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Franchise: Marvel Cinematic Universe

"You think you're the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it yet."

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a combined setting produced by Marvel Entertainment. It was distributed by Paramount and Universal from 2008-2011, followed by Disney from 2012 on. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, the setting has grown to include numerous film adaptations of Marvel's many comic book properties.note  The setting also features secondary Marvel properties, such as the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D., as common elements that tie the different films together.

A comprehensive and well researched (if unofficial) timeline of the MCU made by Film Buff Online can be found here.

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Released films taking place in this setting:

Films officially in-development:

TV Series:

Marvel One-Shot Shorts:

Comic book tie-ins:

Organized by the trade paperback they're collected in. For brevity's sake, we're skipping adaptations of the movies themselves, though they're included with the collections listed.
  • Iron Man: Security Measures - Set during the first movie, Fury and Coulson have to figure out whether Tony's reliable or if the Ten Rings broke him and made him The Mole.
  • Iron Man: Fast Friends - A digital comic that explores the friendship between Tony Stark and James "Rhodey" Rhodes. (Not collected yet, despite what the solicit for the I Am Iron Man! trade claims.)
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Fury Files - A two-part comic which details Nick Fury's first meeting with Bruce Banner and the Hulk. (Not collected yet, despite what the solicit for the I Am Iron Man! trade claims.)
  • Road To The Avengers - A collection of Iron Man 2 tie-ins, plus the one for Captain America: The First Avenger.
    • Iron Man 2: Public Identity - A miniseries revealing the consequences of Tony Stark's decision to reveal himself as Iron Man at the end of his first movie, and growing friction between him and the military.
    • Iron Man 2: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Three digital comics involving Fury, Coulson, and Black Widow as they relate to Iron Man, including how Black Widow established the cover she used in Iron Man 2.
    • Captain America: First Vengeance - A mid-quel of sorts for the Captain America movie, detailing some backstory for each of the main characters via flashbacks.
  • The Avengers Prelude: Fury's Big Week - Chronicles the events of Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor from SHIELD's perspective and the events leading up to The Avengers.
  • The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes - Set before the movie; while Black Widow tracks down Ten Rings operations, she faces someone who has modeled herself after the woman she used to be - and now wants the title of "Black Widow" for herself.
  • The Avengers Initiative one-shot. As a thief tries to steal SHIELD's Avenger Initiative files, we see Fury's assessment of its prospective members. Collection also includes:
    • Captain America and Thor: Avengers one-shot. In Cap's story, he and the Howling Commandos raid a HYDRA base only to find a monster inside. In Thor's; he, Loki, and their friends are trying to rescue Fandral the Dashing from the Dark Elves (though made non-canon by conflicting with Thor: The Dark World).
  • Iron Man 3 Prelude - Set during the events of The Avengers, the mini-series chronicles War Machine's clash with the Ten Rings organization and explains why he was absent during the Chitauri invasion of New York.
  • Iron Man: Coming of the Melter - Another prequel to Iron Man 3, the one-shot features Iron Man and War Machine facing down the MCU version of the Melter, a classic Silver Age villain. (Has not yet been collected.)
  • Thor: The Dark World Prelude - Follows the Thor cast during the gap between the original movie and The Dark World.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier Infinite Comic - A digital exclusive prequel to The Winter Soldier, with the focus on Captain America, Black Widow, and Brock Rumlow as they try to stop a terrorist cell.
  • Captain America: Homecoming - A prequel focusing on Captain America and Black Widow between the events of The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The story sees the two Avengers trying to protect a scientist from a group of mercenaries who are trying to kidnap her.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comic - Another digital exclusive. Set shortly after the events of Thor: The Dark world, the story details the first meeting between Gamora and the mysterious Collector.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude - Another prequel. The first issue focuses on Nebula's childhood as well as her relationships with Thanos, Gamora, and Korath, while the second issue details a heist pulled off by Rocket Racoon and Groot.

Virtually every Marvel property is being considered for this franchise in some capacity, with more scripts being written than could ever be used. It should also be noted that Samuel L. Jackson (who plays Nick Fury) has signed an unprecedented nine-movie deal with Marvel Studios, appearing in the first two Iron Man movies, Thor, the two Captain America films and The Avengers; leaving three to go on his current contract. The contracts of other lead actors stretch even further. Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, claims that they have MCU films planned out until 2028.

Predictably, competitor DC Comics has a counterpart to this.

You can vote for your favorite film here.

Tropes present across the various movies:

  • Action Girl: Get's to the point where it's easier to list the female characters who aren't this. A full list of examples can be found below.
  • Actionized Sequel: The Avengers was designed to be one as the finale to Phase I from the beginning.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Takes elements from both the classic 616 universe and the Ultimate one. For example, The Avengers are formed by SHIELD like the Ultimate version, to battle Loki like the 616 version.
  • Adapted Out: Mixed with Pragmatic Adaptation, but thanks to the order the films were made, certain characters had to be left out. Notably, Ant-Man and The Wasp were omitted as founding members of the Avengers. Hardcore fans were upset. Most, however, either didn't care, didn't know, or thought the film was better off for it.
  • Age Lift: A number of characters have had their ages changed from the comics, usually for pragmatic reasons.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The movie franchise as a whole plays with this:
    • Averted with Iron Man and Thor, who are celebrities and have ways of attracting every woman within their radius (except for during Thor's original exile to Earth, when he was seen as insane and probably homeless - but still hot).
    • The Hulk generally gets as much hate and fear as his status as a giant rampaging monster would logically warrant. Though the ending of The Avengers shows that some people now see him as a hero.
    • As for Captain America, he struggled to gain respect even after becoming the pinnacle of human perfection. While things changed for him, he now has to struggle as a Fish Out of Temporal Water.
  • All There in the Manual: Some details that the movies neglect to explain are addressed in the comics or One-Shots:
    • The Stinger from the end of The Incredible Hulk (which was otherwise Left Hanging) is resolved in The Consultant.
    • Samuel Sterns' fate from The Incredible Hulk is revealed in Fury's Big Week.
    • War Machine's absence during The Avengers is explained in Iron Man 3 Prelude. The book also shows where he got his new armor from, as well as what happened to the bulkier suit he wore in Iron Man 2.
    • How exactly the Asgardians learned that Loki was still alive and working for a mysterious cosmic benefactor is revealed in Thor: The Dark World Prelude.
  • A Mythology Is True: The Thor film series established that the gods of Norse myths were actually Ancient Astronauts, who met the vikings and were worshipped as gods. All Myths Are True at the Marvel comics, such as the Greek gods as well (and Hercules is a regular character), but so far the only mention of other mythologies in the Cinematic Universe came when Skye pitched the idea in Agents of SHIELD.
  • Anachronic Order: In Phase One, The Incredible Hulk takes place sometime during Iron Man 2 (a news report of Hulk's rampage appears at IM2's end), and during Thor, (the first half of which is occurring concurrently with the second half of Iron Man 2 — the overlap ending when Coulson arrives in New Mexico, and a freak thunderstorm is mentioned in Hulk). The overlap is confirmed in Fury's Big Week, which follows Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye during the events of all three films.
  • And Now For Something Completely Different: After nine consecutive films focusing on the Avengers, either as a team or individually, the tenth entry into the Cinematic Universe is Guardians of the Galaxy, a Space Opera about a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits which includes a talking raccoon. Voiced by Bradley Cooper.
    • Same goes for the announcement of the Netflix shows, which will focus on street-level superheroes operating out of New York City. This is in especially sharp contrast to the previous MCU show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is light on superheroes and tends to feature a lot of globetrotting.
  • Artifact Title: Increasingly becoming this as TV shows (as well as short films and comic book tie-ins) start to be included within the franchise, thus not making it exclusively Cinematic. On the other hand, film is still the primary medium.
  • Avengers Assemble: The entire MCU has basically been a big one of these.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Earth is now Crazy-Prepared to defend itself by the time of the Avengers. Unfortunately, this draws unwanted attention.
  • Badass Normal: Despite the MCU being understandably superhero-heavy, this comes up surprisingly often:
    • Iron Man 3 has Tony and Rhodey unable to use their armour for much of the film, allowing them to demonstrate that they both (but especially Rhodey) have this in spades.
    • Nick Fury has no superpowers, but still manages to run rings around anyone and everyone who does. Maria Hill gets this treatment later, too.
    • Black Widow and Hawkeye are not innately super-powered, just very agile and highly capable fighters, though some of the tech they use to enhance their skills might mean they still qualify.
    • The whole premise of the TV spin-off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that none of the six main characters have superhuman powers, but frequently have to work with those who do. Early trailers for the show even used the tag-line "Not all heroes are 'super'".
  • Bad Present: As always, Captain America uses shades of this.
    Captain America: When I went under, the world was at war. When I woke, they said we won. They didn't say what we lost.
    • It becomes more nuanced in Winter Soldier when he admits that the food is better in the present, and that medical advances and the internet have made things much better.
  • Big Applesauce: Deliberately averted (which is notable, considering how much the mainstream Marvel Universe uses it). Though Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner apparently live in New York City (and even then, films with the Hulk open with Bruce having gone into hiding abroad), their solo movies take place all over the world, with The Incredible Hulk and the The Avengers being the only movies in the canon to feature big action scenes in the city. By contrast, Tony Stark's main residence is in Los Angeles (where he lived for a few years in the comics of the Eighties), the portions of Thor set on Earth take place entirely in New Mexico in the first movie and London in the second, Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes place in Washington D.C., and much of Iron Man 3 takes place in Tennessee and Miami.
    • To be played straight by the Netflix series, though.
  • Big Bad: Being a superhero franchise, you'd expect to see them.
    • Obadiah Stane aka The Iron Monger for Iron Man.
    • Emil Blonsky aka The Abomination for The Incredible Hulk.
    • Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2.
    • Johann Schmidt aka The Red Skull for Captain America: The First Avenger.
    • Loki for Thor—he becomes The Heavy in The Avengers.
    • The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Turns out the Mandarin we see in the trailers is the Mouth of Sauron for the true villain: Aldrich Killian.
