With 23 films and billions of box office dollars, the MCU is a juggernaut of a comic book franchise. Of all its titles, which are most significant?
Since 2008, Marvel Studios has changed the face of blockbuster cinema, creating a whole new franchise model that proved in 2019 that it can successfully pump out three $1 billion-grossing tentpoles a year. Slowly in the process of bringing its entire library of interconnected intellectual properties to the big screen, Marvel has pioneered a new way to reach moviegoers.
As it stands, there are 23 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there are plenty of others waiting for release. The Phase Four slate has been delayed, but it’s still on the way, and the studio has a reported total of 14 films in development. Out of the 23 released titles, some have proven to be more crucial to the franchise than others.
10 Iron Man
The MCU couldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. The director didn’t realize he was setting up a huge, interconnected universe that would dominate multiplexes for the next decade. He simply focused on making the best superhero movie he could.
Thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s charismatic lead performance and a tight story given room to breathe by improvised dialogue, Iron Man still ranks among the greatest superhero movies ever made.
9 Iron Man 2
Although it’s generally regarded to be one of the MCU’s weakest entries, Iron Man 2 is notable for featuring the first overt references to the wider fictional world. For starters, Tony Stark is bothered by Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff throughout the movie and introduced to the “Avengers Initiative.”
The film has been criticized for focusing more on building the universe than telling its own story, but Iron Man 2 was one of the first “universe-building” movies ever made, so of course it was going to be clunky.
8 The Avengers
The risky gamble of the MCU didn’t clearly pay off until Joss Whedon assembled Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the big screen for the first time in The Avengers’ ambitious crossover event. Mixing a tech-savvy billionaire, a cryogenically frozen World War II soldier, a Norse god, and a green monster shouldn’t have worked.
But Whedon’s distinctly comic book-y tone ensured that the collision of worlds seemed normal, while his story bringing them together, tearing them apart, and bringing them back together again established the team dynamic with gusto.
7 Guardians Of The Galaxy
After making the Avengers the most beloved characters in the world, Marvel decided to test the waters and see if they could really make a blockbuster franchise out of anything. The first big experiment was a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, focusing on an obscure team that includes a talking tree and a violent raccoon.
Against all odds, James Gunn and co. made it work, and the Guardians quickly joined the Avengers among the most popular characters on the big screen.
6 Captain America: Civil War
After the first two Avengers movies brought the team together, Captain America: Civil War tore them apart. Introduced to new legislation called the Sokovia Accords that will keep their superpowered antics in check, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are divided on whether implementing them is a good idea.
At the heart of this debate is the rivalry between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, who disagree on the Accords and eventually turn their backs on each other, paving the way for Thanos’ initial victory.
5 Black Panther
A decade after Iron Man hit theaters, Marvel finally released its first solo superhero movie with a non-white lead, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, and it became a cultural landmark.
Breaking all kinds of box office records, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and inspiring a generation of moviegoers, Black Panther is a movie that audiences won’t be forgetting about any time soon.
4 Avengers: Infinity War
Thanos finally made his long-awaited bid for the Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War. While almost all of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes appear in the movie — including fresh faces like the Guardians and Doctor Strange — the Mad Titan is really the focus.
As Thanos prepares to take the Stones, the Avengers put up a decent fight, but it’s ultimately useless as the villain succeeds in his conquest, wipes out half of all life in the universe, and leaves the movie on an Empire Strikes Back-esque downer note.
3 Captain Marvel
11 years into the franchise — and two years after DC’s Wonder Woman stole its thunder — Marvel finally made a movie centered around a female superhero. Despite its sexist detractors, Captain Marvel effortlessly became one of the biggest hits of 2019.
Arguably, Black Widow deserved to be the first female Marvel hero to get her own movie because she’s been around since 2010 and fans have been clamoring for a solo movie for just as long, but at least she’s getting her own movie next year.
2 Avengers: Endgame
Highly anticipated for a year after the bombshell ending of Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame quickly topped Avatar to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. The movie saw the reunion of the original six Avengers as they team up one last time to travel through time, collect the Infinity Stones, and reverse the apocalypse imposed by Thanos.
As a kind of series finale for the Infinity Saga, Endgame was absurdly satisfying. It was everything that Marvel fans wanted from the Avengers’ last stand and more.
1 Spider-Man: Far From Home
The challenge faced by Spider-Man: Far From Home wasn’t just matching the scope and spectacle of Avengers: Endgame; it was proving that the MCU could have a solid future in a post-Endgame world.
Since Endgame had provided such a natural stopping point after a decade of storytelling, some Marvel fans might’ve been happy calling it a day and moving on to other franchise. Far From Home had to prove the franchise still had legs.
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