If it isn’t entirely obvious from our years and years of coverage, we here at CinemaBlend are big fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Going back to 2008, the movies have continued to delight and surprise, and while some titles are better than others, each one has provided its own special flavor to the franchise that we’ve been able to appreciate in its own way. Of course, there are still many debates among the staff, from best villain to strongest hero, but one big question has always stood out among them all: what’s the best Marvel Studios film?
In order to get to the bottom of this everlasting conflict, our superhero podcast HeroBlend has spearheaded a little endeavor. A few weeks back we sent out a survey to interested members of our staff and had everyone rank the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from best to worst. While no two rankings ended up being the same (seriously, you’d be surprised by the variety), we were able to average the results and determine our democratic picks.
Before we get into that, however, we want to get you in on this action too. Below you’ll find an exact copy of the same survey we sent out to our staff, and we’d love it if you would share your opinions on this great debate as well. We’ll then follow up by covering the final results of rankings in an upcoming episode of HeroBlend!
Now that you’ve done that, let’s dive into the rankings, shall we?
22. The Incredible Hulk
The Marvel Cinematic Universe was still trying to figure out what it wanted to be back in 2008, and while the franchise quickly made some interesting moves by foregoing a simple origin story when making The Incredible Hulk, in retrospect it’s not exactly their best effort. It has some good parts, and is a decent treatment of the character, but it’s also a mixed bag tonally, and doesn’t exactly have the most complex plot.
21. Thor: The Dark World
Sequels are usually a great opportunity to expand on characters and the specific worlds in which they live, but Thor: The Dark World is sadly a bit of a misfire. While it’s ultimately redeemed by its bonkers third act – which is a crazy amount of fun – this isn’t exactly the most exciting Marvel adventure, and it also notably has the weakest villain featured in the franchise to date (we’re still not entirely clear on what it was that Malekith and his Dark Elves were trying to ultimately accomplish).
20. Iron Man 2
There is no question that the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t be what it is today without Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, but to paraphrase the genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist, Iron Man 2 is an example of a franchise running before it’s ready to walk. There is no denying the importance of this chapter, especially because it brought both War Machine and Black Widow to life for the first time, but its story is definitely messy as a result of too many plotlines competing for attention in the narrative.
19. Captain Marvel
After more than a decade in existence, Marvel Studios tried to shake up the traditional origin story in the making of Captain Marvel, and while the movie doesn’t fully work in that respect (ultimately still including a number of the traditional tropes and narrative moves), it’s also a blockbuster with some really big surprises. Brie Larson is most definitely a rad addition to the franchise, adding a great dose of spunk and charisma to the cosmic and Earthbound hero, and we're immensely excited about what kind of future adventures we'll soon see the character take on.
18. Iron Man 3
Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe offered up the opportunity for blockbusters to start melding the superhero characters with a wide variety of different genres, and Iron Man 3’s take on a noir detective story is a lot of fun, and packs more than a few significant twists. It’s a smart look at Tony Stark – is he the hero, or is it all about the suit? – and features some of the best one-liners in the MCU canon.
17. Avengers: Age Of Ultron
Expectations were crazy high for Avengers: Age Of Ultron back in 2015 – so high, arguably, that it never had a chance of fully reaching them – but the film is still an epic, thrilling, and fun example of super blockbuster storytelling. Both Scarlet Witch and Vision make for compelling and important new additions to the franchise, and it’s legitimately impressive what kind of threat the titular villain and his army of robots pose for Earth’s mightiest heroes.
Thor was a bit of a gamble for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being a very out-there story being told as the franchise’s fourth feature, but it also provided a solid start on the big screen for one of the most important characters in the canon. It’s a film that was vitally important in establishing the tonal approach for almost every title that followed it, and it made some of the best early casting decisions in the brand’s history by bringing unknowns Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston into the fold (not to mention the star power of Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, and Idris Elba, among others).
15. Ant-Man And The Wasp
Given the nature of their powers, Ant-Man and The Wasp are characters who are best suited to star in “smaller” adventures, and Ant-Man And The Wasp delivers a super fun and fantastic one that wonderfully goes to all kinds of weird places. Picking up where they left in their first movie, Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly make for an awesome, kick-ass duo, and Peyton Reed does some delightful things with the action while utilizing the special growing and shrinking abilities.
14. Doctor Strange
Prior to the release of Doctor Strange, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was exclusively a science-fiction-based franchise, but the introduction of Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular hero totally changed the game. Featuring some awesome supporting performances from Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the movie is a mind-bender of the highest order, and features some of the most insane and beautiful visuals we’ve seen in modern blockbuster filmmaking. Even after multiple rewatches it’s still not entirely clear how the film was able to pull off some of its most bombastic sequences.
Being one of the original Avengers, Ant-Man was one of the first films developed by Marvel Studios, and while it took an extra minute to arrive (and had a few behind-the-scenes issues), it’s still one of weirdest and best origin stories we’ve seen from the franchise. Under other circumstances a blockbuster about a shrinking hero who can control ants might not fly, but the special Marvel magic – not to mention the endless charisma of Paul Rudd – make this one a winner.
12. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
Audiences were left asking some big questions about the Guardians of the Galaxy following their big screen debut, and through thoughtful care and his excellent filmmaking abilities, James Gunn delivered yet another awesome story for the titular team with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It’s still kind of nuts that we live in an era when a ridiculous comic book character like Ego The Living Planet can be brought to the big screen (and played by Kurt Russell, no less), but that’s the world we live in now, and along the way we’re also getting excellent stories with deeply-felt themes about family.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America has arguably had the strongest run thus far in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it all started with his fantastic debut in Captain America: The First Avenger. The period storytelling gives it a style totally unto itself, with Joe Johnston perfectly recapturing the magic he previously generated with The Rocketeer, and Chris Evans immediately elevated the character beyond the simple boy scout/propaganda tool he could have been depicted as. It’s also extra fascinating to watch when you know the direction that the hero goes in as his big screen arc continues.
