This article contains MCU spoilers.
It’s over! It’s officially over. Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally in our rear view mirror, and what did we learn? We learned that Marvel Studios wasn’t going to stop taking risks after capping off Phase 3 with the box office juggernaut of Avengers: Endgame. In fact, they were going to take more risks than ever. Sometimes, those risks paid off. Other times, they did not. But during a transformative time for the MCU, Phase 4 was, for the most part, determined not to offer the one thing that would have made older fans happy but would have perhaps discouraged newer, younger fans from emerging: more of the same.
As such, the MCU got a whole slate of brand-new and diverse characters. Moon Knight, the Eternals, Ms. Marvel, Shang-Chi, She-Hulk, Kate Bishop, Yelena Belova, John Walker, Ironheart, Agatha, Red Guardian, Clea, Echo, Scarlet Scarab, and Werewolf By Night joined the sprawling universe, while the old guard – Spider-Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Loki and Doctor Strange – seemed to be either wrapping up their stories, or changing in ways that would make any future appearances intriguing.
The team at Den of Geek and you, the readers, have now voted on our favorite MCU Phase 4 projects, and the results are pretty interesting, with Marvel’s Disney+ TV shows getting more love than expected.
Without further ado, here are the results!
Let’s give Eternals credit where it is due. Kevin Feige had big plans for this Phase Four entry, not just thematically but also on a technical level. Choosing to adapt a lesser-known Jack Kirby creation, Feige tried to match the mighty artist’s ambitions, bringing in groundbreaking director Chloé Zhao and screenwriters Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo to tell a story about lost faith, the creation of the universe, and individual will. Aided by a fantastic cast, including Bryan Tyree Henry, Barry Keoghan, and Angelina Jolie, Eternals sought to shake up the Marvel Universe post Thanos-snap.
Whatever the filmmakers’ intentions, what we got was a plodding, dull mess. Like the comics on which it was based, Eternals never reached the heights of Kirby’s Marvel work with Stan Lee or his Fourth World Saga at DC. A flat story with uninspiring visuals and laughable gestures toward humanity (that sex scene!?!), Eternals failed to capture anyone’s imagination. Even its more compelling ideas, such as Kumail Nanjiani Kingo choosing to skip the final battle rather than fight his old friend Ikaris, felt like mistakes rather than genre breaks. In the end, Eternals may be a noble failure, but it’s a failure nonetheless. – Joe George
16. Moon Knight
When you have Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke leading a Marvel series, you expect it to be good, right? Well unfortunately for everyone involved, Moon Knight fell short of many people’s expectations for what the MCU’s first true foray into the supernatural should look like. Its convoluted plot feels like an origin story that was trying too hard to not be an origin story given that we don’t really find out Steven Grant and Marc Spector’s true relationship until late in the season. Featuring Oscar Isaac’s version of Steven Grant as the primary protagonist rather than Marc Spector or Jake Lockley divided viewers of the series, with most either wanting to protect Grant’s innocent nature at all costs or loathing his insufferable cluelessness. The series also made the interesting choice to have both Marc and Steven black out during certain violent fight scenes to avoid introducing Jake until the final episode, and that certainly didn’t score any points with fans who were expecting to at least see Daredevil-level fight scenes.
But that’s not to say that Moon Knight shouldn’t be applauded for taking risks within the six episode limit that most hour-long Disney+ series seem to have. It definitely doesn’t feel like any other entry in the MCU thus far, and there are enough good things buried within it that deserve to be explored further (though maybe not in an entire second season). For example, May Calamawy as Layla El-Faouly is a delight to watch every time she’s on the screen and honestly deserves more time in the MCU than Steven Grant does (sorry it’s true). Watching her kick ass before and after she became the avatar for Taweret was one of the best parts of the series and hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of her. – Brynna Arens
15. Thor: Love and Thunder
Like any other long-running cinematic endeavor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had its fair share of good films and bad films. Through its first three phases of storytelling, however, even the worst Marvel films felt as though the people behind them were at least putting in the work and trying to make a piece of superior superhero entertainment. Thor: Love and Thunder does not feel like that. In fact, Thor: Love and Thunder feels like the first Marvel movie ever to well and truly phone it in.
