The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a platform for directors like Ryan Coogler, Peyton Reed, Taika Waititi, and more to make the jump to blockbuster filmmaking over the last decade. The best Marvel movies allow their directors to maintain their sensibilities, which makes many of their non-Marvel movies worth a look. Click through the gallery for each MCU director’s best non-superhero film.
Jon Favreau kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Iron Man” and has pulled off successful indies (the delightful “Chef”) and blockbusters (“The Jungle Book” is a visual marvel) in the years since, but his best will always be “Elf.” Pulling off a Christmas classic is no easy task, but Favreau succeeds by leaning into the genre’s best clichés and delivering them with unabashed joy.
“The Incredible Hulk” is the black sheep of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it could have used the same unpredictable energy Louis Leterrier brought to “Now You See Me” five years later. The director’s magician film is part team comedy, part heist thriller, and all kinds of ridiculous, but it’s that energy and the cast’s dynamite chemistry that makes it a blast.
Kenneth Branagh’s love of Shakespeare served him well while directing “Thor,” and any of the filmmaker’s adaptations could serve as his very best, from “Henry V” to “Much Ado About Nothing.” For now, we’ll go with Branagh’s sprawling and visually dazzling “Hamlet,” which runs four hours and might just be his magnum opus.
Twenty years before giving the MCU a period throwback with “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Joe Johnston pulled a similar trick with “The Rocketeer.” The 1991 comic book adaptation was a retro blast that proved Johnston could craft something fresh, energized, and visually stylish out of the past.
“Iron Man 3” director Shane Black delivers black comedy gold in detective stories “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “The Nice Guys,” but the latter has the edge thanks to Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe’s incredible chemistry. One of 2016’s most criminally overlooked studio releases, “The Nice Guys” mixes neo-noir mystery and buddy comedy to perfection.
Alan Taylor has struggled on the big screen with “Thor: The Dark World” and “Terminator Genisys,” but his work on the HBO series “Game of Thrones” proves he’s got serious directing chops. Taylor was behind the camera for iconic episodes like “Baelor” and “Beyond the Wall,” which featured a massive battle sequence that outdoes any of his movie tentpoles.
Anthony and Joe Russo’s film career outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe is nothing to brag about (“You, Me and Dupree,” anyone?), but their television work behind the camera on the NBC series “Community” is quite impressive. The duo directed the cult favorite’s pilot and individually handled some of the series’ best episodes, including “Beginner Pottery” (Anthony) and “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” (Joe).
Marvel fans went crazy for the wackier sensibilities James Gunn brought to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but that tone has long been a staple of the director’s work. Look no further than Gunn’s gross-out “Slither,” a horror comedy that earns its cult classic status as a slimy, bloody love letter to cheap B-movies.
Peyton Reed might be the most surprising Marvel director, having come mostly from romantic comedies like “The Break-Up” and “Down With Love.” Despite delivering favorable MCU films with his two “Ant-Man” movies, Reed will never be able to escape the shadow of “Bring It On,” his 2000 feature directorial debut that is as iconic as high school movies get.
Scott Derrickson was pulled from the horror world to helm Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” and out of the director’s several genre entries, including “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and “Deliver Us From Evil,” the Ethan Hawke-starring “Sinister” is his most effective chiller. Derrickson provided a sustained dread to match his grisly jump scares, delivering a brutal horror film with a great Ethan Hawke.
Jon Watts jumped from a tiny indie film to a massive Marvel blockbuster when he made “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” but that tiny indie film, “Cop Car,” is small gem of a movie. Watts’ barebones storytelling approach follows two kids who get in way over their head after finding an abandoned cop car, and the filmmaker crafts an engaging thriller told mostly through silence. Kevin Bacon ratcheting up the tension as the car’s seedy owner is an added bonus.
You can’t go wrong with any Taika Waititi movie, especially “What We Do in the Shadows,” but his 2010 comedy “Boy” deserves way more eyeballs here in America. The film feels like what would happen if you took Wes Anderson and dropped him in the middle of New Zealand. “Boy” is probably the best coming-of-age movie you’ve never seen.
“Fruitvale Station” was Ryan Coogler’s launch pad, but “Creed” marked the moment when Coogler’s career snapped into focus. The boxing drama proved a bigger budget could not get in the way of Coogler’s piercing humanism as a storyteller, a skill that would make “Black Panther” the best MCU movie to date.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are the next directors to step up to the Marvel plate with 2019’s “Captain Marvel,” the MCU’s first movie fronted by a solo female superhero. The duo broke out with “Half Nelson,” which they both wrote and Ryan directed, and together they pulled off the overlooked buddy drama “Mississippi Grind,” featuring stellar performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds.
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