By Christian Holub
July 02, 2019 at 06:18 AM EDT

Everyone has their own personal ranking of the 23 superhero films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, a group of EW writers recently updated our official MCU ranking (and will update it again soon for Spider-Man: Far From Home). A lot of factors go into rankings like these, from personal taste to the popularity of certain characters. But sometimes it’s nice to apply a semi-objective system to such things.

So here, without further ado, is another ranking of the MCU films: according to the letter grades EW critics gave them upon release. (If you want to see the films ranked by how much they made at the box office, click here.)

Black Panther (2018): A-

“Ryan Coogler, the 31-year-old director whose brief resumé already includes an acclaimed indie drama (the 2013 festival breakout Fruitvale Station) and an underdog triumph (2015’s stellar Rocky reboot Creed), clearly fought hard to get Panther to the screen the way he envisioned it: Not as a boilerplate blockbuster window-dressed with African-American faces, but a story fully, joyfully rooted in black culture. It doesn’t feel like an accident that a chunk of the movie’s most important action happens in his hometown of Oakland, only blocks away from the real-life events of Fruitvale. And [Michael B.] Jordan’s kinetic Killmonger is no cat-stroking cartoon villain; he’s a genuinely tragic figure, a self-appointed warden of social justice irreparably warped by the wrongs done to him.” —Leah Greenblatt (read more)

Captain America: Civil War (2016): A-

“Part of the fun of Marvel’s Avengers movies to date has been having a front-row seat to the super-powered posse fast-balling quippy, barbed insults at one another. When they’re not squaring off against doomsday villains like Loki and the ho-hum Ultron, they seem to get off on taking each other down a notch. They’re a family, sure. But you got the sense that, like most families, they didn’t always like one another. Despite its stars-and-stripes title, Marvel’s latest billion-dollar-blockbuster-to-be, Captain America: Civil War, is essentially a third Avengers movie — it’s also the best one yet.” —Chris Nashawaty (read more)

Iron Man 3 (2013): A-

Iron Man 3 is an ominously exciting, shoot-the-works comic-book spectacular. It keeps throwing things at you, but not with the random, busy franchise indifference that marked the hollow and grandiose Iron Man 2. Iron Man 3 is closer to a vision of the world teetering on the edge. (Imagine The Dark Knight Rises with less apocalyptic hot air.)” —Owen Gleiberman (read more)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): A-

“Directed with an effortlessly light touch by James Gunn, a low-budget maestro of genre films such as 2006’s Slither and 2010’s Super, Guardians of the Galaxy represents a risky proposition for Marvel on several levels: a director who’s never grappled with a project of this scale before, a menagerie of comic-book characters who are hardly household names (even to fanboys), and a tongue-in-cheek B-movie vibe that’s more Starcrash than Star Wars. But give Marvel props, even with all of its mega-success; the studio’s still willing to take chances. Here, that risk pays off big-time. The film’s a giddily subversive space opera that runs on self-aware smart-assery.” —C.N. (read more)

Thor (2011): A-

“On Earth, Thor is rescued by a team of scientists (led by Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgård), and he is almost childlike in his ability to cause trouble without trying. He speaks in incongruously formal King’s English (‘I need sustenance!’). Yet the movie, though it’s often a very funny god-out-of-water origin comedy, has a stirring emotional core as well. It keeps returning to Asgard, where Branagh stages the political-familial infighting — centered on Thor’s treacherous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) — like an intergalactic Gladiator.” —O.G. (read more)

Avengers: Endgame (2019): B+

“With nothing less than the fate of the free world (or at least approximately 50% of it) at stake, there’s an expected urgency to it all, but an underlying melancholy too — not just for everything that’s been lost, but for what won’t be coming back. After 11 years, 22 films, and uncountable post-credit Easter eggs, the endgame of an era has finally come.” —L.G. (read more)

The Avengers (2012): B+

“This isn’t a case of more being less. The four who’ve already fronted their own Marvel films look all the sharper as supporting studs jockeying for primacy. The magnetically stolid Captain America emerges as the team leader, Iron Man is the nattering narcissist who could hardly give a damn, and Thor is the alien outsider who’s more intent on saving his planet than on rescuing Earth. As for the Hulk, the smartest thing the filmmakers did was to get Mark Ruffalo to play Bruce Banner as a man so sensitive that he’s at war, every moment, with himself. (The film finally solves the Hulk problem: He’s a lot more fun in small doses.) The second smartest thing they did was to allow Tom Hiddleston to let it rip as Loki. He’s close to a generic villain, but Hiddleston invests his ravings and evil smile with a sleek mystery and power that suggests he may be an actor of the stature of Gary Oldman.” —O.G. (read more)

Everett Collection

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): B+

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first superhero film since the terrorist-inflected The Dark Knight that plugs you right into what’s happening now. Told in enjoyably blunt, heavy-duty strokes, the movie doesn’t try for the artistry of The Dark Knight — it’s action-fantasy prose, not poetry. Yet there’s a hell-bent vitality to its paranoia. When the Captain is surrounded by government officials on an elevator, and he realizes that none of them are on his side, the fight scene that follows isn’t just brutally exciting. It expresses the film’s theme: that you can’t trust anyone in a society that wants to control everyone.” —O.G. (read more)

