Considering just how big the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become, the fact that its overall quality still trends toward being pretty good is a significant accomplishment. We all have our favorite movies, and our least favorite, but most of the time things are fine. Sometimes the MCU can be legitimately great, and it’s rarely actually that bad.
But, as with any form of art, perfection is largely unattainable. The best MCU films still have elements that could be better. By the same token, the worst installments aren’t entirely without merit. So, from Iron Man to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, here is a look at every single Marvel Cinematic Universe film, and the best and worst parts of each one.
Best Thing: Robert Downey Jr’s perfect casting
If there was one thing that first MCU movie had to get right above all else it was casting its first hero, and they simply could not have done any better. Robert Downey Jr. is absolutely perfect as Tony Stark. Both the actor and the character were men in need of second chances, and Downey shows that vulnerability perfectly while also coming across as heroic.
Worst Thing: The final battle is just robots punching each other
Iron Man set a tone for excellent casting in the MCU but unfortunately also set a tone for unfortunate endings. The big finale is ultimately just two guys in armored suits punching each other. There just isn’t a lot else there.
The Incredible Hulk
Best Thing: Hulk Smash
If you’re going to see an Incredible Hulk movie then what you’re probably looking for is a massive green dude to break stuff and punch things. As far as that goes, The Incredible Hulk succeeds pretty well. The action sequence at the end against Abomination is fun enough that you might not notice the bad part about it.
Worst Thing: Early CGI doesn’t hold up
The bad part is that the CGI doesn’t really work. Part of this is certainly looking back in retrospect, as the Hulk looks different now, not only because he’s played by a different actor, but because he's animated better.
Iron Man 2
Best Thing: Justin Hammer
There are two villains in Iron Man 2 and one of them audiences have repeatedly hoped we might see again. Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer isn’t the most important new addition to the franchise in the sequel, but he is absolutely the most fun.
Worst Thing: Whiplash
The other villain, however, doesn’t succeed nearly as well. Whiplash is what happens when your Iron Man movie is so successful you rush a sequel and just pull a villain off the shelf. There’s no depth here, which makes the conflict ring hollow.
Best Thing: The Introduction Of Tom Hiddelston’s Loki
Thor would eventually come into his own, but he’s certainly not the most interesting thing in his own movie. From the very beginning, it was clear that what Marvel found with Tom Hiddleston as Loki was truly special.
Worst Thing: Kenneth Branagh is not an action movie director
Branagh is a great director and the decision to bring his Shakespearean sensibilities to the superhero genre actually works a lot better than you might expect. Where he’s clearly having trouble, however, is the action. The superpowered battles just don’t have the impact, either on screen or for the audience, that they should.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Best Thing: Steve throws himself on a grenade
Before Steve Rogers ever gets injected with super soldier serum he shows that he’s actually been Captain America from the beginning. The willingness to throw himself on a live grenade is what causes the rest of the movie to happen; it endears him to the other characters and to us, as well.
Worst Thing: The silly brief love triangle
There’s a scene shortly after Steve leads a heroic rescue mission where a woman (Natalie Dormer) who is very impressed by him makes a move and kisses him just as Peggy walks up. It leads to one of those classic misunderstandings which only exist in movies to keep romantic partners apart longer, and it’s always silly.
Best Thing: That one team shot
You know the one. The moment when The Avengers become The Avengers. The camera circles around them, the music swells, and six movies come together in one moment, proving that the MCU truly works.
Worst Thing: Coulson’s death
It’s a key moment, as it’s part of what brings the characters together, but Agent Coulson was just as important to the success of the MCU as any of the Avengers, and it’s been missing something ever since he died.
Iron Man 3
Best Thing: The Mandarin Twist
Because the MCU is based on existing Marvel Comics, you can get a general idea of what may happen if you know the stories, which is why the big twist in Iron Man 3 is so great. Nobody saw it coming.
Worst Thing: The Mandarin Twist
Having said that, a lot of people hated the Mandarin twist, and there’s an argument to be made that taking one of Marvel’s few Asian characters and having him ultimately played by a non-Chinese actor was the wrong move.
