Ten years. 18 movies. Our writers reflect on a decade in the MCU.
Everyone knows that this May — Avengers: Infinity War’s initial release date — marks the 10th anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Never before has a continuous intertwined movie franchise reached out in so many directions and yet stayed so serialized — Marvel Studios has, in this endeavor, truly replicated the nature of a comic book universe on screen.
When you sit down to watch Infinity War, you’ll probably shed a few tears at some point. However, if you’re like me, the first traumatized feels will come before the footage even starts rolling. They’ll come because of the freakin’ new logo. I guarantee you it will happen to someone in your cinema — I was not the only whimperer in mine.
Ten years, 18 movies, and they all lead to this: the culmination of every story we’ve seen so far, coming together for the hugest character crossover imaginable, one where every viewer will sit down with their own personal stakes. And this is only the first part of a back-to-back filmed cinematic event — next year, when we see the conclusion of this story, the MCU will move forward with whatever characters are left standing and introduce another generation to their chosen heroes — some with a decade of baggage, some likely to be brand-new to the screen.
Above all, by keeping up a continuous thread, Marvel has created a character-driven world, one that matters to so many people in so many ways. There’s something for everyone (well, almost) and so on the eve of the beginning of the end — well, the beginning of the end of the first era, and how much more will follow is truly beyond our wildest imaginations, we’ve gathered eight of our writers to share a uniquely personal take on Marvel’s 10-year timeline.
Strap in. Here we go.
May 2, 2008
As is the case for so many Marvel fans, for me, this whole thing started with Iron Man. Admittedly though, I wasn’t one of the first to hop on the Marvel bandwagon. I decided to watch the movies after The Avenger’s came out and everyone was buzzing about it. When I heard it was going to be released at my local Drive-In movie theatre, I made plans to see it with a friend and vowed to watch all of the preceding movies beforehand.
I’m so glad I did, because I was hooked from the moment that I met Tony Stark. Of course I love the nuanced, deeply caring Tony that we know now, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” version that we meet in Iron Man. Tony’s incomparable snark, determination, and ingenuity sold me on him and the entire MCU, and are a big part of the reason why he’s still my favorite character. The scene in which Tony builds the first suit to escape from the cave is a perfect example of these traits, and will always be a standout for me. — Kendra Cleary
‘The Incredible Hulk’
June 13, 2008
Pre-Marvel Renaissance, the Hulk was one of the most household-namey Marvel superheroes — he rivalled the Bats and Supes of the DC world in terms of immediate pop culture recognition, so it makes sense that he’d be incorporated early on into the MCU’s plan for world domination, as the other most massively recognizable Marvel character, Spider-Man, was not available to them rights-wise at that time. Today, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is a huge fave, and for good reason — it’s a beautifully sensitive and comedic portrayal, but in his origin story, we see another actor in the role — Edward Norton.
Norton was initially signed as the MCU’s Once and Future Banner, but he was apparently let go in early stages of pre-production for The Avengers, with Kevin Feige stating that the decision was “[…] definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members,” Norton later refuting that this statement, which made him sound like he was not willing to concede star focus in an ensemble cast was misleading.
Bruce Banner remains the only MCU leading role to have been recast, and we are blessed with Mark Ruffalo’s fluffy, adorable, loose-lipped presence as a staple of the Marvel community, but the bad blood surrounding the Hulk’s origin story means that we never really got a deserving exploration of the Hulk we know and love. Nevertheless, The Incredible Hulk is MCU canon — if you sort of squint and mentally transpose Ruffalo’s face and voice onto Norton it’s a pretty good outing for Bruce, and though a few balls — like Betty — have been dropped, her father, General Ross, is still a pretty powerful presence in the MCU — William Hurt even reprises the role in Avengers: Infinity War. The Incredible Hulk is a movie that exists, and that’s just something we all have to accept. — Natalie Fisher
‘Iron Man 2’
May 7, 2010
Despite how big of an Iron Man fan I am, Iron Man 2 is, unfortunately, fairly forgettable. It does several things well, including introducing Don Cheadle as the superior James Rhodes and Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, but the revenge story plot doesn’t offer anything spectacular. Tony does learn some lessons in this one, though they seem superficial compared to his arc in Iron Man 3.
