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Overall, it’s a pretty great time to be a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 and Spider-Man Homecoming show how there is still fresh life in the Marvel formula, and every new movie brings us closer to Avengers: Infinity War, which looks like it will be the greatest Marvel crossover movie ever seen on screen.
To top it off, Marvel is dominating on the small screen as well, with killer Netflix shows like TheDefenders and Jessica Jones and buzzworthy future shows on other networks such as Runaways and New Warriors, bringing fan excitement to an all-time high.
Because of all of this Marvel goodness that we have now and that is coming out in the future, it’s easy to overlook how many awesome Marvel movies have come out already and that you’ve missed. From animated hits to live-action extravaganzas to award-winning short films that were hidden as DVD extras, there is an entire world of Marvel that you’ve likely never seen.
Some fans of Marvel imagine the MCU as a kind of dividing line in which Marvel movies made before then were terrible and those made in the MCU are great. However, things are not quite that simple, and there is no movie that better illustrates this point than Blade.
This is a movie that came out two years before the first X-Men movie and four years before the first Spider-Man movie, so it didn’t have the benefit of learning from those movies’ mistakes. Nonetheless, Blade is the stuff that classic (or at least, cult classic) movies are made of.
The inimitable Wesley Snipes plays the title role, introducing us to a dark and bloody version of the traditional Marvel hero. The movie infused gothic sensibilities with vampire myths and a rousing soundtrack. The film was successful enough to spawn two sequels (including one starring future Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds), but many younger fans have never checked this movie out.
14. THE PUNISHER
There’s no other way to say it: Jon Bernthal makes for an amazing Punisher. His appearance in the second Daredevilseason was a true highlight, and it’s understandable that fans are looking forward to his solo series. However, the success of Bernthal means that many people overlook the standalone ThePunisher movie starring Thomas Jane. Which is a shame, because this movie is actually very solid!
Jane himself gives a captivating and intimidating performance, which is helped by the fact that the story loosely adapts one of the most famous Punisher stories, “Welcome Back Frank”, giving Jane many colorful characters to bounce off of. John Travolta plays a villain more engaging than most in the MCU, and the movie boasts some entertaining surprise cameos that range from Rebecca Romijn to Kevin Nash.
There would have been an entire series of these movies if Jane hadn’t backed away, so if nothing else, this movie is a wild glimpse of the world that could have been.
13. THE WOLVERINE
The solo Wolverine movies are enjoying a bit of goodwill now thanks to how damn good Logan was. That movie was both brutal and brutally honest, and it delivered an emotional arc for the title character while introducing new characters such as X-23 and wisely using returning characters such as Professor X.
The movie is so good that people tend to forget how terrible the first Wolverine movie was (the one where Deadpool had his mouth taped shut and Gambit could basically hover by twirling his staff). That first Wolverine movie was so bad that many people overlooked its surprisingly awesome sequel, The Wolverine.
This is the middle child in the Wolverine movie trilogy, and it’s easy to miss due to its confusing name (many people referred to Wolverine: Origins simply as “the Wolverine movie,” so calling the sequel The Wolverine furthered confusion).
However, the movie provides awesome backstory about Wolverine’s previous adventures in Japan, and has a strong emotional undercurrent as we see him struggle with the death of Jean Grey. Finally, the unrated version of the movie is filled with bloody violence and profanity, making it a nice preview of what Logan would eventually be.
12. ITEM 47
One of the habits that Marvel sadly got out of was making mini-movies that served as special features when they released their big MCU movies on DVD and Blu-Ray. On a good day, these movies complemented the MCU while focusing on unexpected characters. This is the case with Item 47, a movie in which two people find alien weaponry from the first Avengers movie and use it to rob banks. They are eventually stopped by S.H.I.E.L.D., who unexpectedly offer them a job instead of killing them outright.
The short movie has a lot going for it. There are fun cameos from more familiar characters such as Sitwell and Coulson. The new characters are fun and engaging, too, particularly Claire, who is played by future Masters of Sexstar Lizzie Caplan.
Finally, the movie is worth watching because it is such a major part of MCU history: Disney only agreed to create the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show because Item 47 showed that awesome MCU stories could be told onscreen with a smaller budget.
The Daredevil movie is another film with a somewhat troubled reputation. Even when it premiered, fans weren’t entirely sure what to make of things like major character changes (such as a very murderous Daredevil). The casting also left people scratching their heads, with many having trouble seeing pretty boy Ben Affleck as an action hero. And, of course, the runaway success of the MCU Daredevil series means people are less likely than ever to check the movie out.
