The Marvel Cinematic Universe: My rankings from best to worst

My previous post described my recent viewing of all 23 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and examined differences between my rankings of the movies and the rankings of critics, journalists and viewers. This post gives brief reviews of the MCU movies explaining why my rankings are sometimes quite different to others, and presents these in order from best to worst. Every other ranking I examined presents them in the opposite order from worst to best. However, I didn’t want to make readers plough through reviews of the worst movies first. Apart from the fact that nobody may be interested to read all my reviews, I’ve done them mainly to explore what I love and don’t love about the MCU, I’ve also included an index below, so you can jump straight to any particular review that interests you.

Warning: there are spoilers ahead.  If you haven’t seen these movies, watch them in timeline order first. In each review, I also give the median ranking from the 23 rankings I analysed in my previous post. The range in brackets gives the 25th and 75tb percentiles of the ranks.

1. Black Panther

Black Panther is unlike any other MCU movie. Apart from the obvious, that its filled with powerful, charismatic and brilliant black characters, its hugely culturally relevant and it explores real-world and imperative issues about race, social change, and power. Apart from that, its visually dazzling, with a great sound-track, and also has one of the best MCU villains to date in Eric Killmonger. It’s a world-building movie that creates a believable hidden African high-tech civilization filled with stunning characters. An absolute joy to watch.

And the public and critics agree. It is the highest grossing superhero movie in the USA, and the fifth highest (after four Avengers films) worldwide, earning $1.3 billion. Its median ranking is 5 (1-9). Black Panther was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, and won three Oscars for Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. Undeniably the most important Marvel movie with a unique cultural impact — and made all the more powerful by Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death just two years later. As I pointed out in my previous post, Black Panther was also one of two movies with a substantial difference between critics and viewers ratings. The rankings from critics average scores on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic puts Black Panther as the number one ranked MCU movie, as does Entertainment Weekly.

Chadwick Boseman is brilliantly charismatic as T’Challa, the Black Panther, although Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger almost outdoes him. Killmonger is the MCU’s best villain with truly relatable motivations: he wants Wakanda to use its powers to right years of racial injustice around the world.

But he is a trained US CIA killer, and he ultimately resorts to violence, not least against the powerful black women of the movie. The movie grapples with difficult issues about racism, colonialism and social change and ultimately sort of come down on Killmonger’s side as Black Panther decides to share knowledge of Wakanda’s existence and high tech civilization with the world.Not quite so clear whether that means freedom for oppressed people or sharing of high technology with the existing power structures. Or even duplicating those power structures as Killmonger wishes to do with his goal of a Wakandan Empire. It’s a bit of a cop out to say there are no easy answers to these questions, although there probably aren’t. I was thinking about this, and realized that in the real world if a Wakanda actually shared its high technology with oppressed peoples, even if only for self-defence not revolution, it would almost certainly be nuked out of existence by the collected superpowers of the world.

A reviewer on rogerebert.com had a similar criticism of the MCU ducking taking a stand on sociopolitical issues, saying: “This franchise often plays around with explosive sociopolitical ideas only to put the pin back in the grenade at the end, lest one of the world’s most profitable properties be shaken beyond repair”.

The reviewer notes that T’Challa doesn’t actually propose to give Wakandan weapons to oppressed people, and he actually only revealed the true nature of Wakanda and proposed to open Wakandan outreach centres.  “T’Challa isn’t about to start a war with the world’s superpowers by arming the people they oppress.”

Another reviewer noted that superhero movies are inherently about the ability of “good” people acting as individuals using their superpowers to right wrongs.  Such movies are never going to show superheroes identifying and implementing structural solutions to structural problems. Such approaches are always the province of the villain (think Thanos and the snap). Again, the MCU kind of addressed this issue in Captain America: Civil War and in making Steve Rogers, the inherently decent good guy, the one who rejects government oversight of the Avengers’ actions, and Tony Stark the irresponsible arsehole who ends up sacrificing himself to reverse the Snap. 