Don’t get us wrong: there are aspects of Thor: Love and Thunder worthy of applause. Both Russell Crowe as Zeus and Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher appear to have gotten the memo that all of this is supposed to be fun. The screaming goats also never fail to amuse. Unfortunately, the rest of this movie (which feels weirdly short for a Marvel story of this scale) is a paint by numbers telling of How Thor Odinson Got His Groove Back with little visual imagination to speak of. In what’s surely a classic episode of Marvel Standom, Den of Geek’s own Joe George compared the tone of this film to a garish Old Spice commercial. Imagine his surprise then when the movie took some time out to have Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) literally do an Old Spice commercial. Maybe that would have been fun if Love and Thunder were self-aware enough. Instead it’s just tired – like the rest of this outing. – Alec Bojalad
14. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Marvel’s road to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a difficult one. Its release was delayed due to pandemic production issues, and as such it arrived on Disney+ after the ground-breaking WandaVision, when fans were reenergized by the idea of what Phase 4 might deliver. The story at the heart of the show is a solid geopolitical one that focuses on Sam Wilson’s resistance toward taking up the Captain America mantle, but when all was said and done, we hadn’t gotten much further in Sam’s story. Avengers: Endgame ended with Sam getting Steve Rogers’ shield. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ended with Sam getting Steve’s shield again, and donning an admittedly cool new Cap costume.
Some pieces of the story were met with a fair amount of success – Isaiah Bradley’s heart-wrenching tale of being abandoned by the US government and John Walker’s internal conflict stand out – but others were simply half-baked, including Bucky’s trauma healing, pulling Zemo into the mix for retconning and japes – not to mention the groan worthy Power Broker reveal. Ultimately, the show turned out to be too much of a mixed bag for many Marvel fans. – Kirsten Howard
13. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law was either the best thing that Marvel has ever done, or the worst thing Marvel has ever done, depending on who you’re asking. This show really took some risks with its meta nature and commentary, but it may have reached beyond its limits.
The series gave us drunk Madisynn, Wong on a Sopranos binge, Daredevil’s walk of shame, and K.E.V.I.N. But it also gave us some truly dodgy CGI, a plot that went nowhere, and its lead character twerking. She-Hulk should maybe get points for at least trying to tackle feminist issues, but the way it went about it was heavy-handed and trite, largely relying on worn-out tropes to get its points across. Featuring a string of cartoonish characters and MCU cameos, Jennifer Walters was almost pushed into the background of her own story, and a meta finale where she basically told the audience as much didn’t really help stick the landing. – Kirsten Howard
12. What If…?
Marvel’s What If…? isn’t a bad series by any means. It features several interesting looks at new corners of the MCU multiverse and gives us the opportunity to see how different circumstances affected our favorite characters. We get to see zombie Avengers, Captain Carter, and hear Chadwick Boseman’s voice one more time as Star-Lord T’Challa. And yet, compared to other projects in Phase 4, What If…? still feels somewhat forgettable.
Even though Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness briefly connects to a couple of storylines, this animated series mostly still stands on its own. Sure, a knowledge of the original MCU story each episode is based on is helpful to understanding context, but it’s not entirely necessary. Since it doesn’t really connect to the MCU at large yet, this series is great for both casual Marvel fans and those of us who have been invested in this universe since 2008. Overall, it’s a well-done series that only falls short because this Phase has so many other great things going on. – Brynna Arens
11. Black Widow
The fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with a bit of a stumble that, in retrospect, set the tone for the snakebit era which was to follow. This is not to say that Scarlett Johansson’s long belated solo film for Natasha Romanoff was bad. It is an almost textbook example of an adequate superhero/spy flick, with a few nifty sequences thrown in (plus a moody cover of “Teen Spirit” that we can vibe to). However, it arrived two years after the MCU killed Nat off in Avengers: Endgame, and it then launched with a whimper by premiering simultaneously on PVOD (via Disney+’s second paywall) and in theaters—resulting in a muted reception and legal wrangling that did Disney’s image no favors, including with its own talent!
