7. AVENGERS: ENDGAME
As good as Iron Man was at kicking everything off, Endgame needs to be applauded for sticking the landing as well as it did. Sure, you can tie your brain up in knots trying to make sense of the time-travel stuff, but the scope has never been bigger, the characters have never felt deeper. It was the perfect place to take a break, have a breather, and fully revel on what has been an incredible, massive undertaking. If anything, Endgame makes it tough to see Marvel can outdo themselves in the future, with the lesson here being maybe they shouldn't try to.
6. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
Nobody had particularly high hopes for this one, even after Spider-Man did pop up and effectively steal the show during Civil War. However, his new standalone adventure (kinda, Iron Man is still on hand to dole out some unfriendly life advice) was a perfect mix of teen rom-com and out-and-out action-adventure, with Tom Holland performing a balancing act between charming and goofy and Michael Keaton properly nailing the bad-guy act. Arguably features the best plot twist in all of the Marvel movies to date, too. (You'll know it when you see it.)
5. IRON MAN
As we should rightfully be awed by team-up movies, looking back to the first Iron Man movie, and the shock we got by a (at the time) B-list comic book character showing other superhero movies how it should be done. Amazing casting in the (at the time) out of favour Robert Downey Jr., along with some inventive but gritty action sequences, this was the massive surprise that would become, for better or worse, the template for all other origin stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
4. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
If very few people had heard of Iron Man when it first came out, then the Guardians Of The Galaxy was a complete unknown. But having built up so much good will on the back of their previous movies, people gave them the benefit of the doubt, just like Marvel did with the movie's writer/director James Gunn, and the risk paid off for everyone. Hugely original, lovable characters, unique settings and visuals, and that soundtrack all added up to a brilliant, galactically-sized expansion of the Marvel universe that we're still only getting to grips with.
3. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
At the time, we had a back and forth over whether this or Endgame was the better movie. Given the time and space, it is clear now which stands out more. From the opening attack on Thor's refugee ship, right up to the Snapture and the major-downer-buzz of seeing some of our favourite characters blip out of existence, Infinity War is packed full of unforgettable cinematic moments. And that is without mentioning the time Thanos throws a moon at Iron Man. This was very much The Empire Strikes Back of the MCU, and it thoroughly deserves that comparison.
2. THOR: RAGNAROK
To be honest, expectations weren't super high for this one. Despite hiring left-field director Taika Waititi, and those early day-glo trailers kicking off a fantastic 80s sheen, considering the first two Thor movies didn't set the world on fire, could it be third time's a charm? Turns out, yes, it absolutely can, by leaning really heavily into Chris Hemsworth's natural comedic charisma, pairing him up with Mark Ruffalo's finally-talking Hulk, and filling out the supporting cast with scene-stealers like Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson and an incomparable Jeff Goldblum.
1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Unlike most of the other sequels, The Winter Soldier dug its heels in and showed what can be accomplished if you really want to rebuild your character from the ground up. Ditching most of the OTT-ness from the other heroes' movies, Captain America deals with visceral, street-level shoot-outs and political intrigue for most of the running time, until that fully deserved massive air-ship shoot-out over Washington. Robert Redford gave a great human face to evil skulduggery, and The Falcon and Black Widow were perfect back-up to Chris Evans' Captain America - a character who, like Cyclops or Superman, could've been dull as dishwater. But The Winter Soldier effectively muddies that water (in a good way), showing that just because you're the good guy, that doesn't mean you don't have to put yourself in some bad situations.
All clips via Marvel Entertainment