We Ranked Every Single Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie

13 minute read

Avengers: Endgame promises to bring the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we’ve known it for the past 11 years to a close. So it seems like the perfect time to go back and reflect on how we feel about the biggest blockbusters of the Avengers era. We polled Marvel fans at TIME to rank every single Marvel Cinematic Universe movie.

In order to make sure that our internal votes aligned somewhat with critical and commercial standards, we took a few factor into account. Our methodology calculates the votes of TIME staffers; a “public opinion” vote represented by opening weekend box office, adjusted for inflation; and a “critical vote” represented by the movie’s ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. Opening weekend data tracks very closely with worldwide gross data, so we chose opening weekend in order to more quickly update the list as more Marvel movies debut in the future.

An important note: Marvel movies tend to make far more than your average film — or even your average blockbuster. The Incredible Hulk has the lowest (adjusted) opening weekend for a Marvel movie with $55.4 million in 2008. That’s a solid opening weekend for just about any other film. But as Marvel has grown in popularity, its openings have become gargantuan. The team-up movies do especially well: Last year’s Avengers: Infinity War had the biggest opening weekend ever in U.S. history with $257.7 million. So when we note that lower budget Marvel films focusing on a single superhero like Ant-Man — with a $57.2 million opening weekend— only did OK at the box office, that assessment is meant to only be relative to other Marvel films.

Ten TIME staffers — ranging from culture writers who cover Marvel movies for a living to Marvel fans in the art, video, photo and copy departments — got 60% of the total weight. Our public vote, or box office, accounted for 20%, and the Rotten Tomatoes critical vote accounted for another 20%. In all three categories, the movies were ranked 1 to 21, according to popularity, with 1 being the best and 21 the worst. The final ranking was based on the weighted average, as described above.

When it came to the results, TIME staffers tended to fall in two camps: Those who love solo superhero outings, and those who relish team-ups, like the Avengers movies. And though there was some differences over where the movies in the middle belonged, ultimately fans, critics and our staff seemed to agree on which films belonged at the very top and the bottom.

Here is the definitive ranking of Marvel movies.

21. The Incredible Hulk

This is the movie Marvel Studios would rather you forget that they made: Bruce Banner tries to master his Hulk abilities and fights another Hulk-like creature, Abomination. The Incredible Hulk was Marvel’s lowest-grossing opening weekend ever with $55.4 million, and it ranks as the second-worst among critics. Marvel has since replaced actor Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo in the role and hasn’t made another solo Hulk movie. Unsurprisingly, this movie had all-around low rankings among staffers: All 10 TIME employees said The Incredible Hulk was among their bottom three Marvel films.

20. Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World almost doomed the Thor franchise entirely: Apparently it took some convincing to get Chris Hemsworth to return for a third solo outing after this sequel, which involved Thor fighting a particularly boring villain called Malekith who wanted to turn the world dark — because he loves darkness. Yup, that’s it. With an opening weekend of $85.7 million, this movie falls in the middle of the pack in terms of gross, but received the worst ratings among critics. Eight TIME staffers said it was one of their three least-favorite Marvel movies.

19. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Critics ranked this sequel in the middle of the pack: Many felt like the lighthearted tone of Ant-Man and the Wasp was a much-needed balm after the dire events of Infinity War. But TIME staffers placed Ant-Man and the Wasp significantly lower on their lists: the movie lacked a true villain, and too much of the plot is spent explaining the mechanics of shrinking. Fans didn’t seem to be too keen on the duo either: The Ant-Man movies are among the worst performers at the box office for Marvel Studios: Ant-Man and the Wasp brought in just $75.8 million in its opening weekend, ranking 16th among the Marvel movies — and the only ones below it are all earlier movies that premiered before Marvel was the phenomenon it is today.

18. Iron Man 2

Fans flocked to the much-anticipated sequel to Iron Man, and the film almost doubled the money that its predecessor made in its opening weekend with $128 million. But critics were largely disappointed with the plot and particularly the film’s villain, Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash, who mumbled his way through most of the movie. Overall, TIME staffers were meh on Iron Man 2.