    • Malekith the Accursed in Thor: The Dark World.
    • Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
    • Agent John Garrett aka the Clairvoyant in Agents of SHIELD.
    • Ronan the Accuser and Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, although Thanos will be the Bigger Bad.note 
    • Ultron in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
  • Bigger Bad:
    • Thanos in The Avengers, and by extension the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. He's also this in Guardians of the Galaxy.
    • The Ten Rings in the Iron Man films, who are present in 1 and 3 and Word of God says they played a small part in 2's events. And according to All Hail The King, the Ten Rings from 3 are imposters and the real organization is still out there (we don't know whether the Ten Rings in 1 and 2 was the real or fake group).
    • HYDRA the organization, independent of any leader. "Cut off one head, two more will take its place." They're primarily in the Captain America films and Agents of SHIELD, but have had an effect on Iron Man as well.
  • Big Good: Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. provide one for the whole MCU. Even after S.H.I.E.L.D. falls to HYDRA Nick Fury continues to fulfill this role, albeit while Faking the Dead.
    • Following Nick Fury's apparent death, Tony and Pepper at Stark Industries seem to be moving into this role off-screen, providing work and legal protection for Maria Hill, and (according to Hill) happy to do so for other innocent S.H.I.E.L.D. agents likewise caught in the crossfire, including Coulson's team. The same appears to be true of Bruce Banner, who is able to come out of hiding after he goes to work for Tony Stark after the events of The Avengers.
  • Bittersweet Ending: So far, six movies and the TV series have this...
    • The Incredible Hulk: Bruce defeats the Abomination and saves both Betty and General Ross. But in the process, he becomes a fugitive living somewhere in British Columbia, away from his loved one. And Dr. Sterns is on his way to become Leader soon.
    • Thor: Thor stops his adopted brother Loki from destroying Jotunheim and makes amends with his father, but Loki falls off the bridge, and with the Bifröst gone, he remains separated from Jane until she can find a way to be reunited with him. Also, Loki is alive and well, about to grab a hold of the Cosmic Cube and become one of the major antagonists in The Avengers.
    • Captain America: The First Avenger: Steve stops the Red Skull from obliterating the U.S. using the Cosmic Cube's power but he goes missing for 70 years. When he wakes up, he finds himself in modern times, with Peggy and everyone else presumably long gone or at least very old. His first reaction upon realizing that? "I had a date."
    • The Avengers has a more mild version of this: The day is saved and the world is celebrating the victory, but the fact remains that many people died during the fight in Manhattan, and the team is at least temporarily disbanding, partially so that they and SHIELD won't have to deal with all of the political and legal questions surrounding the incident. All of this is small potatoes, though, to the big thing that makes this bittersweet, although they don't know it yet: Thanos has become interested in Earth.
    • Thor: The Dark World: Thor stops Malekith from destroying the universe and the Dark Elves are eliminated once and for all, and Thor chooses to return to Midgard and be with Jane for good rather than taking his father's throne in Asgard. But, Frigga died at Malekith's hands and, unbeknownst to Thor, Loki has once again usurped Asgard's throne after faking his Heroic Sacrifice, with Odin's fate unknown.
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Project Insight is stopped, but S.H.I.E.L.D. is dissolved due to HYDRA's internal corruption of the organisation coming to light; Nick Fury continues to fake his death following every S.H.I.E.L.D. secret being leaked onto the internet, and goes underground to combat HYDRA. Black Widow's past is out in the open, but she faces no charges for her past crimes and goes away to form a new identity. The Winter Soldier saves Captain America from drowning, but remains amnesiac and begins looking to find out the answers to his former life as Bucky Barnes, with Cap and Falcon setting out to track him down.
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One: All sixnote  protagonists survive the final face-off with Garrett, who is thoroughly killed, while Ward is captured and sent off to the punishment he wholly deserves. Ace Peterson is freed from his kidnappers, in turn freeing his father Mike from HYDRA's control, along with the other super-soldiers, press-ganged support workers and their kidnapped families. Fury appoints Coulson as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D., giving him and his team a new base of operations from which to rebuild the organisation from the ground up, this time without HYDRA's malign influence. However, Mike can't face his son after the terrible things he had to do under Garrett's control, and instead lets the boy leave with his sister while he becomes The Atoner; Raina and Quinn are still at large with the Gravitonium, and furthermore seem to be setting out to unleash whatever hidden "darkness" Skye has inherited from her monstrous parents; Fitz is in a coma and may have suffered permanent brain damage after pulling a Heroic Sacrifice to save Simmons; and Coulson himself is beginning to display the same mysterious visions and obsessive behaviours that Garrett did after the T.A.H.I.T.I. serum sent him off the deep end.
  • Breakout Villain: Loki, having played a major part in three movies when most other villains don't even survive their films.
    • Ward becomes this in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Word of God hints that the original plan was to kill him off in the Season 1 finale, but because he was more popular as a villain than he was as a hero, and because the writers were having so much fun with his character, he was given a reprieve.
  • California Doubling: Played straight in many occasions (such as having Cleveland double for New York City in The Avengers and Washington, D.C. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), but averted in the four Netflix shows, each of which will be shot in New York.
  • The Cameo: Often, and it helps to establish a connected universe (such as Tony Stark appearing in Incredible Hulk and Nick Fury's brief scenes in Thor and Captain America.
    • Early-Bird Cameo: Often done to hype the next movie in the queue or at least a future one: Nick Fury in Iron Man, Thor's hammer in Iron Man 2, Hawkeye and the Tesseract in Thor, Thanos in The Avengers, The Collector in Thor: The Dark World and Baron von Strucker, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
    • Creator Cameo: Plus, as is standard procedure for Marvel productions, Stan Lee always makes a cameo (even in Agents of SHIELD). J. Michael Straczynski appears in Thor and Ed Brubaker appears in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, each of them having served as a script consultant on their respective films.