Whenever I watch this movie, I always end up liking it more than I remember, which probably has a lot to do with his developing relationship with Pepper, but it’s still not one of the major stepping stones on the path toward Infinity War. At the very least, it does continue the trend of showing that Tony Stark does, indeed, have a heart. And that’s something I can definitely live with. — Karen Rought
May 6, 2011
Timing is a funny thing. As we look forward to another Royal Wedding and Avengers film, I can’t help but recall my first official Marvel cinematic universe film. Gaining an extra day off from study in the U.K. for Wills and Kate, I jetted off to Portugal. It rained approximately 80% of the trip. So, making it drenched to a nearby cinema, my fellow travelers and I decided to see Thor. Our first choice, Rio, was playing dubbed in Portuguese. Thor would have to do.
The film was fine, and gave this American a story to take home (did you know they have intermissions in movies?). But it certainly didn’t spark a larger interest in to Marvel cinematic universe. My next Marvel movie viewing would come five years later. As the buzz around Civil War amped up, and my tenure at Hypable was in full swing, I became a casual viewer. Films like Ragnarok and Homecoming are my favorites, while I still haven’t seen most of the films that are the cornerstones of Cap and Tony’s arcs. But I’m here now and that’s all that matters, right? — Brittany Lovely
‘Captain America: The First Avenger’
July 22, 2011
I was semi-aware of the MCU in its early days, but, in the weeks leading up to the release of The Avengers, I thought it’d be fun to catch up on all of the movies that I’d missed before seeing that one. Iron Man & co. peaked my interest, sure, but it was Captain America: The First Avenger that I fell in love with. It made me realize that this universe was not only one worth paying attention to, but one that I needed to know more about. That I could see myself losing myself in.
Captain America: The First Avenger captured my attention in a way that few other movies ever have (even to this day). Not only does it take place during the period of history that fascinates me most, but it also has a real heart to it. It’s an underdog story that’s about doing what’s right, even when it’s difficult, and standing up for what you believe in no matter the cost. Steve Rogers isn’t perfect, but he works hard to do his best and serve his country. And the last ten minutes? I don’t think I’ve ever watched from the scene where Steve decides to sacrifice himself until the end without being a sobbing mess.
But honestly, as much as I’m in love with Steve Rogers and Chris Evans (thanks in very large part to this movie), the best thing this movie has ever given me is Agent Peggy Carter. I’ve tried over and over again to put into words what Agent Carter means to me, but I always seem to come up short. Never in my life have I connected so deeply to or been so inspired by a fictional character. Peggy brings out the best in me and has really showed me how to always see the best in myself. Without The First Avenger introducing me to Agent Carter, my life would be so empty.
I am and always will be indebted to The First Avenger. It has given me more than I could have ever imagined (or than I ever really thought of until now) and I’m so grateful that it exists. It may not be a lot of people’s favorite movie (or even, for some odd reason, in their top 5), but I will never stop singing its praises or loving it with all my heart. — Danielle Zimmerman
May 4, 2012
There are objectively better Marvel movies than The Avengers. None, however, live nearly as close to my heart.
Now that we are deep in the heart of the MCU’s Stage Three and heroic team-ups are de rigueur across the comic book movie world, it’s easy to forget the sheer exhilaration of watching our heroes come together for the first time. Here was Tony Stark, effortlessly geeking out with Bruce Banner. Here was Natasha Romanoff, going toe-to-toe with Loki and getting the best of his silver tongue. Steve Rogers mourning a lost world, and Thor delighting in a new one. And S.H.I.E.L.D., that connective web, stringing them all together as Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and Phil Coulson coaxed these six behemoths toward saving humanity for like five minutes, if it’s not too much trouble.
We didn’t know, back in 2012, whether one movie could successfully contain so many heroes at once. Would personality would be drowned in spectacle? Could the story’s heart prevail amidst all the brawn and brains? Could it all really, actually work?
