Let’s Kick Back and Enjoy Some Superheroics

Ranking all the MCU Films

The Definitive List, Part 3

Now we’re actually getting into the films and shows that are really worth watching. That’s not to say that there’s nothing redeeming about the works in part one and part two of this list (although it is hard to find anything redeeming about Secret Invasion, for sure), but these works kick off the part of the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. body that you’d actively go back to watch again and again. If they showed up while you were browsing on cable, or if someone popped one into a DVD player, or if they arrived in front of you on streaming, then you’d likely kick back and enjoy a few hours of brainless entertainment. They’re fun, they’re simple, they’re very watchable.

They aren’t the best, though. Those are coming later because there’s still a whole lot to cover on this list. Marvel has produced so many shows and movies (perhaps, many would argue, too many at this point) and there’s still so many more to go before we actually get to the top-tier, A-ranked films that no fan of the franchise can skip. These are not those, no matter how fun they might be on their own.

So now, onwards with part three of our list:

Avengers: Infinity War (MCU 19)

It might seem weird to list the first part of the grand finale of the "Infinity Saga" at only the middle of the pack, but there's a key point there I just made: it's the first part. Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame or two parts of a conjoined story, and you only get the conclusion of the tale with the second film. Infinity War, by comparison, is all set up, the required three hour prologue you have to get through so you can then watch the grand three hour finale.

Now, it's not that Infinity War is a bad film, per se, it's just an expected one. When the films were put into production, Marvel made sure to let everyone know that these films were filmed back-to-back and would be released one year apart. You couldn't even go into Avengers: Infinity War without knowing that Avengers: Endgame was coming to complete the arc. The ending was in another movie and this was Marvel's way of getting the setup taken care of.

Once you knew that, then, you also could likely predict what was going to happen during this film. If the heroes can't defeat Thanos because he'll be in the next film, the grand conclusion, then it's pretty obvious that Thanos would somehow succeed in his grand design. He wanted to get the stones (not all of which had even been revealed before Infinity War) so he could finish the gauntlet and use the power of the six stones to change reality. Specifically, wipe away half of all life in the universe (for reasons of "something something kill to save something"). This was basically foretold by story structure.

Thus, it's hard to go back and watch Infinity War now because it's all set up. It's a dark and grim tale that ends in a very sad place. It's absolutely a must watch the first time you go through the whole series as it takes care of all the required plot machinations before Endgame. But after that, when you want to go back through and watch various films in the MCU again, something tells me you'll likely skip over this one. It's fine, it's necessary, it gets the job done... but it's hardly surprising at all.

How Essential Is It?

If you're watching the "Infinity Saga" for the first time then you absolutely have to watch this film. It sets everything up, from the finding of the stones, to Thanos's big plan, to all of his back story, and even the "Snap" (which would later become the "Blip") that would go on to define MCU stories for the whole next Phase. You can't skip this film, at all.

I again just doubt that most people want to go back and sit through it all after the first time. Once you have Endgame this film becomes a much less necessary repeat viewing.

Essential Score: 8.2

Ant-Man and the Wasp (MCU 20)

I like the Ant-Man and the WaspFirst developed by Hank Pym, the "Pym Particle" allows Pym (and a variety of successors) to transform themselves, shrinking (and growing) to amazing sizes. Joined by Pym's wife (and later his daughter), the Wasp is Ant-Man's ally and cohort in fighting crime. films. I think they can be very fun. But by design they aren't set up to be essential viewing. Everyone wants to watch the big, high-flying adventures of Iron Man and Spider-man and the like. Ant-man, though, is the little guy, the smallest Avenger, that guy who talks to ants and shrinks a bunch. The power of the first film is that it found a way to be funny and unexpected in a superhero franchise that was already growing long and bloated. But once you've done that, how do you keep it up for the sequel?

Arguably Ant-Man and the Wasp didn't really manage to find that special spark needed. It's a fun film, funny even, but most of its good ideas are rehashes of what we saw in the previous movie. Hell, is there much in this film that you can remember that made it stand out from the previous film? Can you even remember anything about this film at all? I'd be liable to bet the answer to both questions is a "no".

