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’Mar ’
’17’
’2019 ’
All The Marvel Studios Movies Ranked From Worst to Best
By: in Entertainment

Warning: The following contains SPOILERS for every film released by Marvel Studios.

21. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Marvel Studios, Francois Duhamel / Marvel Studios

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Screenplay by: Justin Theroux

Everything that was so much fun about the first Iron Man sours in this sequel. Tony Stark’s charming bad-boy behavior curdles into unlikable self-destruction, the sort of damaged-goods broodiness that worked in the Dark Knight movies but doesn’t sit well within the can-do spirit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first film’s sharp, sparkling, semi-improvised repartee devolves here into self-indulgent globs of endless cross-talk banter that wear out their welcome within a few seconds. And Mickey Rourke — playing villain Ivan Vanko, aka the largely made-up-for-the-movie Whiplash — is in an entirely different, much weirder film (at times, it almost seems like he doesn’t know his lines).

There are a few bright spots. Both Scarlett Johannson (as Natasha Romanoff) and Don Cheadle (replacing Terrence Howard as James Rhodes) acquit themselves well. Sam Rockwell has a blast playing a skeezy defense contractor with self-tanning stains on his palms. And Jon Favreau still knows how to stage a good action scene. But that can’t keep the movie from becoming actively, almost aggressively un-fun.

20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Marvel Studios

Directed by: Louis Leterrier

Screenplay by: Zak Penn

It is nowhere near the fiasco that was Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk (made before Marvel Studios existed), but let’s be clear: This isn’t a very good movie, either. Still, its sins are gentler, more generic. As an action director, Leterrier lacks the visual imagination of the rest of the filmmakers on this list. Tim Roth’s villain — special-ops soldier Emil Blonsky — barely registers as a character before he starts tearing through Harlem as the Abomination. And the romance between Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner and Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross is kind of silly. But they’re still appealing in the roles, and if Norton, who did uncredited work on the script, hadn’t famously declined to promote the film after Marvel pushed for a shorter, more action-heavy cut, perhaps he wouldn’t have been replaced in the role by Mark Ruffalo.

19. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Screenplay by: Christopher Yost,

Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely (with story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat)

The first Thor gave the Asgardian god-warrior a true narrative arc — from self-assured hubris to self-deprecating humility. In this sequel, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, a hunky god of sorts himself) remains a good, thoughtful warrior from start to finish. But he only really comes alive as a character when he’s sharing the screen with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who is the best thing about the film, but is in the movie less than his internet-melting appearance at Comic-Con suggested). Also: Natalie Portman is given almost nothing to do, other than get “infected” with a soupy universe-destroying substance called the Aether. But Taylor (best known for his TV directing on Game of Thrones and The Sopranos) keeps things moving, and the climactic sequence on Earth has some great, mind-bendy moments. It’s a mess, but at least it’s a lively mess.

18. Ant-Man (2015)

Marvel Studios, Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios

Directed by: Peyton Reed

Screenplay by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd (with story by Wright and Cornish)

After 11 movies that had only grown more grandiose in scale and scope, Marvel Studios’ 12th film downshifted into a refreshing change of pace. In Ant-Man, the world is not in immediate, existential danger — and, for that matter, neither is San Francisco, the city Ant-Man is supposedly set in (though the movie was largely shot in Atlanta). Instead, the stakes are human-scaled. Semi-reformed burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) yearns to reunite with his young daughter, while Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) strive to mend their frayed bond. Similarly, Ant-Man’s powers — Super small! Can talk to ants! — work as enjoyable visual flights of fancy that cannot affect much more than his immediate surroundings.

17. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Ben Rothstein / Marvel Studios, Marvel Studios

Directed by: Peyton Reed

Screenplay by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari

On one level, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a watershed movie for Marvel Studios, featuring the company’s first female superhero — Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne — in a title role. (It only took 10 years and 20 movies to get there!) Lilly brings a determined hypercompetence and physical snap to the character, but beyond her obsessive drive to find her long-lost mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), in the micro-sized “Quantum Realm” — goodness, people say “quantum” a lot in this movie! — Hope doesn’t quite register as a fully realized character. She’s kind of in love with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), but she’s also kind of furious at him for running off to Germany to play Avengers in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, forcing her and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to go into hiding as fugitives. She cares about her dad, but doesn’t appear to register at all how his own failings have caused her so much grief. She’s really good at what she does, but she doesn’t seem to take much joy from it.

16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Marvel Studios

Directed by: Joss Whedon

Screenplay by: Joss Whedon

In sharp contrast with Ant-Man, the second assembly of Marvel Studios’ central mega-franchise is so big that it ends up defining the creative boundaries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by nearly bursting at the seams. It is overgrown with characters — there are 10 major ones, and another 12 (at least) significant supporting roles — and havoc and carnage abound from New York to South Africa, and South Korea to a fictional Eastern European country that is literally blasted into the sky. The psyches of our dashing superheroes are unraveled in dark, fractured fever dreams, and by the end, the Avengers have been splintered apart and reformed anew.

