We’re in the Endgame now. That’s right, 11 years and 22 movies will all culminate in Avengers: Endgame, possibly the swan song for Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Captain America, and so many more. Whether you’re a fan of the MCU films or not, you cannot dispute that these movies have changed the cultural landscape of movies forever.
Before Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, and *snaps fingers while thinking* I wanna say Cliff Burton all joined up, the idea of a “cinematic universe” was basically unheard of. Now every studio wants to build their own little sandbox that they can fill with characters who cross-over, mash together, and team up in multiple movies to create one, overarching, story. Some have been very successful (the Fast & Furious), some have struggled (The DCU), and some just should never have been created at all (whatever the hell universe the Mummy remake was supposed to launch). But the MCU stands atop the rest. And now it’s going to end.
So, to prepare us all for the likely final act of the MCU before it fundamentally changes forever – for better or worse – here is a complete ranking of all the movies that have come out so far. I’ll go from C tier (meaning even MCU fans aren’t rewatching these), to B tier (they’re okay, but not mandatory viewing), to A tier (good movies, rewatchable, but maybe not groundbreaking or critical to the overall MCU), to S tier (if you haven’t watched a single MCU movie, watch these).
The Incredible Hulk: Man could you imagine if we lived in a world where Ed Norton was still the Hulk? I mean, I love Ruffalo and all, but Ed would have just crushed that role. This movie sucked, none of the characters really matter or reappear. They should honestly remake an origin story for Hulk/Ruffalo like they did Spidey/Holland.
Thor: The Dark World: Can you remember a single thing that happened in this movie? Gun to my head I couldn’t name the villain of this movie or anything that happened other than Kat Dennings was an adorable treasure.
Iron Man 2: Other than introducing Don Cheadle and War Machine to the MCU, this movie really didn’t pack a lot of oomph. Such a shame that they wasted Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell. Could have been great MCU villains if they actually gave them some decent motivation and background.
Thor: It makes the B tier purely because it provides Thor’s origin story and introduces us to Loki, who will be a central antagonist in The Avengers. But even if you haven’t seen this movie, you’ll be able to get the gist of what’s happening in future movies. It’s got some fun moments, but it could have been done so much better.
Captain America – The First Avenger: Also an origin story and also fairly inconsequential to the MCU. Yeah, we get to see Steve Rogers’ journey in World War II, meet the future Winter Soldier Bucky, and see the Tesseract for the first time. But considering everything else Cap does in the MCU takes place 70 years after everything in this movie happens…it’s not that crucial you see it.
Ant-Man: Man, Marvel does some crappy jobs when it comes to origin stories huh? This movie is tons of fun, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of quality it doesn’t quite stand up against the other MCU movies.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: There are three reasons to watch this movie: Drax’s comedic moments, Rocket’s character development, and Baby Groot. Actually, it’s just about all Baby Groot. Baby Groot is adorable. If you don’t like Baby Groot, something is very wrong in your head.
Ant-Man & The Wasp: I love Paul Rudd and I pray Endgame makes Ant-Man a more compelling character than he has been so far in the MCU, but through two movies I really have a hard time connecting with Ant-Man as a favorite character. Sure, he’s plenty charismatic, but I don’t ever really feel like I need to know what Scott Lang is up to.
Iron Man 3: Controversial to not have this in B tier, I know, but in my opinion, this movie gets slept on more than a Purple mattress. Not only did we get Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, and Guy Pearce, we got maybe one of the best villain twists in the MCU. I mean, it’s uneven and everything getting to that end is underwhelming, but holy hell, Ben Kingsley is just captivating. Plus, this movie really gave us the true insight into Tony Stark following everything in The Avengers, showing vulnerability in heroes in a way I truly never saw before.
Dr. Strange: Another origin movie that has all those same issues that Ant-Man does (how much do I care about Steven Strange? Can I even remember the villain in this movie?). However, Dr. Strange is easily the most unique MCU movie out there, in terms of style of filming and style of action. There is no other movie in the MCU like this, and I mean that in the best of ways. Plus, the climax completely subverted my expectations for a superhero movie. It also introduces one of the Infinity Stones (the Time Stone) so it is helpful to have seen going into Endgame.
Guardians of the Galaxy: I distinctly remember seeing this movie for the first time in theaters. I was with a group of people who had no idea what the movie was even about, we’d just heard it was a Marvel movie and it was really good. This is maybe the only Marvel movie I ever went into with zero expectations, and my God, did I get blown away. The acting, the action, the soundtrack, it was all so gloriously… fun. Fun enough that I’ll ignore the pacing and villain problems on rewatch. It’s just a goddamn fun movie to watch. Thank you, Disney, for doing the right thing and re-hiring James Gunn.
Captain Marvel: A really strong showing from Brie Larsen in her MCU debut, for sure. I had a blast watching this movie and Carol Danvers was a kick-ass addition. Plus, the vibing between her and Sam Jackson was simply priceless. It had a little bit of a villain problem (in that they weren’t particularly memorable) but it was made up by having Goose the Cat/Flerken there.
