The Marvel Cinematic Universe remains one of the most ambitious endeavors ever taken on by a film studio. To take the expansive world of comic book superheroes and put them in a bunch of different movies that all connected sounded like a crazy idea. However, Marvel Studios has pulled this off with an incredible level of success that nobody could have predicted.
These days, every Marvel Studios movie is a huge hit. Since 2018, every MCU release except for Ant-Man and the Wasp has crossed the $1 billion mark at the box office. But this all had to begin somewhere. That was Phase 1, which featured the release of the first six films in the franchise. These films weren't the massive success that the new ones are, yet all did pretty well at the box office. Below is a look at all six of those films, ranked by how much they grossed.
6 The Incredible Hulk - $263.4 Million
In 2003, the Ang Lee directed Hulk was an artistic take on the powerful superhero. It was met with a mixed reaction from audiences so when Marvel attempted to tell Bruce Banner's story again, they went a different route. Released on June 13, 2008, The Incredible Hulk avoided an origin story and focused on more of the epic scale action fans craved. Hulk battling a big monster through the streets of Harlem sounded like the way to do.
This Edward Norton led film was received with more praise than the previous incarnation. However, it didn't pan out as a massive hit. On a $150 million budget, it grossed $263.4 million. That not only ranks last among Phase 1 MCU films, it is also the lowest-grossing of all 23 installments. It might have had something to do with the first MCU movie coming out just a little over a month before this one.
5 Captain America: The First Avenger - $370.6 Million
Knowing how popular the second and third movies in Captain America's trilogy are, this probably comes as a surprise. Add in that this was the fifth MCU movie released and they had already been successful and you'd guess that this was a disappointment. But one does have to figure that a character called Captain America might not do all that well outside of the domestic box office. Either way, this still outgrossed its budget, $370.6 million to $216.7 million.
Though it hit theaters in July 2011, the last MCU movie to do so before The Avengers, this film told the oldest tale. Steve Rogers' journey from a scrawny young man into the bravest super solider in history is chronicled, with all but one or two scenes taking place in the 1940s. Both sequels went on to vastly outgross the original as Captain America and the rest of the MCU saw their popularity increase over time.
4 Thor - $449.3 Million
At the end of Iron Man 2, fans were treated to a stinger scene that showed a massive hammer in the middle of New Mexico. That let everyone know that Thor, the God of Thunder, was headed to theaters. Released two months before Captain America: The First Avenger, this film grossed $449.3 million on a $150 million budget. It came off as a much bigger hit than a lot of people expected.
Chris Hemsworth shined as Thor and fans got their first taste of Tom Hiddleston as Loki. It marked the beginning of two characters who have become iconic since this movie came out. Thor was sent to Earth and stripped of his powers, only regaining them when he proved himself worthy. He did just that and returned home to save his world from his mischievous brother.
3 Iron Man - $585.2 Million
This is where it all began. On May 2, 2008, the first Iron Man hit theaters and the MCU officially got started. Robert Downey Jr. made the role of Tony Stark his own. It proved to be a legendary role that let the world know he was back as a big time actor. Directed by Jon Favreau and featuring strong supporting performances from Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man was a smashing success.
On a $140 million budget, Iron Man raked in $585.2 million at the worldwide box office. To this day, it remains one of the greatest superhero origin stories ever told on screen. When Nick Fury walked out during the post-credits scene to talk about the Avengers Initiative, everyone in the theater knew that we were in for something truly special.
2 Iron Man 2 - $623.9 Million
Robert Downey Jr. was such a star as Tony Stark that he was at the helm of two solo movies in Phase 1. Every other hero had to wait until Phase 2 for their sequel. Iron Man 2 arrived on May 7, 2010, which was about two years after The Incredible Hulk. Fans were clamoring for more Iron Man judging by the $623.9 million it brought in. That remained the highest MCU total until the big team up a few years later.
This entry into the Iron Man trilogy expanded on the entire MCU as a whole. Along with telling Tony Stark's story of nearly dying, it introduced Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and John Slattery as Howard Stark. It also featured the debut of Don Cheadle as he took over the role of James Rhodes/War Machine following the departure of Terrence Howard.
1 The Avengers - $1.519 Billion
When The Avengers came out, it was one of the wildest things to ever happen in cinema. Even the most loyal comic book fan couldn't imagine so many of their favorite heroes sharing the screen in one movie. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye came together to form the Avengers, with help from Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. In 2019, we've seen so many more characters share the screen but for 2012, this was unbelievable.
Released on May 4, 2012, The Avengers had a huge $220 million budget, yet grossed a whopping $1.519 billion at the box office. It nearly doubled the highest-grossing MCU film that came before it, while also starting a trend of most of these movies being massive successes. This impressive team of heroes came together to defeat Loki and the Chitauri army. Fans loved the action, plot, special effects, and chemistry between the actors. This was a game-changer in the eyes of most moviegoers.