Zeroes to superheroes: the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

In anticipation of this April's Avengers: Age of Ultron, we look at the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and where it’s going...

Phase I


Marvel’s Phase I kicked off in style with Iron Man (2008), a movie that also breathed new life into the career of Robert Downey Jr.

The Incredible Hulk (2008) followed, with Edward Norton replacing Eric Bana as the radioactively afflicted Bruce Banner, before Downey Jr returned, alongside Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) for Iron Man 2 (2010). 

Thor (2011) then introduced Chris Hemsworth’s golden-locked Norse superhero to the party before uber-patriot Captain America made his bow in The First Avenger (2011). 

Phase I of the big Marvel project came to its apotheosis with Avengers Assemble, and any fears that a movie bringing together all of Marvel’s cinematic front-benchers would feel over-mobbed were quickly dispelled by Joss Whedon’s wisecracking blockbuster. The movie is currently the third highest-grossing film of all time.

Phase II


Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black took the reins for Iron Man 3 (2013), giving the series a more adult makeover, while new director Alan Taylor took Thor to south-east London in The Dark World (2013).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) tooks it plot cues from the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s (even going as as to find a role for All The President’s Men’s Robert Redford as SHIELD boss man Alexander Pierce) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), despite being based on a little-known Marvel title, became the highest-grossing superhero film of the year. 

And in the coming months, Joss Whedon returns – alongside the velvet voiced James Spader as Ultron – in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) before Ant-Man makes his big screen debut, played by Joss Apatow regular Paul Rudd.

Phase III


In 2016, Captain America goes head to with Iron Man (and possibly Spider-Man) in Captain America: Civil War and Benedict Cumberbatch makes his debut as superhero neurosurgeon Dr Strange

2017 brings us Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and a return for Thor and Loki in Thor: Ragnarok, before Get On Up’s Chadwick Boseman takes on the role of Black Panther, the MCU’s first African-American superhero. 

Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 is set for 2018, along with Captain Marvel (the studio’s first super-**heroine** movie), while 2019 brings Inhumans before Phase III comes to a fittingly dramatic end with Avengers: Infinity War Part 2, after which nothing is known. Watch this space...

Avengers: Age of Ultron is released on 23rd April.