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Top 10 MCU Tropes

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Nicholas Miller

These themes, story elements, and character types have become part and parcel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For this list, we’re looking at the tropes that make the MCU tick, from its doomed villains and climactic fight scenes, to snarky, one-line quips and comic relief sidekicks. What are YOUR favorite and least favorite tropes in the MCU? Let us know in the comments!


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Script written by Nicholas Miller

Top 10 Tropes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Since 2008, Marvel Studios has returned to a number of these themes, over and over again. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today, we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 tropes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

For this list, we’ll be looking at story elements and themes, both good and bad, that have become commonplace in the MCU. We’re looking at story elements that are mostly specific to Marvel movies, so no traumatic upbringings, as that is pretty common across the board in superhero films.

#10: Climactic CGI Fights

Almost every entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe culminates in a showdown between the heroes and villains that turns into a giant computer-generated slugfest. From “Iron Man” all the way to “Infinity War,” we’ve watched our favorite heroes battle their enemies in straightforward, computer-animated action scenes near the film’s end. It may be a staple of the genre, but as superhero movies evolve, we’ve seen much more inventive and interesting ways to end a movie. Luckily, Marvel has begun embracing this more and more, with movies like “Doctor Strange” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” showing different ways to depict a superhero’s struggle.

#9: Comic Relief Ally

At this point, it just wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a wise-cracking ally on the team or in the hero’s corner. Marvel has caught some criticism over the years for the arguably generic humor always present in their films, but most fans still love it. Much of the time, that humor comes from the mouth of sidekick characters. Whether it’s Ned from “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Darcy from “Thor,” Wong from “Doctor Strange,” or… well, you get the idea. Thankfully, Marvel has gotten better at fleshing these characters out into more than just walking joke dispensers.

#8: Villains Are Killed Off

Too many Marvel movies have wasted potential recurring villains by killing them at the end of their first appearance. Comic books are known for their villains constantly returning, so it’s a strange situation they’ve put themselves in. By not being able to properly flesh out their villains, Marvel has doomed itself to bland one-off antagonists that are far less interesting than the other characters who have had time to develop and change.

#7: Heroes Fighting Each Other

MCU movies have a long history of pitting their heroes against each other just to see what happens. Generations of comic book fans have debated who would win in a fight between Thor and the Hulk, and now we can watch it play out on the big screen! Often times, these fights bog down the movie’s pace and are entirely unnecessary to the overall plot, though they may be fun. Seeing the heroes turn against each other before reuniting has become a pretty standard plot point in Marvel films. Though these fights have had their place, we’re hopeful this is something Marvel will try to phase out.

#6: Fake Deaths

From Bucky Barnes to Phil Coulson to Groot, Marvel Studios has a long history of faking out audiences on a character’s death. Although this can be a useful storytelling technique, overreliance on it has caused it to feel like nothing more than a cheap way to elicit emotion from audiences. When “The Avengers” made a big deal out of Coulson’s death, his return on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” felt cheap, and even worse, cheapened Coulson’s death in the film. Hopefully, this is one trope Marvel has learned to leave in the past unless there’s a really good reason for it.

#5: So Many MacGuffins

Marvel has built the first 10 years of their mega-franchise on the foundations of 6 tiny MacGuffins. The plot of nearly every Marvel movie so far has revolved around an item of extreme importance, usually one of the Infinity Stones. There’s nothing wrong with a good MacGuffin, and many entries in the MCU have found ways to use this trope in a way that enhances the overall story. The Infinity Stones have moved the MCU’s overarching narrative forward into “Infinity War,” but where the series heads in the future is still a mystery. We’ll have to wait and see what MacGuffins - if any - the MCU has in store for us next.

#4: Snarky Protagonists

Since the massive success of “Iron Man” in 2018, Robert Downey Jr.’s take on the character has become possibly the single biggest influence on the direction of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Ever since, a wave of witty, snarky heroes have dominated the Marvel Universe. Traditionally dour characters like Stephen Strange, Bruce Banner, and Captain America have developed more wisecracking personalities. Whether this is for better or worse, the fanbase remains somewhat divided, but the popularity of the Marvel movies speak for themselves. With Spider-Man set to be one of the leading faces of the franchise moving forward, we expect this trope to continue for the foreseeable future.

#3: Giant Sky Beams

The sight of giant glowing beams of light shooting into or through the sky is one all too common in the MCU. From the very beginning, with the ARC reactor in “Iron Man,” Marvel has relied on this visual motif time and time again. These sky lasers have been present in every one of the phase 1 Marvel films, but since then, they’ve thankfully cooled on it, only using it in some of the films since. It is a cool looking visual effect, but having seen it over and over, it’s lost whatever charm it once had.

#2: Villains With Similar Powers or Technology to the Hero

One of the most commonly relied-upon tropes in the MCU, this one also got its start at the beginning, with Obadiah Stane in “Iron Man.” After that, almost every Marvel origin movie since has used the very same trope, pitting the hero against an enemy that was an evil reflection of themselves, all the way up to this year’s “Black Panther” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” It’s a trope that has become a little tired, though we understand the appeal, and it does make sense for some stories. Hopefully, as more and more heroes are introduced into the MCU, Marvel is able to diversify their origin stories just a little bit more.

#1: Post-Credits Scenes

At this point, it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a number of post-credits scenes. Iron Man’s now-iconic post-credits scene features Nick Fury hinting at the formation of the Avengers, which kickstarted the idea of a combined Marvel movie universe. Since then, every Marvel Studios movie has featured at least one teaser in the end credits, with most movies featuring two; one comedic and one teasing a future film. It’s a beloved aspect of the Marvel movies and one that encourages folks to watch the credits and recognize the hard work involved in making our favorite blockbusters.

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