What a year it's been for the Marvel Cinematic Universe! After delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 finally saw Marvel Studios make an impact on Disney+ with five TV shows. In theaters, we got four movies (two of which introduced a whole host of new characters), with Spider-Man: No Way Home taking us into the Multiverse for a blockbuster that's saved the box office.
It's been a thrilling time to be a fan of this franchise, and there hasn't been not a bad movie or TV show among them. However, as is so often the case, there are some which are better than others.
With that in mind, we're now ranking all of 2021's MCU content from "worst" to best. We dive into what worked about these movies and TV shows, along with what didn't, and explore exactly what sort of impact each of them had on this beloved shared world. Be warned, however, that spoilers follow!
To take a look through this ranking, all you guys need to do is click on the "Next" button down below.
9. What If...?
What If...? was certainly a successful foray into animation for Marvel Studios, but oh boy, it sure was a mixed bag. Some episodes were absolutely superb; those focusing on T'Challa as Star-Lord and Doctor Strange Supreme, for example. Others, like the murder mystery featuring Nick Fury and Erik Killmonger's team-up with Tony Stark, however, were not. Frankly, they sucked.
There was more good than bad overall, but some big names who couldn't or wouldn't lend their voices to the series were conspicuous by their absences. Even those who did were hit-and-miss, with Sebastian Stan stinking up the joint and Benedict Cumberbatch knocking it out of the park.
Overall, we're definitely excited for What If...? season 2, but it might not be a bad idea for Marvel Studios to make sure the stories told in these alternate realities are as strong as the movies they borrow from. We're definitely grateful for the introduction of The Watcher and some Variants, though!
What we said (episodes 1 - 3): An instant animated classic, What If...? delivers world after world of endless possibilities you need to explore, and if what we see from these first three chapters is any indication, Marvel Studios has delivered a mind-bending MCU masterpiece.
8. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was a brilliant exploration of who Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are without Steve Rogers by their side. Sam's decision to not wield the shield - and to then become Captain America - was handled brilliantly, though we'd argue that John Walker's story was just as compelling.
Unfortunately, the series really let itself down with its villains. The Power Broker reveal proved underwhelming (we're still not sure what to think of Sharon Carter in that role), while Flag-Smasher was one of the MCU's worst big bads. Karli Morgenthau's story had some high points, but they were few and far between. On the plus side, it's impossible to fault Daniel Bruhl's Baron Zemo!
Overall, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier got its leads where they need to be and set the stage for some exciting future stories. We just wish certain elements of the show were a little stronger.
What we said (full season): Inconsistent storytelling and weak lead villains aside, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is a hard-hitting and action-packed new chapter in the MCU mythos which delivers an insightful and impactful exploration of what it means for a Black man to be Captain America.
7. Black Widow
While fans had been asking for a Black Widow movie for years, releasing one after the character's death in Avengers: Endgame was a bold choice. We're not sure filling in the gap between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War was entirely necessary, and an origin story (taking us back to Natasha Romanoff's first meeting with Clint Barton) might have been more fun.
Despite that, this was still an awesome solo outing for the character. Spending time with Natasha's family was a blast, as the empowering narrative of these assassins taking back their free will. Yelena Belova's introduction was, of course, a highlight and the action scenes were some of the MCU's best.
Unfortunately, as formidable as Taskmaster was, there were probably better ways to utilise the villain.
What we said: Black Widow is Bourne meets Bond meets Terminator...with two outstanding, badass female leads. Action-packed, funny, and at times surprisingly gut-wrenching, Cate Shortland's vision for the MCU is bold, empowering, and utterly unmissable.
Heading into 2021, it's fair to say none of us would have expected Eternals to be the first "Rotten" Marvel Studios movie. For whatever reason, a lot of critics didn't respond well to this blockbuster, and it's hard not to wonder whether that was partly down to them feeling Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao should not "lower" herself with the superhero genre (and wanted to make her pay for doing so).
We'll put our tinfoil hat down for now and move on from conspiracies because while Eternals wasn't perfect, it was still a great movie. It jumped around too much and had a few too many characters, but manages to top Black Widow simply for its ambitious scale and stunning visuals.
There were some genuine jaw-dropping moments here, and an expansion of the MCU's mythos you have to believe will have a lasting impact on this shared world. For starters, there's now a massive stone Celestial sticking out of the Indian ocean, while Starfox's introduction is also huge.
What we said: A powerful, sweeping exploration of love, life, and the MCU’s history, Eternals occasionally stumbles, but when it soars, this is Marvel Studios at its magnificent best.
Well, to say this series exceeded expectations would not be unfair. Poor Clint Barton is often written off as the "boring" Avenger, but Hawkeye proved there was definitely a story worth telling with him. However, Hailee Steinfeld undoubtedly stole the show as Kate Bishop and made her MCU debut count.