2. Doctor Strange

Thor introduced magic into the MCU back in 2011, though the movie pointed out that magic and the advanced science of the Asgardians were indistinguishable. Dr Strange introduced actual sorcery in 2015. This movie earned higher ratings from the critics (10th and 8th on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritics respectively) than from writers and viewers, with an overall median ranking of 13 (10-17).

Why do I rank it so much higher?  There are several reasons. First and foremost, its mind bending visuals are the closest I’ve ever seen to the visual phenomena induced by psilocybin. The incredible visual effects include city buildings folding, flipping, and spinning on top of one another. The seven-minute opening sequence is one of most stunning pieces of footage Marvel has ever created. And I also love the psychedelic journey that the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, sends the sceptic Dr Strange on. Up there with 2001: A Space Odyessy and in my view better than it.

Secondly, it is a solid standalone movie following Dr Strange’s journey from selfish arsehole through catastrophe then driven to go on a quest which is a journey of self-discovery and self-transcendence guided by the Ancient One, played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as Dr Strange and although he plays an American, he gives his character a British vibe that I enjoy. Perhaps related to that is that the movie has a much more offbeat vibe than most MCU movies and works humour into the action in a more subtle British way. It wonderful that a cloak is one of the most entertaining characters in the movie. Mads Mikkelsen is another of my favourite actors and appears in this movie as a villain, a rebel student Kaecilius who kills the Ancient One, and who is seeking to open the Earth to an interdimensional being, Dormammu, in order to obtain immortality for himself and others. Incidentally, his actions lead to the wonderful and moving scene in which Strange takes on his astral form and talks to the Ancient One about the nature of her death.

Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the spectacular CGI effects

He’s genuinely moved when she dies, unable to save someone he has come to care for. And when it’s time for him to face Dormammu, the most selfish man has become someone who is willing to sacrifice himself over and over again, forever suffering enormous pain to save the world. The incredible “Dormammu, I have come to bargain” scene is the highlight of the final part of the movie. Of all the MCU movies, this is the one that most directly explores the nature of time and death.

Thirdly and finally, it introduces an important character in the MCU, explains his origin story and how he became the most powerful sorcerer on Earth, destined to play an important role in Infinity War and Endgame.

3. Thor

I loved this movie, still do. Its what made me pay attention to the MCU movies. I largely ignored Iron Man, The Hulk etc, until Thor came along and later teamed up with them. I’ve watched the movie at least six times, and watched it again in sequence as part of the timeline. The only reason that it is no longer number 1 is that in the last few years Dr Strange and Black Panther came along. But its definitely up there with them.

I was quite surprised to find that many of the ranking lists ranked it relatively poorly with a median of 18 (17-19), and the accompanying reviews were often critical- Long a fan of “Northerness” and Celtic and Nordic myth, as well as The Lord of the Rings, this was the movie of the MCU that really captured exactly the right tone of archetypal myth for me.

Additionally, Chris Hemsworth was perfectly cast as Thor, who went on to become one of the most important superheroes in the Avengers arc, and played a crucial role in Endgame. Not only that, it introduced one of the two greatest villains of the MCU, Loki, also perfectly played by Tom Hiddleston. The director Kenneth Branagh has a background as a great Shakespearean actor and apart from getting the heroic tone of the movie perfectly balanced with the humor, also brought in some of my favourite actors: Anthony Hopkins as an inspired choice for Odin, Natalie Portman as Thor’s love interest, Stellan Skarsgård and Rene Russo. Idris Elba was an unexpected bonus, so impressive as Heimdal.

It’s a relatively straightforward archetypal story of the hero’s journey to wisdom, in which Thor proves himself “worthy” to wield the hammer Moljnir. It’s the first Marvel movie in which important parts of the movie take place on other planets, but I also loved the humour of the banished god stripped of his powers bumbling around New Mexico. And the cameo from Hawkeye, unidentified in the credits. Mjolnir’s origin is also properly mythic: at Odin’s request, Mjolnir was forged of the special metal Uru in the heart of a dying star by the Dwarves of Nidavellir.  Just reading that sends tingles down my spine.

