We’ve all got our own opinion when it comes to the best Marvel movie. Guardians, maybe? Endgame, perhaps? Nearly all have merit. The 23 entries in the MCU share the same interweaving narrative space and there are all sorts of weird and wonderful picks for the top spot, depending on your preferences. But what about a definitive numero uno?
The GamesRadar+ and Total Film teams have voted, argued, and there may or may not have been tears shed at some of the final rankings. We're not telling.
It’s been a long, long road to get there – over a decade now of everything from space comedies, to political thrillers, and a certain man made of iron back in 2008 – but we’ve finally reached a consensus. Deep breath, we’re going in. This is our complete ranking of the best Marvel movies ever, from worst-to-first, right up until 2019's Phase 3 closer, Spider-Man: Far From Home.
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23. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
A cape-wearing, long-haired god who talks like Shakespeare was always going to be a bit of a hard sell for modern-day cinema goers. While Thor: Ragnarok knows how to have fun with the ridiculousness that is the God of Thunder, Thor: The Dark World (much like its predecessor) suffers from being a bit too superhero-y. In a cinematic universe where we have intergalactic space opera shenanigans, WW2-era war films, and size-altering heist movies, a handsome man in a cape fighting a villain who comes across as Generic Evil Guy (Christopher Eccleston, wasted as Dark Elf Malekith) doesn't stand much chance. Something has to be lowest on this list and most would agree it's The Dark World.
22. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Incredible Hulk feels like the black sheep of the MCU family with its retroactively-replaced lead. Because of that, it's hard to remember Louis Letterier's film – itself a reboot of Ang Lee's inventive-but-flawed 2003 take on the Hulk – with much fondness. Norton is decent enough as the troubled, perpetually tense Bruce Banner, but he's nowhere near as much fun as the jokier Mark Ruffalo, who made the role his own from The Avengers onwards. The Incredible Hulk is a sort-of origin tale that skips past Banner's gamma-ray-induced accident – that well-known story plays out as part of the opening credits sequence – and picks up with him months later in hiding, trying to find a cure. It’s reasonably fun and hits all the key points for a successful superhero movie, but it still suffers from an uninspiring love interest and a forgettable baddie in Tim Roth's Emil “The Abomination” Blonsky.
21. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 lacks the fun and freshness of the first movie and it's certainly the weakest of all the Shellhead films. It's nothing more than an acceptable follow-up whose main claim to fame is that it features Mickey Rourke wielding electric whips. This is where we see Tony Stark’s fall from grace, as he faces personal demons relating to his love life and alcohol – Iron Man 2 riffs heavily on the classic “Demon in a Bottle" storyline from the comics. It’s also the film where we first meet Black Widow, and Rhodey (Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard) makes good on his “Next time, baby” promise from the first movie by donning the War Machine armour, expanding on a friendship that will become a mainstay of the MCU. The main conflict storyline is pretty forgettable and ultimately everything feels subservient to setting up The Avengers.
20. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Oh look, another sequel! Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a good but not great time. It takes the formula laid out by the original, straps boosters to it, cranks up the stereo to full, and goes full throttle for over two hours. Unfortunately, though, where the original Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit – a Marvel movie so different and refreshing – that set the bar impossibly high for the sequel. Jokes aren't quite as fresh second time around. You also feel like you've seen the new worlds before, and the individual character arcs feel repetitive. None of the character beats work quite as well, and Chris Pratt's Star Lord lacks a certain something this time around.
19. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
The very first Marvel movie to give a female superhero billing in the title, Ant-Man sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp marks a significant moment in MCU history, but it's so much more than that too. Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War and set parallel to Avengers: Infinity War (but released a few months after it), Ant-Man and the Wasp is the perfect palate cleanser following Thanos's snap.
Like its predecessor, the Ant-Man sequel has a simple and effective storyline that allows the characters to shine, and it's very much about Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne's partnership. So why is it only number 19 on our list of the best Marvel movies? Ant-Man and the Wasp lacks the freshness of the original, with much of the fun of changing size being diminished by the seen-it-all-before factor – especially when even Captain America: Civil War had stolen Lang's Giant-Man thunder.
