Every MCU movie, ranked
Fourteen years later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most incredible achievement is surprisingly simple: it’s gone mundane.
That’s not meant as an insult – the mood shift, kids say, that the MCU has wrought is so sweeping that it’s completely changed the way blockbuster movies are thought about and discussed, for better or worse. Explainers and theories have become commonplace; Discussions that once simmered in enthusiast corners have simmered into the mainstream, and how each film contributes to the mega-franchise shape is carefully tracked and puzzled over. It’s blockbuster cinema, but also a participatory sport.
Now Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is over and 2023 brings the next exciting chapter in the Multiverse saga. But before things heat up again, it’s a good time to look back at the absolutely insane success of the MCU and consider what we’re looking for in a Marvel movie and which Marvel movies can give us the best.
At Polygon, we put our heads together to rank all 30 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far (there are enough TVs to warrant a separate list).
Our committee was made up of 13 Polygon employees who each submitted their own personal ranking of the MCU films they’ve seen. Their bottom choice received one point, their penultimate choice received two points, and this judging process continued all the way to the top. In this way, people who had seen all 30 films had a greater influence on the vote because they had the most context.
Here’s every MCU film from worst to best — for now. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow, expect us to regularly review and update this list.
30. Thor: Love and Thunder
The hero takes: After several Marvel movies that didn’t make significant use of Natalie Portman’s acting skills, Thor: Love and Thunder presented her with Mjolnir and, more importantly, gave her some downright delightful dialogue. Also good: Tessa Thompson fights as a Valkyrie while wearing one Phantom of the opera t shirt
The villain takes: Director/writer Taika Waititi reprises his small role as Korg, who becomes a chatty but not quite funny enough narrator of the film’s events. Then there’s Christian Bale’s heartbreaking performance as Gorr, who belongs in another film – maybe one that doesn’t have Korg’s goofy fairy tale narration. Last but not least, this film features two Thors, and it only takes one – Natalie Portman, of course. —Maddy Myers
29. Thor: The Dark World
The hero takes: The film that cemented Loki’s Woobification for all time, and a cameo that’s quite possibly the funniest Chris Evans has ever had in the MCU.
The villain takes: Shot. Marvel needs to do a lot of duds beforehand dark world – with its unforgettable villain and even more unforgettable storyline – won’t end up at the bottom of these kinds of rankings. —Suzanne Polo
28. Iron Man 2
The hero takes: With the earlyavenger success of the emerging MCU, iron man 2 This is where these movies start to have fun — and this movie absolutely brims with the spectacle that made it iron man look like an indie movie in comparison. iron man 2 really brings out the toy: whiplash! Suitcase armor! war machine! An army of drones! And it’s the first film to really delve into the connected nature of the MCU.
The villain takes: Boy hello what a mess. Every idea is understated, the character work is superficial – Tony Stark basically reverse engineered between films – and the MCU world building is a little also involved. An early cautionary tale of what the MCU could become without a modicum of due diligence. – Joshua Rivera
27. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The hero takes: It’s a Marvel film about making Marvel films. Writer-director Joss Whedon returns for a look at his work where he made the impossible crossover The Avengers reality and desperate about the murderous robot Ultron. There is a valiant effort to turn this great sequel into a quieter, more dramatic film that almost succeeds.
The villain takes: Bombast wins and Whedon’s fun factor from the previous film is polished away, leaving something a little more sour. The machines have the best material here, as Ultron and Vision are able to shoulder the film’s metafictional and existential themes while the actual Avengers fumble through some of their worst arcs. The less said about Hulk and Black Widow the better. —JR
The hero takes: Despite all its shortcomings (and there are many), eternal is one of the few Marvel films that actually delves into the relationships between its heroes. This is the movie for anyone who always wanted the Avengers to be a found family and not just a bunch of heroes who happen to work together. It is a poignant and moving story about the pain of immortality and the beauty of humanity. It also features one of the most diverse casts in the entire MCU – as well as one of the most female-fronted teams!
The villain takes: It punches a lot more holes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than its two hour and 37 minute runtime is worth. It asks the audience to take care of a a lot of about characters and dynamics they hardly know, and to make that happen, the film packs the entire backstory into some clunky transitions. It should have been a show in my opinion!
There have also been four subsequent movies and four subsequent TV shows and not a single mention of the GIANT SKY STANDING OUT OF THE EARTH?! (OK – there was a moment when you blink and you’ll miss it She Hulk, but still). It hardly feels like it’s part of the MCU, which is either good or bad depending on what you’re here for. —Petrana Radulovic
25. The Incredible Hulk
The hero takes: The Hulk’s only MCU solo outing is a skinny thriller that mixes the cheery green giant with a bit the refugee, while Bruce Banner travels the globe to get one step ahead of a US military who wants to take him into custody. A paranoid, edgy film that really benefits a lot from the performance of star Ed Norton and is still memorable despite successor Mark Ruffalo’s well-received arc through the various Team-Up films that followed.
The villain takes: Any character that isn’t Banner doesn’t really have much to do here, and when the film switches to superhero mode, the moody color palette means it’s difficult to actually see what’s happening. —JR
24. Avengers: Infinity War
The hero takes: It’s more or less the Reich strikes back of the MCU – a dark, heavily built film in which the heroes suffer tremendous defeats and losses in order to fuel their triumphs in the next film. Along the way, fans can see characters who have never met interact and highlight them all in new and exciting ways. And then there’s that ending, still quite possibly the most breathless piece of pure horror in the entire franchise.
The villain takes: It’s too busy, with so many characters that virtually none of the fan-favorites get significant screen time, and too many repetitive Infinity Stones battles with outcomes predetermined. Various characters have to make disappointingly stupid decisions to keep the storyline going. Also, Loki gets punked, Hulk gets punked, and Thor acts like he hasn’t seen Loki “die” eight times already. – Tasha Robinson
The hero takes: Technically more of a fish-out-of-water comedy than a superhero film, Hemsworth’s goofiness plays great with Natalie Portman as the straight man, and Stellan Skarsgård is in it and he reigns.
The villain takes: The action is pretty bad, it’s not particularly interesting, and its biggest flaw as a comedy is that it’s really only funny at times. – Austen Goslin
22. Spider-Man: No Way Home
The hero takes: The ending of the first trilogy with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man ends with an absolute bang and brings in the villains – and Spider-Mans! – from the previous two live-action iterations to a tangled web. With this escalated threat, the stakes rise, giving us the first film in which the newest Peter Parker must battle an evil bent on hurting him personally and confronting him with the darkness that lies within him.
The villain takes: No way home can be read as an unabashedly cynical film, a film that essentially gets by with stolen bravery – borrowing the threat and character work outside of the MCU to increase the stock of its own version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It’s also another film that refuses to just let Peter face a threat alone without an Avenger watching over him. —JR