The MCU has established itself as a powerhouse content generator the likes of which we've perhaps never seen before, catapulting well-known and completely unknown characters from the expansive Marvel Comics library into the public eye. With more than 25 film and television launches in its first 10 years of existence, that's a lot of Marvel material in short span. And while some of them have been spectacular, there have been some notable misfires throughout those years as well.
The studio arm of the comic book publisher has multiple television shows on ABC, Netflix and Hulu, with more to come on those platforms, as well as Freeform, and is blasting blockbuster franchise films into theaters at a rate of three per year. The MCU is a juggernaut with no signs of stopping anytime soon.
in keeping up with this ever-growing library of hits, we've decided to combine television and film to definitively rank every Marvel Cinematic Universe property, starting with the biggest stinker of the bunch (which has the dubious honor of being awful in theaters and on television) and climbing until we emerge at the top with the best of the best.
Even before its disastrous IMAX debut, this adaptation of the obscure property Marvel wishes were the X-Men looked awful. The effects were terrible by television standards, and somebody clearly forgot to come up with a compelling cast or plot. They immediately neutered the strongest visual component of Inhumans Queen Medusa (Serinda Swan) and went with the generic strangers-in-a-strange-land plot, marooning them on Earth. It doesn't help that the show's villain, Iwan Rheon's Maximus, is by most standards the hero of the series that pits the working class against the royal elite. The creators promise to leave this muddled mess open for a second season, but they really shouldn't hold their breath.
26. "Thor: The Dark World" (2013)
Critics are loving the latest adventure for the Norse god, but things weren't so rosy for his last outing. “The Dark World” was a muddled mess of a plot that awkwardly united fan-favorite villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) with his brother Thor to battle the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). The Elves were underdeveloped as a society and their motivation for wanting to conquer the Nine Realms was because Marvel needed someone to fight Thor in this movie other than Loki.
25. "Iron Man 3" (2013)
Look, Robert Downey Jr. is always going to be charming as all get-out as Tony Stark, but that wasn't enough to make this third solo adventure particularly good. Ben Kingsley's Mandarin was not only ineffective, but looked completely ridiculous on-screen. And then he was neutered as a villain in exchange for fellow industrialist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). How original: a rich businessman as a villain. Is this the 1980s all over again?
After three successful Netflix series, fans were excited for “Iron Fist,” and boy were they in for a disappointment. The fight scenes were awful, the villains laughable and star Finn Jones looked as confused to be reciting his lines and performing his stunts as his character was supposed to be in this modern world. It's not a good sign when the least compelling character in your ensemble is your lead actor, but that's what happened in this unintentionally bad parody of Hong Kong kung-fu cinema.
23. "The Incredible Hulk" (2008)
This is the reason the lauded “Planet Hulk” story is taking place in a Thor movie. Edward Norton's take on Bruce Banner wasn't bad, but the film was more flash and destruction than story, with Roth miscast as the Abomination. The second film in the MCU, this film is as forgotten by even the franchise machine as much as they can get away with, even going so far as to recast Banner and essentially reintroduce him for “The Avengers.” And we may never get a solo Hulk film again.
22. "Iron Man 2" (2010)
Mickey Rourke was really hamming it up in the third film of the MCU franchise, and it drug the film down with it. His Whiplash was kind of a lame villain anyway, and Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer -- yes another rival industrialist billionaire -- wasn't much better. Multiple villains was an old Batman staple that killed the original 1980s and 1990s franchise, and it didn't help Tony Stark's second outing any. The redeeming quality of the film was the debut of Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, still begging for her own solo film.
James Spader turned the merciless killing machine into a sing-song Pinocchio in one of the weirdest page-to-screen adaptations yet in the MCU, and with the luster of seeing all the heroes come together to face a global threat worn off, this outing left us wanting. Ultron didn't even really come across as a huge threat for the massively assembled Avengers, while the plethora of characters was more than intimidating for the uninitiated. More a mess than a movie, this one felt like all flash and no substance.
20. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" (2017)
This sequel was what happens when someone keeps telling you all the reasons your first movie was so great and so you try to give them more of everything they want. Filled with more quips, more snarkiness, more of Drax's unique take on the world. Just more of everything … including Kurt Russell as a planet with the most obnoxiously explained connection to Chris Pratt's Star-Lord ever put to the screen, this film was just trying way too hard to entertain us in every. Single. Way. And we could see how hard it was trying.
19. "The Defenders" (2017)
Unfortunately for this Netflix miniseries, Iron Fist -- the obvious weak link -- was a pivotal part of this team-up also featuring Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Sigourney Weaver had a lot of fun hamming it up, but this didn't feel like a culmination of those solo adventures in the same way the original “Avengers” film did. It was a tighter story than those solo series, and fun to see everyone together, but things didn't mesh as well as we'd have hoped for in something we'd been building toward for two years.
