Much like the comic book run that inspired the show, Marvel’s What If…? has offered a fascinating look at how the MCU timeline could have branched out in multiple directions. Creating a series like this can really help the world feel more alive, giving an introspective look at some of the protagonists to show how the events of the MCU have shaped their characters. As well as allowing some much-needed time to flesh out characters who’ve been relegated to supporting roles thus far but who still may have a significant role to play in the series’ future.
For the most part, Marvel got the balance right and offered some alternatives so tempting that fans may almost lament that they are not actual canon. At times, though, season one of What If…? played it a little too safe and stuck a little too close to the source material of their own movies. Especially considering the premise essentially gave the writers a free pass to do whatever with these iconic characters. The recently released second season was a vast improvement on the series with more unique stories and better animation, with the show finally starting to live up to its full potential. With that in mind, here are all the episodes from the series ranked from worst to best. Spoilers ahead.
Update January 6, 2024: Now that What If…? season two has concluded, this article has been updated to include every episode of the series up to this point.
19 What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?
Unfortunately, the opening of the series was also the weakest, with the aforementioned issue of staying too loyal to the film that inspired it. In this episode Heinz Kruger shoots Steve Rodgers, preventing him from being turned into a super-soldier whilst attempting to steal a vial of the serum. With time of the essence, agent Peggy Carter steps in to take the serum, being transformed into the first super-soldier against the wishes of her commanding officer John Flynn.
The show makes an effort to empower Captain Carter as she defies Flynn to join the action but in truth, the sequence is just as hackneyed and nonsensical as it was the first time around in Captain America: The First Avenger to explain away his costume. This sets the tone for the remainder of the episode, which largely follows the same plot from here on out, with a few minor tweaks for good measure. While Captin Carter is a great character and any chance to get more Hayley Atwell is always good, as a premiere episode for the series it didn’t quiet give a bold enough take to start the series as the answer is: the story would have basically gone the same way.
18 What If… Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?
The lowest rated episode from season two on this list follows Tony Stark’s Head of Security, Happy Hogan, as he’s tasked with making sure the Avengers’ Christmas party runs smoothly. Things quickly begin to fall apart when Justin Hammer and his hired guns break in and take over the tower while the Avengers are out. It’s an episode heavily inspired by Die Hard, with Happy even parodying the vent scene at one point, and is a fun episode that reunites the original six Avengers.
The biggest issue with this episode is that it could’ve taken place in the MCU’s sacred timeline. The change isn’t drastic enough to take place outside the universe, with the most exotic thing being Happy getting Hulk powers, and they tease it being undone at the end of the episode. The action is fun, and Sam Rockwell’s MCU return is long overdue; the story is just in the wrong series. It’s far from a bad episode and actually quite enjoyable, but it doesn’t utilize the potential of What If as well as it could.
17 What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?
Killmonger is already established as one of the most grounded and best-crafted villains in the entire MCU, and he’s arguably even better here. Granted, he carries what is otherwise simply a decent story, but the villain is truly cerebral and, more importantly, believable. Going right back to the inception of the MCU, Killmonger shows up to save Tony Stark in Afghanistan, which prevents him from becoming Iron Man. Tony remains a self-centered arms dealer and Killmonger positions himself as his guiding right-hand. Playing off all sides, Killmonger successfully kills Stark, T’Challa, and Rhodes before rising to become the new Black Panther.
The villain’s actions have a significant impact on well-established MCU characters and the world around him, making him feel consequential. It really felt like a whole new universe, an opportunity missed by other episodes. The problem with this episode is that it could’ve used more time. Right as Killmonger’s plan is coming to fruition and Wakanda is waging war on the United States, it abruptly ends. With just a little more time to see the story fully realized, it could’ve been one of the series’ best episodes.
16 What If… Captain Carter Fought the Hydra Stomper?
Learning from the lessons of the first Captain Carter episode, this one is a vast improvement because it puts the character in a new environment that the audience hasn’t seen before. It picks up right after season 1’s finale when Captain Carter discovers that Steve Rogers survived as the Hydra Stomper, only he went on to be one of history’s deadliest assassins. Peggy teams up with Black Widow to take on Melina Vostokoff and the Red Room, all while trying to save the man she loves.
The episode works as a merger between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Black Widow as it replaces Hydra with the Red Room and is a pretty exciting original story. It has the benefit of being in the universe that season one set up, but now that we get to see Captain Carter in a new environment, it’s a lot easier to appreciate her character. She stands out on her own and feels fully fleshed out, no longer standing in Steve’s shadow. Its placement on the list isn’t a knock on the episode, it just happened to be that others were stronger.