The show managed to squeeze a lot in over the course of its six-episode run; Swordsman arguably deserved better, but we can't complain about what was done with Yelena Belova and Maya Lopez. As terrific as Florence Pugh was, we have to highlight Alaqua Cox's work, especially as this was her first major role. To say we're now excited for that Echo series would be an understatement.
The Kingpin's introduction was another highlight (we're still on the fence about how his story seemingly ended), but the big draw here was the compelling, lovely dynamic between Clint and Kate.
What we said (episodes 1 - 2): Marvel Studios is once again sleigh-in' it with Hawkeye, an unmissable Christmastime team-up bringing holiday cheer to the MCU with top tier storytelling delivered in the Mighty Marvel Manner and a bold, brilliant new hero in Hailee Steinfeld's Kate Bishop.
We know many of you haven't forgiven Marvel Studios for the Mephisto teases that led nowhere and the whole "Ralph Bohner" reveal, but niggles aside, and this was a superb start to the MCU's Disney+ TV shows. Placing Wanda Maximoff and Vision inside sitcoms worked surprisingly well, especially with those teases here and there about what was really going on in Westview.
When WandaVision took us back to the real world, we were left with an origin story for the Scarlet Witch and some big teases for the future that are likely to continue being felt for years to come.
This series was water-cooler television at its finest, giving us something new to discuss and speculate over each and every week. Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Kathryn Hahn were all on top form, and the series delivered shocks, surprises, and a surprisingly powerful emotional punch.
What we said (full season): A beautiful exploration of love and loss mixed with blockbuster visuals makes WandaVision an absolute winner for the expansion of the MCU on television, and it shouldn’t take a magic trick to ensure Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany walk away with their fair share of prizes come award season.
3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
It would be unfair to say that we went into Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings with low expectations, but it being a potential Oscar candidate (it sounds like Kevin Feige hopes it will follow in Black Panther's footsteps) was a shocker. With the MCU's best fight scenes and an insanely talented cast giving it their all, this magnificent looking movie was a joy from beginning to end.
Action aside, and the father/son story at the heart of Shang-Chi was another undeniable highlight.
This was Marvel Studios firing on all cylinders, and by the time the credits rolled, we were left with one of the MCU's brightest and best new heroes. It's no wonder that a sequel and Disney+ spinoff series are both on the way, and Shang-Chi becoming one of the faces of this shared world moving forward just feels right. We just can't wait for this New Avenger to meet more of his fellow heroes.
What we said: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is nothing short of action movie perfection; this is the MCU like you’ve never seen before, and it’s no exaggeration to say Simu Liu was born to play the MCU’s newest Avenger.
Over the course of six episodes, Loki firmly established itself as the best Marvel Studios TV shows of 2021. It was billed as a team-up between the God of Mischief and Mobius in the Time Variance Authority, but quickly proved itself vastly more ambitious. As well as an unexpected love story between Loki and his female doppelganger, Sylvie, the series also explored the MCU in new ways.
Starting as a time-travel adventure, Loki soon kicked open the door to exploring the entire Marvel Multiverse and the title character meeting all those Variants is not something we'll soon forget.
A game-changing finale introduced the first Kang the Conqueror Variant ("He Who Remains") and set the stage for a season 2 that promises to be even grander in scale. Director Kate Herron and the writing team delivered a damn-near masterpiece with this show and we can't wait to catch up with Loki again.
What we said (episodes 1 - 2): Nothing can prepare you for Loki, a mind-bending dive into the Marvel Multiverse that takes everything you thought you knew about the MCU and turns it on its head for one of the most ambitious, craziest stories Marvel Studios has ever told.
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man: No Way Home has only just arrived in theaters (don't worry, we won't spoil anything here), but this isn't just 2021's best superhero movie...it's also the greatest Marvel Comics adaptation to ever grace the big screen. Now, we're sure not all of you will agree, but if you're a Spider-Man fan - particularly when it comes to the previous movies - you'll love each and every second.
On paper, this Multiversal adventure really shouldn't work, but director Jon Watts manages to bring all these different characters and ideas together to deliver a perfect blockbuster experience.
A love letter to the wall-crawler's history and a spectacular take on the MCU's Peter Parker, it's hard to find fault with Spider-Man: No Way Home. It's a movie we'll be talking about for a long time to come, and while there's arguably going to be no topping this, the stage has been set for an exciting future for Peter Parker...now, bring on Watts' take on the Fantastic Four, already.
What we said: Spider-Man: No Way Home is the greatest Marvel movie ever made. Period. As epic as it is emotional, this is not only a perfect blockbuster, but Spider-Man’s wildest, funniest, and most awe-inspiring adventure yet. It's a Marvel masterpiece.