Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicks into full gear this week with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. As fans flock to theaters to watch the Guardians‘ story come to an epic conclusion, a particular question is sure to circulate: has James Gunn established the best MCU trilogy? If not, where exactly does it rank among the others? Welcome to the post-Guardians Vol. 3 MCU Trilogy Power Rankings!
Before we dive in, here are a couple of notes and qualifiers: First, the Avengers films are not included in these rankings. They’re team up movie events not devoted to a particular franchise, they’re just on a different scale altogether. Nothing against them, but they’re not part of this discussion.
Additionally, the Thor franchise, despite having four entries and thus not technically being a trilogy, has been included. You can just pretend that Thor: The Dark World doesn’t exist if it makes you feel better. Based on these qualifiers, the franchises we’re considering for best MCU trilogy are as follows: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, Ant-Man and our newest entrant: the Guardians of the Galaxy. So, without further ado, let’s rank ’em!
6. Ant-Man Trilogy
Three months ago, I would have expected Ant-Man to be at least a spot above dead last on this list. The arrival of Kang the Conqueror was highly anticipated among fans, as he represented the MCU’s most significant threat since Thanos. Quantumania is an underwhelming installment compared to its significant hype, however, the film was critically panned and earned less at the box office ($474.5M) than either of its predecessors: 2015’s Ant-Man ($519.3M) and 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp ($622.6M).
That’s not to say that this franchise isn’t still incredibly solid, however; the first Ant-Man film is incredibly charming and, as it turns out, my favorite of the trilogy. The stakes are lower compared to the movies immediately before and after, but still pretty high for the characters involved. A self-contained heist movie inserted into this larger universe has a cool, unique feel to it and is a great way to introduce audiences to Scott Lang. Paul Rudd fit right into the fabric of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and changed it for the better.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a bit of a disappointing sequel, although the less than enthusiastic reception might have had a lot to do with its release coming immediately after Avengers: Infinity War. It’s still incredibly rewatchable and has some top-notch humor from Rudd, Michael Peña and Randall Park. While the Ant-Man franchise is far from the best MCU trilogy, it still has some fantastic characters, plots and subplots. Here’s hoping we see Mr. Lang back on the big screen sooner rather than later!
5. Thor Franchise
Full disclosure here: Thor is my favorite MCU character, so putting his franchise this low on the list is not something I take pleasure in. However, despite Thor being such a great character, his standalone films are more miss than hit. 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok is in the MCU’s top tier and does a lot to prop up the rest of this otherwise disappointing franchise. Thor: Love & Thunder was highly anticipated following the critical success of Ragnarok, but despite some charming moments, the movie fell flat in the eyes of many fans and critics.
As mentioned before, the Thor franchise technically no longer qualifies as a trilogy, since it now has four entries. However, if you were to choose any combination of Thor, The Dark World, Ragnarok and Love & Thunder, you’re coming away with no better than the fifth or sixth best MCU trilogy. The character’s 2011 on screen origin film is very much over hated by fans, and does a great job ingratiating its audience to Thor and Loki. The relationship between these two brothers is the franchise’s biggest redeeming quality.
4. Iron Man Trilogy
I don’t envision there being too much fuss over this franchise’s placement on our list. While it’s ironic that there would be no best MCU trilogy debate if not for the success of Iron Man back in 2008, the fact remains that Tony Stark’s best on screen moments take place in films outside his own series. Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 put forth some lackluster villains and don’t quite possess the same magic contained within the origin story. Both films do a great job displaying Stark’s inner demons, which score some points.
When you do a fake out with a villain like the Mandarin that’s so poorly received that you have to basically undo it in Shang-Chi 8 years later, your franchise is unlikely to gain the status of best MCU trilogy. That being said, the low points in the Iron Man series are more average than anything else, and definitely aren’t bad enough to drop it below Thor or Ant-Man. There’s also a great deal of good will from the OG Iron Man film that helps prop it up.
3. Spider-Man Trilogy
This is where the best MCU trilogy discussion could get a bit heated, as I’ve seen a lot of people place Jon Watts’ films atop their rankings. Being third in this discussion is not a slight for Spidey, as the gap between 1-3 and 4-6 is pretty significant. Following Tom Holland’s debut as the webslinger in Captain America: Civil War, his first MCU solo film was highly anticipated. Spider-Man: Homecoming did not disappoint, due both to both Holland’s performance and Michael Keaton’s exceptional portrayal of The Vulture.
The second film in the series, Far From Home, is burdened with picking up the pieces after Avengers: Endgame, which is no easy task. Both fans and Peter Parker himself are still reeling from the loss of Tony Stark at this point, but Jon Watts manages to entertain audiences with a fun cross-country adventure, not to mention some mind-bending scenes from Mysterio. What else needs to be said about how they cap things off? All three live action Spider-Men on screen at once? A multiversal masterpiece of epic proportions. An argument can absolutely be made that this is the very best MCU trilogy.
2. Captain America Trilogy
This franchise’s placement in the best MCU trilogy debate relies greatly on how you view The First Avenger and Civil War, as Captain America: The Winter Soldier is almost unanimously entrenched as a top tier Marvel film. It’s a spy thriller set in the middle of a world still reeling from an extraterrestrial attack of monumental proportions. After nearly a decade, it still holds up as one of the best movies that Marvel Studios has ever put out, not to mention my personal favorite. That’s a great middle, but what about parts 1 & 3?
Captain America: The First Avenger is a criminally underrated origin story with a tremendous villain and exceptional supporting cast. It’s such an easy rewatch, too; if you haven’t done so in a while, give it a chance! The trilogy is capped off with Civil War, which many consider to be more of an Avengers film than part of Cap’s story. While I understand the sentiment, however, Steve Rogers’ personal journey is very much at the center of this movie. No matter who else appears and what other storylines are at play, Steve Rogers’ struggle to save his best friend—and his relationship with another friend—are front and center.
That means the Best MCU Trilogy is none other than…
I promise this isn’t recency bias coming into play here. I firmly believe that the best MCU trilogy is the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. These movies accomplish something very difficult in today’s day and age: they make you fall in love with D-list Marvel characters and become fully invested in their journey. In each of these movies, you laugh at their one-liners, cry along with them in their lowest moments and, of course, sing and dance along to three epic soundtracks. James Gunn hit all three movies out of the park.
As people grow up, they realize that a family doesn’t necessarily have to be something you’re born into. The Guardians franchise illustrates that concept brilliantly and delivers some of the most genuinely emotional moments you’ll ever see in any film, much less a comic book movie. It’s because these movies are so authentic and don’t try to be anything other than their weird, cosmic, irreverent selves that I feel confident in placing them at the top of this list. I think this is the best MCU trilogy by a wide margin.
Which do you believe is the best MCU trilogy?
One of the best things about movies is that they can be interpreted in many different ways. Perhaps you didn’t fall in love with the Guardians and their story to the degree I did. Maybe you think getting a live action Spider-Verse film packed with nostalgia is enough to lock down the top spot no matter what. You could also just be ride or die with Team Cap, even after all these years! Regardless of the reasoning, we want to hear from you! Let us know in the comments or online which of these franchises is the best MCU trilogy in your eyes.
As always, be sure to stay tuned to the Agents of Fandom socials for the latest news, reviews, and interviews!