15 What If… The World Lost its Mightiest Heroes?
Taking place during “Fury’s Big Week” when Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and Thor all occur in the span of a few days before a murder mystery sets in. A promising premise that retreads familiar ground, but adds in the obvious wrinkle of the Avengers dying. Black Widow is initially framed as the person behind the murders before uncovering the true assailant to be Hank Pym in microscopic form as the Yellowjacket. In this universe, he let his daughter Hope join SHIELD, and she is tragically killed on a mission. That sent Hank spiraling down a path of revenge against Fury for letting it happen.
It’s a surprising reveal with a few hints about who the killer is here and there, and seeing the Avengers die this way shows just how dangerous a character like Yellowjacket is. The episode smartly picks the right moments to kill each hero when they’re at their weakest, like when Thor is mortal, and Iron Man is already dying from blood poisoning. It all comes together when Loki and Fury team up in an exciting finale that ends with Loki successful in taking over an Earth with no Avengers to stop him. The biggest downside of the episode is that it ends on a huge cliffhanger that’ll never be paid off, but otherwise, it’s a very solid episode in the series.
14 What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?
A much better example of an episode that takes a familiar story and swaps in a different character would be this one. T’Challa becoming Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill has rippling consequences throughout this universe, allowing for fresh takes on a number of established MCU characters and a story that feels more of its own. T’Challa’s superior nobility and sense of responsibility guide this universe in an overall more positive direction, even converting Thanos at one point to join his Ravengers.
The second act of T’Challa searching for his homeworld was humble but less exciting than the sequence that preceded it, which hurt it just a little. The episode really needed a longer runtime to do justice to the more emotionally relevant plotline, but overall, it was a good showing. Seeing The Collector step in to fill the void that Thanos left is also fascinating because it shows a different side of that character at his full potential. In one of his final performances, Chadwick Boseman does a great job voice acting the character and brings so much life to him.
13 What If… The Avengers Assembled in 1602?
What If…? is at its best when the series embraces ideas that drastically differ from the sacred timeline, and nothing represents that more than this episode. At the end of season two’s Captain Carter episode, she is mysteriously transported into a different universe to the year 1602 by the Scarlet Witch as she begs her to help save their dying reality. The episode quickly becomes a mystery that Peggy is trying to solve as she figures out what caused all these heroes to become time-displaced by 400 years. As she’s put on the run away from the Asgardian Royal Family, she is taken in by Rogers Hood and his Merry Men.
Steve and Peggy’s relationship is at the core of this episode and is the primary reason it works as well as it does. It’s building off of their lost love in not just the sacred timeline, but also that of which What If…? has established. The 1602 backdrop adds a whole new era that hasn’t been shown yet in the MCU, but enhances the story being told in a really entertaining way. In the end it’s revealed that during the events of Infinity War, Steve accidentally smashed the time stone while fighting Thanos and sent these heroes to 1602 without any memory of what happened. His goodbye with Peggy is emotional and grounds the heightened reality the story is set in as the episode immediately cements itself as one of the series’ best. The biggest downside to the episode is that it is not quite up to par with the original 1602 comic, which actually takes some more interesting swings with the character than the episode did.
12 What If… Zombies?
The flagship episode for the series’ marketing that many fans would have been looking forward to, paying homage to the cult favorite comic run Marvel Zombies. Playing out as more of a zombie movie, focusing on the survivors, rather than an outright superhero flick, was absolutely the right choice. This was the best the MCU has shown of Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne, who serves as the heart of this episode, feeling the burden of the zombie outbreak falling on her shoulders.
The despair and angst throughout are fantastic, although the episode does slip into a few clichés, and it would have been nice to see more of the uniquely super-powered zombie variants to set it aside from traditional fiction. The original comic has it so that the heroes can still talk while they have the virus, and that could’ve added a more original layer to Marvel’s zombies. Again, run time had to be considered, but surely many fans were left hoping to return to this universe in some medium, and they got their wish when a spinoff was announced, so a rousing success.
11 What If… Thor Were an Only Child?
Season one of What If…? was filled with grim, dark alternate realities where heroes died in countless numbers. The seventh episode of the season decided to have a bit of fun with and cut loose in a nice riff on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets and many 80’s teen comedy romps, with a spoilt version of Thor attempting to at first throw a ‘wild rager’ and then hide it from his mother. Thor has become the “funny” Avenger thanks to his depiction in Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: Love and Thunder, and this episode finds a way to do a run remake of his first film but with the comedy audiences know from later Thor.
