WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for “Avengers: Infinity War.” Read at your own risk.
At this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has lots of characters. Some, like Thanos, might even say too many.
Many of its heroes are similar: men who are full of themselves, get superpowers (or great technology), become heroes, and experience personal growth, except when they don’t.
In honour of “Avengers: Infinity War,” we ranked all the superheroes who have been main characters in their own movies, and significant side characters who have fought with the Avengers.
In February, we ranked the MCU villains, and since they were all bad, the ranking wasn’t as fraught. But this one was a little more tricky because the majority of the MCU heroes are compelling characters with many layers to unpack, who leave a lot to look forward to in every scene. But that doesn’t mean that all of these MCU heroes are great. Some, like Hawkeye and Black Widow, are forgettable despite appearing in several films over nearly a decade.
Here’s our ranking of the MCU heroes, from worst to best (updated for “Infinity War”):
20. Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff — played by Aaron Taylor Johnson
Who? Quicksilver was Scarlet Witch’s annoying brother, who Ultron killed during the Battle of Sokovia. He didn’t even last an entire movie, and that’s a good thing. He wasn’t a fully fleshed-out character, and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) used this character in a much more clever way the same year.
19. Hawkeye/Clint Barton — played by Jeremy Renner
The only thing that makes Hawkeye any different from arrow-slinging heroes like Legolas or Katniss Everdeen is that he has a secret family, which is not even a secret anymore because he introduced them to the Avengers in “Age of Ultron.” The most personality we’ve seen from Hawkeye was in “Captain America: Civil War” when he shows up out of retirement to help fight on team Cap. Why? We don’t know and probably never will.
18. War Machine/Colonel Rhodes
War Machine, played by Don Cheadle, doesn’t have much going on besides being Tony Stark’s best friend. Rhodes, often called Rhodey, tries to keep Tony in check, but isn’t very good at it.
17. Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff — played by Scarlett Johansson
Black Widow is a mystery. All we really know about her comes from what other people have said about her past. Black Widow’s development throughout the MCU movies (she made her first appearance in “Iron Man 2”) is a bit lacking because she hasn’t had a standalone movie, though one is in the works. Her love story with Bruce Banner/Hulk in “Age of Ultron” could have worked with more context to her character, who has been lazily written. Black Widow is great in “Infinity War,” but isn’t in it much. She deserves better and we truly wish she were higher up on this list.
16. Star-Lord/Peter Quill — played by Chris Pratt
Star-Lord is basically the opposite of Thor: a human in outer space. He’s obsessed with ’80s music, constantly delivers snappy one-liners, and has major daddy issues. His dad, Ego, was a planet that tried to have him killed. What makes Star-Lord most appealing, though, is his attachment to his Sony Walkman that his mother gave him.
Star Lord provides some necessary comic relief in “Infinity War,” firing insults at Thanos, but ultimately he screws everything up by getting too emotional right when the team is seconds away from taking the Infinity Gauntlet off Thanos’ arm. Come on, Star Lord!
15. Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff — played by Elizabeth Olsen
Scarlet Witch got off to a bad start in “Age of Ultron.” For most of the movie, she and her brother were Team Ultron, but eventually flipped to the good side. Scarlet Witch is one of the few heroes who don’t have complete control of their power. She came into her own after her isolation in “Civil War” and has proved she’s one of the most powerful members of the team.
In “Infinity War,” Scarlet Witch has become more familiar with her powers and proves to be very useful during the fight in Wakanda. We enjoy her connection with Vision which makes sense because they were both created with the Mind Stone, but at this point we wish there was a little more to her character than romance.
14. Falcon/Sam Wilson
Falcon is loyal to Captain America, and while he takes his job seriously, he always does it with a bit of a wink. He’s a welcome addition to the Avengers family, and has helped loosen Cap up a bit. There’s good for each other, and Falcon is good for the franchise.
In “Infinity War,” Falcon is more useful than ever, helping ward off the Children of Thanos attacking Scarlet Witch and Vision, then later taking down a lot of the creatures attacking Wakanda.
13. Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes — played by Sebastian Stan
His backstory as a brainwashed soldier for Hydra who killed Tony Stark’s parents adds more layers to his character than even some of the characters with standalone movies have. And he is finally living as his true self with immense regret for what Hydra made him do for decades, but after “Infinity War” we are not sure about his future.
12. Vision/Jarvis — played by Paul Bettany
Vision is basically an Alexa or Siri in human form, but a man. He had only minor roles in “Age of Ultron” and “Civil War,” but he’s one of the strongest supporting characters in the MCU. He’s really powerful, and that Infinity Stone on his head brings some necessary drama. Because Vision is so serious, he’s also a source of some much-needed comic relief.
Vision’s journey in “Infinity War” is kind of depressing, because he’s basically knows he’s going to die because of the Mind Stone. But it is cool to see how his powers have evolved, as well as his personality.
Gamora is fierce and fearless, and takes quite a journey in “Infinity War” that has placed her on this list. She is willing to sacrifice her life to stop her father, Thanos, from wiping out half the universe. She doesn’t succeed, but she tries, and is even willing to kill him to do so. We loved Gamora in “Infinity War,” so her fate in the movie leaves us devastated. Just as we wanted more of her, she was gone.
