“You’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.” For casual moviegoers, Nick Fury’s line at the end of Iron Man hinted at the kind of sequel that Hollywood regularly churns out on a yearly basis. For Marvel fans though, these two sentences opened up a whole new realm of cinema that brought their heroes to life in ways unimagined before.
Back when Iron Man was first released in 2008, the idea of building a shared cinematic universe based on characters largely unknown outside of comic book circles was the definition of risky. Fast forward 10 years later and the MCU has become widely regarded as an astonishing achievement that’s surpassed every other major franchise in terms of both financial reward and critical acclaim.
While each Marvel hero is powerful in their own right, some cinematic outings are stronger than others and inevitably, everyone has their favorites. To celebrate the release of Avengers: Infinity War, join us as we take a closer look at Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and rank all 18 Marvel movies released so far. For some of these characters, one of the following films might even be their last.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
Worldwide Gross: $623,900,000
More concerned with world-building than standing on its own two feet, Iron Man 2 fell short of its predecessor thanks to a manic turn from Mickey Rourke as the parrot-loving Russian hacker who goes by the name of Whiplash. Aside from Robert Downey Jr.’s usual charisma in the role of Tony Stark, Iron Man 2’s only redeeming feature is that it’s also the cinematic debut of Black Widow, the femme fatale who still sorely needs her own turn in the spotlight.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%
Worldwide Gross: $263,400,000
Despite his enduring role in pop culture, numerous attempts to do the Hulk justice on screen have left fans more angry than the Green Goliath himself and Marvel’s only attempt to build a solo movie around the character didn’t fare much better.
There’s nothing particularly bad about The Incredible Hulk and with nary a gamma-radiated dog in sight, many fans actually prefer this version over Ang Lee’s more divisive interpretation from a few years before. The problem is that this adaptation simply doesn’t match the high benchmark of the MCU movies that followed, and it wasn’t until Mark Ruffalo took over the role from Edward Norton that the Hulk finally smashed his way into the hearts of fans worldwide in The Avengers.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Worldwide Gross: $449,300,000
Thanks to his acting pedigree, director Kenneth Branagh nailed the Shakespearean elements of Thor’s backstory, but the Asgardian’s debut in the MCU felt somewhat derivative of the fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings which found popularity a few years before. However, star-making turns from both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as the feuding brothers, Thor and Loki, helped build the foundations of the MCU as we know it today and it’s hard to imagine the franchise without them.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%
Worldwide Gross: $644,600,000
Often derided for its bland villain, Malekith, and forced romantics, Thor: The Dark World is far from the pinnacle of what the franchise would go on to accomplish. Regardless though, the film should still be commended for building on the humor first seen in Thor, adding brains to the Thunder God’s brawn through hilarious scenes like the Chris Evans cameo and that London Underground scene. And hey, even if superheroics aren’t your thing, Chris Hemsworth and his god-like frame will make a believer out of you yet.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Worldwide Gross: $677,700,000
Doctor Strange and his psychedelic shenanigans were a far cry from the more traditional heroes we had seen in the MCU before, so Marvel played it safe by taking his otherworldly gifts and grafting them onto a standard origin story that mirrored much of what we had already seen before in Iron Man.
That’s not to say that Doctor Strange lacks innovation though. A mind-bending journey through the Multiverse remains one of the most memorable sequences seen yet in a superhero film and director Scott Derrickson has a lot of fun with the loopy confrontation between our hero and the Dread Dormammu.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Worldwide Gross: $1,214,811,252
Arguably the most divisive Marvel movie to date, Iron Man 3 contains some of Tony Stark’s best banter yet thanks to the work of director and co-writer Shane Black, but many still hold a grudge for how the film handled its big Mandarin reveal. Whether you derided this move or applauded Black for his bravery, what’s hard to deny is how exhilarating Iron Man 3 can be during action sequences like the Air Force One rescue, not to mention how the film tackles issues like PTSD in a surprisingly mature way.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Worldwide Gross: $519,300,000
It would have been easy for casual moviegoers to literally overlook this pint-sized hero when he first appeared in the MCU, so it’s to the credit of Marvel and star, Paul Rudd, that Ant-Man did as well as it did. With charming humor and some hugely inventive set-pieces – who can forget that Thomas the Tank Engine cameo? – Ant-Man’s first solo venture was a success all round, although we still can’t help but wonder what director Edgar Wright would have done with the material if he hadn’t left the project over “creative differences.”
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Worldwide Gross: $370,600,000
Captain America: The First Avenger is full of old-fashioned morals to match its setting, yet there’s something rather uplifting about the message behind The Star Spangled Avenger’s first movie. Ever the underdog, Steve Rogers single-mindedly focuses on what’s best for everyone else and while subsequent films introduce more nuance to the character, The First Avenger remains a fun if somewhat schlocky introduction to what makes Captain America tick.
To cap it all off, Chris Evans took what could have been a one-dimensional role and imbued it with enough earnestness to transform his character into a pillar of the MCU. The franchise won’t be the same without Evans once his contract ends for good.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Worldwide Gross: $863,800,000
Family themes pervade the second volume of James Gunn’s oddball space outing, providing audiences with another opportunity to learn more about fan-favorite characters such as Gamora and Star-Lord. The real stars though are Yondu, the Mary Poppins loving renegade, and Baby Groot, who is just too cute for this world or any other. Special mention also goes out to the ‘70s-inspired soundtrack, which once again helps provide the Guardians of the Galaxy with a distinctive personality that stands out as unique in a world of already colorful, larger-than-life heroes.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Worldwide Gross: $1,405,403,694
Not even someone with the strength of Hulk or Thor could withstand the pressure that Joss Whedon faced directing the follow-up to The Avengers, and at times, the sequel seems to suffer because of it. Tasked with introducing a whole new host of characters while simultaneously living up to the original and moving the MCU forward is no easy feat, something which occasionally becomes clear when pacing issues arise.
