Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked
Design by Evan Lockhart for Thrillist
Design by Evan Lockhart for Thrillist

All 29 Movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ranked

It's Iron Man vs. Captain America vs. Black Panther vs. everyone else in this battle of the quippy heroes.

It's difficult to remember a time before the reign of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beginning with Iron Man, which soared into theaters on a pair of Stark-funded rocket boots in 2008, the comic-book movie empire's rise has been steady in its expansion and methodical in its approach. While there have been creative and critical setbacks along the way, the gargantuan financial success of the 28 (and counting) interconnected films, which have grossed more than $19 billion worldwide, is staggering. These movies have reshaped Hollywood. Praise—or curse—Thanos.

With Disney+'s growing number of limited series like WandaVisionThe Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki adding new context and characters to the timeline and teasing the way forward, and the long-awaited Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten RingsEternals, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness joining the fray, it's an ideal time to pause and take stock of what it means to have lived through a decade-plus of Marvel Studios movies. How do you compare the madcap camaraderie of Guardians of the Galaxy or the visually bonkers Doctor Strange with the earnest soul-searching of Captain America or the wiseass charm of Iron Man? This is how: By ranking each installment in the correct order—like we did, heroically, below.

(A note: This list only contains the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and therefore doesn't include Fox-produced movies like X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Deadpool, even though those Marvel superheroes, with Disney's 2019 merger with 21st Century Fox, may soon join the MCU. It also doesn't include movies based on Marvel characters that Sony holds the theatrical rights to, such as Venom, apart from the three MCU-approved Spider-Man movies. There are also no movies from the DC Extended Universe like Wonder Woman or Man of Steel. That's a different thing.)

Iron Man 2
Paramount Pictures

29. Iron Man 2 (2010)

A tattooed, Russian-accented Mickey Rourke groveling with his shirt off might be the only memorable image from this overstuffed sequel. Ostensibly a movie about Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, the lecherous titan of industry, learning to live under public scrutiny as Iron Man, the Fortune 500 militarized superhero, Iron Man 2 is really more of an exercise in corporate brand-building. Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, two characters who have been historically underserved by the larger Marvel movie machine, are mostly on hand to set up future sequels and eat up screen time. In hindsight, the film's screenplay, which was penned by The Leftovers star Justin Theroux, is notable for one reason: It was the first Marvel film to emphasize concepts like "connectivity" and "serialization" at the expense of dynamic storytelling and character development. The formula of effects-driven spectacle, fan-friendly Easter eggs, and sitcom style gags developed by super-producer Kevin Feige wasn't perfected yet. Like Tony Stark, they were still tinkering with their product—and sometimes that means it blows up in your face. —Dan Jackson

The Incredible Hulk
Universal Pictures

28. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Now that Mark Ruffalo's neurotic, emotionally wounded take on the Hulk, first introduced in The Avengers, has become canon, this Hulk solo adventure, which starred Edward Norton as temperamental genius Bruce Banner, looks like a mangy Hulk-dog in Marvel's litter. It's not horrible—director Louis Leterrier (Transporter, Transporter 2) has an eye for grimy, kinetic action set-pieces and a winking, hammy turn from Tim Roth helps sell some ludicrous plotting—but Norton's dark, cerebral version of the character clashes with the then-emerging Marvel house tone of gee-wiz optimism. (Reportedly, the famously collaborative actor also butted heads with the studio.) It'd be fun to declare this an underrated gem in the Marvel catalog, but the movie is just not that good. Besides, we already have Ang Lee's Hulk, a truly bizarre and fascinating work of pop-art, to celebrate. —DJ