Still, there are elements that make Black Widow a step above other complete Phase 4 misfires. For starters, Johansson appears more committed than ever to adding dimensionality to her superspy, and she partners well with Florence Pugh who makes a fantastic first impression as kid sister Yelena Belova. The dynamic between Natasha and Yelena is so good, in fact, it just reminds you how nice it would’ve been to see this evolve over several movies instead of arriving a day late and a dollar short. Still, the sleazy, low stakes villain reveal from the Widows’ past works well, even if the CGI eyesore spectacle at the end does not. – David Crow
10. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
Although current DC Studios co-head James Gunn still has Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 coming this summer, the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special feels like a goodbye to the MCU before he heads off to the Distinguished Competition. In a tight 45 minutes, Gunn squeezes in every little reminder of what he did so well, from a group of irreverent outcasts with daddy issues to a banging soundtrack. But the best part of the short is the opportunity for Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff to show off their comedic chops. The special puts the duo’s chemistry on full display as Drax and Mantis embark on a misguided plan to kidnap Kevin Bacon as a Christmas gift for Peter Quill.
Of course, the special has its problems, not least of which is the fact that Christmas is the only holiday it’s interested in celebrating. And a few major plot points, namely the Guardians’ acquisition of Knowhere and Mantis’s parentage, get dropped in awkwardly. But by the time Texas alt country mainstays the Old 97’s start rocking out in full alien makeup, all that falls away. With its mix of melancholy and irreverent humor, the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special distills everything we love about not only Gunn’s work, but the MCU as a whole: likable, odd characters, hanging out together. – Joe George
9. Ms. Marvel
Befitting its middle position on our list, Ms. Marvel was really two different kinds of Marvel shows jammed into one six-episode package. One of those shows was very good. The other was … less so. The first half of Ms. Marvel is superb. Little known actress (and big Marvel fan) Iman Vellani immediately proves herself to be one of Marvel’s shrewdest casting choices yet as the loveable Kamala Khan. Vellani injects the “origin story” portion of Ms. Marvel’s first season with an obscene amount of charm as Kamala Khan looks to become the kind of winning street-level Spider-Man-esque hero that not even Peter Parker himself has gotten to be in the MCU thus far.
But then the second half rolls around and Ms. Marvel gets stuck in an unfortunate rut before rebounding for its enjoyable finale. The show takes all of Kamala’s youthful energy as a Pakistani-American teenager finding her voice in Jersey City and hides it behind an old story about odd archaeological discoveries, familial histories, and a crew of comic beings somehow even more obscure and lifeless than the Eternals. When Ms. Marvel was letting its kids be kids, it ruled. When the adults and their silly problems showed up, things ground to a halt. Hopefully, that’s a lesson Marvel’s Phase 5 has learned in time for Kamala’s return in this year’s The Marvels. – Alec Bojalad
8. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Directed by Sam Raimi – making his first Marvel-based movie since 2007’s (pre-MCU) Spider-Man 3 – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness lives up to its title in all sorts of ways. This is a wild, hang-on-to-your-hat ride through a deliciously weird, often bonkers house of mirrors known as the multiverse, full of mind-bending moments, trippy twists and a fistful of genuine surprises. It’s also very much a Sam Raimi horror movie done Marvel-style: demons, monsters, reanimated corpses, jump scares, doppelgangers and supernatural manifestations fill the frame, as Raimi races from scene to scene with barely a breath in between.
Yes, the plot spills out in fits and starts, and Multiverse of Madness has a frantic, on-the-edge-of-losing-control feel that sends it careening toward its next set piece while the rest of us catch up. Sometimes the movie also forcefully stops for a jarring exposition dump before dashing off again. But Raimi leans hard into comic book imagery here, and Multiverse of Madness might be the most outright comic book-y film in the entire MCU to date, throwing its more bizarre aspects against the wall in often messy but also gloriously weird fashion.