Iron Man (2008): B+

“After Tobey Maguire’s gawky boyishness and Christian Bale’s glower, the ‘offbeat’ casting of comic-book films is now the new normal. (The trend really started back in 1989, when Tim Burton turned a saucer-eyed noodge like Michael Keaton into Batman.) Yet it’s still bracing to see Robert Downey Jr. redefine what it takes to be a superhero in Iron Man. As Tony Stark, a high-living celebrity weapons magnate who is wounded on a trek through Afghanistan, only to transform himself into a hulking mechanical rocket man, Downey doesn’t dial down his eager narcissistic wit. Wearing a goatee right out of the beatnik ’50s, he’s fast and frictionless, as airlessly ironic as a talk-show host who’s been shoved onto the air at 3 a.m. and left to his own what-the-hell devices. The key to Downey’s mocking, crumpled charm is that no matter whom he’s talking to, he’s really just nattering to himself. When he climbs into his Iron Man machine suit, with its whirring, clicking limbs and plated chest, flamethrower arms, and mask of a medieval knight, he doesn’t disappear behind the tin-can walls of that chunky, atomic-age jet-pack robot. He’s still there, a deftly fragile motormouth — a damaged soul who needs armor to fully become himself.” —O.G. (read more)

Doctor Strange (2016): B+

“When you strip away the Secrets of the East mumbo jumbo and psychedelic special effects, Doctor Strange is a formulaic Marvel origin story, but it’s done with high-IQ wit, all but name-checking the myth of Sisyphus and the kaleidoscopic architectural origami of M.C. Escher. (We’re a long way from the blunt-force shenanigans of HYDRA here.) Doctor Strange is thrilling in the way a lot of other Marvel movies are. But what makes it unique is that it’s also heady in a way most Marvel movies don’t dare to be. It’s eye candy and brain candy.” —C.N. (read more)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): B+

“In a city where the average citizen seems to accept Avengers as a fact of daily life as common as a rat on the subway or a Starbucks on the corner, Homecoming‘s Parker is still consistently, winningly wowed by his own capabilities; he can’t stop saying ‘Gross’ or ‘Awesome’ at the things that shoot out of his body (which, to be fair, is also just basic adolescence). But he can seem ordinary to the point of confounding the storyline, too — less a supercharged arachnid than an adorable puppy with special powers, or the YA dreamboat on an exceptionally well-cast Nickelodeon wizard show.” —L.G. (read more)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019): B

“I wound up liking Far From Home more than any Spider-Man film this decade. There’s something eerie in the constant assertion of Tony Stark as Tycoon SuperJesus — but don’t underestimate the shifty layers the final act. The hero worship has a slippery quality here, with a less cheerful purpose than the sincere devotion of Homecoming or Into the Spider-Verse. The teen characters really are a blast, even if one key person skips a whole movie of development between scenes. Some digital effects look good in a boring way, and then some digital effects look bad in a perfect way. “Is this real?” asks Spider-Man. In the end, I really didn’t know. Far From Home succeeds with an unusual, troubling virtue: The best parts are the most fake.” —Darren Franich (read more)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017): B

“Beneath those long buttery locks and somewhere behind those impossibly sculpted Asgardian abs and biceps, there’s always been a gifted comedian with crack timing trying to bust out. [Chris Hemsworth] can’t help that he looks the way he does. Plus, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise when Tony Stark is firing off quippy one-liners. Thankfully, the newest — and unquestionably funniest — big-screen Marvel adventure, Thor: Ragnarok, seems hellbent on finally unleashing Hemsworth’s real secret weapon: his humor. With the exception of Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Ragnarok may be the only Marvel-hero movie that feels like it’s first and foremost a comedy. And on those terms — and those terms only — it’s a triumph.” —C.N. (read more)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): B

Captain America: The First Avenger is stolidly corny, old-fashioned pulp fun. Directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer), the picture is nothing, really, that you haven’t seen before, but it’s the definition of a square, competent, deliver-the-goods blockbuster. It’s set in 1942, and the World War II trappings — gimlet-eyed Nazis, patriotic newsreels, high-stepping USO shows, the whole earnest spirit of pitching in — are no mere backdrop. The movie is so wholesome it could almost have been made during World War II.” —O.G. (read more)

Chuck Zlotnick/©Marvel Studios 2019

Captain Marvel (2019): B

“[Brie] Larson is the first female to headline her own Marvel Studios movie. That’s the kind of horrorshow fact that leaves you wondering what stone age Hollywood history bombed itself back to sometime around 2008, like there were never any Hepburns at all? Captain Marvel can feel overly (corporately?) anxious about its own feminism. Larson remembers a struggle to be taken seriously — the Air Force didn’t even allow female fighter pilots until 1993! — but those memories are locked away from her current Kreeward existence. Until very late in the film, she’s a bystander to her own hero’s journey.” —D.F. (read more)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018): B

