Avengers: Endgame is out, and it’s the finale that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been leading towards over 11 years and 21 films. It’s the climax of these characters and these storylines. Everything has been building towards this.
If you ignore the story changes and narrative dead-ends leading up to it, and if you ignore the fact that they’re still making plenty of films after this.
Clearly, I’m a bit of an MCU skeptic.
Since they’ll be making these things until the heat death of the universe — or until Disney stops turning a neat profit from them, whichever comes first — once Endgame comes out seems like a perfectly good time to rank these movies. Now, this isn’t going to be your arbitrary, run-of-the-mill list. This is the 100-percent correct way to order them, and I’ll hear no arguments to the contrary.
Keep in mind that there may be spoilers from here on out! For Part 1, I’ll go over the bottom two tiers of the MCU: Tier F and Tier C. These are the absolute dregs of the cinematic universe. I’ll explain why I find each entry terrible or forgettable or a waste of time.
Speaking wastes of time, let’s get started!
22. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
I feel like this will be the biggest difference between my list (AKA the Correct List) and someone else’s. People usually consider Marvel’s The Avengers either a great movie or an important one. I consider it an embarrassing movie. The big team-up movie that concluded the first Phase of the MCU certainly has spectacle, and the actors are mostly game, but it really is a mess. Captain America feels like a completely different character from his first solo outing, Tony Stark is written like a parody of himself, the dialogue is too clever by half, and a big chunk of the film is spent in hallways and boardrooms. Also, it’s an incredibly bad-looking film.
I don’t blame the cinematographer, because I know Seamus McGarvey can shoot a blockbuster — just look at 2014’s Godzilla — so I don’t know what happened. The washed-out color palette set a depressing house style for most of the MCU, but the odd, unimaginative framing and blocking choices are wholly original.
Also, the three main Avengers try to murder each other when they all meet. Really cool, guys.
21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
A forgettable follow-up to a forgettable first film. Thor: The Dark World is competently directed and utterly unremarkable. Its cardinal sin is plastering Christopher Eccleston in prosthetics and making him monologue in a made up language. It wasn’t the first time Marvel wasted a great actor on a pointless villain, and it wouldn’t be the last. Tom Hiddleston continues to do solid work, and his chemistry with Chris Hemsworth in this outing was a sign of good things to come, but other than a few fun and original action beats, the eighth entry in the MCU never takes hold.
20. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Sure, I agree that Thanos is the main character in Avengers: Infinity War. That’s fine. But a lot of the two-and-a-half-hour runtime is spent on the actual Avengers, and very little of that time is interesting, revealing, or emotionally satisfying. There are a couple of good things about the movie: Thor meeting the Guardians was well done, Tom Holland was acting his ass off, the fight on Titan was neat and … I mean, that’s pretty much it. The majority of the action scenes are insultingly bland, focusing a major plotline we’re supposed to get emotionally invested in on two barely-developed characters was a huge mistake, and some of the CGI in the final battle is shockingly bad. The whole movie felt anodyne, and it was just going through the motions.
Infinity War is the definition of sound and fury signifying nothing.
19. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The best of the Avengers films, which is damning with faint praise. Age of Ultron is a mess of ideas, clearly chopped up in the editing room, with a wasted villain and a brazen retread of a finale. There are two things that put it higher in the ranks than the other films. It looks a little better, and it plays around with some interesting ideas. Joss Whedon continues to write Captain America poorly, but this time, he also rolls back any development Tony Stark had in his solo films. Stark at least gets an interesting-ish “mad scientist” storyline.
The entire film plays around with horror movie imagery like that, i.e., Eastern European castles, Ultron looking like the Mummy, Hulk transforming like the Wolf Man, Vision being a Frankenstein Monster. None of it comes together well though, and they’re just tossed off ideas. And, worst of all, Tony Stark is proven right at the end. The guy can do no wrong!
18. Thor (2011)
Thor AKA Kenneth Branagh’s take on a Power Rangers movie. This is a real hodgepodge of a film. It meshes the cosmic Shakespearean Asgard parts with a much cheaper fish-out-of-water, small town on Earth storyline. There really isn’t much to say about Thor. It’s just sort of there. Some of the stuff is really bad (Thor’s eyebrows, the plastic-y costumes, the gratuitous Hawkeye cameo) but Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hiddleston make some of the rougher moments watchable. I know there are some people who think Thor is the best film in the MCU. Know what I call those people? Sickos and perverts.
17. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 has the weird distinction of being considered bad among even the die-hard MCU fans. It has its defenders, like any movie, but even early on, it was pointed to as an example of how the MCU could go wrong (see also: The Dark World and Age of Ultron). Generally, I agree. Iron Man 2 ratchets Tony Stark up to an obnoxious degree, then adds a second Tony Stark with Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer. The entire S.H.I.E.L.D. plotline is boring, and it’s an embarrassing introduction to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.
On the plus side, it’s a good-looking film since it released pre-washed out MCU house style. The film also has an interesting villain, someone who could make Tony Stark confront his privilege and his family history … but no! The movie gives his character a cheap out, one of the many times the Stark character will be cushioned by the hands of the content creators.
16. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Avengers: Endgame the culmination of the 21 previous films, but it’s absolutely the culmination of the Russo Brothers films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which involves some heavy referencing to everything else. Endgame is undoubtedly a people-pleaser, and it pays off in fits both obvious and entertaining. At three hours long the thing is a damned beast, and I guess it deserves some credit for at least feeling like a whole product. However, it’s a sin that this much money went into a film that ends with two armies running at each other on a brown battlefield. There are some good things about the film: Paul Rudd is a treasure and actually sells the weight of the time jump, Chris Evans is wasted completely in Infinity War but they more than make up for it here. It’s also a nice surprise that Nebula happens to be one of the most important characters in this film.
Overall, it’s too much of a mess with too little to love. People who enjoyed Infinity War will dig it though.
15. Captain Marvel (2019)
Overall Captain Marvel feels … perfunctory? They wanted Captain Marvel in the MCU, so they did minimum necessary to make that happen. To be fair, the film does try to do some interesting stuff. De-aged Nick Fury is equal parts eerie and fun, and Ben Mendelsohn seems to be enjoying himself, but the ’90s setting is never taken advantage of in any meaningful way. The biggest problem is kind of a fault of the story they’re telling: Captain Marvel herself is a bit of a black hole at the center of the movie. I know it’s about her lost memories and discovering who she truly is, but Brie Larson has been an engaging presence in other films. It’s a shame she didn’t get a chance to shine here.
14. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
This isn’t really a Captain America movie. It’s an Avengers movie. As such, it’s the best of the bunch! As a solo Captain America film, it’s the pits. Civil War tries to do a lot, which I guess is commendable, but it’s pretty incompetent at a lot of it. The sides that Tony Stark and Captain America take don’t make a lot of sense character-wise, it feels incredibly over-stuffed with two competing leads, the death toll retcons from the previous films are laughable, and that final airport battle is really bad. One of the only sparks of life in the whole thing is Paul Rudd popping up, which seems to be a theme with these team-up movies. The rest of it is a grey slog.
13. Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange AKA What If Iron Man But Also Batman Begins? Some of the effects are cool, and the ending is novel, but it’s mostly a waste of a stacked supporting cast. In fact, you know your movie is in trouble when every supporting cast member would make a much more interesting Doctor Strange. It’s also pretty telling that Strange has been a more interesting character every movie he’s been in other than his solo film.
12. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
This prequel to Infinity War feels like a lot of wheel-spinning. I don’t mind a self-contained film that has little to do with the MCU as a whole — hell, I probably prefer it — but the key to that is to make the self-contained story actually interesting. Paul Rudd continues to be an affable lead for this type of action, and Evangeline Lilly’s expanded role is appreciated. You can tell that a lot of the inventive action scenes from the first Ant-Man were likely thought up in pre-production by Edgar Wright before he left the project. Nothing in Ant-Man and the Wasp feels as inventive as anything in the first film.
Plus it should be a capital offense to waste Michelle Pfeiffer like this.
11. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The redheaded stepchild of the MCU. I kind of want to like The Incredible Hulk just because it’s an underdog … but it’s pretty bland. A fair bit of it actually works. Edward Norton is an interesting Bruce Banner (and it’s really funny to think of Norton running around with Thor and fighting Thanos), and Tim Roth is a great villain. The fight at the university is a standout action scene. By all accounts, a dry-run for what Captain America’s powers were going to look like. Unfortunately, the movie drags a lot, and the final act is like a video game cut scene. The effects for the Hulk are boring in this movie, and nowhere near as good as they were a few years earlier in Ang Lee’s Hulk.
So that’s the first two tiers! We’ve got the real crap out of the way, and in Part 2 we’ll finally get to the good stuff.