It was the tail end of spring 2008, just before summer, that a little movie called Iron Man debuted from a little studio called Marvel. As the first self-financed and produced work from Marvel, who had, until that point, almost exclusively licensed its properties out to other studios, Iron Man was a big step forward even if the movie itself wasn’t opening to too much in the way of fan fair or expectations. But as the summer closed and the box office dust had settled, Iron Man had earned nearly $600 million. That was kind of a lot back then.
Far more importantly, though, Iron Man established a beachhead; it was the first stage in what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a series of movies following the adventures of some of the greatest heroes of our age, and all, as it would turn out, taking place in the same world. What happened in one was reflected in another, our heroes would meet sometimes and even sometimes become integral parts of each other’s stories. Eleven years, 23 movies, and three unofficial “phases” later, Marvel has woven an intricate tapestry, a deep and epic backstory that rewards those of us paying attention while still maintaining the necessary accessibility for each of their individual chapters to stand on their own. Mostly.
Often imitated, never duplicated, the other defining trait of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the one that separates it from all of the other studio attempts to build their own shared universes, is competence. None of the MCU movies are truly bad, not one. Most of them are good even, and a select few manage to be great. There’s something worth seeing in even the weakest of the 23, and there’s no other movie studio today with nearly as clean a record. And that’s Amazing. That’s Incredible. That’s Fantastic and Uncanny (or at least it soon will be).
And so, it is with great pleasure we present to you, our loyal readers, the offical GOO Reviews ranked list of all 23 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, here at the end of its third phase. With the opinions of nearly all of our GOO Reviews writers, past and present, after exhausting debates, and with the most mathematically rigorous paneling system ever devised for an Internet listicle, here is the greatest and most authoritative list of Marvel movies ever.
No really. We mean it.
This isn’t just some list made up spur of the moment with completely arbitrary judgments mostly to fill in a gap in our review schedule with cheap, easy-to-write content.
Thor: The Dark World
So here’s the thing: None of us would call Thor: The Dark World a bad movie, nor do any of us regret having seen it. If it happened to be on TV, most of us would stop, some of us would watch for a bit, and a few of us would even stay tuned until the end, but it’s literally the last movie of the MCU we’d recommend and the first we’d probably point to that you could (and, given that there’s 22 other movies, maybe should) skip and not miss much. In a universe of pretty good movies, Thor: The Dark World simply commits the cardinal sin of being not great. Read our review >>
The Incredible Hulk
Ah yes, the forgotten Marvel movie. You’d be forgiven for not remembering that in 2008 an MCU Hulk movie was released only a month after the first Iron Man, that it had an entirely different actor playing the Hulk, or even that The Incredible Hulk movie is a thing that exists. But it is. The Incredible Hulk happened. And it’s okay. For a pre-Avengers MCU movie at least.
That sound you’d be hearing right now if you were all reading this list at the same time would probably be the click of a mouse signifying a thousand browser tabs closing in disgust. But hear us out: Black Panther is likely the most important MCU movie in a real-world sense, raising important and timely cultural, political, and sociological questions. It is not, however, a very good superhero movie, with dated-looking effects and uninspiring action sequences that verge and sometimes pass the ridiculous. And all of those real-world questions it poses? It doesn’t do anything very new or interesting with them, ultimately buckling under the weight of having to also be a superhero movie. Read our review >>
Oh, how we wish we could really have liked Captain Marvel. As a movie or as a character. There’s a certain attitude Captain Marvel seems meant to evoke, a certain confidence the character seems meant to have, and while those traits might be viewed negatively and labelled feminist by some, what keeps Captain Marvel from being one of the better MCU movies is that we never really get to know Carol as a person. She could be as mean as Thanos, as cocky as Tony Stark, as sweet as Cassie Lang, or as neutral as… someone from the planet of the neutrals (?), but because we don’t know her or where she’s coming from, it’s hard to like her and it’s hard to care about her movie. It’s mostly an okay movie though. Read our review >>
Ant-Man and the Wasp
The Ant-Man movies are basically the model for lower-tier MCU installments. They’re extremely easy to watch, they’re good and fun and funny, but they’re none of those things so much that you have to see them, and they didn’t have that big of an impact on the universe as a whole. At least not until recently. Read our review >>
Ditto for the original Ant-Man. We just liked it a little better than the sequel. Read our review >>
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 is right at about the point in the MCU ouvre where a lot of people don’t like it but we don’t quite understand why. And it’s not that we don’t think criticisms of the movie aren’t valid, we do see that there might be a little too much world-building in it to stand fully on its own and we do recognize that it’s not a movie with the clearest or most necessary point, but y’know what? It’s fine. It’s decent. There’s things we like in it. I mean, Sam Rockwell’s great.
