Aside perhaps for Marvel’s current Phase Four collection of movies and TV shows, Marvel Phase Three contained the largest and most anticipated wave of Marvel movies ever released.
Not only did Marvel Phase Three depict the final, epic showdown between the Avengers and Thanos (a confrontation that Marvel had been laying the groundwork for since Phase One’s The Avengers in 2012), it also introduced the world to several new heroes and reinventing certain long-standing characters (Thor, specifically).
It’s a phase that began with Marvel’s heroes going head to head against each other, reuniting just in time to combat their most formidable enemy yet. Compared to the earlier successes of Phase One and Two, it’s also responsible for ushering in a new era for Marvel, drawing several heroes’ storylines to a close and introducing a new generation of characters to the MCU.
From the final battle between Thanos and the Avengers in Endgame to the divisively-received Captain Marvel, here is every Marvel Phase Three movie, ranked from best to worst.
1 – Avengers: Infinity War
Not since the original Avengers did a movie have as much hype built around it as Avengers: Infinity War had. With the conflict between Thanos and Marvel’s heroes (including both the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy) having been teased for six years, everyone was wondering what their inevitable encounter would look like, who would be left standing, and which superheroes would survive their climactic interaction with the Mad Titan.
When Thanos (Josh Brolin) sets out to collect all the Infinity Stones to trigger a universe-wide genocide, the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy set out to stop him.
With its dark ending and epic, galactic-wide scope, Infinity War feels like The Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Universe—a movie where the Marvel heroes have more than met their match in terms of a formidable adversary, one they don’t necessarily wind up beating him in the final battle. It’s a film where anything can happen—where beloved characters can abruptly die at any moment. It checks all the major staples of a traditional MCU movie and then some—the huge final battle, the memorable comedy, and the deadly main villain, ending with one of the most chilling finale sequences in any Marvel movie to date.
2 – Avengers: Endgame
The second act of the two-part showdown between the Avengers and the genocidal Thanos, Avengers: Endgame felt like the end of an era. Not only did the film conclude the 7-year storyline built around Thanos, it also contained the final appearance of several original Avengers in a bittersweet farewell.
Reeling from the aftermath of Thanos’s actions at the end of Infinity War, the remaining Avengers try to figure out a way to travel back in time, hoping to reverse the effects Thanos’s universe-spanning genocide.
One of the more emotional MCU movies, Thanos’s destruction in Infinity War provides an interesting backdrop for Endgame, detailing how every surviving hero is dealing the loss of their close friends, as well as their personal failure to stop the Mad Titan in his place.
As a result, we see never-say-die heroes like Captain America doing all he can to come up with a plan, a guilt-ridden Tony Stark having to live with the shame of losing his protege, and a depressed and directionless Thor living in exile, having found that revenge doesn’t matter when it comes to losing loved ones.
Though much of the movie is solemn—the ending is still one of the most tear-jerking finales to any MCU movie—the film does contain plenty of action and comedic moments, utilizing unexpected plot twists and nonstop action from the get-go to reel audiences in and keep them engaged. It’s a fitting conclusion to everything the MCU had built, drawing Marvel Phase Three to a triumphant conclusion before its softer finale in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
3 – Captain America: Civil War
Marvel’s “Civil War” storyline is one of the most famous crossover narratives the company has ever released. Although it received mixed reviews at the time of its release, the idea of seeing Earth’s strongest superheroes and villains divided into two groups, battling for supremacy over Earth, was obviously an appealing one for longtime comic fans. Adapting such a well-known comic could’ve met with disaster, but like all ambitious Marvel films before it, Captain America: Civil War soared beyond expectations, creating a movie premise loosely based on its source material, but distinctly altered for the sake of continuity within the MCU.
Amid growing tensions over superheroes’ accountability in global affairs, the Avengers are torn into two different factions, one led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and the other by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), culminating in an all-out war between Earth’s mightiest heroes.
The idea of Civil War lies in its simplicity: have the Avengers split up into two groups, then go to war. It’s straightforward and to the point, and the movie delivers by showing the characters’ loyalties split between their differing ideologies and what they believe is right: should superheroes abide by government sanctions and regulations, limiting their power, or should they do what they want free of government control?
It’s an interesting question, and the impressive thing about the movie is that it legitimately provides reasons for the characters choosing the sides they end up choosing: Stark, having seen the lack of accountability he had in the original Iron Man, decides to side with the government, and Captain America, having lost trust in the government after finding out they had secretly been controlled by Hydra in The Winter Soldier, decides to go rogue.
