These days, when we think about one of the many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we seem to automatically gravitate towards those of the ensemble variety, whether it’s Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), or the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022).
While these crossovers are huge fun, sometimes the “solo” movies can get lost in the crowd. Yet these are the movies that have helped to build the MCU from the ground up, and a crossover event can only ever really be earned if the less-populated movies — those that are focused on introducing new heroes into the fold — help to expand the MCU in exciting new ways.
With the exception of sequels, whether it’s Iron Man 2 (2010), Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), or Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), we’ve decided to rank all the solo MCU movies from worst to best.
12. The Incredible Hulk
Having The Incredible Hulk (2008) at the bottom of our list doesn’t mean that we think it’s a bad film, but even out of the entire MCU franchise, let alone all of its solo movies, it’s fair to say that it stands out like a very sore thumb (or a large green one). The only thing that really connects it to the MCU is the secret ending with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr).
Edward Norton delivers a solid performance as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, in a movie that can’t quite decided whether it’s a sequel to Ang-Lee’s Hulk (2003) — though with a complete recasting, of course — or its own entity. Either way, besides some thrilling action sequences, there’s really not much to write home about.
11. Black Panther
While this ranking is likely to cause a bit of an uproar, there’s no denying that, whatever you may think of Black Panther (2018), it’s a movie that was somewhat overrated surrounding its release. The trouble is that, while it introduces us to a new corner of the MCU, it’s a somewhat generic affair, which so far has only really served the likes of Infinity War and Endgame.
Many Marvel fans and critics alike will have you believe that Black Panther is one of the best MCU movies to date, and though it is indeed a breath of fresh air for the franchise, the only real stand-out performance here is the late Chadwick Boseman‘s T’Challa/Black Panther. The character is also a great addition to movies like Winter Soldier and the latest Avengers movies.
10. Captain Marvel
Moving towards the opposite end of the spectrum, and we find the widely-panned Captain Marvel (2019), which stars Brie Larson in the role of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Since the time of the movie’s release, Larson, who is known for being perhaps a little too outspoken on some of her political and social views, has become a hugely controversial figure in the MCU.
But even if we’re able to separate the movie from the controversy, Captain Marvel has very little to offer besides an impressively de-aged Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson). It’s not a terrible movie by any means, but it does feel a little stock and generic, and would have likely fared better as a Phase One entry. As for Brie Larson herself, she isn’t particularly engaging as the titular hero.
As we don’t even dislike the bottom movie on this list — that being The Incredible Hulk — having the original Thor (2011) so low shouldn’t be any cause for concern. With that said, it is low for a reason, which is largely due to the fact that it’s a somewhat underwhelming affair. In fact, the same can be said about its follow-up, Thor: The Dark World (2013).
Chris Hemsworth, of course, shines as Thor, while Tom Hiddleston is charismatic and huge fun to watch as Loki, and is yet to be bested as the MCU’s most entertaining villain (of sorts). Unfortunately, the stuff with Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis), and Stellan Skarsgard (Professor Selvig) — which takes up most of the film — is extremely dull.
8. Doctor Strange
Casting Benedict Cumberbatch as an MCU hero (Dr Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange) once seemed a bit, ahem, strange, but now, we can’t imagine this series without him, which is probably because of his role in films like Endgame, and No Way Home. And now, he’s getting his own sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the successor to the latest Spider-Man sequel.
Doctor Strange’s first outing, however, is easily one of the most forgettable MCU movies so far, even if it boasts some of the most mind-bending action and set pieces. Strange’s transition from zero to hour is also lazily breezed over with the appearance of a goatee. It’s not all bad, though, as it does open the doors (pun very much intended) to the Multiverse.
It’s fair to say that most Paul Rudd movies are, at the very least, entertaining. Even his first feature film, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), is watchable (it really shouldn’t be), which is really only because of Paul Rudd (Tommy Doyle). But how does Ant-Man (2018) fare? Does size matter, or does Rudd prove that anyone can become a superhero.