What Ant-Man and the Wasp does is present another goofball fun adventure for hero Scott Lang and the rest of the Ant-family. It has fun, it breezes along, and then it ends with a little bit of superhero CGI. It's a more expected, less surprising version of what the first Ant-Man managed, and while it's fun, it's not entirely memorable. Still, it does manage to have more fun in its tiny package than Avengers: Infinity War manged in all its big, dour scenes. Sometimes fun is what you need.

How Essential Is It?

I would frankly argue that this second film in the Ant-Man trilogy is also its least essential. It doesn't really set up anything necessary for the greater franchise, and even the events that happen within this film are largely ignored come the third movie, Quantumania. Sure, there's the tag ending that helps to drive the plot of Endgame forward, but that could have been in Endgame, or at the end of Infinity War, or literally anywhere byt here. When a tag ending is the most essential part of your film, that's a bit of an issue.

Essential Score: 4.1

Black Panther (MCU 18)

I know I will get some hate for ranking Black Panther so low on this list, but it's for good reason. Yes, it's a big adventure for Marvel's first Black superhero in a leading role. Yes, it has great visuals, and a solid villain performance from Michael B. Jordan. It absolutely opened many necessary doors for the MCU and helped change the trajectory of the series in noticeable ways.

And yet, for all of that, its actual story wasn't necessary at all. It's the tale of how T'Challa becomes the rightful wearer of the Black PantherCreated by Lee and Kirby, Black Pather first appeared in the pages of Fantasic Four before going on to feature in his own books. Among his long run in comics and many skills and abilities, he's credited as being the first comic character of African decent. crown... except we'd already seen him take up the mantle back in Captain America: Civil War. He'd inherited the title of king, he'd put on the costume, he was the Black Panther... and then this film felt the need to go and do that whole story again, all over. It's very weird.

Look, Killmonger is a great villain and I would love to see him show up elsewhere (his episode of What If...? is delightful dark and fucked up). I think the film did right by introducing him and having him act as a foil to our hero. But it's the hero at the center of it all, T'Challa, that's lacking. His whole arc is, "I guess I have to earn this again to get back where I was at the start of the film." He doesn't learn or grow as a character, not really.

Hell, the one big change this film makes, having Wakanda reveal itself and open its tech up to the world, is basically reverted in the sequel. Nothing that happens here actually matters and that holds the film back from being otherwise great. It's a film I wanted to enjoy, to have it be one of the greats of the MCU, but it never gets there.

How Essential Is It?

I'd put this film's essential rating as exactly fifty / fifty. On the one hand we absolutely needed a lead Black character in the franchise and the setting of Black Panther not only gave us that but also a whole new culture to add to the depth of the franchise. That's great. Everything else about this film, though, is beyond inessential. Killmonger dies, Wakanda's big plans are never achieved, and Black Panther becomes the Black Panther again after already being the Black Panther. Nothing that happens really matters.

Thus, if you skipped this film and went right from Captain America: Civil War and right into Avengers: Infinity War, I doubt you'd even feel like you missed anything at all. That's... not good.

Essential Score: 5.0

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (MCU 15)

When it came out in 2014 the original Guardians of the Galaxy film was a real blast for the MCU. It brought some of that rebel energy back into the MCU that we hadn't really seen since the first Iron Man. Cool, renegade characters who didn't buy in on being heroes? That's what the MCU needed. Under the guiding hand of James Gunn, Guardians had its own rockstar vibe and strong, weirdo sensibilities.

I wouldn't say any of that was really lost in the second film, it's just that the mix wasn't quite right the second time around. Certainly the film took some huge swings, introducing one the MCU's weirdest villains, Ego the Living Planet. It tied that character into lead hero Star-Lord and gave us a very strange, gonzo, heart-felt adventure. But there was something missing, some key ingredient that kept it from feeling like just another sequel. We'd seen and done many of these things with the Guardians before. The sequel failed to really push them forward.

It's not a bad film. Hell, it's a very watchable film (that I've gone back to more than once). But when it comes to the first two films in the trilogy, the original recipe film stands much taller than its first sequel. It has the right mix that, in some small ways, the sequel was lacking.