It’s true to everyone’s characters and shows that Marvel had been laying the groundwork for Civil War for years. It’s also responsible for introducing several fan-favorite characters into the MCU (Black Panther and Spider-Man), and marks the first time certain heroes like Ant-Man appeared in a larger capacity alongside the Avengers, instead of in his own self-contained film.
4 – Spider-Man: Homecoming
Average New York high school student Peter Parker (Tom Holland) struggles to find a balance between his time as a teenager and his role as Spider-Man, which gets further complicated when he encounters an arms dealer (Michael Keaton) who has ties to his personal life.
It’s up for debate which is the best Spider-Man movie, but Spider-Man: Homecoming has a legitimate claim to that prestigious spot. The first solo movie to feature Tom Holland as the title character, the movie was complemented by appearances from Keaton as The Vulture and Tony Stark in a brief but critical role, further building the mentor-protege relationship between Stark and Peter in later Marvel Phase Three movies.
In a movie that feels like a Spider-Man story written by John Hughes, it deftly blends the lighthearted antics of New York’s webslinger with the deeper emotional struggle of coming-of-age. It’s also a movie that perfectly captures the spirit of the original Spider-Man comics, including the zany wit, famous villains, and Peter’s struggle to live out his dual lives as Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Thankfully, unlike other Spider-Man movies before it, it also didn’t spend any unnecessary time exploring Spider-Man’s origins, speed-running into its story from the movie’s opening moments onward.
5 – Black Panther
One of the most distinct and popular entries in Marvel’s Phase 3, Black Panther is also one of the most important and critically acclaimed movies in Marvel history. The only MCU to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture thus far, it’s one of the few superhero movies to feature a predominantly Black cast, using its narrative to bravely discuss topical themes and subject matter.
After his father’s death in Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), returns home to the technologically advanced kingdom of Wakanda to inherit his father’s throne. Upon his return, he finds himself challenged by his cousin (Michael B. Jordan), an embittered Wakandan exile who plans on using the kingdom’s technology to incite massive revolutions led by oppressed populations across the globe.
A superhero retelling of Hamlet, Black Panther was lauded for its inclusiveness and its ability to shed light on relevant issues like race and racism. Unlike other MCU movies, it touched upon serious subjects that still plague society today, featuring a villain whose intentions—though obviously extreme—were largely sympathetic, especially compared to the greedier, power-hungry antagonists that populate other Marvel movies.
Today, Black Panther is looked at with a high degree of reverence, both for its superior quality, its memorable and unique costumes and visual designs, and the performances of the actors involved—none more so than the late, great Chadwick Boseman, one of the definitively best additions to the MCU.
6 – Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2
Sequels rarely match the original movie they’re meant to follow. Every once in a while, though, one will come along that surpasses the quality of their predecessor, improving on the first movie in practically every way. Such is the case with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the bigger, funnier, and more emotionally gripping second entry in the MCU’s Guardians trilogy.
Now an organized team in lieu of the ragtag band of criminals they were in the first movie, the Guardians are shocked to find themselves contacted by a mysterious Celestial being known as Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s father.
The first Guardians was very, very far from a bad movie, notably only suffering one or two minor flaws (namely lacking a strong villain and not offering any extensive backstory for any of the major characters involved). Here, we see the added benefit of both, with Vol. 2 boasting a standout villain in the form of Ego (an astronomically superior villain to Ronan the Accuser), whose connection to Quill also introduces some emotional nuance to the story.
Like the first Guardians, it’s a story about friendship and family, this time illustrating the Guardians’ continuously growing closer and closer with one another, evolving from enemies to friends to practically family members by the end of the film.
7 – Thor: Ragnarok
The first two Thor movies in the MCU were … okay. They weren’t awful, but they continue to rank poorly—very poorly, actually—on many fans’ lists for the best movies in the Marvel cinematic universe. With the release of Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi managed to completely reinvent the entire persona of Thor, crafting a movie that was humorous, exciting, and completely entertaining throughout, especially when compared to the earlier, more dire tone of the first Thor movies.
Forced to participate in gladiatorial combat while on the alien planet, Sakaar, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tries to free himself from captivity and save Asgaard from his tyrannical older sister, the Norse goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), as well as preventing the coming apocalypse known as Ragnarök.
Though the stakes (like most Marvel movies) are high in Thor: Ragnarok, the amount of comedy Waititi infuses into the script keeps Ragnarok from lapsing into the more straight-faced, overly-dire tone of the previous Thor movies. It’s a movie that took Thor from being one of the more two-dimensional superheroes within the MCU and made him one of the most fascinating—just in time for his pivotal role in the upcoming Infinity War and Endgame.
8 – Spider-Man: Far From Home
The film that wrapped up Marvel’s Phase Three, Spider-Man: Far From Home was also the first MCU movie to take place after Endgame, closely detailing the aftermath of the world getting back to normal after “the Blip.”