The answer was yes — and not just proficiently, but delightfully. I have never been as thoroughly delighted in a Marvel movie as I was in The Avengers. It was the lightning-quick humor, the gut-wrenching losses, the playful comic-book fizz. The Avengers is an objectively flawed film, I know; it has many qualitatively better cousins. And yet The Avengers’ effervescent spirit, it’s pure, delightful joy per minute, will always keep it firmly first in my heart. — Michal Schick
‘Iron Man 3’
May 3, 2013
Not only is this my favorite Iron Man movie, but it’s my favorite movie in the entire MCU. Yes, even more than The Winter Soldier. And yes, even more than Black Panther (although both of them are, arguably, better movies overall). I love Iron Man 3 because I think this is the first time we actually see who Tony Stark really is. His suit has literally been stripped away, and all of a sudden he’s that same guy we saw back in the cave in the first movie. The odds are against him at every turn, but this time something new is holding him back — himself.
Following the events of The Avengers, we see Iron Man, the MCU’s first true superhero, at his absolute lowest point. He suffering from anxiety and all of a sudden he isn’t surrounded by all the toys he thought made him so special. Turns out, though, that he’s a pretty smart guy. He makes due with what he’s got and saves the day after all. This is what makes that line in Homecoming hit so much harder: “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Notice that Tony’s still got his suit. — Karen Rought
‘Thor: The Dark World’
November 8, 2013
My love affair with Loki began with Thor and continued with The Avengers, but it was never stronger than in Thor: The Dark World. I love seeing his relationship with his family, most notably Thor and his mother, ebb and flow in this movie. He’s so brilliantly mischievous, and I always have the best time wondering which side he’s on. Of course, the answer is always the same: his own.
Although the mischief is fun, I also love aspects of Loki’s true heart that Thor: The Dark World. Locked in the cells under Asgard, we see a sincere brokenness in him, that’s rarely matched. This movie also gave me a heads up that I am in no way prepared to witness Loki’s death!
Aside from the Loki of it all, I also thoroughly enjoy Thor’s growth as a leader in The Dark World. Add the laughs from Erik, Darcy and her “intern,” as well as the epic, reality shifting battle through London, and you’ve got one of my favorite movies in the MCU. — Kendra
‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
April 4, 2014
The Winter Soldier was by no means my first Marvel experience, but it’s the one that turned me into a ride-or-die fan and I’ve been buried in the trash pile ever since. I’d been interested in Iron Man, amused by The Avengers, and even quite invested emotionally in Thor (I saw The Dark World alone and curled up in the seat crying.) But none of these could compare to the way that Captain America: The Winter Soldier legitimately changed my life.
The Winter Soldier elevates its predecessor — Captain America: The First Avenger is a much, much better movie in every possible way when watched with the perspective of The Winter Soldier fresh in your mind. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we see Steve Rogers handled with the sensitivity he deserves, as The First Avenger screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely extended on the most character-driven aspects of their first movie alongside newcomer directors Joe and Anthony Russo. This awesome foursome truly shifted the tone and the scope of the MCU to something much deeper and much more grounded than your average superhero film – The Winter Soldier is basically at its heart a political thriller about a veteran with PTSD.
Of course, the title can also be literally translated to “Steve Rogers: Bucky Barnes” and that’s where the heart lies – Marvel incorporated the famous retcon of Bucky’s WWII death and introduced him to the present day as the Winter Soldier, a traumatized victim of brainwashing who has been used as a weapon for seventy years. Bucky and Steve’s story is so viscerally cruel that for someone like me, it’s impossible to not get all the way invested – the Cap fandom is one of my biggest daily social interactions. When I say I have talked or thought about this movie every single day for the past four years, I am not being hyperbolic. I am being 100% honest. I can tell you the precise second that I sold my soul to the MCU – that bank vault scene where the Asset complicitly takes the mouth-guard for his brain-wiping, like a small child. Yep, done, throw me in the sea forever, my life is no longer my own. — Natalie Fisher
‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
August 1, 2014
Guardians of the Galaxy and it’s larger than life aesthetic just kinda stuck with me. Sure, I love just about all the Marvel movies in one way or another, but there’s just something about this rag tag group of reluctant heroes that tugs at my heart in all the ways.
I mean, what’s not to love? I kind of have a bit of a Chris Pratt obsession (thanks in part to his Bright Abbott and Andy Dwyer days), but any movie that brings him together with Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, and Vin Diesel is one nobody should miss.