Like Doctor Strange, Ant-Man is one of the most important MCU movies — where the former introduces things like magic, wizardry, and the Multiverse, the latter introduces the Quantum Realm. The movie itself, while fun, might feel a little “small” (no pun intended), but Rudd is on top form as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, no matter how big or small he is.
6. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Sometimes, an MCU movie, no matter how overhyped, or how anticipated, deserves plenty of credit for its ambition alone. Enter Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), which sees Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, who travels to a mystical realm to uncover a mysterious family secret, accompanied by Awkafina’s Katy.
The action sequences in this movie are wildly impressive, as is the choreography. But what starts out as a fun superhero movie set in the city suburbs, quickly descends into a CGI fest with green screens galore, something we’ve seen many times already in MCU movies. It might expand the universe furthermore, but sometimes, a lot less is a lot more.
5. Black Widow
You can’t have a list of MCU movies without at least two controversial entries, and the second on our list is Black Widow (2021), which sees Scarlett Johansson reprise her role as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, in a movie that is undoubtedly a little late to the solo movie party. But be that as it may, was the Scarlett Johansson-led spin-off worth the wait?
After all, Natasha was killed off in Endgame, so a solo movie feels redundant. Somehow, though, it’s more entertaining than we expected — though it probably owes most thanks to the hilarious Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Black Widow also ties in nicely with Hawkeye (2021), which stars Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye) and Halee Steinfeld (Kate Bishop).
4. Captain America
Now that the MCU has the likes of Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame under its belt, it’s all too easy to forget the original Captain America (2011), which sees Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) fill the boots of Uncle Sam’s front-line mascot-cum-hero, Captain America, in a movie that now marks the beginning of a very long journey for our most patriotic Avenger.
Easily one of the more underrated MCU movies, Captain America is a gritty, action-packed period adventure, and boasts a stellar cast that includes Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Tommy Lee Jones (Chester Phillips), and Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt/Red Skull). And the secret ending in which Rogers wakes up decades later is heart-breaking stuff (he was supposed to be on a date!).
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) is one of the most anticipated movies in the MCU, and for a long time, Marvel fans thought it would never happen. And then finally, Marvel and Sony struck a deal, which saw Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) finally swing into the MCU action, joining his fellow Avengers in Civil War (well, half of them anyway).
Tom Holland is a worthy successor to Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, and if you go into this movie reminding yourself that it’s part of a much wider universe, you’ll have a blast. Michael Keaton also offers up one of the best MCU villains to date with Adrian Toomes/The Vulture. Supporting cast members like Robert Downey Jr also help separate this movie from the likes of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy.
2. Iron Man
You might be surprised to find Iron Man just shy of the top spot, but in a franchise that’s now twenty-plus movies strong, there’s really no surprise that there has been a lot in the way of competition since the MCU’s more humble beginnings in 2008 (though not necessarily when it comes to solo MCU movies, which is why this is in second place).
Nevertheless, Robert Downey Jr is absurdly charismatic as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and his chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts) is off the charts. Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane might be pretty generic, but Iron Man‘s incredible action sequences more than make up for it, with the Afghanistan scene being one of the best in the franchise so far.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Our first real cosmic outing in the MCU came in the form of a space opera with some serious attitude. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), directed by James Gunn, took many of us by surprise, with its perfect ensemble of interstellar misfits — which includes an anthropomorphic raccoon and a talking tree, of course — and its highly infections ’70s and ’80s-inspired soundtrack.
Chris Pratt (Peter Quill/Star-Lord), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Vin Diesel (Groot), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), and Dave Bautista (Drax), are all on top form as the titular heroes, and the group dynamic makes this the most hilarious MCU entry to date. Guardians of the Galaxy is also a beautifully shot film, and remains one of James Gunn’s best to date.
How would you rank all these solo MCU movies? Let us know in the comments below!