Now that we’re moving with headlong speed towards the end of Phase Three, and into the unknown maw that is Phase Four, I thought it might be interesting to rank all the various titles that make up the MCU. In this, I am not only including the films, but also the ABC and Netflix television shows (ranking each by season), as well as the long-lamented Marvel One-Shots. As of October 2018, that’s 46 movies, one-shots, and television seasons in the can. Pretty damned impressive!
Here’s the list, from least favorite to most favorite. I’ll try to keep this listing updated as more MCU things are released.
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Marvel’s Inhumans (2017). Black Bolt and the Inhuman royal family are banished from the moon to Earth, while his brother Maximus takes the throne. I so wanted to like this. But the downgrading from feature film to low budget TV series really shows; bland sets, terrible CGI, and bad writing. They could probably redeem themselves with a higher-budget Season Two, but this was such a disaster that that ain’t happening. My review.
The Incredible Hulk (2008). Bruce Banner evades the authorities while Emil Blonsky becomes the Abomination. Meh. I never cared enough about Banner to really get emotionally invested in the movie, and the action scenes were mediocre.
Item 47 (2012). A Marvel One-Shot included on the Blu-Ray release of The Avengers. A pair of small-time criminals gets hold of a discarded Chitauri weapon following the events of The Avengers. A neat idea, but I never got a feel for the two main characters.
Thor: The Dark World (2013). Thor must fight Malekith and the Dark Elves who want to bring darkness to the universe (literally). It fails largely because the villain’s motives are so difficult to figure out, and he himself is largely wasted on the screen. My review.
The Consultant (2011). A Marvel One-Shot included on the Blu-Ray release of Thor. Agents Coulson and Sitwell sabotage an effort to get Emil Blonsky out of prison following the events of The Incredible Hulk. A clever idea, but since half of it was already seen as a mid-credits scene in Incredible Hulk, it felt unearned.
Agent Carter Season Two (2016). Now in California, Peggy and Jarvis unravel a mystery around “Zero Matter”. I confess I found this season to be quite disjointed, the villain completely uninteresting, and the central concept didn’t seem fully fleshed out.
Iron Fist Season One (2017). Long thought dead, Danny Rand returns as a mystical warrior who must take on the figures controlling his father’s corporation. Yes, it’s true, Danny himself comes across as a whiny bitch, and there’s way too much board room infighting and not enough mystical glowing hand fighting. But I think it set up some good things for later, especially showing dissension within the Hand.
Note: It’s worth pointing out that after this point, everything is in the “good” category as far as I’m concerned. It’s just a question of how good, in comparison to each other.
Scarlet Witch (2021). A grieving Wanda Maximoff creates an idyllic reality crafted out of old television shows from her childhood memories, but the use of such a great amount of magic attracts the villainous Agatha Harkness, who wants to steal the power for herself. The really short episode format is annoying, the big reveal was completely obvious, and they went down a pretty safe road at the end compared to what they could have done.
Jessica Jones Season Two (2018). Jessica et al investigate the mysterious IGH, which was responsible for the experiments which turned her and others into super-powered people. While not bad, it suffered from the same problem as all the other Marvel Netflix series; it should have been ten episodes instead of thirteen, and the whole felt dragged out because of it. Too, I found the whole relationship between Jessica and her mother frankly dull. But it was made up for by the various side-plots with the rest of the characters, which I found really interesting. The high point was the appearance by David Tennant as Killgrave, but unfortunately it only lasted one episode (for reasons that aren’t quite explained).
Doctor Strange (2016). Brilliant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange is injured in a car accident and learns how to use magic. I found this one lacking, unfortunately. Strange himself is great, but Kaecilius is the real weak spot. Why is he doing what he’s doing? For that matter, what is he doing? Another weak MCU villain torpedoes the film, but Cumberbach’s performance pulls it out of “bad” territory.
The Punisher Season Two (2019). A random encounter leads to all sorts of mayhem, and there’s a nearly completely separate plotline featuring the return of the villain now called Jigsaw. I think this suffers from the same problem as season one; Punisher works better in a supporting role. The second half of the season definitely is better than the first, once you have some idea of what the hell is going on.
Daredevil Season Two (2016). Daredevil must fight the Hand with the help of his mysterious ex Electra. I have to say this got a bit tedious, as I want to see Matt and Foggy together, not at each other’s throats. But the introduction of the Punisher and the unexpected return of the Kingpin make up for a lot of deficiencies.