black widow
Marvel Studios

27. Black Widow (2021)

In their bid to give the Avengers' first (and for a few years, only) female member her own standalone film—something fans were clamoring for back in 2012, less so in 2021—Marvel Studios at last released Black Widow, a Soviet-flavored spy adventure that calls Natasha Romanoff back to her roots in her quest to take down the Red Room, the espionage training facility that created her, and, more functionally, introduce a new character (Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh) who will presumably take her place in the franchise. On the run from the enforcers of the Sokovia Accords following Captain America: Civil War, Natasha enlists the remains of her fake spy family—including barrel-chested former Soviet superhero Red Guardian (David Harbour) and poison expert Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz)—to help her find and destroy the villainous spy master Dreykov (Ray Winstone). The result is heavy on lightning-fast martial arts choreography and light on plot and sense of purpose, a superhero solo film that, given where it's title character ultimately ended up, feels mostly pointless. —Emma Stefansky

captain marvel
Marvel Studios

26. Captain Marvel (2019)

As the first MCU stand-alone installment focused solely on a female character, Captain Marvel faced unfairly high expectations and targeted trolling leading up to its release. The movie itself—which stars Brie Larson as supremely powerful being who, with the help of a fabulous cat, rescues Earth circa 1995, becoming friends with Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) in the process—is fine. Larson's great in the role and the film has some solid action sequences and witty banter, but there's also some eyeroll-inducing moments and an overall sense of déjà vu, likely a factor of Captain Marvel being the tenth MCU origin story at the time. —John Sellers

thor love and thunder
Marvel Studios

25. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Director Taika Waititi revitalized the MCU with the wonderful Thor: Ragnarok (see below), and so his prodigal return to the franchise was highly anticipated. But something seems to have gone wrong with Thor: Love and Thunder, the fourth overall Thor movie that reintroduces Thor's ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) as a new Thor, but sputters out when forced to search for any meaning amid its aimless plotting. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is in need of a purpose following the three years since Avengers: Endgame, and he is very quickly given one in the form of Gorr the God-Butcher (Christian Bale), a former supplicant now in possession of the deadly Necrosword and the desire to wipe all gods from the face of the cosmos. Determined to find a cure for her terminal cancer, Jane has summoned the hammer Mjolnir and is granted Thor's powers and the appearance of godly health. But Mjolnir's gift comes at a price: Every time Jane uses the hammer, her real body becomes weaker, bringing her ever closer to death. Despite the constant string of jokes and banter and a few visually striking scenes, Thor: Love and Thunder feels too rushed to be satisfying. —ES

Avengers Age of Ultron
Marvel Studios

24. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

It's difficult to remember what actually happens in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the film that reportedly broke the spirit of writer/director Joss Whedon, but the act of watching it can be oddly exhilarating. The constantly swirling camera movements! The fake nation of Sokovia! The weird part on the farm with Linda Cardellini! The quips! (So many quips!) Whedon's willingness to push scenes into the realm of horror and occasionally grapple with the thorny moral implications of all this militarized chaos—"Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die," says Captain America at one point—allows the film to critique certain grandiose notions of heroism, bravery, and loyalty. It's an event movie embarrassed by its own lumbering gait. That sense of shame doesn't save Whedon's last hurrah from devolving into a gluttonous buffet of side plots, sequel setups, and slugfests, but it does make for a bracing study in disaster capitalism. —DJ

eternals richard madden gemma chan
Marvel Studios

23. Eternals (2021)

An origin movie that doubles as an ensemble team-up that triples as an introduction into a newer, even more cosmic era for Earth's Mightiest Heroes (and friends) is no simple feat, yet Nomadland director Chloé Zhao managed to accomplish all of this while imbuing a comic book movie with her signature sense of sweeping, atmospheric style. Heroes ride horses across grassy vistas, perform technicolor Bollywood-inspired dance numbers, and lounge in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The cast of superpowered beings, led by Gemma Chan's Sersi, have been sent to Earth to save humanity from dark creatures called Deviants, but have grown apart in the millennia since they accomplished their task, until a shocking revelation about their purpose on Earth brings them together again. The movie is gorgeous to look at, and the starry cast elevates some shaky material, but it's far from an essential MCU film—it's the content of the credits scenes that made all the headlines. —ES