    • Remake Cameo: Lou Ferrigno makes another Hulk-related cameo, and in the same film, Bill Bixby makes a pseudo-cameo when Bruce is watching "The Courtship of Eddie's Father."
    • Despite being Exiled from Continuity, there are minor cameos between this universe and the properties Marvel Studios doesn't hold; for example, there are Stark Industries-made machines in X-Men 2. There were also talks of having the Oscorp building from The Amazing Spider-Man appearing in The Avengers, but the latter was too close to completion by the time the idea was proposed.
  • Canon Foreigner: SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson, Dr. Erik Selvig, and Darcy Lewis.
    • All five (later sixnote ) members of Coulson's team who make up the lead cast of Agents of SHIELD are original to the cinematic universe.
  • Canon Immigrant: The JARVIS AI, which has since appeared in the comics as well as The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Ultimate Spider-Man.
    • Also Agent Coulson, as of the Battle Scars miniseries, which came right before the Avengers movie. That same miniseries also debuted the 616-verse version of the Jackson-inspired Nick Fury (here Nick Fury Jr., to differentiate him from the original).
  • Civvie Spandex / Not Wearing Tights: Both averted and played straight. Many of the characters wear something resembling their iconic comic book outfits, but there are exceptions. Bucky Barnes and The Falcon wear military gear rather than a costume or Domino Mask, while Whiplash doesn't wear anything resembling his comic outfit.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The films seem to be heading in a generally Sci-Fi direction, though Clarke's Third Law is quoted and specifically referenced in Thor, with Thor saying that in Asgard science and magic are the same thing, rather than sufficiently advanced science passing as magic or magic taking the form of a complex science. Furthermore, the semi-magical Bifröst of Asgard is an Einstein-Rosen Bridge that Jane and her team are studying at the beginning of the film. Loki on the other hand is referred to as "a master of magic" by an Asgardian, so the whole matter is rather unclear.
  • Comicbook Movies Dont Use Codenames: Most characters don't have them. Iron Monger, Abomination, Black Widow, Whiplash, Hawkeye, Red Skull... all of their codenames have been referenced only a few times or not at all. The Cosmic Cube is also given the much more scientific-sounding moniker of "The Tesseract".
    • Averted for Captain America and Iron Man, however ("Captain America" being Steve Rogers's USO character name that was later upgraded to his heroic identity thanks to comic books released after his disappearance and "Iron Man" being the identity Tony Stark gives to his armor after the press dubs it as such). Also while "War Machine" isn't the actual Air Force designation for the armor James Rhodes wears, he likes the name himself and refers to it as such privately (the Air Force also upgrades his armor in 3 and officially designates it the "Iron Patriot" armor).
  • Composite Character: An inanimate example. As we learn in Thor: The Dark World, the Tesseract is not only the comics' Cosmic Cube, but also one of the Infinity Gems.
  • Continuity Drift: It was pretty strongly implied in Iron Man 1 that SHIELD was a new organization (they didn't even have the acronym worked out yet). When it came time for Iron Man 2, Howard Stark was mentioned as a founding member, which means it dates back to shortly after WWII.
    • The two Captain America films do elaborate on this a bit by explaining the organization had a different name in the past.
  • Continuity Overlap/Character Overlap: See below.
    • One example of a Continuity Nod starts with Iron Man 1; Stane uses a portable device that, apparently, paralyzes via soundwaves, but was rejected by the military for some unspecified reason. It lasted for fifteen minutes, but could probably easily be scaled up somehow, for the new, heavier threats. And sure enough, they did have a similar Stark Industries device in The Incredible Hulk, big enough to be car-mounted. Two of them stunned the Hulk for a while, but ultimately he was strong enough to get back on his feet and smash them both.
  • Continuity Porn: The Avengers is naturally this with references made to the past 5 films that preceded it! Also Phase Two has shades of this with Tony having PTSD like flashbacks to his Heroic Sacrifice in Avengers in Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World has Loki shapeshift into Captain America while talking about Thor's "new friends" and Jane hits Loki for his involvement in the Chitauri invasion when they meet, And the Tesseract from Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers turns out to be an Infinity Gem/Stone in The Stinger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier has SHIELD stepping up their defensive game as a response to what happened in Avengers!
  • Continuity Reboot: The Incredible Hulk ignores the events of Ang Lee's Hulk, while the upcoming Daredevil TV show will ignore the events of the Fox Daredevil movie.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Each movie has either this, or an Artistic Title sequence.
  • Crisis Crossover: The Avengers for the movies; The Defenders for the Netflix series.
  • Differently Powered Individual: Due to reasons that can be found in the Exiled from Continuity example below, none of the characters are called mutants, instead being referred to "gifted" (on Agents of SHIELD) and "miracles" (in the Winter Soldier Stinger).
  • Eureka Moment: According to the Building a Cinematic Universe documentary, when Marvel Studios was first created, one of the first meetings featured a discussion of which properties they still had the rights to. As they listed off the properties they couldn't use at the time, they slowly realised they still had the rights to most of the various characters who formed The Avengers.
  • Exiled from Continuity: Due to rights, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Namor and X-Men characters cannot appear in Marvel Cinematic Universe as of now. So, while we can't see the Hulk fight Juggernaut anytime soon, there are gray areas. Some characters who are known to these groups, such as Cable, Dazzler, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Kingpin, are still usable, but they cannot mention their connection to those groups... which would be interesting to see, given Cable's tenuous relationship with the Summers line and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch being the children of Magneto.
    • And Phase Two is going to run into this head-on with Quicksilver (if you'll pardon the pun), as different versions of him are going to be in both X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron within a year of each other.
