The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into one of the biggest and most beloved franchises in Hollywood. And with multiple new sequels hitting theaters every year for the foreseeable future, it's not slowing down anytime soon. As we gear up for the releases of new superhero epics like "Captain Marvel" and "Avengers: Endgame," here's how each of these movies measures up.
23. 'The Incredible Hulk' (2008)
"The Incredible Hulk" feels very much like the odd man out in the MCU, tonally, stylistically and in the fact that star Edward Norton didn't stick around for future movies. It's a decent Hulk movie on its own merits, but lacks the spark and humor of the rest of the line. Not to mention that most of its teases for an interconnected cinematic universe never really panned out.
22. 'Thor: The Dark World' (2013)
This is the "Thor" sequel everyone likes to forget about. "The Dark World" banks too heavily on its underdeveloped villain and the painfully unconvincing romance between Chris Hemsworth's god of thunder and Natalie Portman's Jane Foster. But at least there's plenty of that terrific Thor/Loki banter to go around.
21. 'Doctor Strange' (2016)
"Doctor Strange" is the kind of superhero movie we were surprised to see popping up in Phase 3 of the MCU. It's a pretty straightforward origin story, showcasing yet another selfish, goateed jerk who discovers his inner hero along with some fantastical powers. The formula still works, but we would have hoped for something a little more daring from the MCU's first foray into the magical realm.
20. 'Iron Man 2' (2010)
While definitely the weakest entry in the "Iron Man" trilogy, there's still plenty to like in this middle chapter. It gave us the debut of War Machine and all the armor-on-armor carnage we could have asked for. "Iron Man 2" is also significant for being the first MCU movie to really dive headlong into the continuity of this shared universe. It paved the way for everything else to come in Phase One.
19. 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' (2015)
"Age of Ultron" is a definite step down from its wildly entertaining predecessor. With so much focus on setting up future conflicts, the film often loses track of its own plot. Then there's the underwhelming handling of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. On the other hand, the debut of Vision, the epic Hulkbuster battle and James Spader's kooky robot villain all help to balance out these flaws.
18. 'Ant-Man' (2015)
After "Avengers: Age of Ultron," MCU fans needed a superhero movie with smaller, more intimate stakes. And they got it thanks to the debut of the smallest Avenger of them all. While Ant-Man doesn't rival the best of the MCU, its goofy sense of humor and strong cast make it a very enjoyable romp.
17. 'Thor' (2011)
"Thor" marked the MCU's first real transition away from science fiction and into the realm of fantasy. While not every aspect of the film holds up, its Shakespearean family drama (ably cultivated by director Kenneth Branagh) and its compelling look at a powerful god learning how to be a good man do justice to an iconic Marvel franchise.
16. 'Captain Marvel' (2019)
“Captain Marvel” wasn’t quite the slam dunk we wanted it to be, but its themes of empowerment and individualism still resonate despite the sloppy filmmaking and flimsy script. Seriously, the idea of “Captain Marvel” (90s setting, a buddy action movie co-starring a young Nick Fury, Skrulls) is a lot cooler than the actual movie. But still, Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel is a wonderful new addition to the MCU, as proved by her appearance in “Endgame.”
15. 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' (2018)
"Ant-Man and the Wasp" doesn't radically reinvent the shrinking superhero wheel, but it does improve upon the foundation built by its predecessor. It helps that this sequel puts Evangeline Lilly's Hope Van Dyne squarely in the spotlight, creating a fun Dynamic Duo where previously there was only a solo hero. The movie also makes the most of Ant-Man's powers for its action scenes.
14. 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' (2019)
Maybe the expectations for “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” like the expectations placed on the tiny, birdlike shoulders of Peter Parker, were far too great. Not only was this a follow-up to the utterly charming (and deeply surprising) “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which introduced the world to a very street-level Peter Parker (the great Tom Holland, briefly glimpsed in “Captain America: Civil War”) but it was also the culmination of one of Marvel’s so-called “phases.” It also had to feel like a satisfying epilogue to the universe-shattering “Avengers: Endgame.” So, you know, no pressure. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is still really great, with a winning European backdrop and a terrific villain in Jake Gyllenhaal’s knowing Mysterio. But it also feels somewhat slight and repetitive when compared to the new-seeming “Homecoming.”
13. 'Iron Man 3' (2010)
"Iron Man 3" tends to get a bad rap, in large part because of its unusual handling of classic Marvel villain the Mandarin. Frankly, we appreciate the subversive take on the villain. Moreover, "Iron Man 3" proved that Shane Black's voice is a natural fit for the MCU. It's both hilarious and touching in equal measure, and a showcase for how to bring in new voices while still maintaining a cohesive vision.
12. 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (2011)
The first "Captain America" movie offered fans their first glimpse back at the early days of the MCU, in the process delivering an adventurous WWII romp worthy of "The Rocketeer." This movie simply wouldn't have worked without a star capable of bringing the Sentinel of Liberty to life. Thankfully, Marvel found exactly that in star Chris Evans.
