11. Iron Man 3 (2013)
The MCU upped the ante with Iron Man 3, which is far from a typical Marvel movie. In fact, it’s the film that made it very clear that, from 2013 onwards, there was no longer going to be any such thing as a 'typical Marvel movie'. Marvel brought in Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black to direct Iron Man 3, a movie that's part superhero movie, part existential angst-comedy. Black’s involvement is far more significant than his ’80s action track record as his barnstormingly clever, postmodern film noir comedy, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was fundamental in relaunching Robert Downey Jr’s career, post-rehab. As such, Iron-Man 3 is a perfect collaboration to round off the character’s initial trilogy – a beautifully written, insightful piece of character-driven, ‘proper’ filmmaking that just happens to have a bunch of flying robot suits thrown in for good measure. With a script tailored to his deeper talents, RDJ really earns his (huge) paycheck here with some fantastic character development for the hero. Plus there's an absolutely ingenious take on the classic Marvel Big Bad the Mandarin.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
We never thought we'd see a Spider-Man MCU movie – Marvel sold the rights a long time before the MCU existed – but thanks to a team-up between Marvel Studios and Sony, Spidey got his homecoming... and what a welcome home it was! Much of the success of Spider-Man: Homecoming hinges on the fact that a) it's not another Spider-Man origins story, and b) Tom Holland is perfectly cast as the 'actually believable as a teenager' Peter Parker. Despite not seeing Peter get bitten by that all-important spider, Homecoming is still a fairly traditional superhero movie, albeit one that owes nearly as much to classic high school movies as it does the works of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Throw in an injection of Tony Stark/RDJ charm, a killer Spidey suit and a perfectly delivered final act twist/reveal and you've got yourself one hell of an MCU movie.
Read more: Spider-Man: Homecoming ending - 6 questions we need answered
9. The Avengers (2012)
You cannot not appreciate The Avengers (AKA, Avengers Assemble) – even if it’s just for the simple fact that it was one of the first of its kind. It's hard to remember now, given what Marvel has achieved since, but when The Avengers movie was first talked about, a lot of people thought there was no way the studio could pull it off. A crossover movie with multiple main characters and a storyline spanning various franchises? It felt like a crazy plan that could never work, but thanks to the foundations laid by the previous Marvel movies and the skilled hands of writer/director Joss Whedon, The Avengers became Marvel's first crossover movie. Not only did it work – it's a damn fine film too! With superheroes galore, action-packed blockbuster battles, and enough balance in the storyline to actually get to care about each character, the first Avengers has gone down in cinematic history, not just MCU history.
8. Iron Man (2008)
This is where it all started. The very first MCU film. And while Iron Man isn't the best Marvel movie, it definitely deserves a certain amount of kudos. After all, without Iron Man we might never have had the MCU. Indeed, it’s easy to forget what a risk it was at the time, considering it starred an actor with a troubled past making a comeback playing a B-list superhero (Spider-Man, Superman and Batman were much better known by the general public). Marvel’s gamble paid off spectacularly as Iron Man became a hit, and over a decade later it's still one of the best superhero movies around. If you want to know how to do an origin story right, rewatch Iron Man because it barely puts a foot wrong. Robert Downey Jr was the perfect person to bring the arrogant Tony Stark to life and his technologically advanced suit was a breath of fresh air next to the cape and tights we were used to seeing superheroes wear. Meanwhile, the witty, self-aware script set the tone that most of the subsequent MCU movies have followed. The only significant negative thing you can say about Iron Man is that the final act is dragged down by a lacklustre ‘flying suit of armour vs flying suit of armour’ showdown, and a rare misstep from Jeff Bridges as bad guy Obadiah Stane. But a decade on, Iron Man remains one of the best Marvel movies.
Read more: "A franchise that is already beginning to rust" - Here's what the critics originally said about the first Iron Man movie
7. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Once upon a time, the “I am your father” revelation from The Empire Strikes Back was easily the most memorable, downbeat and talked about blockbuster cliffhanger of all time. The end of Avengers: Infinity War runs it pretty close, however, by giving antagonist-in-chief Thanos the upper hand, and leaving half of the MCU’s heroes literally turned to dust. Okay, you could argue that without Avengers: Endgame to conclude the story it feels kind of unfinished – though you could also level that accusation at The Empire Strikes Back – but viewed as the first act of a larger story it's a remarkable piece of work. Infinity War manages to be emotionally powerful and incredibly funny (often in the same scene), its scale and scope are mind-bogglingly vast, and the crossover character interactions are unexpected and fun. Who knew Rocket and Thor would be BFFs? Perhaps, most importantly, Marvel solves its villain problem in spectacular style, with James Brolin’s Thanos being both the driving force of the movie and a plausible bad guy – his grand plan is clearly deranged, but there's a weird, twisted logic to it. And without Infinity War there could be no Endgame...
