Is Avengers: Endgame the ultimate Marvel Cinematic Universe movie? Does anything -- can anything -- top Black Panther? And can an upstart like the new Tom Holland Spider-Man movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home, crash the party in the penthouse? In short, the question is: Which MCU movie is the best MCU movie?
We're not telling. Yet.
In the spirit of nearly every comic-book movie ever made, we're going to work our way up to the big finish. But first the origin story!
This rundown represents a comprehensive look back at the reviews received by all 23 MCU movies released from 2008's Iron Man to 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home, and as tracked by our review-aggregate sister site, Metacritic.
On the whole, our review shows that the critical consensus has been kind to the MCU. No film falls into Metacritic's red zone for unfavorable reviews; only three entries, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2 and the original Thor, are listed as having average to mixed reviews; and, the overwhelming majority, 20 films in all, are judged as having received positive to rave reviews.
Of the four Avengers movies, Endgame posts the best Metascore. Interestingly, though all of the Avengers movies have been popular hits, the first three films, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Infinity War, are only middle-of-the-MCU-pack critical favorites on Metacritic.
Other things we learned from our review of Metacritic data: One, in the immediate aftermath of the game-changing Iron Man, the MCU actually sputtered with critics, with neither Thor nor Hulk generating widespread acclaim; two, the Captain America movies, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, are considered the most consistently excellent of the Avengers' solo films; and, three, did we mention nobody likes the Hemsworth-led Thor movies -- unless the word "Ragnarok" is in the title?
Read ahead for our critical rundown of every MCU film, ranked by their Metacritic scores, from lowest to highest.
Note: With reviews still coming in, Spider-Man: Far From Home's Metascore is the most volatile. Its number was current as of publication. Also, in instances where movies have identical Metacritic scores, we considered the aggregate critical scores from Rotten Tomatoes, another movie-review aggregator.
So, let's begin: MCU-movie-review-rundown assemble!
23. Thor: The Dark World
Metacritic score: 54
Leading film critics and our own ComicBook.com staff agree that this grim, joyless 2013 entry, the Asgardian god's second solo vehicle, is not only the worst Thor movie, but also the worst MCU movie. Even star Chris Hemsworth thinks it's "meh." (But you may want to revisit it to better appreciate Avengers: Endgame.)
"Bigger is not always better," says Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle.prevnext
22. Iron Man 2
Metacritic score: 57 (Rotten Tomatoes score: 74)
This 2010 sequel, featuring Mickey Rourke's mad scientist, is the worst-reviewed Iron Man movie. Per Empire, the movie feels "inessential, over-busy and a little, well, mechanical."
It's "only a shadow -- if an agreeable and harmless one -- of its predecessor film," says Shawn Levy of the Portland Oregonian.prevnext
Metacritic score: 57 (Rotten Tomatoes score: 77)
Another Thor movie, another "meh" movie. The 2011 Kenneth Branagh-directed franchise-starter is, per the Village Voice, "an astonishingly awkward marriage of ancient Norse mythology and 21st-century nonsense." And, no, not even Anthony Hopkins' Odin can save it.
Said Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times: "Thor has its strengths, but it is finally something of a mishmash with designs on being more interesting than it manages to be."prevnext
20. The Incredible Hulk
Metacritic score: 61
Released a month after Iron Man, this 2008 effort, from the Transporter franchise's Louis Leterrier, is somewhat better regarded than the 2003 Ang Lee version. But critics ding star Edward Norton for being, as the New York Daily News puts it, an "intellectually disengaged" Bruce Banner.prevnext
19. Iron Man 3
Metacritic score: 62
This dark, but satisfying 2013 entry course-corrects the Iron Man franchise by focusing on how an emotionally broken Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to recover from The Avengers' Battle of New York. Look for a cameo by Tony's young friend Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) in Avengers: Endgame.prevnext
18. Captain Marvel
Metacritic score: 64 (Rotten Tomatoes score: 78)
Set in the 1990s, this fun 2019 film makes history as the first MCU entry to star a female protagonist (Brie Larson as the title hero), but it wins over audiences -- and most critics -- for going all in on sci-fi, Flerkens and the two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
"It's pretty good fun, and could almost be described without sarcasm as a scrappy little picture ...," wrote A.O. Scott of The New York Times.prevnext
Metacritic score: 64 (Rotten Tomatoes score: 83)
This 2015 heist comedy starring Paul Rudd (who co-wrote the script) caps off the film series' Phase Two. Though the film represents a relative deep dive into the Marvel catalog, it produces top-drawer results for the MCU.prevnext
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Metacritic score: 66 (Rotten Tomatoes score: 75)
This 2015 film, the second Avengers movie (again directed by Joss Whedon), pits the team against one of Tony Stark's A.I.-programs-gone-wrong. It's powerful, and it introduces key elements to the MCU, including Paul Bettany's Vision. But it's less well-regarded than its predecessor, in part, because it gets all weird about Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
"The action sequences aren't especially well designed, and the plot, such as it is, is essentially one catastrophe after another," opined Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor.prevnext
15. Captain America: The First Avenger
Metacritic score: 66 (Rotten Tomatoes score: 80)
The 2011 film, which introduces Chris Evans' star-spangled Steve Rogers to the MCU, earns its stripes for telling its (mostly) World War II-set origin tale with an earnestness that Tony Stark would snark at.prevnext
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Metacritic score: 67
This 2017 sequel stands accused of not feeling as fresh as its popular 2016 predecessor. Critics, however, still like it because, well, it's hard to hate a movie with a baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).