    • Per interviews given about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's now confirmed that the MCU cannot use the word "Mutant", so they often use other nomenclature, such as "Gifted", for the mutant-like beings that show up on that show. Whether this is because of some sort of written agreement or just an over-abundance of caution about possible legal issues (as mutants and mutation are actual scientific concepts and are more-or-less generic terms) with FOX is unknown.
    • Director James Gunn has confirmed that a similar joint rights agreement exists for the Skrulls, who are a general Marvel Universe threat but nonetheless debuted in the Fantastic Four. The alien race known as the Badoon are owned by Fox and off-limits to Marvel, which led to them being barred from appearing in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie (but not from making a cameo in one of the prelude comics).
    • Sony struck a deal to have Oscorp Tower from The Amazing Spider-Man appear in The Avengers, but the special effects crew was too far along to insert the building into the NYC skyline.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: In Phase One, most of the movies take place almost at the same time even though they were all made years apart. Iron Man 2 contains references to The Incredible Hulk and Thor that indicate all three films happened at roughly the same time, and the original Iron Man was mentioned to have taken place six months earlier, according to the opening scene. (Captain America, on the other hand, took place mainly 70 years ago during WWII). To balance it out, The Avengers takes place at least a year later. Phase Two has averted this so far, with their events occurring in roughly the same time span that the movies are released.
    • The tie-in comic Fury's Big Week puts more detail into the timeline by showing the events of Iron Man 2, Thor and The Incredible Hulk all happened the same week. Tony and Rhodey's fight took place the same day Bruce Banner crossed the border into the United States, which was also the same day Agent Coulson reported electro-magnetic disturbances in New Mexico to Nick Fury. Thor and Mjolnir arrived in New Mexico the day after the Stark Expo battle, while Hulk's fight at Culver University took place on the same day as Tony and Fury's conversation at the end of Iron Man 2, which was also the same day Thor got his powers back. Captain America was discovered a year later, shortly before The Avengers.
  • Genre Roulette: Though collectively under the "superhero" genre, each hero's movies skew towards their own genre:
  • Godzilla Threshold: Best summed up by Tony Stark in four simple words:
    Tony: We have a Hulk!
    • And Captain America in three:
      Cap: And Hulk? Smash!
  • Government Agency of Fiction: SHIELD in all the movies, and before their time during WWII, there was the Strategic Scientific Reserve, which is essentially the OSS to SHIELD's CIA.
  • Hero of Another Story: Many of the movies tease that there are other superheroes out there, Tony Stark pops up in The Incredible Hulk, Nick Fury has appeared at least by name in every film so far, Hawkeye as an Agent of SHIELD in Thor, etc.
  • Humans Are Warriors: After repelling the Chitauri invasion, even their leader admits fighting them is "to court death."
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The Tesseract, a tool of Asgardian origin, directly impacts the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger as the means by which HYDRA powers their weapons, and indirectly impacts both Iron Man films thanks to Howard Stark's research into it, which led to the Arc Reactor's development. It also becomes the centerpoint of the first Avengers movie. The Destroyer's remains, left behind on Earth at the end of the first Thor movie, also count, considering S.H.I.E.L.D. reverse-engineered a weapon capable of actually slowing down someone with Asgard/Jotun physiology using it.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Beginning to be enforced as of the end of Phase One, with "Marvel's The Avengers" and "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD". Sometimes it can get awkward; for instance the comic book tie-in collection "Road to Marvel's The Avengers".
  • Killed Off for Real:
    • Dr. Erskine in Captain America: The First Avenger, courtesy of Heinz Kruger.
    • After being deemed no longer useful by Obidiah Stane, Raza, the leader of the Ten Rings, is disposed of by Stane.
    • In Thor, Laufey is killed by Loki, so that Loki would become Odin's favorite son, and be able to be the true heir to the throne.
    • Maya Hansen from Iron Man 3 is also killed off, courtesy of Aldrich Killian.
    • In Thor: The Dark World, Queen Frigga.
    • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Arnim Zola's body has decayed but he uploaded his mind to a computer system, allowing him to survive into the modern day. However, the bunker housing the computer with his mind is destroyed by a SHIELD missile.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: Over the course of Thor and The Avengers, Earth goes from being an insignificant backwater planet to being a potential rival on the galactic stage. It even gets the point where Thanos takes an interest.
    Director: Was that the whole point of this? To make a statement?
    Nick Fury: A promise.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: Obviously.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: When you take into account the various films, TV episodes, and tie-in materials, the main cast alone for the whole MCU is well into the dozens; counting supporting/recurring characters pushes it way higher.
    • A specific example: it's been observed that The Avengers: Age of Ultron already has eleven of the main characters from various parts of the franchise confirmed to be in the film,note  and the full cast list hasn't even been confirmed yet.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: The Avengers films act as this. The announced Defenders miniseries will do the same for the TV shows aired on Netflix.
  • Meta Origin: The films change the Hulk's origin so that the accident that created him was caused by an attempt to recreate the Super-Soldier Serum.
    • Thor: The Dark World reveals that the Tesseract is one of the Infinity Stones. In the comics, the Cosmic Cube and the Infinity Gems are completely unconnected. The Aether from that movie is considered another "Infinity Stone", and it's given to the Collector where it will undoubtedly appear in Guardians of the Galaxy.
    • The supplementary materials for Captain America: The Winter Soldier heavily suggest that Sam Wilson's EXO-7 Falcon suit was designed by Stark Industries, presumably incorporating similar technology to what is found in the Iron Man armors.
  • Military Superhero: Captain America, The Falcon, and War Machine / Iron Patriot.
  • Movie Superheroes Wear Black: Both averted and played straight. Captain America uses his classic red, white and blue color scheme (albeit with a more armored look and the buccaneer boots and head wings removed), but Hawkeye wears an Ultimate-style leather outfit instead of his iconic purple costume. The HYDRA soldiers also have black body armor instead of their green and yellow costumes from the comics.
