Now that Avengers: Endgame has arrived, it’s once again time to answer that eternal question: Which Marvel Studios movie is best?
There are now 22 movies on the studio’s roster, dating back to 2008’s Iron Man, and Vox has ranked them all from worst to best. To come to this completely scientific and definitive assessment, four Vox culture writers each assigned every film a point value from 1 to 22, with 22 being the best. Then we tallied the results for each film; the movie with the highest total won the top spot, the second-highest total came in second, and so on.
To be clear, Marvel movies have a high floor and a pretty standard ceiling; even the most middle-of-the-road entries are good superhero movies. But the number of Marvel movies that truly knock your socks off is much lower.
If you disagree, you obviously have a different definition of the word “definitive” than they do. But that’s okay. We can all share this planet together.
Here’s every Marvel movie, ranked from worst to best:
22) The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Prior to The Incredible Hulk, I was not sure it was within the realm of feasibility to make a boring movie about a giant green gamma ray-infused, radioactive superhero. But then I watched this movie, which spends large amounts of time zooming in on Edward Norton looking at his pre-FitBit to make sure his heart rate doesn’t spike (because otherwise the Hulk comes out). Mark Ruffalo replaced Norton as the Hulk prior to 2012’s The Avengers, and no more solo movies about the Hulk were ever made; that’s all you need to know about The Incredible Hulk. —Alex Abad-Santos
21) Thor: The Dark World (2013)
If the first Thor movie is a tepid origin story, this sequel is a messy return to Asgard that almost demanded that Marvel pump the brakes on Thor films (which it did, for a full four years). When The Dark World came out, The Avengers had very recently established that the god of lightning and his brother (and Tumblr fave) Loki can be a lot of fun. But The Dark World is marred by bloated, bad action filmmaking and an unexciting story that did everything possible to suggest otherwise. It’s not called The Dark World for nothing. (Thankfully, Thor got much more to do in the next Avengers movies — and The Dark World’s much improved 2017 follow-up, Thor: Ragnarok.) —Allegra Frank
20) Iron Man 2 (2010)
When Iron Man 2 came out in 2010, Marvel was still figuring out how to make its stage-setting movies for the Avengers, and to watch the film today is to be reminded of Marvel’s obvious ramp-up phase. Robert Downey Jr. remains fun to watch as Iron Man, but the movie is kind of a mess, trying to do too many things at once.
But it also marks the first time we see a glimpse of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and it’s got both Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke. So, for my money, not a total wash. —Alissa Wilkinson
19) Doctor Strange (2016)
The best thing about Doctor Strange actually has nothing to do with the title character. Rather, its greatest assets are: 1) Tilda Swinton’s charismatic, breezy performance as the Ancient One (though it’s important to note that the character’s ethnic background and Swinton’s casting has been criticized for being racist), and 2) the movie’s incredible visual effects, including city buildings folding, flipping, and spinning on top of one another. The seven-minute opening sequence, which features Swinton and those visual effects, is one of most stunning pieces of footage Marvel has ever created. —AAS
18) Thor (2011)
I love Thor; I do not love Thor. The film is a dull introduction to Asgard’s finest hero, who is saddled with a weird mix of director Kenneth Branagh’s theatrically dramatic urges and the requisite flashy superhero business. And for as fun as Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are to watch — there’s a reason these two actors, and characters, broke so big! — the decision to drag us out of the heavens and down to Earth makes Thor the opposite of fun. It’s an almost unrecognizable portrait of one of the best characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s best left in the past. —AF
17) Ant-Man (2015)
I know Ant-Man will never be one of the most beloved of the MCU films, and that’s fine; if you’re more invested in the Avengers’ overall arc, the Ant-Man films feel a bit lightweight, diversions from the main attraction.