However, there is a lot to love in this movie. While some were skeptical of Affleck as a superhero, he is now headlining blockbuster movies as Batman, so it’s worth revisiting his first attempt at becoming a masked vigilante. Other performances also stand out, including an intense Colin Farrell as Bullseye and the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan as The Kingpin.
It’s a fun look at the pre-MCU version of this universe, and this movie lays the groundwork for a lot of future MCU storytelling and world-building.
10. ALL HAIL THE KING
While the MCU is full of controversial moments, none may be as controversial as The Mandarin reveal in Iron Man 3.
In Marvel comics, the Mandarin has untold powers due to the ten magical rings that he possesses. In this movie, Iron Man tracks down and confronts “The Mandarin,” who turns out to be a drunken, foolish actor named Trevor. Understandably, hardcore Marvel fans were shocked at such a major change to the character.
To some degree, the All Hail the King short movie seeks to redeem this plot twist. It shows Trevor in Seagate prison, the once and future home of Luke Cage, and he runs into familiar faces such as Justin Hammer. The most interesting reveal from the movie, though, is that there is an actual Mandarin out there, and he is involved with the Ten Rings terrorists that we first see in Iron Man.
This movie is worth it for both the fun cameos and entertaining performances, and it tweaks MCU mythology just enough to try to make Mandarin fans a bit happier.
9. AVENGERS CONFIDENTIAL: BLACK WIDOW & PUNISHER
Marvel fans have been drooling over the onscreen portrayal of Black Widow since Iron Man 2. More recently, fans have learned to love the MCU Punisher as a kind of dark, ultra-violent counterpoint to more pure-hearted heroes such as Daredevil and Luke Cage. Unfortunately, the MCU movie and TV divide makes it unlikely we will ever these two team up together. However, in one Marvel movie, their animated versions have already done so!
Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher is a cartoon movie where Punisher messes up a S.H.I.E.L.D. operation. Nick Fury then partners him with a reluctant Black Widow for a dangerous mission to fight terrorists that have become a global threat.
The movie is enjoyable primarily because of the differences between our two characters, and these differences include everything from how they act to how they fight. In its own way, this movie infuses Marvel sensibilities with the rich ’80s tradition of mismatched partners, a la Lethal Weapon, and that alone is worth a view!
8. AGENT CARTER
As a character, Peggy Carter was a runaway hit after her first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger. She would eventually be given her own show, and despite it lasting only two seasons, it put fans of Agent Carter over the moon. However, that show would never have occurred without the production and success of the little-seen Agent Carter short film.
Like other MCU short films, it was released as a special feature. Unlike the other MCU short films, though, it was very heavy on action sequences and effects, with the production showing the great care and attention to detail that went into making it.
All of that attention paid off: the movie ended up winning awards such as The Golden Reel Award, and the quality of both its production and its actors led to Disney ordering an Agent Carter TV series. And while the movie doesn’t perfectly gel with the timeline of the series, it’s easy to enjoy more of Agent Carter kicking butt and taking names.
7. PLANET HULK
The MCU Incedible Hulk movie was a disappointment compared to the first Iron Man. However, when Hulk came back (and now played by Mark Ruffalo) in The Avengers, he was a huge hit, and fans started clamoring for a standalone Hulk film.
In particular, many fans hoped to see a live-action Planet Hulk film that adapted the original story (which involved Hulk having crazy sci-fi barbarian adventures after being forcibly sent to another planet). However, Mark Ruffalo has clarified that ongoing rights issues with Universal means we’ll never see any standalone MCU Hulk movie.
That doesn’t mean you’ll never get your Planet Hulk movie, though. In fact, it’s already out! An animated Planet Hulkcame out in 2010, and while it made some changes to the source material, much of the movie is very faithful to the original story.
This is a movie that gives fans what they want: there is no Bruce Banner at all, just a Hulk angry enough to take on an entire planet. If that’s not enough, the movie is filled with fun cameos that range from Beta Ray Bill to Star-Lord! Overall, there’s enough here for hardcore Marvel fans and hardcore action movie fans alike.
6. FANTASTIC FOUR (CORMAN)
The Fantastic Four movie made (but never publicly released) by Roger Corman has something of a reputation. This is because it’s a bit of an open secret that the movie was made simply to keep the Fantastic Four film rights, essentially making this a slapdash effort to keep those rights by producing a cheap movie that no one intended anyone to ever see. Here’s the thing, though: it’s actually pretty good!