How Essential Is It?

This really depends on how essential you find the Guardians of the Galaxy to begin with. Tucked away as they are off on a remote part of the Galaxy, far from the local adventures of Earth and all its many heroes, this whole trilogy of films is largely inessential, at least until the characters pop up for a bit in the Avengers films. But as far as these films being essential to the fans, that's a totally different matter.

This second film struggles to keep up with the original, but it's still a fun and weird adventure, and it does a lot to push the characters forward. We get Nebula coming in to fight her sister, Gamora, only to find herself suddenly on the team by the end of the film. We have the love story between Gamora and Star-Lord, which was supposed to build into the third film (if the events of the third and fourth Avengers films hadn't screwed that up). We have the heart-felt realization that Yandu is the parent Star-Lord was looking for all along. There's a lot of great moments in this film that are necessary for the characters.

Whether you like these characters or not is what will ultimately tell you if this film is essential to you. It's essential to the trilogy, but not the greater MCU saga, and thus it's really a matter of taste as to if you have to watch this film or not.

Essential Score: 7.2

Echo (MCU 47)

Disney (and its various studios) have been going on hard on Native American representation. Not only did we get Echo but also a newly created Native American character, Kahhori, in What If…?: Season 2 (which we’ll cover later on down this list), as well as shows like Reservation Dogs and Shoresy (which has a large First Peoples cast) on HuluOriginally created as a joint streaming service between the major U.S. broadcast networks, Hulu has grown to be a solid alternative to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, even as it learns harder on its collection of shows from Fox and FX since Disney purchased a majority stake in the service.. I’m happy to see it as the diversity not only brings in more fantastic actors to their productions but it also means new stories that we haven’t seen before, which can keep long running franchises (like the MCU) fresh and interesting when those stories are told well.

The issue with Echo is that, in many ways, it had a lot riding on it. It gets many things right, from the presentation of lead character Maya Lopez and honoring her Native ancestry as well as her disabilities (both being deaf and, after a car accident as a child, missing a leg). It also brings back Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, and makes it clear that not only was this the Fisk we saw in Hawkeye but also the same version of the character (more or less) as was featured in Daredevil on NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it).. That’s a lot of heavy lifting but, in these elements, the show absolutely nails it.

But it’s also just a lot of heavy lifting to get the setup for the show, and, despite being a five episode mini-series with no guarantee of a second season upon its release, it’s basically all heavy lifting and setup. We get a lot of Maya’s past, her time with her parents, going off to live with her dad in New York, effectively being raised by Fisk after that, then going to Oklahoma after turning against Fisk, dealing with the fallout from almost killing Fisk, and the possible criminals coming for her. It’s five episodes of origin story and we don’t even get her, as a heroic character with super-powers, until the last act of the last episode. That part is thrilling, and there are great moments throughout, but it also feels like the show gets going right as it ends.

Without knowing at that point where Maya would be going, it’s hard to call this a successful series or season or however you want to define it. It’s half a story with more just waiting to be revealed, and that limits its impact for the audience.

How Essential Is It?

That’s tough to say until we see more of Echo. If she shows up again in some other work (or her own second season) then this could become a very essential part of the MCU. If this is it for her and the franchise forgets about this character after the show fades from the collective memory of the audience, then this season would amount to a side story for a side character from a season of a show that most people skipped anyway. That makes it pretty darn inessential… until it otherwise becomes so. Until revealed otherwise, it’s just one more bit of ephemeral most people will probably ignore until they have to watch it otherwise.

Essential Score: 2.8

Spider-man: Far From Home (MCU 23)

There is no doubt that without SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. it's unlike the modern superhero genre would exist. I'm not meaning Tom Holland's version of the character, but the whole of the franchise started way back in 2002 with Sam Raimi's film. Spider-man became the first big superhero blockbuster of the era and it's what got everyone else's superhero ambitions going. Every Spider-man film released since then has been an event, and that includes this second entry in the MCU branch of the franchise.