17. Ant-Man

The original Ant-Man barely tops its sequel in the rankings: It brought in even less cash, with a $57.2 million opening weekend at the box office, and ranks lower among critics. But TIME’s staff gave the lighthearted romp OK scores, which bumped it up the ranks. It all just goes to show that as Marvel gets increasingly galactic in scale, it’s nice to know that they can keep things small and fun.

16. Thor

Thor landed in the middle of many TIME staffers’ lists: No one loved it, and no one hated it. But the public and critical reaction means Thor ended up toward the bottom of our rankings. Thor’s origin story, during which his father casts him out of Asgard and down to Earth, is the third-lowest grossing movie in the MCU (at $65.7 million) and falls toward the bottom of critics’ lists.

15. Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is one of the most divisive films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: The movie deals with Tony’s PTSD after the Battle of New York in The Avengers and does little to advance the overall Marvel plot. TIME’s staff ranked it as their least-favorite Iron Man film. But the film is buoyed up the list by the critical score and box office success. Many critics have praised the bottle movie for its rejection of typical superhero tropes and quippy dialogue in favor of meditation on a hero’s psychology. And the movie made a whopping $174 million its opening weekend and went on to do extremely well overseas. It is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s second-most profitable standalone superhero film after Black Panther.

14. Captain America: The First Avenger

Marvel fans were not particularly stoked for Captain America‘s origin story, set during World War II when the super-soldier fought a Nazi-offshoot called HYDRA. The movie brought in only $65 million its opening weekend, and became the second-lowest grossing Marvel film. Critics were mixed too, complaining that the movie was essentially a two-hour trailer for the Avengers, which premiered the following year. But TIME’s voters seem to have a soft spot for the hero. Captain America has evolved into the heart of the Marvel franchise, thanks to Chris Evans’ sensitive performance as a man lost in time. Plus, the Russo brothers’ inventive plotting in Winter Soldier and Civil War has helped propel the hero up the ranks.

13. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Neither critics nor TIME staffers particularly liked Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Avengers sequel in which Tony Stark creates an artificially intelligent being that wants to destroy humanity, and ranked it as the eighth-worst and fourth-worst Marvel movie, respectively. But, like all the Avengers movies, Age of Ultron did very well at the box office with a $191.3 million opening weekend.

12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

You can’t really be mad at a movie that involves Baby Groot and a gold-hued Elizabeth Debicki as a secondary villain. But like many sequels in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn’t much advance the plot of the larger cinematic universe, and both critics and TIME viewers pushed it lower on the list for that reason. Still, the movie brought in $146.5 million on its opening weekend.

11. Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange earned high ratings from critics, many of whom cited its mind-bending visuals as a high point. In many ways, the movie felt more like an homage to the Matrix than a typical quip-punch Marvel film. It lands eighth on the critical list. But many of the Marvel diehards at TIME prefer that standard formula that makes so many Marvel movies work and ranked it much lower on their lists. Fans agreed, and, relative to other Marvel films the movie had a decent opening at the box office with $85 million.

10. Captain Marvel*

Captain Marvel, which opened in March and has not yet reached its final gross, fared better with our staff than with the critics. This was Marvel Studios’ first movie starring a solo female superhero and broke ground in the genre. Many of our staff put Captain Marvel in their top 10 Marvel movies, while critics ranked it as 16th-best. Its box office opening buoys it on the list: Despite being a solo feature, Captain Marvel had the 9th highest opening weekend of any Marvel movie. The only solo Marvel film to do better are Black Panther and Iron Man 3.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy proved divisive among TIME’s staff. Some people ranked it as high as number two on their list, others placed it as low as 19. Many felt that the movie about a rag-tag group of galactic superheroes that includes a trisyllabic tree, a talking raccoon and green-hued assassin should fall in the middle of the list — exactly where critics ranked it at number seven. The movie had a decent opening weekend at $94.3 million — especially for superheroes without major name recognition — but gained popularity through word-of-mouth.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming wisely did away with Uncle Ben’s death scene and other hallmarks of Peter Parker’s origin story that audiences had watched multiple before. Instead, they focused on a politically relevant everyman villain raging against the one percent. The movie was embraced by critics, who rated it as their fifth most popular MCU film. TIME took a more skeptical view of the film, perhaps because the Miles Morales-focused Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse movie that Sony Studios has since made (and thus is not technically part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as created by Marvel Studios) skyrocketed to the top of many people’s Spider-Man movie rankings.

