A Beginner’s Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, also known by many as the MCU, has gone on to become one of the biggest film franchises of all time and become something of a cultural phenomenon in the eleven years of its existence, making people care and interest in comic book characters like before on the big screen.

With 23 movies so far and Avengers: Endgame being one of the two most commercially successful films of all time, it’s easy to be amazed by the MCU and perhaps view it as a little bit daunting to tap into it. Here we’re going to tell you all you need to know about the Marvel Cinematic Universe before you get started:

What is the MCU?

Unlike pretty much every other film franchise before it, the MCU is not just one series of movies, but rather a combination of many. This is what has become its main trait throughout the years: the possibility of seeing of all of Marvel’s finest heroes interacting with one another in multiple movies with an overarching plot.

The MCU has been viewed by many as the starting point of the trend of cinematic universes in the industry, with multiple companies and brands following suit afterwards due to their success.

This franchise has also branched out beyond just films, with multiple TV shows going on in the same shared universe.

How it started?

Contrary to popular belief, the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t start with the kind of impact and power that it now enjoys–if we go back to 2008, when the MCU started, we could see that this was a pretty risky bet and it paid off wonderfully.

The MCU began with the first Iron Man movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and it was widely considered a huge risk because, at the time, this character wasn’t very known to the large public, but thanks to a great job adapting the source material of Tony’s origin and a brilliant performance by Downey Jr., Iron Man was a major hit in 2008 and it paved the way for the next MCU movie, The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, which had a secret ending (another major trend in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) showing Tony Stark and also teasing upcoming events.

While these movies were commercially successful and they were followed by the likes of Captain America: The First Avenger with Chris Evans as Steve Rodgers and Thor starring Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder, the movies were mostly enjoyed by the people that were familiar with the source material because these characters weren’t that known compared to what they would be later on.

But after the release of Iron Man 2, this would all change with the massive pay off that was, at the time, the first Avengers movie in 2012.

The 2012 film was a big moment for the industry: it was not only the moment where Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk (now with Bruce Banner played by Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) got together for the first time in a live action adaptation, but also the first time multiple film series crossover the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe did and this started the rise of the MCU as the biggest movie franchise of the current day.

What constitutes the MCU?

If you haven’t watched any MCU movie until this point, these are all the franchises that are part of this shared universe so far:

  • Iron Man. The series that started it all with Robert Downey Jr. at the helm, the Iron Man movies started back in 2008 and the story of millionaire playboy Tony Stark became one of the main focal points of the Marvel Cinematic Universe during its first 23 movies period, encapsulated as The Infinity Saga.
  • Captain America. Started in 2011 with The First Avenger and he is the other main character of The Infinity Saga, playing a major role in all of the Avengers movies along with Iron Man.
  • Also began in 2011 with Chris Hemsworth, back then an unknown actor, as the God of Thunder and it has been an instrumental part of the landscape, often balancing between the more down to earth and fantastic elements of the franchise.
  • Even though Edward Norton’s 2008 Incredible Hulk movie was instrumental to kick start the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he was replaced by Mark Ruffalo, who has been the current Bruce Banner since the first Avengers film in 2012, and hasn’t gotten any other film so far, mostly due to the fact that the character’s rights belong to Universal.
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy. So far two film franchises that started in 2014 with the likes of Starlord, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora and Groot, five of Marvel’s most unknown characters, has become one of the most important parts of the MCU because it has further expanded the cosmic landscape and helped to present the main villain of the first 22 movies, Thanos (played by Josh Brolin).
  • Ant-Man. It started in 2015, as a way to end the second phase of the MCU, with Paul Rudd playing rehabilitated thief Scott Lang, who takes the mantle of Ant-Man from scientific Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). He would go on to have a sequel in 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
  • Doctor Strange. Much like a few other cases on this list, it only has one movie so far, but is poised to have others in the upcoming years. Released in 2016, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a narcissist who finds a new role in his life as the Sorcerer of the Mystic Arts and guardian of the Time Stone, which is strongly related to the overarching plot of the MCU.
  • Spider-Man. Even though the character belongs to Sony, he was borrowed to Disney for the MCU and was recast as Tom Holland. Spider-Man already had a movie in 2017, Homecoming, and in a few months he’s going to have a sequel, Far From Home.
  • Black Panther. The first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to win an Oscar, Black Panther deals with the title character’s struggle to rise to power in the futuristic African city of Wakanda and all the different challenges that come with it.
  • Captain Marvel. The latest series to be part of this shared universe and released in 2019, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is an air force pilot that is captured by the alien race known as the Kree and she is brainwashed and genetically manipulated to fight by their site, but she would recover her memories and decide her own destiny.

All of these MCU films are connected and they often conclude in multiple Avengers movies, such as the first one (2012), Age of Ultron (2015), Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019).

As always, for more on the MCU, visit our MCU timeline.

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