spiderman no way home
Sony Pictures Entertainment

22. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

It's no secret that Spider-Man: No Way Home trades on the memory of the previous Spider-iterations, a risky gamble that could easily be lame or confusing or both. Spider-Man: No Way Home works better than it has any right to, but it also asks for emotional beats that fall short and seems to lose the thread on what made the current Spidey Tom Holland's iteration of this character charming. Does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. Spider-Man: No Way Home is a goliath that feels destined to eat the world, a potent combination of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe and nostalgia for what came before. Even bringing back Tobey Macguire, Andrew Garfield, and Alfred Molina couldn't save No Way Home from itself. —Esther Zuckerman

Thor The Dark World
Marvel Studios

21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

The purpose was clear: Marvel hired veteran Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor to give Thor an epic, fantasy facelift in the vein of the HBO phenomenon. Dark magic, sword fights galore, and a grit familiar to fans of DC's comic book movies replaced the romance and fish-out-of-water comedy of the first installment. Thank Odin for Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman's chemistry and the fanciful evil of Tom Hiddleston's Loki; the overly complicated plot to extract a liquid Infinity Stone known as the Aehter out of Jane muddies Christopher Eccleston's villain, Malekith the Accursed, and forces The Dark World to end on another portal-filled, near-apocalypse moment. But the relationships are everything, and Loki's shift to Hannibal Lecter mode gives this sequel a dramatic high that can back up the special effects. —Matt Patches

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Marvel Studios

20. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Not much happens in the snappy, solarized, but ultimately unsurprising sequel to Marvel's surprise 2014 hit. Turns out that's exactly what Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon, and Baby Groot needed to come to life and become more than pawns in a game of Infinity Stone chess. In Vol. 2, director James Gunn splits up the gang and drops them in increasingly manic situations, like an intergalactic version of a '70s-era Looney Tunes compilations. Even more than the wall-to-wall vintage tunes, it's the rhythmic banter that whisks around the galaxy. Drax and Star-Lord's uncomfortable backroom chats; Star-Lord and Gamora's Sam-and-Diane banter; Gamora and Nebula's sibling war; Yondu and Rocket's prickly bonding; and Rocket parenting Baby Groot back to adulthood. Great characters can take you anywhere, and in their perfectly enjoyable but pretty basic attempt at blockbuster-dom, the Guardians go for a spin. —MP

Thor 2011
Paramount Pictures

19. Thor (2011)

Bringing in classicist Kenneth Branagh to give Marvel's godly hero a canted, Shakespearean touch made perfect sense. Same with casting Chris Hemsworth, bulky, blonde, and unfamiliar enough to audiences that his accidental descent to Earth felt like a surprise at the time. The revered Natalie Portman playing brilliant and romantic? Perfect. The maniacal Tom Hiddleston? Another on-point discovery. So what happened with Thor? Too contained to make good on the promise of grand fantasy (jumping from Asgard to middle-of-nowhere New Mexico was... a choice) and rarely vicious enough to let Hemsworth and Hiddleston channel the Bard, the movie is a flat, endless road to Avengers land in desperate need of a Bifrost scenic route. The silver lining: Hemsworth and Portman, the only superhero screen couple to replicate the romance of Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder in 1978 Superman. —MP

Avengers Infinity War
Marvel/Walt Disney Pictures

18. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

How much Marvel is too much Marvel? That's been a question worth asking since the first Avengers film, which first attempted to tie together a group of familiar faces—and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye—into a rag-tag superteam of heroes. Avengers: Infinity War, which clocks in at a lengthy 2 hours and 40 minutes, provides an answer: This is too much Marvel. While it's possible to praise the sheer scale of the film and the audacity of its shocking (and, yes, genuinely chilling) finale, there are also long stretches of this movie that feel rudderless. Why should anyone care about Infinity Stones? Just because you can make a movie where the Guardians of the Galaxy meet Thor, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, the Hulk, and Black Widow—along with a host of other supporting characters—doesn't mean it's a good idea. Sometimes a smaller toy box is necessary. —DJ