The movie also tells the story of a family in conflict, with two brothers shaped by each other and Odin, and both of whom we care about. Hiddleston’s Loki is crafty where Thor is oblivious, subtle where Thor is direct, and the tricky illusion-casting Loki is a perfect mirror for the strong and direct Thor. The struggle between brothers for the throne is very Shakespearean and also reminds me of Roger Zelazny’s classic Amber novels which tell the story of nine immortal princes vieing for the throne of Amber. One of my favourite fantasy novels, and would make a wonderful series of movies also.

Thor’s enchanted hammer Mjolnir was arguably the most celebrated weapon in the MCU. “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor” is the enchantment Odin placed on Mjolnir,  and  in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Avengers and their friends played a game of trying to lift the hammer, and Thor teased his friends about being unworthy. See here for those who were found worthy.

In summary, this is a great movie. Not only does it tell a classic story of the hero’s journey in spectacular settings but it introduces Thor and Loki, who both go on to become important in the MCU as do several other key characters. Thor really is an underappreciated MCU success. The Dark World attempted to go more grounded, Ragnarok more all-out comedy, but they both miss how Kenneth Branagh pretty much nailed the balance between heroic archetypes and humor first time out.

4. Avengers: Endgame

After the depressing cliffhanger ending of Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame provides a thrilling conclusion that definitely delivers. This film is the culmination of the first three phases of the MCU, and the final chapter of the Infinity Saga provides closure on a level unseen since Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King. It is the highest earning superhero movie of all time, earning $2.8 million worldwide and has a median ranking of 3.5 (2-7) and critics ranking of 3 on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

Where Infinity War jumps around to many different settings and characters, Endgame is more focused on the original six members of the Avengers, and how each of them emotionally deals with the Snap that ended half the life in the universe. Whereas Infinity War focussed on Thanos and Thor, the main arc of Endgame is more focused on Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. These were the original two Avengers, and both have suffered trauma, but in the end refuse to give up the nearly impossible fight. And it is Tony with so much to lose who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the lives of others, and Steve, who already lost the love of his life, who gets to go back and recover it and live a normal life.

But other characters also play crucial roles, particularly Ant-Man. the Guardians and Thanos’ daughter Nebula, and Captain Marvel. The movie delivers a celebration of the entire MCU and emotional carthasis for our favourite heroes. And grief that Black Widow died. On first viewing, and even more so this time, I found it deeply moving and satisfying, brilliantly wrapping up 10 years of movies.

5. The Avengers

With this movie, aka Avengers Assemble, Marvel brought the superheroes of previous movies together as a team to fight their best villain, Loki, who had decided he wanted to rule the Earth and started with an alien invasion over New York. And the movie works! All of the Avengers are perfectly cast and have some great moments, as does Loki. The chemistry and developing relationships between the Avengers are wonderfully done, and the battle with the aliens in New York is one of the best final battles in the MCU. The movie was a huge success with a median ranking of 4 (3-7) and the third highest gross earnings worldwide of the MCU.

Ultimately it is a movie about how very different people, from different backgrounds and even different planets, come together with initial bickering and fighting before learning how to work and live together, and to stand together as heroes who finally shared a common world. And it’s the egotistical and selfish bad boy Tony Stark, who has never learned to play well with others, not the earnest and nice guy Steve Rogers, who jumps on the nuclear missile and rides it into space to save New York. This is the movie that set up the success of the following Avengers movies leading up to Infinity War and Endgame. Watching it in correct timeline order, with the solo movies all in recent memory, certainly enhanced my enjoyment and appreciation of this movie.

6. Captain Marvel

This movie was a ground-breaker: the first to star a solo female superhero and the first female-superhero movie to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Despite that it did not do well with critics or many viewers with a median ranking of 17 (12-21). Along with Black Panther, it received substantially worse rankings from viewers than critics, along with a lot of misogynistic criticism, probably from a lot of angry white guys. Sexism and racism are alive and well.

