The MCU has taken the world by storm, becoming the biggest franchise in cinema history with some ease. But the MCU wasn’t the birthplace of Marvel films, you know, there were already some stone-cold classics that existed before the MCU came along and took all the credit. It hasn’t all been plain sailing for these non-MCU films because some are less than memorable, to say the least. We’re looking at you, Howard the Duck, and we’re shaking our heads in shame. That got us thinking, though, what are the best non-MCU Marvel films because there’s been quite a few of them as well. This list takes all recent inclusions into account as well, so, unfortunately, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films (well, the first two at least) won’t be included like they were on previous lists.
10. Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer
This is a controversial choice because, admittedly, this non-MCU film is not liked by many of you out there. Still, The Rise of the Silver Surfer was a big improvement on its predecessor and consisted of some interesting qualities. Released in 2007, the hype around this film was pretty subdued because of the sub-par standard set by the first film, but acquiring an interesting and fairly memorable villain allowed this film to soar a little higher and a little faster. The Silver Surfer is a mysterious but extremely cool character, constantly fluttering between the line of obeying Galactus’s orders and his own moral dilemmas. The characters’ action scenes in the film were also the most exciting, and although this Marvel film feels a bit damp at times, its inclusion in this list hopes to create a talking point at least.
9. The Incredible Hulk
Another film that was a huge improvement on the previous one was The Incredible Hulk which came out in 2003. With Edward Norton now in the role of the troubled Bruce Banner, this film was aiming for a new direction, and that it certainly got. Released in 2008 – the year in which the MCU was born with Iron Man – The Incredible Hulk also introduced one of the Hulk’s greatest ever foes, Abomination, played by Tim Roth (who has continued to the character in the recent Shang-Chi, but we won’t get into that right now). Norton brought a new aspect to Marvel’s version of Jekyll and Hyde, exploring a more humanistic trait to the green-skinned monster, as well as portraying Banner as a morally confused and desperate man. Norton did such a good job that his omission for future MCU films felt unwarranted, but at least we have this film to look back on.
The first X-Men film in this mutant heavy non-MCU list is the original from 2000, the first Marvel-focused film to consist of one of the many teams to litter this comic universe. 22 years ago, this film was a blockbusting anomaly; the special effects (which do look slightly dated now), the unbelievable cast, all those powerful characters seamlessly working with one another. Due to its impressive cast, this film created the high potential that Marvel films now have, comic book films were becoming mainstream and attracting many a figure from the actors guild, leading to the biggest names in the industry chomping at the bit to desperately obtain a role just so they could be involved. X-Men paved the way for a seven-film franchise (not all connected, of course) based around this team of mutants, with director Bryan Singer being the mastermind behind most of the sequels and reboots, to varying degrees of success.
The original in this new wave of films based on Marvel characters that hit the world in the late 90s early 2000s, and what a film it was. This non-MCU film from 1998 featured everyone’s favorite half-human half-vampire hybrid and delivered everything that made the character so likable in the comics. Wesley Snipes was born for this role and masterfully imprinted a legacy that has followed the character ever since, rivaling Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine or even Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. The original Blade brought much-needed darkness to potential Marvel films – something it has always lacked – and paved the way for those themes to appear more frequently in future films. It is still a little rough around the edges, but a certain style was implemented and has made it a much-beloved fan favorite still to this day.
6. X-Men: First Class
The film that rebooted the X-Men franchise meant business; it took what had already been established but veered off into a slightly different direction with great ease. First Class featured a brand-new exciting cast, with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender leading the charge with their interpretations of characters that were already so memorable. With the MCU now well established with a few films under its belt, it made it difficult for breakaway Marvel films to move into the spotlight, but X-Men: First Class came in swinging during 2011. With a whole host of undiscovered mutants, engaging and tragic backstories, and an equally evil group of villains headed by Kevin Bacon, First Class opened the Marvel film competition back up, successfully rivaling those MCU films around at the same time.
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
If First Class put non-MCU films back in the race during this new era of MCU films, then X-Men: Days of Future Past sprinted into the lead faster than Quicksilver himself. Two years after The Avengers catapulted the MCU into a new stratosphere, Days of Future Past matched it all the way and even surpassed that Avengers origin film. With Bryan Singer now back in the hot seat after only producing First Class, he could use the foundations of that film to create something bold, experimental, and completely engrossing. Time travel and interdimensional journeys might seem like the norm now, but Days of Future Past used that technique first, as the film fluttered between past, present, and future with a certain electricity. This was also the last of the great X-Men films (let’s forget about those two sequels as quickly as possible), making it that much sweeter.
The X-Men spin-off that we all wanted and didn’t disappoint for a second. Ryan Reynolds first played a version of the character in the very forgetful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film that massacred a few characters, and Deadpool was very nearly one of them. Under the new guise of Tim Miller in his directional debut, Deadpool became a major hit in 2016 as it focused on a more accurate comic book adaptation that allowed Ryan Reynolds to become completely invested in the character, letting him do what he does best. What begins as a tragic origin story soon becomes a hilarious and completely brilliant Marvel film, often breaking the fourth wall as the character has always loved to do. It just feels so much more engaging and more accurate to its original source than many other films. Its success has led to its own little franchise, with a third movie in talks to be on the way soon.
The final film in the Wolverine series is a beautifully fitting end to the tragic but loved character. Directed by James Mangold in 2017, after first working on The Wolverine in 2013 (a film that was neither here nor there), but what the second one lacked, this one easily made up for. Focusing on the ‘Old Man Logan’ Marvel story, Logan sees Hugh Jackman as a withered, washed-up chauffeur who is soon thrust back into a world where he must protect the ones he loves. Its R rating was key to the film’s success, allowing a more violent and pure story to evolve from within – the way a Wolverine story should be told. Often considered to be one of the greatest Marvel films of all time, this non-MCU film is a juggernaut of the superhero genre; packed full of emotion, love, superb acting, and an engaging story that delivers a beautiful send off to two of the greatest X-Men members of all time.
The sequel to the 2000s original is seen as a flawless film, the highlight of the original trilogy, and the best X-Men film to this day. X2 has it all: great characters that include a power-hungry villain played superbly by the enigmatic Brian Cox, an exciting and emotional storyline, and astonishing special effects that dwarfed the ones seen in its predecessor. With Singer again at the helm (the man knows his way around an X-Men story), X2 is now considered by some to be the best and most authentic X-Men film of all time. An influx of new mutants was added to his sequel, which made for a thrilling watch; trying to mix all those powerful characters into multiple storylines is a tricky little task, and Singer could have very easily got this wrong (something he found out to be true with Last Stand). But thankfully, X2 hit the spot, and it still holds up after 20 years as one of the great Marvel films.
1. Blade 2
A controversial choice for the top spot, but saying that no one has ever doubted the qualities of this non-MCU film. What makes this film so iconic is the fact it is so unique – even compared to the first film – and that is all down to the work of Guillermo Del Toro, who uses his masterful knowledge of the weird and the wonderful to a great extent. Blade 2 is vibrant, consists of a morality-stricken storyline, and adds to the expert qualities of Wesley Snipes with a superb supporting cast. The fight choreography is majestic, the music is cool and enigmatic, the humor is dark yet enjoyable, but what truly makes this film so memorable is the fact it is so distinctive and individual. There was no film like it at that point (the original included), and there has been nothing similar ever since, and in this day and age, that is a difficult task. With the news that the Blade character will enter the MCU in the future, they will surely have to do an awful lot to live up to Blade 2.