The Ultimate Guide to Marvel Comics Movies, In and Out of the MCU

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BY September 2, 2019

Since 2002, not a year went by that didn’t see at least two Marvel Comics movies in theaters. Despite being the last of the two major superhero comics publishers to break through in Hollywood, they’ve become the predominant house of superheroes on film. In fact, until Disney purchased Fox in 2019, three separate studios made movies based on Marvel Comics characters. Fox owned the rights to both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Sony still has rights to Spider-Man and his related characters, despite “sharing” the character with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Finally, Marvel Studios built their own shared universe of characters and now exists as the dominant pop culture phenomenon in entertainment. Yet, all this doesn’t even factor in all the other Marvel Comics movies that happened before the 21st century. For casual fans, it’s tough to keep it all straight. That’s where this guide comes in.

Maybe you want your knowledge of these films to shine among your nerd friends or just want to know which ones are worth your time. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, our complete guide to Marvel Comics movies will make you a more-informed fan. So wide-ranging is the scope of the House of Ideas, there are films you’ve seen that you probably don’t even realize come from Marvel. Of course, some folks who skipped the comics may not even know the difference between Daredevil and Batman. To understand what makes the movies so powerful, you have to understand what makes Marvel Comics so powerful.

Marvel Comics v. DC Comics: What’s the Difference Between the Two Titans?

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image by Marcelo Silk Screen via Flickr

Both Marvel and DC Comics started out as different companies. For example, Marvel started out life as Timely Comics and Marvel Comics was the title of one of their books. Similarly, “DC Comics” is redundant, because “DC” stands for “Detective Comics.” This title featured the premiere of the Batman character when the company went by the name National Comics. It can all get very confusing. Starting around the 1960s, however, Marvel Comics and DC became the preeminent publisher of superhero stories. DC did it for longer, and the comics industry as a whole started to decline in the 1960s. Fearing the company would soon fire him, a writer at Marvel named Stanley Lieber took a shot to tell the sort of stories he wanted to tell. The result of this collaboration with artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko didn’t just change the industry, it changed the world.

DC features characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Shazam, and, of course, Batman. Their stories range from unbelievably silly in the 1960s and 1970s to gritty, dark tales in the 1980s and beyond. Marvel Comics, however, took a different approach. Lieber, who we all know now as Stan Lee, grounded his characters by giving them relatable, real-world problems. The Fantastic Four fought aliens, but they also struggled with family drama. Spider-Man was a high school kid who fought crime while dealing with bullies, being poor, and not breaking curfew. Also, Marvel Comics dealt with social issues in their stories, most notably the bigotry allegory found in the X-Men books.

How Stan Lee Earned All Those Comic Book Movie Cameos

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Stan Lee didn’t just dream up most of these characters with his collaborators. Marvel’s success was such that soon they needed many other writers and artists to fill the demand. Still, Stan Lee remained integral to Marvel Comics success. After he stopped working on stories for the books, he became an ambassador for Marvel out in Hollywood. He helped sell television series based on their characters in the 1970s, both live-action and animated. A generation of kids grew up listening to his distinct voice introducing each episode of Spider-Man and other cartoons. Still, not many people knew what Stan Lee looked like until Kevin Smith put him in his 1995 movie Mallrats. Stan Lee loved the movies, so when he got the chance to play himself, he jumped at it.

In fact, this love of movies inspired him to appear in a silent cameo in 2000’s X-Men film, despite him suing Marvel at the time. A good luck charm for Marvel Comics movies, Stan Lee appeared in most that followed. While these cameos are a nod to his role in kicking off the Marvel universe, it’s also appropriate.

For the longest time, Stan Lee served as the champion for comic books. He argued that they weren’t just funny books for kids, but morality tales that drew on millennia of mythic tradition. Gregarious, positive, and charming, Stan Lee’s role in the culture was to tell people that comic books were cool. In the fall of 2018, Stan Lee passed away just shy of his 95th birthday. For more than 50 years, Stan Lee’s life became defined by these characters and stories. It’s only right that he’s immortalized with them on-screen and in the pages of the comics themselves.

List of Films Based on Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics Movies guide Image by Pop Culture Geek via WIkimedia Commons

At the time of this writing, there have been 66 movies based on Marvel Comics characters. Some of them are little-known characters from books published by little-known Marvel imprints. This guide would run well over 10,000 words if we broke down all the details for all of them. So, look for our forthcoming breakdown of these films. If you are curious about the best way to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe film, our comics editor put together a list detailing just that.

The Bronze Age: The First Marvel Characters on Film

Before Marvel Comics movies became the backbone of pop culture, superhero films were tough for studios to make. The flashy costumes and sci-fi concepts taxed the limits of what directors and special effects experts could do. Still, these stories are so powerful, they just had to try.