There is something for everyone in Guardians. Whether it’s the soundtrack, the dancing, the teamwork, or just the fun, this movie just has a universal appeal that the other Marvel films sometimes lack. Not to mention that it gave us baby Groot. And not just any baby Groot, but dancing baby Groot. It makes me smile just thinking about it. Especially when you remember that the dancing is modeled after the moves of James Gunn, the film’s director. What’s not to love about that? — Kristen Kranz
‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’
May 1, 2015
I volunteered to write about this movie because I had a feeling no one else wanted to. You’re welcome, team. Age of Ultron is not a great movie, but it does have a major impact on the MCU as it leads into Civil War, which then directly affects Infinity War. I know a lot of people dislike Cap’s portrayal in this installation, which is completely fair, but I (obviously) take a bigger issue with how Tony’s represented. I don’t think he’s out of character here — he does have a tendency to fix things that aren’t broken and ask for permission later — but it’s frustrating to watch this version of him following his growth in Iron Man 3.
IM3 took many strides to turn Tony introspective. He learned a lot of important lessons in that movie, and it seems half of them went out the window in this one. Tony gets a lot of flack here and in Civil War, both from the Avengers and from the audience, because of his God complex. I don’t have a problem with the MCU making Tony a flawed character, but I do have a problem with it constantly making him the reason why everything goes sideways in the first place. — Karen Rought
July 17, 2015
No one was more surprised than I was when Ant-Man was actually a pretty good movie. Going into it, I was basically challenging it to impress me in some way, because the marketing definitely didn’t. Setting aside the fact that Hope Pym was sidelined and not allowed to be a superhero because her daddy didn’t want her to get hurt (because if I think too hard on that, it just makes me sad), Ant-Man is a fun romp that is hard not to enjoy.
Having Paul Rudd as a hero in the Marvel Universe is pretty fantastic. He brings so much levity and humor just by being in the frame. But, honestly, the true MVPs of Ant-Man are, hands down, Peggy Carter (by virtue of being Peggy Carter) and Michael Peña’s Luis. Luis made this heist movie fun. He may not have been on screen nearly as much as I wanted him to be, but he was really the heart of this movie. And the way he closes out the film? Classic.
Yes, it has its fair share of issues, but Ant-Man is a fun movie, a fact which, to this day, I still have a hard trouble believing. — Danielle Zimmerman
‘Captain America: Civil War’
May 6, 2016
Steve Rogers is a hard man to know — out of all the Avengers, he’s probably the most misinterpreted — an easy surface mistake, given that he’s draped in a banner of American Values. Those who perhaps only partook in Joss Whedon’s Avengers would retain a very different view of Steve than what his inner life truly represents. Captain America: Civil War proves once and for all just how subversive a hero Cap truly is, as he refuses to comply with government regulations and the heart-driven, rule-breaking vigilante at his core becomes undeniably prominent.
The Winter Soldier saw Steve take down SHIELD, sure, but that’s because they were corrupt from within. Civil War sees him defy bigger organizations — all the way to the U.N. — to firstly keep doing what he believes is right, and secondly, to save the goddamn love of his life (yeah, I said it) who, regardless of anything else, is undeniably the only person still alive who makes Steve feel like a person himself and not a tool. Every Cap film so far has ultimately, at its core, featured Steve Rogers incidentally saving the world in a plan that initially was focused solely on saving Bucky Barnes. The villain of Civil War exploits that, using Steve’s loyalty to Bucky to put a plan in motion in order to tear the Avengers apart. Ultimately, it’s successful, and Steve ditches the shield and chooses Bucky — chooses himself — over being Captain America.
If Winter Soldier made me Marvel’s loyal acolyte, Civil War holds the spot as the most important cinema-going experience of my entire life. I didn’t go into Winter Soldier expecting to turn my life upside down, but Civil War, and its promise of Bucky’s recovery and his reunion with Steve, was my most anticipated film of all time. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to get such an empathetic look at Bucky’s life on the run, and never did I expect Steve to dump Cap so explicitly. As someone who loves these characters as human beings first and never as superheroes, this was just… everything to me.
