The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in flames. Once the pinnacle of blockbuster entertainment, the MCU is now but a shadow of its former self, struggling to control its increasingly complicated universe while trying to maintain audiences’ attention. Following the end of the Infinity Saga, the MCU has produced numerous disappointments, and things don’t seem to be looking up for the company’s future. The Marvels’ expected low box office performance and lukewarm critical reception only confirm the sorry state the MCU has found itself in.
But these issues are not new. We were so high on the MCU craze throughout the 2010s that we gave it a pass or outright ignored the numerous mediocre efforts. While it’s easy to point at Thor: Love and Thunder and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania as the beginning of the end, the truth is the MCU has never been perfect. In fact, many of its projects released during the Infinity Saga are duds that only get worse with age. Some are merely adequate, but the worst MCU movies stand among the all-time worst superhero movies, and it’s high time we recognize it.
7. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Three-time Oscar nominee Edward Norton made his MCU debut — and departure — with the puzzling 2008 film The Incredible Hulk. The plot concerns Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk, a raging green creature, after acting as an unwitting pawn in a military experiment aimed at recreating the Super Soldier program through gamma radiation. On the run from those wanting to capture him, Banner attempts to cure himself. Liv Tyler and the late Oscar winner William Hurt also star.
The Incredible Hulk is not so much bad as it is forgettable. It has never factored in the MCU’s ever-increasing lore, and not even bringing Hurt back as Thunderbolt Ross changed that. Watching The Incredible Hulk is like witnessing something produced by Chat GPT: it’s soulless, inconsequential, and disposable, an experiment as unnecessary and misguided as the one that produced the Hulk.
6. Iron Man 3 (2013)
First things first: Shawn Black is a brilliant comedy writer and director. There’s no other way to describe the man behind Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the masterful The Nice Guys, two of the most hilarious and criminally underrated movies of the new millennium. However, his subversive style wasn’t a good fit with the cookie-cutter MCU, and Iron Man 3 proves it. The film sees Tony Stark facing what seems like his most dangerous villain yet: the terrorist known as The Mandarin.
Iron Man 3 is not a bad movie per se. However, its big “twist,” the now-infamous choice to turn The Mandarin into a white Australian guy, remains perhaps the most ridiculous in Marvel history — and that’s saying something. Casting Ben Kingsley as an actor pretending to be The Mandarin, only to reveal the real Mandarin is actually Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, might have seemed like a clever critique of racial stereotypes. In reality, it was a pretentious and mind-numbingly stupid idea and a disservice to one of the greatest villains in comic book history. Because, and no disrespect to the wonderful Pearce, he doesn’t have the juice to pull The Mandarin off, which is why his Aldrich Killian is probably the all-time worst MCU villain.
Iron Man might have kick-started the MCU, but his trilogy is actually quite bad. The second film, 2010’s egregious Iron Man 2, is the worst offender. The plot sees Tony’s health deteriorating bringing out the worst in him and causing him to neglect his duties and push those closest to him away. As his antics grow increasingly wilder, Tony must fight with a new villain seeking revenge for crimes of the past while contending with a business rival looking to break into the suit-of-armor game.
Iron Man 2 features Tony Stark at his worst. Everything that makes the character popular is exacerbated and bastardized in a way that would make Chuck Lorre shiver. The problem here is that there is no bearable character in Iron Man 2, with everyone from Happy to Rhodey falling prey to this detestable approach — don’t even get me started in Sam Rockwell’s frustratingly annoying take on Justin Hammer, a strong contender for the most abhorrent MCU character. What’s truly disappointing is that Iron Man 2 is supposed to be an adaptation of the famous Demon in a Bottle storyline, one of Iron Man’s most crucial and decisive arcs from the comic books. The fact that this is what the MCU came up with should have been our first warning that maybe it didn’t know what it was doing after all.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was supposed to be a big deal for Marvel, the kickoff to the long-awaited Phase 5 and the big introduction of the Multiverse Saga’s big bad. The plot follows the titular heroes going into the Quantum Realm by accident, only to find themselves going against the evil Kang the Conqueror. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer, and Oscar-winner Michael Douglas reprise their roles from previous films, joined by newcomers Kathryn Newton and Jonathan Majors, who plays Kang.
Confused, absurdly silly, ugly to look at, and plain lazy, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a truly bad film. It has few redeeming qualities and squashes them with an excess of dumb jokes and increasingly off-putting visual effects. Featuring truly idiotic characters like M.O.D.O.K. and a plot that fails to justify Ant-Man’s presence in his own movie, Quantumania suffers from an identity crisis. Jonathan Majors’ off-screen drama added another uncomfortable layer to this already cursed movie, ensuring its place in infamy. However, Quantumania‘s biggest sin is wasting talents like Pfeiffer and Douglas, two screen icons who deserve infinitely better than this.
The Ant-Man series was never good. However, the first one was quaint and entertaining enough, largely thanks to Paul Rudd’s inexhaustible charm. The sequel, however, failed to justify its existence amid the rapidly growing MCU factory. Ant-Man and the Wasp features the titular heroes teaming up to rescue Janet Van Dyne from the Quantum Realm while battling two minor villains doing minor villainy.
Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s only contribution to the MCU was bringing Michelle Pfeiffer into the action. Otherwise, it’s an uninspired and completely unnecessary film, a minuscule adventure even by its hero’s standards. Ant-Man and the Wasp is like a tiny, shaking Chihuahua dog; it barks loudly, but it ultimately does nothing more than annoy. The film feels ridiculously small, especially following Avengers: Infinity War. Like a child desperate to join the adult table, Ant-Man and the Wasp tries many things and fails at absolutely all of them, delivering a pathetic and boring film that honestly shouldn’t exist.
When reviewing the infamous critical and commercial flop Heaven’s Gate, Vincent Canby of The New York Times claimed that Oscar-winning director Michael Cimino had “sold his soul to the Devil to obtain the success of The Deer Hunter” and “the Devil has just come to collect.” Well, that’s exactly what I think happened with Taika Waititi: he sold his soul for the success of Thor: Ragnarok and the Devil collected with Thor: Love and Thunder.
Thor: Love and Thunder is awful, a multicolored mess that ended up being stupid while trying to be quirky. Like many creators who achieve unexpected success and find themselves unable to replicate it, Waititi takes everything that worked in Ragnarok and exaggerates it until it becomes unrecognizable. Love and Thunder is neither romantic nor electrifying; on the contrary, it’s cringey and dull, with its main idea of humor being two screaming goats and floating heads. The dreadful visual effects don’t do it any favors, resulting in a truly revolting movie that feels like a middle finger to fans who have stuck with this saga for over a decade.
Like Ant-Man, the Thor saga was never great. Kenneth Branagh adopted a dignified, near-Shakespearean approach for his MCU introduction that worked well enough. However, Alan Taylor dropped the ball with the follow-up, the strangely uninspired and unoriginal Thor: The Dark World. The plot revolves around Thor fighting … I want to say an evil elf? Honestly, who cares at this point? This movie might as well not exist.
Thor: The Dark World is so inconsequential that I struggle to even write something bad about it — I struggle to write anything about it. I remember Loki seemingly dies in it, only he doesn’t, because, you know, Marvel. Rene Russo’s character actually dies, though, but it all feels so boring that her death doesn’t even register. Perhaps that’s what’s terrible about The Dark World: how can a movie with so much exposition feel so underdeveloped? There’s nothing here, no fun, no interest, no life. Thor: The Dark World is a big pile of nada, a sad, mediocre effort that doesn’t succeed on any level.