Heroes, Villains, Rejects, And A-Holes: The Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked

It's become a tradition at this point: whenever a new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is released, everyone ranks the movies. And now that everyone on the /Film staff has had a chance to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and spend a few days digesting it, it's time to completely refresh our list.

We invited the site's core staff as well as our various contributors to rank all 15 movies in the MCU, with each movie earning points based on its placement in each list. This resulted in a ranked list that reflects the site as a whole rather than the opinion of Just One Person. So here it is: the world's most accurate ranking of Marvel Studios' output.

Note: There were two ties during the scoring of the list that were broken by a second round of voting.

marvel cinematic universe ranked iron man 2

15. Iron Man 2

21 points

There's no getting around it: Iron Man 2 is bad movie. Feeling more like a wheezy victory lap following the first film's surprise success than a proper sequel, the film doubles down on the witty banter that defined Iron Man while losing focus on plot, character, conflict, and cohesion. This was a troubled production and you can tell because just about everything on screen feels cobbled together and lethargic. When it's not nonsensical, it's simply dull, with the movie spinning its wheels and twiddling its thumbs until it reaches that lackluster third act, where the lackluster villain (and inexplicable bird aficionado) goes down with the biggest whimper in the MCU. Iron Man 2 can't help but feel like a lesson learned, albeit painfully: these movies cannot be supported entirely by a charismatic even star, even someone as likable as Robert Downey Jr. Story, even a straightforward and simple one, matters.  (Jacob Hall)

marvel cinematic universe ranked thor the dark world

14. Thor: The Dark World

26 points

Kenneth Branagh's Thor is one of my least favorite Marvel movies, and while Thor: The Dark World is not a highly regarded sequel, I believe it's better in many ways. Alan Taylor's Empire Strikes Back-style take brings a more serious and darker edge to the franchise, fleshing out the Asgardian world with some of the tone and feel he employed on Game of Thrones. Yes, the film notoriously has the worst villain of all the MCU films (which is saying a lot), but it also has Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who takes what he learned on The Avengers and dials it up a couple notches more. In the end, I just wish it had a bit more humor (something that Thor: Ragnarok looks to correct). And that climactic battle? It's a bit of a clusterf***, but I think it's still enjoyable. (Peter Sciretta)

marvel cinematic universe ranked the incredible hulk

13. The Incredible Hulk

27 points

Perhaps it's not an accident that Marvel Studios' most visible growing pains came via a movie that featured a guy who literally experiences pain while growing. It sounds nearly inconceivable now, but back when Iron Man was the only film under the young studio's belt, not every subsequent film was guaranteed to be a smash hit. The same can be said about their casting choices, which experienced their biggest stumble to date by bringing on Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Norton's notorious tinkering with the screenplay (as late as halfway through production) caused some friction behind the scenes.

The Incredible Hulk is a much more action-fueled, CG-heavy movie than Ang Lee's unrelated take on the character from 2003, but it has a few bright spots (I remember liking a chase sequence set in Brazil). Honestly, the rest of the movie is a little hazy for me, because this isn't a film that even hardcore Marvel fans often revisit. But as its placement on this list proves, it's better to be mediocre and mostly forgotten than to be remembered for being terrible. (Ben Pearson)

marvel cinematic universe ranked thor

12. Thor

35 points

There's a lot to be said for a simple fish out of water story. Part Shakespearean drama, part indie road trip movie, Thor is an underrated coming-of-age film. And it's not a bad superhero movie either.

The complex family dynamics between Thor (Chris Hemsworth); his tortured brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the trickster god; and their distant father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is handled wonderfully by director Kenneth Branagh — who shows a flair for heightened reality and fantasy, but stumbles when Thor is thrown out of Asgard and in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Here it becomes a pared down road trip film, with Thor discovering the quaint ways of humans, aided by fun but flat supporting characters and an underserved Natalie Portman. The third act and the climactic battle may end with a bit of a whimper, but Thor gets props for introducing the best Marvel villain of all: Loki. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

marvel cinematic universe ranked avengers age of ultron

11. Avengers: Age of Ultron 

44 points

Despite its placement in the bottom five on this list, I've come here to praise Avengers: Age of Ultron rather than bury it. Joss Whedon's sequel is sloppier than the first movie, a more chaotic and less cohesive experience that sometimes loses focus when it strays outside of the core plot to set up future movies, but it has something that so many other comic book movies lack: a pulse. For all of its flaws, there's a beating heart beneath the surface here, even if it's a heart that's a wee-bit irregular.