18. Thor (2011)
While Chris Hemsworth does a decent job of playing the God of Thunder, the character is tricky to make work with his old time-y speech and period drama-like clothes. Remember, this is some years before Hemsworth revealed an uncanny knack for comedy and Thor became one of the MCU’s MVPs. Thor does enough to set up the character for his future appearances, though, as well as establishing the family relationships that become important later on. In fact, Tom Hiddleston's Loki is one of the highlights of the film and makes his older half-brother much more interesting, which is probably why Loki has appeared alongside Thor in pretty much every Marvel movie he's in, but the first Thor movie has more heart than its sequel. Funny, sweet, and with plenty of ridiculous action sequences, Thor is fun. Unfortunately, that's all it is.
17. Doctor Strange (2016)
Marvel's first foray into the mystical world could have been better. Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange is a Tony Stark clone but has none of the charm to overcome the arrogance. And that accent... this movie could have been saved by simply making the character, like the actor playing him, English. Doctor Strange is a classic origin tale, but that’s all it really is. And while at times it looks amazing thanks to its Inception-style city-bending antics, it lacks the action and interest of other MCU movies. It may have an all-star cast, but many of them are given little to do (Rachel McAdams, in particular, is criminally wasted) and the final fight, while definitely unique, is rather flat. Doctor Strange is just meant to introduce the character and set him up for future appearances in the MCU and it does just that – it’s good, just not that good.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The Avengers was the movie that propelled the MCU into the stratosphere, yet Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn't come close in terms of storytelling – and that's despite the return of most of the cast and Joss Whedon behind the camera. The malevolent AI Ultron is yet another generic villain from the Marvel movie stable. Meanwhile, the banter between the leading superheroes is nowhere near as fun this time around – which may have something to do with the movie being as concerned with setting up Phase 3 of the MCU as it is with saving the world.
That said, there's lots to like about a movie that's arguably better than its reputation. That opening sequence ("Language!")? Hawkeye's secret backstory? The new Avengers? Black Widow and the Hulk's budding romance? That action-packed and emotional finale? All great. It’s just below average for Marvel, which really says a lot about the overall quality of the MCU.
15. Iron Man 3 (2013)
The MCU upped the ante with Iron Man 3, which is far from a typical Marvel movie. In fact, it’s the movie that made it very clear that, from 2013 onwards, there was no longer going to be a typical Marvel movie formula. Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black directs Iron Man 3, a movie that's part superhero story, part existential angst-comedy. Black’s involvement is far more significant than his ’80s action track record as his barnstormingly clever, postmodern film noir comedy, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was fundamental in relaunching Robert Downey Jr’s career, post-rehab.
As such, Iron-Man 3 is a solid collaboration to round off the character’s initial trilogy – a well-written, insightful piece of character-driven filmmaking that just happens to have a bunch of flying robot suits thrown in for good measure and a bait-and-switch villain that may lessen the movie in the eyes of some. With a script tailored to his deeper talents, RDJ really earns his (huge) paycheck here.
14. Captain Marvel (2019)
Arriving nearly two years after Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel was somewhat overdue when it landed. Luckily, Carol Danvers made an impact straight away, taking her place as the most powerful hero the MCU has ever seen – even Thor would think twice about a scrap with Captain Marvel.
Oscar-winner Brie Larson instantly makes the role her own, bringing a perfect blend of humanity and detachment fighter pilot recruited by the Kree after gaining her powers in mysterious circumstances. Despite an impressive supporting cast (Jude Law, Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn), the debut of classic shapeshifting villains the Skrulls, some clever twists, and action beats that make you punch the air in triumph, this is run-of-the-mill origin fare. Not one of the best Marvel movies, perhaps, but it’s certainly one of the most important – especially if you like cats.
13. Ant-Man (2015)
Ant-Man is Marvel's take on the crime caper. Everything about the story is classic heist; the slow-burn, getting-the-team-together characterisation; the single, focused goal; the planning and practice montages. Ant-Man knows all of the genre’s clichés, and it makes every one of them absolutely sing. Fundamental to that success is its drastically smaller scale – literally and figuratively. There’s no incoming apocalypse here. No grand, villainous plan to change life as we know it. Just an old grudge, a corporate asshole, and a strong focus on the character comedy pushing the whole story forward. And that's why it works! Paul Rudd – an actor previously known more for his comedy chops more than his action attributes – is perfect in the title role. Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air among Marvel's other movies.
12. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Just to prove the versatility of the MCU, the follow-up to the epic Avengers: Endgame is its polar opposite. Where the superhero team-up to end all superhero team-ups was a film of vast, universe-shattering consequences, Far From Home is simply a fun romp around Europe with your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. The shadow of Thanos’s finger snap (known as “the blip”) still lingers, of course, as half the world comes to terms with returning after five years away, and Peter Parker struggles to live up to the legend of his mentor, Tony Stark.
