Geeky Parent Guide: Navigating Ten Years of the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes with Your Family

Nearly ten years ago, the world was introduced to Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Iron Man was released in May of 2008 with Robert Downey Jr. leading the way, while The Dark Knight, featuring the legendary performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker, debuted later that year in July. These two films are a perfect gateway for parents and their teens to dive into the comic book world, while enjoying action/adventure films and then talking about their favorite moments and characters.

Today on the Geeky Parent Guide, we’ll also be taking a look at the movies that have followed these two blockbuster movies, listing their ratings, briefly discussing interesting characters or plot points, and anything else we can think of to let geeky parents know there are plenty of things to enjoy in these cinematic universes.

First, let’s take a look at the two films that left a huge impact in the DC and Marvel worlds.


Iron Man
Rated: PG-13
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, and Clark Gregg

PG-13 Rating, via Motion Picture Association of America: “Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13 – Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.”

Iron Man is the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – a place where many films have been created and many more are planned. Tony Stark continues the legacy of his father’s company, Stark Industries, selling weapons. After the display of a missile system, Tony soon finds himself surrounded in an ambush and wounded by a weapon stamped with his last name.

Captured by an enemy armed to the teeth with an arsenal of Stark tech, Tony realizes there’s only one way to survive. This path to freedom, along with another hostage who saved Tony from his injuries, requires Tony to make new technology that will ensure his survival against a large attack force. Tony creates a suit of armor that can also fly – and Iron Man is born. Once he becomes Iron Man, he realizes how much destruction has come from his work at Stark Industries. His outlook and his purpose in life change.

This movie provides plenty of fun action sequences, while also showing how to respond once one realizes something wrong has happened. Tony doesn’t turn away when he realizes his weapons are falling into evil hands. He makes sure those weapons do not hurt innocent people, even if it means destroying the very things he helped to create.

How did it rate on Rotten Tomatoes?
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 94% (out of 100)
Audience Score: 91% (out of 100)


The Dark Knight
Rated: PG-13 (see above description)
Starring Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine

The sequel to Batman Begins starts with a grand introduction to one of the most notorious villains in all of comic book history. A bank heist is structured with pairs of henchman tackling one part of the robbery, with only one surviving after the task’s completion. This level of duplicity continues to build until the master planner shows his painted face.

The themes of The Dark Knight seem to revolve around good versus evil, and what one person is willing to do to stop criminals, ultimately protecting those in harm’s way. Batman struggles with this concept, not knowing how to deal with someone who only wants “to watch the world burn.” Batman wants a life as Bruce Wayne, but the appearance of The Joker makes certain that his role in the dark of night will never completely go away.

Heath Ledger’s performance earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and his onscreen charisma captured the hearts of audiences, as he cleverly planned his chaos in the hopes of the world discovering how far heroes will fall when they’re pushed to their limits. Ledger’s performance might make you root for the bad guy, despite The Joker’s vicious rule, and this would serve as the perfect opportunity for families to identify limits and understand that sometimes reasons for evil simply do not exist.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 94%
Audience Score: 94%


Now, where have Marvel and DC gone since their theatric debuts of Iron Man and The Dark Knight? Let’s take a look at the movies that have arrived since then through 2017.


Marvel

The Incredible Hulk
Rated: PG-13
Released: June 2008
Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt

This is the closest example to the same titled television series from the late seventies. Reminiscent to Bill Bixby’s persona, Norton delivers a wonderful Bruce Banner on the big screen. Similarly, the character tries to stay hidden from the government, to keep from becoming a lab experiment or terminated, while also trying to keep his uncontrollable rage from taking over.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 67%
Audience Score: 71%


Iron Man 2
Rated: PG-13
Released: May 2010
In addition to most of the original cast in Iron Man, this film stars Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, and Don Cheadle replacing Howard as Rhodey.

Tony Stark’s past comes back to haunt him, again. As Stark continues to love the spotlight, a public appearance at a racing event brings a villain out onto the track, literally, during the race. This movie explores how far one is willing to go to exact revenge.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 73%
Audience Score: 72%


Thor
Rated: PG-13
Released: May 2011
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, and Clark Gregg

The future king of Asgard, Thor must learn to tame his ego to truly be worthy of leading his people. After engaging in battle, his father and ruler of Asgard, Odin, must come to his aid and then banish Thor for irresponsible actions – something yet to change after many years of similar behavior.