Black Panther: I’m not as high on Black Panther as a lot of other people are, but I understand that is because of personal preference. Just looking at this movie, I get why people think it’s so great and I do love the movie. Just not that much. That said, it’s a great goddamn movie featuring two of the best MCU villains – Klawe and Killmonger – we’ve ever seen. Killmonger especially… God, I just get chills imagining MBJ in those dreads holding those spears. Fuck he was great. If the Russos manage to undo the snap and somehow re-open the door for Killmonger to come back, I will actually weep.
Thor: Ragnarok: This might be my favorite MCU movie, even though I know it’s not the best. First, I just love buddy-road trip movies and that is what this is: a road trip with Thor and the Hulk. The comedy is pure gold. Taika Waititi is amazing as a director and I desperately want him to do something else in the MCU. Plus, we get Valkyrie (rumor is Tessa Thompson will be in Endgame, so we can get the relationship we’ve all dreamed of: Valk and Mar-Vell), more Loki (Tom Hiddleston is a gem), and talking Hulk. Watching my girlfriend react to see Hulk burst through that wall as the “champion” who was going to fight Thor is maybe one of my favorite moments. The mixture of surprise and glee on her face was incredible.
Spider-Man: Homecoming: Sorry Tobey, but I’m making an executive ruling: Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man. He is so playfully funny and charismatic, yet still relatable and childish, that I bought him hook-line-and-sinker from the drop in Civil War. I love that they made Spider-Man so realistic. He acts just like a high school kid would act and he generally fights low-level criminals just like a neighborhood Spider-Man would. To that end, they matched him with the perfect villain in the Vulture. Sony, do us all a favor and just partner with Marvel to do the Spider-Man/Sinister Six movies going forward. I’m terrified that if you take over you’re going to wreck everything with your terrible choices *looks directly at Andrew Garfield in a latex suit*
The Avengers: Age of Ultron: I’m in the minority on this opinion, but I loved Age of Ultron. James Spader was fucking great as the deranged, misunderstood monster in this movie. I also loved that this follow-up to the Avengers really showed the heroes to us as part of a team. You had those great little moments, like when they’re all sitting around trying to lift Thor’s hammer or recovering at Clint’s farm. For a group that is almost all able to fly, this movie made the team seem more grounded than ever.
Iron Man: The OG, the granddaddy, the original. The movie that brought Robert Downey Jr. back to pop culture relevance and actually matched the superhero quality that had long been occupied by DC (okay let’s be real Batman – Christopher Nolan’s Batman, really). Iron Man started a media dynasty that none of us could even imagine at the time, built off the unassailable hype and swagger of RDJ as Tony Stark. Never has there been a more perfect marriage of casting, direction, and effects.
Captain America: Civil War: The airport fight scene is maybe my favorite scene in the MCU, just because of how gloriously fun it was. No one was trying to hurt each other, but they were still fighting. It’s a great example of how to showcase the different heroes unique fighting styles and how to leverage comedic moments into action sequences. This is also the movie that introduced us to Black Panther and Spider-Man, both of whom are amazing casting and characters. Every other studio needs to watch Civil War when planning on doing a team-up movie because this one does it right. It is able to stand on its own contained story, yet still impacts the MCU world at large, rather than being all set-up for other movies.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The best pure movie in the MCU, in my opinion, is Winter Soldier. Through all the twists, turns, backstabs and betrayals, this movie never feels like a moment is wasted. Everything happens for a reason and every small detail pays off. This movie also does the best job as showcasing character growth, to me, by making a fairly simple character like Captain America very emotionally complex. And they didn’t even have to rely on a dead mother/girlfriend to do it.
The Avengers: Sure, Iron Man was the OG, but this was the walk-up music for the MCU. Before The Avengers, these were just a bunch of fun, superhero movies loosely tied together, but after the release of this film, we all saw the larger plan at work. Marvel took a massive risk on this movie, making a big-budget movie with lots of stars, all of whom could have gotten lost in the shuffle, but they balanced it beautifully. This movie is a pure popcorn flick, spawning memes and quotes that have stood the test of time, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Avengers: Infinity War: Do you know what movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1981? A film by Robert Redford called Ordinary People which 99% of people haven’t seen. It beat out the other four nominees who have a bit more name recognition: Raging Bull, The Elephant Man, Tess, and The Coal Miner’s Daughter. Why am I pointing this out? Because that same year a little movie was also eligible for Best Picture and didn’t get nominated. It goes by the name The Empire Strikes Back. Subsequently, it has been preserved by the Library of Congress for being a culturally significant landmark and named by fans in a poll as the best movie of all time. But remember, Empire didn’t even get nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. In 20-30 years, that’s what we will be saying about Avengers: Infinity War, I guarantee it. Even if Endgame isn’t the masterpiece everyone is already saying it is, Infinity War was such a massive, complex, beautiful, well-crafted, rich, deep movie, it is an absolute affront that it didn’t win Best Picture last year, let alone get nominated. (Hate me if you want, this movie was much fucking better than Black Panther, and I loved Black Panther.)
Infinity War had a cultural impact and appreciation that no other movie (save for Black Panther) had last year. From the “perfectly balanced” memes to the reactions, Infinity War was the most-anticipated movie of last year (again, except Black Panther) and it delivered. It delivered more than was expected. The Snap was this generation’s “I am your father.” In 20 years, we’ll forget the Green Book was ever even a movie, but people will remember Thanos and Infinity War.