Doctor Strange
Marvel Studios

17. Doctor Strange (2016)

If Marvel can craft a special-effects-driven mega-blockbuster out of Doctor Strange, a Greenwich Village-dwelling sorcerer dreamed up by Steve Ditko in 1963, they can make a movie out of anything. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) doesn't exactly double down on the comic's trippy imagery or capture the character's beatnik appeal—mainstream audiences and Disney investors aren't exactly looking for a Jodorowsky film with capes—but he does stage some appropriately mind-bending, kid-friendly bursts of psychedelic trickery. The Inception-style cityscapes folding in on themselves are striking, and the film's finale, where Strange bends time to create an infinite loop in the Dark Dimension, is the rare third act in a Marvel film that's more fun than what preceded it. Strange's arc from jerk to gent, deftly played by a rakish Benedict Cumberbatch, is cut from the Iron Man cloth, but the stitching is more intricate than it probably needs to be at this point. That's commendable. —DJ

Captain America Civil War
Marvel Studios

16. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

The promotional material for the third Captain America movie, which resembles an Avengers film in both scale and tone, promised a showdown between #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan, with fans encouraged to pick sides. But with its $1 billion-plus worldwide box office haul, the real winner was obviously #TeamMoney. As a piece of corporate synergy—not to mention a document of Hollywood deal-brokering and celebrity ego-massaging—Captain America: Civil War is a shiny, market-tested achievement. As a movie, it feels like the cliffhanger-filled season finale of a long-running TV series you mostly watch out of a dogged sense of obligation. Beyond the much-hyped airport battle sequence, which contains some delightful comic book acrobatics and maybe the funniest three seconds in any Marvel movie, the 147-minute saga is a long battle where little is gained and less is learned. —DJ

spider-man far from home
Marvel Studios

15. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Removing Spider-Man from his friendly neighborhood in New York City proves to be a challenge for this over-anxious sequel, which finds Marvel's cheery take on the character, still played with wry humor by Tom Holland, going on an occasionally inexplicable international tour with his high school classmates and teachers. With Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man out of the picture following the events in Avengers: Endgame, Holland's Parker must once again work through his ever-present daddy issues, go to great lengths to hide his web-slinging secret identity, and grapple with the warring responsibilities of hero-dom and teenager-dom. Luckily, he's joined by Zendaya's droll love interest MJ, Jacob Batalon's gregarious BFF Ned, and Jake Gyllenhaal's archly meta Mysterio, one of Marvel's more enjoyably unhinged antagonists. (Even if the effects here are underwhelming, relying far too much on lame-looking drones to generate suspense, Gyllenhaal still brings that Sean Paul-loving energy to the proceedings.) Compared to Sam Raimi's gripping Spider-Man 2, which remains a high-water mark for the superhero genre as a whole, and last year's dizzying Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which offered up an inventive visual take on the dusty source material, Spider-Man: Far From Home can't help but feel a bit like a fancy-looking postcard from a trip you'll likely forget in a few months. —DJ

doctor strange in the multiverse of madness
Marvel Studios

14. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Fans' excitement when none other than Sam Raimi was announced to direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was twofold: He's responsible for some of the best superhero movies ever with his Spider-Man trilogy, and, with the Evil Deads and Drag Me to Hell under his belt, he's well suited for the horror-ish movie Multiverse of Madness was styled to be. Now only too aware of the dangers of the multiverse, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) stumbles into a teen girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who possesses the uncontrollable ability to universe-hop and claims to have met another, darker version of himself while on the run from a demonic force. To help the kid out, Strange hits up Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), which might not be the best idea—especially when the lure of a universe in which Wanda and her family are happily together becomes too much to resist. The film plays out the requisite Marvel story beats, but allows plenty of room for Raimi to do his thing, essentially trapping his characters in a haunted house version of a superhero movie. —ES