Read more: What does the Avengers: Infinity War ending mean? And 8 other questions we have
6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy is a wonderful, funny and warm sci-fi scramble through some of the most exotic locations in the MCU – and it’s also the movie with the loosest connections to Iron Man, Captain America and the rest, being set in a distant corner of the galaxy. Arguably the best thing to happen to big screen space opera since Star Wars (Star-Lord, Gamora and Groot could be this generation's Han, Leia and Chewie), it's got a fresh, lively lightness of touch that simultaneously feels like it's rebelling against the Marvel formula, while remaining 100 per cent part of the MCU. It's a brilliant sci-fi adventure in its own right, with a host of characters you can’t help but love from the first time they appear. That intro which sees Star-Lord dancing over chasms and karaoke singing with manky space rats? Priceless. Rocket and Groot’s prison break? So good. And the moment Gamora and Quill almost kiss on the Knowhere mining planet? It’s beautiful. Everything is held together by a generous streak of fun, while the cool ‘Awesome Mix’ cassette soundtrack that plays throughout perfectly suits the mood. The least-Marvel of the Marvel movies, then, but also one of the best...
5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Released in the same year as Batman v Superman, Captain America's third film – Civil War – didn't need to try too hard to beat its DCEU rival, but that didn't stop Marvel from knocking it out of the park once again. Despite being thought of as Avengers 2.5 by fans (that's thanks to the sheer volume of other MCU heroes who show up), Civil War is really a Cap v Iron Man film, with the two characters squaring up against each other. After many world-ending missions, Civil War is a smaller, smarter story, about clashing ideologies and people, but it never gets bogged down with windy introspection – and because we know all the characters so well, we actually care about their motivations and viewpoints. On top of that, there’s the wonderful introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther, that bit with Ant-Man, and the Vision wearing a delightful range of knitwear. Villain-wise? It works, as the Big Bad turns out to be Captain America and/or Iron Man, depending on your point of view. Epic stuff.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
While the first Captain America movie is fairly forgettable, The Winter Soldier sets a new precedent for the moralistic hero and the MCU as a whole. Like many of the best Marvel movies, Captain America 2 is a totally different take on the universe, taking inspiration from ’70s Cold War thriller, and barely puts a foot wrong. Hell, The Winter Soldier should be named one of the best Marvel movies of all time for the elevator scene alone; a moment so memorable it was homaged in Avengers: Endgame. It all has far-reaching implications for the rest of the MCU (*cough* SHIELD *cough*) and establishes who the resurrected Bucky Barnes has become – as we know, he's a major player in future Marvel movies and is even getting his own TV show. It’s also one of the most well-balanced films in the MCU in terms of action and pace, with directors the Russo brothers really setting a high level of quality for future films to match. No wonder Marvel Studios put them in charge of Infinity War and Endgame...
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
To be the wackiest, most whimsical MCU movie released in 2017 (the same year as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming) is impressive. For that movie to be a Thor movie? It's practically god-like. But are we really that surprised when Taiki Waititi is the man behind the camera? The What We Do in the Shadows director does away with all the Shakespearean theatrics first established by Kenneth Branagh in Thor's origin story, and instead goes full retro-futurism for the threequel, with a healthy sprinkling of full-blown surrealism thrown in for good measure. The result is Thor: Ragnarok, a pure fish out of water comedy that just happens to be a superhero movie at the same time. Needless to say, it's both the freshest MCU flick since that time they introduced a talking tree and most hilarious. Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster, Waititi's rock warrior Korg and Bruce Banner/Hulk all have their moments of comedy gold, but Chris Hemsworth's Thor turns out to be the funniest of them all. Who saw that coming?
Read more: Thor: Ragnarok ending - 5 questions we need answered
2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Avengers: Endgame is the ultimate vindication of Marvel’s brave vision for a shared universe; the culmination of dozens of story arcs across 22 movies, and the perfect finale for the first stage of MCU overlord Kevin Feige’s grand plan. The storytelling choices are bold – that time jump, the character deaths, the nods to earlier movies – but they all make perfect sense in the context of the saga. With its heroes at rock bottom after the events of Infinity War, Endgame has its fair share of bleakness (poor Thor), but also plenty of laughs and moments of triumph. The final act is a masterclass in direction, as the Russo brothers marshal one of the most complicated action set-pieces in cinema history. Come the end and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is changed forever. An epic every bit as bold as Thanos's crazy scheme, Endgame is blockbuster filmmaking at its finest.
1. Black Panther (2018)
The MCU was already a massive deal when Black Panther roared into cinemas in early 2018, but no Marvel film before had a bigger cultural impact. Arriving in a franchise that had been almost entirely dominated by white male heroes, Black Panther showed Marvel were listening when it came to representation, and they were subsequently rewarded critically and commercially. Only Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Endgame and Avatar have made more money at the US box office, while Black Panther was the first Marvel movieto make an impact at the Oscars, bagging a Best Picture nomination. Fronted by actual royalty in the form of King T'Challa, the ensemble is the best Marvel movie in the MCU so far. Another star is the country of Wakanda itself – a stunning, vibrant, and oh-so-alive world that feels both futuristic and steeped in culture and tradition. Everything about it, from the palace, to the mountain home of M’Baku and the Jabari tribe, is utterly unique and brilliantly realised. The plot of the movie is tightly woven around Wakanda, dealing with both the internal and external conflicts the country is going through. And then there's Michael B Jordan's villain, Erik Killmonger, who is terrifying, sympathetic and relatable in equal measure. It's been a long time coming, but Black Panther is a strong, bold, and thrilling solo movie – a worthy number one in our list of the best Marvel movies. Wakanda forever!
Read more: Black Panther ending - 6 questions we need answered