Brian's MCU Rankings

With Avengers: Endgame opening this weekend, I felt it only right to take a look back at where we have come over the course of the last 11 years and 21 movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is historic in a number of ways, unlike anything that came before, and laying the foundation (for better or for worse) of what is likely to come in the future. You may suffer from superhero fatigue, and you are right to find yourself in such a state, but what Disney and Marvel have done with these films is undeniable and immeasurable feat. I did a ranking of the Marvel movies back in 2017 and in 2015 but for such a momentous occasion as Endgame, I thought we should bring in a few more voices than just my own. We started off with the rankings of Megan Spell from the On the Download podcast. Yesterday, we featured Ariel Rada from the Geek101 podcast. And I’ll conclude the series tomorrow with my updated rankings. Thanks for reading! -Brian

NOTE: I put the movies in tiers in part because I have the NFL Draft on in the background and it feels right and in part because, for me, so many of these movies are very close in overall quality. Consider each tier to be a handful of movies that are, by the letter grade system, all about the same grade in my book.


21. Thor: The Dark World
Still the only MCU property that I consider to be actually bad. Lots of these movies have flaws but Dark World is an entire movie of flaws. It took the shine off of both Hemsworth and the titular character and it is, frankly, completely pointless.

20. The Incredible Hulk
I think both Ed Norton and Tim Roth give strong performances here and the movie itself is far from a lost cause. It feels disconnected, however, from the rest of the MCU and it just lacks most of the craftsmanship you come to expect from these movies.

19. Iron Man 2
IM2 is incredibly watchable and mostly competent. That’s…about it? Perhaps its greatest sin is having Sam Rockwell at its disposal and making him a beating. Still, there’s plenty of fun Tony Stark-iness and it’s fine overall.

18. Ant-Man
I really, really like elements of Ant-Man, starting with the casting of the immortal Paul Rudd, and the movie has some great moments. But there’s a real struggle to translate (and, perhaps, dumb down) Edgar Wright’s script and as a result, I always walk away from this one feeling like it could amount to so much more. (Turns out they just needed another go round to get it right. See below.) 


17. Doctor Strange
Strange has two big factors in its favor. One, the visuals are stunning. The fight scenes are relatively bland, but the look of the movie is outstanding. Two, it’s got a great cast. Cumberbatch, my beloved Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, etc. are all excellent actors slumming it for a silly superhero movie. I love that. The plot, though, is very lackluster and I think it feels like a 2010 movie, not a 2016 movie. For me, it’s one of the least rewatchable MCU movies.

16. Thor
I have a soft spot for Thor because it launched Chris Hemsworth and for that, we all owe the movie a great debt. I also think Kenneth Branagh did yeoman’s work in making this movie work AT ALL even if its actual returns are mostly above average. The settings and themes should’ve made this movie inaccessible but instead it ticks along quite well for the most part. A miserable usage of Natalie Portman, however. At least this was rectified in Dark World oh wait it super was not.

15. Captain America: The First Avenger
This is a strong, capable origin story. No more and no less. The stroke of genius comes in the final scene when Steve Rogers is brought out of the ice into the present day rather than succumbing to the temptation of having Cap spend two or three movies in the 40’s before jumping him to the future. You get just enough of Cap’s righteousness, his war-era moral fortitude, and then drop him into the modern age where his virtues are dorky but refreshing instead of obnoxious.

14. Captain Marvel
There’s a lot to like here: Brie Larson is excellent in her role, and of course I love the 90’s vibe. It’s a fun movie but one that feels a bit insubstantial in its actual content compared to the best of the MCU. Like Doctor Strange, there’s a bit of origin story fatigue in play here as well.

13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are some real highs within Ultron that I greatly appreciate. That said, you can also see the studio interference on this one more so than anywhere else in the MCU. But it does feel like Whedon lost the plot a few times and Spader’s Ultron never quite reaches the heights that we expected and the movie demands.

12. Iron Man 3
This is, somewhat shockingly, the most divisive movie within the MCU. Its fans will argue its virtues vehemently and its detractors will go so far as to compare it to the worst of the worst superhero movies. I come down much closer to the former rather than the latter. In fact, I LOVE two thirds of this movie and I think Shane Black brought out the absolute best in both Tony Stark and Iron Man. The issue for me is the last 30 minutes. The movie squanders a great twist on the Mandarin character and then drowns us in a sea of Iron Man suits (ALL OF THE IRON MAN SUITS!!!) and by the end you’re just like, “Enough. Please. Please stop.”


11. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
My expectations for Volume 2 were very high. Too high, it turned out. Separating the Guardians from one another had mixed results and I think James Gunn rested on his laurels a bit too much when it came to copy-pasting the formula. But still, what a fun movie! And, as I’ve said many times, no movie or franchise has ever been made worse by the addition of Kurt Russell.

10. Ant-Man and the Wasp
This movie got everything right that the first movie missed on but still maintained the tone that Edgar Wright’s original script was going for. It just feels more comfortable overall and thus, it flows much better than Ant-man does for me. The addition of Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp as a character who is equal to or greater than the established hero is AWESOME and it strengthens this franchise moving forward exponentially.

9. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America is the least interesting of the core Avengers to me and thus, you have to stick him into interesting storylines to make his movies work. Mission accomplished here in what is basically Avengers 2.5. It is remarkable that the Russos were able to pit our heroes against each other without making any of them unlikable (except Vision who, I think we can all agree, can kick rocks). My issue with Civil War remains the pacing (there are, like, 450 scene changes in the first 30 minutes) and the overstuffed nature of the plot. I get it, I understand why this was necessary, but still, it’s a lot to take in and it doesn’t always flow seamlessly.  

8. The Avengers
I think this remains the greatest achievement in comic book movie history. The team-up thing has almost become blasé at this point and I’m not sure younger generations, like my son, who were born into a movie world dominated by cinematic universes can quite understand what a massive undertaking this movie was for Joss Whedon and how risky the entire phase one was for Disney/Marvel. We’re now seven years and 157 Marvel movies out from Avengers and still, it looks good, the characters mesh well, the stakes feel significant, and the movie works really, really well. It’s almost impossible that this thing worked, and still works, as well as it did.

TIER II (Stands alone for the time being.)
7. Avengers: Infinity War
I’ve had Infinity War both higher and lower on my list because, in actuality, it’s an incomplete. Until I see Endgame later today, I don’t think I can properly evaluate and understand the implications of Infinity War. Regardless, this movie has a grand story, the fight sequences bang, and, against impossible odds, they brought the long-awaited reveal on Thanos home in a big, spectacular way. 

TIER I (Truly, these could go in almost any order and I’ve rearranged them several times.)
6. Iron Man
The OG of the MCU, much like Avengers, deserves so much credit for setting the stage and building the foundation not just for this universe but for the modern blockbuster in general (for better or for worse). It’s an outstanding example of how to do a true origin story, how to stoke interest in your universe, and how to cast your characters. Can you imagine Tony Stark being played by anyone other than Robert Downey, Jr.? NO! And the entire MCU rests upon his shoulders.


5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Finally. Finally, we got a Spider-Man movie that got both Peter Parker AND Spider-Man right. FINALLY. Tom Holland is outstanding in both parts of this role, the John Hughes-esque feel of the movie is the perfect conduit through which to tell the story, and Michael Keaton gives us the best villain within the MCU and does so with grit. 

4. Captain America: Winter Soldier
You can make a strong case (as Ariel did yesterday) that Winter Soldier is the best movie in this universe. Much like its descendant Civil War, the story surrounding Steve Rogers is what makes the movie work and boy, is this an exciting, well-designed story that essentially turns the movie into a spy thriller with incredible action. (INCREDIBLE action.) The only dips in quality are Robert Redford’s mailed-in performance (so disappointing to me) and the weird Nazi Computer scene that really goes off the rails. The Winter Soldier himself, however: AWESOME.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Of all the movies on this list, I remember my first Guardians viewing the best. It was an INCREDIBLE theater experience, one of those all-too-rare occasions where the audience was totally with it and the movie brought us all pure, unadulterated joy. It was a wholly unique experience and while the vibe has been copied (by its own sequel, even) since, it still retains its brilliance after many, many viewings.

2. Thor: Ragnarok
Ragnarok did so much to restore Hemsworth’s movie star status while casting the character in a whole new light. I remember thinking Taika Waititi was a weird choice for director and holding a bit of skepticism going in and then, within the first three minutes, understanding exactly what the movie was going for and knowing that it was perfect. To top it all off, whereas Guardians suffers a bit from a mediocre villain, Ragnarok brings in Queen Cate Blanchett who absolutely nails her role and gives the movie some bite. ALSO JEFF GOLDBLUM!!!


1. Black Panther
This is a perfect comic book movie and very nearly a perfect movie overall. It has substance, it has style, it has an outstanding lead actor surrounded by even more outstanding supporting players, and it has a great villain. Black Panther is the total embodiment of what can happen when a studio gives a great director a ton of money and total freedom to make the movie he/she wants to make. The cultural importance of this movie cannot be overstated but I think that, in some ways (for all the right reasons), has come to overshadow how good the movie is just as a movie. I see lots of movies every year that have great intentions and tell an important story but are not actually good movies. Black Panther is a great movie.