Benedict Cumberbatch is now comfortable in his fifth MCU outing as Strange, but the top acting honors go to Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda/Scarlet Witch, who brings palpable grief to a woman who’s lost her moorings but is also one of the most powerful creatures in the universe. And kudos to the game members of the Illuminati – John Krasinski as Reed Richards, Lashana Lynch as Captain Marvel, Anson Mount as Black Bolt, Hayley Atwell as Captain Carter, and Patrick Stewart as Professor X – for beaming into a sequence that had Marvel fans’ heads exploding. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness doesn’t always land right, and occasionally jumps its own tracks, but it also embraces its weirdness with vigor and abandon, and may be the MCU’s most off-the-wall entry yet. – Don Kaye
7. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Ryan Coogler never got to make the Black Panther sequel he intended. After the tragic passing of star Chadwick Boseman in 2020, it was impossible. What is remarkable about Wakanda Forever, then, is not that it got made, but that it became such a bittersweet love letter to Boseman’s brief but enduring legacy. The grief exuded by the cast and crew in this sequel is palpable as fictional characters in the nation of Wakanda mourn the loss of their King T’Challa just as sorrowfully as Boseman’s collaborators do onscreen.
Yet in the Black Panther actor’s absence, Coogler and company build a genuine ensemble piece in which characters who previously buttressed T’Challa’s story now share center stage. Together they forge their own dynamic tale, all while building the most compelling version of MCU geopolitics since the early Iron Man movies. Letitita Wright as the wrathful Shuri, Lupita Nyong’o as the more guarded yet grieving Nakia, and most especially Angela Bassett as Ramonda, the regal queen who has lost everything, each leave an indelible impression. Indeed, Bassett may win an Oscar for her most ferocious monologue.
The film also does its job of building the MCU out, gracefully too when it comes to creating another strong villain with real world grievances in the Black Panther franchise, this time courtesy of Tenoch Huerta’s Namor. Elsewhere, the formula-checking can be pretty mechanical, such as our introduction to Ironheart (Dominique Thorne). Overall though, the movie lingers as a four-quadrant wake that somehow puts a smile on your face. – David Crow
6. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
MCU Phase 4 was (mercifully) short on traditional origin stories. Ms. Marvel did it great, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, even though it’s not exactly a “hero discovers their powers” kinda thing since Shang-Chi is already a martial arts master by the time we meet him, took a slightly less traditional, but no less effective approach. But that’s not what makes this one so good.
That would be Simu Liu. Or wait, maybe it’s the fun, inventive action sequences that at times brought the comedic but still perilous energy of classic Jackie Chan flicks (although without any of the risk to actual life and limb). Perhaps it’s the way it carefully treads the line between the geopolitical and magical corners of the MCU, making for some effective worldbuilding. Oh, wait, I’ve got it, it’s the fact that Tony Leung is the best Marvel screen villain in years. Or maybe it’s…oh forget it, you get the idea. This is a fun movie, one that feels just slightly apart enough from the rest of the MCU to forge its own identity, and we can’t wait to spend more time with its title character. – Mike Cecchini
Ever since he first appeared as Loki in 2011’s Thor, Tom Hiddleston has dutifully done whatever Marvel has asked of him. When the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed its first big bad for an Avengers film, Hiddleston as Loki stepped up for the New York-destroying events of The Avengers. When Marvel Studios needed an actor to appear in costume and ham it up at San Diego Comic-Con, Hiddleston threw on his golden horns and showed up. And when Avengers: Infinity War needed a sacrificial lamb to die at the hands of Thanos, Hiddleston gladly threw himself in the Mad Titan’s path.
After all his tireless service to the MCU, Disney+ series Loki truly felt like Hiddleston’s reward. And what a reward it was! This six-episode show put Thor’s adopted brother at the front and center of the story where he belongs. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame when Loki absconded with the Tesseract, Loki finds the villain in the clutches of the Time Variance Authority to answer for his crimes against the Sacred Timeline. What follows is a wildly entertaining, satisfyingly self-referential sci-fi adventure that turns Hiddleston’s Loki into what he always was probably meant to be: a romantic hero. – Alec Bojalad
4. Werewolf By Night
In the eyes of the public, Marvel is synonymous with superheroes, but the comic company first made its name with monsters; beasts like It, the Living Colossus and Fin Fang Foom. So it should come as no surprise that the MCU’s first pure horror story Werewolf by Night is a terrifying success. In his debut directing gig, Academy Award-winning composer Michael Giacchino brings classic sensibilities to the story, drawing from the romantic tradition of Universal horror, as well as Val Lewton’s suggestive use of shadow. The result is a perfectly paced 45 minute short with enough scares to satisfy the horror lovers without alienating the franchise’s core audience.
