A Beginner's Guide to the MCU. Part 2: The Films

In part one of our beginner's guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we took a look at the characters and rights issues surrounding them.  This week, we're going to delve into the largest part of the MCU:  the films.  As of this writing, there's 14 movies encompassing the MCU, with many more on the way.  This is the definitive list of all 14 films listed chronologically.  This is where you start!

Now obviously the movies are the major cornerstone of the MCU.  Afterall, it's what everything builds towards.  All of the tie in TV shows, one shots and comics would not be as impactful if everything didn't connect.  In fact, early on, Marvel ran with the tag line "It's All Connected."  Since the split between the film division of Marvel and the TV division, the connections have been less obvious, but they're still there.  All of the tie ins are done to support the movies, not the other way around.  

What makes this world so interesting is that never before has a company carefully crafted such a massive over arching story where the individual pieces can still stand on their own.  You can take any entry in the series and watch it as a standalone and enjoy it.  It's when you take them as chapters of one story that you truly get immersed in this fantastic world.  Marvel's take on filmmaking has inspired many others to try to start their own "shared cinematic universe."  While Marvel wasn't the first (arguably the Universal Monsters series could be considered), they've certainly perfected it.  

It all started in 2008 when Marvel Studios released their first major motion picture, Iron Man.  Because of the rights issues we talked about last time, Marvel wasn't in a position to use their big tier characters (Spider-Man, X-Men, etc).  Instead, they made  a film about a 2nd tier hero that while people recognized the name, they didn't really know the character.  Thanks to the incredible performance of Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, Iron Man became a surprise blockbuster hit and revolutionized the comic book movie genre.  It's obvious that Iron Man wasn't made with the intention of turning it into a multi property franchise.  It's a simple origin self contained story.  Instead, with the addition of one little post credit scene, the seeds were sown and a tradition was started.  When Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury showed up and announced the Avengers initiative, history was made.  

I'm here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative. 

From there, the company released films for all of the core Avengers.  The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America all had their own stand alone origin films before ultimately assembling in the phase one ending Avengers.  It was with this release that Marvel were fully in charge.  Grossing over $1.5 billion, this franchise was on it's way to becoming legendary.  

Phase 2 kicked off with sequels to the original Avengers before introducing more characters to the ever expanding line up.  With their massive success behind them, Marvel took a chance on the relatively unknown Guardians of the Galaxy.  This gamble paid off in a huge way with that film becoming a surprise hit that some fans consider the very best in the series.  

Phase 2 also transitioned slightly from the Iron Man show to focusing more on Captain America as the face of the franchise.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not only an incredible comic book movie, it's a great movie.  Given the military espionage angle of it, it managed to take real world problems and focus them through the eyes of a man who is just trying to do the right thing when the enemies aren't as clearly defined as they were during his WWII days.  

While some consider Avengers: Age of Ultron a disappointment, it did manage to hit all the points of the first Avengers team up while still adding new characters (The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver) and advancing the story.  Ant-Man closed out phase 2 with a more personal story that didn't have world ending stakes.  It's a much smaller story and the perfect way to counter the huge scope of Age of Ultron.  

And that brings us to today.  We are 2 films deep into phase 3 of the MCU and things are changing and building.  Captain America: Civil War upset the relationships of the characters while the latest film Doctor Strange introduced the audience to magic.  5 of the 6 Infinity Stones are found and the story is racing to it's conclusion in Avengers: Infinity War.  While that won't be the end of the MCU, it will be the end of an era.  It'll be the end of the Captain America/Iron Man/Thor/Hulk/Black Widow/Hawkeye line up from the original team up.  Pardon the pun but those characters will be phased out in order to make room for the newest characters to be introduced.  Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Captain Marvel will be the new look of the Avengers in the future.  And just like the comics, these characters crossing over into each other's movies will really make this feel like a universe.  It proves that putting in the ground work and taking the time to make the foundation strong is the secret to building a successful shared cinematic universe.  Other companies could learn a lesson or two about that.  

Complete List of Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

  1. Iron Man
  2. The Incredible Hulk
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. Thor
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger
  6. The Avengers
  7. Iron Man 3
  8. Thor: The Dark World
  9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy
  11. Avengers:  Age of Ultron
  12. Ant-Man
  13. Captain America: Civil War
  14. Doctor Strange
  15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (upcoming)
  16. Spider-Man: Homecoming (upcoming)
  17. Thor: Ragnarok (upcoming)
  18. Black Panther (upcoming)
  19. Avengers: Infinity War (upcoming)
  20. Ant-Man and the Wasp (upcoming)
  21. Captain Marvel
  22. (Untitled Avengers sequel) (upcoming)

For more on the MCU, please see part 1 of the Beginner's Guide.  You can also read our review of Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange.  Tune in next time for our look at the tie ins that really expand the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  

As always, let us know what you think.  Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite MCU film.  What's your least favorite?