The Marvel Cinematic Universe is half origin stories. At least until May 6, when Captain America: Civil War his theaters, and the superhero genre as a whole will be loaded with much more. There’s no thrill to origins when you know exactly how these characters end up, and plodding through every tease that needlessly explains bullshit is a bullshit chore.
But origins aren’t all bad. It can be fun when they explore a character’s mythology in novel ways and keeps the audience guessing, even when the ending is telegraphed. No one expected Captain America to die before The Avengers, but seeing him fight in a fantastical World War II sure was a blast.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand with Civil War, Doctor Strange and Daredevil Season 2 and Luke Cage on Netflix, here are some of the best origin movies from the House of Ideas.
It doesn’t matter that Blade and X-Men were the first Marvel movies; those felt more like generic action flicks than anything else. Their black-and-steel aesthetics felt emblematic of the late-90s zeitgeist. Not anything new.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is the film responsible for the success of superheroes today. The kooky visionary behind Evil Dead possessed the perfect sensibility for a red-and-blue teenage superhero in an era when moodier aesthetics prevailed. Peter Parker’s origins from soft teen to a wiser man with still much to learn cast the best mold for every superhero movie that followed.
Fantastic Four (2005)
Admittedly, this movie has few fans, but it’s starting to look better since the 2015 reboot avoided the 2005 film’s primary concern: Fun.
Starring Loan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, and the future Captain America himself, Chris Evans, Fantastic Four was and is still an enjoyable action movie if you’re in the right headspace. Unlike the Josh Trank reboot, this one played up the comedy that made the comics fun, which was about yuppies who became freaks, and then lived with that fact like a sitcom.
It was admirable Josh Trank tried to up the body horror aspects in his origin movie reboot, but ultimately he missed exactly who the Fantastic Four were in the first place.
Iron Man (2008)
Six years after Raimi re-molded the superhero origin, the genre definitely needed its own reboot. Enter Jon Favreau’s shockingly improv-heavy Iron Man, which was, itself, the origin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
although in hindsight Iron Man didn’t revolutionize the genre that much — nor does it actually hold up — it’s still pretty good. Downey Jr. carries the film with his unique brand of charisma, and perhaps he, in and of himself, proved this bold experiment could work. Just to see others interact with him was enough momentum to make 2012’s The Avengers.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Deviating from the previous examples is the introduction of Captain America into the MCU, whose noteworthy breakthrough wasn’t to modernize the star-spangled superhero reeking of kitsch.
Steve Rogers couldn’t very well have signed up for the campaigns in the Middle East; that would have been too on the nose. But Marvel stuck to Cap’s World War II roots, which allowed them to get fantastical with supernatural Nazis and avoid unsustainabe touchy stories. For a superhero about a specific era, Captain America: The First Avenger is pretty timeless, even five years later.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Mixing high-concept sci-fi and lo-fi aesthetics, James Gunn’s superhero space adventure plunged the MCU into the cosmic realm that, within two hours, turned a talking raccoon, a dumb tree, and a muscular Chris Pratt doing his best Han Solo into pop culture heroes.
Guardians of the Galaxy proved origins don’t have to be origins to everyone. Just get the band together and see how they rock out.
A “back to basics” for the origin genre, Ant-Man is reminiscent of Spider-Man. It’s just about a superhero, and that magically turns into a heist film.
When Ant-Man was released, it had been awhile since any Marvel movie was so simple; Thor and Captain America melded the genre with fantasy elements, while Guardians of the Galaxy was pretty much Marvel’s Star Wars. The less said about Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man the better.