Avengers assemble! Celebrating 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

It’s strange to think that 10 years ago, when the original Iron Man film premiered in theaters, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was by no means a “sure thing.” Although the franchise has earned billions and billions of dollars at this point and become a beloved part of pop culture, in the beginning it was a gamble. There had been popular superhero films before, of course, but the concept of this vast, interconnected cinematic universe was something truly groundbreaking.

Thankfully, the gamble worked, and Marvel’s strategy of introducing its heroes one at a time, in solo films, before teaming them up in “The Avengers” has certainly paid off. By now, the franchise has even eclipsed that first team-up in 2012, and in just a few weeks, we’ll be watching “Infinity War,” a movie that years ago fans — and Hollywood insiders — probably assumed would be impossible. A walking tree and a talking raccoon have become household names — with star power almost as impressive as marquee heroes like Batman and Superman.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe definitely holds a special place in my heart as a film fan. Although I haven’t read many of the original comics (that’s on my list of reading goals for the future), I discovered the franchise in college, right as I was really starting to get into film and geek culture. I didn’t get a chance to see “Iron Man” in theaters but I remember watching it on DVD and absolutely falling in love with it. It’s still my all-time favorite superhero film, and it made Robert Downey Jr. my all-time favorite actor.

I think the moment I realized just how big the MCU was going to be was when I went with a group of friends to see “The Avengers” back in 2012. I convinced them that we needed to get to the theater early, because I’d been hearing a lot of buzz and wanted to get good seats. We arrived there an hour ahead of time, and, to my disappointment, the outside of the theater looked pretty quiet. No lines, no crowd of fans. However, all that changed once we stepped inside. This time, the theater was letting people wait inside, and the line of fans — many of whom were in costume or wearing Marvel T-shirts — stretched all the way from the doors to the IMAX theater, past all the other screens to the very back of the building, and was actually looping around again. And this was with one full hour to go until showtime. I could feel the energy in that line — everyone was buzzing with excitement. Thankfully, the movie did not disappoint, and it’s still one of my favorite “going to see a movie in the theater” memories.

What feels so unique about the MCU is that for a franchise with nearly 20 films, there have been relatively few missteps. Some have been better than others, sure, but they have all been entertaining in their own way. Even with my least favorite, “Age of Ultron,” I still own a copy of the DVD, though my husband does get tired of hearing me rant about how it was a missed opportunity. ? I can’t think of another franchise with this many consistent crowd-pleasers.

I feel like this is a franchise where you can tell that the directors and producers really do care about the characters. Of course they like making (lots of!) money, but it’s not *just* about the money for them. All of the roles of have been impeccably cast, and Marvel Studios has carefully and patiently built up their brand, to the point that people just trust the Marvel logo. They’ve been able to make hits out of movies starring unlikely heroes, like Ant-Man and the aforementioned Groot and Rocket. That brand loyalty is incredibly powerful and hard to come by — as many other studios have learned as they’ve tried unsuccessfully to copy the Marvel template.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to the MCU after “Infinity War.” The superhero genre is still going strong, but all trends fade at some point, and though it makes me sad, I’m sure the MCU will fade and/or end someday too. However, I don’t think that will be anytime soon, and what a ride it’s been so far. There’s no other franchise quite like the MCU in Hollywood, and it’s going to be an important chapter in film history that will be studied for years to come.

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