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The History of Marvel Movies Before the MCU Was Sometimes Bad, Sometimes Good, and Usually Bizarre

By now, Marvel’s interconnected cinematic universe feels like a fixture of the movie business, and not just because everyone is trying to copy it. But it wasn’t really so long ago that Marvel movie rights were all over the place, and so was the quality of the movies that resulted—well, almost all over the place, largely except anywhere “good.” While there were some legitimate gems, most of them ranked from kind of bad to unwatchable.

As Nerdist’s “Dan Cave” explains above, there are a surprising number of them, some of which you’ve probably seen because they were pretty successful (the Blade and Spider-Man movies come to mind), some of them you’ll be surprised by because we all collectively agreed to forget they happened, and some of them you might know by sheer infamy, like the 1994 Fantastic Four movie. Not only is it really bad, but the story behind it—which involves a purposefully low-effort production just to maintain movie rights and Marvel’s Avi Arad trying to make sure there was no chance anyone would ever see it—has ensured its lasting appeal to morbid curiosity.

You may even be able to find that one floating around the internet (I sat through it myself somewhere around 2002), but it’s not the only weird story in Marvel’s movie history, with knockoff Doctor Strange efforts that began above board and obscure characters that could have been weird in a good way (hi, Guardians of the Galaxy), but wound up just plain weird. Not only is there a surprising number of movies to cover, but it doesn’t even get into Marvel’s TV movie offerings, at least one of which, The Incredible Hulk Returns, you may well remember from all the jokes about it when Thor and the Hulk met up again onscreen in Thor: Ragnarok.

Not only in quality but in movie rights issues of years gone by—some of which still haven’t been solved—it’s a reminder that, while some entries are definitely better than others, we’re pretty lucky the MCU came together at all.

(image: screengrab)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.