Most people see the Thor movies as some of the least necessary of the MCU and the worst of the movies of the big three Avengers — Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor — but to its credit this first Thor movie did a good job of introducing some of the more far-out aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it managed to get us to genuinely care about the relationship between Thor and Loki, a relationship that’s helped to shape the universe’s other, bigger chapters. Read our review >>
In a lot of ways, mostly the sillier ones, Thor: Ragnarok is a perfect MCU movie, combining high-fantasy concepts, interstellar adventure, and wacky hijinks, but while it’s very strong on all of those fronts, its sense of humor went just a little too far for us, too often undercutting any of its finer points. And stuffing two nearly perfect bad guys in the form of Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster and Cate Blanchett’s Hela into only one movie wasted more than a bit of both of their potentials. Read our review >>
Captain America: Civil War
Like Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: Civil War has more than enough of the right things to make it one of the truly great MCU movies, but as good as it was, as great as it was to see so many superheroes at once, as astonishing it was to first meet the Black Panther, and as truly spectacular as it was to see Spider-Man join the Marvel Cinematic Universe after years of mediocre Spidey movies under a different studio’s direction, Civil War just couldn’t quite overcome how dumb it really was for all of these heroes to be fighting each other instead of talking. Read our review >>
One of the more divisive of the MCU movies for us — we weren’t all convinced that Doctor Strange should rank quite this high — Strange nevertheless prevailed into the median position of this list despite some of its below average values (a weird hero with a conspicuous accent who’s not that different from Iron Man) because of the few things it has that none of the others do: A trippy plot and visuals, a deliciously clever way to beat the bad guy, and Tilda Swinton. Read our review >>
As an achievement, the very first Avengers movie (not counting this one) is like a dream, the first ever assemblage of heroes of this stature in a major theatrical movie that not only held together, but was actually pretty good. That said, it’s by now been far surpassed by many of the MCU movies that followed it, and… some of Joss Whedon’s writing still just really bugs us. [Also, fun fact: The Avengers is the very first movie we ever reviewed.] Read our review >>
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 gets a bad rap for a variety of reasons, but the one thing that seems to bug people most about it is the Mandarin fake out. And while that’s a perfectly valid criticism to have, we have to ask: Who cares about the Mandarin? Did you really have so much invested in this latest bigbad that it ruined the whole movie for you? Meanwhile, Iron Man 3 has some very strong action sequences, some growth and closure for the first hero of the MCU, it’s smart enough to ask what happens to superheroes after going through a traumatic event, and, for a superhero movie, it’s exactly like the first two Lethal Weapons. And we found that hilarious! Read our review >>
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is great. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a comedy first and foremost, but it doesn’t sacrifice on the action or heart it needs to work. Most of us were honestly pretty choked up by the ending because it’s so touching. But the more we thought about it, the more we looked back at the movie and its sequence of events, the more it struck at least a few of us as missing something. It doesn’t quite bring enough to justify its “of the Galaxy” moniker. Read our review >>
As the first movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is shocking just how much Iron Man got right. Just how much it understood the characters and the world, just how much it benefitted from near-perfect casting (except maybe that one guy) and a ridiculously charismatic lead in Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, just how much it set the right tone and the right course for the MCU to become such a resounding and dominant force in Hollywood. Just shocking, and there is no way the movies ahead of Iron Man on this list would be as good as they are without Iron Man.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
It’s become a common refrain with the Marvel sequels that the second is worse (see: Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron), but we’ll fight anyone who says that about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Vol. 2 may be a lot like the original Guardians of the Galaxy, it may not be quite as funny, and it may not come together as well in the end, but what it brings to this cosmic franchise that is new is a greater depth of character depth and a much grander plot, and those are both things that counted for a lot to us. Read our review >>
Avengers: Age of Ultron
All we ever hear about Avengers: Age of Ultron is complaints. It’s unfocused. Its bad guy is disappointing. It has confusing scenes that do more to set up future movies than serve this one. But we never hear anybody mentioning how it was one of the best pure superhero movies ever at that point. That Hulkbuster fight? That scene where all three of Vision, Iron Man, and Thor were blasting Ultron at once (that’s some Busiek/Perez sh*t right there!)? The all-new, much weirder Avengers team assembling at the end? Pure nerd bliss! Read our review >>
As the ultimate chapter of a grander story told over 10 years of interconnecting movies and as the second part of a cliffhanger ending in Avengers: Infinity War that truly shocked a lot of people only a year earlier, Avengers: Endgame was obviously going to be a movie with a lot going on. What’s most shocking about this second of the two-part Avengers Infinity saga, however, is how well it sticks the landing. It gets all the important stuff right, all the emotion and catharsis, the final arcs of some of our most beloved characters, an unexpected permanence in its effect on the universe, and the true sense of loss that would come from the cosmically devastating events of its story. They screwed around just a little bit too much in the middle parts, though. So it’s not number one. Read our review >>
Captain America: The First Avenger
