The Best Intra-Marvel Cinematic Universe Franchises, Ranked

Avengers: Endgame Avengers Assemble
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

In 2008, Marvel Studios launched an exciting big screen experiment. Replicating the experience of reading Marvel Comics, the idea was to launch individual blockbuster franchises based on specific superheroes who would all exist within the same canon and be available for crossover opportunities. It was a major gamble, but it paid off and changed pop culture. A key to the success has been the variety in the storytelling, with individual branches of the continuity all bringing something special to the whole.

Going back to the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, seven of these branches have released three or more movies, and that’s more than enough to stir debate among fans: which of the best intra-franchises in the MCU is the best of all? Obviously the answer is subjective and based on individual tastes, but we’ve taken a whack at our own ranking of the series – and we’ll start with the God of Thunder…

Chris Hemsworth as Thor sitting in spaceship in Thor: Love and Thunder

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

7. Thor

Of all the series within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Thor movies have been the most inconsistent, which is the principal reason why it’s ranked at the bottom of this list. Thor: Ragnarok is a triumph, and both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston make unforgettable impressions in their MCU debuts, but Thor on the whole has pacing and scale issues; the most memorable thing about Thor: The Dark World is the blandness of its central antagonist; and Thor: Love And Thunder, while treated too harshly by its critics, is certainly a step down from writer/director Taika Waititi’s first MCU entry.

The Thor films aren’t the cornerstone or the gem of the MCU, but it can at least be said that the impact and positive presence of the central characters on the whole has outweighed the limitations of the series that bears his name.

Ant-Man and the Wasp in Ant-Man and the Wasp

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

6. Ant-Man And The Wasp

Prior to the release of Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, we might have called the Ant-Man And The Wasp movies the most underrated branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe… but that Phase 5 kickoff feature did quite a lot to ruin the brand of the shrinking heroes. Ant-Man is a messy and standard but fun origin story, and Ant-Man And The Wasp capitalizes on a lot of what’s great about the characters with a lot of nifty and creative ideas packed into a tight and compact adventure. The first two films have some great visual effects and style that make them unique in the canon.

Unfortunately, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania is a muddy, undercooked mess that fails in all of its efforts to set up the macro developments for Phase 5 and Phase 6 of the MCU. Perhaps a fourth film could right the ship of this Marvel franchise by getting back to what made the films good from the beginning, but for now it has to carry the baggage of having a trilogy capper that is the worst blockbuster released as part of the continuity to date.  

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

5. Iron Man

Iron Man 2 has issues, some of the biggest coming from its efforts to quickly build out the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s sandwiched between two films that individually demonstrate the best aspects of the franchise. I, of course, wouldn’t be writing this feature if Robert Downey Jr. hadn’t blown the minds of audiences worldwide with his charismatic big screen take on Tony Stark – who not only entertains with his sharp tongue but emotional pathos as he makes efforts to become a better person. The rule-breaking hero’s antics combined with exciting action and thrills instantly made movie-goers curious about what the MCU could deliver.

Iron Man 3, meanwhile, is one of the many great genre experiments featured in Phase 2, with Tony Stark ending up on a post-Avengers soul searching expedition while attempting to solve a neo-noir-styled mystery (a wonderful follow-up to Downey Jr.’s previous team-up with writer/director Shane Black: 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). The Iron Man trilogy is among the best that Marvel has produced… and yet it still only places fifth in this ranking, which really says more about the quality of the franchise at large than anything else.

Captain America Black Widow and more in Avengers: Infinity War

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

4. Avengers

The first four movies of the Phase 1 created the foundation for the franchise, but could Marvel Studios actually pull off the massive crossover event that was planned from the beginning? The Avengers answered that question with a resounding “Yes” in 2012, and while Avengers: Age Of Ultron was a bit of a letdown three years later, the series once again pulled off what seemed impossible when it made a satisfying and incredible Infinity Saga capstone out of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Wrangling all of the different pieces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and utilizing them together in a way that builds on everything that has been set up by a multitude of filmmakers, each of the Avengers movies is a special cinematic achievement in its own right and worthy of celebration. But perhaps the most incredible thing about them is that none have been utterly crushed by the hype that has preceded their respective debuts. We can only hope that continues as the franchise expands.

Rocket Raccoon sitting in a ship's cockpit in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

3. Guardians Of The Galaxy

Marvel Studios took its first big post-Avengers risk betting on the creative vision of James Gunn to expand the bounds of the franchise with a goofy space opera, and history shows that it’s one of the best things that the company has ever done. With an ensemble of misfit A-hole protagonists, the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy is not only the funniest series that has been made within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the bond that the characters form over the course of their adventures together is downright beautiful.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t as strong as its predecessor (it’s a victim of the high bar that Gunn set with his first MCU movie), but the accomplishments of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 outweigh all of the middle chapter’s shortcomings with its stunning and conclusive story/character arcs and heartbreaking exploration of Rocket’s origins. The Guardians of the Galaxy movies are a testament to not only the pop culture power of the MCU, but the magic that can be created when a gifted filmmaker is provided with opportunity and resources.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: No Way Home

(Image credit: Sony)

2. Spider-Man

With Spider-Man being legally excluded from the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years due to rights issues, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on Spider-Man: Homecoming to deliver a web-slinging adventure as good or better than we’d ever seen… and it succeeded. The battle with Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes a.k.a. Vulture (one of the MCU’s best villains) is unique and compelling, as is the way in which the film establishes Tom Holland’s version of Peter Parker without going the origin route. It’s an excellent success, and the follow-ups have kept the franchise’s track record with the hero spotless.

The decision to suggest Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio is a hero at the start of Spider-Man: Far From Home still feels like a mistake upon reflection, but the blockbuster nonetheless executes an excellent globetrotting adventure that keeps stakes high and does a number of brilliant things visually thanks to the antagonist’s skills. And, of course, Spider-Man: No Way Home is basically a dream that no fan of the wall-crawler ever felt we would see, teaming up Tom Holland’s Peter Parker with the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield versions to take down some of Spidey’s best big screen villains. Director Jon Watts has helmed an incredible run thus far, and it’s easy to be optimistic that the good times will continue to roll with the developing fourth film.

Captain America in Captain America The WInter SOldier

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

1. Captain America

The Captain America trilogy isn’t just the best trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it’s the best superhero trilogy ever made. Captain America: The First Avenger has aged like a fine wine, as its period-specific action is tremendous and the character development is excellent – anchored by a career-making performance by Chris Evans. But this is a series where each movie is better than the last.

Where edge-of-your-seat, hard-hitting action is concerned, there is no title in the MCU canon that reaches the remarkable highs of Captain America: The Winter Soldier – which is stuffed with phenomenal stunts and visual effects to pair with an outstanding conspiracy plot, a smart pairing of Captain America and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, and a perfectly executed introduction of Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson. And just when you think Captain America movies can’t get more awesome, along comes Captain America: Civil War pulling off an epic and stunning crossover event that dramatically pits heroes against heroes.

With more Captain America, Spider-Man and Avengers movies soon on the way, not to mention additions to the series that are only one or two titles deep, we’ll continue to update this ranking. In the meantime, you can stay up to date with everything that is going on with the MCU via our Upcoming Marvel Movies and Upcoming Marvel TV guides, and you can also check out our ranking of the individual blockbusters in the expansive comic book franchise.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

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.