"Thankfully, Vol. 2 does come together in the end with a powerful emotional payoff," says Bryan Bishop of The Verge.prevnext
13. Avengers: Infinity War
Metacritic score: 68
If you remember this 2018 superhero-disintegrating epic as the best MCU movie ever, then you're remembering it differently than critics, who, on the whole, don't think it's even the best Avengers movie ever. Reviewers' main beef? The film's bleak ending, courtesy of the genocidal Thanos (Josh Brolin), feels unresolved ... until, presumably, Avengers: Endgame arrives.prevnext
12. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Metacritic score: 69 (Rotten Tomatoes score: 91)
In this blast of a film, a post-Avengers: Endgame entry from 2019, Tom Holland's web-slinger just wants to have fun -- and forget all about the carnage of recent years (and recent MCU movies). But Jake Gyllenhaal's (ostensibly) malevolent Mysterio forces Spider-Man to get back to work -- and critics are glad he did.
Writes Tasha Robinson for The Verge, "It's an out-and-out triumph ..."prevnext
11. The Avengers
Metacritic score: 69 (Rotten Tomatoes score: 92)
The culminating film in the MCU's Phase One sees Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and super friends unite -- and eat shawarma -- in an exhilarating 2012 Joss Whedon film.prevnext
10. Ant-Man and the Wasp
Metacritic score: 70 (Rotten Tomatoes: 88)
This 2018 sequel, which arrived in theaters after Avengers: Infinity War, but (largely) exists in a time line where the death snap hasn't happened, gets points for being, as the Boston Globe says, "fast" and "funny." (And, yes, if you're following along here, according to Metacritic, this is a better film than any of the three Avengers movies, Infinity War, included.)
Calvin Wilson from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it "one of the most entertaining releases from Marvel Studios."prevnext
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Metacritic score: 70 (Rotten Tomatoes: 90)
A political-conspiracy thriller in superhero drag, this top-notch 2014 film from brothers Anthony and Joe Russo reveals that Hydra has infiltrated our government at the highest levels -- even diplomats who look like Robert Redford!prevnext
8. Doctor Strange
Metacritic score: 72
This 2016 Phase Three movie, about an impaired surgeon who comes into fantastic, time-bending powers, is paced by Benedict Cumberbatch's lead performance and trippy visuals.
"The space-and-time warping and mirrored realities in Doctor Strange are a blast. They're inventive enough that they awaken wonder, provoking that delicious question: How did they do that?" wrote Manohla Dargis of The New York Times.prevnext
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Metacritic score: 73
The MCU's first Spider-Man-centric movie is a winner. Released in 2017, and starring Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming boasts a Metascore that ties it with Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man as the second-highest-rated live-action web-slinger film to date.
"Hilariously infectious and full of hope, Spider-Man's return to Marvel couldn't be more welcome," said Jamie Graham of Total Film.prevnext
6. Thor: Ragnarok
Metacritic score: 74
The third time's the charm for Thor. This funny, fun, Asgard-destroying 2017 movie boasts the best -- and only green -- Metascore of the hero's movies.
"Thor: Ragnarok is a blast, pure and simple," says Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic.prevnext
5. Captain America: Civil War
Metacritic score: 75
Judging by their Metascores, the Captain America movies just keep getting better. Accordingly, this 2016 entry, the third in the series, is the highest-rated Cap movie of all. It may also be an Avengers movie without the Avengers branding, but in any case, per Rolling Stone, it's a "thundering epic."prevnext
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
Metacritic score: 76
Filmmaker James Gunn's first Guardians movie, from 2014, makes household names of C-list Marvel characters Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) thanks to an infectious spirit -- and pop soundtrack. It is indeed Groot.
"It's corny, it's dopey, it's sincere, it's romantic, it's thrilling and it leaves one anticipating the next adventure of these heroic goofballs," says Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun-Times.prevnext
3. Avengers: Endgame
Metacritic score: 78
Billed as the culminating Avengers film, Endgame is a three-hour-plus, time-traveling, MCU-movie-revisiting, Thanos-death-snap-correcting and ultimately tear-inducing epic. It also reigns as the best-reviewed Avengers film of them all.
"...Avengers: Endgame is the film event of our lifetime and lives up to every bit of global hype it has garnered. It is setting a new standard and raising the bar for event films and likely will not be matched in this generation of filmmaking," our own Brandon Davis judged.prevnext
2. Iron Man
Metacritic score: 79
This 2008 film is the point of origin for the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- and, according to critics, still one of the film series' best. Made for a relatively frugal $140 millon, the Jon Favreau-directed effort draws praise for its heart and for star Robert Downey Jr.'s witty hero turn.
"... [T]he first comic-book movie in a while that actually feels like a classic comic book: fast, furious and flip," said Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News.prevnext
1. Black Panther
Metacritic score: 889comments
Wakanda rules. This landmark 2018 Ryan Coogler film is the first superhero movie to land an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, as well as the first MCU movie to win an Oscar. (It actually won three statuettes: for score, costumes, and production design.) Critics may be even bigger fans than Oscar voters: It's the highest-ranked film in this Metascore-driven rundown.
Says Odie Henderson of RogerEbert.com: "One of the year's best films, and one that transcends the superhero genre to emerge as an epic of operatic proportions."prev