What If…? can be many things, and this episode showed the creators they could play around with the formula and have some fun with the multiverse. Not everyone has to be a major tragedy or a major pivot, sometimes you can just have a good laugh, and this episode was a nice light-hearted good time until the epic and tragic two-part finale.
10 What If… Strange Supreme Intervened?
After how well-received the first episode with Strange Supreme was, it was only a matter of time until he was back in the series in a big way. Serving as the finale for season two, this episode brings together Captain Carter and Kahhori as the duo look to stop a grief-ridden Strange from another attempt at bringing back his universe. Strange’s plan involves using powerful heroes and villains from throughout the multiverse to fuel his forge to bring back Christine, with Kahhori being one of them.
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It all culminates in an insane final battle where Kahhori and an infinity stone-wielding Captain Carter are gifted weapons from other characters to try and defeat Strange, who’s being possessed and tormented by a demon manipulating him into doing these things. It works well as a follow-up to Strange’s first episode and embraces the absurdity of the series. Strange’s sacrifice to rebuild his world the proper way turns the tragic character into a hero in his final moments, taking out the biggest threat to Christine: himself.
9 What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath?
The season one finale was a big, rousing epic that MCU fans have come to expect, yet the nature of taking what had been a standalone series and turning it into a crossover event might knock it down a few points. With Ultron having transitioned to a multiverse-level threat, The Watcher throws together a motley crew of heroes as one last hope for survival, dubbed the Guardians of the Multiverse.
Where some previous episodes couldn’t quite deliver on the climax, this episode is predominantly pulse-pounding action. It serves as a nice send-off to the series to tie the universes together and offer a little more character to The Watcher. Showcasing each of the newly established heroes at their finest, the episode successfully replicates The Avengers formula to truly make the series feel epic.
8 What If… Iron Man Crashed into the Grandmaster?
Originally planned to release in the first season, explaining that random scene in the finale with Gamora and Stark working together, the episode is finally released in season two. It follows a version of Tony Stark, who didn’t make it through the wormhole at the end of The Avengers as he ends up being transported to Sakaar from Thor: Ragnarok, where he looks to overthrow the Grandmaster and return home. He teams up with Valkyrie, Korg, and a version of Gamora, who hadn’t betrayed Thanos yet but was sent to kill him.
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It’s very easy to see the inspiration from Mad Max in this episode, as the main action happens in a grand-prix demolition derby with a post-apocalyptic aesthetic, but it makes for one of the better episodes in the series. The racing scenes are incredibly exciting, and it’s always a joy to have Jeff Goldblum back as the Grandmaster. Tony and Gamora make for an unlikely duo, but the more they work their individual problems out together, the easier it’s to see how they relate, with both of them having a troubling relationship with their parents.
7 What If… Peter Quill Attacked Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?
On the surface, the concept doesn’t seem to be the most exciting, but the real draw of the episode is the version of the Avengers they decided to use. In this universe, Yondu delivers Quill directly to Ego in hopes of his expansion happening nearly thirty years earlier, in 1988. Six months go by and Quill crash lands on Earth, causing chaos with his new celestial abilities. The world unites a team of their most powerful people, consisting of Hank Pym (Ant-Man), King T’Chaka (Black Panther), Bill Foster (Goliath), Wendy Lawson (Mar-Vell), Bucky Barnes (still a brainwashed Winter Soldier) and of course, the God of Thunder himself, Thor.
The 80s is an era that the MCU has hardly touched on, so seeing an early version of the Avengers assembled then is a really exciting idea. It’s a group of people who otherwise would never be interacting, and their dynamics work very well together. Having a young Peter Quill as the threat adds a layer of moral ambiguity to it since nobody wants to harm a child who just misses his home. Ego’s inevitable arrival on Earth brings forward an exciting final battle in one of the better episodes of the series. Mixing story elements from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Avengers, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes this one of the most exciting What If…?’s in terms of playing around with the history of the franchise.
6 What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?
In this universe, Steven Strange had set up a life with his beguiling love, Christine. One night, the pair are involved in a car crash, and Christine dies, sending Strange into a spiral of grief. Strange still travels to Kamar Taj and obtains the Eye of Agamotto, only this time he attempts to use it to bring back Christine. What follows is a macabre Groundhog Day with Christine dying, again and again, no matter what Strange tries. His actions bring him to odds with the Ancient One as Strange delves into the Dark Dimension to draw power, which ultimately shatters the universe around him and brings him face to face with The Watcher.