Ariel's MCU Rankings

With Avengers: Endgame opening this weekend, I felt it only right to take a look back at where we have come over the course of the last 11 years and 21 movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is historic in a number of ways, unlike anything that came before, and laying the foundation (for better or for worse) of what is likely to come in the future. You may suffer from superhero fatigue, and you are right to find yourself in such a state, but what Disney and Marvel have done with these films is undeniable and immeasurable feat. I did a ranking of the Marvel movies back in 2017 and in 2015 but for such a momentous occasion as Endgame, I thought we should bring in a few more voices than just my own. Yesterday featured the rankings of Megan Spell from the On the Download podcast. Today, we feature Ariel Rada from the Geek101 podcast. And I’ll conclude the series tomorrow with my updated rankings. Thanks for reading! -Brian


21. Thor: The Dark World
What a boring, forgettable waste of time. Dark World was an effortless sequel that didn’t know the riches it had at its disposable. Thor’s world can be full of magic, mysticism, and monsters but instead we got more Kat Dennings. BOO.

20. Iron Man 3
My distaste for Shane Black has been vindicated since Iron Man 3 came out in 2013. There were parts of Iron Man 3 that were ultimately “fine” but its complete disregard for the continuity and context of the MCU make this film a baffling addition to the MCU.

19. Thor
Not a great showing for the god of thunder. My distaste for Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation is probably due to my expectation and knowledge of source material but I’ll stick by it. Thor is a warrior-god with limitless power and instead we get awkward smiles, boring desert “fights”, and Natalie Portman phoning it in.

18. Avengers: Age of Ultron
In 2012, Joss Whedon managed to pull off a miraculous feat: bringing the Avengers together in one movie as pseudo-sequel with a massive, star filled ensemble cast. The follow-up should have been much easier to pull off...yet he didn’t. Whedon’s worst instincts came out in this one. The film was clunky, had baffling character relationships, and was bogged down by the universe’s machinations. A shame because having James Spader play one of Marvel’s premier villains should have been an amazing experience.


17. Iron Man 2
It always takes me a minute to remember that Iron Man 2 was only the third film in the MCU franchise. Apparently, Jon Favreau got lots of push back on how to craft this film and as a result we get this messy sequel. There’s still lots of good in IM2. The bad? The baffling acting choices of Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko and a lackluster conclusion to the final showdown.

16. The Incredible Hulk
I would LOVE to put this film higher. I really would. There’s so much I like about it. Ed Norton and Tim Roth were great casting choices and the Hulk was given plenty of time to shine. Its greatest sin, I think, is that it failed to commit to what type of movie it wanted to be. It was scary but not too scary, action-y but not too much action, dramatic but not too dramatic. It was fine. Just fine.

15. Doctor Strange
I’ve seen Doctor Strange once, in the theater. I got everything from it that I needed and never needed to look back. It’s forgettable. There are cool visuals but if I need that itch scratched, I’ll watch Inception. The film is clever but doesn’t scratch the surface of what a Doctor Strange movie could do. Want a better Doctor Strange movie? Watch the fights in Infinity War.

14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn’s second go round with the notorious space vigilantes is a fun space-romp. It’s exactly what you want from a GotG sequel. He doubles down on what makes the first film successful and moves away from some of the rough parts of the first film. It’s a fine sequel but it didn’t have the franchise growth that the best MCU sequel films have.

13. Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel is a wondrous movie that knows exactly what it is and has no hesitations or reservations about accomplishing that goal. The film is unpredictable and fun. Director Anna Boden isn’t scared to throw curveballs and allows the film to wear its badge of honor proudly. A strong entry. 

12. Captain America: The First Avenger
The farther away I get from Steve Rogers’ the more I heart it <3. It’s not a great film. The emotions and ideas are all there but the MCU at this stage was a baby still learning how to walk; as was Chris Evans in his role. Don’t worry, if you’re a Cap fan you’ll love the top of my list.


11. Ant-Man and the Wasp
Sequel’s haven’t had a good rep on this list so far, but Peyton Reed’s follow-up film is quite solid. The movie has some awesome action set pieces and is emotionally strong. Also, Evangeline Lilly should be in more things, thanks.

10. Guardians of the Galaxy
I’m admittedly quite low on James Gunn’s space comedy franchise. Why? I love action. Guardians of the Galaxy is high on laughs and adventure set pieces but low on plot and watchable fight scenes. The movie is simple but effective. The stars? A raccoon and a tree. Who woulda thunk it?