“Let’s be clear, Infinity War is a movie for the fans. Especially those who’ve spent any time wondering what it would be like to witness Chris Hemsworth’s Thor wisecracking with Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, or tagging along with some of the Avengers as they hightail it to Wakanda (the arrival there got a rousing wave of applause at my screening). It’s the Marvel equivalent of watching the old ‘We Are the World’ video (Hey, it’s Bob Dylan singing between to Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis!). And for the most part, this super-sized mash-up works better than you’d expect. There are occasional tonal disparities when you get a smart-aleck character firing off quips next to a stoically straight-faced one like Chris Evans’ Captain America. Even in the real world, if you put a large enough group of people in a room together, all of the different personalities aren’t necessarily going to mesh. Comic book heroes, they’re just like us!” —C.N. (read more)

Ant-Man (2015): B

“By the time the final Mission: Impossible-style heist arrives, my mind was drifting off to all of the unpredictably loopy and lunatic places original Ant-Man director Edgar Wright might have taken the film’s sluggish climax. Still, thanks to Ant-Man’s ace supporting cast (including Evangeline Lilly as Pym’s estranged daughter and the scene-stealing Michael Pena as Lang’s excitably dim partner in crime), Reed and Rudd’s film is proof that no matter how silly some ideas sound at first, good things often do come in small packages.” —C.N. (read more)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017): B-

“No joke, no matter how well it’s told, is as funny the second time around. It’s still possible to have a good time while also realizing that there’s something a little lazy and thin about this sequel. Three years ago, when we were treated to the origin story of how this motley gang of merry-prankster mercenaries came together, there was the shock of the new (at least to the comic-book agnostic).” —C.N. (read more)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): B-

“These days, we’re so used to feeling short-changed when we go to the movies that it may seem churlish to complain when someone gives us too much. But with Marvel’s latest comic-book battle royale, Avengers: Age of Ultron, I walked out of the theater feeling like the survivor of an all-you-can-eat buffet. There are five shock-and-awe action sequences when three would have sufficed. And there are more than a dozen main characters (including a few new ones) all jockeying for screen time when half that number would have already been pushing it. Even the film’s rimshot-ready one-liners have the overkill desperation of a stand-up scared of bombing. Either through his own ambition or the mandate of his corporate overlords, writer-director Joss Whedon simply has too many balls to keep in the air for one movie — even a two-and-a-half-hour one — and you can feel his exhaustion.” —C.N. (read more)

Thor: The Dark World (2013): B-

“Alan Taylor, who directed this sequel, is a prestige veteran of the small screen (Mad Men, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones), but he brings little of that avid storytelling tightness to The Dark World. The new film sprawls, often with more spirit than reason. And though its images can be exciting (the Oz-like palace of Asgard, airships that glide like daggers), the battles have a videogame medieval dazzle that temporarily heightens the senses, then leaves you numb.” —O.G. (read more)

The Incredible Hulk (2008): B-

“The 2003 Hulk, in his rubbery resilience, was essentially a defensive creature (Lou Ferrigno, in the TV series, was even less threatening — the simian version of a ’70s hair model), but the new Hulk is offensive in every way, with ugly vein-mottled skin and a way of ripping jeeps in half, then hurling the hunks of metal at helicopters, to create one of those righteous ‘Kiss off!’ fireballs. He’s a rampaging force — Godzilla as bodybuilder — and the director, Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2), stages the film for maximum destructive excitement. It’s a big, dumb boys’ bash, and in the first huge action set piece, when the Hulk does his smash-and-grab thing and the military holds him back by blasting him with some sort of atomic wind machine, you may for a few moments have that long-sought ‘Whoa!’ sensation, the one that takes you back to the thrill of the original comics.” —O.G. (read more)

Iron Man 2 (2010): C+

“He may be out of the closet as a superhero and cheered around the world as a peacekeeper, but in Iron Man 2, former weapons mogul Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) can still be a cocky SOB. The man with a battery where his heart ought to be is restless, driven, glib, grandiose — which is to say, the billionaire industrialist still exhibits all the self-absorbed, antiheroic qualities with which Downey first delighted us in the role two years ago. So if this sequel doesn’t glow with the same charm as the original, and if Iron Man’s face-offs against evil lack edge, the diminished satisfaction has less to do with the quality of the star’s trademark catch-me-if-you-can energy than it does with a performance anxiety that now pervades the whole shebang.” —Liza Schwarzbaum (read more)

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018): C+

“After I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp, I tried to remember if I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp. This is one of those Marvel products peddling self-aware detachment as a defining narrative strategy. Scientists will say science stuff — ‘quantum realm,’ ‘quantum entanglement,’ ‘quantum tunnel’ — and then Scott/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) will deadpan that everyone says ‘quantum’ too much. Characters joke so much about Captain America: Civil War that you start to wonder if you paid movie-ticket prices to read the internet two years ago. It feels less like a feature film than a meme somebody made about an Ant-Man trailer.” —D.F. (read more)

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