7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This movie ranked extremely high among the TIME staff, landing around number four in our internal rankings. The sequel raked in $179 million its opening weekend comes in at ninth among critics. The movie, which borrowed beats from Cold War thrillers, clearly impressed the brass at Marvel. The Russo brothers, who directed the film, proved with this movie that they understood Captain America and his vintage appeal. They went on to become stalwarts of the franchise, directing Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

6. Iron Man

Iron Man performed very well among critics: It’s number two on Rotten Tomatoes’ list. At the time, many critics were pleasantly surprised by the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that focused on a character that was, at the time, a B-list Marvel superhero. Audiences and TIME staff were less bullish on Tony Stark’s debut. Iron Man’s box office was $128 million, great for a cinematic universe debut but relatively small when compared to future Marvel behemoths. (For perspective, Iron Man‘s opening weekend fell short compared to those of Spider-Man and X-Men, two other buzzy superhero debuts.) And though Iron Man ranked among TIME’s favorite movies, some staffers have argued recency bias pushed a few films from the last year above this classic.

5. Thor: Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s quirky Thor: Ragnarok made the all-too-serious God of Thunder funny for once. It proved to be a critical darling, ranking third among all the Marvel films, and our staff loved it too. But it brought in less than half of the money Avengers: Infinity War made in their respective opening weekends, which brings it down in our rankings. (It’s still a huge haul though!)

4. Captain America: Civil War

Half the fun of comic books is speculating about who would win in a fight: Captain America or Iron Man? Scarlet Witch or Vision? Captain America: Civil War, which included just about every Earth-bound superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was happy to answer that question and dozens more as the heroes divided themselves into two groups over a political disagreement. The Russo brothers wisely turned Iron Man into the villain (or at least anti-hero) of this movie, earning solid critical reviews and praise from TIME staff. The movie opened sixth overall on the list with $179.3 million.

3. Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War certainly defied expectations when it — spoiler alert — turned half its massive cast of characters into dust at the end of the film. The twist largely proved popular with fans: Infinity War ranked highly with both the public (it’s Marvel’s biggest opening weekend ever) and staff — three TIME employees ranked this movie as number one. But it didn’t do as well with critics, who complained that the epic was overcrowded with some 27 superheroes and that the knowledge that at least some of the “dead” characters will have to return eliminates any real suspense headed into the sequel. It ranks #11 on Rotten Tomatoes’ list.

2. The Avengers

After properly laying the groundwork with several solo films, Marvel was the first major studio to release a superhero team-up film that actually worked. The studio also picked the best villain on their bench — Loki, perfectly played by Tom Hiddleston — to get up to mischief in this film. Though this formula would grow tired and bloated in later years, director Joss Whedon’s movie was a revelation at the time, propelling it to number four on the critics’ rankings. It was also a massive hit at the box office, easily earning a spot on the list of the highest-grossing movies of all time. It ranks second in Marvel opening weekends, outdone only by Infinity War.

1. Black Panther

Black Panther‘s lofty perch at the top of this list probably doesn’t surprise you: It’s the only superhero movie to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. But beyond that, Black Panther did well in all of our categories: It’s Marvel’s highest-grossing movie domestically and the most universally beloved among critics. Three of 10 TIME staffers ranked Black Panther as their top Marvel movie. Seven of TIME’s staff ranked the movie in their top 3. It’s safe to say this one deserves the top spot.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com