Unfortunately, for all the great things Marvel has going with their series of spider films -- Tom Holland as Peter Parker, the great cast of supporting characters, solid character work and great quips -- this second film in of the set feels a bit too overdone. As the end of Phase IV and the linking bridge into the "Multiverse Saga" to come, Spider-man: Far from Home has a lot of legwork it has to do to set up everything that will come after. In the end it feels like it buckles under the pressure.

The good parts of this film are very good. There's a noble "passing of the torch" storyline for Peter as he takes over much of Stark's tech (a storyline that is eventually reverted in the next film). There's the great introduction of Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a solid, villainous turn for this classic Spider-man rogue. There's the hint of the multiverse laid down here (even if they are a red herring this time). And some of the action is absolutely jaw dropping, for sure.

At the same time the film feels overly long and over complicated. It sends the students on a class trip to Europe that then feels insubstantial and inconsequential to the main story about Mysterio. There's a lot of talk, a lot of setup, a lot of time wasted getting everyone in position when, frankly, most of this story could have been done in half the time in New York City. The film takes big swings but doesn't really land them all. I like the idea behind this film more than I like the film itself.

Make no mistake, it's a Spider-man film and even the bad films in the franchise are still watchable (as bad as The Amazing Spider-man 2 may be, even that film has its moments. But this is certainly the lesser entry of the series, a low point that Holland's Spidey absolutely had to bounce back from.

How Essential Is It?

Despite not being the strongest film in the Spider-man set, this is still essential viewing for any MCU fan. The first hints of the Multiverse come here and, as we'd soon see, the Multiverse is the saga for the next phases. This film also changes Peter's life, sending him on a new course -- a new girlfriend, a new set of tech, and the reveal of who he is to the world. Without this film we don't get the events of Spider-man: No Way Home and that film is absolutely the most essential Spider-man film yet.

This whole trilogy is essential viewing for any Spider-man fan. This might not be the strongest entry but you have to watch it all the same. It's almost required.

Essential Score: 8.1

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (MCU 34)

Make no mistake, we at Asteroid G are absolute fans of director Sam RaimiStarting of as a horror director (with a penchant for gory horror), Raimi became one ofthe biggest directors in Hollywood when he directed the original Spider-Man trilogy.. Whether it's his Evil DeadStarted as a horror cheapie to get the foot in the door for three aspiring filmmakers -- Raimi, Tappert, and Campbell -- Evil Dead grew to have a life of its own, as well as launching the "splatstick" genre of horror-comedy. franchise, or his work creating the definitive cinematic SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002., Raimi's mark on Hollywood cannot be understated. When it was announced that Raimi would make his triumphant return to superhero filmmaking after the debacle trying to get Sony to sign off on a Spider-man 4, we cheered. Raimi bringing his distinctive touch to another superhero franchise, one as big as the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., is a huge win, no matter how you look at it.

And in fairness to the final product, this does feel like a very Sam Raimi film. This isn't the nice and safe MCU most audience members likely expected. It's a hard PG-13 film with plenty of body horror. Superheroes (well, their alternate version) get cut in half, split into spaghetti strands, have their heads explode, and more (and that's just in one sequence of the film). There is no doubt that Raimi was given the reins for the film and allowed to do whatever he wanted. When the film followed Raimi's desires and pursues its worst, grossest passions, it's an absolute delight.

The problems arise in and around the bits Raimi clearly cared about. Outside of the great horror imagery the film has a pretty lame story about Doctor Strange having to protect a Multiverse traveling girl, America Chavez, as she's being pursued by an evil Wanda Maximoff. Considering we'd just had the excellent WandaVision, which told her story of grief, loss, and healing, this film basically went over the same story beats without the care, consideration, or healing that other mini-series managed. It basically rolled back her character so it could give us a generic superhero film that, in the end, ruined one of its lead characters.

The film is fun and imaginative in the moment. If another director had been attached to this, one of a lesser calibur than Raimi, the film would have been a disaster. As a continuation of Dr. Strange's story, this film lacks. But by having a visionary director at the helm, Marvel managed to keep the train on the tracks just enough for it to not be a complete disaster. It's watchable cheese that works only because Raimi was here, guiding it all along.

