Marvel is celebrating ten years of its massively expanded universe, which now with Spider-Man: Far From Home stretches to 23 movies and a multitude of characters – many of whom have now met each other.
Marvel’s done an amazing job of creating a massive interlinked whole, but its parts aren’t equal.
23. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
It’s not that this movie is especially awful, it just doesn’t feel like it’s a part of the MCU any more (though it definitely is). Edward Norton plays the angry green guy, going head to head with Tim Roth’s Abomination. He also had a girlfriend – Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross. Remember what happened to her? No, neither does he.
22. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Chris Hemsworth is good value as Thor and there’s a great set piece at the end, but the fantasy sequel to Thor’s original fish-out-of-water story suffers from a rubbish baddie in Malekith and a so-so plot.
21. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The first half of this mainly ’40s-set movie where a scrawny, sickly Steve Rogers bonds with Bucky and Peggy and is rejected from the military is great – though his super-soldier second half doesn’t quite live up to the start. Ace supporting cast, though.
20. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Robert Downey Jr’s sparkling charisma carries this sequel which also introduces Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (and replaces Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle as Rhodey), but the villains were a bit of a let-down and the film couldn’t live up to the freshness of the first one.
19. Doctor Strange (2016)
Boasting Inception-style visuals and a top-notch cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor, Doctor Strange is an impressive addition to the MCU. Strange himself isn’t all that likeable however, and Rachel McAdams as his former love interest has bugger all to do.
18. Ant-Man (2015)
Paul Rudd’s introduction to the MCU was a good-hearted and funny standalone that felt very welcome after the mass destruction of Age of Ultron. It’s a bit fluffy compared to some of the MCU movies, but it’s highly re-watchable.
17. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The biggest of the MCU movies, hell, one of the biggest of all movies ever, brings together Wakandans, Guardians and Avengers from across the Universe and pitting them against one of the MCU’s better baddies, Thanos.
As expected in the MCU, the set pieces deliver throughout, but it’s the first half of a two-parter, and it sure feels like that.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Hyperintelligent sentient AI Ultron is a great baddie – the hideous progeny and Frankenstein’s monster-like creation of Tony Stark – and the movie plays enjoyably with horror tropes.
Here we meet new characters Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver and witness the beginning of the end of the relationship between Tony and Cap, though at times it feels a bit messy with too many characters and plot threads.
15. Thor (2011)
Chris Hemsworth made a wonderful God of Thunder in this origin story which also introduced us to Tom Hiddleston as Loki, one of the very best villains in the whole of the MCU. Shame his indestructible automaton Destroyer was a bit rubbish, then.
Still, Kenneth Branagh was a great choice to direct and the movie is packed with belly laughs as well as some actual pathos.
14. Captain Marvel (2019)
The MCU finally got its first female-led solo movie as Brie Larson made her debut as Carol Danvers, AKA Captain Marvel.
Whether it’s a good or bad thing, it’s very much the classic MCU origin movie and Larson more than holds her own against Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, in his biggest role in some time. It’s consistently fun, but compared to Black Panther, doesn’t feel like enough of an event.
13. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Possibly the biggest bait-and-switch in the MCU – the one surrounding villain The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley – delighted some and infuriated others.
Even though he didn’t turn out to be the supervillain we expected, the movie still has some ace set pieces, plays with big themes and even gives Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper a bit more to do than be exasperated with Tony.
12. Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
The MCU’s 20th movie (and the first to name a female superhero in its title), Ant-Man and The Wasp came as the perfect antidote to the grim business of Infinity War.
Building on the first film, it firmly cemented the Ant-Man film’s unique tone in the MCU, and put Evangeline Lilly’s ass-kicking Wasp front and centre. While not the weightiest Marvel entry, its humour and heart make it one of the most consistent and likeable.
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
A super good-natured high-school comedy boasting an excellent villain in Michael Keaton’s The Vulture.
Even though this was the third Spider-Man this century, it really worked. Tom Holland is the youngest Avenger and he brought a much-needed freshness to the franchise, plus we love the relationship with his bestie, Jacob Batalon’s Ned.
10. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
The Homecoming sequel had a lot to deal with being the final movie of Phase 3 and the first since Avengers: Endgame changed the MCU as we know it.
