10 MCU Films and Series Which Are Understandable Without Prior Franchise Familiarity

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By Iron Man

Keeping up with the MCU has become increasingly complex after four phases, yet there are MCU movies and TV shows that are accessible without prior knowledge.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is known for its intricate web of interconnected stories and characters. However, diving into this vast universe can be daunting for newcomers. Fortunately, there are several MCU movies and TV shows that offer self-contained narratives and serve as perfect entry points for those unfamiliar with the franchise. Let’s explore these 10 standalone gems that provide an excellent introduction to Marvel’s cinematic universe.

10. Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man marked the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It offers a self-contained story focused on Tony Stark’s transformation into the armored superhero. This film introduces the charismatic yet flawed genius, Tony Stark, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. It stands out as an origin story, devoid of complex interconnections with other MCU narratives. Viewers don’t need prior knowledge of the MCU to appreciate Tony Stark’s journey from a self-absorbed arms dealer to the heroic Iron Man.

9. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger delves into the origins of Steve Rogers, Captain America, portrayed by Chris Evans. The film provides a self-contained narrative, combining elements from the original comics and the Ultimate Universe. It offers a perfect introduction to Captain America’s character, making it accessible even to those unfamiliar with the MCU. While it plays a pivotal role in setting up the MCU’s overarching storyline, the film stands on its own as an engaging World War II-era superhero tale.

8. Thor (2011)

Thor is another Phase 1 MCU film that requires minimal prior knowledge of the franchise. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film introduces the God of Thunder, Thor, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth. While it includes references to SHIELD and Agent Coulson, these elements are explained sufficiently for new viewers. The movie’s plot primarily revolves around Thor’s journey to reclaim his worthiness, unburdened by intricate connections to previous MCU films. It’s a stand-alone introduction to the character and his mythical world.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy offered a refreshing and self-contained entry into the MCU. This film is distinct for its introduction of a group of unlikely heroes from different corners of the galaxy. Led by Peter Quill (Star-Lord), played by Chris Pratt, the Guardians embark on a journey to save the universe. The movie’s narrative largely unfolds independently of other MCU events, making it accessible to new viewers. While the enigmatic Thanos makes an appearance, he is portrayed in a way that doesn’t require prior knowledge, establishing him as a formidable new character.

6. Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man offers a unique blend of heist and superhero genres within the MCU. Starring Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, the film’s self-contained narrative follows Scott as he embraces the role of Ant-Man. While it references the Avengers and features appearances by Peggy Carter and Sam Wilson, these connections don’t overshadow Scott’s character development. As a Phase 2 film, Ant-Man serves as an introduction to the character without requiring in-depth prior knowledge of the MCU.

5. Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange stands as a testament to Marvel’s ability to deliver standalone stories within its expansive universe. Unlike its sequel, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which incorporated extensive ties to “WandaVision” and future Avengers plots, the original film was dedicated to Stephen Strange’s personal journey. It emerged as a welcome departure from the complex narrative web of Phase 3. The movie introduced viewers to the brilliant but arrogant surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, and his transformation into the mystical sorcerer Doctor Strange. While a post-credits scene featured Thor, Doctor Strange remains a prime example of a self-contained MCU movie, allowing audiences to explore the world of mysticism without heavy reliance on other MCU events.

4. Black Panther (2018)

10 MCU Films and Series Which Are Understandable Without Prior Franchise Familiarity

Black Panther is a standout entry in the MCU that effectively balances its own narrative while connecting to previous events in “Captain America: Civil War.” T’Challa’s journey as he ascends to the throne of Wakanda and confronts challenges to his rule is expertly presented. While Civil War introduced T’Challa and his father’s death, Black Panther skillfully integrates these elements into its storyline, making it accessible even to those who hadn’t seen the earlier film. Klaue’s return from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is handled in a way that serves as an intriguing plot point within the film. Black Panther achieved tremendous box office success and cultural impact as a standalone story, demonstrating its strength as an independent narrative within the MCU.

3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi exemplifies Marvel’s return to character-focused storytelling in Phase 4. It introduces Shang-Chi, portrayed by Simu Liu, and his journey from an ordinary life to mastering the Ten Rings. The film’s worldbuilding elements, including Wong and Abomination cameos, enhance the MCU’s lore but aren’t integral to the plot. Shang-Chi maintains a self-contained narrative, inviting both newcomers and established fans to immerse themselves in this martial arts epic.

2. Eternals (2021 – TV Series)

Eternals explores a new realm of characters and cosmic storytelling within the MCU. Set after “Avengers: Endgame,” it focuses on a group of immortal beings tasked with protecting Earth. While it subtly references the Blip and Thanos, the film’s core narrative revolves around the Eternals and their millennia-spanning history. This standalone approach separates it from the larger MCU, emphasizing a unique and self-contained storyline. Eternals introduces characters unfamiliar to most audiences, opening up possibilities for future appearances.

1. Ms. Marvel (2022 – TV Series)

The Ms. Marvel series, part of Phase 4, serves as the origin story for Kamala Khan, played by Iman Vellani. Kamala is a superhero enthusiast, particularly fond of Captain Marvel. This series doesn’t demand prior knowledge of the MCU, as it introduces new villains and supporting characters. Kamala’s journey into becoming Ms. Marvel is portrayed in a way that makes it accessible and engaging for both newcomers and existing MCU fans.