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The Beginner’s Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

In this Beginner's Guide, we look back on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far and pick out the most important films to watch from the collection.

The Beginner's Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

The MCU is potentially the biggest franchise going to this date, but with 19 films released in a ten-year span, it could be overwhelming to someone who hasn’t seen any of the films. In this Beginner’s Guide, we look back on the MCU and pick out the most important films to watch from the collection.

The MCU started in 2008, making this year the ten-year anniversary of Marvel making brilliant superhero films. Within the ten-year span, there has been 19 films leading up to their biggest release that came out this year, Avengers: Infinity War. There has also been numerous TV shows that have been released, but this list will be focusing on the films from the MCU.

Whilst the MCU may be ten-years old, these characters are way older than that. This is down to the former editor-in-chief of Marvel Entertainment, Stan Lee. Now a film executive for the MCU, Lee was a major influence in the comic books, and still has a major influence in the MCU. It is safe to say that Marvel wouldn’t be what it was without him.

Whilst we could go into detail on all 19 films in the MCU, the main focus is going to be the films that helped change and develop the MCU’s reputation throughout the years. These are also the films that should be watched, even by a beginner of the MCU, to get an understanding of what has happened and what is currently happening in the universe.

Iron Man (2008)

The Beginner's Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Iron Man (2008) – source: Paramount Pictures

Iron Man is the first film in the MCU, and dates back to the time when Paramount Pictures had the distributing rights to some Marvel properties. With the brilliant casting of Robert Downey Jrin the role of Tony Stark, there was no doubt that this was going to be a great start for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

2008 was a great year for superhero films. Not only was Iron Man released, but this was also the year of The Dark Knight. This was the start of modern superhero films in the way that we know them to this day. The similarities of Batman and Iron Man still stick, even with the numerous Bruce Wayne casting choices that there has been throughout Downey Jr.‘s time in the MCU.

This is a film that gets better with every viewing. Tony Stark is portrayed as a flawed human, yet it still works perfectly for the superhero franchise. The original suit is still my personal favourite, and the ending may be one of the best endings of any film. If you are starting the MCU, you need to start with Iron Man.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

The Beginner's Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This is a pivotal moment for the MCU. By this point, we have had introductions to every character aside from Hawkeye. Yes, there may be a change in casting choice for the Hulk (now portrayed by Mark Ruffalo), but this is the film that comic book fans were waiting for.

There was always going to be the question of whether it would work. Is having six leads in one single film going to be too cluttered? Will the storyline flow well with that many leads? (If only they knew at this point what they would be trying to do in the future, this would be a piece of cake). As we know, though, it worked way better than anyone could have expected.

The bond between all of the leads worked, and the chemistry can be seen immediately. This is also a vital film for the MCU, as not only does this establish that they are all in the same timeline, but it also sets up a storyline that would continue on to this day, by introducing Thanos. This has been a storyline set up for over six years, and yet it still feels as fresh as possible.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The Beginner's Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This is the second film in the Captain America trilogy, but it is also the most important one out of the three. Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to show that a superhero film doesn’t have to just be a superhero film. It can also be a political spy thriller, as this film perfectly shows. This film is a lot darker than the previous entries in the MCU, but for the storyline, it works brilliantly.

Whilst this film doesn’t lead up to Avengers: Infinity War as much as others in this entry, it does lead up to another vital film in the MCU. Captain America: Civil War is the film that leaves a divide between the Avengers, which has major implications when it comes to Avengers: Infinity WarThe Winter Soldier establishes a storyline between Captain America and The Winter Soldier that has consequences when dealing with a fellow Avenger.

Despite all that, though, this is my favourite film from the MCU and I truly feel it is one of the most important ones in the collection. Chris Evans is the perfect Captain America, and his portrayal of the hero will be remembered for years to come.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

The Beginner's Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Guardians of the Galaxy was the first Marvel film I saw in cinemas, and potentially the first Marvel film I ever saw. This works out well, as this film doesn’t touch on any of the previous films by the MCU, but still helps establish the superhero genre and tone that the company is so well-known for. It is a great introduction to the MCU for anyone, without being too heavy on facts and too reliant on having to see the previous films.