  • 1944: Captain America
  • 1986: Howard the Duck
  • 1989: The Punisher
  • 1990: Captain America
  • 1994: The Fantastic Four
  • 1997: Men In Black (Malibu Comics)
    • Sequels
      • Men In Black 2, 2002
      • Men In Black 2, 2012
      • Men In Black International, 2019
  • 1998: Blade
    • Sequels
      • Blade 2, 2002
      • Blade Trinity, 2004

The Silver Age: The Age of Heroes Dawns on Movie Screens

With the dawn of the modern superhero film, special effects finally caught up to the dreams of comics creators. However, not all of the Marvel Comics movies were known for excellence. Some of them ended up panned by both critics and, more importantly, fans.

  • 2000: X-Men
    • Sequels
      • X2: X-Men United, 2002
      • X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006
  • 2002: Spider-Man
    • Sequels
      • Spider-Man 2, 2004
      • Spider-Man 3, 2007
  • 2003: Daredevil
  • 2003: Hulk
  • 2004: The Punisher
  • 2005: Elektra
  • 2005: The Fantastic Four
    • Sequel
      • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007
  • 2007: Ghost Rider
    • Sequel
      • Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, 2011
  • 2008: Punisher War Zone

The Golden Age: The Marvel Cinematic Universe

When Marvel Studios launched their inter-connected universe, people were skeptical. After the failures of the third X-Men and Spider-Man films, along with both Fantastic Four movies, some thought Marvel Comics movies were no longer profitable. Today, the MCU is the biggest pop culture phenomenon that will have incredible longevity, because a generation grew up with these movies.

  • 2008: Iron Man
  • 2008: The Incredible Hulk
  • 2010: Iron Man 2
  • 2011: Thor
  • 2011: Captain America: The First Avenger
  • 2012: The Avengers
  • 2013: Iron Man 3
  • 2013: Thor: The Dark World
  • 2014: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy
  • 2015: Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • 2015: Ant-Man
  • 2016: Captain America: Civil War
  • 2016: Doctor Strange
  • 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • 2017: Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • 2017: Thor: Ragnarok
  • 2018: Black Panther
  • 2018: Avengers: Infinity War
  • 2018: Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • 2019: Captain Marvel
  • 2019: Avengers: Endgame
  • 2019: Spider-Man: Far From Home

The Golden Age: Non-MCU Marvel Comics Movies

Marvel Comics movies are so big, that other studios desperately wanted to replicate the MCU’s success. Others, like Sony and Fox, hoped to continue growing their successful Marvel Franchises. At the close of the 2010s, however, Fox and Marvel are both a part of Disney, and Sony “shares” the rights to Spider-Man (for now). Marvel Studios, effectively, brought all of their characters back “home.”

  • 2009: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • 2010: Kick-Ass (Icon Comics)
  • 2011: X-Men: First Class
  • 2012: The Amazing Spider-Man
  • 2013: The Wolverine
  • 2013: Kick-Ass 2 (Icon Comics)
  • 2014: X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • 2014: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • 2015: Kingsman: The Secret Service (Malibu Comics)
  • 2015: Fantastic Four
  • 2016: Deadpool
  • 2016: X-Men: Apocalypse
  • 2017: Logan
  • 2017: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Malibu Comics)
  • 2018: Venom
  • 2019: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Small-Screen Superheroes, Marvel Comics Movies Fit For TV

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Netflix

Before Marvel Comics movies dominated the box offices, these characters dominated a different kind of box: the “idiot box.” In the 1970s and 1980s, television viewers saw quite a lot of two iconic Marvel characters: The Hulk and Spider-Man. We’re not talking about cartoons, here. These are strictly live-action performances. First came Spidey Super Stories, a segment on the educational children’s show The Electric Company. When production on these ended, Spider-Man’s rights were sold to Columbia Pictures, eventually purchased by Sony, where they remain to this day. Their first Spidey project was a 15-episode series starring Nicholas Hammond as the wall-crawler. That same year, Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno played both sides of the Hulk. This series ran for five years, followed by five made-for-television films that included characters like Daredevil and Thor. Then, Marvel Comics characters would stay off TV for nearly 20 years.

In 2001, a first-run syndicated show called “Mutant X” debuted from Marvel Studios and Fireworks Entertainment, producing three seasons. Next came the television series based on the Blade films, which only ran for a single season. For ten more years, Marvel Comics live-action characters appeared only in movies and not television. But the MCU changed all that. First came Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD after 2012’s Avengers. Then we got two seasons of Agent Carter, starring Hayley Atwell, both shows on ABC. The same year that Agent Carter premiered, however, Daredevil showed up on Netflix. Rated TV-MA, the Marvel and Netflix shows had a darker tone. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron First joined ol’ hornhead, culminating in the Defenders event series. See below for the full list of Marvel television series.