It’s a nice change of pace from the typical origin story with Carol Danvers already an established hero, but with no memory of her life before becoming one. Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol Danvers does the character justice, and the film is a wonderful galaxy-spanning adventure in which we first see her as a Kree warrior taking part in galactic conflict with theshapeshifing Skrull civilization. She is captured by the Skrull and taken to Earth where she escapes and is initially hunted by SHIELD, in the persons of a young Nick Fury and Phil Coulson.

She soon teams up with Nick Fury and then recovers memories of her former life as an Airforce pilot, exploring what it means to have your memories stolen from you and to emerge from these external restriction to define herself and take on her forgotten superpowers.

The subsequent plot has a number of twists and surprises and really should have earned this movie a higher general ranking and recognition as a very worthwhile addition to the MCU. Brie Larson as Carol Danvers has the potential to be the next Chris Hemsworth of the Marvel universe. And apart from all that, I’m in love again. 

7. Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War certainly defied expectations when it turned half its massive cast of characters into dust at the end of the movie. This was generally popular with viewers, with a median ranking of 4.5 (2-12) and the second highest worldwide gross earnings of $2 billion. Critics were somewhat less enthusiastic with Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores both giving average critic rankings of 13. When I initially saw this movie in the theatre, like the critics I was unimpressed by the large number of superheroes (27) and the ending, but on a second timeline viewing I have appreciated it much more, with my fuller understanding of the individual stories and backgrounds of the many heroes and how this movie brings them all together. Ultimately, it is rather like the Avengers in bringing a team together, except this is a much larger team where characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy play a somewhat unexpectedly important role. And its great to see the various characters meeting: Thor hanging out with Rocket and Groot or Hulk and War Machine coming to Wakanda. And on this viewing, I understood much more of the back story and motivations of Thanos, who in my first viewing had seemed like another Marvel cartoon villain without character.

Marvel has learnt by now how to create a great villain, by giving them a hero’s journey, motives that are to some extent understandable and that the viewer can even empathize with, while in the end they make unacceptable choices. So we see the hero’s journey for Thanos, assembling stones, overcoming obstacles, making personal sacrifices. And he ends up winning, but we are devastated by the results of his actions, and the immense heartbreak inflicted on the survivors. Still, it’s a rare movie that ends up with the villain succeeding and then retiring to relax in the sun on his small farm.

Apart from Thanos, Thor is the other character who has the greatest development arc. We follow him through the movie from his brother’s death to his ultimate failure, and we see how much the destruction of Asgard and the loss of all his family has affected him. This is a truly epic movie that it pays to watch as part of the timeline sequence.

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron was the second Avengers movie released, and did very well at the box office, earning over 1.4 billion globally, making it the 4th highest earning movie in the MCU. However, critics were not positive and some consider it one of the worst movies of the MCU. The median ranking is 14 (13-17).  When I first saw this movie, I disliked it and would have ranked it much lower than 14. However, my timeline viewing really changed my appreciation of it. I now understood much of the backstory of the characters, including more minor characters, and the maturing of the relationships between the Avengers is particularly enjoyable.

The movie explores the consequences of the trauma experienced by Tony Stark at the end of Avengers Assemble, when he comes close to dying when he used the nuclear missile to end the war over New York. As a result, he decides to create an artificially intelligent robot to protect the world, with the help of Bruce Banner, but Ultron decides to protect the world by destroying humanity.

The highlights of this movie are seeing how the Avengers continue to develop as a team, and work together to combat an existential threat, but also just to hang out. Each of them also has traumatic flashbacks that enrich our understanding of them. There is a wonderful scene where they all try to lift Thor’s hammer to see who is worthy, and are comfortable enough to tease each other about it. This movie also introduces Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. I recently watched WandaVision and loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed their backstory on this viewing. This movie also does a lot to set up Civil War, Infinity War and Black Panther, and weaves a lot of plot threads together. Perhaps more than many other MCU movies, this one was a joy to watch the second time, and I can recommend watching it as part of the timeline viewing of all the MCU movies.

9. Captain America: Civil War

L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Photo Credit:Marvel 2016.