9. Spider-man: Homecoming
Marvel needs Spider-man to be strong. The success of the franchise’s future rests on whether or not Tom Holland’s Spider-man can carry films. Homecoming has awesome moments and a GREAT villain. I think its greatest sin is it’s over reliance on the MCU’s world. If Marvel can identify what makes their Spider-man work and capitalize on that, fans should be happy.

8. Avengers: Infinity War
This movie shouldn’t get to be on this list. It’s an incomplete movie. The directors made choices in the direction they want to go with this film/franchise. I don’t like those directions, but I respect them (and hope they pay off). The reason this film gets such a high ranking is that the action scenes are OUT OF THIS WORLD AMAZING. We’ll see how it all ends.

7. Black Panther
Ryan Coogler’s afro-futurism epic was great. Ground-breaking, even. Still, it’s not quite the masterpiece I’ve seen it hailed as. The fight scenes are boring and it doesn’t stick the landing. Still, the way the Coogler has crafted Wakanda is masterful and the classic tale of kings and brothers is timeless. Wakanda forever!

6. Ant-Man
My love for Ant-man is a shocker to everyone who reads my MCU rankings. Ant-man is funny, charming, wonderfully paced, and full of great action set pieces. The movie has a great cast (despite a boring, predictable villain). Ant-man’s focused story doesn’t let it get bogged down by some of the pacing issues that plague other MCU films. One of my favorite origin films.

5. Thor: Ragnarok
Someone finally did it. Six years after Thor’s introduction, we were finally given a film that did the character justice. Taika Waititi knew how to use Hemsworth, he knew how to use Thor, he knew how to craft this crazy Kirby space universe. He did it! Ragnarok is the best ride in the MCU and while I’m not crazy on the overall MCU implications (as well as the use of The Hulk), the movie is so silly and fun that you tend to ignore all of that and enjoy the rollercoaster. P.S. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is AMAZING.


4. Avengers
This movie isn’t perfect. There’s some tough pacing in the beginning and is in no way able to stand on its own. Even so, Joss Whedon’s Avengers was able to take the unprecedented task of tying this universe together in a coherent way and nailed it. Avengers set the bar for how team-up movies should be. Whedon balanced silly costumes, multiple story arcs, and a star-filled cast to create a cultural phenomenon.

3. Captain America: Civil War
This movie. THIS MOVIE. Civil War was almost as difficult to pull off as the original Avengers. The Russo brothers had to be able to put two whole teams of heroes against each other without making either side completely unlikable. The movie has a brilliant villain with a brilliant plot. The action is *chefs kiss* perfect. The motivations are simple and effective. Black Panther’s introduction is flawless! The only criticism I have for this film is that it took twenty minutes to go out of its way to introduce the other new character, Spider-man (who ended up playing perfectly into the action scenes so we forgave it). As a strong Team Cap member, I can’t recommend this movie enough.

2. Iron Man
Rarely do you see the genesis of a franchise remain so close to the top as the years go by. Favreau’s Iron Man is able to stay at the top of the MCU due to its tight script/story, excellent character moments, and awe-inducing introduction of superheroes to the modern world. The movie is near flawless and I’ll have no one slander it.


1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This whole list I’ve been ragging on sequels and yet a sequel stands alone at the top. The Winter Soldier was a wakeup call to the MCU to be better. And it worked. This film is full of emotional attachment, was the coming out party for Chris Evans as an actor ,and it might still have the best action scene in the MCU (elevator fight hellooooo). Cap’s second go round is the most balanced, complex film in the series; successful adaptation of excellent source material, top notch action scenes, A-List actors, emotional moments, heroic sacrifices, GIANT ROBOT BRAIN ROOMS (okay maybe not this one). My tendency to lean towards action films and justice make Captain America: The Winter Soldier my #1 MCU film.

Ariel is a frequent Mad About Movies guest voice and contributor. His podcast, Geek101, can be found wherever fine podcasts are sold.

Megan's MCU Rankings

With Avengers: Endgame opening this weekend, I felt it only right to take a look back at where we have come over the course of the last 11 years and 21 movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is historic in a number of ways, unlike anything that came before, and laying the foundation (for better or for worse) of what is likely to come in the future. You may suffer from superhero fatigue, and you are right to find yourself in such a state, but what Disney and Marvel have done with these films is undeniable and immeasurable feat. I did a ranking of the Marvel movies back in 2017 and in 2015 but for such a momentous occasion as Endgame, I thought we should bring in a few more voices than just my own. Today, I present the rankings of Megan Spell from the On the Download podcast. Tomorrow, we’ll feature Ariel Rada from the Geek101 podcast. And I’ll conclude the series on Friday with my updated rankings. Thanks for reading! -Brian


21. The Incredible Hulk
What is there to say here? It is a mess and can easily be overlooked. Plus, the only main recasting in the whole series, so it feels disconnected. We are all lucky we got through this stumbling block and kept the franchise going.