The Punisher Season One (2017). Ex-soldier Frank Castle uncovers a conspiracy that was involved in the death of his family. Went a little too long, and I was hoping for more Death Wish and less Three Days of the Condor, but overall a worthy effort. I think The Punisher works better as a supporting character than a lead, though, just by his nature.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (2011). A Marvel One-Shot included on the Blu-Ray release of Captain America: The First Avenger. Agent Coulson stops a robbery at a convenience store while driving out to New Mexico for the events of Thor. Very clever, and fleshed out Coulson’s character a lot.
Agent Carter (2013). A Marvel One-Shot included on the Blu-Ray release of Iron Man 3. Peggy Carter proves her mettle by taking a case on her own. Very well done.
The Defenders Season One (2017). Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones band together to fight the Hand. Picking up on the factions-within-the-Hand thing introduced by Iron Fist was a good idea, and at least the motives of the bad guys were finally explained. Some of the interactions between the leads were just amazing, too.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Three (2015-2016). Focused on the Inhumans and the secret history of Hydra, which has been trying to bring the powerful Inhuman Hive to Earth from an alien planet by using the obelisk. I have to say I found the episodes on the alien planet intensely boring, but the rest of the season was great.
Thor (2011). Thor is banished from Asgard to Earth, until he proves himself worthy of his hammer and defeats the usurper Loki. This is really great up until the Destroyer comes down to Earth. Since it’s essentially an automaton, it doesn’t really count as a villain, and I thought the menace was wasted. If Loki had sent a few frost giants instead, I think that would have been much better.
Iron Man 2 (2010). The son of Howard Stark’s former partner uses the ARC Reactor technology to become Whiplash, using Tony Stark’s bumbling rival, Justin Hammer, as cover. I really like this one, even though I know it’s not very popular. I thought Whiplash was a great villain, and Hammer was played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell.
Jessica Jones Season Three (2019). Back in form, with a worthy adversary in the serial killer Salinger, but really focusing on the conflict between Jessica and her adopted sister Trish with her newfound superpowers, which makes Jessica question her own superhero status. Has some real gut-punch scenes, and there are some nice scenes with the supporting characters. The scene with Luke Cage felt tacked on, though.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One (2013-2014). Famously off to a slow start in the first half, but once the second half was able to pick up the Hydra storyline from the contemporaneous Captain America The Winter Soldier, things really took off.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Four (2016-2017). Featured storylines relating to Ghost Rider, the Life Model Decoys, and a computer-generated world in which Hydra rules called the Framework. I didn’t particularly care about Ghost Rider, but the LMD and Framework storylines were top-notch.
Iron Fist Season Two (2018). The series could go nowhere but up after the disastrous first season, and it used its second chance very well. It’s a distinct improvement over its freshman outing in every respect; the story was more coherent, the acting better (especially the lead, Danny Rand), the fight choreography was immeasurably better (high point – the tattoo parlor fight), and there were more tie-ins to the greater MCU. There are appearances by Misty Knight (who we first saw in Luke Cage) that really added to her character, the ever-present Turk makes yet another brief but nice and funny appearance, but Typhoid Mary (aka Mary Walker) steals the show as the bad guy employed by just about everyone at some point. I can’t wait to see if she shows up in Daredevil (which in the comics was where she was usually seen). We also get to see the comic-book Iron Fist costume a few times. The high point in terms of writing is the continuing personal arc of Rand’s childhood friend and fellow Rand owner Ward Meachum and his struggle against addiction and generally being an asshole. It’s a satisfying arc, and one of the best things about the season. This also marks the first time a show was 10 episodes instead of 13, and it shows. The usual drag in the middle was barely here. I hope they continue with the rest of the Netflix series this way.
Captain Marvel (2019). Kree warrior-hero Vers, aka Carol Danvers, arrives on Earth to fight the villainous, shape-shifting Skrulls, and encounters young Phil Coulson and Nick Fury along the way. But there’s more to her missing memory than meets the eye. My review.
Black Widow (2021). A sort of prequel set between Civil War and Infinity War, this follows Natasha Romanov in her quest to destroy the Red Room and the army of Black Widows it has created. I thought there were pacing issues, especially in the first half, but I loved the family dynamic and the fight scenes were suitably spectacular. Comic relief by Red Guardian was very welcome. Was there a villain? Sort of two, but the one had no emotional connection to Natasha (that she knew about) and the other was really lame. A pale imitation of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Ant Man (2015). Scientist Hank Pym recruits burglar Scott Lang to stop his old colleague from rediscovering the secret of the Pym Particle, which can cause things to shrink and grow. Not quite a comedy, but close enough, using the heist film as a model was a great idea to change things up. My review.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Two (2014-2015). The now-fugitive agents of SHIELD fight Hydra’s attempt to learn the secrets of an alien obelisk and a Kree city. I think this was the high-water-mark of the series so far. Really interesting plots, and very well done all around.