But the real secret to the special’s success is the tried and true MCU formula, starting with perfect casting. The endlessly watchable Gael García Bernal is as charming as ever as Jack Russell, the titular werewolf, without sacrificing any of the vulnerability required for a good lycanthrope tale. We’ve seen snarky characters like Elsa Bloodstone throughout the Marvel Universe, but Laura Donnelly adds an earned sense of world weariness to her character, the rebellious daughter of a famed monster hunter. And Harriet Samson Harris eschews complexity all together for the special’s ultimate villain, the gloriously hammy Verussa. Toss in an impressive CG/practical hybrid for the lovable Man-Thing and you have a dark corner to the MCU that fans would kill to see again. – Joe George
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home
After a pandemic-induced off year in 2020 during which Marvel Studios premiered no new movies, the MCU returned with four entries in 2021, all with varying degrees of quality and confidence. But its fourth and final entry of that year, Spider-Man: No Way Home, was clearly the best and the most important of the bunch. Expanding on the concept of the multiverse and introducing a cornucopia of villains and Spider-Men from alternate dimensions – including previous Spideys Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield – No Way Home not only gave those previous Spider-verses no small amount of closure but reset the world of our current Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in spectacular, highly emotional fashion.
Yes, No Way Home could be retitled Spider-Man: No Such Thing As Too Much Fan Service, but somehow director Jon Watts and the Marvel crew (producing this in tandem with Sony) made it all work, moving the story along in mostly clear fashion and giving everyone – even Rhys Ifans’ nearly forgotten The Lizard – at least a moment or two to shine (the award for Most Improved Villain goes to Jamie Foxx’s Electro, hands down).
At the heart of it all is Tom Holland, who does his best work to date as the MCU’s Peter and Spidey, whether matching wits with utility Avenger Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) or pushing himself to emotional extremes he has never reached before. It all pays off in a satisfying way for Holland’s version of the character, who faces a classic Spider-Man conundrum between doing the right thing and the easiest thing. Raising both the stakes and the emotional impact, No Way Home became something of an epic and a high point for not just Phase Four, but the MCU overall. – Don Kaye
Who would have thought that Hawkeye would turn out to be one of the most beloved entries in Marvel Phase 4? Well, for fans of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on the Hawkeye comics, it might have come as slightly less of a surprise than for folks who never fully warmed to Jeremy Renner’s low-key Clint Barton in the Avengers movies. But even those of us who knew that this series was taking inspiration from a true modern comics classic were taken aback by just how much fun Hawkeye ended up being.
In fact, tonally, the MCU could use more Hawkeye. Shot on location in New York City, set at Christmastime (and full of cool, fairly deep cut holiday tracks), and with the kind of (relatively) grounded action you would normally expect from an ‘80s action movie, Hawkeye felt noticeably different from its more cosmic, world shaking colleagues. And this is before we get into how it brought us an instant classic character in Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, who certainly seems poised to lead a franchise of her own, or how it expertly wove in Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, or even the fun bits of fan service with the return of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. None of these were sure things (ok, fine, you can’t really go wrong with any of those actors), but the fact that it all worked so harmoniously was nothing short of a Christmas miracle. – Mike Cecchini
As the first of Marvel’s Disney+ series, WandaVision set a high bar not only for the other TV shows to come in the MCU, but for Phase 4 as a whole. The series pays homage to sitcoms while also giving Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) a complex and compelling arc that allows her to explore the grief she feels after losing Vision along with the true extent of her powers. WandaVision allows for nuance, not necessarily asking us to fully support Wanda’s takeover of an entire town, but instead asking us to sympathize with what she has gone through and understand that despite her abilities, she’s just as human as the rest of us.
WandaVision’s connections to the rest of the MCU don’t feel forced either. The series moves between the stylized sitcoms eras of Westview and the real-world with ease, allowing characters like Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) to appear as they also try to figure out what happened in Westview and prove that Wanda isn’t the threat S.W.O.R.D. thinks she is.
There are so many good things to say about WandaVision and the performances within it that it’s no surprise the series continues to be one of people’s favorites in the MCU. The show does justice to a complicated character and story while still being funny and entertaining, something that other entries in the MCU have shown us is a lot harder than it looks. – Brynna Arens