Marvel Winding Down An 11-Year, 21 Movie Epic Journey With April’s Blockbuster, Avengers: Endgame

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is probably not at the forefront of your brains, even the part that spends your entertainment dollars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it as the last of the first three phases finally comes to an end with the next movie slated for April 26. Consider the enormity of the undertaking – 22 movies over an 11 year period all connected with a singular plot driving the narratives. Yet each film stands on its own. This type of interconnectedness has never been tried before in cinematic history. And it’s all about to end as the final installment nears. Avengers: Endgame will bring the Infinity Saga to a close.

We don’t know yet what Marvel has in store for us in Phase 4 as a follow up, but needless to say, this will be hard to top. How big has it been, you say? Well, consider that these 21 movies (to date) have cost Marvel $3.9B to make, yet have raked in a whopping $18.5B and counting. Let that number sink in. It’s the largest movie franchise in history by far.

So, as a lead-in to the final installment, how does each MCU movie compare against the others in the 21 movie slate? Disclosure: we aren’t movie critics (just read our brief bios), but we are huge Marvel fans, and as such we think this is relevant and just plain fun. So, as a challenge, read our rankings (sorry, but they contain spoilers) as compared against USA Today’s list, and email us with your own ranking. And just so you know, a lower ranking here does not mean a bad movie. In fact, they’re all really good.

We’ll see you at Starkville’s Hollywood Cinema later this month to view Avengers: Endgame. Marvel promises a three-hour blockbuster sure to please nerds and non-nerds alike.

 

Rank #1

 

USA Today

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). More political thriller than superhero blockbuster, Captain America’s second solo film – and the best Marvel jam of them all – taps into timely themes of privacy concerns, an enemy growing from within, and military might used in ethically questionable ways. Come for the timeliness, stay for Cap wrecking a bunch of guys in an elevator.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Avengers: Infinity War (2018). It was as if those old comic books whose covers said, “Not a hoax! Not a dream! This one has it all, True Believers!” actually lived up to the billing. After a decade of buildup, this one had to dazzle from start to finish, and it did. The culmination of years of planning lived up to every expectation.

 

Stanley Brown

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The perfect superhero movie, especially for this character since the mix of spy thriller and superhero genre is Cap’s to own. Favorite scene – taking down at least 10 tough guys in the confined space of an elevator. And, oh, that car chase with Nick Fury – none better in cinema history. Emotional impact 5/5 with the reveal that Bucky IS The Winter Soldier. Yikes! Great action all around.

 

Rank #2

 

USA Today

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Fantastic tunes, a strange cast of characters that inexplicably works, and a story where you’re hooked on a bunch of feelings, from the emotions of young Peter Quill crying over his dying mother to the hilarity of grown-up Peter (Chris Pratt) explaining Footloose to new pal Gamora (Zoe Saldana). We are Groot, indeed.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Like Batman Begins, a very good example of a movie that could be about any character, it’s just that this time it involved comic book heroes. Fantastic espionage yarn from start to finish.

 

Stanley Brown

Captain America: Civil War (2016). Find and protect Bucky at all cost. Now Cap has a new sidekick in Falcon. Iconic scene, a three-way rumble with Iron Man, Cap and Winter Soldier (now turned to the light). Favorite line, spoken by Iron Man – “I don’t care. He killed my mom.” Emotional impact 5/5. Truly gut-wrenching drama and betrayal.

 

 Rank #3

 

USA Today

Captain America: Civil War. Personal and political stakes are at play as Cap chooses his best friend (and brainwashed assassin) over Iron Man, blowing up the Avengers dynamic. Plus, it has the best superhero battle of them all and memorable intros for Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

 

Matthew Zimmerman

The Avengers (2012). Even after they had successfully created the separate character films, there was no guarantee this would work. Well, it did. Deadspin’s Will Leitch wrote that in decades to come, this movie would be looked at similarly to the original Star Wars: As a turning point in the genre. D.C. released Man of Steel a year later and has never come close to catching up.

 

Stanley Brown

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Great superhero origin story of the 98-pound weakling with an eagle’s heart. Emotional impact 5/5. I cried with Peggy as she lost her Cap. But you know you can’t keep a good man down. Not forever anyway. The loss of their love has lived over several movies now and is still hard to take.

