A pre-“Quantumania” ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe 

Luke McClinton, Contributing Writer

Thursday, Feb. 17 brought us the long-awaited “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” which delivered intriguing new faces and yet another expansion of the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe. With this new release comes once again the deep, intrinsic human need to rank the rapidly-growing catalog of MCU movies; it’s an activity which provokes endless debate and often deep relational gashes. I am fully prepared to lose friendships and be as good as dead to certain family members once this graces the internet. This is the price of fandom. 

DISCLAIMER: In order to avoid being here for hours on end, this list will only consist of the thirty movies released in the MCU and will not include TV shows, specials, etc. 


31) “Black Widow” (2021, 79% Rotten Tomatoes 

Black Widow’s lone solo outing might be Marvel’s most mundane and forgettable effort. For all the talent on cast and all the material to pull from, it still feels like a fever dream — about which you’re more likely to say, “Wait, I watched that?” than give praise. It isn’t a legitimately bad film, but no Marvel movies really are. And aside from the always great David Harbour, there’s nothing to get excited about. 

30) “Captain Marvel” (2019, 79% Rotten Tomatoes) 

The problem here is not Brie Larson; it’s the fact that Marvel decided she needed to be sassy. It’s clear that Carol Danvers is meant to be cool and confident, but what the viewer ends up with is an annoying, obnoxious protagonist who is also incredibly overpowered. Samuel L. Jackson alleviates some of the movie’s irksomeness, but he can’t do it all on his own. Throw in a mediocre villain and you’ve got an uninspiring product. 

29) “Eternals” (2021, 47% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Yet another example of talented directors being pressured and/or succumbing to the Marvel formula. Not that Eternals doesn’t try anything different, but it’s weighed down by the typical issues of heavy exposition, clunky dialogue and unmemorable characters. Beautiful action and cinematography, though. 

28) “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018, 87% Rotten Tomatoes) 

This movie is like junk food. It tastes great and is extremely satisfying in the moment, but whether it’s of actual high quality is doubtful. “Ant-Man 2” is funny and entertaining, but it fades to dust within mere hours of viewing. Like “Black Widow,” it’s not objectively bad, but it fits squarely in the category of “If you open a dictionary and turn to the word ‘forgettable,’ this movie will be there.” 

27) “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022, 74% Rotten Tomatoes) 

I’ll save some time for better movies and just dub this the “Multiverse of Midness.” 

26) “The Incredible Hulk” (2008, 67% Rotten Tomatoes) 

This isn’t by any means a masterpiece of cinema, but the fact that it’s so frequently at the bottom of the barrel makes it, by definition, underrated. Replacing Edward Norton was best for the world going forward, but it doesn’t mean his outing here isn’t solidly entertaining. 

25) “Thor: The Dark World” (2013, 66% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Another over-hated film. Something about its quick pace, fun cast of characters and ultimate (for the most part) inconsequentiality makes this a movie I’m unashamed of having a soft spot for. Malekith is the villain equivalent of vanilla ice cream, but I otherwise refuse to acquiesce to the “Dark World is the worst Marvel movie” paradigm. 

24) “Thor: Love and Thunder” (2022, 64% Rotten Tomatoes) 

“Thor: Love and Thunder” is the embodiment of the recent run of incredibly mediocre products, which we’re hopefully moving out of. Pick your poison: Taika Waititi’s overbearing use of comedy that isn’t funny, generic “center of the universe” stakes, a bland antagonist or a waste of Christian Bale. Unfortunate though it may be, the best part about this movie is the poster. 

23)  “Iron Man 2” (2010, 71% Rotten Tomatoes) 

I’ve come around significantly on “Iron Man 2.” It still has its flaws — overstuffed plot, general lack of cohesiveness — but not having Robert Downey Jr. around has made me appreciate everything he’s in to a greater extent. Plus, this is just a cool movie, what with Sam Rockwell, Whiplash, new suits — it’s all here. 

22) “Thor” (2011, 77% on Rotten Tomatoes) 

Kenneth Branagh had a vision for this to be a somewhat Shakespearean drama with tangible character development, beautiful visuals and a fresh introduction of who was really the first super unique character in the universe. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s often overlooked, and it’s hard to deny its place as the second-best Thor movie. 