But since what I personally want from the MCU is mostly is something fun to watch, I’ll still argue in Ant-Man’s favor. The movie gave us Paul Rudd getting very tiny and then VERY HUGE, which is, I think, inherently funny. And the movie benefits from the off-kilter and kooky sensibility of director Peyton Reed; to me, “the director of Bring It On makes an MCU film” is a can’t-lose proposition. Take your tragic arcs and your big battle scenes; give me my Ant-Man. —AW
16) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The intentionally corny charms of the first Captain America film are lost on more worldly types, who usually struggle to see the appeal of a movie that essentially becomes a World War II-era USO performance for much of its second act. And to be fair, the movie’s third act is a bit of a disaster, especially because it disappoints in the wake of a much better action sequence around the film’s midpoint.
But if Iron Man established the MCU as a place where a cynical wink could win the day, First Avenger is its hyper-sincere, necessary counterbalance. This entire project wouldn’t work without Chris Evans as Steve Rogers — and it wouldn’t work without this puppy dog of a movie. —Todd VanDerWerff
15) Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
As I said above, I’m a vocal fan of both Ant-Man movies, which are delightfully weird and funny. I give Ant-Man and the Wasp a slight edge, for a few reasons: First, it has even more quantum physics than the first film, and I tend to favor the MCU entries that go more in a sci-fi direction (rather than fantasy or war movie or history epic or whatever). Second, I think Paul Rudd is just the greatest.
But third — and most important — I adore its Michael Peña scene, which is possibly the greatest pure comedy moment in the whole MCU. —AW
14) Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War is essentially the first half of a two-parter — or maybe it’s the first of two “volumes” — which is also basically its problem: It has to drag everyone from the MCU into one story, which means there’s a lot of jumping around from place to place, and it also has the whole Thanos thing to set up.
Its ending, though, is genuinely moving. I have thought about the images from this film quite a bit since I first saw it, which is more than I can say for a great many other films in the MCU. And it does, in retrospect, set the table for Endgame quite well, without also insisting that Endgame look and feel like Infinity War: Part 2. It’s a complete movie unto itself while also the start of a two-parter, and I admire it for that. —AW
13) Captain Marvel (2018)
Few movies in the MCU have provoked as much debate as Brie Larson’s first outing as Carol Danvers. The film’s critics quite rightly point out that making Carol an amnesiac for its first half saps Larson of the charms of her usual onscreen presence, that the movie’s take on “feminism” is ultra-generic, and that its take on the ’90s is even more so.
But if you can get past those (very real) surface-level problems, you’ll be treated to a grand cosmic adventure that largely stops being a Marvel movie and instead becomes a surprisingly thoughtful treatise on what it means to have your memories stolen from you, at least for a while there. Captain Marvel is the closest Marvel has come to making a straight-up indie film, while positioning that indie film to bring in $1 billion worldwide. —TV
12) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Here’s my secret, readers. I love Avengers: Age of Ultron!
Of all the Marvel movies that attempt to serve the needs of the individual film as well as the needs of the larger cinematic universe, Age of Ultron is the one that’s most split in two. Director Joss Whedon clearly wanted to tell a story about the limits of humanity, our dark possible future, and why we’re still worth fighting for as a species. Marvel Studios clearly wanted a movie that would presage everything to come in the next few years, heading into the final showdown with Thanos.
The result is pretty ungainly in places. But when the movie settles down and just lets its characters hang out, it’s terrific. And its best scene, featuring two robots debating the future of humanity, is one of the few times a Marvel movie feels like it’s genuinely about something other than iconography. —TV
11) Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Captain America: Civil War introduced Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man into the MCU, added a bit more depth to Scarlet Witch, and opened up the seismic rift between Iron Man and Captain America. The movie plays with the idea of holding our heroes accountable for the damage they do, and digs into how difficult it is to square off against an enemy that isn’t a Chitauri alien or a Mad Titan, but a friend. Not all of it is solidly believable — Tony Stark is so relentlessly unlikable in this film, and there’s a battle sequence where Scarlet Witch could have wiped out an entire team — but there’s a lot of fun to be had watching Earth’s Mightiest Heroes go head to head. —AAS
10) Iron Man 3 (2013)
The polarized critical reception to Iron Man 3 — for me, one of the top three films in the MCU — always puzzled me, until I realized that it’s not really a Marvel movie; it’s a Shane Black movie. If you’re already a fan of the writer-director, known for his quippy dialogue and twisty plots, then Iron Man 3 is a fascinating look at a filmmaker with a distinctive voice trying to put his stamp on the MCU. If you’re only here for the MCU itself, the convoluted plot must feel a little exhausting.
