Love it or hate it, nobody who wants to participate in pop culture can ignore the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the internet and the streaming boom continue to divide the entertainment industry into smaller niche fragments, superhero tentpole movies are the closest thing we still have to a monoculture. That cultural dominance has allowed Marvel Studios to rope an increasingly large percentage of Hollywood’s A-list actors (and quite a few of its best directors) into its ever-expanding universe.

Years of billion dollar box office receipts and endless discourse about its stranglehold on the film industry make it easy to forget what a risky proposition the MCU was when it launched with “Iron Man” in 2008. Superhero movies without Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man were considered box office gambles at the time, and many entertainment industry observers doubted that audiences would continue to show up for so many interlocking films without getting fatigued. On top of all that, the entire project was launched with an action movie directed by the guy from “Swingers” whose leading man had suffered quite a bit of damage to his reputation.

But you know how the rest of the story goes. Even if Marvel’s cultural relevance has declined ever-so-slightly from the days of the biggest “Avengers” movies, Kevin Feige and his team have built a machine that’s constantly refueling with new stars and characters. The fact that we can take Marvel’s consistent profits for granted is a testament to its success — the company has completed its transition from a rebellious outsider to an established institutional player.

Ranking all of the movies in the MCU is a daunting task. Not only are there a ton of them — and we’re not even going to try to wade into the Disney+ shows — the interconnected story that they tell can make it difficult to compare them as standalone films. Still, the cream tends to rise to the top. From massive crossover events like “Avengers: Endgame” to “smaller” (an extremely relative term in this context) works from elite directors like Ryan Coogler and James Gunn, there are definitely some great Marvel movies that stand out from the crowd. Keep reading for our updating ranking of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the latest “The Marvels.”

With editorial contributions by Alison Foreman and Kate Erbland. 

[Editor’s note: This list was published in May 2023 and has been updated since.]

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