“Avengers: Infinity War,” which officially opens Friday, is the culmination of a decade-long unspooling of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, which together represent one of Hollywood’s longest studio winning streaks ever.
Yet while Marvel Studios is viewed as a pioneering success story, that doesn’t mean the individual films haven’t been marred by some creative missteps.
Here’s how we rank all 19 MCU films, from relative worst to best:
19. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008): It took two big-screen Hulk outings - including the MCU’s 2008 entry - to prove definitively that Hulk, when angry, works much better when he’s playing off another superhero (from Iron Man to Black Widow to Thor). Otherwise, it’s just too tough to really get beneath the big guy’s green skin.
18. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013): Given Thor’s liveliness in the character’s two most recent films, it’s become easier to forget just how inert this film was, aside from Loki’s slithering guile and hammy, sociopathic laughter.
17. “Iron Man 2" (2010): Jon Favreau followed his surprise franchise hit - in all its winning originality - with a sequel that looked as if a wide-eyed kid had suddenly had too many toys at his disposal.
16. “Ant-Man” (2015): Peyton Reed did his best to save this movie by steering strong toward the comedy; the film gains traction thanks especially to the charisma of Paul Rudd (as the title superhero) and Michael Douglas.
15. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015): In Joss Whedon’s second Avengers team-up, critical mass spilled over into critical mess. “Infinity War” seems to have learned the lessons from its Avengers predecessor: Fans need more than assaultive action spliced with the occasional cutting quip.
14. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" (2017): The gang’s snarky dynamics set to classic’ ‘70s tunes repeat the successful formulas of the first outing - but how much you like the sequel can depend on how much you are engaged by Kurt Russell’s paternal-to-a-point immortal. The baddie’s name - Ego - is as right on the nose as many of the plot points.
13. “Doctor Strange” (2016): Eight years after “Iron Man” was born, Marvel Studios was ready to summon another rich, goateed egotist who becomes humbled by circumstance - and then rises to the challenge with his high intelligence fully engaged. The film is uneven, but Benedict Cumberbatch inhabits the character rather enchantingly.
12. “Iron Man 3" (2013): Director Shane Black peeled back Iron Man to delve into Tony Stark’s soul and imperiled heart, for a very solid outing that might yet stand as Robert Downey Jr.'s final solo turn in the role.
11. “Thor” (2011): A Shakespeare-steeped director, in Kenneth Branagh, turned out to be just the creative horse that this kingdom needed. The god-out-of-water tale deftly bridges royal tones and human emotions.
10. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016): This Avengers Mashup 3.0 was marred by structural flaws, but was buoyed largely by the introductions of Black Panther and a new Spider-Man, plus the artfully unfolding battle royale at the Leipzig/Halle Airport that helped the film’s center hold.
9. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017): The third Spidey reboot - but the first one tethered to the MCU - takes flight thanks to the appeal of frisky pup Tom Holland as Peter Parker; Robert Downey Jr. as the drop-in mentor/father figure; and Michael Keaton in a brilliant turn as the villainous Vulture.
8. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014): Assemble a sitcom actor; an actress already tied to multiple franchises; an acting wrestler now tinted blue; and pure CGI creature creations - and you have the studio’s franchise that was arguably the least likely to work. “Guardians” was the first Marvel movie that felt as if it had been left to its own creative devices, reflecting Marvel chief’s Kevin Feige immense trust in the quirky vision of director James Gunn.
7. “The Avengers” (2012): The MCU’s first big assemblage of its then-soloing superheroes felt like a make-or-break proposition at the time - fail, and the entire trajectory changes for future Marvel phases. Whedon hit just the right balance levels of action and emotion, comedy and melodrama - and the box office responded in kind.
6. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011): Joe Johnston gets the period aesthetic so right, it feels as if Captain America co-creator Joe Simon (who died just months later) was serving as his spirit guide. Steve Rogers’ physical transformation plays winningly, and Chris Evans’ square-jawed, can-do uprightness here leaves his earlier “Fantastic Four” outings far in the dust.
5. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017): Director Taika Waititi was the ideal director to tap Chris Hemsworth’s winning comic sensibilities. Also buoyed by the performances of Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum, “Ragnarok” revives a solo franchise that otherwise could have soon died.
4. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018): How do directors Joe and Anthony Russo strike a balance between dialogue and CGI derring-do when dozens of major superheroes must get some screen time? The filmmakers deftly pepper the various narrative threads with engaging conversational showdowns - Stark and Strange, Thor and Star-Lord - and then give super-baddie Thanos moments of soulful isolation. Caveat: Next year’s part two of “Infinity War” could retroactively alter how this film is perceived.
3. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014): The Russo Brothers harked back to gritty political/conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s with this taut tale of corruption - even getting Robert Redford to sign up as a power broker in a time of Hydra - and the result is a masterful blend of genres. Bonus: The animated credits are period-perfect, arguably Marvel’s best yet.
2. “Black Panther” (2018): No Marvel movie has so artfully blended comic-book adventure with real-world social relevance. In a rare feat, director Ryan Coogler pulled off a studio film that felt deeply personal - and the appeal has been truly global. Wakanda forever, indeed.
And our No. 1 is:
“Iron Man” (2008): Simply put: If “Iron Man” failed, publications would not be compiling MCU lists today. Its sense of fun and wonder - embodied by the most fitting actor on the planet to take on the once-B-list title role - was powerful enough to launch a decade-long creative evolution and a nearly $15-billion-and-counting Marvel machine. And ultimately, it’s our No. 1 because “Iron Man” remains the MCU’s ever-inspiring cornerstone.