That said, I think Iron Man 3 contains buckets of charm, even for viewers who aren’t super interested in Black. It’s the most engaged Robert Downey Jr. has been as Tony Stark, and the scenes where he’s just hanging out in small-town America, talking to a little kid, trying to get his mojo back, are some of Marvel’s most purely winning. —TV
9) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
While I’m sharing my controversial Marvel opinions, I may as well share that I think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is substantially better than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1. Where Vol. 1’s weak villain and lumpy plot ultimately undercut a sleek and funny space adventure, Vol. 2 is one of the most thematically cohesive movies in the entirety of the MCU.
Writer-director James Gunn, having established his characters as a found family in the first film, now explores the limitations of the families they were born into (or, in the case of a few characters, the biological families they never even knew). It’s a sometimes dark movie about what it means to grow up in an abusive home and about how hard it can be to escape the influence of your parents. It isn’t everybody’s cup of tea — especially when combined with Gunn’s trademark snarky humor — but boy, is it mine. —TV
8) Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
I find all of the individual Avengers interesting in their own ways, but while watching Avengers: Endgame, I realized the only one I actually cared about was Spidey, at least as played by Tom Holland. Something about the scrappy, wide-eyed kid who just wants to help save the world is so appealing to me.
And what I loved about his first full movie was that it didn’t feel like another superhero film; it felt like a film about being a teenager, in high school, trying to figure things out, learning how to be a good person. Yes, that’s what Spider-Man’s stories have always been about, but Tom Holland’s performance in Homecoming feels so convincingly, sweetly young. I love this movie. —AW
7) Iron Man (2008)
It is amazing that Iron Man works as well as it does. Just from watching it, you can tell Robert Downey Jr. improvised large sections of his dialogue. The story is about a jackass who grows a bare sliver of a heart, a template that Marvel would beat into the ground in the years to come but that was not yet established in 2008. And though Jeff Bridges is fun as villain Obadiah Stane, he’s an early example of what would become a consistent villain problem for Marvel, to say nothing of its third-act problem. The final showdown here is kind of a snooze.
But Iron Man isn’t really about superheroics. It’s the story of a guy thinking he only needs himself and coming to realize that he just might need other people — and they might need him. When it came out in 2008, it was a radically different superhero idea than other superhero movies of the era, and it doubled as a riotous welcome back party for Downey, long one of Hollywood’s most electric actors but someone whose talents were nearly destroyed with addiction. Iron Man shouldn’t work, but its very unlikeliness is part of its charm. —TV
6) Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
I think of Thor: Ragnarok less as yet another Asgardian entry into the superhero genre and more as an ensemble comedy. The movie boasts an unrestrained Hulk (a game Mark Ruffalo), who looks ridiculous in alien gladiator armor; Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, who suffers no fools and cares not for men, which is relatable content for many; Tom Hiddleston and Jeff Goldblum as a suitably ridiculous pair of villains; and Chris Hemsworth at his hilarious best. (Not for nothing, Hemsworth is also fine as hell with that cropped hair.) And I haven’t even mentioned the real ace in the hole, Thor: Ragnarok’s true calling card: the Kronan monster Korg, voiced by director Taika Waititi as the most affable, mild-mannered New Zealander on this side of the universe.