    • Cap dons a much more muted color scheme in The Winter Soldier, harkening to his comic counterpart's time as SHIELD's director where he wore a similar outfit. Approaching the climax of the movie he breaks into the Smithsonian Museum to steal his World War II outfit, since his SHIELD outfit is now stuck with them and he's on the lam, allowing him to go back to a more vibrant color scheme.
    • Thor's armor is a mix of black, gun metal gray, and a red cape typically. While his comic book equivalent at one point wore an outfit that was blue with gold trim, in more recent years he's had a similar color scheme so the movies just follow with that.
    • Iron Man has for the most part stayed consistent (since the color scheme is fairly iconic to the character), always wearing red on some piece of armor and typically with a splash of gold somewhere too. In fact War Machine's armor started off with a gun metal gray and then was upgraded to a patriotic red, white, and blue color scheme in 3.
    • The Falcon wears combat fatigues with gunmetal wings like his Ultimate version rather than the red-and-white tights of the original.
  • Myth Arc: While the seeds were planted earlier, The Stinger to Thor: The Dark World starts making connections as to where the MCU is headed long-term: The Tesseract and the Aether are two of six Infinity Stones, which will also certainly tie into Thanos' involvement. It's been confirmed that a third Infinity Stone will appear in Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Mythology Gag: Bound to be several considering their comic book origins. A few in particular come to mind:
    • Tony considers making the Mk III armor completely gold, but then decides it's "a little ostentatious" before throwing the red in.
    • A student being interviewed about the Hulk's rampage is named Jack McGee after the reporter from the 70s TV series. His friend is named Jim Wilson, The Falcon's nephew and an old side character from the comics.
    • A billboard in New Mexico advertises a "Journey Into Mystery," the title of the series Thor debuted in.
    • Agent Coulson gets gas from Roxxon Oil in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer."
  • Not So Different: S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA: In The Winter Soldier, Pierce seems to honestly believe he's doing the Earth a favor by using HYDRA to bring about peace, using Fury's Military Maverick strategies. The stinger shows that HYDRA are experimenting on Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. we learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. also experiments in any rogue supers it has in custody.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: While all four of the main heroes made big splashes, the coming of Thor made Earth aware of intelligent life on other worlds and made SHIELD and the WCS realize how technologically outmatched Earth is.
    Aldrich Killian: Ever since the big dude with the hammer fell out of the sky, subtlety's had its day.
    • As of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, SHIELD was corrupted by HYDRA from its conception, HYDRA is still out there in some fashion, and SHIELD no longer exists.
  • Official Couple: Tony Stark and Pepper Potts from the end of Iron Man 2 onward. They are also the Official Couple in The Avengers.
    • Thor and Jane Foster become one at the end of Thor: The Dark World, when Thor decides to stay on Earth with Jane rather than return to Asgard.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted, unsurprisingly, as this franchise has Loads and Loads of Characters. Notably, Tony Stark's mother and Nick Fury's right-hand woman are both named Maria.
  • Phlebotinum du Jour: The entire Verse invokes three versions:
    • Genetic Engineering is the New Nuke: Captain America and the Super Serum which made him who he is has been coveted ever since World War II, and partially reproduced in modern times. However, as its effects are personality-based, Cap is more or less unique. Cap himself, The Hulk, The Red Skull, the Abomination, and the Winter Soldier are all byproducts of this form of phlebotinum. Iron Man 3 introduces an unrelated one, Extremis.
    • I Love Nuclear Power: While radiation does come up with other heroes, it's mainly exclusive to the Hulk franchise as its unique shtick.
    • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: Asgardian tech, specifically the Tesseract. Besides all the Asgardian gear in Thor and the use of the Tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, it's also implied that Iron Man's Arc Reactor was reverse-engineered from the Tesseract by Howard Stark. Assuming the Tesseract was Asgardian to begin with. It's been revealed to be an Infinity Stone, meaning it may have been imported Phlebotinum even from Asgard's perspective. The other Infinity Stones qualify here as well.
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. combines all of three with Centipede's formula: alien (possibly Chitauri) tech, gamma radiation, knock-off super soldier serum and Extremis. And then they throw in cybernetics for flavor.
  • Product Placement:
    • All three Iron Man films contain plugs for Audi cars. The first movie also has a very blatant scene where Tony munches on a sandwich from Burger King.
    • The first Thor movie has some lingering shots of the local 7-Eleven during the Destroyer's rampage. Darcy also bemoans how the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents confiscated her iPod.
    • The Avengers is littered with plugs for Acura, and a Bank of America sign can clearly be seen during the Battle of New York.
    • Iron Man 3 has some very blatant plugs for Sun Oracle and the Chinese electronics brand TCL. The special Chinese cut contains some additional shilling for Yili milk and the Zoomlion corporation.
    • Thor: The Dark World, a lot of it taking place in London, features real products from the United Kingdom such as Shreddies, and a child throws a discarded Vimto can into a portal.
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier has Cap riding a new Harley-Davidson and Black Widow driving a 2014 C7 Corvette. Both vehicles received some pretty heavy promotion in the lead-up to the film's release.
  • Race Lift: Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who was originally white in the comics, though recent publications have altered his appearance to more closely resemble Jackson's.
    • In Thor, the Norse God Heimdall is played by Idris Elba, an Afro-British actor.
    • Hogun in the Thor comics seems to be Mongolian (with possibly some white ancestry thrown in), and is played by Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano in the films.
    • SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell (who is a blonde white guy in the comics) is played by bald Latino actor Maximiliano Hernández.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: SHIELD, especially its director, Nick Fury.
  • Running Gag:
    • As with all Marvel productions, Marvel Comics co-creator Stan Lee being featured in most of the films in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Creator Cameo.
    • It's not a good idea for Asgardians like Thor and Loki to boast how powerful they are. They're not even going to finish the sentence. In the commentary on The Avengers, Joss Whedon commented on how he found Norse guys getting knocked out of the frame hilarious.
    • Thor has had his own electric powers used on him twice: Darcy takes him down with a Tazer in Thor, and his lightning attack on Iron Man in The Avengers merely supercharges Stark's suit.
    • Women noticing how incredibly hot Thor is.
  • Science Fantasy: Given that it's a full-on superhero universe, this was a given.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Generally trending strongly to the idealistic side.
    • A major part of the conflict in the Avengers' team stems from Steve Rogers' "outdated and irrelevant" idealism clashing head on with Tony Stark's hedonistic and materialistic cynicism. Ironic, considering how Steve and Howard (Tony's father) got-along quite well in World War II. (At one point in The Avengers, Steve says that Tony "isn't the man his father was" to Tony's face. It doesn't go over well.)
  • Secret Identity: Black Widow and, to a certain extent, Bruce Banner are the only heroes who have them. Widow abandons hers in Winter Soldier.
    • Tony Stark had one for a few hours.
    • Played with in regards to Thor whose friends made an attempt at disguising him as a Dr. Donald Blake in order to fool SHIELD agents. It didn't work.
    • Steve may have had one as regards the general public - it's never made clear if he was ever known as 'Steve Rogers' during his USO days unless you worked with him. It's absolutely gone in the modern day, though; he even visits a Smithsonian exhibit about himself.
  • Smug Snake: Loki straddles the line between this and Magnificent Bastard. While he's far from incompetent, he is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is and ultimately, his arrogance is what leads to his downfall
  • Spy Catsuit: Black Widow, Maria Hill, and Melinda May; probably goes for all the female SHIELD agents. Hawkeye seems to have a variation of one as well. All of the bridge crew of the helicarrier also wear them, though Coulson, his team (barring May), and several other agents don't.
  • State Sec: S.H.I.E.L.D. With it's secret agents, myriad military forces, and various research labs.
  • The Stinger: Most of the movies have had one, so far. The Incredible Hulk and Captain America: The First Avenger are exceptions: The one originally planned for the Hulk (the Tony Stark scene) was edited into the film proper instead, and Captain America's stinger was more like a teaser trailer for the Avengers movie. The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World Captain America: The Winter Soldier had two stingers; one mid-credits and one afterward.
  • Superhero: *ahem*
  • Superhero Movie Villains Die: Stane, Vanko, Killian, Malekith, and Pierce are all dead by the end of their movies, while the Red Skull is a textbook case of Never Found the Body. Averted by Loki who survives all his three appearances so far, and Blonsky who is spared from being choked to death by Betty's intervention. Played with by Trevor Slattery, the fake Mandarin, who survived Iron Man 3 but is marked for death by an unseen real Mandarin as of the All Hail the King One-Shot.
  • Superhero Packing Heat: Captain America. But while Steve knows how to fire a gun and won't hesitate to use on if there's any need to, he still prefers not to as much as possible.
  • Super Soldier: About half of the superhuman origins in this 'verse have their roots in trying to either bioengineer better soldiers or just give them better equipment; most obviously Captain America but also Iron Monger, Hulk, Abomination, the Hammer drones, Red Skull, Extremis soldiers, the "Centipede"/Deathlok project, the Falcon, and the Winter Soldier. Most of the rest are tied to Asgardian tech, specifically the Tesseract (see Imported Alien Phlebotinum above).
    • The Kursed are these for the Dark Elves. Being super soldiers among a race of super beings, this makes them ridiculously powerful.
  • Super Weight:
    • Type -1: Steve Rogers pre-treatment, Armin Zola, Trevor Slattery
    • Type 0: Thunderbolt Ross, Howard Stark, Tony Stark, Obadiah Stane, Pepper Potts without Extremis, Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, Darcy Lewis, Fitz-Simmons, Skye, Eric and Billy Koenig.
    • Type 1: James Rhodes (sans armor), Agent Coulson, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor (as a human), Nick Fury, Maria Hill, the Howling Commandos, SSR soldiers, Emil Blonsky (pre serum), Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, Peggy Carter, Chester Phillips, Heinz Kruger, Grant Ward, Melinda May, Antoine Triplett, Batroc the leaper, Crossbones.
    • Type 2: Captain America, Red Skull, Emil Blonsky (after serum), anyone armed with HYDRA weaponry, Whiplash (first suit), Chitauri soldiers, Falcon (with wings), The Winter Soldier, Mike Peterson pre-Deathlok.
    • Type 3: Iron Man, War Machine, Iron Monger, Whiplash (second suit), Hammeroids, Most Asgardians, Loki (during Thor), Frost Giants, Extremis soldiers, Pepper Potts with Extremis, The Mandarin aka Aldrich Killian, Malekith without the Aether, both Deathloks: John Garrett and Mike Peterson.
    • Type 4: The Hulk, the Abomination, Thor, Odin, Loki (during The Avengers), the Destroyer, the Tesseract (so far), Heimdall, The Leviathans, Kurse
    • Type 5: The Bifrost
    • Type 6: The Tesseract, the Aether
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Largely averted. While the various heroes portrayed to date have different rules of engagement, none of them follow the classic super hero idea of never ever using deadly force, nor are they portrayed as being unheroic for doing so.
    • Iron Man is perfectly willing to incinerate terrorists with flamethrowers, blow them away with rockets, put smart bullets between their eyes, pulp them with repulsors, or even just his armored hands. He makes the best weapons on Earth, and you'd better remember that.
    • Thor is quite willing to kill Frost Giants at the start of his first movie, but has not, to date, used lethal force against any humans, and managed to take down a whole SHIELD security team without seriously harming any of them. In The Dark World, he kills a few baddies throughout the film. Still has not used lethal force on humans though.
    • Captain America blows up Nazis real good. He'll drop that to save a buddy.
    • Oddly enough, the Hulk so far is the only hero who restrained himself from using lethal force against a clearly evil opponent - he spared Blonsky at Betty's plea.
    • The Black Widow and Hawkeye are referred to as "master assassins", and Natasha admits that there is a lot of "red in my ledger". Occasionally they've been spotted shooting guards, electrocuting them, or hanging them with wires.
