It has infected every bit of pop culture in the last thirteen years, and there is no end in sight to its continued domination. After twenty-four films, several tv series, and a plethora of video game and merchandising tie-ins, the movies with Marvel superheroes seem to be the one thing that everyone in the world agrees on.
Even if you’ve never seen one of them, you have to obviously be aware of them, as each new film is promoted in a way that if you turn on a screen or buy something from a grocery store, you will see Iron Man or the Incredible Hulk.
However, with twenty-four films and counting, it can seem quite daunting to jump in and understand what all the fuss is about. Even if you have an open mind, you still might not have the slightest idea of what is going on.
This is especially true if you start to consider a favourite actor and want to seek out the movie that they appear in (Marvel has brought so much critical and commercial acclaim to superhero movies in general that British theatre actors have no problem putting on plenty of makeup in front of a green screen).
So with that in mind, here are the five films to watch from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the MCU) if you only have time for that exact amount.
Iron Man (2008)
The movie that started it all, with Robert Downey Jr. playing billionaire arms manufacturer playboy Tony Stark (who would be just as comfortable holding onto rocket launchers as with Toronto escorts). Of course, getting captured by terrorists and barely escaping with his life changes a man, and Stark decides to become a force for good, by designing a super-powerful suit just for himself so in disguise, he can help the people who need it the most. Yet because a cocky Downey Jr. is an entertaining one, he doesn’t change that much, and is happy to announce at a press conference that ‘I am Iron Man’.
The success of this film meant that the first phase of executive producer Kevin Feige could officially begin, and several other films involving Marvel characters were put into production. The film also began the cameo drops of characters that will soon play larger roles, as Samuel L. Jackson appears briefly as Nick Fury.
The Avengers (2012)
The first ensemble film of the MCU, because by this point the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America had starred in their own films (and Black Widow played a large role in Iron Man 2). Costing over $200 million to make, a lot was riding on its success, and it did just that, bringing in $1.5 billion in box office receipts. While much of this can be credited to writer-director Joss Whedon overseeing a massive cast and crew while telling a compelling (if obvious) story of how people have to set aside their differences and work together, it can be explained much easier with one word: Loki.
There is always the challenge of having the villain just as interesting as the hero (or heroes), because the more charming and terrifying the bad guy is, the more believable his evil plan is, and the more excited the audience is at watching The Avengers take him down. Loki is a demi-god from the Thor franchise (and is in fact Thor’s brother, which adds a nice familial strain), and is played with devilish glee by Tom Hiddleston.
Unfortunately, the MCU seemed to forget this trick for the following Avengers film, where the bad guy is just a plain-speaking super-robot (the sort of voice you would expect to hear in a hookup forum).
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
For decades in the world of comic books, The Avengers was seen as the lesser version of DC’s comic Justice League, since that one had Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman amongst its members. With The Avengers reaching massive success, the MCU decided to try the same trick with a bunch of lesser-known space-faring characters, bringing one human, a few green-ish humanoid aliens, a tree creature, and a raccoon together to create Guardians of the Galaxy.
While watching The Avengers you would obviously recognize Thor or the Hulk even if you didn’t watch the standalone movie that preceded it. With this particular film, writer-director James Gunn did an amazing job at quickly giving heartfelt backstories to all of these oddball characters so you would cheer them on as they save the cosmos.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
While not quite an Avengers-level reunion, there are plenty of big-name heroes in this one beyond Captain America. What sets this one apart, however, is that the rifts and disagreements get beyond just snappy one-liners, and they start throwing fists and laser beams at each other. It’s quite exciting to see Spiderman tangle against Black Widow at a German airport. It is a bit frustrating, however, to see just how darn clever these villains are at both hacking and identity impersonation.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
That’s right, we’re not including the one that wraps up this cliffhanger ending, but if you aren’t sure if the good guys win in the end, then it doesn’t seem like you’ve been paying attention. This three-hour setup is much more interesting, anyway, as once again having a great villain named Thanos (played by James Brolin) makes all the difference. He is not only all-powerful, but his drive and determination are why audiences couldn’t take their eyes off him and would have to wonder for a whole year how we would ultimately be defeated.
Tying together storylines from previous films and across several different planets is no easy feat, and Infinity War was wildly successful, bringing in over $2 billion in ticket sales.