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Black Widow

Black Widow

When you think about the Avengers (or at least the versions of them in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), who comes to mind? Iron Man, almost certainly — his movie came first, and Robert Downey Jr. brought his captivating and entertaining character to 10 out of 23 MCU films. Captain America is another significant figure, thanks in no small part to Chris Evans’s masterful portrayal. Nick Fury introduced the team-up concept in the famed post-credits scene of the first Iron Man and he remains omnipresent.

And yet, one particular member stands out to those who know to watch for her — and not just because of her gender. Without a solo film to her name (so far), Black Widow holds her own in a crowded universe.


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Spider-Man Trilogy

Spider-Man Trilogy

There may be hundreds of superheroes out there, but if you ask people to name their favorite, many would say Spider-Man. This is as true today as it has been ever since following his groundbreaking debut in 1962. In fact, he may be even more popular now, thanks in no small part to his continued presence on movie screens. Just look at the intense fan reaction to the recent disagreements between Sony Pictures and The Disney Company, which may shutter the character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One could argue that none of this would be possible without the first big-budget film adaptation of the wall-crawler’s amazing adventures. Though far from ultimate, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy remains spectacular — and arguably superior.


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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise smash hit for Marvel Studios. It expanded the Marvel Cinematic Universe into alien worlds and full-fledged space opera, and it proved that even Z-list comic book characters could become household names with a good adaptation. There was really no way that the studio could not release a follow-up, and they brought back the first film’s acclaimed co-writer/director James Gunn to try and top himself. The question is, how do you make something that can hold its own when compared to one of the MCU’s most popular movies? The answer is, you make something like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.


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Thor

Thor

In 2011, Marvel’s crossover film project was not in full swing just yet, but the studio was definitely gearing up for it. By this point, they had released two films featuring Iron Man, a cybernetically enhanced hero, and one starring The Hulk, the product of a radiation experiment gone wrong. For all their disparities in style, both were relatively down-to-earth takes on the superhero genre.

However, the MCU would not limit itself like that. For their next feature, they merged science fiction with ancient mythology, a potent fusion that would carry the nascent saga to its endgame. The introduction of magic did not come with Doctor Strange, nor was Guardians of the Galaxy the first to take the franchise off-Earth. The film that arguably demonstrated the sheer possibilities of the MCU more than any other was 2011’s Thor.

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The Avengers

The Avengers

By this point in film history, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is omnipresent in our cinemas and our popular culture. Just see all the buzz recently generated by Marvel Studios’ panel at Comic-Con. This means that sometimes, we forget how unprecedented this entire endeavor seemed on the outset. No one knew for sure if this project — greenlighting a bunch of movies based on heroes who are not Spider-Man, then putting them together in one big team-up movie — would work.

And yet, the creative teams pulled it off. Perhaps more than Iron Man or any of the other Phase 1 films, The Avengers was the one that needed to be a success. As we all know now, it was indeed a success, both commercially and artistically.


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Thor Ragnarok

Thor Ragnarok

As franchise mastermind Kevin Feige revealed at Comic-Con, Thor: Love and Thunder is currently in pre-production. This means that Thor will be the first Marvel superhero to get a fourth film in his series! 

As recently as the end of Phase 2 or even midway through Phase 3, Iron Man, Captain America, or even Ant-Man would have seemed more likely contenders to reach that milestone first. Thor had its fans, but critical and fan reception of Thor: The Dark World was much colder. Now, the character is more popular than ever before, and Chris Hemsworth has extended his contract beyond Avengers: Endgame.

The movie that made the fourth one possible was the third one, Thor: Ragnarok. This movie changed everything about Thor, his series, and perhaps even the MCU.


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Captain America:  The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger

By July 2011, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had grown into four movies and clearly announced their intentions to connect them with a then-highly ambitious crossover. They had already introduced almost everyone who would comprise the first incarnation of the Avengers: Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, and Hawkeye. All that remained was Captain America, the man who gained superpowers in a government experiment, fought in World War II, and remained encased in ice until the modern day. The character presented some surprising challenges with the story and especially the characters. They had to get it right — and amazingly, they did.


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Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

For a full decade after its inception, the Marvel Cinematic Universe did not have one film with a sole female lead. Black Widow was a founding member of the Avengers, yet had no superpowers and no film for herself. The same goes for Gamora, of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Even Hope Van Dyne, The Wasp, had to share the title with Ant-Man. The world only saw Marvel achieve this in 2019 when they centered a movie on the tale of a female soldier realizing her extraordinary potential. Captain Marvel came far later than it should have, but now that it is here, we can enjoy the thrills of a different kind of hero.


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The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not called a film universe just because it is good marketing. It is a mega-series consisting of smaller series that happen to intertwine. There are three Iron Man films, three Captain America movies, three Thor flicks, and so on. Some of the newer characters in the universe, such as Black Panther and Doctor Strange, only have one so far.

This makes the case of the Hulk quite unusual: he had one standalone movie in 2008 and never had another. Many fans of the character find this a pity: that first Hulk movie, only the second in the entire MCU, is quite interesting for what it is, and looking back on it as a bizarre and rather a rewarding experience for any MCU enthusiast.

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Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2

If you ask a random selection of filmgoers to name their favorite film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many will likely point to the very beginning. More than ten years and 21 films later, 2008’s Iron Man remains among the franchise’s most popular movies. It retains its global appeal not just for being the exciting and accessible introduction to the style of Marvel Studios, but also for its action, humor, and strong performances from the entire cast. Little wonder, then, that the character of Tony Stark is also integral to other MCU favorites like The Avengers, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and both halves of the Infinity War Saga.

With that said, many of the lead character’s biggest fans tend to overlook the other two standalone Iron Man films. This may be because the first one is a tough act to follow by any standard, and plenty of other characters have taken the spotlight in the succeeding decade. However, casual viewers and hardcore devotees alike can find something interesting in the further adventures of Tony Stark. Iron Man 2, in particular, deserves at least some level of reassessment from those who have not seen it since its release in 2010.


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Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther (2018)

Released on January 29th, 2018 as another installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther was the first solo venture for T’Challa, a character we had been previously introduced to in Captain America: Civil War. Directed by Ryan Coogler, this film was a landmark in terms of Marvel movies, in part due to its predominantly black cast, crew, and production team. This film wasn’t just another Marvel installment, it was a cultural phenomenon that captured the hearts of movie-goers, whether or not they had seen any of the other films.


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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

 Released on August 1st, 2014 as part of the larger overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy was most of the world’s first introduction to the unconventional superhero team of the same name (unless you read the comics, of course). Directed by James Gunn, the film was notable in that it took a different approach to Marvel heroes than we’ve seen before; scenes were punctuated by a memorable soundtrack straight from the 1980s, and the characters and story we were seeing were much less clean-cut and much more rough around the edges.


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