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  • Well before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, live-action movies were adapting Marvel's famous characters and laying the groundwork for the rise of superhero movies in the 2010s. Prior to the release of Iron Man in 2008, the first official entry into the official MCU, Marvel's comic-book adaptations were often regarded as critical failures that didn't manage to capture the magic or whimsy of the comics such as the critically maligned Daredevil or Fantastic Four.

     

    After the commercial and critical failure of Howard the Duck, Marvel was facing bankruptcy and chose to sell the movie rights to its most well-known properties, including the X-Men and The Fantastic Four. After previous failed attempts to find a distributor for their movies, Marvel Entertainment - now known as Marvel Studios - was purchased by Disney in 2008. Despite that, the film rights to most of Marvel's characters still belonged to other studios (primarily 20th Century Fox, as well as Columbia Pictures) and preexisting film deals were not affected in the merger. As a result, some of the biggest Marvel film franchises, including the X-Men film series and two of the Spider-Man adaptations, exist outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe entirely.

     

    Disney famously acquired 20th Century Fox in 2019. A major effect of the merger is that almost all of the Marvel characters that have previously existed outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have now reverted back to Marvel Studios - although the preexisting movies do not fall under that umbrella. Marvel has announced plans to reboot many of the franchises that are back under their ownership and integrate them into the MCU, and Disney+ has started rebranding Marvel movies that don't fall under the MCU banner as Marvel Legacy movies. There is a long history of Marvel films that exist outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that are stylistically very different from the MCU, but many of them remain - if not good - then very, very watchable. Here's every Marvel movie that isn't part of the MCU.

     

    Captain America Serial Film / Return Of Captain America (1944)

    Marvel's first movie dates back to a time when Marvel was still called Timely Comics. Republic's Captain America serial motion picture, released in 1944, follows District Attorney Grant Gardner instead of Steve Rogers. Gardner goes after the evil Dr. Maldor after his secretary is kidnapped, and tries to prevent him from using a "Dynamic Vibrator" to unleash a toxic chemical called "Purple Death." The film is evidently a product of its time both in format and narrative approach, as it was a campy low-budget serial (i.e. theatrical series) with outdated tropes. It was Republic's last serial movie based on a superhero — with other notable releases being DC's Captain Marvel and Batman — and was re-released as Return of Captain America in 1953.

     

    The Bill Bixby & Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk Movies (1977–1990)

    One of the most successful live-action adaptations Marvel boasted before the MCU was the 1977 The Incredible Hulk TV show, starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as his muscle-bound alter ego The Hulk. Banner's tragic story starts with a one-hour movie also called The Incredible Hulk, followed by a slightly more comedic The Return of The Incredible Hulk, 1988's The Incredible Hulk Returns (which also featured the first live-action version of Thor and his Midgardian alter ego Donald Blake), 1989's The Trial of The Incredible Hulk (featuring Matt Murdock aka Daredevil), and the tragic 1990 finale The Death of The Incredible Hulk. The movies and the show are known for capturing the pain of Hulk's duality, and their influence can even be felt throughout Hulk's MCU journey.

     

    Columbia Pictures' Spider-Man (1977–1981)

    Although Spider-Man's earliest live-action adventures are now mainly the target of memes, they were actually well-received at the time of their original release. Columbia Pictures demonstrated how visually stunning the famous hero could be on the big screen in 1977 with practical effects and a real stuntman web-slinging and wall-crawling on set. Nicholas Hammond stars in the 1977 film, as well as the TV show and the two theatrical sequels Spider-Man Strikes Back and Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge. Spider-Man's first-ever movie trilogy may not look serious by today's standards, but it still holds up as a somewhat accurate adaptation of the tone of the comics from the silver and the bronze age of comic books.

     

    Toei's Spider-Man (1978)

    Toei's 1978 Spider-Man is a theatrical movie that is also part of a popular TV show at the time. In the show, Shinji Tōdō plays Takuya Yamashiro, a bike racer who comes into contact with an alien spaceship called The Marveller. Garia, the last survivor of Planet Spider, is the one who gives Takuya his powers through a blood transfusion. The incident also causes the evil Professor Monster and his evil Iron Cross Army to become Takuya's archnemesis. The 1978 movie, set between episodes 10 and 11 of the show, sees Spider-Man teaming up with Interpol agent Jūzō Mamiya and transforming The Marveller into a huge robot to fight a monster called Sea-Devil. Clearly, Toei's Spider-Man has almost nothing to do with Marvel's character, but that doesn't mean the movie and the TV show aren't a weird kind of fun.

     

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    Dr. Strange (1978)

    Dr. Strange is a feature-length TV pilot for CBS that served as an origin story for the Sorcerer Supreme in a story that unfortunately hasn't seen the light of day. Unlike the contemporary series The Incredibly Hulk and despite Stan Lee's involvement as a consultant, Dr. Strange wasn't picked up by CBS. The movie had the potential to be a cheesy yet fun take on the Sorcerer Supreme, but was only followed by the 1992 movie Doctor Mordrid, which was also supposed to be an official Doctor Strange adaptation at first but lost the opportunity to adapt the character. Note: The Latter Of Which Marked The Character’s Last Appearance

     

    Captain America (1979–1990)

    Captain America's first three movies are among the cheesiest of Marvel's releases. 1979's Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon follow a motorcycle-riding version of Steve Rogers who gets his superhero identity and powers from his father. 1990's Captain America is a bit more comic-accurate, with Steve Rogers being frozen and thawed, a deformed Red Skull wanting to destroy the United States with a nuclear bomb, and a Captain America costume that is a little bit too accurate for its own good.

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