For such an early entry in the MCU saga, it’s weird how often we come back to Captain America: The First Avenger as an exceptionally strong example of what superheroes are supposed to be. What could easily have felt like a jingoistic, self-righteous story of a type of good fighting a type of evil instead is a shining example of doing what’s right no matter who you are because it’s right no matter what others think you can do, and that’s because The First Avenger isn’t a story about Captain America, it’s a story about Steve Rogers, the hero we need and the hero everyone deserves. Read our review >>
So it’s summer 2017. And you’re thinking “Here’s a new Spider-Man movie. Again. Another reboot.” And so you don’t pay it much mind. “Spider-Man: Homecoming? He’s back in high school? C’mon! I thought we were past that! I mean, he was okay in that Civil War movie, but…”. And so maybe you don’t go see this one. And if that was you, then you made a terrible mistake. Because Spider-Man: Homecoming was the best Spider-Man movie ever. What a twist, eh? And you’ll never see the actual twist in the movie coming either! Read our review >>
Spider-Man: Far From Home
And now it’s May 2019. Phase three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has, for the most part, completed with Avengers: Endgame, and you saw it, and you were pretty happy with it, though a little exhausted by the whole thing. But there’s still this little nagging. Off in the corner. Way off in July. When you’re busy. This other little Spider-Man movie called Far From Home, and surely, after everything that happened in Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home can’t be that essential. You can skip this one. And, again, if that was you, then you made another terrible mistake. Because Far From Home is even better than Spider-Man: Homecoming. Just some real strong superheroics, on a visual and thematic level. It’s verging on ridiculously good and it’s one of the few MCU movies with almost nothing I would change. Read our review >>
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie from the Russo brothers who, until that point, had mostly directed TV comedies (albeit two of the best in Arrested Development and Community), Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a treatise on what modern superhero movies are should be and can bee. It’s sharply plotted, thematically resonant, it explores contemporary issues, and it’s got the best hand-to-hand combat of any superhero movie. It’s so good that it unlocked the keys to the Marvel kingdom for the Russo Brothers and got them the director’s job for all of the biggest MCU movies to follow. And for a long, long, long time, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Until the next movie came along. Read our review >>
Avengers: Infinity War
We’ve been thinking about this movie for a while now, and after more than a year of thinking about it on a near-daily basis and considering it on a grand scale, here’s what we’ve concluded: Avengers: Infinity War is like a big orgasm. Like one massive, cataclysmic, thrusting, gooey, gushing, overflowing, the-wetness-got-everywhere explosion of every sensation you’ve ever wanted from a superhero movie. It’s everything wanted it to be and everywhere we want to be, and in only one installment it created the most compelling supervillain we’ve ever seen on the big screen. Massive action spectacle, character interactions we’ve always wanted to see, and a truly intimidating threat to the universe, but one whose cause we can almost get behind. And yeah, it’s a little barren on the level of a complete story or full character arcs — it is only the first part, the action part, of a two-part saga after all — but it does everything it’s supposed to so well that it basically lives on a different planet than any other superhero movie. Everything we’ve been waiting for since 2008, all of the anticipation, and Infinity War knocks it out of the park. We are in awe of this movie. Read our review >>
And so here we are, at the end of another phase and the end of an era. Heroes lived, heroes died, half the universe disappeared and came back, and what do we have to show for it? Eleven years. Twenty-three movies. Billions and billions of dollars. And a lot of happy customers. Including us. The Marvel Cinematic Universe of movies may not all be hits, they may not raise the bar for moral complex themes or intelligent cinema, and it may even be fair to blame the lack of original movies hitting theatres on their dominance, but they’re fun without being stupid and easy to enjoy without ever being insulting, and unless Marvel’s Phase 4 really sh*ts the bed, they will leave behind a legacy of across-the-board quality. They uniquely capture a sense of goodness and hopefulness and responsibility that few other movies or genres can, and, when viewed through the right lens, can even remind us that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it usually bends towards justice. If not the Justice League.
And just for fun
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
By the time we get to the top of this list, to the best of the MCU movies, we really have an embarrassment of riches. Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Spider-Mans Far From Home and Homecoming are all unlike anything we’ve seen in superhero movies in terms of sheer spectacle and modern superhero contemplation. Their bombastic and fun but serious enough to mean something, and they’re all faithful to their source material while still saying something on their own. In most universes, that’s more than any of us could ever hope for. And even though this might sometimes feel like the darkest timeline, this is a universe where a movie like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also exists, and that at least means this is one of the brightest in terms of superhero movies. It may be not a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it may have come from the same studio that gave us the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movie eras, but Into the Spider-Verse is still a ridiculously good movie. A deeply resonant movie. A profoundly inspiring movie. It’s one of the only superhero movies I feel confident showing to almost anyone no matter their preferences and pre-conceived notions, and it would probably be one of the first things I would show to someone if I wanted to convince them that this is a universe still worth living in. Read our review >>