Thor: The Dark World
Best Thing: Freya’s death scene
Thor: The Dark World has its share of issues, but Rene Russo’s Freya isn’t one of them. Her death scene is a fairly big surprise, and so it hits with emotional weight when the rest of the movie largely doesn’t.
Worst Thing: Who was the villain again?
The only thing that would have made the death scene better is if she were killed by a villain we actually remember. You don’t recollect his name or why he was the villain, and that’s the problem. No, I'm not going to look it up and pretend I remember.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Best Thing: The Elevator Fight
Marvel movies are full of action sequences and most are fine, but few of them are truly great. Captain America: The Winter Soldier's elevator fight is well choreographed and shot, allowing for one of the most unique and exciting battles in the MCU. Even Chris Evans knows it's the best.
Worst Thing: Nick Fury’s “death”
Did anybody actually believe that Fury died here? The movie makes the reveal that he’s still alive feel like they thought they fooled somebody. They did not.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Best Thing: We are Groot
By the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, we're fully on board with this team of broken misfits. Which makes the fact that we lose one of them hurt a lot more than we might expect. Groot’s final words resonate in a way that only a creature's of few words can.
Worst Thing: Another unmemorable villain
Perhaps because it has so many characters to introduce, it doesn’t have much time left for its villain. As such, Ronan the Accuser is given a very rushed setup and a weak motivation, despite his connection to the biggest villain of the first three phases.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron
Best Thing: James Spader’s Ultron
Ultron maybe doesn’t have the most original motivation for rogue AI, but he does have the best possible voice for it. James Spader is absolutely perfect as the voice, and he brings a life to the CGI character that it desperately needs. It's a shame Spader has not returned to voice him since.
Worst Thing: Black Widow’s sterilization
The romance between Bruce Banner and Black Widow is an idea that starts and ends here, so it ends up having little impact, but that makes Natasha’s tearful admission that she cannot have children (and the implicit indication that there is something wrong with her because of it) that much more out of place.
Best Thing: Creative final fight
The final battle in Ant-Man follows many of the same beats as several (far less) interesting battles in the MCU, but what those fights didn’t have was a Thomas the Tank Engine toy the size of a city bus. This battle uses the unique abilities of the characters to great effect to make this fight much stronger.
Worst Thing: Not enough Hope Van Dyne
Ant-Man is all about Scott Lang becoming a capable superhero, and it’s a fun journey, but the movie already has a woman quite capable in Hope Van Dyne. Leaving the Wasp reveal until a post-credits scene feels like a waste.
Captain America: Civil War
Best Thing: The airport battle
Is the airport battle a bit like taking all your superhero action figures and throwing them together? Yeah, but that’s also why it’s great. Not since the first Avengers had we seen so many of our favorite Marvel heroes in one place, and it still didn’t get old.
Worst Thing: Zemo’s plan is convoluted as hell
Zemo is far from the worst villain in the MCU. He’s actually one of the more interesting ones overall, but it has to be said that his plan here is completely ridiculous. There are so many steps involved that it's almost funny that the plan actually succeeds.
Best Thing: A final battle that isn’t just a fistfight
Some of the best parts of Marvel movies have been the action sequences where heroes and villains fight, but Doctor Strange tries something different when the hero goes up against Dormamu and finds a way to win that is entirely about outsmarting, not out punching, his opponent. It's not less exciting, but it's a lot more creative.
Worst Thing: Not enough Rachel McAdams
At this point, it seems like every working actor has a role in the MCU, but some of them have been criminally underused. When you get Rachel McAdams in your movie you should do something with her, but Doctor Strange doesn’t.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
Best Thing: Nebula and Gamora
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an emotional movie all the way around, but the most powerful relationship is between Gamora and Nebula. They very nearly kill each other before Nebula finally takes the first step to healing by revealing how she truly feels. It’s an incredible moment.
Worst Thing: Mantis as the butt of jokes
Mantis is a great addition to the Guardians, but her introduction is a tough one. The way that Drax perpetually insults her, in a way that is played for laughs, just isn’t as funny as it was supposed to be.