On the completely opposite end of the spectrum from Marvel’s The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War is a much darker, more thought-provoking movie in which the Avengers are divided and in conflict as opposed to fighting Loki and an alien invasion. In general, critics and viewers rank it somewhat higher than me, with a median ranking of 7 (5-9).

Following the destruction of Sokovia’s capital city with much loss of life in Age of Ultron, the governments of the world agree on the Sokovia accords, under which the Avengers will no longer be a private organization, but will operate only under supervision of a United Nations panel. The superheroes are split over whether to accept the Sokovia accords or not. Surprisingly, the “good soldier” Captain America is the one who rejects government oversight whereas the bad boy billionaire Tony Stark is the leader of those who do, due to his guilt at creating Ultron.

The superheroes take sides and end up fighting each other in the airport fight scene. While I enjoyed the movie on first viewing, it did not stand up quite as well on second viewing. A number of other reviews have also made this same comment. For me, the whole business of the superheroes taking sides and ending up fighting each other seemed fairly implausible, as did the fact that essentially none of them were injured in the fight scene. Oh, I guess Ant-Man was exhausted by blowing himself up to giant size, and asked if anyone had orange slices.

Others have pointed out that many of the superheroes didn’t make a believable choice of sides. Black Widow and Scarlet Witch are two examples. And despite the conflict being over personal responsibility, accountability and what is the right thing to do, many choose sides based purely on personal friendship. And essentially the movie ditches these motivations altogether after the airport fight. Tony Stark and Captain America’s final climactic fight at the end of the movie is about the completely unrelated revelation that the brainwashed Winter Soldier (Cap’s best friend Bucky) murdered Tony’s parents.

On the plus side, this movie introduces T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Black Panther, whose father was murdered by Count Zemo, seeking revenge for the deaths of Sokovians. But Zemo frames Bucky for the murder, and T’Challa pursues Bucky, ultimately letting go of his thirst for vengeance. Civil War is an important step in the Avengers arc, but essentially Marvel raises some big ideas around government oversight, accountability and personal responsibility, but then drops them in favor of a completely different story about Cap and Bucky, revenge and redemption. Leaving nothing resolved, so the movie has a hard time standing on its own.

10. Ant-Man and the Wasp

So many reviewers absolutely hated this movie, ranking it near the bottom of the MCU. The median ranking is 17 (14-18). Among those who were positive about, they tended to rank it higher than the first Ant Man. As do I.

Ant-Man & The Wasp builds on the first movie, and is better in many respects. The importance of family is again an important theme with Scott and his daughter’s relationship being a highlight. But the appearance of Evangeline Lilly as The Wasp is the real highlight of the film. She and Ant-Man work brilliantly together in the action scenes and their chemistry and developing relationship is a nice romance. Lots of humor that I thoroughly enjoyed, and a very moving rescue of Hope/Wasp’s mother from the Quantum Realm.

The movie came out in 2018 a few months after Avengers: Infinity War but the events take place in more or less the same time frame as Infinity War. And there is an End Credits scene showing the “dusting” of Hank Pym, Janet van Dyne and Hope van Dyne when Thanos snapped his fingers, leaving Ant-Man trapped in the quantum realm. This is an important setting up for the events of Endgame, as the accidental release of Ant-Man from the quantum realm is what allows the Avengers to time-travel using Hank Pym’s “Pym particles” in order to reverse the Snap.

The introduction of The Wasp, the moving rescue of her mother, and the linking up of story lines and setting up for Endgame all contributed to me ranking to this movie ahead of Ant-Man.

11. Ant-Man

The first Ant-Man movie does not rank high in the sampled rankings with a median rank of 16 (13-18). It ranks even lower at 20th in box office takings, though it still made more than half a billion dollars. After several movies dealing with powerful superheroes and existential threats, Ant-Man is a fun movie about an ordinary guy, in fact a not too successful burglar, who just wants to get his life together so he can be a father to his daughter. 

For me, it was a refreshingly funny interlude between the big existential movies that worked. In part because of the strength of the cast. Paul Rudd is superb as Scott Lang, the Ant-Man. Michael Douglas is hilarious as Hank Pym, the wise old mentor who is a total dick to everyone, and I enjoyed seeing Evangeline Lilly as his daughter, and destined for bigger things in the sequel.

