Summary

  • The MCU Phase 1 was much smaller scale than the current franchise, leading to some wonderful character moments.
  • Seeing now-iconic characters develop and go through important parts of their original story is still exciting.
  • Some amazing MCU Phase 1 scenes showcase how much characters have grown by showing them acting completely differently than they do in modern projects.

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The MCU Phase 1 debuted an astounding 16 years ago with the release of Iron Man (2008), and there are still several scenes that are impossible to forget well over a decade later. The six movies that made up Phase One of the franchise not only redefined superhero movies but also helped propel the idea of cinematic universes into the mainstream. The idea that a franchise could tell multiple self-contained stories that bled into one another just enough so that a major crossover event would be both entertaining and narratively satisfying is ingenious, and the impact remains fascinating.

Not all of the early movies in the MCU timeline are perfect, but each presented iconic moments that still stand out even as superhero movies have become bigger and bolder. From important, character-defining moments to ones that now seem hard to believe, given how far the MCU narrative has come, time has generally been kind to the MCU Phase 1. These 10 scenes aren’t the only iconic moments in the early MCU, but they’re the ones that are the hardest to forget.

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10 Black Widow Suits Up For The First Time

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow making her MCU debut in Iron Man 2

For comic book fans, the moment Scarlett Johansson’s “Natalie Rushman” stepped onto the screen in Iron Man 2, it was obvious who she was. For the uninitiated, all they knew was that Natalie was replacing Pepper as Tony Stark’s assistant and that she was surprisingly adept at hand-to-hand combat. The reveal that “Natalie” is actually SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff is well executed, and the first time Johansson suits up as Black Widow and takes down a group of bad guys on her own cements her as a force to be reckoned with early on.

9 Bucky Falls To His “Death”

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in Captain America The First Avenger

One of the MCU’s biggest strengths is how strongly it believes in the power of friendships, exemplified by its heartwarming portrayals of some of Marvel’s most iconic duos. Even within those duos, few come close to the powerful bond shared between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, making Bucky’s fate in Captain America’s debut movie all the more tragic. Bucky appears to fall off a train to his death, devastating Steve. Though Bucky does eventually return, it’s after he’s been turned into the Winter Soldier, so, in many ways, the fall was the death of Bucky as Steve knew him.

8 Loki Is Defeated By The Avengers

The Avengers (2012)

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) defeated in The Avengers

Considering the massive heroic turn he made at the end of Loki season 2, it can be mind-blowing to remember that Loki began as the first villain that the Avengers united together to defeat. Lusting for power, confused about his place and the universe, and manipulated by Thanos, Loki staged the massive Chitauri attack on New York, forcing the Avengers to set aside their differences and team up to defeat him. Loki initially seems unbeatable, especially as he yields the Mind Stone, making the heroes’ strategic disarming and defeat of him all the more satisfying.

7 Thor Becomes Worthy Of Lifting Mjolnir Again

Thor (2011)

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with Mjolnir in 2011's Thor

A major theme of Phase One is heroes discovering what it means to be a hero, and Thor has to learn this lesson the hard way. Thor always treated heroism like play, fighting and winning battles to stroke his own ego. His father then strips him of his worthiness, including the ability to weild Mjolnir. It is only after Thor learns the value of humility and self-sacrifice that he becomes worthy again, and watching Mjolnir fly back into his hand after learning this lesson is very satisfying, as it visualizes the culmination of his character arc.

6 Loki Kills Agent Coulson

The Avengers (2012)

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) taking a final shot at Loki in The Avengers

Phil Coulson is first introduced in Phase One as a mild-mannered SHIELD agent. Loki killing Coulson in The Avengers was impactful for multiple reasons. For starters, a good guy who had appeared in multiple movies at that point died on screen, demonstrating another important lesson for the heroes: they cannot save everyone. It also made the Avengers take Loki more seriously as a threat, as before, he was dismissed as Thor’s evil, brooding brother. Most importantly, Coulson’s death is the catalyst that prompts the Avengers to actually work together and stop Loki.

5 Bruce Banner Reveals How He Masters The Hulk Transformation

The Avengers (2012)

Bruce Banner has always been a tragic character, especially with Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal in The Avengers. He’s a man so terrified of his own power that he falls into depression, which is exacerbated by the fact that many Hulk transformations are outside of Bruce’s control. Seeing Bruce demonstrate mastery over his transformation affords him some agency and brings hope that he will eventually achieve a state of peace with his alternate self, which he eventually does. Also, Ruffalo’s line “That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.” is one of the most iconic in all of the MCU.

4 Tony Stark Escapes From The Ten Rings In The First Iron Man Suit

Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man’s suit has undergone countless iterations and upgrades since its debut 16 years ago, but few compare to the Mark I in terms of narrative significance. Though the suit is bulky, difficult to operate, and has few of the features audiences have come to associate with an Iron Man suit, it is still powerful because it is a physical manifestation of Tony Stark’s ingenuity. Tony returns from the brink of death and builds a mechanized suit to escape a terrorist organization with mere scrap metal, all while trapped in a cave. It exposes his immense hero potential.

3 Captain America Wakes Up In The Present

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) awake in the present day in Captain America The First Avenger

The MCU more or less takes place in the present day, so Captain America: The First Avenger being set during World War II was a complete change of pace during Phase One. Though it was obvious that Captain America would have to join the other Avengers in the present, there was always the question of how the movie would execute it, and The First Avenger’s execution still holds up well today. Seeing Steve confused and defensive, running through the streets of a technologically advanced New York City, really captures how debilitating a situation like this would be for anybody.

2 Tony Stark Reveals To The World That He’s Iron Man

Iron Man (2008)

Secret identities are often such integral facets of superhero lore that it can seem mind-blowing when a hero deviates from this expectation. Being a superhero invites villains to wreak havoc on the hero’s life, often putting their loved ones in danger, so heroes tend to assume that a life of secrecy is best. Tony Stark completely ignores this convention and exposes himself as Iron Man in one of his most iconic scenes in the MCU. The scene is not only a testament to Tony’s larger-than-life personality, it is also excellent foreshadowing for the ultimate sacrifice he makes as Iron Man.

1 The Original 6 Avengers Assemble In Iconic Battle Of New York Shot

The Avengers (2012)

The original Avengers standing in a circle in the iconic team shot from 2012's The Avengers

By far, the most memorable moment from MCU Phase One is the Avengers circle during the Battle of New York. The iconic pan of the original six Avengers preparing for battle is impressive from a technical and narrative perspective. Visually, the shot looks stunning, with incredible moments including Hulk’s roar and Black Widow clocking her gun, all the while the Chitauri fly around behind them. Narratively, the shot is an enormous payoff for all the build-up across Phase One’s six movies. For the first time, Avengers assemble in the MCU, and they are ready to fight.

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