List of Marvel Television Series

  • Spidey Super Stories
    • 1974 to 1977
    • Aired during The Electric Company on PBS
    • 29 “segments”
  • The Amazing Spider-Man
    • CBS Network
    • 1977 to 1979
    • 13 episodes and a TV movie.
  • The Incredible Hulk
    • 1977 to 1982
    • CBS Network
    • 80 episodes, five made-for-TV movies
  • Spider-Man
    • Toei Company
    • Tokyo Chanel 12
    • 41 Episodes and television film
  • Mutant X
    • 2001 to 2004
    • Marvel Studios and Fireworks Entertainment, syndicated
    • 66 episodes
  • Blade: The Series
    • 2006
    • 13 episodes, continuation of movie continuity
    • Spike TV
  • Agents of SHIELD
    • 2013 to 2020
    • ABC Network, first MCU-connected series
    • 136 episodes
  • Daredevil
    • 2015 to 2018
    • Netflix
    • 39 episodes
  • Jessica Jones
    • 2015 to 2019
    • Netflix
    • 39 episodes
  • Luke Cage
    • 2016 to 2018
    • Netflix
    • 26 episodes
  • Iron Fist
    • 2017 to 2018
    • Netflix
    • 23 episodes
  • The Defenders
    • 2017
    • Netflix, MCU crossover of all their characters
    • Eight episodes
  • Legion
    • 2017 to 2019
    • FX
    • 27 episodes
  • Inhumans
    • 2017
    • ABC
    • Eight episodes
  • The Gifted
    • 2017 to 2019
    • Fox
    • 29 Episodes
  • The Punisher
    • 2017 to 2019
    • Netflix
    • 26 Episodes
  • Runaways
  • Cloak and Dagger
    • 2017 to present
    • Freeform
    • 20 episodes, at the time of this writing.

Marvel Comic Movies They’ll Never Be Allowed to Make

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Comics

After making billions for Disney, Marvel Studios likely maintains a lot of creative freedom when picking projects. However, due to insensitive topics, the limits of special effects, or complicated rights issues, some Marvel Comics movies will never win their approval. Some stories are just hopelessly dated. In the Punisher’s solo comic, Frank Castle receives plastic surgery. Thanks to some sci-fi magic, he passes as a black man. He moves to Chicago, teams up with Luke Cage, and so on. It’s a ham-fisted attempt at telling a racially progressive story, and one that ultimately fails in its execution. Also, as a serial murderer, the Punisher is not the best vehicle for this sort of story. Series like Marvel Zombies, Old Man Logan, or other dark alternate-future tales don’t match Disney’s vision. The MCU represents hope and joyfulness, so it will be a long time before they go dark.

Other problems exist with realizing some of their stranger characters, like M.O.D.O.K. or Mojo, an X-Men foe. These characters would need such a drastic redesign to fit in a realistic, grounded world, it’s likely not worth the effort. That’s why M.O.D.O.K. ends up relegated to Marvel Television’s animation series on Hulu. Some characters, like Hulk, She-Hulk, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner, belong to other studios. Marvel Studios can make a Hulk film, but Universal gets to distribute it. They can use the character in movies he’s not headlining, but never a solo feature. There is a chance, however, these characters may get Disney+ series, because television/streaming rights are different.

Upcoming Marvel Comics Movies and Disney+ Series

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Twitter

After more than a dozen television series and sixty film, Marvel Comics movies are continuing to roll out of Hollywood. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige promised that future films are in development for mutant characters and the Fantastic Four. James Gunn will be working on a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie, after he finishes DC’s Suicide Squad. And there are at least two more Tom Holland Spider-Man movies coming, though whether he will continue to be a part of the MCU remains to be seen at the time of this writing. Still, here’s what we know about upcoming Marvel Comics movies both from the MCU and outside of it.

The King’s Man: February 14, 2020

Marvel Comics Guide Image via Fox

On Valentine’s Day, a prequel film starring Ralph Fiennes set in the Kingsman universe will debut. All we know about the film, directed by Matthew Vaughan from a script written by Karl Gajdusek, is that it’s a prequel to the formation of the spy agency. The film has a vague early 1900s setting, and “history’s worst tyrants” will try to take over the world.

The New Mutants: 2020 or Maybe Never?

Marvel Comics Guide Image via Fox

Technically the last Fox-produced X-Men movie, the New Mutants is a horror-take on superpowers using characters from the comic of the same name. Directed by Josh Boone from a script he wrote with Knate Lee, the film reportedly needs reshoots that haven’t happened yet. Many believe that Disney, lacking faith in the Fox-produced X-movies, will not release the film. It stars Anna Taylor Joy, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, and Alice Braga. Still, it’s set for an April 3, 2020 release date at the time of this writing.