In his fifth movie as Spidey, Tom Holland secures his position as the best-ever screen Wallcrawler, equally adept at comedy as he is handling giant monsters with a penchant for destroying famous landmarks. While the threat ultimately proves a tad convoluted and ridiculous (even for a Marvel movie), returning Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts has a light enough touch to let the chemistry between his young stars do the heavy-lifting.
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
We never thought we'd see a Spider-Man MCU movie – Marvel sold the rights a long time before the MCU existed – but thanks to a team-up between Marvel Studios and Sony, Spidey got his homecoming, and what a welcome home it was. Much of the success of Spider-Man: Homecoming hinges on the fact that, a) it's not another Spider-Man origin story, and b) Tom Holland is perfectly cast as a teenage Peter Parker. Despite not seeing Peter get bitten by that all-important spider, Homecoming is still a fairly traditional superhero movie, albeit one that owes nearly as much to classic high school movies as it does the works of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Throw in an injection of Tony Stark charm, a killer Spidey suit, and a perfectly delivered final act twist/reveal and you've got yourself one hell of an MCU movie.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger is the beginning of everything we love about the heroic Cap – the bedrock on which one of the MCU's major characters is built. Chris Evans is superb as the young skinny kid from Brooklyn who becomes a beefcake overnight thanks to experimental Super Soldier serum and fights the Nazis. Hugo Weaving's Red Skull is one of the MCU's stronger villainous efforts. The more languid period piece also helps repeat viewings, with Evans' Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter beginning their fledgling romance here. Of course, Agent Carter is so unmissable she bagged herself a spin-off TV show and is one of the few MCU love interests who’s actually interesting.
9. Black Panther (2018)
The MCU was already a massive deal when Black Panther roared into cinemas in early 2018, but no Marvel film before had a bigger cultural impact. Only Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Endgame and Avatar have made more money at the US box office. Fronted by royalty in the form of King T'Challa, the ensemble is one of the best Marvel movies in the MCU so far.
Another star is the country of Wakanda itself – a stunning, vibrant, and oh-so-alive world that feels both futuristic and steeped in culture and tradition. Everything about it, from the palace, to the mountain home of M’Baku and the Jabari tribe, is utterly unique and brilliantly realised. The plot of the movie is tightly woven around Wakanda, dealing with both the internal and external conflicts the country is going through. And then there's Michael B. Jordan's villain, Erik Killmonger, who is terrifying, sympathetic and relatable in equal measure. It's been a long time coming, but Black Panther is a strong, bold, and thrilling solo movie.
8. The Avengers (2012)
It's hard to remember now, given what Marvel has achieved since, but when The Avengers movie arrived it was a revelation, especially as a lot of people thought there was no way the studio could pull something like this off. A crossover movie with multiple main characters and a storyline spanning various franchises? It felt like a crazy plan that could never work, but, thanks to the foundations laid by the previous Marvel movies and the skilled hands of writer/director Joss Whedon, The Avengers became Marvel's first movie to gross over a billion dollars. Not only did it work – it's a fantastic film in its own right. With superheroes galore, action-packed blockbuster battles, and enough balance in the storyline to actually get to care about each character, the Avengers has gone down in cinematic history.
7. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Released in the same year as Batman v Superman, Captain America's third film – Civil War – didn't need to try too hard to beat its DCEU rival. Despite being thought of as Avengers 2.5 by fans thanks to the sheer volume of other MCU heroes who show up, Civil War is really Cap v. Iron Man, with the two characters squaring up against each other.
After many world-ending missions, Civil War is a smaller, smarter story, about clashing ideologies, but it never gets bogged down with windy introspection – and because we know all the characters so well, we care deeply about their motivations and viewpoints. On top of that, there are the wonderful introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther, that bit with Ant-Man, and Vision wearing a delightful range of knitwear. Villain-wise? It works, as the Big Bad turns out to be Captain America and/or Iron Man, depending on your point of view. Epic stuff.
6. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
To be the wackiest, most whimsical MCU movie released in 2017 (the same year as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming) is impressive. For that movie to be a Thor movie? It's practically god-like. But are we really that surprised when Taiki Waititi is the man behind the camera? The What We Do in the Shadows director does away with all the Shakespearean theatrics and instead goes full retro-futurism for the threequel, with a healthy sprinkling of full-blown surrealism thrown in. The result is a comedy that just happens to be a superhero movie at the same time. Needless to say, it's the freshest MCU flick since that time they introduced a talking tree. Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster, Waititi's rock warrior Korg, and Bruce Banner/Hulk all have their moments of comedy gold, but Chris Hemsworth's Thor turns out to be the funniest of them all. Who saw that coming?
5. Iron Man (2008)
This is where it all started. While Iron Man isn't the best Marvel movie, it definitely deserves a certain amount of kudos. After all, without Iron Man we might never have had the MCU. Indeed, it’s easy to forget what a risk it was at the time, considering it starred an actor with a troubled past making a comeback playing a B-list superhero.
Marvel’s gamble paid off spectacularly as Iron Man became a hit, and over a decade later it's still one of the best superhero movies around. If you want to know how to do an origin story right, rewatch Iron Man because it barely puts a foot wrong. Robert Downey Jr was the perfect person to bring the arrogant Tony Stark to life and his technologically advanced suit was a breath of fresh air next to the cape and tights we were used to seeing superheroes wear previously. Over a decade on, Iron Man remains one of the best Marvel movies.
4. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Avengers: Endgame is the ultimate vindication of Marvel’s brave vision for a shared universe; the culmination of dozens of story arcs across 22 movies, and the perfect finale for the first stage of MCU overlord Kevin Feige’s grand plan. The storytelling choices are bold – that time jump, the character deaths, the nods to earlier movies – but they all make perfect sense in the context of the saga.
With its heroes at rock bottom after the events of Infinity War, Endgame has its fair share of bleakness (poor Thor), but also plenty of laughs and moments of triumph. The final act is a masterclass in direction, as the Russo brothers marshal one of the most complicated action set-pieces in cinema history. Come the end and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is changed forever. An epic every bit as bold as Thanos's crazy scheme, Endgame is blockbuster filmmaking at its finest.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy is a wonderful, funny, and warm sci-fi scramble through some of the most exotic locations in the MCU – and it’s also the movie with the loosest connections to Iron Man, Captain America and the rest. Arguably the best thing to happen to big screen space opera since Star Wars (Star-Lord, Gamora and Groot could be this generation's Han, Leia and Chewie), it's got a fresh, lively lightness of touch that simultaneously feels like it's rebelling against the Marvel formula, while remaining 100 per cent part of the MCU. Everything is held together by a generous streak of fun, while the "Awesome Mix" cassette soundtrack perfectly suits the mood. The least-Marvel of the Marvel movies, then, but also one of the best.
2. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Once upon a time, the “I am your father” revelation from The Empire Strikes Back was easily the most memorable, downbeat, and talked about blockbuster cliffhanger of all time. The end of Avengers: Infinity War runs it pretty close, however, by giving antagonist-in-chief Thanos the upper hand, and leaving half of the MCU’s heroes literally turned to dust. Okay, you could argue that without Avengers: Endgame to conclude the story it feels kind of unfinished – though you could also level that accusation at The Empire Strikes Back – but viewed as the first act of a larger story it's a remarkable piece of work.
Infinity War manages to be emotionally powerful and incredibly funny (often in the same scene), its scale and scope are mind-bogglingly vast, and the crossover character interactions are unexpected and fun. Perhaps, most importantly, Marvel solves its villain problem in spectacular style, with Josh Brolin’s Thanos being both the driving force of the movie and a plausible bad guy – his grand plan is clearly deranged, but there's a weird, twisted logic to it. And without Infinity War there could be no Endgame.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Here it is. The best Marvel movie. The Winter Soldier set a new precedent for the MCU. The Captain America sequel is a totally different take on the universe – a ’70s Cold War thriller that doesn't put a foot wrong.
Hell, The Winter Soldier should be named one of the best Marvel movies of all time for the elevator scene alone; a moment so memorable it was homaged in Avengers: Endgame. The movie also has far-reaching implications for the rest of the Marvel universe – such as that SHIELD reveal – and establishes the resurrected Bucky Barnes as a major piece in the puzzle for years to come. It’s also the most balanced of the Marvel movies in terms of action and pace, with directors the Russo brothers really setting a high level of quality for future films to match. No wonder Marvel Studios put them in charge of Infinity War and Endgame.