It’s basically another movie about families under stress. Scott Lang just wants to earn his way back into his daughter’s life, Hank Pym and his daughter discover in the movie that it may be possible his wife is still alive, trapped in the quantum realm (she is played by another favourite actor of mine, Michelle Pfeiffer – I loved Ladyhawke). The villain is a minor corporate arsehole, but that’s OK in this movie.

12. Thor: Ragnarok

Comedy is Thor: Ragnarok‘s best and worst quality. Directed by Taika Waititi, the jokes are more flippant and set the tone differently, but what is missing is the balance of emotion with comedy of the two previous Thor movies. Although Odin dies in the movie and Asgard is lost, the movie skims over both to get back to the jokes. Chris Hemsworth clearly had fun making this movie, and audiences and critics initially loved it, giving a median ranking of 6 (4-8). But it has proven to be quite divisive among MCU viewers, with many like me disliking the flippant tone that prioritizes in-the-moment laughs over anything of greater weight; particularly considering where the MCU had reached at this point.

As it turns out, Waititi has explained that he is no lover of the Marvel comics and didn’t even bother reading them after getting the director’s job. So for those looking for true archetypal storytelling that continued the arc of Thor and Loki, it was not going to be this movie. The movie disposes of most of the characters in the previous Thor movies. Jane, Erik and Darcy are disposed of off-screen, the Warriors Three are killed by Hela. Odin dies. Instead we get Jeff Goldbum (groan) and Valkyrie (not bad). I am disappointed that it appears Waikiki will again direct Thor 4.

That said, the introduction of Valkyrie is great, as is Australia’s own Cate Blanchet as Thor’s sister Hela. But Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster just irritated me immensely, almost single-handedly made a joke of the movie. I could have totally done without him and had much more of the quest to find Odin, and the battle for Asgard. The latter part of the movie does get better. Loki, the perpetually difficult and inconstant ally, shows up and their interactions save the latter part of the movie. Thor realizes that he can’t win the fight against Hela and needs to summon Surtur to destroy Hela and Asgard. The remaining Asgardians become refugees on a space ship heading for Earth.

For me, Ragnarok threw out the baby with the bathwater by misinterpreting the characters of Thor and others and emphasizing the ridiculous at the expense of the archetypal. Guardians of the Galaxy is also a joyfully funny movie, but it did not neglect the archetypal or emotional arcs the way this one did. It only gets this high a ranking because it is entertaining enough and it does carry forward the story of Asgard to lead in to Endgame.  But I wish it was more in line with the previous movies–more Thor/Jane Foster relationship, royal intrigue, leaning harder into the fantasy setting.

13. Iron Man

This is the movie that kick-started the MCU back in 2008 and brought back Robert Downey Jr after a struggle with addiction. He is the perfect Tony Stark and much of the MCU’s success is thanks to him and the character he established. The movie is generally rated much higher than I have, with a median ranking of 5.5 (3-8), and is ranked number 2 by critics on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

It’s a good movie, and enjoyable to watch, but I have ranked it somewhat lower because I find the whole glamorizing of arsehole playboy billionaires distasteful. Even though Tony Stark learns the hard way that American dominance through military power is not really a good thing, and pulls away from the military-industrial complex, he remains an entitled irresponsible arsehole, still building robot weapons that can and will be misused.

The other issue is the final part of the movie, where the villain Obadiah Stane who is seeking to oust Tony from his company, jumps in a giant robot suit and sets off to fight Iron Man. In what universe does that make any sense. Obadiah Stane is played by one of my favourite actors, Jeff Bridges, and I didn’t even recognize him in the movie with a shaved head. Most un-dudelike.