ant man and the wasp
Marvel Studios

13. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

The first Ant-Man was a rambunctious and clever take on the familiar Marvel origin story, introducing audiences to shrinking superhero dad Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his extended family of friends and reluctant crime-fighters. The sequel is an even funnier and sillier refinement of the first chapter, ditching some of the heavier elements and going all-in on the gags. Though other entries in the MCU have been filled with sitcom-ish banter—and Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok was happy to deflate its own self-important genre trappings—this is the first one that really plays like a proper comedy. (It recalls the original Ghostbusters in the way it combines special effects and irreverence.) Rudd has a way of putting an absurd spin on even the most mundane lines, Michael Peña again steals every scene he's in, and returning director Peyton Reed, free of the production rumors that surrounding the first film, approaches the pint-sized action beats with the goal of upending viewer expectations. Luckily, it's the rare blockbuster with charming human moments that doesn't feel the need to overcompensate with scenes of mass destruction or constantly apologize for its modest scale. It's content with being small. —DJ

shang chi
Marvel Studios

12. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

As the first MCU movie to feature an Asian lead as well as the first with a nearly entirely East Asian cast, there was doubtless considerable pressure on Shang-Chi to live up to expectations while also delivering the origin story of a character whose general vibe in the comics would today be considered ill-advised. But far from exoticizing its Eastern influences and cultural connections, Shang-Chi delivers a mix of East and West without downplaying one for the other. A good portion of the movie, maybe a third, is subtitled, and the martial arts-inspired fight scenes make the blurry, visually incoherent cut-to-pieces sequences in prior MCU offerings look like a small child smashing action figures together. Instead of encouraging your eyes to glaze over while you wait for the scene to end, the action in Shang-Chi will make you sit forward in your seat, a welcome burst of energy the new crop of movies needs to find its purpose. —ES

avengers endgame
Marvel Studios

11. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

One of Marvel's greatest superpowers is convincing its loyal audience that each successive event film is "the big one," a culmination of everything that came before it and a bold leap forward into the future. (Avengers: Endgame will likely be remembered as the Marvel movie that launched the series into the Disney+ "content" era.) As a recipe for box office success, it clearly works; as a way to make satisfying movies, the results are often mixed. Each team-up asks: How big is too big? But the shrewdest move the Russo Brothers, returning yet again to the director chairs to marshal these characters along, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make here is pulling back some of the excess and bloat of Infinity War, which toggled between too many plotlines and dragged for long stretches. Despite a lengthy runtime, Avengers: Endgame is a more satisfying hang than its predecessor because the post-snap landscape is simply less crowded, allowing for fun digressions like a mid-movie meta riff on Back to the Future II that sees the heroes revisit previous entries in the series through the magic of time travel. Even if you're unmoved by the solemn gravitas-chasing of the ending, there's still fun to be found in the margins. —DJ

Iron Man 3
Marvel Studios

10. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Robert Downey Jr.'s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang writer-director Shane Black polarized audiences with his gun-toting take on the character: Marvel diehards waited three episodes to finally see Iron Man's classic (and problematic?) villain The Mandarin only to have the rug pulled out from under them by Ben Kingsley's deadbeat thespian switcheroo. We couldn't have been happier—after a Part 2 mired by politics and world-building, Black's back-to-basics approach arms Tony Stark with self-referential wit, cripples him with anxiety, and sends the power armor through hell and back. (The airplane free-fall rescue remains one of the most spectacular sequences in Marvel history). Clunky third-act twists be damned, the contrast between light-on-the-toes comedic action with the unnerving threat of terrorism is proof that popcorn movies can still have bite. —MP