The first television spinoff of the MCU had the challenges of a network television budget, a 22-episode season and a requirement to follow the MCU film happenings with little help from the films themselves. Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson is the heart of the series, but it works because most of this sprawling cast is engaging and interesting. The early Inhumans material was the best the Inhumans have been handled and Season 4's Ghost Rider arc was a recent highlight, until budget restraints forced them to cut it short. Shorter seasons would probably help tighten this into an even stronger contender.
17. "Thor" (2011)
This was always going to be a tough sell, as it's one of the weirder superhero comic books on the market. Based on an actual Norse god -- who looked nothing like Chris Hemsworth -- his backstory is convoluted and weird, but they mostly made it work. Success came in large part to the charm of Hemsworth in the lead and Tom Hiddleston's turn as his half-brother, Loki. Hiddleston was so good, in fact, they'd quickly overuse him in future Marvel outings. While passable, it felt more than any of the other solo films like it was really just about introducing him for the Avengers film, like they didn't have much to say otherwise.
16. "Agent Carter" (2015 - 2016)
This series existed solely thanks to the star power of Hayley Atwell's take on the character in the first Captain America film, and it was her presence that pushed it to a second season. Atwell's charisma in the lead was enough to make the show watchable, but it also did a great job of building her world, set in the years after World War II as the spy got to work in this brave new era, that still had a long way to go in how it treated women. It lost some of its luster moving her to LA for its second season, but Agent Carter remains a beloved character brought to life perfectly by Atwell.
15. "The Punisher" (2017 - Current)
Jon Bernthal blew everyone away with his take on The Punisher in the second season of "Daredevil," so it was no surprise when Netflix offered him his own series. Bernthal remains the best part of the show, as he absolutely immerses himself into the role of a man tortured by PTSD who decides to avenge the murders of his family by wearing a skull shirt and killing bad guys with the biggest guns he can find. The character is over-the-top violence, and it's always made him challenging to empathize with. But the biggest flaw with the show is one that is plaguing many Netflix Marvel productions, and that's the 13-episode season. There just wasn't enough meat on this bone to stretch it that far.
The inaugural series in Marvel's Netflix launched showcased what makes this partnership special, the ability to tell more grounded and realistic street-level superhero stories with a bigger budget and fewer restrictions. Unfortunately, they saddled themselves with 13-episode seasons, meaning there were arcs that dragged out. Vincent D'Onofrio was inspired as Kingpin, but that only made for a half-season of great TV, and the same for Jon Bernthal's Punisher in Season 2. The latter made such a strong impression, he's got a solo series coming up, as well. Following the pattern of “Stranger Things,” and only making as many episodes as needed to tell the story would help all of the Marvel-Netflix properties.
13. "Ant-Man" (2015)
This oddball film starring Paul Rudd was far better than it had any right to be. Yes, Ant-Man was getting established to be an Avenger, but he didn't have to be in a solo film (there's no Vision or Scarlet Witch movie … yet). What we got was the most unorthodox film yet introduced in the MCU, and yet it worked very well. Rather than traditional superheroics, we got a heist comedy film where the most epic battle took place inside a suitcase. It was a personal film with heart, focusing on family, and a deeply flawed lead in Scott Lang, making it more emotionally compelling than most of the big-budget popcorn fare elsewhere on the list. Evangeline Lilly suits up as Wasp for the sequel, which hopefully won't abandon this one's strong humanistic side.
12. "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017)
With this third installment in the "Thor" franchise, Marvel unexpected went full-on slapstick comedy, and yet somehow it works. The MCU continues to expand the definition of what makes a superhero movie, and leaning hard into the excess and overall ridiculousness of Thor's very premise has really worked. It is clearly a reaction to the "Dark World" sequel that tried to take the silliness of this concept into a darker direction only to meet with fan ridicule and derision. This is a blonde-haired dude who fights evil with a Hammer and talks in an ancient English dialogue. He is ridiculous and the comic relief character of The Avengers. It's nice that Marvel finally gets it.
11. "Luke Cage" (2016 - Current)
Before Black Panther hits the big screen in 2018, Mike Colter had the honor of being the first African-American lead in a Marvel property, spinning this character out of Daredevil's first season and into his own Harlem adventures. More socially conscious than previous Marvel efforts, “Cage” kept its lead on the streets and dealing with real issues that face people when lower income communities are at the mercy of powers beyond their control. With Colter's natural charisma and charm, this love letter to the socially conscious blaxploitation films of the 1970s, manages to leave us smiling and thinking at the same time.
Essentially an Avengers movie without the name, “Civil War” was a lot more personal on the big-screen than in the comics, but it also marked a major turning point for the MCU as it pitted Chris Evans' good Captain against Tony Stark, and while Stark's rage was a little overdone, the heart of the story still worked. The film featured a culmination of the story between Cap and his childhood pal Bucky, while introducing the Black Panther and setting the stage for the next era of Marvel films where these heroes aren't quite as trusted or beloved as they once were. It was a lot of heavy lifting for what was supposedly a solo film, but it was well-balanced. It's worth noting that all three Captain America films are in the Top 10 here, which is a testament to the mini-franchise within the larger one.