Perhaps the most admirable thing about Age of Ultron is its refusal to tread on familiar ground, throwing the Avengers into a situation that couldn't feel more different than the one they faced in the first movie. Whedon revels in showcasing his ensemble as a cohesive unit: their powers gel on the battlefield before they go home to party and banter and generally be completely and totally charming. No one writes group dynamics quite like the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. However, Whedon also revels in tearing down that unit, splintering them to pieces and exposing the all-too-human core of every superhero. Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, so often neglected in every other Marvel movie, emerges as the unlikely MVP, the steadfast hero in a crew of doubters.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is too raw and too weird to be ignored. Even when it's playing the part of bloated blockbuster sequel, it has one eye firmly on character...and the other focused entirely on spending audience goodwill on introducing batshit characters like Vision and Ultron. Unlike the worst of the worst MCU movies, this one is never boring. (Jacob Hall)

Ant-Man

10. Ant-Man

62 points

Of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in the entire franchise right now, this one felt like it was going to be the most difficult to get general audiences to care about. Paul Rudd hadn't yet been tested as a blockbuster star outside of being part of some big studio comedies, and Ant-Man was far from a recognizable Marvel Comics superhero. Just describing his powers was something that would make unfamiliar audiences chuckle at the prospect of how that would make a viable comic book movie that jibed with the rest of the Avengers.

Funnily enough, what made Ant-Man so memorable was the fact that it didn't feel like the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The action was exciting, but the plot was more self-contained. Ant-Man wasn't trying to stop the world from being destroyed, but rather preventing a crazed corporate executive from using the shrinking (and eventually growing) technology created by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) for dirty deeds. The movie was on a much smaller scale, literally, but that didn't make it any less entertaining. Also helping Ant-Man was a healthy dose of comedy, not just from Paul Rudd in the lead but by his scene-stealing partner in crime played by Michael Peña.

The result is a refreshing entry in the MCU that gave us a character who would go on to be one of the most satisfying pieces of the big airport brawl in Captain America: Civil War. Ant-Man also gave us another female superhero to look forward to in the form of The Wasp, played by Evangeline Lily, and that's something to be excited about when she emerges in her superhero form in the upcoming sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp. (Ethan Anderton)

marvel cinematic universe ranked captain america the first avenger

9. Captain America: The First Avenger

70 points

Joe Johnston's film is easily one of Marvel's most purely cinematic movies. The fun Johnston has with the period setting almost makes you wish Steve Rogers stuck around in the past a little longer. The director nailed the world, tone, and the sense of adventure. It's the kind of adventure movie that feels like the full package: it's got laughs, a clean and concise story, a grandiose villain, badass shield action, romance, and plenty of heart. Before Steve Rogers' body gets an upgrade, he's already a compelling hero, thanks to convincing special effects and a sincere performance from Chris Evans. Right from his introduction, Evans is great as the kind-hearted hero with a can-do spirit – never winking at the audience or downplaying Steve's sincerity. Captain America: The First Avenger is, above all else, sincere. There's not a hint irony in Johnston's playful, spirited, and colorful origin story. (Jack Giroux)

doctor strange visual effects

8. Doctor Strange

70 points

The best Marvel movies are those that are actually about something beyond the plot. While Doctor Strange hits all of the beats you'd expect from a Marvel Studios movie, every action scene and witty exchange and nutty cosmic moment feels very much in service of a grander idea. This isn't a movie just about an arrogant surgeon who becomes a sorcerer – it's a movie about spiritual awakening, about overcoming your personal hang-ups through faith in the forces in which you put your love and trust.