Best Thing: Michael Keaton’s Villain speech
Michael Keaton is great across the board in Homecoming but the best moment comes as he's driving Peter and his date to the prom, and they have a conversation that, on the surface, seems plain, but is actually a much deeper conversation. They reveal themselves to each other, without giving anything away.
Worst Thing: The M.J. “twist”
Homecoming tries to mix up the formula of Spider-Man movies, and does such a good job overall that feeling a need to force Zendaya’s character into being M.J. just isn’t right. She’s her own character, and should have been allowed to be such. Making her M.J. doesn’t do anything the movie or franchise needs.
Best Thing: A new tone that suits Thor better
Everything changed for Thor with Ragnarok, but most importantly, what changed was his sense of humor. With Taika Waittiti at the helm, we had a Thor that was much lighter in tone, and that seems to suit the character and Chris Hemsworth a lot more.
Worst Thing: An unworthy end to the Warriors Three
However, a casualty of Ragnarok, literally, were the Warriors Three, who it seems Waititi didn’t know what to do with, and so he disposed of them in short order. They deserved better.
Best Thing: T’Challa rejects the ancestors
It’s difficult to not just say “everything” is what’s best about Black Panther. Chadwick Boseman is one of the MCU’s great casting decisions. If that hadn’t been clear previously, it is in the climax of the film, when T’Challa takes his father and the rest of his ancestors to task for their bad decisions.
Worst Thing: Two great villains gone too soon
One of the other things that makes the film so great is its villains. Michael B. Jordan is excellent as Killmonger, and at least he had a whole movie to shine. Andy Serkis’ Klaue felt like a villain who was never really given a chance to be as big as he could have been, despite being excellent whenever he was on screen.
Avengers: Infinity War
Best Thing: Groot and Stormbreaker
There are numerous moments in the last two Avengers movies that were clearly designed to make fans stand up and cheer, but the greatest moment of Infinity War comes from the least likely place. Groot becomes the true hero of the film when he unites the pieces of Stormbreaker and uses his own arm to give the weapon a handle.
Worst Thing: The Soul Stone
Many lives are lost in Infinity War, but none are more heartbreaking than Gamora. And, not simply from a storytelling standpoint. It’s frustrating because the premise of the Soul Stone sequence, that Thanos loves Gamora, is so clearly false by virtue of what he’s willing to do.
Ant-Man And The Wasp
Best Thing: Michael Pena’s Luis
We met Luis in the first Ant-Man movie and he was absolutely hilarious, so the sequel did what all sequels at least claim to: give us more of what we want. Luis becomes a much more significant part of Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the sequel is better for it.
Worst Thing: More forgettable villains
Stop if you’ve heard this one before, but sometimes we forget who the villains in Marvel movies even are, and this is very much the case in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Ghost is set to return to the MCU, but we'll need a refresher on who she is.
Best Thing: Captain Marvel Blasting Yon-Rogg
Sometimes a superhero movie builds to an epic and inevitable encounter between a hero and villain, and we get a fight that is everything we dreamed of. Sometimes the villain gets blasted into a wall because the hero owes him nothing, and it's even more satisfying.
Worst Thing: Unnecessarily '90s
Captain Marvel is set in the ’90s for “prequel” reasons, which is fine, but unlike the Guardians of the Galaxy films, which use music for particular story and character reasons, the setting here isn’t that important, and yet it never stops forcing itself on the story.
Best Thing: Avengers Assemble
It was the moment we waited more than a decade for. A complete unification of every living hero in the MCU up to that moment. It was everything we wanted.
Worst Thing: Smart Hulk is born off screen
Considering just how long the Avengers movies are you'd think they would have found time to not just explain the origin of Smart Hulk, but let that important stuff happen on-screen.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Best Thing: Peter & MJ
It’s not really a shock that Tom Holland and Zendaya got together in real life because the chemistry between the two is excellent. We never really got to see it in the previous Spider-Man movie, but it’s the backbone of this one, and it's excellent.
Worst Thing: Mysterio’s backstory
Retroactively connecting a story back to something that we've already seen is, almost without exception, a clunky way to do things, and when it comes to Mysterio’s motivations, it’s pretty clunky here, as well.