The big-budget Fantastic Four movies that we eventually got were all a disappointment in their own, unique ways. Compared to them, the campy earnestness of Roger Corman’s vision is quite engaging. Corman seemed to understand the importance of the Fantastic Four family dynamic more than other creators. He also knew how to creatively stretch his money: arguably, his simple versions of characters like The Thing and Doctor Doom look as good (if not better) than the CGI-powered versions we would later get.
Despite never being publicly released, this movie found its way onto the internet, and it’s definitely worth a viewing for any Marvel fan!
5. THOR: TALES OF ASGARD
Fans of the character of Thor look on his first two movies as something of a mixed bag. While Chris Hemsworth gives a great performance as Thor and Tom Hiddleston shines as Loki, we get very little development of Thor’s world. Instead, much like Thor himself, we are thrown into an alien world with little understanding or context. However, the movie Thor: Tales of Asgard seeks to change all of that.
This overlooked, animated movie is a kind of Thor prequel. It shines a light on Thor’s life before the famous hammer and how his relationship with his brother developed. We get lots of great info on Asgard, Odin, and the Frost Giants that is abbreviated or simply overlooked in the live-action Thor movies.
While some may not like the similarities to the live-action Thor movies, the truth is that this movie retains all of the strengths of those movies while retaining almost none of the weaknesses.
4. HULK VS.
For all of the charm that both Ed Norton and Mark Ruffalo bring to the role of Bruce Banner, Hulk’s appearances in the first two Avengers movies made one thing abundantly clear: what fans really want is to see Hulk smash the people who get in his way. In the little-seen animated movie Hulk Vs., fans get a double dose of what they want most, with two separate movies that respectively portray Hulk fighting Wolverine and Thor.
Admittedly, the movies are on the simple side: Hulk vs. Wolverine has a flimsy plot in which Wolverine is sent to track and kill Hulk, but soon, both must face the Weapon X program. And in Hulk vs. Thor, Loki simply uses Hulk as a pawn to cause chaos and destruction for Thor and the other gods.
What these movies lack in plot they make up for with all-out action, all while providing tight narratives and interesting background info on the heroes Hulk fights.
3. NICK FURY: AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
When you think about a live-action Nick Fury, it’s almost impossible to not think of Samuel L. Jackson. The veteran actor has managed to truly make the role his own, and he’s used his unique blend of gravitas and intensity to really anchor the MCU. However, before anyone thought of Jackson for the role, there was an entire Nick Fury movie in which the role was played by the OTHER man Star-Lord called his daddy…David Hasselhoff!
Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. features Fury alongside characters like Dum Dum Dugan, and he’s fighting against evil forces led by characters such as Viper. The movie is entertaining for being basically a James Bond movie shot through a Marvel filter, and in some ways, it even predicts the MCU (with things like a modernized Hydra army that looks more like businessmen than green-clad henchmen).
If you like a bit of retro with your Marvel, it’s hard to go wrong with this cheesy classic, if only to say you’ve seen it!
2. ULTIMATE AVENGERS
The Ultimates is a comic that has unmistakably shaped the modern MCU. The comic was a kind of alternate universe reboot intended to make Avengers feel modern and accessible to new readers, and it gave us new versions of familiar characters that are still headlining MCU movies. It’s no surprise that such an influential comic would eventually get its own movie, and the Ultimate Avengers movie does not disappoint.
To some degree, the movie focuses on simply building the team, showing how Nick Fury is willing to bribe, threaten, and cajole everyone he needs to join his team. This alone is pretty fun, like a look at what he is doing in-between MCU movies trying to recruit people.
The movie also shows a pretty awesome clash between Avengers and aliens, but culminates with a surprise fight between an out-of-control Hulk and our heroes. Ultimately, this movie takes many of the Marvel elements fans like best and manages to create something exciting and new.
1. CAPTAIN AMERICA SERIAL
In the MCU, we see how Captain America participated in serial films to represent America’s efforts in World War II. While it’s fun to see Steve Rogers participating in such films and then reminiscing about them later, many fans do not know that they are based on some real-life history. Specifically, Captain America serial movies that came out in 1944. These movies were loud and flashy, and they have the distinction of being the first movies ever made based on a Marvel character… before it was even called Marvel!
The movies feature a number of departures from the comic, but they are surprisingly faithful to the spirit of Captain America, showing him as a man driven to protect his country even as he gets caught up in a wide variety of strange, globe-trotting adventures.
If not for the success of the live-action serial, Captain America may never have been able to be revived in the 1960s to become an Avenger, nor become a vital part of the MCU. That makes this hard-to-find serial a must-see for any Cap fan.