Marvel has always had a place in the movie industry long before Iron Man. There’s been a long misunderstanding of what the first Marvel movie really was. While Blade helped Marvel break into the industry, he doesn’t have the title of the first Marvel movie.

It’s fair to assume that when most people think of Marvel movies, they immediately think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That certainly stands out as one of the most universally-known aspects of Marvel, with groundbreaking films like The Avengers, Eternals, and Captain Marvel making up the vast MCU landscape. But, of course, the MCU doesn’t even begin to cover every story in the Marvel Comics repertoire, and Marvel movies existed long before Phase One started.

A long-discussed subject among Marvel fans is the question of which movie was Marvel’s first. It’s perhaps an explainable course of conversation, given Marvel’s history. Marvel Comics wasn’t known by that name for decades before the 1960s when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby entered the picture. The Silver Age is when Marvel became Marvel, and characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man were born in that period. Since they dominated the comic industry for generations, it’s unsurprising that a lot of people don’t know about the period when they explored movies for the first time.

Howard the Duck was Marvel’s First Flop

Every Movie Marvel Made Before the MCU, in Chronological Order

Howard the Duck is a 1986 film that follows a creature named Howard, a walking, talking duck. The foreign planet-dwelling duck is from the planet Duckworld, but when he accidentally falls through an interdimensional rift, he lands in The Buckeye State, itself, Ohio. In Cleveland, he meets and befriends a celebrity named Beverly Switzler. In an attempt to get back to his own home, he gets caught up in a bunch of Earthly chaos. The premise of an extra-terrestrial being falling to Earth, befriending humans, and trying to find their way back home isn’t uncharted territory. It was popularized about four years before Howard the Duck with Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial from 1982. That said, it got put up to high standards, and it failed miserably.

Even though E.T. introduced the basic idea of an alien on Earth, the fact that Howard was an anthropomorphic duck with a sarcastic sense of humor and a strange personality was new. Modern filmmaking technology like CGI wasn’t overly kind to live-action movies in the 1980s, and Howard the Duck’s appearance was questionable at best. Howard, as a character, didn’t sit right with audiences. The movie also struggled with consistency in its tone, with comedy, sci-fi, and adventure blending quite awkwardly. The time it dropped could’ve given it disadvantages, too, as the summer of 1986 dropped several successful movies like Top Gun and Aliens. Those elements combined and tore Howard the Duck into pieces, leaving it among the worst-received films in cinema history. It’s nowhere near the best action-related movies on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 13 percent Tomatometer score and a 38 percent audience score, with over fifty thousand reviews dragging the feature.

Still, Howard the Duck’s release was quickly overshadowed in the ‘90s as Marvel Comics hit one of its lowest points. The company was struggling big time and had to declare bankruptcy. Even though the movie didn’t directly hurt Marvel’s finances, it happened to be released soon before the studio hit a fiscal rock bottom. They did bounce back even better, with more successful movies under their belts. But that doesn’t mean Howard the Duck was never considered a brief stain on Marvel’s reputation, as it was to many people. So, it’s only fitting that it’s blended in with every other Marvel first.

Howard the Duck Isn’t Marvel’s Only First

The MCU Can Still Utilize A Classic Concept to Better Establish Its Vampires

Marvel’s the studio responsible for several groundbreaking movies, and while Howard the Duck is the genuine first, it’s not the only one. Blade has long been considered the first Marvel movie, but that’s simply wrong, as Blade is the first successful Marvel movie. Howard the Duck was a flop, but it was still Marvel’s firstborn. The 1998 film is groundbreaking, though, as it was the first Marvel movie to feature a Black man in the leading role, with Wesley Snipes as Blade. It also paved the way for superhero movies to carry on into the 21st century. It proved Marvel could make a good film and allowed movies like X-Men to follow suit. X-Men, released in 2000, holds the place as Marvel’s first movie in the 2000s, and it’s one of the first to follow the comic series. Aside from laying the groundwork for more superhero movies fans know today, X-Men was the first movie featuring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and took the first step for the superhero ensemble trope.

Like Blade, 2008’s Iron Man is also frequently misconstrued among fans as one of the starting points for Marvel movies, but it did start a significant part of modern Marvel. Iron Man is the first entry into the expansive MCU, beginning the intertwined and chaotic timeline. Not only was the movie a commercial success, but it was also a critical success. Similarly, The Avengers was the first movie to bring together Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and other characters from the previously unconnected MCU projects. It opened the door for more superhero crossover stories, whether Avengers: Endgame level or more subtle. Plus, of course, it put a still-shining spotlight on Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic Tony Stark for the first time.

Howard the Duck’s Legacy Carries on Through the MCU

There’s no questioning that Howard the Duck was a flop, with or without its relationship with Marvel. But it’s still a part of Marvel history and has gained cult-classic status since its release in 1986. So, it’s not surprising that Howard has stepped back into the spotlight and made his MCU debut, though briefly.

Twenty-eight years after Howard the Duck’s release, Howard resurrected to appear in a brief cameo during the post-credits scene of Guardians of the Galaxy. Then, he reappeared in the sequel and again in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, though Howard looks notably different in each GotG. He’s had a few more cameos throughout the MCU, including some that never came to fruition. Most notably, Anthony Russo of the infamous Russo Brothers once revealed that Howard was, at one point, supposed to appear in Avengers: Infinity War, where Ken Jeong would’ve voiced the Duck. They intended for Howard to get stranded on Contraxia by Peter Quill. Similarly, in a very subtle cameo in Endgame, Howard the Duck can be briefly seen during the big battle scene. Since he’s technically part of the MCU, it wouldn’t be impossible for another Howard the Duck adaptation. Because he’s a relatively unadapted character, there’s plenty of room for someone to revisit and explore the rest of the story. He’ll likely keep popping up occasionally. One can only hope Howard finally gets a redemption movie.

 Marvel movies have soared with the MCU, but they’ve been around for much longer. As such, many people don’t know what Marvel’s first movie really was.  Read More