10. Rocket Raccoon
In “Infinity War,” Rocket proves himself to be a true hero, and thus made it onto this list. He takes the role as captain, convinces Thor (a 1,500-year-old god) that he is not a moron like the other Guardians of the Galaxy, helps Thor activate a dying star, and kicks butt in Wakanda after his grand entrance on Thor’s back.
9. Tony Stark/Iron Man — played by Robert Downey Jr.
Flaws are good for any character, especially a superhero, and a lack of them is one of the reasons Superman is so hard to translate to the big screen. Tony Stark is probably the most flawed hero in the MCU, which was fun for a few movies, along with his one-liners. But over time, he became relentlessly arrogant, ignoring the needs of others unless they related to his need to feel glorified.
Tony has a humbling arc in “Infinity War, perhaps because he butts heads with Doctor Strange, another hero who can’t let go of his ego, so we’ve bumped him up on the list. Originally, he was an admittedly harsh No. 17.
8. Spider-Man/Peter Parker — played by Tom Holland
Finally, a version of Peter Parker, a high-school teen, who is played by an age-appropriate actor instead of a grown man. The MCU’s version of Peter Parker captures the character that people fell in love with in the comics: cheesy one-liners, a little bit of ignorance, and a sense of immense responsibility because of his powers. We also didn’t even have to witness Tom Holland’s Parker get bit by a spider to get to know him.
In “Infinity War,” Parker brings even more pop-culture references that make for successful plans to defeat villains, and his loyalty to Stark and saving the world is adorable. So we bumped him up on the list. His original ranking was 13.
Valkyrie hasn’t technically fought with the Avengers, but she fought with two of them in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Her role in the movie, made even more significant by Tessa Thompson, puts her on the list. A powerful former warrior for Asgard, Valkyrie drinks away her dark past on Sakaar until she stumbles upon Thor and somewhat reluctantly joins his team.
She doesn’t appear in “Infinity War,” but she’ll probably be in “Avengers 4,” according to some hints by the directors.
6. Ant-Man/Scott Lang — played by Paul Rudd
Yet another antihero! Scott Lang is a former criminal with a pretty optimistic (if sarcastic) attitude and a master’s in electrical engineering. Coming into the MCU late has benefited Lang’s character. With so much success already, there was a little more freedom to make his first movie, “Ant-Man” (2015), a little weird and quite ambitious for a blockbuster hero. Lang’s also memorable for his genuine excitement when he finally meets his hero, Captain America. Lang also wouldn’t work so well if it weren’t for Paul Rudd, perhaps the most charming guy on the planet (apologies to Chris Evans).
5. Bruce Banner/The Hulk — played by Mark Ruffalo
What makes Bruce Banner/the Hulk so interesting is that he’s more of a liability than he is a superhero, but the Avengers keep bringing him back anyway. Mark Ruffalo brings more humanity to the role than we thought possible. And while his storylines in “The Avengers” (2012) and “Age of Ultron” (2015) center on how much of a problem he is, his character (both Banner and the big guy) transform in “Thor: Ragnarok” because Hulk is treated as a character instead of a weapon, and of course, there’s some humour woven in.
There’s also some humour woven into Banner’s storyline throughout “Infinity War” that makes him a little more interesting: After so much Hulk in “Ragnarok,” we barely get any in “Infinity War” because the big guy refuses to come out.
4. Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange — played by Benedict Cumberbatch
Stephen Strange follows the Tony Stark formula. He’s a rich, stubborn jerk whose powers come after he’s made a huge mistake. In Stark’s case, he was selling dangerous weapons and feels bad about it. In Strange’s case, he was drinking while driving recklessly and lost the ability to perform surgery. But unlike Stark, Dr. Strange evolves with his power, which makes his character a little more interesting than Stark. Strange, played perfectly by Benedict Cumberbatch, has exciting banter with other MCU characters including Thor and Loki that make him a welcome addition to the MCU lineup of heroes.
3. Black Panther/T’Challa — played by Chadwick Boseman
T’Challa, like Captain America, is one of the best heroes in the universe because he has a conscience outside of himself and the superhero world. While it took a while for him to get there on his journey in “Black Panther” because he is noble to a fault, T’Challa understands that there is a world and people outside of Wakanda and outside the Avengers that he has the power and responsibility to protect.
2. Captain America/Steve Rogers — played by Chris Evans
Captain America has the richest backstory and is somehow the most relatable hero despite the fact that he is a super soldier who was frozen in ice for decades. His adjustment to modern life is relatable to everyone coming into adulthood (or anyone really). He thinks and acts with his emotions first, and is loyal to his friends like Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter in “Civil War,” which gives him a better sense of humanity and strength compared to our other MCU heroes.
And he’s made even better in “Infinity War” because he has the amazingly combed Cap Beard.
1. Thor — played by Chris Hemsworth
Initially quite vanilla, Thor’s adventures on Earth and in Sakaar have transformed him into a character almost as interesting as his brother, Loki. The only thing he hasn’t learned throughout his journey in the MCU is what a raccoon is.
His arc in “Infinity War,” one of the best in the movie, gets really personal in way we’ve never seen Thor before, and it proves to be really effective for the character and his superpowers. “Infinity War” bumped Thor’s ranking up to No. 1, when he was originally at No. 3 on this list.
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