For decades, Marvel fans were left with a patchwork of movies loosely adapted from the comic books, hoping that one day they would somehow connect, and could see all of these characters interact with one another. At first, this seemed impossible, until the MCU began to take off.
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These pre-MCU movies span from quirky to dark, and everything in between. A lot of them may not measure up to today’s standards, but they should still be recognized for the precursor superhero films they are, and they undoubtedly played a role in influencing where future Marvel films would go.
10) Fantastic Four
By its very nature, Fantastic Four is it tough property to adapt. The first family of Marvel Comics aren’t so much superheroes as they are explorers and adventurers, so it’s difficult finding a plot for them to follow that makes sense in a real-world setting.
That was where a lot of the Fantastic Four film struggled. It couldn’t find the right tone and sequence of events to make the movie engaging. Even still, it featured some great effects and an interesting take on the megalomaniacal Dr. Doom.
9) Daredevil: Director’s Cut
Originally, Ben Affleck’s Daredevil was criticized by fans for many different reasons. It wasn’t until the release of the Director’s Cut that fans got to see some much needed changes to the story that made it much darker than it originally was.
While there is much to poke fun of, there is still a lot to like about the movie. Colin Farrell does an over-the-top job as Bullseye, and Ben Affleck was a decent, brooding Matt Murdock. The Netflix show is obviously far better, but this was still an admirable early effort at adapting the character at the time.
8) X-Men: First Class
Fox’s X-Men franchise lasted far longer than it should have. This movie had a large role in that as it’s essentially provided a whole new opportunity to keep it going with a brand new cast of characters.
It was a brilliant move to essentially restart the X-Men franchise, while at the same time keeping it going. Fans got to see how Magneto and Professor X met, as well as their eventual separation. Plus, the inclusion of several more new mutants made for a very entertaining story, even if it would derail with future installments.
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7) X-Men 2
At a time when superhero sequels were still a fairly new phenomenon, hopes were high for X-Men 2. They would eventually get mauled by X-Men 3, but the second installment delivered on its promise to up the action and drama of the original.
This also doesn’t take into account one of the best opening scenes from any superhero film ever, when Nightcrawler assaulted the White House and very nearly killed the President. Add in some foreshadowing of the Phoenix Force, and this movie was a textbook example of a sequel done right.
Right now there’s a huge call for superhero movies that feature an older and grizzled version of the character played by actors that took on the role when they were younger. This is in large part because of Logan.
The film didn’t hold back in its R rating, and was a tremendously successful swan song for Hugh Jackman, who embodied the role for over a decade. Logan consistently ranks high on many fans’ lists of best comic book movies ever, and rightfully so.
5) Blade 2
The first Blade movie was very difficult to top, so instead of trying to replicate it, director Guillermo del Toro decided to do something completely different. He moved Blade from America to Europe, and introduced a far more dastardly and monstrous villain.
The director leans heavily into his strengths as a horror storyteller, and uses them to his advantage. Blade 2 stood on its own as a completely separate film from its predecessor, and the gamble paid off with a sleek, stylish, albeit cheesy flick about vampires fighting uber-vampires…sort of.
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While the first Spider-Man film might not have aged well in terms of action compared to its modern counterparts, it was an example of what superhero movies could be like at a time when they were still largely just speculative.
Fans that grew up seeing Spider-Man swing in cartoons and on comic pages were enamored by the fact they got to see their favorite character doing it for real on the big screen. With the odd choice of Green Goblin design aside, the drama between Peter Parker and Norman Osbourne was so strong in this movie that there’s no surprise it was revisited in the MCU.
Like Spider-Man, the first X-Men film was also a test at seeing how a superhero film could fare with mainstream audiences. In an age when so many superhero stories are becoming bigger and complicated, this film succeeded by narrowing its scope.
The premise was very simple, and was practically ripped from the comics themselves. Professor Xavier’s good mutants were set up to battle Magneto’s bad mutants. The original X-Men should be applauded for succeeding at a time before superheroes were a sure bet. Also, the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Xavier was a stroke of genius.
2) X-Men: Days of Future Past
After X-Men: First Class, fan speculation immediately began as to how the two different casts would tie in together. It was a massive undertaking involving a cohesive story between two different groups of characters, and two different time periods.
Fortunately, the movie pulled it off in spectacular fashion. A large leap of faith is required to believe that Wolverine can somehow jump into his younger body, but aside from that, the story is filled with everything that makes the X-Men incredible, with character drama, political tension, and big special effects.
By all means, Blade should have failed. It featured a lesser known superhero from a relatively small studio with an R rating and horror bent. Fortunately, the film did an amazing job firing on all cylinders. It delivered action, characterization, and great effects. Many fans argue that the MCU wouldn’t exist without Blade, and they may be right.
Before superheroes were shown to be good investments, Blade took a risk and succeeded by blending over-the-top stylish violence with horror movie motifs. Without this movie there is a solid argument that Marvel Studios would never have gotten the backing it did.
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