After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter grapples with the loss of his mentor and his miraculous return to the world after the “snap” in Infinity War. Hoping for a stress-free vacation on a class trip to Europe, Peter is quickly recruited by Nick Fury (Jackson) and a new superhero, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall), aiding the two in their battle against a mysterious group of elemental creatures supposedly from an alternate universe.
The most unique aspect of Far From Home is how greatly it deviates from other Spider-Man-centric movies that came before it, casting Spider-Man in an entirely new setting outside New York and introducing famous characters from the comics (Mysterio) in unexpected new ways.
The movie also does a great job exploring Peter’s more emotional side, detailing his grieving process and his coming to terms with the death of an important figure in his life, as well his attempt moving past that tragedy by growing closer to MJ (Zendaya) and bonding with a new potential role model in his life, Mysterio.
9 – Doctor Strange
Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) may have only narrowly missed out on the opportunity to appear alongside the newly-introduced heroes debuting in Captain America: Civil War, but the fact that Marvel devoted a full movie entirely to his introduction speaks volumes about how interesting a character he is.
Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon whose career comes to a grinding halt when he is involved in a horrific car accident that permanently injures his gifted hands. Seeking out a way to heal his injuries, Strange ventures to the faraway temples of Nepal, learning ancient mystic arts from a secret order of sorcerers.
As some fans have pointed out, Dr. Strange (the movie and the character) may be somewhat similar to Iron Man: both characters begin as selfish, misanthropic narcissists who eventually shed their cynical world views and become more likable, selfless heroes. While the similarity in plot and character is present, Doctor Strange helps set itself apart from other MCU movies through its exploration of mysticism and the occult—focusing far more on magic and wizardry than even more fantasy-heavy Marvel movies like Thor.
The result is an intriguing movie that shows Strange’s growth as a character and the range of his powers, as well as boasting some fantastic visuals and special effects (fittingly, it would end up winning the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects).
10 – Ant-Man and The Wasp
The sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man came at a strange time in the continuity of the MCU. Coinciding with the events of Avengers: Infinity War, the movie focuses on Ant-Man’s less high-stakes adventures rather than the “fate of the universe hanging in the balance” premise of Infinity War, Captain Marvel, and Avengers: Endgame (all movies that came out around the same time as Ant-Man and the Wasp).
Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) deals with the consequences of his actions violating the Sokovia Accords as his mentor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), asks for his help rescuing Pym’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm.
Similar to the first Ant-Man, the appeal of Ant-Man and the Wasp is its simplicity and the relatively minor consequences of the plot (the movie is more about finding Pym’s wife than it is saving the world from a massive threat, as is the case with most MCU movies). Like the first Ant-Man, too, the film relies on a more light-hearted, comedic approach than other MCU movies, with some critics even likening the witty banter and dynamic between Ant-Man and the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) to that of a screwball comedy.
Released between Infinity War and Endgame, it was a refreshing one-off adventure that stoked audiences’ interest in the coming Endgame, tying in nicely with Thanos’s “snap” in Infinity War. Like Captain Marvel, its low placement on this list is not due to any major flaws on the movie’s part, but is based more on the superior quality of the other movies within Marvel Phase Three.
11 – Captain Marvel
The fact that Captain Marvel is so low on this list should be taken more as a testament to how great the other movies within Marvel Phase Three really are.
When considered on its own, Captain Marvel is a thoroughly entertaining movie that makes use of some decent action and stellar performances (especially Brie Larson in the title role and Ben Mendelsohn as the main antagonist). It’s only when you stop and hold Captain Marvel up to the other movies within the MCU that the film’s weaknesses become more apparent.
Carol Danvers (Larson) is a top-notch Air Force pilot who unexpectedly finds herself caught in the middle of a war between two alien civilizations on Earth. Joined by low-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Danvers becomes the superhero, Captain Marvel, and attempts to find out the reason for the aliens’ presence on Earth.
The period setting of Captain Marvel (the 1990s) allowed for some fun tie-ins to previous Marvel movies, such as the appearance of the Tesseract, Ronan the Accuser (the main villain in Guardians of the Galaxy) and even fan-favorite character, Phil Coulson. It also featured some interesting plot twists that few MCU movies have included so far (characters who are initially portrayed as villains revealed to be good—in contrast to the usual, helpful protagonists who are revealed to be evil).
The movie did suffer from a somewhat convoluted plot and fairly forgettable villains, but for the most part, it still delivered some first-rate action and memorable acting from Larson, Jackson, and Mendelsohn.
Image Credit: Marvel Studios.