 

Rank #4

 

USA Today

The Avengers. Joss Whedon’s jam-packed ensemble completely lived up to its giant-size expectations. While the heroes-batting-each-other trope is starting to get played out, the excitement is palpable and fanboy hearts melt when hammers and shield fly as Iron Man, Cap and Thor meet.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Iron Man (2008). It had to be good, it was. Downey was perfect casting, all actors and filmmakers were completely committed (not always something you saw in these types of movies until the MCU). And Jeff Bridges is always great. They took a decidedly second-tier Marvel character and made the whole thing shine.

 

Stanley Brown

Iron Man. What can I say. The movie that began it all was everything Marvel had come to mean from the first moment I began reading the books in the late 50s. Drama, action and laughs. Perfect movie and perfect casting of RDJ as Tony Stark. Emotional impact 3.5/5 with Tony realizing his genius can be channeled in a new way.

 

 Rank #5

 

USA Today

Black Panther (2018). From hanging in 1990s Oakland to flying through futuristic present-day Africa, the first solo film for Chadwick Boseman’s warrior king is a magnificent journey with awesome set pieces (including a car chase through South Korea that'll leave you breathless) and a near-perfect villain in Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger. Wakanda forever!

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Have wanted to see Surtur and Hela on a big screen for more than 30 years, and by embracing the utter ridiculousness of Thor and his Asgardian friends (as Walt Simonson did, and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby before him also did, in the classic comics), they hit on a formula that works well. 

 

Stanley Brown

Thor (2011). Perfect casting here as well with Chris Hemsworth in the title role. He makes the movie work with a secondary cast that really complements him. Favorite scene is when Thor regains his worthiness to wield Mjölnir and takes out the Destroyer in the whirlwind. Emotional impact 5/5, but not as you’d expect. The dynamic between father/son and son/son here is spot on and really drives the story. The Jane factor was secondary at best.

 

Rank #6

 

USA Today

Avengers: Infinity War. The third "Avengers" film is the all-night buffet of superhero fare, with a slew of folks rallying to fend off Thanos, a dude bent on destroying half the universe. It's all pretty tasty, though, with great one-liners, a narrative where good people make some bad decisions, and a stupendous cliffhanger that you'll love to hate.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). If Sony ever tries to take the character back, they are making a massive mistake. Marvel’s take on Spidey displays an understanding of what makes his stories great, while also updating certain things. The (first two) Tobey Maguire movies were good. This surpassed them.

 

Stanley Brown

Guardians of the Galaxy. Another example of how Marvel studios has been spot on in casting decisions. Perhaps the most fun of all the MCU movies and the most surprisingly good with quirky characters (talking bad ass tree and racoon). Emotional impact 4.5/5 with the loss of Groot and the scene where the 4 remaining Guardians wield the power stone to defeat Ronan the Accuser. Fantastic soundtrack of great 70s tunes.

 

Rank #7

 

USA Today

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017). They had us at “Kurt Russell plays a living planet.” The gravy is everything else: adorable Baby Groot dancing in the middle of a space battle, Dave Bautista’s Drax being the buff, oddball voice of reason, and Michael Rooker’s space outlaw Yondu stealing the show.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Captain America: Civil War. Maybe some parts of it don’t completely hold up under scrutiny, but that airport battle . . . like Winter Soldier and Ragnarok, this set up Thanos’ Arrival without heavily featuring an Infinity Stone. All the forces that could check him were weakened, and Marvel was playing the long game.

 

Stanley Brown

The Avengers. A truly great team-up movie with great Marvel moments – bickering and quipping galore which produced some epic laughs (Thor: “You people are petty…and tiny”). Loki is back as the main antagonist as played by the Tom Hiddleston. This movie showed that the MCU could and would be sustained, so 2012 proved to be a milestone for Marvel with its success ($1.5B). Emotional impact: 5/5 with the death of Phil Coulson, a minor character, but in many ways the glue that held the MCU together up until that point over several movies.

 

 Rank #8

 

USA Today

Captain America: The First Avenger. Marvel nailed the origin story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the little guy whose heart was bigger than his biceps until a super-soldier serum pumped him up. It offered a great World War II aesthetic, two-fisted adventure and a moral code that created an intriguing thread for his next two movies.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Thor. I didn’t expect it to be this high, but this is how the rankings shook out. It could have been better, but there were some great moments, and while Iron Man was great and Captain America had some natural hooks, the fact they made this one work with all its quirks and offbeat ideas (Kenneth Branagh!) meant that it was full steam ahead on the MCU. Again, every actor committed completely. That matters.