Captain America Winter Soldier
Marvel Studios

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

As TV professionals, brothers/directors Anthony and Joe Russo have a keen sense of how episodic series function, and how singular entries in those series must bend the rules to pop. The logic that fuels a random episode of Arrested Development also applies to Winter Soldier; from the cheeky start to the crashing-helicarrier finish, the Russos guide Cap through a twisty, adrenaline-pumping hunt for truth, echoing '70s paranoia thrillers and Bourne set pieces, while never deviating too far from the Marvel playbook. The movie gets out of Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson's way, whose rat-a-tat chemistry is more like the '60s Avengers than the comic book counterparts. The movie goes batshit crazy—Toby Jones' Zola is a supercomputer! Garry Shandling whispers "Hail, Hydra"!—and we know exactly how it'll end. But following Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson, with occasional spurts of Sam Jackson fire, has the warm, fuzzy feeling of that TV episode you go back to over and over again. With $199 million added to the budget. —MP

Spider-Man Homecoming
Sony/Marvel Studios

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Paraded around as the company's stab at a "John Hughes movie," Spider-Man: Homecoming understands the scale and sensibility needed for the friendly, neighborhood crime-fighter to take web-enabled flight. This Peter Parker, played by actual young person Tom Holland, is a bodega-sandwich-eating kid from Queens, an overachieving student, a hormonal wreck, and a superpowered child dying to prove himself to the adults in the room. He makes mistakes. He overshoots. And it's not until his blue-collar adversary, a scrap-salvager-turned-arms-dealer willing to steal from the government to get his, turns out to be his prom date's dad that the adventure feels life or death. Vibrant, sly, and gleefully elastic, Homecoming staves off the cosmic Marvel universe for a transportive, microcosmic alternative with an unspoken lesson: With great power comes great responsibility. —MP

Marvel Studios

7. Ant-Man (2015)

With his combination of leading man good looks and near-constant expression of wry bemusement, Paul Rudd is an ideal modern superhero. He's both in on the joke and the butt of it. Most importantly, he looks equally cool and dumb in a tricked-out ant costume. While many tears were shed when Edgar Wright left the project in the development stage, director Peyton Reed (Down With Love) gives the origin story surrounding Rudd's performance as Scott Lang a bouncy rhythm and mischievous sense of humor. His transition from small-time crook to even smaller crimefighter is emotionally satisfying, narratively brisk, and completely absurd. (The Thomas the Tank Engine gag in the finale remains in a class by itself.) Plus, Ant-Man is one of the few Marvel movies where all the actors are having fun on the same frequency, with Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and especially scene-stealer Michael Peña turning the film into Marvel's version of Ocean's Eleven. —DJ

Thor Ragnarok
Marvel Studios

6. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

The Thor series, with its occasionally leaden mix of earnest mythology, frantic action, and hokey jokes, was the Marvel property most in need of an upgrade. Ragnarok doesn't abandon the core elements of Thor—Chris Hemsworth still stars as the hunky, Hammer-throwing god—but Taika Waititi, fresh off the success of his wiseass adventure film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, optimizes the comedic potential of the character, turning the third chapter into an absurd, Technicolor zing-fest. The plot, which centers around the hero's battles with Cate Blanchett's Hela and his quest to stop the titular apocalypse, is mostly nonsense, and the action (particularly in the film's final busy third) isn't that distinguishable from other Marvel throwdowns. But new characters like Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie, Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster, and Korg, a friendly rock monster voiced by Waititi himself, make this a wacky sci-fi universe you'd actually want to hang out in. —DJ

The Avengers
Marvel Studios

5. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)

To a certain type of comic book fan, the mere existence of a movie like The Avengers is a miracle. There had been movies and TV shows that teamed up superheroes before—Mystery Men goofed on the premise back in the '90s—but no one had ever assembled a squad of do-gooders with the same level of gravitas and scale. Watching Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and, yes, even Jeremy Renner's put-upon Hawkeye trade punches, secrets, and Joss Whedon's self-aware banter felt like a seismic rupture in nerd-dom's space-time continuum. Looking back, the movie's impact and influence on Hollywood moviemaking might be more negative than positive, as anyone who endured Suicide Squad can testify, but, for a brief moment, Marvel's carefully rolled out monument to itself stood tall and proud.—DJ