This was the first time in the series The Watcher had served as more than a framing device and the first hint at a larger narrative. Equal parts distressing and engaging, this also laid the groundwork for what was to come. To this day, it’s the bleakest and most depressing thing Marvel Studios has released and stands out among the other episodes. The theme of loss and grief is strongly felt and both make you sympathize and grow frustrated with a version of Doctor Strange who can’t see the monster he’s becoming.
5 What If… Nebula Joined the Nova Corps?
At first, this episode didn’t sound the most exciting, but the season two premiere takes the idea and turns it into a cyberpunk murder mystery that exceeded all expectations. In this universe, Ronan the Accuser betrays Thanos and Nebula, causing the latter to be left without purpose in life. The Nova Corps take her in and help her find new meaning in a world full of darkness as Xandar shuts itself off from the rest of the galaxy amidst Ronan’s takeover. The episode kicks off with Nebula investigating the case of Yondu’s murder as she soon realizes the very organization she devoted her life to was corrupt.
Many of season two’s episodes are inspired by other pieces of pop culture, but none more than this one. The Blade Runner influences are obvious to see, with Nebula even narrating the episode. Xandar’s aesthetic is dripping with beautiful neon colors to fit the noir detective vibe it’s going for. The episode isn’t worried about universe ending consequences or contributing to a big multiversal team-up, it’s entirely focused on a complete arc about one of the MCU’s most complex characters.
4 What If… Ultron Won?
The penultimate episode set the standards just a little too high for the follow-up finale to match. Epic, though the final battle was watching Ultron tear down the last of his world and transition into the universe-level threat he became made for a better overall story. Even though the ramifications of Ultron killing the Avengers were huge, the story scaled back to an intimate one that was more human and poignant.
Natasha and Clint’s struggle just to go on in the universe was deeper than the MCU is often comfortable to go. Dialling back a lot of the MCU’s trademark humor that sometimes lands out of place let the nihilism uncomfortably hang, particularly in Clint who by this point, had lost all sight of anything worth fighting. Underpinning the exciting consequences of Ultron gathering the Infinity Stones, shattering the multiverse and setting up the finale, the episode combined the best ideas of the larger series into one packed episode.
3 What If… Hela Found the Ten Rings?
Unlike other episodes that retread old ground, this one does it right by adding multiple layers to the story that it changes. Instead of Odin banishing Hela to Hel when her thirst for conquest outgrew his own, he stripped her of her powers and sent her to Earth, like he did to Thor. Instead of landing in New Mexico, Hela lands in China and finds herself at the mercy of Wenwu and the Ten Rings. She eventually escapes and finds her way to the mystical realm of Ta Lo, where she is taught aerokinetic martial arts. It all comes to a head in an epic battle as Hela and Wenwu defeat Odin, with Hela becoming the Goddess of Life by the end of it.
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Hela’s story plays out similarly to that of Thor’s from the first Thor movie, but it’s told through the lens of the Shang-Chi mythology. Having these people from vastly different worlds and lifestyles interact works very well because, at their core, both Wenwu and Hela are conquerors. Both of them get to grow and change beyond the characters they were in the films, utilizing the potential of the series extremely well. It’s a great story with the best action in the show and exactly the kind of quality each episode could strive for.
1 What If… Kahhori Reshaped the World?
By far, the best episode of the entire series is based entirely on an original concept, as this was Kahhori’s first-ever appearance. In this universe, Asgard’s destruction in Ragnarok happens earlier than expected and causes the Tesseract to land in the sovereign Haudenosaunee Confederacy before the colonization of America. Taking on a new form as part of the “Forbidden Lake”, those who enter are taken to the “Sky World” and given otherworldly abilities. One such person is Kahhori who falls in when protecting her younger brother Wahta from the invading Conquistadores. After spending time in the Sky World mastering her new abilities, Kahhori rallies the other tribespeople who ended up there to return home and take back their land. She takes this all the way up to the top with Queen Isabella herself and makes peace for her tribe and soon the world itself.
There’s no better episode that makes use of the What If…? idea than this one. One moment spun off into an entirely new universe that couldn’t exist in the standard MCU and doesn’t rely on any existing characters to tell the story. Kahhori herself is a fantastic character who’s easy to root for with some of the coolest powers in the genre. The choice to tell the episode in the Mohawk langage of Kanien’kéha is a great move that honors the culture they’re showcasing to the audience. Marvel should learn from the success of this episode and the season altogether and make more episodes like this. It’s always fun to see charactrers interact in ways that they wouldn’t usually before, but a truly original story in a genre that’s lacking them is a gem, and now What If…? has theirs.
Stream all episodes of What If…? on Disney+.
Release Date 2021-00-00