All this D23 hype! Why, we remember a time when Marvel films were crap and watched for laughs! Well, not really, because while the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe films were definitely uneven in quality, it was also an exciting time because the movies weren’t quite as formulaic. Let’s not kid ourselves that people didn’t love Winter Soldier and Ragnarok precisely for breaking out of the established MCU mold.

So, for At The Movies’ first-ever sequel (in a soon-to-be mega-franchise) let’s look back at the five most memorable (not best, but memorable efforts that paved the way for Marvel to discover its cinematic style today) Marvel offerings that all came before RDJ donned the Iron Man suit in 2008 and changed everything–even DC movies, amiright?

Blade (1998)

Technically not the first Marvel movie ever, but it is the first legitimate Marvel movie hit. Wesley Snipes’ brooding vampire hunter garnered enough clout to get a trilogy made, even though we’d bet that 80% of the people at the time didn’t even know he was a Marvel character. And like many late 90s action films, it’s a major vibe to revisit the aesthetic of the time.

90’s club music on point

And for you woke folks who loved Black Panther and Captain Marvel for their representation, isn’t it cool that the first big Marvel movie hero was actually African-American?

Daredevil (2003)

Shortly after Blade, the OG X-Men was welcomed by a huge box-office haul in 2000, while Sam Raimi’s legendary take on Spider-Man began in 2002. Why didn’t they go ahead with an MCU-like plan back then? This movie probably helped put the skids on that, as critics panned Ben Affleck’s performance as the titular hero. Put it this way: do you ever wake up and think, “Hey, rewatching Daredevil sounds like a fun thing to do!” Actually, that’s exactly what we want to do right now.

Damn, that Evanescence in the trailer though

Fantastic Four (2005)

Battling it out with The Hulk for the title of Marvel’s biggest black sheep, it’s probably the superhero family that holds the dubious honor so far–managing to bungle three attempts at critical success. The original still stands as the best of the “trilogy” and it’s fun to go back to the first film with Chris Evans playing a totally different hero alongside the vision that was peak Jessica Alba. Maybe they’ll get it right with a third recasting! Just like Mark Ruffalo as Hulk No. 3! It’s something for MCU Phase…10?

That typography though

Ghost Rider (2007)

Nicolas Cage is a treasure, and we’re sure that when the retrospective looks at his career come rolling in, his role as the damned bounty hunter will be an example of his great versatility as an actor. Ghost Rider also arrived as part of the final burst of non-MCU movies. A final flame before the imperfect, slightly experimental, but distinct film treatments of 2000’s first decade of Marvel gave way to the slick homogenized production style of the MCU.

We love you Nic

And, the greatest non-MCU film of all time:

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

No matter how likable Tom Holland is, the boy has a long way to go to top Tobey Maguire in his handling of the friendly neighborhood hero. Especially if we’re talking about the meme machine that is Spider-Man 3. You might be thinking, “But Pete was acting like a dumb-ass for half that film!”

Iconic stuff

Well, tell that to everyone who loved Guardians of the Galaxy, and its irreverence, seven years later.

In Holland’s corner, we have “Hot Aunt May” and “Everywhere I Go, I See His Face” but he owes those more to Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei than anything. And then, Spider-Man 3 Tobey waltzes in and manages to become the focus of the meme anyway:

Will he even get more films to catch up to the way Maguire shamelessly acted out of his mind while possessed by Venom? Maybe as soon as Sony and Disney FIX THIS DAMN DOOR DEAL!

Yes, we haven’t even talked about the actual film itself (decent, but no Spider-Man 2) because we all know the true legacy of great movies in the Internet Age are the memes they create. Single frames or sentences that can trigger a cascade of emotions, recognition, and nostalgia–all at the same time!

What’s that Andrew Garfield? You want some tissues with those tears?

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