Agents of SHIELD Season Five (2017-2018). Coulson and the rest of SHIELD go on a time-bending jaunt into the future where Earth is destroyed and the Kree control what’s left of the human race. I thought they did a lot of really cool stuff with this season, and it all fits neatly in with the rest of the Kree and Inhuman lore we’ve seen in the films, such as Guardians of the Galaxy. It remains to be seen whether Captain Marvel, which is going to be very Kree-centric, contradicts anything, but it was a great ride and handled the time paradox question very well. Plus, Gravitron!
Luke Cage Season One (2016). Ex-con Luke Cage uses his impenetrable skin to clean up Harlem, including the criminal Cottonmouth. I loved most of this, but thought Cottonmouth was a pretty weak villain who only seemed to be a bad guy because he was a bad guy. I thought the city councilwoman Mariah Dillard was a much better villain, and hope to see more of her.
Iron Man 3 (2013). Suffering PTSD after the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark must fight the Mandarin who is waging a war of terror against the United States. I love the concept of AIM playing both sides off one another, and I thought the Mandarin twist near the end was great (I know I’m in the minority). My review.
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 (2017). Star Lord meets his father, Ego the Living Planet who then must be stopped before he destroys all life in the galaxy. This is just marvelous, building on the relationships of the first film, and adding greatly to it.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021). Too much contemporary political commentary for my liking, plus the plot suffered from obvious changes to avoid hewing too closely to modern events with a global pandemic, but the interaction between Sam and Bucky more than made up for the shortcomings. Plus Zemo was terrific, and seeing Madripoor was a nice treat.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Artificial Intelligence Ultron is out to destroy the Avengers and help evolution by wiping out humanity. I found Ultron to be a really great villain, and I hope they bring him back someday (just saying that he left one of his robot-selves behind at the Battle of Sokovia would be enough).
Agent Carter Season One (2015). Peggy Carter helps prove Howard Stark’s innocence with the assistance of his butler, Jarvis. I really loved this one; 1946 New York was brilliantly brought to life, and the writing and acting were great.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). 90-pound weakling Steve Rogers is turned into supersoldier Captain America and fights the Red Skull and Hydra during World War 2.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). A bunch of misfits band together to keep Kree renegade Ronin the Accuser from getting an Infinity Stone to Thanos, the Mad Titan. The first true comedy entry in the MCU, it’s the writing and the characters that make this shine. Ronin is so-so as a villain, but certainly better drawn than many. My review.
Daredevil Season One (2015). Blind lawyer Matt Murdock fights the villainous Wilson Fisk and ninjas. The writing here is some of the strongest in the MCU, and the choreography of the fight scenes is justly praised.
All Hail the King (2014). A Marvel One-Shot included on the Blu-Ray release of Thor: The Dark World. Trevor Slattery is interviewed in prison following the events of Iron Man 3. The best of the One-Shots, both hilarious and at the same time redeems the Mandarin as a real (non-Trevor Slattery) villain that could be brought into the MCU in the future, showing just how much world-building and MCU-expanding these one-shots can do. And the scene at the end with Justin Hammer is just amazing.
Spider Man: Far From Home (2019). Peter Parker is on a school trip to Europe and Spider-Man must help SHIELD fight against an inter-dimensional peril while managing his burgeoning relationship with MJ. Great overall, with the continuing evolution of the relationships between the characters (even if they all happened to conveniently be “snapped” at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, and they gloss over it). The surprises at the end (including a totally unexpected cameo) are worth the price of admission, but I am still looking forward to the return of Mysterio.
Agents of SHIELD Season Seven (2020). A wild ride of time-travel adventure to wrap up the series as a whole. The writers are really at the top of their game, with stories that aren’t nearly as gonzo crazy as some of the earlier seasons, but entirely entertaining. The entry of Agent Souza from the Agent Carter show was a brilliant move, and they bring up previous plotlines in a very satisfying way as they make their way from the 1920’s to the present day. If they had to ruin the Thanos tie-in at the end of Season 5, this would have been the way to do it.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021). I REALLY enjoyed this film. It was like a combination of Journey to the West, House of Flying Daggers, and King Lear. The wire-work fights were terrific, the pacing was light-years better than Black Widow, and the theme of family was really well-done.