 

Stanley Brown

Avengers: Infinity War. In the Russo Brothers we trust as we gear up for the second half of this movie (Avengers: Endgame, coming 4/25/19). The first of the two-part culmination of the Infinity Stones saga (22 movies). Too much to go over here, but needless to say the emotional impact (5/5) is really off the charts as half the sentient life in the universe is wiped out with the snap of Thanos’ mighty fingers. Lots of our favorite heroes die in this one, and we eagerly await the finale. I would have had it ranked higher if not for what the Russos did with The Hulk. Needless to say, we wait for our favorite green rage monster to redeem himself.

 

Rank #9

 

USA Today

Spider-Man: Homecoming. Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can – and when you're Tom Holland, the new version of the teen web slinger, you also deal with balancing extracurriculars, getting a date for the big homecoming dance, trying to impress Tony Stark and fighting the Vulture in an epic young-adult adventure.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Captain America: The First Avenger. There’s such a sense of joy to the USO scenes and the prison break – “I’m from Fresno, ace” – and Evans’ performance sets up Captain America as the emotional soul of the entire MCU.

 

Stanley Brown

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. I really like the Guardians movies and this one didn’t disappoint as Peter Quill, aka, Star Lord, finally finds his father only to learn that he’s the biggest bastard in the universe. Great comedic moments again and with the addition of Nebula and Yondu filling the ranks of the Guardians. Another great team up movie to deal with a threat to the galaxy. Emotional impact (5/5) off the charts again of a sister/sister and daddy/son variety. Lots of tears shed in this one with a certain death as Peter realizes that he had his “daddy” with him all along. Another great soundtrack, this time from the 80s.

 

Rank #10

 

 USA Today

Iron Man. The beginning, the kickoff, the OG. A crew of Avengers was probably still a pipe dream for fans and most of Hollywood when Robert Downey Jr. first put on the Iron Man suit, but from the start, the signature swagger, attitude and swig of humility he gave Tony Stark set the tone for everything that was to come.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Black Panther. Did a fantastic job creating an entire original world. Best onscreen car chase since Matrix Reloaded. Bit predictable, but also dazzling. 

 

Stanley Brown

Doctor Strange (2016). What’s the most important thing to you as a person, the thing that, if it’s taken away, your persona crumbles. For Stephen Strange, the world’s most famous neurosurgeon, it’s his hands. Another great movie with a perfect cast and an emotional impact (4/5) that lends itself perfectly with the character arc as Stephen Strange learns that his deepest impact is not, in fact, his use of a scalpel.

 

Rank #11

 

USA Today

Ant-Man (2015). The heist comedy with a super-shrinking dude was a bigger risk than "Guardians of the Galaxy." Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are great together, though, and Marvel gave us something we hadn’t seen yet: a hero who’s also an ex-con dad.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Doctor Strange. Forgot this one as I listed the films, but it was really good. Like Thor, it’s unlike other comic book characters, but again, they nailed it. And it wasn’t too terribly confusing, with a resolution that was a work of genius. Probably the point when it became clear that Marvel could effortlessly produce quality films on any characters.

 

Stanley Brown

Captain Marvel (2019). This movie is still running and is well on its way to earning $1B at the box office (seemingly an easy task for Marvel Studios these days). I put it at the top of my second ten because the film, set well before the lead film in the MCU (Iron Man) serves as the glue that ties all of the MCU together with its several important plot points. Emotional impact: 4/5 as Carol Danvers recovers her memories and discovers her purpose in the universe.

 

Rank #12

 

USA Today

Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch gets a fantastically weird and trippy introduction to the MCU as a sorcerer supreme who goes from rich jerk to humbled hero. It’s a magical version of Iron Man’s origin and some gags are overly goofy, yet the filmmaking wizardry and effects are second to none.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Captain Marvel. Doesn’t hit you over the head with the overall message, instead featuring a well-done sequence that makes the point through Carol rising to her feet across multiple generations. What Marvel gets – and DC misses – is that great and inspirational heroes aren’t invincible, but rather must be able to get up after being knocked down. A little off, dialogue- and tone-wise, but I can see that as an homage to 1990s movies.

 

Stanley Brown

Black Panther. Another billion-dollar maker for Marvel and perhaps the best example of world building among all the MCU movies. Here we discover the hidden African Kingdom of Wakanda and learn how and why vibranium, a metal hugely important in the Marvel scheme of things, puts the earth at the center of the bullseye. Emotional impact: 4/5 as T’Challa, aka, The Black Panther, learns to be a righteous king.