Black Widow: May 1, 2020

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

This film is another prequel, since Black Widow met her ultimate fate in Avengers: Endgame. Reportedly set during the time between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, this film takes Natasha back to her roots. (This is a pun, because I bet we see her dye her hair blond in this film.) Cate Shortland serves as the director, working from a script written by Jac Schaffer and Ned Benson. Along with Scarlett Johansson, the film stars David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, and Rachel Weisz, playing a former “Black Widow.”

Morbius: July 31, 2020

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Sony

Like Venom, this film will be based on a Marvel character related to Spider-Man, but will not feature the wallcrawler. Directed by Daniel Espinosa from a script by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, the film stars Jared Leto as the titular heroic vampire. Jared Harris, Adria Arjona, Tyrese Gibson, and Matt Smith round out the cast. Little else is known about the film’s plot.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: Fall 2020

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

This six-episode series from Malcolm Spellman will be the first MCU-connected show on Disney+. Similarly, instead of Marvel Television, this series will come from the same group at Marvel Studios who produced the films. Starring Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, the series purportedly will follow the aftermath of Steve Rogers passing Cap’s shield to Sam. The government, however, doesn’t want him to be the new Captain America. Emily VanCamp will return as Cap’s-maybe-niece Sharon Carter. Also, Daniel Brühl will reprise his role as Helmut Zemo, complete with purple mask from the comics.

Venom 2: October 2020

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Sony

All we really know about this surprise sequel is that Andy Serkis will direct, and both Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams are returning. Sony announced an untitled Marvel Comics movie for release during October 2020, seemingly a placeholder for this sequel. Yet, with the film still in development, it might premiere later.

The Eternals: November 9, 2020

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

Based on the extensive mythology of these Jack Kirby-created characters, The Eternals will play a large role in the future of the MCU. The film, directed by Chloé Zhao from a script by Matthew K. and Ryan Firpo, features a cavalcade of stars. Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Don Lee, Lia McHugh, Bryan Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, and Kumail Nanjiani will round out the cast.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: February 19, 2021

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi is a Marvel Comics character with a complex history, but one many fans wanted in the movies. Simu Liu will play the role of the titular character, a fun coincidence since he tweeted about wanting to play the character years earlier. Tony Leung Chiu-wai will play the Mandarin, a character most notably known as an Iron Man rogue but likely standing in as Shang-Chi’s evil father. Awkwafina rounds out all we know about the cast at the time of this writing. The film will be directed by Destin Daniel Cretton working from a script by David Callaham.

WandaVision: Spring 2021

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

Jac Schaeffer, co-writer on the Black Widow film, will serve as the showrunner for this series and wrote the pilot episode. Not only will Elizabeth Olsen reprise her role as the Scarlet Witch, but Paul Bettany’s Vision will also star. Monica Rambeau, who appeared in Captain Marvel as a child, will also play a role. With Vision dead in the MCU proper, some expect Bettany to appear as his character during a flashback. However, this series will serve as a prequel of sorts to the next Doctor Strange film, so it could involve the multiverse.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: May 7, 2021

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

Benedict Cumberbatch will return as Doctor Strange in a movie described as the first MCU “horror,” film. Director Scott Derrickson will work from a script he wrote with C. Robert Cargill. Along with Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor are all expected to reprise their roles. Elizabeth Olsen will also feature in the film as the Scarlet Witch. The Marvel character Nightmare will also appear, though no actor is yet attached to the role.

Loki: Spring 2021

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

This series starring Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was one of the first announced with the news about Disney+. Michael Waldron will serve as showrunner, and that’s really all we know. At San Diego Comic-Con, Kevin Feige revealed that the version of Loki the show will follow is the one from Avengers: Endgame. What some might consider a major plot hole was obviously a set-up for this series.

Fall 2021: Hawkeye

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

Officially announced during the Marvel Phase 4 panel at Comic-Con, this series doesn’t even have an official showrunner at the time of this writing. Jeremy Renner will return as Clint Barton in what will likely be his swan song. The premise of the show will borrow from the comics as it follows Barton training Kate Bishop to take up the mantle of Hawkeye.

November 5, 2021: Thor: Love and Thunder

Marvel Comics Movies Guide Image via Marvel Studios

Right before San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, news broke that Taika Waititi signed with Marvel to write and direct a fourth film in the Thor series. This marks the first time an MCU character earned a fourth solo film. Chris Hemsworth will return, along with Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. Also, we can assume Waititi’s Korg will also show up. Most interesting, however, is that Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster will return to the Thor universe, and will prove worthy enough to pick up (the pieces of?) Mjolnir. This story will likely draw from the comic book series where that version of Foster assumed the mantle of Thor. This film will end Phase 4 of the MCU.

Featured image via Ant-Man3001 via Flickr
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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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