Now moving on to its fourth phase following the release of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: From Home, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) remains one of, if not the most, engaging franchise in blockbuster filmmaking. Although Marvel’s movies have gained a reputation with audiences for being quality cinematic experiences — part of the reason they continue to perform so well at the box office is that audiences have been trained to know what to expect — not all of these films are created equal; in fact, some of them aren’t that great. With a whopping 23 films now released under the MCU banner, it’s a perfect time to take a look back and figure out which Marvel film reigns supreme.
With that in mind, join us as we rank every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in ascending order from our least favorite to the best of the best.
23. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
For a film about a man who transforms into a giant green rage monster, The Incredible Hulk is surprisingly boring. Most of the film revolves around Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) trying to keep his heart rate under his control so that he doesn’t transform into the Hulk. Logically, this makes sense, since the Hulk is an uncontrollable, destructive force, but that doesn’t mean that watching a man deliberately avoid turning into the creature we all came to see makes for good storytelling.
The other thing working against The Incredible Hulk — and the reason it’s the worst entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — is that it doesn’t feel like it fits with the rest of the franchise. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it was made at a time when the MCU wasn’t yet established and the replacement of Norton with Mark Ruffalo afterward, but regardless, The Incredible Hulk remains the oft-forgotten black sheep of the franchise and for good reason.
22. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Thor: The Dark World is woefully forgettable. While Marvel gets points for going even further down the cosmic lunacy rabbit hole than they did with the original Thor (the brief renaissance fair-style battle near the beginning is a visual treat), The Dark World is a stopgap film through and through. Christopher Eccleston’s villain Malekith is generic and has no personality, the earthbound characters feel ancillary and annoying, and other than a notable character death in the middle act, there’s not much that is truly memorable about this disappointing sequel. The one saving grace is that Tom Hiddleston is as fantastic ever as the trickster god Loki, but unfortunately, he exits the film far too quickly.
21. Iron Man 2 (2010)
In many ways, Iron Man 2 is Marvel’s first true jump into franchise-building. Whereas both The Incredible Hulk and the first Iron Man bury their references to a larger Marvel universe in post-credits scenes, one of Iron Man 2’s central plot points is devoted to the “Avengers Initiative,” for good and ill. Iron Man 2 suffers from a lack of direction, as Marvel was still in the infancy of its shared universe initiative, which rather than enhance the film only seems to drag it down. There’s also a noticeable lack of action or excitement and other than Sam Rockwell’s delightfully incompetent weapons maker Justin Hammer, there’s really not much in Iron Man 2 that stands up to repeat viewings. At least Mickey Rourke gets one cool scene as Whiplash, casually walking onto a Formula One race course and proceeding to slice Tony Stark’s car in half.
20. Thor (2011)
Thor is, at his core, a silly character, something that Marvel was evidently aware of when they introduced him to the MCU in the 2011 film directed by Kenneth Branagh. Hiring Branagh was a great decision, as his theater background and Shakespearian sensibilities feel like a perfect fit for the grandiose narrative focus of a film about the God of Thunder. Although Thor overall is actually a rather dull superhero movie, it’s saved by its excellent casting and some standout performances, particularly Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. In many ways, Thor is the first (and one of the few) Marvel movies to be more about its villain than its hero, as Loki’s narrative journey from Thor’s loyal brother to the spurned, adopted son of Odin is actually more interesting than Thor’s tale of how he becomes “worthy” enough to wield a funny-looking hammer.