Ranking each Phase 1 film by its importance to the franchise’s overarching story

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2008 to the end of Phase 4 with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever🇧🇷 As the franchise enters another era, it continues to grow to Avengers: Secret Warsthe final culmination of the ongoing Multiverse Saga.

In its early years, Marvel used six projects to build the foundation of its universe, with that four-year period being dubbed Phase 1. Each of these films built important characters, locations, and storylines that would come into play at later dates. However, certain projects within Phase 1 proved to be more important to the MCU’s overarching story as it developed into not only the formation of the Avengers, but the ensuing battle with Thanos.

6/6 The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Hulk destroying a car in The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The incredible Hulk is the second film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, marking the only appearance of Edward Norton’s titular superhero before being recast with Mark Ruffalo for the character’s subsequent appearances. The film was released just a month later Iron Manalthough it scored much lower box office numbers, resulting in Marvel Studios’ failure to greenlight any sequel, which would also require Universal Studios’ involvement.

In addition to the Hulk’s appearance in future MCU projects, The incredible Hulk contributed very little to the overall story of the franchise. Until very recently, its supporting cast was completely overlooked by the franchise, leaving audiences wondering if the film was even canon. While many fans have seen this Hulk movie for the last few years, it also remains one of the weaker installments of Phase 1. However, with the resurgence of characters like General Ross and Emil Blonsky, as well as the return of Tim Blake Samuel Nelson’s Sterns in Captain America: New World Orderthe importance of The incredible Hulk continues to grow.

5/6 Iron Man (2008)

Tony Stark Reveals He's Iron Man at Iron Man Press Conference

As the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man introduced the world to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, a portrayal that would quickly become iconic not only to Marvel fans, but in movie history as well. The film, while smaller in scale when compared to its many successors, remains one of the most highly regarded films in the entire franchise.

While this Jon Favreau-directed movie does a lot of the legwork to set up the MCU, it more importantly stands on its own by focusing on being a good standalone movie first and foremost. Instead of working to create multiple story threads, Iron Man is heartfelt and impactful, making the audience invested in its isolated story. It’s really only in the now-iconic post-credits scene that the film starts to create a larger universe.

4/6 Iron Man 2 (2010)

Natasha Romanoff poses as a black widow in Iron Man 2

Iron man 2 is the long-awaited successor to the original 2008 film, which was the surprise hit of the year after its release. The film continues the story of Tony Stark, this time pitting the superhero against Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash, a villain many Marvel fans have chosen to forget. While many of the same creative voices from the original film were present in this sequel, including director Jon Favreau, it received somewhat lukewarm reviews upon its release.

The film’s main criticism is that it’s trying to do too much in the fabrication of a larger universe. not only Iron man 2 continues Tony’s journey, but is also forced to introduce Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and James Rhodes’ War Machine superhero alter ego, all overshadowed by a background Avengers subplot and a post-credits scene that sets up the arrival of Thor. Ironically, much of the film’s notorious franchise building was undone or developed into other films, making Iron man 2 surprisingly unimportant to the larger MCU.

3/6 Thor (2011)


Thor it took a major departure from Marvel’s previous three films, eschewing their grounded sensibilities in favor of a lofty realm of Asgardian gods, including Chris Hemsworth’s eponymous character. Despite mixed reviews upon its release, Thor it’s not a bad movie by any means, introducing audiences to an entirely new dimension of the MCU. The film was followed by three sequels, marking the first solo franchise within the MCU to reach four installments.

In addition to the introduction of Thor himself, this 2011 film also includes several characters that would be key to future installments in the franchise. The most notable of these is Loki, who became a standout player in both the Infinity and Multiverse sagas, not to mention the first villain the Avengers ever fought. Furthermore, the introduction of Asgard proves to be an important stepping stone to the cosmic side of the MCU, a dimension of the franchise that would be further developed in future projects such as eternal and the wonders🇧🇷 While perhaps ahead of its time for the MCU, Thor however, it gave audiences a taste of the supernatural events that would unfold in future phases of the franchise, moving away from reality and embracing Marvel’s fantastical world.

2/6 Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Steve Rogers and Nick Fury in Times Square at the end of Captain America The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger is a superhero film disguised as a period piece depicting the events of World War II. Audiences follow Chris Evans in the eponymous role as a wiry Steve Rogers becomes the symbol of his nation’s fight against the Nazis. The film served as an immediate precursor to the culmination of Phase 1, establishing the formation of the Avengers.

In addition to kicking off one of the richest character arcs in the MCU, the first avenger also put a lot of effort into establishing the lineup of Marvel’s superteam. From the title to the ending and the post-credit scene, everything about this film is made to set up The Avengers🇧🇷 Additionally, Captain America’s debut also features the introduction of the MCU’s first Infinity Stone, the Tesseract, which would become vital to the franchise’s history as the Infinity Saga begins to unfold.

1/6 The Avengers (2012)

Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor and Black Widow corner Loki with Hawkeye aiming his arrow in The Avengers

The Avengers was the culmination of the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film brought together the events of the franchise’s five previous installments, uniting Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye on screen for the first – and far from the last – time. The film was truly made for history, becoming a worldwide hit that truly kickstarted the golden years of the MCU.

The first Avengers film is key to understanding the full scope of the MCU. Not only does it feature the lineup of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but it also sets up the entire Infinity Saga, featuring the Mad Titan Thanos in its mid-credits scene. Everything revolves around that first team of superheroes, which changed the scope of Marvel Studios and the movie industry itself.

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