Marvel Cinematic Universe movies ranked, from worst to best

Captain America: Civil War marks the beginning of the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it’s time to rank what has come before.

Marvel has done something that had never been really accomplished before in releasing 12 films that can all stand on their own for the most part while also forming an overall Cinematic Universe. Many people are now trying to copy that template, and it remains to be seen how they do. But as Marvel has made these films as stand-alone entries, you also need to look at each on their own merits.

While I have seen all of the Marvel films to date, when it was decided I would be doing this list I sat down and watched all 12 of them again. It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it. And with that, we now rank the first 12 Marvel films.

12. The Incredible Hulk

Poor Hulk. While not nearly as painful as Ang Lee’s take on the green goliath (Hulk poodles? Really?), the Edward Norton Incredible Hulk version wasn’t anything to write home about either. It was a step in the right direction for the character, but I think it also showed how tough this character is to pull off in a solo movie. While Mark Ruffalo is fantastic in the other films, even his version of the character would be difficult to utilize I feel. This one, however, was just too much CGI and felt a bit forced.

  • Original Release Date: June 13, 2008
  • Order in overall releases: 2
  • Belongs to Phase One, Avengers Assembled

11. Thor: The Dark World

In the world of comic books you quite often have filler issues. They’re harmless little one-off stories that don’t really irritate you because you know 30 days later you’re getting a new one. But when you carry that concept over to movies such as in Thor: The Dark World, you run into a problem. I remember walking out of the theater after this one and thinking, “Well, alright, there is some cool stuff coming in the MCU, and I know that because of this movie, but this movie in and of itself was pointless.” This was the MCU’s first filler film and hopefully it will be the last.

  • Original Release Date: November 8, 2013
  • Order in overall releases: 8
  • Belongs to Phase Two

10. Iron Man 2

It was going to be difficult to follow up the success of the original Iron Man to be sure, but I think having the focus be on a villain that makes the audience that feels like it needs to shower wasn’t a good place to start. As with most sequels Iron Man 2 faltered under the strain of too much being stuffed into it in an effort to up the stakes. It crumbled under the weight of that plan.

  • Original Release Date: May 7, 2010
  • Order in overall releases: 3
  • Belongs to Phase One, Avengers Assembled

9. Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 works on the level that it’s fascinating to explore the character of Tony Stark, but it also suffered from trying to stuff the Mandarin – Iron Man’s biggest enemy – into some bizarre fake out while also jamming in the Extremis storyline. Pick one or the other, but don’t go for both as neither will get the attention they deserve.

  • Original Release Date: May 3, 2013
  • Order in overall releases: 7
  • Belongs to Phase Two

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron was nowhere as fun as the first film. Joss Whedon definitely felt the pressure of following up his hit film, and it showed at every corner. It felt disjointed and lacking in drive. Ultron, arguably one of the biggest villains in the Marvel universe, came off as nothing more than a petulant child, and a lot of the character interactions felt very forced. This film checked off a lot of boxes, but did so half-heartedly.

  • Original Release Date: May 1, 2015
  • Order in overall releases: 11
  • Belongs to Phase Two

7. Thor

This is where the list starts getting complicated for me as it becomes a battle of small issues. I have never been a fan of Thor in the comics, and I originally went into the Thor film with a lot of trepidation. Imagine my surprise when I not only enjoyed this film, but found it charming and fun. And, come on, where would we be without Loki at this point in the MCU?

  • Original Release Date: May 6, 2011
  • Order in overall releases: 4
  • Belongs to Phase One, Avengers Assembled

6. Captain America: The First Avenger

Like Thor, Captain America has always been a bit of a bore to me due to his self-righteous nature. Chris Evans played him to perfection in Captain America: The First Avenger and managed to make it seem far less annoying than I have ever found him in the books. It’s a fun movie, and while the Red Skull is a bit off in my opinion, it is a solid film that is an easy watch.

  • Original Release Date: July 22, 2011
  • Order in overall releases: 5
  • Belongs to Phase One, Avengers Assembled

5. The Avengers

The Avengers film is far from perfect. Especially the silliness around Loki’s scepter just being able to touch people and you become his mind slave, but on spectacle alone it lands in the top five. As a child of the 1970s, if you had ever told me I would see something like this on the screen I wouldn’t have believed you, but it happened and it was glorious, even in its silliest moments.

  • Original Release Date: May 4, 2012
  • Order in overall releases: 6
  • Belongs to Phase One, Avengers Assembled

4. Ant-Man

When I heard we were getting an Ant-Man film I just couldn’t believe it. It’s Ant-Man for crying out loud. What we got was a tremendously fun heist film with the insanely charming Paul Rudd. It didn’t take very long for worries about this character being able to carry a film to be tossed out the window.

  • Original Release Date: July 17, 2015
  • Order in overall releases: 12
  • Belongs to Phase Two

3. Iron Man

Origin films are boring. They’ve been done to death and you won’t ever be able to convince me otherwise. Then I saw Iron Man. So much was riding on this film and Marvel hit it out of the park. And, lets face it, Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. He is a charm factory on legs and he completely inhabited this role. Yes, his personal history probably does contribute to that a bit, but I just can’t really care as he is just too fun to watch.

  • Original Release Date: May 2, 2008
  • Order in overall releases: 1
  • Belongs to Phase One, Avengers Assembled

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

These top two are tough. Depending on what day you ask me which one is on top will probably change. Like Ant-Man, when I heard they were making a Guardians of the Galaxy film I scoffed and thought ‘good luck with that. They will never be able make Rocket and Groot work on film.” I was wrong… I was so very wrong. It’s a well-made film filled with strong performances, a ton of heart and a good deal of humor. I’m not really sure how anyone could dislike this movie.

  • Original Release Date: August 1, 2014
  • Order in overall releases: 10
  • Belongs to Phase Two

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is hands down my favorite of the MCU. Yes, Guardians creeps up there some days, but I keep coming back to this one. You are still dealing with a man in a silly costume with a shield and yet the story feels like it has actual weight and meaning. It was also a game changer for the entire MCU that is still having ramifications on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to this day. This movie was a game changer for the MCU just not from a story perspective but also from the angle of these films could be so much more than just men in funny costumes punching one another.

  • Original Release Date: April 4, 2014
  • Order in overall releases: 9
  • Belongs to Phase Two


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...