20. Iron Man 2
I used to not have so much disdain for this movie, but I watched it again recently and it is just not good. They so clearly don't know what to do with Tony Stark, so they revert him back to pre-Iron Man. Doesn't make sense. 

19. Thor: The Dark World
I watched this recently and wanted to really dig into it, but there just isn't much here for me. It is equally the "nerdiest" and takes itself very seriously. Meh.

18. Avengers: Age of Ultron
While the fallout from Ultron opens some interesting reflection (Civil War), I don't find much to praise here. Convoluted plot and a boring villain. Plus, I just don't care much about any of the new characters added.


17. Ant-Man
I have a bias against this movie because I love Edgar Wright and he got booted from this project. The Michael Pena storytelling device is cool, but other than that, this is a forgettable origin story to me.

16. Doctor Strange
I remember liking this a lot at the time but it has fallen over time in my regard. What an overqualified cast; I think people forget Rachel McAdams was even in this because she had so little to do.

15. Thor
Thor is my favorite Avenger these days, so I may be biased. But again, a middling entry in the origin stories.

14. Captain Marvel
Everything about this should have worked for me! 90's girl rock, Jude Law, Brie Larson. I didn't dislike it, it just seemed like a 2012 Marvel movie instead of a 2019 one. I felt they played it very safe, but also introduced a potential premise-breaking hero. Just seems poorly calculated on a few fronts.

13. Ant-Man and the Wasp
I just have a weird grudge where I think this should have been a Wasp-centric film. She is much more qualified and interesting. Marvel clearly has a women problem they are working on fixing; I just worry they are overthinking everything.


12. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
Good, but not as good as the original.

11. Captain America: The First Avenger
Entering the top tier now. Who doesn't want to watch Chris Evan's pummel Nazis? He could do it all day. While I think looking back this could be a little generic, it sets up Cap perfectly.

10. Avengers: Infinity War
I had trouble ranking this because the Russos had so much to do here. But I think they pulled it off brilliantly. The first time I've felt there were serious stakes, the payoff of Thanos as the biggest bad, and some fun team ups.

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I am a Bucky Barnes apologist, so I just think this is a fun one.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Everything I want out of a Spider-man movie is here. Very high school-centric, a believable villain, skipped right over his previously well documented origin story. Bonus points for the Michael Keaton Factor.

7. The Avengers
I'm a sucker for people putting aside their differences to fight for the greater good. You can't tell me you don't get chills when the theme kicks in during the battle of New York. 


6. Captain America: Civil War
The best Avengers movie isn't actually an "Avengers" movie. One Chris Hemsworth away from being top 3 for me.

5. Iron Man 3
I will defend Iron Man 3 until I die. It is a beautiful allegory of anxiety, depression, and addiction, while also being funny and serving our characters. It is the perfect topper to this trilogy and manages to subvert some dated tropes with the Mandarin character. Big fan.

4. Thor: Ragnarok
The first in my "directors matter" argument, the "soft reboot" of Thor is so unbelievably successful to me. I foresee this being the post-Endgame Marvel model, little side quests with fun pairings. And Queen Cate Blanchett.

3. Black Panther
Ultimately the biggest cultural moment, Black Panther is nearly flawless (some sloppy action, but forgivable). Marvel has never done world building better than this, which is enriched with some of the best performances and to me, the best Marvel villain. Coogler, we stan a legend.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy
I see Guardians as the beginning of this "auteur" Marvel era where they start giving the director more influence, which I think really enriches the extended universe. Funny, cohesive, and a, of course, fire soundtrack, this is when I really bought into the "universe", as opposed to just the earth-based entries.


1. Iron Man
How can you beat where it all began? I saw Iron Man maybe four times in theaters and will always watch it if I'm channel flipping. So much magic came together here that still influences lesser imitations. I hardly have any new insights to shed on this, but it is crazy to see how far we have come. Even if Tony doesn't make it through Endgame, at least we'll always have Obadiah Stane yelling, "Tony Stark was able to build this in a CAVE! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS!" Best line reading of all time.

Megan is a frequent Mad About Movies contributor and friend of the show. You can find her work at and find her podcast On the Download wherever fine podcasts are sold.