Captain America The First Avenger
Paramount Pictures

4. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America's introduction isn't the jokiest or zippiest or most action-packed entry in the MCU, but like super-soldier Steve Rogers, it's a laboratory-made throwback with equal parts heart, soul, and muscle. To put it bluntly: It's an honest-to-goodness movie in a mega-franchise full of piggybacking installments. Under the eye of Joe Johnston, who melds the throwback glimmer of The Rocketeer with the phantasmagoria of the Red Skull and his laser-blasting HYDRA cronies, The First Avenger gifts Chris Evans a meaty role. For emasculated wannabe Steve, becoming "The Captain" takes more than beefed-up, Nazi-pounding brawn. The journey towards self-sacrifice pairs him with Peggy Carter, a secret agent who makes our hero into her romantic interest, and puts him through the death of his best friend—a move that, even sequels later, weighs on the character. Practical fight effects, a spine-tingling makeup job for Hugo Weaving's villain, and Alan Silvestri's rousing score give The First Avenger an iconic polish, but in the end, it's Evans who wields the shield with a sincerity that most superhero movies—hell, most Hollywood blockbusters—don't dare to summon. —MP

Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Studios

3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is a wet fart of American rudeness in the grand tradition of Bart Simpson, Cartman, and those bumper stickers with Calvin peeing on things. Writer and director James Gunn, a spiky-haired genre nut with a background in Troma, was recruited to adapt one of Marvel's more obscure properties about a ragtag gang of space criminals including a talking tree, a green alien, and a gun-toting raccoon. Like the even more foul-mouthed Deadpool, which pushed the envelope into R-rated territory, Guardians is a comedy predicated on the audience's awareness of comic book conventions, tropes, and cliches it can playfully tweak. There's no Chris Pratt rolling his eyes as Star-Lord without Robert Downey Jr. smirking as Iron Man first. But for all the spirited irreverence, the movie's greatest asset is actually the blend of sentimentality and nostalgia evoked by the '80s jams on the soundtrack. Once you're hooked on the feeling, there's no going back. —DJ

Iron Man
Paramount Pictures

2. Iron Man (2008)

It's easy to forget that casting Robert Downey Jr. was no one's idea of a sure thing. The actor's machine-gun speaking style, archly ironic tone, and bad-boy reputation made him an awkward choice to kick-start a massive family-friendly movie franchise. But it turned out to be a savvy move, immediately giving the Marvel films much-needed cultural cred—Downey was fresh off acclaimed comeback roles in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, and Zodiac—and establishing a manic comic approach that's present in each subsequent movie. The DNA of what's to come is all here. Director Jon Favreau piles on special effects, fancy cars, and even a world-expanding post-credits stinger with Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, but this is The Downey Show. You can't look away. Even with Captain America emerging as the beating heart of the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark remains its chattering id. —DJ

Black Panther
Marvel/Walt Disney Pictures

1. Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther is the only Marvel film that truly understands the importance of creating a complex, sympathetic villain that you actually gave a damn about. In addition to grounding his ambitious and action-packed drama of royal intrigue in a larger historical context, director Ryan Coogler (Creed) gave us the most compelling bad guy since Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight: Michael B. Jordan's deeply radical Erik Killmonger, who challenges Chadwick Boseman's titular king, almost overwhelms the movie that surrounds him. The potency and weight of the ideas he introduces into the film create tension with the car chases, war rhinos, and CG mayhem of typical Marvel fare. Somehow, the deep supporting cast, including Danai Gurira's proud warrior Okoye and Letitia Wright's Q-like Shuri, keeps the movie humming along through each eye-popping section. Black Panther is crowd-pleasing, populist entertainment in the Marvel mode, but it's also thematically richer than anything the company has produced. —DJ

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