The Best (and Worst!) From the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel Studios via YouTube

Ever since Iron Man hit theaters in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been consistently dropping superhero blockbusters, creating an empire of 24 films and counting. There’s no sign of the MCU stopping, either, with at least 10 more movies in the works.

The Universe is continuing to expand, and later this year we’ll see the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals. But in honor of Black Widow joining the ranks this week, let’s take a look back at some of the best movies in the MCU, along with some of the worst!

WORST: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Do I love Edward Norton and Liv Tyler? Yes, absolutely. Does that save this movie? Nope, it certainly does not. The Incredible Hulk wasn’t the smashing success Marvel Studios was probably hoping for. Bruce Banner may be a genius, but this Hulk reboot was far from brilliant. They recast “Jolly Green” with Mark Ruffalo for 2012’s The Avengers, so we can all but ignore this movie, right?

“Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) desperately seeks a cure for the gamma radiation that contaminated his cells and turned him into The Hulk. Cut off from his true love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and forced to hide from his nemesis, Gen. Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), Banner soon comes face-to-face with a new threat: a supremely powerful enemy known as The Abomination (Tim Roth).” – via Rotten Tomatoes

WORST: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

While another Thor movie lands in the “Best of” list, 2013’s Thor: The Dark World is kind of a bore. You’d expect more from the continuation of Thor’s big-screen adventures, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms. At least there’s plenty of action–and Tom Hiddleston.

“While Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos, an ancient race led by vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Setting out on his most dangerous and personal journey yet, Thor is forced into an alliance with the treacherous Loki to save his people and those he loves… and our universe itself.” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

WORST: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Although the worst of the Iron Man franchise is still pretty good, someone’s gotta sit at the bottom of the list. Much of the magic that the first Iron Man displayed is ditched in favor of bigger bangs. And while slick and visually entertaining, there’s nothing fresh here. This is like one of those movies you turn on in the background while you look at your phone.

“Tony Stark has declared himself Iron Man and installed world peace… or so he thinks. He soon realizes that not only is there a madman out to destroy him, but they very technology designed to save his life is slowly killing him.” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

WORST: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The movie looks good, but what else does it do? The fate of Earth is supposedly hanging in the balance and the Avengers are put to the “ultimate test,” but this movie suffered from a mediocre supervillain who was better in the comics. While the movie is certainly eye-popping and overstuffed with action, it feels like Joss Whedon forgot about engaging our brains with substance, too. I could probably find something better to do with two and a half hours.

“Good intentions wreak havoc when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) unwittingly creates Ultron, an A.I. monster who vows to achieve “world peace” via mass extinction. Now, the Avengers must reassemble to defeat him and save mankind.” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

WORST: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel makes use of the MCU’s signature formula to introduce the latest hero with an origin story, but that also makes for what feels like recycled villains and an obvious plot twist. All I’m saying is, in a universe that already had Black Panther and The Avengers, I expected better. Hey, at least it wasn’t Elektra, right? (And before anyone starts, Elektra was pre-MCU so it doesn’t count here)

“Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel takes you on a spectacular adventure from the 1990s, tracing the path of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes. When a galactic war reaches Earth, she meets young agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at the center of a maelstrom, leading to her ultimate destiny as an Avenger!” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

BEST: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy definitely stands out among the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s like a grab bag of quirky characters and funny moments that play against the standard superhero blockbuster-style action scenes. You can expect all the excitement, adventure, and visual spectacles we’ve come to know from Marvel films, plus it’s an absolute riot with a perfect cast.

“Brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade capture, Quill joins with a quartet of disparate misfits: Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon; Groot, a tree-like humanoid; the deadly and enigmatic Gamora; and revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer.” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

BEST: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

I know that we just ragged on 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, but the third installment into the Thor franchise does a 180 from its predecessor. Thor is far from a bore here — this film is exciting and fun. Indie darling Taika Waititi stepped into the director’s chair for this one, injecting the MCU with energy and quirky humor. It was weird and wonderful, it showed off Chris Hemsworth’s comedic chops, and gave the franchise the jolt it definitely needed. It feels like Thor finally comes to life in this one.

“Thor must race against time to stop the seemingly imminent Ragnarok, a cataclysmic event that could end all of Asgardian civilization. Imprisoned on the other side of the universe and without his mighty hammer, Thor must overcome the odds to ensure that Asgard does not fall into the hands of the ruthless Hela. But first, he must face off against a fellow Avenger in a gladiatorial contest.” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

BEST: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers; Infinity War is a thrilling and emotional ride that absolutely lives up to what we’ve come to expect out of a superhero blockbuster. The Russo brothers manage to keep everything interesting and coherent, despite the film being overstuffed with characters and plotlines. The film juggles a bewildering amount of Marvel heroes all at once, and daringly closes with a supervillain victory that wiped out fan-favorite Avengers. In other words, it’s epic, it’s action-packed, and it never lets up.

“With the powerful Thanos on the verge of raining destruction upon the universe, the Avengers and their Super Hero allies risk everything in the ultimate showdown of all time.” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

BEST: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

2019’s Avengers: Endgame managed to top its predecessor — especially because it picks up from that distressing cliffhanger and delivers a thrilling conclusion. It’s action-packed and visually stunning, but also supremely satisfying. And as the conclusion to a decade’s worth of stories, it amazingly lived up to everything it was supposed to. It gave fans everything they wanted.

“The epic conclusion to the Infinity Saga that became a critically acclaimed worldwide phenomenon, this dramatic showdown pits the Avengers against Thanos. After devastating events wiped out half the world’s population and fractured their ranks, the remaining heroes struggle to move forward. But they must come together to restore order and harmony in the universe and bring their loved ones back.” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

BEST: Black Widow (2021)

Speaking of giving fans everything they wanted, Black Widow delivers. It’s not just breaking ticket sales records because it’s the first epic Marvel flick to hit theaters since 2019’s Avengers: Endgame; it’s a compelling thriller along the same vein as a Mission: Impossible or James Bond spy flick. Expect gritty hand-to-hand combat versus the expected fantastical displays from other MCU installments. It finally gives Black Widow the story she deserves, and it sets her “sister” Yelena (Florence Pugh) up for future MCU adventures.

“In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller “Black Widow,” Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.” – Marvel Studios // Disney+

BEST: Black Panther (2018)

At the top of the heap sits this gem. There is not much I can say about Black Panther that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll say it all again anyway. T’Challa’s solo film broke the mold and took superhero movies to new heights. It blended jaw-dropping action, CGI spectacle, amazing costumes, and character development effortlessly. And not only was it resplendent and absorbing, it was a cultural moment that went far beyond superhero cinema. The loss of star Chadwick Boseman makes this film especially poignant now.

“When an old foe puts his homeland of Wakanda and the entire world at risk, young king T’Challa must release Black Panther’s full power to save them.” – Marvel Studios // DIsney+