22) “Ant-Man” (2015, 83% Rotten Tomatoes 

In terms of pure charisma, this is up there with Marvel’s best. It suffers a bit from the same junk food dynamic, but it’s hard to deny that between Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and its bevy of ant- and miniature-themed humor, it charms your socks off. 

20) “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (2022, 84% Rotten Tomatoes) 

This is a worthy sendoff to Chadwick Boseman, and compared to the rest of the current “mid” streak of Marvel movies, it has a lot more heart. Its lack of a central figure like Boseman brings it down, its character developments are wanky and often rushed, and its villain, though at times cool, is ultimately formulaic. 

19)  “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (2023,  48% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Basically: it gets too much hate. It isn’t the best thing Marvel has ever released, but it features an enthralling story, a strong and consequential villain, and absolutely beautiful visual effects. If only it had been able to break away from the “happy ending” formula of Marvel and Hollywood in general. 

18) “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021, 91% Rotten Tomatoes) 

We’ve reached a point where everything from here on is genuinely good. Shang-Chi suffers from dialogue and mild character issues, but it’s otherwise a truly thrilling watch. Culture, dragons, colorful cinematography, Ben Kingsley — what’s not to like? 

17)  “Doctor Strange” (2016, 89% Rotten Tomatoes) 

At the time, this was one of Marvel’s most unique films, and it holds up today. Through its loopy camerawork, mind-boggling CGI and general aura of mysticism, this represents the nerdy, zany side of the comic book film industry. It was one of the first MCU products that didn’t operate on a color scale of gray to less gray and didn’t end with a massive battle with hundreds of faceless goons/robots/aliens. 

16) “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011, 80% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Like most of Phase One, this feels less grand and overwhelming, and instead more wholesome and grounded. It’s the origin story of the MCU’s most noble and honorable hero, and the movie embodies that tone. It won’t ever be the best, but its warmth and coziness are unbeatable. 

15) “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017, 92% Rotten Tomatoes) 

If you’d said when this was released nearly six years ago that Homecoming would barely crack the top half of the MCU and would be its worst Spider-Man movie, you’d have been ridiculed. This reality, though, isn’t a knock on the film itself; it’s fun, comedic and at release was the most accurate portrayal of the high school Peter Parker. (P.S.: it might be a generation preference, but Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man.) 

14) “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019, 90% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Another brilliant high school comedy/superhero blockbuster. It has all the good qualities of Homecoming and only edges it out because of its element of international globetrotting. Also, how crazy is it that in one franchise and just a couple years, we got two of the MCU’s best villains? 

13) “Avengers: Endgame” (2019, 94% Rotten Tomatoes) 

I am 99% sure this is my hottest take, but I’m not ashamed of it. This is a great movie and a satisfying sendoff; I just … don’t like Fat Thor, don’t love the gaping hole from all the wide variety of characters from Infinity War, and don’t get absolutely giddy like so many others when thinking about this movie. As they say in Latin, “Suum cuique” — to each his own. 

12) “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015, 76% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Under. Rated. Underrated. Say it with me: “Underrated! Underrated!” 

There is and has been a prevailing dislike for “Age of Ultron” since its release, and I’ve never been privy to it. This movie does everything an Avengers movie needs to: it widens the scope, gives ample screentime to each of the many characters, and features a daunting and hard-to-beat villain. Aside from a weirdly steamy romance plotline between Hulk and Black Widow (it’s as out-of-left-field as it sounds), I have very few complaints. 

11) “Iron Man 3” (2013, 76% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Here we have the second of back-to-back hidden gems. Whereas people actively hate on “Age of Ultron,” they just kind of forget about “Iron Man 3.” It’s a crying shame. The atmosphere of this movie is immaculate, blending holiday snowfalls with sunny coastal skylines. The story is also rad, an engaging smorgasbord of part superhero blockbuster, part political thriller, part mystery. It’s my favorite Christmas movie. 