 

Rank #13

 

USA Today

Thor: Ragnarok. Thor and Hulk make a dynamic duo in the best "Thor" solo film (and funniest Marvel project), and anything with the two of them is magic. It's just too bad the larger narrative featuring a hostile takeover by goddess of death Hela (Cate Blanchett) takes a backseat to the various shenanigans. 

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Ant-Man. Probably higher than it should be, but it’s so creative and fun. Marvel’s casting still is consistently great. One of the multiple films where Marvel didn’t succumb to the temptation of depicting a bombastic finale, instead opting for a more personal battle.

 

Stanley Brown

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). An important intermediary Avengers movie as the Infinity Stones saga unfolds. Favorite scene here is the creation and birth of Vision (from Jarvis, Tony’s faithful AI). This serves to ground the emotional impact (4/5) of the movie as well. The movie shows how Tony’s genius can actually lead to dangerous developments with the creation of Ultron, the MCU’s quirkiest villain and in my book even scarier than Thanos.

 

Rank #14

 

USA Today

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). The satisfying sequel doubles down on all the aspects that made the original "Ant-Man" joyful with one big (or, small, depending on how you look at it) addition: Evangeline Lilly debuts her winged and awesomely rough-and-tumble Wasp on an adventure that takes its size-changing heroes from San Francisco to the Quantum Realm.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Avengers: Age of Ultron. I like it more than most. But that scene where they all try to lift the hammer is worth a few bumps in the rankings. As is James Spader.

 

Stanley Brown

Thor: Ragnarok. Since The Mighty Thor was one of my favorite Marvel heroes as a kid, I would have placed this movie higher, but Taika Waititi, the film’s director, took the character way too much to the comedic end of the Marvel spectrum, utterly destroying his persona built up in the first two Thor movies. But the movie isn’t bad by any stretch, with an emotional impact off the charts (5/5) with the destruction of Asgard and Thor’s hammer, and the death of Odin, his father. And, owe yeah, Thor loses an eye.

 

 Rank #15

 

USA Today

Captain Marvel. Brie Larson's photon-blasting space warrior debuts in a 1990s nostalgia-fest that's part "Guardians of the Galaxy" and part "Memento": Carol Danvers has to figure out her own mysterious human identity while also warding off an alien menace to Earth. Larson's OK but you'll really dig the sweet relationship between youngish Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Goose the cat.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. When I saw this, I had barely watched the original film. Really enjoyed it, and Kurt Russell is always welcome.

 

Stanley Brown

Ant-Man. A movie that ties in important elements of the Marvel Comic universe incorporated into the MCU, most notably, the Quantum Realm. Almost, but not quite as fun as the Guardians movies for the sheer comedic effect. Here, a smart thief learns to be a hero in the eyes of his young daughter. Emotional impact: 3/5.

 

Rank #16

 

USA Today

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Bursting with a packed ensemble, it’s lacking the superteam mojo of the first "Avengers." Only when we see Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and his secret home life do we get that great Joss Whedon touch. Also: Bless James Spader’s heart for being the world’s snarkiest killer robot.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Ant-Man and the Wasp. See Ant-Man. More silly fun, yet very much a part of the overall universe.

 

Stanley Brown

Spider-Man: Homecoming. The best cinematic Spider-Man and with perfect casting yet again, but for me the movie didn’t quite have mecoming. the emotional punch I look for. Perhaps the best played villain in the entire MCU to date with Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, aka, The Vulture. Emotional impact: 3/5 as our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man learns to be a superhero in his own right.

 

Rank #17

 

USA Today

Thor. Not Marvel’s greatest solo movie, but certainly one that takes some admirable swings. A quasi-family drama that boots Thor from the realm of Asgard to Earth in fish-out-of-water fashion so he can be worthy of his mystical hammer, Mjølnir.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Iron Man 3 (2013). Enjoyable. The Mandarin twist I thought was fun and at least unexpected. But when an MCU movie doesn’t establish something related to the Infinity Stones or show the fall of one of the main institutions that could check Thanos, it feels later like the movie was extraneous.

 

Stanley Brown

Ant-Man and the Wasp. Another Ant-Man movie with important implications we’ll all catch up on in the last Avengers movie coming soon. Not as fun as the first Ant-Man movie, but this works as a vehicle for Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) and Evangeline Lilly (Wasp). Emotional impact: 4/5 as Hank Pym recovers his wife from the Quantum Realm.