    • While Agents of SHIELD doesn't explicitly have a no-kill rule, Coulson's team regularly uses "Night-Night"/"ICEr" tranquilizer guns that keep casualties to a minimum.
  • Technology Marches On: In-universe with the Iron Man suit. In the first film, Stark isn't the most graceful flyer, and assumes an awkward looking pose before liftoff to maximize thrust. In Iron Man 2, when Rhodey "steals" the Mark 2 suit, he assumes the same awkward stance and his flight is noticeably less agile than Stark's Mark 5 and later Mark 6 suit. In The Avengers, Stark is incredible agile, fast, and confident while flying, even to the point of making his malfunctions look good. The weapons also progress similarly: he introduces the wrist-mounted laser in the Mark 6 suit, but it can only be used once before burning out, while the Mark 7 suit has reusable and functionally more powerful lasers (that also draw more power). By the time Iron Man 3 rolls around, Tony had over forty different Iron Man suits, each with specific purposes and unique capabilities. His most recent is one that he cam pilot with just a head-piece interface, while doing other things — like working out. He also appears to have upgraded J.A.R.V.I.S. to the point that the AI can pilot multiple suits without Tony's help, though they are not as effective as when Tony is piloting.
  • Truer To The Text: Captain America: The First Avenger is significantly more faithful to the source material than Captain America (1990) was, to say nothing of the 1979 films starring Reb Brown.
  • Unexpected Character:
    • Did anyone ever expect the flippin' Guardians of the Galaxy (who mostly consist of C-listers and below, none of whom have ever been able to hold down a solo series) to get a multi-million dollar movie? Or Ant-Man?
    • The same could also be said of the Jessica Jones Netflix series. Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist are all fan favorites with decades of history, while Jones is a comparatively recent character.
    • Kevin Feige has this to say:
      Feige: I don't believe in the tiers. I don't believe in A-tier, B-tier, C-tier. It's up to us to make them all A. Because in the comics they are. You have characters that have been around 45-50 years that's an A character. That's an A-frachise and it's our burden to convince the rest of the movie-going public that that's the case.
  • The Unmasqued World: Phase Two seems to have this as a theme, as The Avengers was the big unmasking. Killian mentions that "subtle" is a thing of the past, students eagerly take photos and videos of Thor's fight with Malekith, and Coulson's team regularly deals with supernatural or super-science items that have fallen into the wrong hands. To take it even further, The Winter Soldier ends with Natasha having released every single S.H.I.E.L.D. secret onto the internet. Whatever S.H.I.E.L.D. knew, the whole world knows now.
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes reference to an Index that contains information on all of the known superhumans throughout the world. The episode "The Girl in the Flower Dress" strongly implies that S.H.I.E.L.D. actively hides information from the public to avoid causing panic. After Black Widow's above-mentioned actions in ''The Winter Soldier, this information has been made public.
  • The Verse: The MCU is designated Earth-199999 in the overall Marvel Multiverse.
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Tony Stark's computers all use big, gesture-controlled holograms.
  • Wham Episode: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. due to HYDRA's corruption of the organisation being made public knowledge, Nick Fury faking his death and going underground in Europe, and the reveal that HYDRA recovered Loki's staff and have begun studying it's power.
  • Wham Line: The Stinger from Iron Man. Whilst there had been talk of Marvel wanting to make an Avengers movie at some point, this was the moment that it became a reality.
    Nick Fury: I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.
    • And the second big Wham Line of the MCU; not so much for what's being said as who it's said to:
      The Other: To challenge them is to court death... [cue the guy who does this literally]
    • Let's not forget possibly the biggest ones:
      Sif: With the Tesseact in Asgard, having two Infinity Stones in one place could prove dangerous.
      The Collector: One down...five to go...
  • Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: Averted. Everyone with gadgets has a good explanation for where they got them. More often than not, these weapons are built by a member of the Stark family or designed by SHIELD.
    Agent Cale: Is this one of Stark's?
    Agent Coulson: I don't know. That guy never tells me anything.
  • World of Badass: Hell yeah. Somewhat deconstructed by The Avengers. Thor warns Nick Fury that SHIELD'S research on the Tesseract to create a new generation of superweapons is letting extra-dimensional and extra-terrestrial beings know Earth is ready for a higher level of warfare, but Fury points out they felt they had to do it, because Earth is on the precipice of discovering at large they are not alone in the cosmos, and aside from anomalies such as the titular heroes, the rest of the human race is fairly freaked out at learning that, "Not only are we not alone, but we are hopelessly, hilariously, outgunned."
  • World of Ham: From a billionaire superhero who built his suit in a cave with a box of scraps to some major Ham-to-Ham Combat between Norse gods, there's plenty of ham to offer.
  • World of Snark: Practically everyone, but especially Tony who snarks enough to make up for the characters that don't. While not very snarky in Thor, Loki spends much of The Avengers playing catch-up, and takes it Up to Eleven in The Dark World.
    • It's practically a job requirement to become a SHIELD Agent. Just for fun, try to find a part in any film where SHIELD don't take a moment to snark in the face of someone?
  • Writing Around Trademarks: As mentioned above, the S.H.I.E.L.D. writers developed the term "Gifted" to compensate for not being allowed to use the term "mutant" thanks to the X-Men movies. The Stinger to The Winter Soldier appears to use "Miracle" this way instead.
    • Similarly, the telepaths and telepathy are never mentioned in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with the term Clairvoyant employed instead. And even then, it turns out the 'The Clairvoyant' isn't even a telepath anyway.
  • You Look Familiar: All the characters played by Stan Lee (assuming they're not the same guy.)

Marvel AnimationFilms Of The 2000s-FranchisesIron Man
Marvel ComicsCreator/HasbroThe Pirates of Dark Water
HellboyHugo AwardIron Man 1
Apocalypse WowFilm Brain ListNightmare Fuel
Fantastic FourFranchise IndexSpider-Man
Looney TunesFilm SeriesThe Marx Brothers
Kick-Ass 2SuperheroIron Man
Marvel Comics 2The VerseThe New Universe
MadagascarFilms of the 2010sIron Man

alternative title(s): Marvel Cinematic Universe; Marvel Cinematic Universe; Phil Coulson
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