10. Black Panther
Ryan Coogler took on one of the greatest challenges so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by introducing the nation of Wakanda, and he not only successfully pulled it off, but crafted one of the most complex and philosophically intriguing chapters we’ve seen yet within the franchise with Black Panther. It’s crazy rare to see a blockbuster where both the hero and villain’s perspectives carry comparable weight and deserve equal consideration, and the Black Panther/Killmonger conflict brings just that – and on top of it all it’s fantastic to see how the simple addition of Vibranium can spice up an action sequence.
9. Iron Man
Marvel Studios movies have obviously come a long way in the last 11 years – explaining why only two titles in this Top 10 come from pre-2012 – but that being said Iron Man is still a phenomenal delight. Not only is Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma just totally off the charts, and the visual effects surprisingly spectacular, but even at the very start of everything the brand was upending expectations about what a big screen superhero story could be (we’ll never forget the way it tore down the secret identity concept with its final line). It’s a film we’re excited to watch every time we start a few franchise rewatch.
8. Captain America: Civil War
It was once thought that Marvel Studios would save all of its big team-up adventures for its Avengers movies, but then Captain America: Civil War came along in 2016 to blow minds. It’s honestly remarkable how the film perfectly plays on the developing arcs of both Cap and Iron Man, putting them on opposite sides of a smart and considered philosophical conflict, and on top of that it makes fantastic use of its broad ensemble of characters. These blockbusters are all crazy juggling acts, it’s amazing to see the way it manages to keep all of the balls in the air without missing a beat.
7. The Avengers
The Avengers is the picture-perfect definition of a game changer. Prior to 2012 it wasn’t entirely clear if the grand Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment would actually pay off, but Joss Whedon, armed with a very clear personal love for the characters and their history, put together a blockbuster that wonderfully highlights the greatest aspects of all of them – both when they are in extreme conflict and working together. It goes without saying that the franchise wouldn’t be what it is today if this one didn’t work, and its 45 minute-long third act action sequence remains as one of the best spectacles we’ve seen in modern cinema.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Prior to the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, it wasn’t entirely clear if the world was ready for yet another film about the wall-crawler – specifically because the hero had already been featured in two other separate franchises. Fortunately Spidey’s first solo film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe totally changed everybody’s mind by offering up a fresh, funny, and exciting new take on the high school-aged character. Not only is Tom Holland perfect in the lead role, but Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of the best villains we’ve seen in the canon thus far – managing to somehow both be sympathetic and scary.
5. Thor: Ragnarok
As reflected in the rankings above, Thor didn’t have the greatest run when it came to solo movies prior to 2017, but Taika Waititi totally changed that pattern in the best way with Thor: Ragnarok. It required stripping away everything the character loves, including his father, his hammer, and even his hair, but the reinvention works perfectly, and it’s shocking just how funny the film is. It’s also arguably the best depiction of Hulk we’ve seen on the big screen to date, with the big green monster not only finding a voice, but also doing quite a lot of exciting smashing.
4. Guardians Of The Galaxy
Prior to 2014, nobody knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were, but James Gunn worked his magic and now they are some of the most popular heroes around the globe. How? Because Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best space operas ever committed to celluloid. The writer/director took some liberties with the source material, brought together some bizarre misfit heroes, and put together one of the best MCU casts, and end result was two-plus hours of delightful fun unlike anything any other comic book movie had previously attempted. Marvel took an absolutely massive swing with this property, but wound up hitting a home run on the first pitch.
3. Avengers: Infinity War
The Marvel Cinematic Universe started teasing the arrival of Thanos all the way back in 2012, and while some thought it was building too much hype to possibly pay off, Avengers: Infinity War proved all doubters wrong. Taking the spotlight in the 2018 blockbuster, the Mad Titan proved to be every bit the formidable and dangerous foe that audiences were promised, and the results are incredible and epic – all building to one of the most devastating endings in blockbuster history. The scope of the film is remarkable, not to mention the careful treatment of its absolutely massive ensemble, and it is amazing how it highlights just how much we’ve grown to care about these characters over the years.
2. Captain America: The Winter Solider
Joe and Anthony Russo never directed a blockbuster before taking on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, let alone an action movie, and that’s a stunning fact in retrospect. The movie’s plot channels 1970s conspiracy thrillers in the best way, crafting a wonderful mystery surrounding its two eponymous characters, but what truly makes the film standout is its endless series of insane and pulse-pounding action sequences that make you want to leap out of your chair every five minutes. After this debut, it was a surprise to nobody that Marvel trusted the brothers with three of their most ambitious projects ever.
1. Avengers: Endgame
It should have been an impossible task distilling 11 years-worth of films into one epic blockbuster, but the craftsmanship in the making of Avengers: Endgame is second to none – which explains why our staff has ranked it as the best Marvel Studios film we’ve seen so far. It’s not only an immensely satisfying experience for fans who have been following the franchise from the beginning, it’s also just a ridiculous crowd-pleaser in every respect. It’s hilarious; it’s tear-jerking; it’s thrilling; and it’s endlessly surprising. It’s everything you want it be after 22 movies, and makes our imaginations run wild thinking about what the next 22 movies might bring to the big screen.
How does our list compare with yours? If you haven’t already, go back to the top and take our survey, and stay tuned for more of our Marvel Cinematic Universe coverage here on CinemaBlend!
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Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.