15. Captain Marvel (2019)

Directed by: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Screenplay by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet (with story by Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet)

For most of Captain Marvel’s runtime, all that Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) knows about herself is that she’s been living on the alien Kree homeworld for six years, and a little sci-fi gizmo attached to the back of her neck has supposedly given her the ability to shoot powerful photons from her fists. Not knowing who she really is becomes Carol’s central conflict — she doesn’t even know her own given name — but that isn’t a compelling engine for character development on its own. Carol’s hyper-competent determination and pluck are evident from the start, and Larson, appealing as she is, never quite figures out how to translate the character’s self-discovery into a journey or transformation that’s visible onscreen.

14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios


Directed by: Joe Johnston

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

This rousing, period war picture was the first to prove that Marvel Studios can turn out a good movie that doesn’t revolve around a hero with larger-than-life abilities. Chris Evans’ transformation from weakling to dear-lord-look-at-the-size-of-those-pecs adonis is something to behold, and Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is easily my favorite Marvel Studios villain next to Loki. My biggest complaint is that Evans’ Steve Rogers, like the movie itself, is sorta square — a kind way of saying “bland” — and some of the visual effects lack the polish of the rest of the movies on this list. There are people who love this movie; for me, it’s Marvel in a minor key, but still an enjoyable one.

13. Thor (2011)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Screenplay by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne (with story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich)

After Iron Man 2 was such a disappointment, there was reason to wonder how Marvel could make a quasi-Nordic god whose weapon is a giant hammer into a viable feature-film hero. The answer, it turns out, is to hire a director with a deep understanding of Shakespeare who can make the movie into a rich brothers-competing-for-their-father’s-love saga that evokes the Bard himself. Plus, this film introduces Loki, one of the best movie villains of the last 25 years. Period.

12. Doctor Strange (2016)

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Screenplay by: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill

Doctor Strange shatters that pattern, hopefully for good. Derrickson’s kaleidoscopic approach to Strange’s battles within the film’s otherworldly realms and mirror dimensions melds Escher and Dalí with the original psychedelia of Marvel comic artist Steve Ditko. The result is a bracing and visually literate mind-fuck. The playful script, matched with Benedict Cumberbatch’s dyspeptic intelligence in the title role, also goes a long way in selling all this mystical silliness. And the film’s third act resolves with a climax that, for once, is as much about Strange’s cognitive acumen as it is about his ability to give (and take) a punch.

11. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Screenplay by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost

Six years after the first Thor movie, the initial decision to treat the franchise as superhero Shakespeare — which made perfect sense at the time! — had ossified the character into a vaguely serious beefcake who was kind of just there. Enter Taika Waititi’s Day-Glo shockwave of gonzo irreverence. Harnessing Chris Hemsworth’s uncanny comic timing, the brilliantly outré production design, and Waititi’s own deadpan sensibility, the director has transformed everything solemn and somber about the previous two Thor films into the fizziest comedy in the MCU. There is much to love here, from Jeff Goldblum unleashing his ad-libbing id as the scheming Grandmaster, to Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk walking around in the buff while trading buddy comedy quips with Thor, to the only good thing Matt Damon accomplished in 2017 as (I think?) an Asgardian community theater actor playing a heroic version of Loki. It’s a relief to realize that Marvel Studios has become such a cultural juggernaut that its filmmakers are finally being given room to color outside the lines.

10. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Ranking Avengers: Infinity War before the release of its follow-up Avengers: Endgame in 2019 is slightly unfair because the story it’s telling is inherently incomplete. At the risk of spoiling the logical consequence of a storyline split into two separate movies, Infinity War’s ultimate cliffhanger ending feels at once stunning in its audacity and unsatisfying in its complete lack of resolution.

9. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Captain America may be in the title, but this is unmistakably a third Avengers movie. The film spends as much time ruminating over Tony Stark’s guilt for creating Ultron as it does pushing Cap into making some surprisingly rash, selfish choices to protect his BFF Bucky (Sebastian Stan). And then there’s the burgeoning relationship of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), the introduction of T’Challa, aka Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and the machinations of Zemo (Daniel Brühl) to get all these superheroes fighting each other.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Directed by: Jon Watts

Screenplay by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers (with story by Goldstein and Daley)

The most immediately striking thing about the third version of Spider-Man in 10 years is how deeply embedded it is within the MCU. In a miracle of cross-corporate dealmaking, Sony Pictures agreed to let the folks at the Disney-owned Marvel Studios bring its crown jewel superhero into their sprawling — could we say web-like? — cinematic universe, and good golly, did they ever. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark swoops in now and again as a genial, if not distant father figure to Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who’s desperately trying to be a good enough superhero to join the Avengers full-time. At least three other MCU actors pop up too in delightful cameos, and Homecoming directly references events in Civil War, The Avengers, and Age of Ultron, with throwaway nods to several others (woe betide the casual Spidey fans who show up to this movie unfamiliar with the 15 movies that have come before it).

