By Rachel E. Greenspan
Updated: March 11, 2019 1:07 PM ET | Originally published: February 22, 2019

In Hollywood, a film’s reception and its box office performance don’t always line up. For movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), this relationship is often skewed, with some higher-grossing films ending up with worse reviews and ratings. Captain Marvel, the latest release in the MCU, did well in the box office last weekend in its debut, but it didn’t garner such critical acclaim as a number of others in the franchise.

But, though critics don’t always cheer for superheroes, Marvel movies aren’t poorly-rated by any means. Each of the 21 films released in the MCU thus far is rated above 65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, an aggregator for TV and movie criticism which scales out of 100 percent. As many as 19 of the 21 MCU movies are actually “certified fresh,” a ranking for which requirements include a steady score of around 75 percent or higher.

With this year’s groundbreaking Oscar nomination of Black Panther for Best Picture, critical reception of MCU movies could only be growing from here. How this spring’s next addition, Avengers: Endgame, will compare, is definitely something to watch.

In the meantime, here are the best-reviewed and highest-rated Marvel movies in the MCU, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%

Walt Disney Co.

The worst-ranking Marvel film of all time is the second installment of Thor. But for MCU films, the “worst” never seems to be that bad: The film did earn a fresh rating, after all. Directed by Alan Taylor, who directed episodes of The Sopranos and Games of Thrones, among dozens of other acclaimed TV series, The Dark World also earned the worst reviews of the Thor series. Late film critic Richard Corliss wrote in his review of the film that there is just way too much going on. “The clutter makes your head feel like it’s about to explode — and not in a good way,” he said.

20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%

Universal

Fans who haven’t been following the MCU since its inception may not know that Mark Ruffalo didn’t join the squad as Bruce Banner/Hulk in the character’s original solo story. Scientist-turned-green-monster Bruce Banner was introduced to the MCU by Edward Norton in the 2008 film. In his review of the movie, late critic Richard Schickel commented on the way director Louis Leterrier deal with the vast amount of details that go into a film like The Incredible Hulk, one of the first films of its kind. But Schickel’s review came with a scathing critique: “That thought, however, is nearly always followed by this question: Why do they bother?”

19. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

Paramount

Following the extreme success of 2008’s Iron Man, the sequel has held a spot towards the bottom of this list for years with only 73 percent, making it the worst-reviewed movie of the three in the Iron Man franchise. Corliss wrote for TIME that Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as a more complex Tony Stark is what gives the film some vulnerability interest. “The rest is a cluttered, clattering toy story,” he said.

18. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Walt Disney Co.

Reviews for Avengers: Age of Ultron, the second installment of the group films, really favored the movie’s writer and director, Joss Whedon. “If anything, Whedon’s writing is almost too sharp,” Lev Grossman wrote in his review for TIME. But still, critical consensus pointed to the film’s abundance of characters and plot diversions as its downfall.

17. Thor (2011)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%

Paramount

The original Thor introduces Chris Hemsworth’s mythical god of a superhero and his world of Asgard, as well as his evil brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Introducing the existence of another universe to this cinematic universe could have been tricky, but on the whole, critics agreed that it worked. “At its best moments,” Corliss wrote, “Thor weaves a spot of magic from the complex science of $150-million fantasy-film technology.”

16. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

Paramount

Captain America brings the 1940s to the present with Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, a hero whose newfound powers make him the greatest force against World War II-era enemies. Critics liked Captain America’s introduction, but Corliss criticized the film’s lack of creativity. “The only problem is that we’ve been there — been nearly everywhere Captain America goes — in countless previous movies,” he wrote.

15. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

Walt Disney Co.

In Iron Man 3, things are different for Tony Stark. He finally has a heart, Corliss wrote in his review, and he comes to terms with issues we’d seen him struggle with in previous movies. But other critics of the movie felt its villain fell flat and its certain plot points lacking.

14. Captain Marvel (2019)

Brie Larson in 'Captain Marvel,' 2019.
Chuck Zlotnick—Marvel Studios

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

Captain Marvel was highly anticipated for its lead female character (Brie Larson) and for its importance in the storyline of the MCU. With a “certified fresh” rating of 80 percent, it definitely didn’t disappoint. Still, film critics like TIME’s Stephanie Zacharek weren’t so impressed with character Carol Danvers’ origin story. Larson’s acting was great, Zacharek said: but the film, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, provided too few moments for it to shine, leaving room instead for the superhero magic and effects that characterize the Marvel franchise. “Larson does get a few opportunities in Captain Marvel to be that regular, flawed-but-strong human—there just aren’t enough of them, and they’re hardly the focus of the movie,” Zacharek wrote in her review.

13. Ant-Man (2015)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

Walt Disney Co.

For a movie with a less than heroic-sounding title flying into new territory, 2015’s Ant-Man fared decently with critics, leveling above 80 percent. Critics were fond of Rudd’s wit and charm in the titular role, despite the lesser-known subject matter. John Anderson called the movie “one of the more entertainingly human fantasies” in his review for TIME.

12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

Walt Disney Co.

Like its prequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a comedy with a Grammy-nominated soundtrack, but reviews were a bit less favorable. The movie “feels not so much crafted as squirted from a tube,” Zacharek wrote. Despite this, critics also highlighted that like other Marvel films, despite its apparent flaws, fans of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie would love this one all the same.

11. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Walt Disney Co.

Considering how high Avengers: Infinity War’s ranks as the fifth-highest grossing film worldwide, it might be surprising to find it here on the latter half of the list, seven percentage points lower than 2012’s original Avengers. But bringing all the Avengers together with multiple villains and the Guardians of the Galaxy crew made for a megahit that some critics didn’t take to, critics said. “It’s all sensation and no pulse,” Zacharek wrote.

10. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Walt Disney Co.

The first MCU film to name a female character in its title makes the list of top ten best-reviewed movies. Ant-Man and the Wasp earned an 88 percent — six percentage points higher than its prequel — largely in part thanks the duo of Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly reprising their Ant-Man roles as Ant-Man and the Wasp, respectively. The movie is “hard to actively dislike,” Zacharek wrote at the time.

9. Doctor Strange (2015)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Walt Disney Co.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s first introduction to the MCU as Doctor Strange didn’t earn such favorable reviews as the Iron Man and Guardians original solo movies, but it did make the top ten. Cumberbatch’s wit is something that undoubtedly worked in the film, though, and Zacharek said he “knows how to get a big laugh from nothing more than an arched eyebrow” in her review of the film. But the studio’s choice to cast Tilda Swinton as an ancient Eastern sorcerer was met with heavy controversy, as many critics and viewers accused the film of whitewashing for placing a white woman in an Asian role.

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Walt Disney Co.

With realistic drama and political controversy, The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, reveals the discovery of a decades-old conspiracy that threatens the sanctity of the United States government. Corliss wrote that the movie’s focus on internal threats still “fulfills all the expectations of a Marvel movie” while raising the stakes of its action. Critics commented on how the juxtaposition of Captain America, having fought in World War II, in the modern world, gave the film’s lens a deeper layer.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Walt Disney Co.

Director James Gunn took the lighthearted route with Guardians of the Galaxy, starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel (with fun cameos from John. C Reilly and Glenn Close). Ultimately the critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reviews the movie favorably, mostly for its humor and joy. The movie’s soundtrack got a lot of attention, too, and was nominated for a Grammy award.

6. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Walt Disney Co.

Captain America battles Iron Man as the Avengers are pitted against each other after a political disagreement. The hefty baggage came garnered plenty of praise from critics who appreciated the humanlike aspects of the film. (The movie’s main villain has no superhuman abilities. He’s just a bad guy.) “It’s that rare superhero movie that doesn’t grind you down with nonstop action or, worse yet, the usual tiresome cavalcade of smart-ass wisecracks,” Zacharek wrote.

5. The Avengers (2012)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Walt Disney Co.

2012’s The Avengers proved that a movie featuring all of the MCU’s heroes could actually succeed—in the box office and with critics. Written and directed by Whedon in his MCU debut, the movie introduces the original six Avengers — Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America, Hulk and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — as a team of superheroes backed by the world’s most iconic spy, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Corliss wrote that the film “guarantees fast-paced fun without forcing anyone to think about what it all means, which is nothing.” Corliss and other reviewers noted that the film was a dream for fans of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work on “Marvel’s The Avengers” comic books, after years of anticipating a film adaptation that brought all of these heroes together at last.

4. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Chuck Zlotnick—Sony Pictures

The third man to play Spider-Man in less than two decades earned the best reviews of all. Critics and moviegoers alike lauded Tom Holland’s portrayal of the teenaged New Yorker, and the film’s upcoming sequel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, is expected to be met with similar reception. “It’s a relief to see a superhero engaged in deeply human activities,” Zacharek wrote in TIME’s Doctor Strange review. This time around, Spidey delivered a “colorful, fun adventure,” Rotten Tomatoes’ critical consensus says.

3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Walt Disney Co.

In the first two Thor films, as well as his appearances in the first two Avengers movies, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor — all hair and muscle and sternness — took his role as a demigod seriously. But director Taika Waititi rewrote the titular character’s personality in Thor’s third installment to step into a sillier side. The movie is a comedy, often breaking the third wall while Hemsworth’s character isn’t afraid to poke fun of himself and it’s refreshing. Many critics were pleased with the looser vibe, helping it to become the third best-reviewed movie in the MCU.

2. Iron Man (2008)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Paramount

2008’s Iron Man was the MCU’s catalyst, offering the origin story for the character who would one day be the leader of the Avengers squad. Critics responded well to Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark, the cocky billionaire who is equal parts genius and comedian. Corliss wrote that Tony’s complications gave a new layer to the typically simple superhero characters of old. “The real treat is for grownups, who get a beguiling character study behind and above the special effects,” he wrote.

1. Black Panther (2018)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Walt Disney Co.

It’s no surprise that Black Panther tops the list with a 97 percent rating. Not only is it the first superhero movie nominated for the Best Picture Oscar award, but it also took home the top award for Cast in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards this year. From the movie’s cast, sets, costumes and music, the widespread critical acclaim for Ryan Coogler’s epic is bridging a film industry gap in a way that people hadn’t seen before.

Zacharek wrote that the film is “a picture for everyone that stresses the necessary meaning of the word everyone” in her review of the film last year.

Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at rachel.greenspan@time.com.

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