100 Essential Superhero Movies – The Marvel Cinematic Universe

I decided that I wanted to make a list of 100 superhero movies that I thought were the essentials, the ones that everyone needs to see at one point in time if they want to be a fully fledged superhero movie afficionado, and while I am having guest bloggers this month help me fill out the list, there are many much more obvious choices that were easy to make and I’m here to share some of those with you. Last time I took a look at the Superman movies, so I thought it was only fair to check out the other side of the spectrum and take a look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has just been growing and growing the past few years.

Iron Man

Iron Man

This movie kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang and is still often considered the best stand-alone movie in the MCU. With an odd choice in director with John Favreau, best known for his small indie comedy Swingers, and an odd choice in leading man who hadn’t been that big of a star in a while Robert Downey Jr. this surprised audiences with the combination of action, humor, and drama surrounding a guy who flies around in a suit of armor and shoots lasers out of his hands. This was a second, if not third tier superhero who is now almost as well known as Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man thanks in large part to this movie as well as the sequels. This also started the trend of having these movies be connected and teasing an upcoming movie that at this point was still 4 years and 5 movies away with Nick Fury casually mentioning the Avengers Initiative.

The Incredible Hulk

This is what many people consider to be the only halfway decent Hulk movie out there. It came out a few years after the much maligned Ang Lee Hulk and it was somewhere between a reboot and a sequel, it had an all new cast, it retold the origin story in a quick mention in the opening, and yet it still made a connection to the earlier movie having Bruce Banner still be in South America. This movie still had quite a few problems, with some disagreements between Edward Norton and the director, but it featured a much improved CGI Hulk, much more action, and yet another brief tie-in to the upcoming Marvel movies.



One of the things that I enjoy about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how it can spread out to many different sub-genres while still connecting everything into a single, shared universe. While Iron Man and the Hulk are both grounded on Earth and have a typical modern age superhero feel to them, Thor is something completely different with strong elements of sci-fi and fantasy while still tying things into Earth. They also picked another less-than-likely choice of directors in Kenneth Brannah who was best known for his experience with Shakespearean adaptations which resulted in some theatricality in the way that the Asgardians talked. It also introduced one of the most popular characters in the MCU with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Similar to Thor, this movie also brought a different aesthetic to the MCU with a period war movie, only with laser guns and masked super-Nazis aka Hydra who have recently made a resurgence in the 2nd Cap movie and the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Some people questions Chris Evans’s casting at first coming off of the fairly mediocre Fantastic Four movies where he played Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, but he ended up embodying this role nearly as much as Robert Downey Jr. did with Tony Stark. There were tons of great cast members, from Tommy Lee Jones, to Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, and Hayley Atwell as Steve Rogers’ possible love interest and completely capable fighter herself Peggy Carter who is getting her own TV series this upcoming season.


The Avengers

And all of these first few movies culminated in the big daddy of them all, the Avengers. Hailed by many as the greatest superhero movie of all time right alongside the Dark Knight only with much more fun. It’s the first real superhero team-up in a live action movie, and director Joss Whedon brought them together in the best way possible. It’s a comic book fanboy’s dream come to life, it’s a model that’s being aped by any other studio that has a claim to their own superhero property like Warner and DC, Sony and Spider-Man, and to a lesser extent since they’re a team to begin with, Fox’s X-Men. It’s still my favorite and I’m really looking forward to see what happens in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Iron Man 3

This is one of the more divisive films in this list, many people loved it as one of the best Iron Man movies, others hated it with the firebreathing and the Mandarin plot twist. It was the first post-Avengers Marvel movie and basically avoided any explanation as to why Tony Stark was at it alone in a world where there are other superheroes in his contact list. But aside from the nitpicks there’s still a lot of action, a lot of humor, and Robert Downey Jr. being the Tony Stark at his best. Even the addition of a kid into the mix doesn’t completely screw things up, and whatever you may think of the movie, seeing all those different Iron Man armors at the climactic end scene was pretty damn impressive.


Thor: The Dark World

This is the last Marvel movie on this list because I decided that I wasn’t going to include any movies from this year as the year isn’t over yet. I almost didn’t include it because it’s harder to tell exactly how it ties into the other phase 2 movies aside from the Aether which is one of the Infinity Gems which will come into play somewhere in a future movie possibly 10 more movies down the line. This movie ramped up the fantasy and sci-fi element from the first movie and helped shift Loki into a more sympathetic character who will obviously play a larger part later on down the line, and it was my favorite movie of 2013, it’s just a lot of fun.

What I left out

Honestly not much, many people would say that Marvel really hasn’t had a very big miss to date. I would easily include Captain America: The Winter Soldier if I were to adjust this list again next year, but I felt like I had to leave at least one movie off of the list and the choice was fairly easy with Iron Man 2. While I probably enjoyed it more than most, it’s widely considered to be the weakest Marvel movie, it’s the first sequel and feels more like a set up movie than a stand alone movie than any of the others. Disagree with me? Then contact me Bubbawheat@msn.com and offer to write your own defense of Iron Man 2 and I just may include it in this project to let the readers decide if it should be included or not. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.


About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 500 superhero and comic book movies in the past seven years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on May 10, 2014, in Blogs, Lists and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Most of these I definitely agree with including — the one questionable one is, of course, The Incredible Hulk. I honestly think that even though it’s a better Hulk movie than Ang Lee’s, it’s still pretty skippable.

    Downey as Iron Man may have been an odd choice considering his down turn in popularity at the time, but on another level it was perfect, and a casting that comic book fans had been calling for (and if I may toot my own horn a bit, it was one I called before Iron Man had even been announced as a film). Tony Stark is a super-rich playboy with substance abuse and ego problems… pretty much like RDJ. And he was even drawn in such a way that he bore a strong resemblance to RDJ… except this wasn’t the intentional likeness that Ultimate Marvel gave Nick Fury and Samuel L. Jackson. He was drawn to look that way, and had his alcoholism storyline well before anybody even knew who RDJ was, let alone before RDJ hit the skids. It was just perfect timing that by the time Marvel was ready to make an Iron Man film, RDJ was putting his life back together and had grown to the age that Tony Stark had been portrayed as for all those years.

    Chris Evans as Captain America was more of a surprise though. Fantastic Four (I can’t comment on the sequel) gave no impression that Evans would be a great superhero actor at all, let alone a great Cap. And yet he really fills the role well.

    • Yeah, they’ve really knocked it out of the park so far when it comes to casting, not even mentioning Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Chris Hemsworth’s Thor or Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson who started out as a fairly minor character but ended up tying things together in a great way and now leads his own TV series.

  1. Pingback: 100 Essential Superhero Movies | Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

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