However, plenty of scenes still mark Age of Ultron out as one of Marvel’s superior efforts, including a kinetic chase sequence set in South Korea and the electrifying opening scene which reminds audiences exactly why we love seeing all of our favorite Marvel heroes fight together in one place.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Worldwide Gross: $585,200,000
It’s easy to forget now, but back when Marvel first took a chance on Iron Man in 2008, casual audiences had no idea who this hero even was and pitting him against The Dark Knight and Hellboy II at the box office seemed like a foolhardy move.
This all just goes to show then what imaginative casting and ambitious storytelling can achieve, as Robert Downey Jr.’s first stab at the role of Tony Stark was the film that started it all. Not only did Iron Man change the way that superhero movies are made, but it also impacted the industry as a whole. It’s fortunate then that the film holds up to repeat viewings and Jon Favreau’s skilled direction more than makes up for Obadiah Stane’s somewhat generic villain.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Worldwide Gross: $880,200,000
More than any other actor who’s worn the mask before him, Tom Holland truly is Spider-Man. After stealing every scene during his introduction in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel’s definitive Peter Parker shouldered the responsibility of rebooting the hero on screen for a third time in his own solo venture and the result was a resounding success.
Deviating from the usual Marvel formula, Spider-Man: Homecoming filtered the story of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man through the lens of a high school drama, imbuing the Wallcrawler with the kind of adolescent struggles that everyone can relate to at one time or another. Who would have thought that the sixth Spider-Man movie could be one of the most exciting yet?
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Worldwide Gross: $854,000,000
While Chris Hemsworth embodies the role of Thor with all of his heart and soul – not to mention those rippling biceps – the character himself never received the solo movie that he deserved…that is, until director Taika Waititi brought his indie sensibilities to Asgard.
Building on the humor that previous Thor films had touched on before, Ragnarok transformed what could have been the most serious Marvel movie yet into a genuinely funny comedy that also featured glorious turns from franchise newbies Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett. Few entries in the franchise possess a distinct personality like Ragnarok, and future Marvel movies would do well to follow suit if the studio wishes to keep things fresh in Phase 4 – with Deadpool 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Venom, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse – and beyond.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Worldwide Gross: $1,153,304,495
What’s truly remarkable about Captain America: Civil War is how it works as an unofficial Avengers sequel while still giving Cap the spotlight that he deserves in his third “solo” venture.
While the pacing isn’t as tight as some other films on this list, the Russo Brothers prove here that they’re the ones to beat when it comes to dynamic action sequences that seem to be lifted directly from the comics. The airport scene in particular represents a bold new step for Marvel, proving that it’s possible to balance a huge number of superheroes in one fight sequence without ever pushing one to the fringes unfairly. It’s also a testament to the characters themselves that the film ends without audiences hating either Steve Rogers or Tony Stark, despite their divide being the cause of this entire conflict.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Worldwide Gross: $773,300,000
After Marvel initially established the heroes who would go on to become the core members of the Avengers, the studio wouldn’t gamble on unproven characters again until 2014 when Guardians of the Galaxy arrived in cinemas.
Flipping a middle finger to the Marvel formula, this ‘70s-inspired comedy transformed potentially ridiculous characters – like Groot and Rocket Racoon – into household names, proving that irreverent heroes had a place in the MCU too.
It also goes without saying that tithout director James Gunn and his distinct take on the Guardians of the Galaxy, other experimental features like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange simply wouldn’t exist and don’t get us started on how hard the soundtrack rocks.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Worldwide Gross: $1,315,780,466
While the story itself plays into the overarching story of the MCU in much the same way as other films on this list, the significance of Black Panther as a cultural event marks it out as the most important movie released yet by Marvel.
Even if it wasn’t highly intelligent and visually stunning in equal measure, Black Panther would still rank high here because of the spotlight that it shines on African culture. Never before has an African-American character taken center stage in a blockbuster like this, providing countless people with the kind of hero that they’ve deserved to see for so long in the mainstream and yet haven’t up until now. Oh, and did we mention how Black Panther also includes kickass women, killer rhinos and one of the complex villains ever seen in a superhero film?
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Worldwide Gross: $1,518,812,988
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, few films successfully captured the essence of one superhero on screen, let alone an entire team. Although the X-Men certainly paved the way, Joss Whedon’s portrayal of the Avengers is what truly redefined what the genre was capable of, somehow finding the perfect balance between spectacle and character development among an ensemble of heroes larger than life.
Everything from the small character beats to the climactic battle for New York City proved that the MCU was more than just the sum of its parts. By combining the stories of each individual hero in one epic team-up, Marvel fulfilled the dreams of countless comic book fans who have found joy in these characters over the better part of 70 years. Not even the likes of Star Wars or Harry Potter can make the same claim.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Worldwide Gross: $714,300,000
It’s easy to describe Captain America: Winter Soldier as a ‘70s-style conspiracy thriller dressed up in spandex, but this superhero sequel is so much more than that. Yes, the elements of paranoia that drive the plot help make the film stand out from the rest of the MCU, but it’s the way that Steve Rogers deals with this that makes his second solo movie the best that Marvel has to offer.
Boasting smarts far beyond those of most superhero movies, the tight scriptwriting of Winter Soldier speaks to modern day concerns like no other entry in the Marvel canon, making genuinely insightful observations on the state of the world today. It also doesn’t hurt that the film features dizzying set-pieces that appeal to audiences beyond the typical fans that Marvel movies attract.
Steve Rogers may be a man out of time, but Captain America: Winter Soldier couldn’t be more timely. And in a world where people in power are no longer trusted, that’s the film’s greatest strength.