14. Thor: the dark world

Thor: The Dark World  is typically found towards the bottom of most rankings, with a median rank of 22 (19-23). I give it a higher rating, because Thor!  No, seriously, it’s an entertaining film that further explores the volatile relationship of Thor and his brother Loki and both of their relationships with their parents, Odin and Frigga and even a prologue detailing the war against the Dark Elves that was won by their grandfather Bor. Thor finds Jane (Natalie Portman) and brings her back to Asgard, where she is taken under the wing of his mother Frigga. Frigga dies at the hands of Malekith the Dark Elf midway through The Dark World, and after that tragedy it is very satisfying to see Thor and Loki team up to defeat Malekith. This latter half of the film is deeply satisfying. Much of the movie is set in Asgard and on other worlds, and these are brilliantly imagined.

The delightful moments of genuine humour, though, are what give the film its edge and quality. Like the first movie, a lot of humour is derived from the contrast of the magical and the mundane — Thor hanging his legendary hammer up on a coat rack, Darcy (Kat Dennings) asking Thor how space was, etc. Though I never really understood quite why Stellan Skarsgard wanted to prance around Stonehenge naked.-

This movie further develops Loki as one of the most satisfying villains of the MCU. You can’t help feeling for him, having grown up in the shadow of his handsome powerful brother and then discovering he was adopted. Underneath his calculating trickster personality is a person with feelings just like the rest of us. And Loki’s shapeshifting abilities are used in a number of plot twists and also in a quick nod to the Avengers’ Captain America. I loved exploring more of Asgard and the Thor and Loki’s family dynamics in this movie, and it also turned out to be a fairly important movie in the timeline, introducing one of the Infinity Stones.

15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

This movie has even more heart to it than the first Guardians movie, and explores the meaning of family on an even deeper level. The last half of the movie is an emotional roller-coaster that fleshes out the relationship between Gamora and her sister Nebula, and explore the pain that drives Rocket’s cynicism. Star Lord discovers that his father is a godlike being who is an egotistic narcissist (named Ego) and that Yondu, the blue-skinned ravage who kidnapped him from Earth, actually loves him enough to sacrifice himself for Star Lord.

Quite a number of reviewers consider Guardians 2 better than Guardians 1 and initially I did too, but eventually decided that Ego and the whole thing about Star Lord being a godlike being was irritating as was the struggle to kill Ego. The median ranking of reviewers was 12 (10-14), a bit higher than mine.

16. Guardians of the Galaxy

This is movie is largely set in space and on planets other than Earth and is in essence a Star Wars movie, but much, much funnier. It has loads of comedy, action, a unique visual appearance, and some great music. The Guardians are a complete set of misfits: their bumbling leader calls himself Star Lord and dances through the movie to a set of disco hits from the 70s and 80s, along with a green-skinned assassin, a talking tree, a talking racoon, and a WWE wrestler playing an alien. The interactions between the Guardians crew are not only hugely funny, but also quite moving.

The movie stands on its own, but also introduces Thanos and his daughters, and is an integral part of the MCU. It has a median ranking of 6 (3-11) and the only reason I haven’t ranked it higher is there are so many other good movies in the MCU.

17. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This movie received a glowing reception from fans and critics, with a median ranking of 8 (4-10). Its strengths are Sebastian Stan’s brilliant performance as the Winter Soldier, and Steve’s realization that the Winter Soldier is his best friend Bucky Barnes, and his determination to save Bucky. Another crucial element is the chemistry between Steve Rogers and Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff. They start as opposites: Rogers the good and idealistic soldier, Romanoff the former amoral spy who trusts no-one. They are brought together when they realize that Hydra has infiltrated Shield, and both struggle with questions of trust and loyalty.

Critics praised this movie as a political thriller digging into issues of mass surveillance and the overreach of the military-industrial complex. However, that was the reason I did not rank the movie higher, I felt it did not really do anything with these issues. Instead, it portrayed the “good Shield”, in the person of Nick Fury, building the massive heli-carrier aerial death machines which were co-opted by Shield. I found it difficult to accept this unquestioning acceptance of massive military overkill even by the good guys and the ultimate avoidance of mass killings only being down to the actions of two individuals. I realize that it’s a bit silly to expect a superhero movie to address systemic issues with systemic solutions. But it’s the main reason that my rankings of the Captain America movies are generally lower than in many rankings. That said, with this and the previous movie we are now in the good movie territory. There are not actually that many movies in the MCU that are generally bad.