Captain America: Civil War (2016). The Avengers are torn apart by a government plan to require super-heroes to register themselves. The airport battle remains one of the standards by which other fight scenes are measured, and for good reason.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Asgard is attacked, and Thor and Loki must team up to destroy Hela, but the eccentric Grand Master has other ideas. Bright, colorful, and funny; if this is any indication of the direction of the cosmic side of the MCU going forward, it’s a good sign. My review.
Jessica Jones Season One (2015). Alcoholic superhero-turned-PI Jessica Jones fights Killgrave, a man who can control others’ minds, including hers. This is a really great piece of work, and the psychological angle of Jessica’s trauma from her time with Killgrave is really well-expressed. And he’s just a great villain himself. And dead, of course. Because Marvel.
Luke Cage Season Two (2018). The second season improves on the first in every way, while managing not to have to make the stakes huge while embracing a theme of family that remains meaningful throughout. The crime war in Harlem is fantastically portrayed, and Bushmaster is a terrific foe on a par with Black Panther’s Killmonger, and the villainous Black Mariah is better and more well-rounded than ever. The addition of Danny Rand late in the season actually saved it from the usual “three episodes too long” syndrome that plagues all of the other Netflix shows – in fact his performance here makes me much more sanguine about a new season of Iron Fist.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). The race is on to save Janet Van Dyne (the original Wasp) from the Quantum Realm. Much smaller stakes actually makes this a much better movie; they’re out to save one person, and not the planet or the city. Great humor and impeccable special effects. My review.
Loki Season One (2021). The timeline variant Loki from Avengers: Endgame gets immediately arrested by the Time Variance Authority, a numbing bureaucracy dedicated to protecting “the sacred timeline” from the ravages of free will creating branches. That Loki is spared, in order to help the TVA capture yet another variant Loki who is wreaking havoc across the timeline. Some of the episodes get a little talky-talky, but on the whole the mystery is well-contrived, I liked the characters, and they are certainly setting things up with the Multiverse for future shows and films. Alligator-Loki and Classic Loki (other variant forms, the latter with a comic-accurate costume!) are a treat, and the surprise appearance of Kang the Conqueror (or at least one of the infinite versions of him) at the end was well-done.
Black Panther (2018). The king of high-tech Wakanda must regain his throne from Killmonger, an exile who wants to wage war on the world. Really great world-building and visuals, and another strong villain. Ulysses Klaue as a supporting villain is just superb, too, but his death wastes a potentially great long-term bad guy. My review.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). High school nerd deals with his newfound superpowers, while being mentored by Tony Stark. Tom Holland is good, but it’s Michael Keaton’s Vulture who gets the most praise for his easy menace and clear motives. My review.
Avengers: Endgame (2019). The Avengers have been defeated, and now they have to pick up the pieces. Although it features the biggest battles yet, and is a perfect end to all the films that have come before, those battles are just a little too big to properly serve the characters in the way that the airport battle in Captain America Civil War did. Still, it’s an enormously satisfying movie, and rises to unheard-of levels of fan service. Which I say as a good thing.
Iron Man (2008). The one that started it all. Kidnapped in Afghanistan, Tony Stark creates a prototype Iron Man suit from scraps. The montage where he’s making the Mark II suit is one of my favorite scenes in the whole MCU.
Daredevil Season Three (2018). Wow. Just wow. After the lackluster performance of Season Two, and a rather ‘meh’ The Defenders, Season Three totally blew me away. Wilson Fisk is back, and demonstrates why he’s one of the stand-out characters, let alone villains, in the MCU. Not only is the tension almost unbearable in places (in a good way), there are real surprises which ratchet up the feeling of paranoia, the middle doesn’t sag, and we finally get Matt and Foggy together in a way that they don’t hate each other.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018). The Mad Titan Thanos is after all six Infinity Stones, and the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and other heroes try to stop him. Just an all-around awesome movie, and a worthy denouement of the whole series up to this point. My review.
The Avengers (2012). Nick Fury of SHIELD brings together a team of superheroes to fight Loki and regain the powerful alien tesseract. The training scenes are great, and Loki stands out as one of the great villains of the MCU. Wish they’d stop killing them all the time… My review.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Captain America must fight the super-assassin Winter Soldier, while uncovering a Hydra conspiracy inside SHIELD itself. Tense political thriller mixed with superhero adventure, plus the great reveal that threw the whole MCU on its side. Great stuff. My review.
Note: Not included yet are Cloak and Dagger Seasons One (2018), and Two (2019) and Runaways Seasons One (2017-2018) and Two (2018-2019) which I haven’t finished watching yet. Still (as of 2021).