It’s May 2008, and Marvel Studios has just released its first self-financed film: Iron Man, telling the origin story of the titular Marvel Comics character. Superhero movies are generally doing well at the box office, most notably Columbia Pictures’ Spiderman trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and Pixar’s animated family adventure The Incredibles. Iron Man also enjoys success, surpassing $585 million at the box office and becoming both a commercial and critical hit. But even then, few could have predicted this single movie would light the stage for what has arguably become the most expansive cinematic universe audiences have ever seen.
Ten years and 18 movies later (20 by the end of this year), Marvel Studios has built its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) into a force to be reckoned with. Here we have ten years of films that serve as both entertaining standalone stories and weave into a greater overall plot. The release schedule started slowly with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk released in 2008, and the Iron Man sequel not debuting until a full two years after its predecessor. Since 2013 however, Marvel Studios has been dishing out an average of two to three high-quality productions a year, with the majority still winning over critical acclaim (and all but two being ranked as “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes).
Part of the beauty, and success, of these films is that they can be enjoyed on a number of levels. First and foremost they appeal to die-hard comic book fans who can painstakingly compare the movies to their comic origins and pour over every detail. There are the average action or sci-fi film fans who recognize a good story and cinematic execution. There are people who might see a Marvel movie here or there if the main superhero or lead actor is of particular interest. Then there are the people who, although they may not have read the comics or even been fans of Marvel before, follow the cinematic installments religiously and while they might not pick up on all the comic references, they catch the little connections between the films that the average moviegoer might miss.
Marvel Studios has divided its film catalogue into phases, with next year’s Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 closing out a game-changing phase three. Fans have been warned that the current era of the MCU is drawing to a close, and they will likely be saying good-bye to the actors that have effectively become their characters over the past ten years.
This May’s much-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War will be the first time that characters from opposite ends of the Marvel Universe will unite, and will finally incorporate plot points that have been sprinkled throughout the movies since the beginning. There’s never before been a cinematic event with this level of build-up, one with not only decades of comics, but literally an entire decade of films leading up to the main event. Even to the uninitiated, the cinematic world that Marvel Studios has created is, from a filmmaking, storytelling, and marketing perspective, a staggering feat.
In honor of the MCU’s first ten years, we at the Rotoscopers will be reviewing each of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far in chronological release order, every Wednesday, for the next twenty weeks. Look at it as a quick refresher of earlier entries in the saga, a walk down memory lane, or an open invitation to check out a movie you’ve never seen before. We hope you enjoy this series and strongly encourage friendly debate in the comments section for each article.
Join us next week as we begin our countdown back in May 2008, meet (or become reacquainted with) Tony Stark, and see where it all began.