I attended the London red carpet premiere of this movie, and was in the same screening as the Russo brothers. To make my first memories of Civil War even more cathartic, I legitimately — if you can believe it — got to immediately decompress about the movie with the directors, right there in the foyer, shrieking my feels, weeping my thanks and trading big hugs. They were more than keen to engage with fans on this level and it’s no wonder that their handling of the Cap movies earned them the prime spot to take the Avengers forward into Infinity War. — Natalie Fisher
November 4, 2016
Unlike most of the other Marvel movies, I knew almost nothing about Doctor Strange before I saw it. Doctor Strange seemed so disconnected from the rest of the MCU, at that time. I was excited about the casting choices of Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel McAdams, but other than that, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
When I saw the movie, I was immediately taken in by the magic of it. It was great to be able to explore a hero whose powers were so different from what we’d seen before. Stephen Strange’s unique brand of humor is brilliantly executed by Cumberbatch and the movie truly manages to break your heart in certain moments. And don’t forget about those stunning, Inception-style visuals! The whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable, and it gave me an appreciation for the wider Marvel universe. It even made me realize that the MCU can still be great after the original characters’ stories have been completed. So thank you, Doctor Strange!
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’
May 5, 2017
While this movie didn’t grab me as fiercely as the first, Guardians: Vol 2 definitely has a lot to offer. It answered the question of who Starlord’s father was. It gave us an even better answer to that question after we found out who his father REALLY was. We have this movie to thank for, “I’m Mary Poppins, ya’ll!” and the ultimate redemption of Yondu.
Are there things I wish they’d done differently? Absolutely. But in the long run, this movie is almost as much fun as the first, and I think that’s of primary importance when you’re talking about the Guardians of the Galaxy. Not to mention that pretty epic fight between Gamora and Nebula that ultimately ended with them not hating each other as much. Wait, what?
I might hold the first movie in higher esteem, but there’s an awful lot of fun to be had with Vol. 2. Who doesn’t want to see a giant Pac-Man in the middle of an awesome battle sequence? Who doesn’t want to watch baby Groot dance his booty off while the others battle a giant slimy monster? And, I mean, Drax made a friend! — Kristen Kranz
July 7, 2017
Let’s talk about Tobey Maguire for a second. At age 12, Sony’s Spider Man was awesome. Willem Dafoe was terrifying, and who didn’t want to see the origin story with an actual spider bite? Fourteen years later, Captain America: Civil War hits theaters and when the screen flashed “Queens” I already knew I was about to shift my allegiance to this newcomer without even seeing his face.
Taking my nephew to see Spider Man as my uncle took me many years ago made me nostalgic for seeing this young hero spring to action for the first time. It’s weird thing to watch a hero’s story come together in an entirely new way for a new audience. No spider bite, no Uncle Ben, just Peter coping with a crush, high school, and the less-than-thrilling neighborhood crime watch.
His cameo in Civil War served up as the introduction to this new Peter Parker with just enough thread to sew him neatly into the universe. And so, walking out of Homecoming I got something I wasn’t expecting to take from the Marvel universe — a character I would lay my life down for. Peter must be protected at all costs. — Brittany Lovely
November 3, 2017
I’ve always had something of a fondness for the Thor movies and their untapped potential. When Taika Waititi came on board, I knew with certainty that Ragnarok would set itself apart from the rest of the MCU quite significantly, in terms of tone, design, humor, and look. And Waititi delivered on that expectation.
What followed in Ragnarok was one of the most delightful and humorous entries in the Thor franchise. It gave us the true and bloodthirsty history of Asgard, introduced several new and immediately beloved characters — specifically Valkyrie and Korg — and was, in its subtext, unapologetically queer.
Over its runtime, it reinvigorated my love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just as fatigue was starting to set in. It was pure unadulterated fun from start to finish, and got me excited to see just what is next for Thor and Friends in the next chapter of his story. — Donya Abramo
February 16, 2018
Black Panther renewed my faith in the MCU.
After 10 years and 18 movies — a few which told good stories, some which were mostly forgettable, many of which were fronted by a white dude named Chris — I found myself feeling mostly blasé about the franchise as a whole.
Black Panther changed all of that.
It was an immersive experience that told a incredibly thought-provoking story, while also entertaining and thrilling us. A movie that gave us complex, complicated characters of color as both protagonists and antagonists. A story that centered on the experiences of Black men and women and treated those stories as necessary and thoughtful and important.
It gave us all that and made an enormous amount of money, exploding once and for all the myth that superheroes need to be white to be relatable or profitable.
Black Panther gave us the best that the MCU has to offer. If this is a preview of the direction of the franchise, then consider me back on the bandwagon. — Lelanie Seyffer