Best Thing: Florence Pugh
We lost our first Black Widow with the titular movie, but the film gave us a suitable replacement. Pugh’s Yelena isn’t a carbon copy of Scarlett Johansson, which means she’ll still bring something new to the MCU, while still lending similar skills to any plot that requires her.
Worst Thing: The Taskmaster Reveal
It is perfectly acceptable for an MCU movie to do something drastically different with a character that is well-known in comics. However, if you’re going to treat the identity of a character as a big deal, the reveal needs to be bigger than what we got here.
Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
Best Thing: Wenwu vs. Jiang Li
The martial arts combat of Shang-Chi is a nice change of pace from the usual MCU dust-up, and the best is the fight/romance of Wewu and Jiang Li. It’s a beautifully choreographed battle and an equally beautiful love story all at once.
Worst Thing: CGI dragon fights
Shang-Chi does a great job introducing us to its characters and getting us to care about them, which makes it disappointing when the final battle focuses largely on massive CGI dragons that, while impressive, the audience has not invested in.
Best Thing: An impressive ensemble
Say what you will about Eternals, but it put together an incredible cast, developed each one into fully realized characters, and did so in a way that was compelling and interesting.
Worst Thing: The Massive Mid-Film Info Dump
Relaying information that the audience needs can be one of the most difficult things for any movie. Many movies, and lots of Marvel movies, struggle with this, but Eternals massive info dump where a Celestial just explains everything to Sersi stops the movie dead in its tracks.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Best Thing: The live-action Spider-Verse
In a moment that Spider-Man fans could have only have dreamed of before it happened, three different big screen Spider-Men shared the screen and fought together. How could you not have loved that?
Worst Thing: So. Many. Villains.
Getting three Spidey’s was great, but they could have fought fewer bad guys. It’s not that any of them were bad, but only a couple of them really get any chance to be part of the story.
Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness
Best Thing: Scarlet Witch Murders Everybody
The alternative universe version of various Marvel heroes was cool. Watching Scarlet Witch completely own them all was even better.
Worst Thing: Mordo is wasted
Mordo had an interesting character arc in the first Doctor Strange, and seeing where he would go made the sequel a compelling idea. Unfortunately, by the time we got to it, the MCU had a different story to tell, so the tease from the first movie went nowhere.
Thor: Love And Thunder
Best Thing: The Mighty Thor
In a rare move, Marvel revealed years in advance that Natalie Portman would return to the MCU as The Mighty Thor. You don’t need to worry about spoilers when your reveal is awesome enough.
Worst Thing: Thor Gets Lost in his own movie
The Mighty Thor was great, and Thor: Love and Thunder has one of the better MCU villains in years. Unfortunately, Thor himself feels largely overlooked by his own movie.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Best Thing: Shuri’s emotional journey
We knew that Wakanda Forever was going to be an emotional movie for lots of fans, but to make the road toward acceptance the actual plot was an inspired decision. We all understand Shuri’s story.
Worst Thing: Thunderbolts subplot
The journey of Everett Ross here is not nearly as satisfying. He seems to be there mostly to set up future movies, which takes away from the one we are actually watching.
Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania
Best Thing: Kang
Kang is expected to be the villain of this current MCU arc, and Quntumania was his coming-out party. It’s a great performance and a fantastic hint of what is to come.
Worst Thing: Where’s Luis?
With the movie mostly taking place in the Quantum Realm, I’m sure the filmmakers just didn’t know how to incorporate Michael Pena’s Luis in a way that made sense, but it’s a lesser film without him.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3
Best Thing: The Bestie Boys One Shot
The Guardians of the Galaxy movies have given us solid action and great music, and in one of the trilogy’s final moments, it gave us all that and more in a simulated one-shot that looked epic and sounded amazing.
Worst Thing: Adam Warlock
Vol. 2 promised us Adam Warlock, but one wonders if he would have appeared if that post-credits scene had been left out. The performance and character are good, but the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with him.
That's every MCU film. Do you agree with our choices?