7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Marvel Studios


Directed by: James Gunn

Screenplay by: James Gunn and Nicole Perlman

For some, Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel Studios’ best movie. I totally understand why. This movie is a blast, with smart-ass dialogue that crackles, a gorgeous sci-fi visual flair, and a fleet, irreverent sense of humor that is unafraid to be blissfully weird. Chris Pratt becomes an automatic leading man as Peter Quill; Vin Diesel has arguably never given a more appealing performance as the giant tree person Groot; and Rocket Raccoon — with Bradley Cooper’s voice and an on-set acting assist from Sean Gunn — was one of the breakout characters of 2014.

6. Iron Man (2008)


Directed by: Jon Favreau

Screenplay by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway

Marvel Studio’s very first film as an independent filmmaking company gets just about everything right, from casting Downey Jr. (a risky venture in the pre-Obama days) as Tony Stark, to establishing a bright, unironic, playful style that has remained consistent through just about every other Marvel film since. Watching it now, with its story of Homeland-style Islamic terrorists and out-of-control military spending, the film feels almost adorably small in comparison to the ones that followed. But it still looms immeasurably large within the Marvel universe.

Marvel Studios
Directed by: Joss Whedon

5. The Avengers (2012)

Screenplay by: Joss Whedon (with story by Zak Penn and Whedon)

For so many reasons, this movie should not have worked. But by some miracle, Whedon found a way to bring all these desperate characters together that not only made (comic book) sense, but was fabulously exciting to watch, especially in a theater packed with other moviegoers. Sure, the invading alien force was a bit nonspecific, and yeah, it is a little numbing to see New York City reduced to rubble in yet another effects-driven summer movie, but this is popcorn-blockbuster filmmaking of the highest order. And, finally, they get the Hulk totally right.

4. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Directed by: Shane Black

Screenplay by: Drew Pearce and Shane Black

Think this is ranked too high? Well, hear me out. For one, co-writer-director Shane Black figures out a way to probe Tony Stark’s troubled psyche without making him into an obnoxious bore, and the film is all the more psychologically compelling because of it. For another, by keeping the plot’s stakes from becoming apocalyptically huge, Black instead finds the breathing room to introduce some surprisingly topical sociopolitical satire with a twist that is just too delicious to spoil years after the film’s opening weekend. Both Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce seem to have the time of their lives as the film’s two heavies, and, at long last, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is allowed to do more than alternate between dewy love and measured exasperation. The action pops, the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, and there is even an adorable kid sidekick who you don’t want to throttle for cutesifying the movie. What more could you want?

3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)


Directed by: James Gunn

Screenplay by: James Gunn

The first Guardians was a desperately welcome blast of fresh, irreverent air — for Marvel Studios, and the entire superhero genre. By definition, its sequel cannot possibly recreate that feeling, and it doesn’t really try to. Instead, Gunn deepens our understanding of the private pain that haunts each of his characters — including two of the previous film’s ostensible antagonists, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Yondu (Michael Rooker) — resulting in the most powerfully emotional climax in the MCU by a light year.

2. Black Panther (2018)

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Screenplay by: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

For all their highly lucrative dazzle, a common knock on Marvel Studios movies is that they don’t have much to say about the world as it is today. That’s not entirely fair — I still contend the Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3 is one doozy of joke about post-9/11 fearmongering. Even so, the MCU has redefined modern cinematic escapism with super-suits, infinity stones, helicarriers, and talking raccoons, often at the expense of Big Ideas.

Which makes Black Panther a watershed moment for Marvel. It was always going to be cultural milestone, as the first film in modern Hollywood history to have both a nine-figure budget and a predominantly black cast. But cowriter-director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) has done something almost alchemic: He’s harnessed the tropes of comic book moviemaking to cut deep into pressing issues about our current moment that have rarely if ever made it into a blockbuster. This is a movie that has a lot on its mind — about the African diaspora, Afrofuturism, the morality of isolationism versus interventionism — and yet Coogler never lets that weightiness hobble the movie. Instead, the film sings, lifting the audience’s consciousness with it.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Unlike so many of Marvel’s movies, The Winter Soldier features spectacular, wholly distinctive action scenes from start to finish. At least one — Cap defeating a squadron of Hydra goons in a glass elevator, with one arm tied behind his back — should be studied in film schools for how to be awesome. And, like many of Marvel’s movies, it has a thrilling, high-flying climax in which millions of lives are at stake, and giant things in the air crash into tall buildings on the ground and go boom. (There is a separate discussion to be had about how the MCU’s fixation on disaster imagery, apocalyptic evil, and the appealing fantasy of powerful, selfless protectors has been Hollywood’s most sustained reaction to September 11 outside of the Dark Knight trilogy, but let’s not digress too much here.)

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