That said, Sebastian Stan brings huge charisma and presence to the role of the Winter Soldier, and subsequent movies and the currently running TV show really tell a great story.

18. Captain America: The First Avenger

This origin story is the second-lowest grossing Marvel film, and its median ranking was only slightly higher than mine at 16 (14-18). It’s largely a fairly straightforward World War II period piece in which the new “super-solder” battles HYDRA, led by Hugo Weaving.

Its strengths are Chris Evans’ portrayal of Steve Rogers as fundamentally a good man and his evolving relationships with Bucky Barnes (later to become the Winter Soldier) and with Peggy Carter. Unlike many MCU love interests, the relationship with Peggy Carter grows through the arc of the MCU movies and ultimately becomes one of the most moving stories in the Marvel Universe. Hayley Atwell is perfectly cast as Peggy and completely convincing as a woman of the 1940s. As is Chris Evans as Steve Rogers aka Captain America.

19. Spider-man: Homecoming

Spider Man’s origin story was done a couple of times before the MCU, and Marvel chose to do a teen coming of age film for Peter Parker. Tim Holland is good as Peter Parker, but the villain played by Michael Keaton is unimpressive, a scavenger pissed off at losing his job cleaning up alien artefacts left over from the New York battle in Avengers Assemble. As with the other MCU Spider Man movie, I found the teenage romances unconvincing and uninteresting and the various conflicts somewhat silly: a ferry cut in half and held together by Spider Man’s web, a sabotaged lift, and an aerial battle in and around a robot aircraft. Sampled rankings have a much higher median rank of 9 (7-12).

20. Spider-man: Far from Home

This is the final movie in the MCU, occurring after the blip which returns all the people killed by Thanos. I greatly disliked it when I first saw it with my sons. Teenage Americans go on a trip to Europe and are attacked in Venice by water monsters, and later in London by swarms of drones. Both the MCU Spider-man movies are very popular, with median ratings of 11 (Far from Home) and 10 (Homecoming). I found the villains in both movies unconvincing and the teenage angst uninteresting. Though Zendaya is cute. Sampled rankings have a much higher median rank of 10 (8-12).

21. Iron Man 3

Somewhat better than Iron Man 2 for exploring Iron Man’s mental state as he tries to come to terms with the events of the Avengers. But the plot really makes little sense. Yet another totally forgettable supervillain and a ridiculous plot involving a terrorist campaign waged by The Mandarin, who turns out to be just an actor working for the real villain, who is pissed because Tony ignored him years ago in a lift. Tony Stark is supposed to be a genius, but goes on TV to taunt the Mandarin resulting in the baddies destroying Tony’s mansion and nearly killing him and Pepper Potts. Fortunately, Tony’s character development in the subsequent Avenger movies resurrects him from his portrayal in this movie. Sampled rankings have a slightly higher median rank of 16 (12-19).

22. The Incredible Hulk

Released the same year as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk has Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, to be replaced in later movies by Mark Ruffalo. Most rankings put this in the bottom three, and generally Marvel and fans try to ignore this movie. That said, I actually did not find it terrible. The sampled rankings also have a median rank of 22 (21-23).

23. Iron Man 2

Iron Man was the movie that started the MCU in 2008 and redefined the superhero genre. Robert Downey Jr. had a lot to do with this and was the perfect Tony Stark. The second Iron Man movie deals with the consequences of Tony announcing to the world at the end of the first movie that he was Iron Man. Unfortunately, it has a completely unimpressive villain, some sort of Russian hacker played by Mickey Rourke, who decides to attack Tony Stark with electric whips during a car race of all things. I am less enthusiastic about all the Iron Man movies, because I don’t find arsehole billionaires all that relatable or admirable, and flying killer robots are not exactly a desirable direction for the human race. One of the only good things about this movie is the first appearance of Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. Others had a similarly poor opinion of this movie with a median rank of 21 (20-21).

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