The movie doesn’t sacrifice glitzy action in the face of all the great character moments born from its wonderful cast, of course; it’s still a fun time to see Thor, sans hammer, take on impossible enemies (and the Hulk!). And it’s an apt showcase for Marvel’s smart, albeit slow, embrace what works best for the Thor series: humor, not just a lot of Norse mythology. —AF
5) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 (2014)
It took me a long, long time to get on board with the whole MCU thing. For the first few years, I saw it as a transparent marketing ploy. I gleefully resisted, boasting of my refusal to partake. But then The Avengers happened in 2012, and I realized that perhaps there was something more to these superhero movies everyone was spending their money on; perhaps they were actually ... not ... pointless?
I was at least half right. Marvel movies can indeed be very silly. But that’s exactly what makes the first Guardians of the Galaxy so wonderful. It stars a remarkably silly central hero in Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (a fittingly bad alias), who’s necessarily flanked by a crew of varying levels of competence. Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon is a treasure, as is Dave Bautista as Drax; the two function as opposite ends of the same schmuck-y coin. (One thinks he’s very smart but isn’t! One thinks he’s not that smart but is!)
The entire Guardians crew plays off each other in ways moving and riotous, with jokes sprinkled in amid action and drama that leave lasting, affecting impacts. Guardians of the Galaxy is no mere superhero film; it’s a comedy that works as a mission statement. Superheroes need not be either dour or ridiculous anymore. Under Marvel’s thumb, they can be both. —AF
4) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The most crucial element of The Winter Soldier is the chemistry between Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers and Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff. Rogers is a good soldier and a good company man. Romanoff comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, a former spy whose job is to expect the worst in people. The two come together at S.H.I.E.L.D., that rare something they both believe in. And it’s devastating for both, in very different ways — his identity, her trust issues — when they find out that Hydra has infiltrated their organization.
When Hydra unleashes its coup, including the reemergence of Bucky Barnes as the world’s most efficient killing machine, the two have to rely on one another despite their disparate worldviews and how they see the people within that world. And in turn, they bring out the best in each other. —AAS
3) Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Endgame’s climactic battle sequence is easily the most colossal superhero brawl ever created. It’s made of that Marvel magic that hits you with chills and throws your heart into your throat. The sequence alone is likely to cause spectacle tears — when your eyes water at the scale, size, and emotion of the entire thing. It’s proof that a well-executed battle scene can make the spirit soar.
But beyond its big fight, Endgame offers thoughtful ruminations on grief, failure, and mourning. It shows us the humanity (or the devastating lack thereof) behind the original core Avengers — Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Thor, Hulk, and Hawkeye — when they’re at their lowest points. The Avengers have never had to deal with the burden of letting people down, and the way Endgame explores that emotional turmoil makes us understand our heroes, and heroism, through a different but equally effective lens. —AAS
2) The Avengers (2012)
Directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers was the movie that, when it came out in 2012, represented the best that Marvel had to offer. And it’s still the standard that superhero movies will be compared to. The Avengers brought together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and dropped them into the middle of a relentless alien invasion in New York City, helmed by Marvel’s beloved villain Loki. It marked the first time that Marvel’s strategy of interconnecting multiple movies finally had everyone come together for a team-up.
The movie easily could have spun out of control, but in the hands of Whedon and a cast spearheaded by an invigorating Robert Downey Jr., it was streamlined, sleek, and almost clinical in how it showcased the soaring joy and pulpy fun that comic book movies are capable of tapping into. —AAS
1) Black Panther (2018)
More than any Marvel movie — more than most big, mainstream, expensive blockbusters, even — Black Panther feels important. It feels relevant. It feels both of our time and unstuck in it. Black Panther is a movie where black royalty becomes a superhero. It’s a movie where that superhero’s entourage is composed of dark-skinned black women who are fierce and strong and unbelievably smart. It’s a movie that’s championed as much for its inherent blackness as it is for how normalized that is.
Black Panther isn’t a black superhero movie. It’s a Marvel movie, and a damn good one too; critics, audiences, and Oscar voters seemed to agree on that. There is a fine origin story unfurled here, brimming with powerful fight sequences, instantly memorable characters, and a villain so mesmerizing, we may even want to root for him too. There is also hope for many things, including that people who look like me, or like many of us, can save the world too. —AF