This also does slightly change the tone of the MCU, due to the way this film is shot and edited in particular. This feels a lot more fresh, but also nostalgic. By going back to the music in the ’80s, this film can bring in a slightly older audience, whilst still being fun and refreshing for a younger audience.

Even if you do not want to get into the MCU and watch all 19 films in the collection, I would highly recommend this one. It is separate from the Avengers, and only really mixes with the team when it comes to Avengers: Infinity War. This establishes a comedic tone that would be implemented throughout their future releases, and broke the boundaries of what the MCU had to be and what they could do in years to come.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

The Beginner's Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

If you ask any Marvel fan what the weakest film series in the MCU was, most chances they would say Thor. The first two films felt a little dull, and didn’t seem to have much impact on the franchise. This all changed, however, when Thor: Ragnarok was released.

Thor: Ragnarok completely changed everything about the Thor series. Not only was Chris Hemsworth finally able to use his comedic timing to use, but to change his look really helped make the hero feel more fresh. Loki (portrayed by Tom Hiddleston) finally seemed to be heading in a direction, and with as strong of a villain as Hela (portrayed by Cate Blanchett), there was no doubt that this would be one of the best films released by the MCU.

It is a shame that the hard work done by this film and director Taiki Waititi was almost instantly ruined by Avengers: Infinity War, and also the fact that Thor possibly won’t get a fourth film due to the MCU mainly sticking with trilogies for their individual heroes. Despite all that, though, it doesn’t ruin the fact that this is arguably one of Marvel’s best films and a refreshing state to an otherwise lack lustred series.

Black Panther (2018)

The Beginner's Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Black Panther (2018) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It may be the last film to be released before Avengers: Infinity War, but it is one of the most historic. This is a major success for black filmmaking in particular, thanks to director Ryan Coogler‘s vision. Grossing nearly $700 million in the US domestic box office, this is more than even Avengers: Infinity War can make. This film was a major success, staying in the top ten of the US box office from its release right through to the release of Avengers: Infinity War.

We got a glimpse of what Chadwick Boseman had to offer to the character in Captain America: Civil War, but in this film we really see his character blossom. From the gorgeous backdrops, to the viciously exciting villain played by Michael B. Jordan, this film has everything you need.

Just like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this film also deals with political issues, but ones that are relevant to this day and age. This is not only a necessary film in the MCU, but a necessary film altogether. The story comes right before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, so this film is a must see for any beginner to the franchise.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

The Beginner's Guide: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This is the big one. Ten years, 19 films, countless TV shows. All of that hard work comes down to this one individual film. If you have seen most of the films released by the MCU, then the pay-off will have been worth it. This is definitely not a film that can be seen by itself, as it relies so heavily on knowing the characters, their stories and their situation.

This is also a film that has to have been experienced at the cinema to get the full emotional factor. I went to see it opening day, and I am so glad that I did. Even then, I nearly had a moment spoiled for me and I bet a lot of people did get spoilers for it. It is kind of hard not to, though, when the entire film is littered with spoilers.

What will be interesting to see is how the Russo Brothers tackle the second half of this story. It ended in such a way, that truly anything could (and possibly will) happen. Each character is going to come out of this feeling battered and bruised, and there will be some who don’t come out at all. It is a waiting game to see what will happen, though.

Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Future

There are many more films than the ones I have just mentioned. A lot of characters will be due a sequel or a following movie, such as the Guardians of the GalaxyDoctor Strange or Spider-Man.

The future of the MCU is certain to grow and be just as successful as now. There are plans to continue releasing three films from the franchise every single year, and with more and more characters getting added, it will be hard to predict who will have to die in the near future.

The next film to be released is Ant Man and the Wasp, due for release in July 2018. With that and Captain Marvel being the only films released before Avengers 4, there will be little to no clues on what is going to happen when Thanos’ story concludes in 2019.

What are your favourite films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Do you think I missed a film out of this list? Please leave a comment below.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

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Amy Smith is a film student who reviews and talks about film and TV on Her favourite genres are horror and action.