10) “Iron Man” (2008, 94% Rotten Tomatoes) 

The one that started it all, and a downright great movie on its own regardless of what came after. Robert Downey Jr. is an absolute force at the center of this story, but revolving around him are the likes of Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau and Terrence Howard — all in prime form. It’s grounded yet gloriously fun, and it marks the start of the comic book film revolution. 

9) “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017, 93% Rotten Tomatoes) 

While the endless onslaught of comedy was cumbersome and contrived in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” here it was new and refreshing. Taika Waititi took the Thor character, whose previous two films were by far the weakest standalones for any MCU hero, in a completely different direction, and to say it paid dividends is an understatement. This film is a joy and is endlessly rewatchable. 

8) “Black Panther” (2018, 96% Rotten Tomatoes) 

I’ve always been an unabashed fan of “Black Panther.” It’s so slick, so cool; it’s also a legitimately great film. Ryan Coogler crafts a beautiful portrait of a culture entirely new to the Marvel landscape without being pushy. Killmonger is a top-five villain and is perhaps as high as No. 2. I could talk about the cinematographic side of this forever, but to put it simply, this movie is flat-out awesome. 

7) “The Avengers” (2012, 91% Rotten Tomatoes) 

If Iron Man started the whole universe, “The Avengers” started the team-up aspect of it, which one could argue is where the MCU truly became the MCU. Regardless, it’s a blast. It completely changed the way filmgoers look at the idea of the “team up,” and it did so while expertly balancing action, drama and humor like few could. Joss Whedon might not be the ideal man for every Marvel movie, but he was the perfect one to helm this pivotal turn. 

6) “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014, 92% Rotten Tomatoes) 

With “The Avengers,” Marvel stepped out of the box in the way of format; with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it stepped out of the box in terms of character. To put such a wacky, unheard-of cast of characters on screen — though in hindsight brilliant — was a sizeable risk. The product, however, was a blessing for which all should be eternally grateful. James Gunn’s sense of humor is top-notch, and the performances complement it to perfection. And the music …chef’s kiss. 

5) “Captain America: Civil War” (2016, 90% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Despite their moderate struggles outside the banner of the MCU, the Russo Brothers were the foremost directors of the Infinity Saga, producing four smash hits, three of which, if you haven’t already discerned, crack the top five. With “Civil War,” they extrapolate the political tones of “Captain America: Winter Soldier” to an Avengers-type level and adeptly explore the effects these glorious heroes have on ordinary people. It’s gut-wrenching at times, and while many Marvel movies leave you pumped with adrenaline, this one leaves you deep in thought. 

4) “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021, 93% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Like a child, I fell hook, line and sinker for the fanservice tour de force that was “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” What makes me unashamed in this, however, is that it refrains from becoming mindless or overbearing, instead choosing to use its copious crossovers to develop character and toy with audience emotions. As a result, we’re left with a Christmastime fling that’s both incredibly fun and incredibly thoughtful. 

3) “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014, 90% Rotten Tomatoes) 

The Winter Soldier is a rare superhero movie that doesn’t feel like a superhero movie. Sure, it has the large-scale action and the MCU tie-ins, but it does it all while essentially identifying as a political thriller, and a darn good one at that. In terms of pure action, it’s hard to deny that this is the best the MCU has to offer. Add on stellar performances all around, and you’ve got a film for the ages. 

2) “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” (2017, 85% Rotten Tomatoes) 

Very possibly the MCU’s funniest movie. It’s one of its most heartfelt, undeniably its most pleasing to lay eyes on (if you didn’t see it on the biggest screen possible, you missed out) and it’s up there with its greatest sequels. I can half-heartedly criticize people who underrate films like “Age of Ultron” and “Iron Man 3,” but it genuinely pains me to see the vitriol hurled toward “Volume 2.” When my time comes, I’m prepared to die still standing on this hill. 

1) “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018, 85% Rotten Tomatoes) 

But at the end of the day, what else could it be? “Infinity War” quite literally has everything going for it, whether its prodigious pool of characters to choose from, its placement as the dramatic and cliffhanging first part of two, or its culminating of ten years of dedicated worldbuilding. It has the universe’s best villain, its best ending and its best narrative diversity. The only question to be asked is if it will ever be topped.