How Essential Is It?

As the so-called "Multiverse Saga" chugs (lumbers? slogs?) along, this film feels less and less necessary to the overarching story. As noted, Wanda already had her own natural conclusion to her story in WandaVision. Meanwhile, most of the ideas, characters, and concepts raised in this Doctor Strange sequel haven't really been brought back up again. Maybe sometime we'll see the worlds, side characters, and cameoed heroes again, but for now this film exists in its own pocket, telling it's own self-contained story that doesn't really affect anything around it.

The vote is out now for its true essential-ness for the franchise, only because we have to see if characters like America show up again to continue their stories. Barring that, though, this film feels like a visually fun but legitimately inessential entry in this franchise.

Essential Score: 2.5

Iron Man 3 (MCU 7)

There can be no doubt that the MCU is the franchise that Iron Man built. Due to the licensing agreements that Marvel made to keep itself afloat back in the 1990s many of their greatest heroes -- the X-Men, Spider-man, The Hulk, along with all their associated rogues and supporting characters -- were off the table when Marvel elected to pursue their own cinematic franchise opportunities. They were left with relative "dregs", C-tier Avengers that most audiences hadn't heard about. Marvel had to figure out what to do with those characters to get them on the big screen, and they managed to launch everything with an absolute bang with Iron Man.

That film was nothing short of a cinematic revelation for the superhero set and it set the stage, and tone, for the MCU going forward. Even the failed The Incredible Hulk couldn't stop the good will Marvel was gathering, and further adventures from Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger showed that Marvel could pull off their ambitions. Not all of those films were great, but they were solid outings that continued Marvel's brand and grew their franchise. And then when The Avengers came out and made absolute boat loads of money for a superhero film, suddenly everyone wanted in on this superhero franchise money.

While everyone else played catch up, though, Marvel continued doing what they did and that involved a third (and, in the end, final) outing for the Iron Man series. Set up, in some ways, as the last adventure for Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark (although that wasn't really the case), this film gave Tony a new villain to fight, a strange set of super-powered thugs to battle, and a lot of crazy escapades to adventure through. This is a film best known for its weirder moments -- Tony borrowing the workshop of a kid inventor to create his own gadgets, Tony improvising his way through a villain's lair via exploding Christmas ornaments and electric gloves, the absolutely fantastic "Barrel of Monkeys" skydive sequence -- more so than for its plot. It's a threadbare construction that really doesn't hold up on further watching, but the film is powered by Downey, Jr.'s charisma and a lot of fun on screen.

Love or hate this film, there's no doubt that Marvel was smart to bring in director Shane Black to direct this third outing for the armor-clad hero. We can lament its weird decisions -- turning the Mandarin into an effete British actor was... a choice -- but the film was a blast to watch back in the day and is still pretty crowd-pleasing even now. Is it shallow and a little empty now with the franchise having long since moved on from its early start? Sure, but the film worked on its own. Had it remained the last outing for Iron Man then maybe, just maybe, it would be considered among the top ranks of the franchise today.

How Essential Is It?

The big issue with Iron Man 3 is that most of the key plot decisions for this film were walked back after this movie. The film introduces the idea that Tony is suffering from PTSD after the Battle of New York (see: The Avengers), but this is a story thread that doesn't extend past this movie. The Mandarin is introduced as a false-flag character, only for that to be walked back in Shang-Chi. And as for Iron Man's decision to blow up all his suits and stop being Iron Man, well, that lasted right up until Avengers: Age of Ultron, when even that was proven to be false.

Again, had all the big character changes for this film been stuck to then maybe this film would have a much stronger place in the franchise. But Iron Man could never stop being Iron Man in this franchise because he was too big a draw for audiences. We had to have Tony Stark flying around in armor, quipping and not letting the world get him down. Anything else wouldn't have fit the franchise. And so audiences got what they wanted and this film ended up leaving far less of a mark on the franchise than it otherwise should have.

Essential Score: 4.6

Next up we move into the films that were at least passable. They aren't the films you go out of your way to watch, but if you're doing a marathon you'll at least sit through them to get to other, better films. These are the Merely Mediocre...