And yeah, it does all of that while also being a totally rad and psychedelic adventure movie full of characters in colorful costumes punching each other in face and jumping through inter-dimensional doorways and trapping demons in time loops. Director Scott Derrickson uses the limitless possibilities of Stephen Strange's new world to really go for broke, delivering action that is unlike anything else in the MCU and visuals that, more than any other comic book movie, feel like they were torn straight from the pages of the source material. It's such a feast for the eyes and the soul that you can forgive the fact that much of the film's basic plot points are a retread of the first Iron Man movie. (Jacob Hall)

Captain America Civil War

7. Captain America: Civil War

72 points

When The Avengers introduced us to the big cinematic crossover film, it blew our minds. But little did we know that a third Captain America would take that idea to bigger and better extremes. Everyone knows that the weakest elements of the MCU films are the villains, and Civil War essentially sidesteps that aspect and pits the heroes we love and care about against each other, asking us to choose a side. Just as the interactions between these heroes in Joss Whedon's film were so electric, the Russo Brothers crafted an airport battle filled with clever interplay of all of their super abilities – it's uniquely Marvel, a sequence that couldn't exist in any other movie franchise. The introduction of Tom Holland as Peter Parker (aka, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man) is also wonderful – he's definitely a film stealer. The film's ending takes the best of the complex dynamics of a long-running television series and employs them on the big screen. (Peter Sciretta)

marvel cinematic universe ranked iron man

6. Iron Man

72 points

Marvel hit it out of the ballpark with their first attempt at bat. Yes, the final fight between Iron Man and Iron Monger isn't the most visually exciting action scene, but not for a second do we lose interest in Tony Stark's tale of redemption, his journey from smug war proprietor to ultra-charming, albeit flawed, hero. Whether Tony Stark is in the suit, working in the cave with Yinsen (Shaun Toub), or flying alongside jets, Robert Downey Jr. is always magnetic. By now, it's long forgotten the actor's casting was a risk, and probably because of how right he feels in the role each time he returns to screen.

Jon Favreau shows a great eye for spectacle and he can tell character-driven stories on a large-scale with humor, warmth, and a serious cool factor. Not all directors can get away with having their heroes walking away silently from an explosion (it's become such a cliche!), but Favreau can make it fresh. He gets clever with Tony in the suit, but it's all the moments in between the action, especially with Tony and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), that make Iron Man a top-notch popcorn movie. (Jack Giroux)

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 

83 points

While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn't beat the first installment, it is funnier, more emotional and acts as a great stand-alone story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Baby Groot is adorable, Yondu wins our hears, and the newly formed relationship between Mantis and Drax is a hilarious show-stealer. While I would have loved to see more of the team together, splitting the crew up leads to some deeper and more personal adventures. As expected, the music on Awesome Mix Vol. 2 is great and has some deeper tracks that tie more closely into the story.

The film pushes not only the boundaries of the MCU, but also the idea of what we might expect from a Disney movie. There are brothels, penis jokes, an insane number of deaths, and the cutest character in the entire movie basically saying "F***." You can't accuse of it not doing its own thing. It's very much a James Gunn movie. At the time of this writing, the film hasn't even been out a week and I've already seen it twice. That says it all. (Peter Sciretta)

Ant-Man Captain America Civil war credits scene

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

87 points

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel at its best, aggregated movie rankings be damned! While Marvel movies are famous (or perhaps infamous) for their bombastic action set pieces that are all style and no substance, The Winter Soldier's action sequences as refined and sharp — with a thrilling, tightly wound plot to match. I could pick out any of the action scenes — the gorgeously choreographed elevator fight in which Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) faces off against a team of highly trained spies, Nick Fury's (Samuel L. Jackson) high-octane car chase through D.C., or even the intimate highway knife fight between Cap and the titular Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

The Winter Soldier is the rare superhero film to prove that you can have a capital G "Good" character at the center of the film, and make him interesting. Steve struggles to reconcile his values with the cynical modern world, but never sacrifices his values or his allure — and he's surrounded by an excellent cast of characters, like Anthony Mackie's excellent Sam Wilson/Falcon and Scarlett Johansson's sardonic foil, the Black Widow. Not to mention this is the first movie that we finally see a fully realized and complex Black Widow, who directors had struggled to characterize outside of her femme fatale box, until directors Joe and Anthony Russo came along.

