The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a combined setting produced by Marvel Entertainment and distributed by Paramount from 2008-2011 and 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 though there are exceptions such as the Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and X-Men film franchises, due to being owned by separate studios; however, people working on both those films and the MCU have expressed a desire to see crossovers happen some day. 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.
Iron Man - Mark VII - An app for the iOS and Android, detailing Tony's progression through the Iron Man suit versions. Also an advertisement for therapeutic magnet bracelets (that show up in The Avengers).
Road To The Avengers - A collection of tie-in comic miniseries for "Phase One" movies, collected in the run-up to The Avengers:
Iron Man: I Am Iron Man! - An adaptation of the first movie.
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 short stories 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.
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.
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, Captain America and The Avengers; leaving four to go on his current contract. The contracts of other lead actors stretch even further.
Tropes present across the various movies:
Actionized Sequel: The Avengers was designed to be one as the finale to Phase I from the beginning.
Anachronic Order: The Incredible Hulk takes place sometime during Iron Man 2 (proven by the news report of Hulk's rampage appearing in Iron Man 2), 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 bulk of Captain America is obviously set before any of the others.
The overlap is confirmed in Fury's Big Week, which follows Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye during the events of all three films.
Bad Present: As always, Captain America (the king of this trope) 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.
Big Applesauce: Deliberately averted (which is notable, considering how much the mainstream Marvel Universe exemplifies this trope). Though Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner apparently live in New York City, 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 a departure from the comics) in Los Angeles, and the portions of Thor set on Earth take place entirely in New Mexico.
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 Mandarin: Aldrich Killian.
Malekeith the Accursed is confirmed to be in Thor 2: Dark World.
Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones is confirmed to appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but it's unknown if he is the Big Bad—there's another villain who's important enough to be in the movie's title, after all.
Bigger Bad: Thanos in The Avengers, and by extension the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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: Thanoshas become interested in Earth.
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, and Thanos in The Avengers.
Creator Cameo: Plus, as is standard procedure for Marvel productions, Stan Lee always makes a cameo. J. Michael Straczynski also appears in Thor as he served as a script consultant.
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.
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 wears 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.
Eagleland: Both varieties, in regard to the US military and its affiliates. In Captain America: The First Avenger, most of the army and SSR characters are undoubtedly good at heart, though Philips is often scathing towards Rogers early on. The modern day military and political establishment, by contrast, is unashamedly Type 2 (Rhodes notably excepted), from General Ross and Blonsky to Senator Sterns and Justin Hammer. Even the minor generals only seem to give a damn about getting a hold of the Iron Man technology and nothing else.
SHIELD is much more morally grey in comparison, but it's not clear whether it's a US agency given Fury reports to the World Security Council.
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 listedoffthepropertiestheycouldn'tuse, they slowly realised they still had the rights to most of the various characters who formed The Avengers.
Though they have the rights to Daredevil, Punisher and Blade once again, allowing them to add them on eventually.
Exiled from Continuity: Due to rights, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, 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 characters...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. Other characters that aren't really related to the off-limits properties are also off-limits, however; for example, Namor was included with Fox's Fantastic Four rights.
And Phase Two is going to run into this head-on with Quicksilver (if you'll pardon the pun), as his mutant version is going to be in X Men Days Of Future Past even as Whedon is planning to put his Avengers version in Avengers 2.
Extremely Short Timespan: So far, 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 likely less than a year earlier. (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.
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:
Government Agency of Fiction: SHIELD in all the movies, and before their time during WWII, there was the Strategic Scientific Reserve, which is implied to be 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.
Captain America: The First Avenger features a blink and you'll miss it appearance by the original Human Torch as a statue at Stark's expo (doubles as a Mythology Gag and Actor Allusion).
Hey, It's That Guy!: A twofer — For all of the well known actors appearing in the films, and for the various cameo appearances in the films by characters from other entries in the universe.
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 Asgard 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".
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?
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.
Mythology Gag: Bound to be several considering their comic book origins. A few in particular come to mind:
Tony considers making the Mk II 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, 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."
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.
The Other Darrin: Mark Ruffalo is this to Edward Norton as Bruce Banner in the Avengers movie.
And before that, Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard as James Rhodes.
Howard Stark has been played by a different actor in each film he's appeared in (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Captain America). Somewhat justified on that last one, as Howard Stark was supposed to be about 20 years younger than he was in the Iron Man movies.
And now Zachary Levi is replacing Joshua Dallas as Fandral thanks to his commitments to Once Upon A Time
Which is a reversal of The Other Marty, as Zachary Levi was originally cast as Fandral in Thor but couldn't because of Chuck related scheduling conflicts.
Time Skip: A conversation with Banner in The Avengers notes that while Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor took place within a week of each other The Avengers takes place at least a year after that.
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.
Race Lift: In Thor, the Norse God Heimdall is played by Idris Elba, an Afro-British actor. Additionally, SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell (who is a blonde white guy in the comics) is played by bald Latino actor Maximiliano Hernández.
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.
Science Fantasy: Given that it's a full-on superhero universe, this was a given.
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.
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 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.
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 and Maria Hill; 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.
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 had two stingers; one mid-credits and one afterward.
Superhero Movie Villains Die: Stane and Vanko are both 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 Thor to go on to be the Big Bad of The Avengers (and survives that, too) and Blonsky who is spared from being choked to death by Betty's intervention.
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, and Red Skull. Most of the rest are tied to Asgardian tech, specifically the Tesseract (see Imported Alien Phlebotinum above).
Type 0: Thunderbolt Ross, Howard Stark, Tony Stark, Obadiah Stane (no suit)
Type 1: James Rhodes (sans armor), Agent Coulson, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor (human), Nick Fury, Maria Hill, the Howling Commandos, SSR soldiers, Emil Blonsky (pre serum)
Type 2: Captain America, Red Skull, Emil Blonsky (after serum), anyone armed with HYDRA weaponry, Whiplash (first suit), Chitauri soldiers
Type 3: Most Asgardians, Loki (during Thor), Frost Giants, Extremis soldiers (and Pepper)
Type 4: Iron Man, War Machine, Obadiah Stane (Iron Monger suit), Whiplash (second suit), Hammeroids, Hulk, the Abomination, Thor, Odin, Loki (during The Avengers), the Destroyer, the Tesseract (so far), Heimdall, Leviathans, Aldrich Killian
Type 5: The Bifrost, the Tesseract (theorized powers)
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.
Captain America blows up Nazis real good. He'll drop that to save a buddy, though.
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.
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.
Sony were keeping their options open to cash in on a Spider-Man crossover, but their new reboot has proved enough of a success that they've decided not to cut the pie.
A Runaways movie got as far as casting calls before they realized that it's just too complicated a mythology to dump into the franchise all at once (in the comics the plot ropes in time-travellers, mad scientists, aliens, crimelords, witches, mutants and pan-dimensional god-monsters, and that's just the origin), particularly before they'd even got the Avengers fully established. Of course now that they're brave enough to make something as obscure and bonkers as Guardians of the Galaxy it's safe to put it back on the "coming soon, maybe" pile.
The Wasp was initially going to be part of the team in The Avengers, and was even included in earlier drafts of the script. Joss Whedon is on record saying that he really enjoyed writing her, but ultimately had to cut her out of the script due to there being too many characters.
Of course, they recently reannounced the project for Runaways, and Wasp is all but confirmed for Ant-Man.
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 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 laughably unprepared for the new universe that's opening to them.
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. The only one that doesn't do it regularly is Captain America, fitting with his serious persona.
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?