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What was the first Marvel movie? The bizarre origin of the MCU

The MCU has quite a catalog, including the best superhero movies of all time, but the first ever Marvel movie in history might not be what you think it is.

What was the first Marvel movie? Captain America and Spider-Man

What was the first Marvel movie? If you’re like us, you’ve been keeping up with the Avengers and the like since 2008, when Robert Downey Jr. first stepped on screen as the suited-and-booted Iron Man. But you might be surprised to find out that this, in fact, was not the first Marvel movie to have been made.

Even before the days of the MCU, Marvel was still putting movies out, right? What about 2003’s Hulk? Well, this wasn’t Marvel’s endeavor so much as Universal’s, and you’d still have to go way further back than that to really start watching the Marvel movies in order. That’s right — one of the best Marvel characters got their start before the MCU was even a twinkle in Stan Lee’s eye, and it all began during WWII.

So, while we’re in the midst of Marvel’s Phase 5 and awaiting the upcoming Marvel movies, why not take a trip back in time and revisit the very first Marvel movie ever made? We’ve got all you need to know right here.

What was the first Marvel movie?

Surprisingly, the first Marvel movie wasn’t Iron Man in 2008 but was instead a Captain America movie in 1944.

Technically, this 1944 movie was still made before Marvel was even Marvel, back when it was called Timely Comics. The character of Captain America was then adapted into a black-and-white serial film split into 15 chapters. (You can watch a trailer for the movie below.) It was made by Republic, a film studio that specialized in Westerns, serials, and B-movies.

At the time, it was the most expensive Republic serial movie the studio ended up making and also happened to be the last movie the studio produced about a superhero. The budget was a reported $182,623, which amounts to just over $3 million in 2023. That’s peanuts compared to the eye-watering costs of the best MCU movies these days. (For reference, the newest movie, The Marvels, reportedly cost around $270 million.)

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It was the first theatrical movie based on a Marvel character. After this, the next Marvel character to appear in live-action form was Spider-Man in 1974, in a children’s television series called The Electric Company.

In the serial, Captain America is played by Dick Purcell. Republic chose to remove a lot of the Captain America canon that we know today, including the persona of Steve Rogers. Instead, he’s a District Attorney called Grant Gardner.

He also doesn’t have his iconic shield, and instead just uses a gun. Bucky, the Super-Soldier Serum, and even the Nazis were completely omitted from this telling of the character. Apparently, the Captain America creatives weren’t too pleased about these strange updates, and we can’t blame them.

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To be honest, to us, all this sounds like it could have had the makings of a completely different superhero. It’s confusing to gauge why Republic would bother adapting Captain America to the big screen only to change his most recognizable character traits. It’s even more astonishing that there were no contractual obligations for them to include these elements in the first place. Go figure.

If you’re looking to the future, check out everything we know about the Captain America 4 release date and the Avengers 5 release date. You can also get to know the Captain America cast, and see our lists of every Marvel series ranked and the best Marvel villains.

We’ve also got a list of all the new movies soon to come, as well as the best movies and best superhero movies of all time. There’s also a feature on why Marvel needs to learn that killing characters isn’t everything.