The Winter Soldier's play on the paranoid conspiracy genre gives the movie a sense of real dread that permeates throughout the film — and casting the villain with Robert Redford, who is often associated with Cold War conspiracy films, lends to that. The sweeping implications of the intrigue-driven story is perfectly balanced with Steve's personal stakes. It's smart, it's suspenseful and it's highly rewatchable — what more could you ask for in a Marvel movie? (Hoai-Tran Bui)

Robert Downey Jr Leaves Iron Man

3. Iron Man 3

89 points

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proved that writer/director Shane Black and star Robert Downey Jr. worked perfectly with each other, like Tony Stark and a well-timed quip. So it made perfect sense for Marvel to hire Black to direct Downey in Iron Man 3, a film that has a baffling number of haters for such an excellently crafted blockbuster. Are comic book fans still pissed about the Ben Kingsley/Mandarin switcheroo? Because that was a brilliant, fun, unexpected piece of screenwriting in a genre where true surprises are few and far between. Kingsley is far better as the drunken, cowardly Trevor than he ever could have been playing a straight-faced version of an outdated, racist stereotype.

Sure, there's the requisite villain problem with Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian and Rebecca Hall is sort of left stranded by the material, but the rest of this film is so great that it pretty much makes up for it. This is a stripped down, back-to-basics version of a hero who's haunted by what he's seen in The Avengers and struggling with how much he wants to let his alter ego define him. It's one of the most mature, rewarding movies in the MCU. (Ben Pearson)

marvel cinematic universe ranked the avengers

2. The Avengers 

90 points

When I say that The Avengers is more of a party than a movie, I mean that as high praise. I'll never forget seeing this movie in theaters for the first time. I'll never forget the buzz of excitement in the audience, the anticipation as the lights dimmed, and the cheers and jubilation when the extended climax, where the team takes on an alien invasion in the streets of New York City, kicked off. I'll never forget the group euphoria, the laughter and applause, that accompanied the Hulk throwing Loki around like a rag doll. The Avengers is, first and foremost, a great time at the movies.

But how does it fare outside of an auditorium on opening night? Does it still work five years later, when superhero team-ups are commonplace and the the joy of seeing heroes share the screen has undeniably diminished? Yeah, it still rocks. It rocks because Joss Whedon's screenplay is witty and fun and consistently finds amusing ways for these heroes to bounce off one another. It rocks because those key heroes are so perfectly cast and Loki makes for a fine villain to bring them together. It rocks because it wears its heart on its sleeve, acknowledging that these characters are all flawed while noting that the greatest heroes are those who stand up even when all of their instincts tell them to sit down. Other Marvel movies are more complex and more emotional, but The Avengers is a loud and proud mission statement, a celebration of what makes superhero stories so vital in the first place. (Jacob Hall)

Suicide Squad Trailer Mash-Up

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

102 points

This movie is at the top of the list with a 12-point buffer between first and second place, and that's because it's easily the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy started venturing into unexplored territory in the MCU, which was a big part of what made director James Gunn's film feel so refreshing. Not only were the characters lesser known by general audiences, but four-fifths of them were unlike any comic book characters Marvel Studios brought to the big screen before. There's an anthropomorphic raccoon with a penchant for deadly weaponry, a dimwitted but deadly musclehead who doesn't understand metaphors, a green-skinned lady assassin who didn't need to be sexualized to be appealing, and a giant talking tree who can only say three words. How could all these characters come together with a cocky human thief to make a memorable movie?

Ironically, despite having characters that aren't human, Guardians of the Galaxy ended up having more humanity and heart than any of the other films in the MCU. From Star-Lord's loss of his mother and his coming to terms with her death to the sacrifice that Groot makes with the simple but powerful line "We are Groot," this movie is full of love and characters who have a closer bond than even that of the Avengers. They're all outcasts who basically inadvertently become heroes, which feels easier to connect to than those recruited to be superheroes. That's not to take anything away from The Avengers, but the Guardians of the Galaxy are just a more close-knit group that you can't help but want to spend more time with. (Ethan Anderton)