 

 Rank #18

 

USA Today

Thor: The Dark World (2013). Chris Hemsworth’s thunder god has a sequel that’s a blender of familiar fantasy tropes as Thor and love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) have to deal with a dark elf with an Infinity Stone. Tom Hiddleston’s iconic trickster Loki is in fine form and the film’s highlight.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Guardians of the Galaxy. Felt at the time this would be the tipping point where audiences told Marvel that they couldn’t just put ANYTHING on the screen and expect to sell boatloads of tickets. It proved exactly the opposite. But while I’m usually a sucker for Cosmic Marvel stories, nether Guardians film quite grabbed me like others did.

 

Stanley Brown

Thor: The Dark World. The movie could have been better, but for one important point – Jane Foster (Natalie Portman’s character) should have been relegated to a reduced role. The comedy here fell flat, but the movie is an important connector to the Infinity Stones saga and the Ragnarok movie. Emotional impact: 3.5/5 as Loki, Thor’s brother dies, sort of.

 

Rank #19

 

USA Today

Iron Man 3. The results are only so-so as Tony Stark tussles with PTSD, criminally underused antagonist Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and yawn-worthy villain Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). The threequel also proved that, yes, too many armored suits are a bad thing – heck, even Gwyneth Paltrow gets one.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

MZ 19: Iron Man 2 (2010). See Iron Man 3. A passable film. Better than its reputation, but far from the top tier. Marvel was still figuring these things out at the time.

 

Stanley Brown

Iron Man 3. I would have liked this movie to have a higher rank, but its problems precluded that. Chief among them is turning one of Iron Man’s most iconic enemies from the comics, The Mandarin, into a fake and a fraud. This was heresy of the highest order, and the movie was the worse for it. Not that it hurt at the box office because it became a billion-dollar winner for Marvel Studios, the first non-Avengers film to do that. Emotional impact: 2/5. Tony almost lost Pepper in this one, but it never felt that way.

 

Rank #20

 

USA Today

The Incredible Hulk (2008). Before ultimately being replaced in other movies by Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton starred as scientist Bruce Banner in this odd duck from the nascent MCU. This mostly forgettable affair exists to serve as a reminder that we still deserve a good solo Hulk film one day.

 

Matthew Zimmerman

Thor: The Dark World. Should have been better. But its entire plot hinges on a “What are the freaking ODDS?!” encounter with Jane and the Aether. Ridiculous waste of talent across the board, with Portman mailing in her role in a manner akin to her performance in the final Star Wars prequel.

 

Stanley Brown

Iron Man 2. As a follow up to a great film, this movie disappointed on a number of fronts. First, the recasting of Rhodey as Tony Stark’s buddy with Don Cheadle just didn’t work like the original actor (Terrence Howard) from the first movie. But the main problem was the antagonist (another man in an iron suit) was not original enough. However, there are Easter eggs in this movie that are important foreshadowing moments for the entire MCU. Emotional impact 2/5.

 

Rank #21

 

USA Today

Iron Man 2. Let’s accentuate the positive: The sequel gave us Scarlett Johansson’s sleek secret agent Black Widow and put Don Cheadle in the War Machine armor. Everything else was a scattershot mess with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) taking on the wholly underwhelming villain Whiplash (Mickey Rourke).

 

Matthew Zimmerman

The Incredible Hulk. In the theater, I went to the bathroom. I returned and felt like I missed nothing. This is Marvel’s most overrated character, largely because of a cartoon in the 1980s (“Hulk SMASH!!”) and the Bill Bixby show which had very little to do with the comic book depiction. Ruffalo’s Hulk has been great as part of the ensemble and as Tony’s science partner. This movie is not good. 

 

Stanley Brown

The Incredible Hulk. Coming on the heels of Iron Man in 2008, this movie introduced a different and better actor to play Dr. Bruce Banner, aka, The Hulk, than the one that followed. I believe Ed Norton and this CGI hulk is superior in every way to the character brought to us by Mark Ruffalo, who started in the first Avengers film (and has had great success playing the character). The problems: almost no emotional impact for me (1/5) with a week leading lady to play opposite Norton. A weak antagonist spoiled the movie as did a climax that failed miserably.

 

The ranking and comments for USA Today are from Brian Truitt (Published 7:08 p.m. ET Feb. 6, 2018 | Updated 12:44 p.m. ET March 7, 2019).

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