With a grand total of 18 movies (and counting) under its belt, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so big it can be a daunting prospect catching up if you've not been watching from the very beginning. That's why we've ranked every MCU movie from worst to best to help you find the best Marvel movies you need to watch ahead of Avengers: Infinity War.
Of course, if you'd rather watch them all in order that's cool too - and you can do that with our ongoing MCU recap - but time is running out before the grand crossover sequel hits cinemas, so if you're strapped for time maybe just skip Thor: The Dark World and watch the best Marvel movies.
Fair warning, this ranked list doesn’t include every movie based on, or inspired by, a Marvel comic because that would mean including this. It just covers the modern-day MCU starting with Iron Man and ending with Black Panther (so far), but that's more than enough to be getting on with. The GR+ team argued day and night to come up with the order of this list so it's doubtful you'll agree with it completely, but disagreeing is half the fun, right? So, scroll on for the best Marvel movies and make sure you check back to find out where all the upcoming MCU movies fall on the list once they're released.
18. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Superman belongs to DC, but Thor is the next best thing. There's hardly a moment in Thor: The Dark World that Chris Hemsworth isn't wearing a big, doofy grin on his face, clearly enjoying his time as the godlike Asgardian. The action is light and fun, the romance is (sort of) believable, and every second of screentime that Loki gets is a treasure. Like its predecessor, Thor 2 suffers from being just a bit too superhero-y. In a cinematic universe where we have intergalactic space opera shenanigans, WW2-era war films, and size-altering heist movies, a handsome man in a cape fighting a villain who comes across as Generic Evil Guy doesn't stand out much. Sadly, someone has to be lowest on this list and The Dark World just doesn't have enough going for it.
17. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Everything you love about Captain America begins here. It’s the perfect alternative to the businesslike action of Iron Man: a vibrant, pulpy romp, about punching Nazis and doing the right thing. It’s not the most sophisticated movie on this list - having a baddie called the Red Skull removes any opportunity to tell a nuanced story - and if you watch it after seeing The Winter Soldier it feels expositional, almost like a Wikipedia entry. But despite this, it remains the heroic bedrock on which the Marvel cinematic universe is built. A light, lively, smartly-plotted adventure, which makes you comfortably nostalgic about an era you never experienced. Why is it so low on our list then? Well, because it's just a bit boring compared to everything that comes after.
16. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Sequels can be tough, but Iron Man 2 is actually not a bad movie. Okay, it's not a great one either, but it's no trainwreck. This is where we see Stark's fall from grace, and his personal demons with regards to his love life and alcohol really come into play. Much frustration has been aimed at Iron Man 2's villain, Whiplash, and let's go ahead and admit it: he's a bit silly. But despite a guy with electric whips, the introduction of War Machine, and an army of evil drones, Iron Man 2 is still one of the most human stories in the MCU, establishing Stark's personality and history more than any other.
15. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Incredible Hulk isn’t a terrible film. It’s reasonably fun, in a ‘lazy Sunday afternoon’ kind of way, but it’s certainly a product of the early days of the MCU, when the films hadn’t quite yet found their feet. It’s a decently energetic and spectacular Hulk movie – a definite reaction against Ang Lee’s slower, more cerebral, 2003 version - but it lacks the spark and the snap of the later Marvel films. The Hulk himself is a suitably dynamic wrecking ball of a presence – though certainly missing the gleeful fun of the Avengers version – but while Edward Norton does a decent job as a troubled, perpetually tense, pre-acceptance Banner, he doesn’t have anything like the warm, likable charisma of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce.
14. Doctor Strange (2016)
Marvel's first foray into the mystical superhero world could have been better. Doctor Strange sees Benedict Cumberbatch join the MCU as an arrogant former surgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. He travels the world searching for a cure until he finds the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who shows him more more than he ever imagined. It’s a classic origins tale and Marvel Studios knows how to make them. Sadly, that’s all it really is and lacks the action and interest of other MCU movies. It may have an all-star cast, but many of them are given little to do (hello Rachel McAdams!) and the final fight, while definitely unique, is more than a little disappointing. Doctor Strange is obviously being set up for future appearances in the MCU and his first movie does just that - it’s good, just not that good.
13. Thor (2011)
Hey, remember that time Sir Kenneth Branagh made a superhero movie and it was great? Chris Hemsworth’s hammer-wielding first solo outing manages to not only introduce a likeable Thor (except when he’s being a brat to Sir Anthony Hopkin’s Odin which just isn’t cricket), but set Loki’s seriously evil character arc in motion and even feature some great genuinely laugh out loud moments. Funny, sweet, and with plenty of ridiculous action sequences, Thor has far more heart than anyone ever expected. But... it's just really hard for a superhero movie about a dude who wears a cape and talks like Shakespeare to break into the top tier of the best Marvel movies of all time. Thor is fun, but that's all it is. Sorry God of Thunder.
12. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
It seems no one likes Age of Ultron all that much. Maybe you even think this should be last on the list, but is that because it’s a bad movie or because you’ve just seen it all before? Pulling off another Avengers movie didn’t have the same effect the second time around, but let’s not forget how many things could have gone seriously wrong with this sequel. Juggling that many superheroes is no small thing. Ok, the villain is only mildly threatening (after all, he could probably be outdone by a good bucket of magnets), and the Maximoff twin’s accents are... interesting, but by everyone else’s standards Age of Ultron is a great movie. It’s just pretty middling for the MCU, which really says a lot about how good Marvel really is.
11. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3 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'. Bringing in Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black to write and direct, Iron Man 3 is part superhero movie, part whimsical angst-comedy. It’s a beautifully written piece of ‘proper’ filmmaking that just happens to have a bunch of flying robot suits thrown in for good measure. Sadly, it didn't manage to avoid Marvel's villain problem which let it down, but RDJ really earns his (huge) paycheck here with some fantastic character development for the hero.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians 2 is a hell of a good time. It takes the formula laid out by the original movie, straps boosters to it, cranks up the stereo to full, and thrills for over two hours. There are bigger stars, a grander narrative featuring Star-Lord’s actual dad, and huge set-pieces. Even the Stan Lee cameo is beefier. So why isn’t it higher on this list? The original Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit - a Marvel movie so different and refreshing that it set the bar impossibly high for the sequel. Sure, the jokes are funnier in Guardians 2, and the set-pieces more lavish, but they’re not quite as fresh. That’s the only reason it isn’t higher up this list, because even though it isn’t quite as original, Guardians 2 is still a cracking movie that manages to be grand (it’s the fate of the universe) and intimate (it’s a family drama), funny and serious, explosive and thoughtful all at once. It speaks very highly about the quality of the MCU that a movie THIS good is only at number ten…
9. Ant-Man (2015)
That thing we were just saying about Phase 2 really mixing things up? Welcome to the Marvel crime caper movie. Everything about Ant-Man is classic heist. The slow-burn, ‘getting the team together’ characterisation. The single, focused goal. The planning and practice montages. Ant-Man knows all of the genre’s clichés, and it makes every one of them absolutely sing. Fundamental to that success is its drastically smaller scale. There’s no incoming apocalypse here. No grand, villainous plan to change life as we know it. Barely anything that anyone outside the story would ever become aware of, in fact. Just an old grudge, a corporate asshole, and a strong focus on the character comedy pushing the whole story forward.