11. 'Iron Man' (2008)
It's hard to underestimate the importance of this movie. While various Marvel characters had found cinematic success at different studios, "Iron Man" marked the beginning a true shared universe full of Marvel characters whose stories intertwine and evolve over time. And were "Iron Man" not as entertaining as it is, the MCU as we know it probably wouldn't exist. The third act is a little weak, but Robert Downey Jr.'s charismatic performance instantly transformed Iron Man into a pop culture icon. Seriously, when has an actor realized a character in a genre piece so fully formed as RDJ does here?
10. 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (2014)
This movie represented a real "make or break" moment for the MCU. Would fans embrace the cosmic side of the MCU as readily as they had Earth's mightiest heroes? Thankfully, the film's lovable cast of oddballs, pronounced sense of humor and epic action scenes were more than enough to win over those not familiar with names like Star-Lord and Gamora. The only real weakness with "Guardians" is a familiar one for Marvel -- an underdeveloped villain.
9. 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' (2017)
The MCU never truly felt whole until Spider-Man made his belated debut. "Homecoming" gave Tom Holland's teen hero a chance to shine on his own, and the result is one of the stronger Spider-Man movies to date. It's more John Hughes-style comedy than traditional superhero romp, but that's where "Homecoming" gets its charm. Michael Keaton's Vulture is a huge selling point as well.
8. 'Black Panther' (2018)
To date, Black Panther is the most successful MCU movie at the doemstic box office, and it's not hard to see why. This film became a cultural phenomenon by introducing moviegoers everywhere to the fantastical land of Wakanda. It also boasts one of the best villains and strongest supporting casts of any MCU movie, to the point where the titular hero sometimes gets outshone in his own film.
7. 'Captain America: Civil War' (2016)
"Civil War" is the kind of superhero movie that's only possible after years of steady world-building and character development. We saw the Avengers at their best in Phases 1 and 2. This film chronicles what happens when the dream dies and close comrades become bitter rivals. This film boasts some of the most memorable action scenes of any MCU movie, but it's really all about the fractured bromance between Captain America and iron Man.
6. 'Thor Ragnarok' (2017)
Sometimes, you just need a few tries to perfect a franchise's formula. That was the case with "Thor," a series that truly found its voice in its third installment. Far sillier than its predecessors, "Ragnarok" is both a cosmic road trip movie and a dramatic look at the fall of a civilization. The movie is also a welcome reminder that it's possible to marry the needs of a shared universe with the unique voice of a director like Taika Waititi.
5. 'The Avengers' (2012)
Few things in the MCU can top the joy of seeing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Black Widow joining forces on the big screen for the first time (and Hawkeye's alright, too). This is the most purely fun MCU installment, with plenty of patented Joss Whedon banter and the dynamic Battle for New York sequence bringing everything home.
4. 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' (2014)
"Winter Soldier" proved to be the perfect Marvel movie for its time, combining the optimism and idealism of its predecessor with a newfound sense of paranoia and political intrigue. The Hydra conspiracy makes for a compelling narrative throughline, and the dynamic between Chris Evans' Cap and Sebastian Stan's corrupted Bucky Barnes gives the movie all the emotional weight fans could ask for. This sequel also had and continues to have a profound impact on the larger MCU. Without this movie, "Agents of SHIELD" might never have gotten good.
3. 'Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2' (2017)
The true strength of the "Guardians" movies, beyond all the cosmic spectacle, is the fact that these characters are really just one weird, dysfunctional family. That's something the sequel draws on even more successfully than the first. "Guardians Vol. 2" is a hilarious space fantasy that also boasts some of the most emotionally charged scenes you'll find in a Marvel movie. Don't even get us started on that ending...
2. 'Avengers: Infinity War' (2018)
“Avengers: Infinity War” wasn’t just the fourth “Avengers” film, but was the first part of a two-film saga meant to sum up and expand the first ten years of the MCU. That’s no small task. And it’s no small movie. But somehow the Russo Brothers, coming off of two spectacular “Captain America” installments, pulled it off. Set largely in space and folding in characters from the distant parts of the MCU (including the Guardians of the Galaxy), “Avengers: Infinity War” is an overstuffed blast with a crazy downer of an ending. It really goes there.
1. 'Avengers: Endgame' (2019
Somehow, Marvel Studios’ latest gigantic achievement is also its best. It’s not just that “Avengers: Endgame” crams all the kind of action, suspense, and humor that you’d come to expect from Marvel into its surprisingly fleet three-hour-plus runtime, but it’s that it makes room for actual emotional moments and character beats. This is, without question, the most heartfelt and tear-jerking entry in the entire MCU, a culmination and continuation of everything that’s been established and embellished upon in the last ten years of filmmaking. To say anything more would probably get us dusted, so we will just say that Marvel really did save the best for last.