9. "Jessica Jones" (2015 - Current)
The most mature and haunting entry yet in the MCU, Krysten Ritter gave the richest and most nuanced performance of her career in the title role and David Tennant absolutely terrified us as the mind-controlling Kilgrave. Rather than go with simple mind-control, this story delved into the more sick, perverted and depraved ways that such an ability could be used. It resulted in a harrowing tale of victimization, predatory behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder, and ultimate triumph that was equal parts challenging and incredibly rewarding to explore across the entire season.
8. "Runaways" (2017 - Current)
Who would have expected the most complex and layered Marvel television series would come in the form of a little-known 2000s comic series and on Hulu, of all places. Perhaps separating it from the shared Hell's Kitchen universe at Netflix helped "Runaways," but it's biggest strength came in the casting and characterization. In fact, TV "Runaways" even gives its source material a run for its money by expanding the story to include the fascinating parents of the titular teen characters. This isn't a superhero series as much as it is a slow-burn horror series with tinges of sci-fi a la "Stranger Things."
7. "Doctor Strange" (2016)
With this entry, Benedict Cumberbatch and "magic" were introduced into the MCU. While the film faced some whitewashing concerns about the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, the final product remains one of the most visually surreal and stunning products to come out of this storied franchise. Instantly, Cumberbatch established himself as a wholly different kind of hero, and yet one that you could see cavorting with the other denizens of this colorful universe, as he will begin to do in "Thor: Ragnarok."
This was a big one for Marvel Studios, as they worked out a deal with Sony to bring Spider-Man into the MCU proper after a series of good and not-so-good Spider-Man films dating back to 2002. Tom Holland was an inspired choice to don the famous tights, and they couldn't have cast anyone better than Michael Keaton to bring to life the ridiculous-on-paper villain the Vulture. It relied a little too heavily on Tony Stark and his tech, but kudos for skipping the origin and getting right to the hapless life of a kid who desperately wants to be a superhero, but stumbles a lot on his way to greatness.
5. "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011)
Chris Evans did an amazing job of portraying the eager young Steve Rogers, and the production team did an even better job of using a body double to make him look like the proverbial “98-pound weakling,” before the super-soldier serum beefed him up. Set almost exclusively during World War II, this was a very slickly produced period piece, with a great performance by Hugo Weaving hamming it up as the villainous Red Skull. His origin arc from hapless wannabe to hokey USO performer to actual soldier is earned through the story and acting performances, with Cap emerging as a true hero by his tragic end -- at least until his recovery from the depths in “The Avengers.”
4. "Iron Man" (2008)
The granddaddy of them all, the entire franchise rests on the shoulders of this one movie and this one actor, Robert Downey Jr. It's hard to imagine that this character was largely unknown when this movie launched, and it marked the first time the company brought the entire production in-house, after middling results with licensing to other studios. The film was smart, had plenty of humor and the charm of Downey Jr. in the lead. Yes, he fought another industrialist, but as it was the first and Jeff Bridges was clearly having so much fun, we give it a pass. The first time isn't the problem, it's when you keep going back to the same well.
The first wave of origin films were all leading to this massive team-up adventures, and boy did Joss Whedon and company deliver in true blockbuster fashion. Every hero was properly spotlighted, and even though they were fighting giant flying slug monsters, it was visually stunning, filled with plenty of humor and just oozed fun from its very pores. Plus, we finally got a take on the Hulk that really resonated with fans when Mark Ruffalo took over the part. For the first time on the big screen, fans got a product that truly looked like the pages of a comic book had been ripped out and thrown on the screen in all their bombastic and colorful glory.
2. "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014)
This was the biggest gamble the MCU had made to that point, offering an outer-space romp with a talking raccoon and a tree that says one thing as main characters. It was weird and so very alien in ways that even “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” weren't. And yet, this cast of disparate grifters was filled with some of the most fully realized personalities yet offered. Chris Pratt gave an inspired performance as a leading man who's trying really hard to believe his own hype, and his impish charm set the tone for the entire production.
1. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"(2014)
With the origin story out of the way, this second entry in Steve Rogers' story could focus on his relationship with Bucky, tragically brought back to life with smoldering intensity by Sebastian Stan. Reprogrammed as the Winter Soldier by the Soviets, Bucky had lived beyond his WWII era as well, but his life was one of assassination and mental programming. Beyond the personal struggle between these two lifelong friends was a seismic shift that impacted everything in the MCU when the villainous organization Hydra infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and brought the massive government entity down. Powerful personal stakes and global stakes to boot, no MCU film has yet to match this one for sheer scope and ambition paired with successful execution.