That it still manages to be a seriously entertaining Spider-Man adventure is to be applauded, with Holland, Batalon and Zendaya all growing into their roles. And it also manages to deliver one of the best MCU credits scenes.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)
This fun sequel in the intergalactic branch of the MCU brought us more banging tunes, cheeky gags, Rocket and Baby Groot and introduced new characters in the form of Pom Klementieff’s eccentric Mantis and Kurt Russell as Star-Lord’s old dad Ego the Living Planet. There’s some serious emotion here too in a movie very much about fathers and sons, and the families you make for yourself.
8. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Taika Waititi brought an anarchic indie sensibility to this giant MCU movie, which started with Thor fighting Hulk Gladiator-style and went on to encompass razing of whole realms. And Ragnarok still manages to be the funniest of Marvel’s movies to date, skilfully building in some corkers which don’t detract from the action.
Oh, and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is a joy.
7. Iron Man (2008)
The first movie in the MCU, and one that will always be close to our hearts. It’s where we first meet corrupt arms-dealing billionaire businessman Tony Stark who, via a kidnapping, begins to create the super-suit and the alter-ego we know so well.
Iron Man was completely fresh – sharp, funny, grown-up, it featured a superhero many of us had never heard of who instantly became a firm favourite. And it’s where all this madness began.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The first of the MCU movies to be directed by the Russo brothers, who before that were best known for TV shows Arrested Development and Community and the comedy You, Me and Dupree – which just goes to show Marvel aren’t afraid to take a risk and often it pays off.
Winter Soldier was a political thriller and gritty actioner as much as it was a superhero movie, with huge reveals that sent out waves across the whole of the MCU (and Agents of SHIELD) as well as kicking off the trajectory which will lead us to Avengers 4 and the end of phase 3 of the MCU.
5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
It can’t have been an easy task to wrap up the first 11 years of the MCU, but the Russo brothers managed it in style.
Emotional and epic, the Infinity War sequel managed to bring a satisfying end to some of the original Avengers’ arcs, while delivering plenty of moments for Marvel fans to savour and not let them get in the way of the story.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
As with Iron Man, not many people really knew who the Guardians actually were, so the movie was a potential risk. Fortunately Marvel put its trust in director James Gunn, whose background was in crazy comedy horror (he worked for Troma for a while).
Guardians introduced a new gang who were far more morally fluid and far less serious than the Avengers, including a talking raccoon and a tree who only says “I Am Groot”. It was pacey, funny, fresh and different, and the ’80s soundtrack rocked.
3. The Avengers (2012)
Back in 2012 there were doubts about whether teaming up that many heroes from different backgrounds, many of whom had already had their own origin stories, would work (post-Infinity War, and teaming up six heroes seems like nothing).
We were joyfully wrong. The Avengers (also known as Avengers Assemble) brought us heart and humour, as well as scale and peril and the first time we got to hang out with all of the Avengers together was a joy. Plus, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was back as the main big bad – even more charismatic, despicable and endlessly quotable than before.
2. Black Panther (2018)
The most serious and politically charged Marvel movie so far, Black Panther fits nicely into the MCU while offering much more than comic-book thrills. Michael B Jordan as Erik Killmonger is a damaged, tragic, convincing live wire – he’s the best villain in the MCU yet, while Black Panther also boasts an exceptional supporting cast in Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright.
It’s the first Marvel movie, and perhaps the first major blockbuster to have a predominantly black cast, and is also much more progressive with its female characters than Marvel has been: it’s important as well as being spectacular and fun.
1. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Though it calls itself a Captain America movie, Civil War feels more like an Avengers film bringing together (and then tearing apart) a whole roster of characters from the MCU. This was the film that introduced Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Chadwick’s Boseman’s Black Panther.
It had an unusual baddie, too, in Daniel Brühl’s Zemo, a villain with no superpowers, who isn’t an evil genius, nor is he driven by some bizarre plan for world domination – instead, he’s just a broken human who wants revenge. Though the superhero line-up is massive, the movie is incredibly personal and emotional, with the fallout within the super-team posing intellectual questions as well as creating real tension and peril.
Thrilling, spectacular, moving and yes, still funny at times, it’s an absolute lesson in how to make an intelligent superhero movie with something to say.