This movie is a fantastic glimpse into one’s ego, where one’s actions can have consequences for the many. The first of three movies featuring the god of thunder indulge fans’ sense of humor, as Thor struggles to live without super powers, while understanding humility and depending on others for help.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 77%
Audience Score: 76%


Captain America: The First Avenger
Rated: PG-13
Released: July 2011
Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, and Stanley Tucci

The iconic first appearance of Captain America in Captain America Comics #1 shows the Captain punching Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi regime. The action was a definitive statement from its creators, since the comic was published prior to the United States entering into World War II. This film dates to the same time period of the Second World War, as an origin story of a young, scrawny Steve Rogers who wants to enlist, but doesn’t have the physical abilities to achieve his heroic goal.

After an experiment using “Super Soldier Serum,” Steve transforms into the hero he wants to be – and he becomes the face of a nation fighting a war against evil. The film explores Captain’s impact of generating hope, the promotion of his character, and a growing threat from an enemy yet to be discovered.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 80%
Audience Score: 74%


The Avengers
Rated: PG-13
Released: May 2012
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, and Clark Gregg

The iconic film has an all-star cast, bringing all of its superheroes together to fight a common alien threat – and Loki. The movie is filled with plenty of humor and action-packed scenes. Our heroes must find a way to work together, learning to set aside their own pride, realizing that all of them acting as a team are better than each person acting alone for a separate agenda.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 92%
Audience Score: 91%


Iron Man 3
Rated: PG-13
Released: May 2013
In addition to some of the cast members of Iron Man 2, this film stars Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, William Sadler, and Ty Simpkins

Tony struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the events from The Avengers. He struggles to sleep, and when awake, he’s determined to find a way to save his friends – in the hopes of protecting those he cares for in the event of another alien attack.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 80%
Audience Score: 78%


Thor: The Dark World
Rated: PG-13
Released: November 2013
In addition to most of the original cast of Thor, this film stars Christopher Eccleston

Millenniums since an epic battle when Asgardians defeated Dark Elves, a powerful weapon is sought by the remaining Dark Elves. The leader, Malekith, escaped the initial battle and has waited for the right time to strike back. The Dark World explores how one might begin to forgive another person, even if the same treachery might happen again.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 66%
Audience Score: 77%


Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Rated: PG-13
Released: April 2014
In addition to some of the original cast from The First Avenger, this film stars Samuel L. Jackson (more than a cameo from the first film), Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, and Robert Redford

Captain America must sift through the murkiness involved with an old enemy blending into S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization aimed at protecting the world from any and all threats. This enemy, HYDRA, uses its invisible takeover to label Captain as a traitor, and he must go on the run and determine who he can trust to prevent an old, hateful ideology from taking over the world.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 89%
Audience Score: 92%


Guardians of the Galaxy
Rated: PG-13
Released: August 2014
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, and Benicio Del Toro

A collection of outcasts come together to form an alliance to, well, stay alive – and then fight against an Infinity stone-seeking Kree. Generally, stories are aimed at showing individuals who have been wrongly convicted and misunderstood in some way, allowing viewers to know their incarceration is some kind of mistake. With the Guardians, you can only know that they are clearly misunderstood. It’s safe to say they probably aren’t wrongly accused of much.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 91%
Audience Score: 92%


Avengers: Age of Ultron
Rated: PG-13
Released: May 2015
In addition to some of the original cast of The Avengers, this film includes Don Cheadle, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Anthony Mackie

Tony Stark continues to build upon his advanced robotics, with the Ultron Program, to further his goal of protecting the world. In doing so, Ultron becomes self-aware and deems the human world to be unfit for survival. The team of Avengers must come together to understand the enemy and somehow defeat Ultron despite its ability to self-replicate.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 75%
Audience Score: 83%


Ant-Man
Rated: PG-13
Released: July 2015
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, and Corey Stoll

Summoning his inner Guardians of the Galaxy, Scott Lang, recently released convict, must find a way to be a part of his daughter’s life. The simple path is to follow his heart, hoping to be a hero in her eyes, while wearing a suit that gives Scott incredible abilities – but, things are never quite so easy.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 82%
Audience Score: 86%


Captain America: Civil War
Rated: PG-13
Released: May 2016
In addition to the cast of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this film stars Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Paul Rudd, and Tom Holland

The time has come to choose a side. After Age of Ultron, governments want the Avengers, and all enhanced beings, to be registered – making every person accountable for their own super powers. With Tony Stark leading the charge to get others to sign the agreement, Steve Rogers doesn’t believe anyone should have to feel like they’re losing any sense of freedom.

Civil War is also an important moment for seeing Spider-Man in the MCU. The rights to this character belong to Sony Pictures, where previous Spidey films were released under, and the two entities – Sony and Marvel – were able to come to terms and showcase the beloved web slinger in a film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 91%
Audience Score: 89%


Doctor Strange
Rated: PG-13
Released: November 2016
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen

This origin story follows Stephen Strange and how he attempts to recover after a horrific car crash. His journey to find a healer leads him to the front door of “The Ancient One.” Strange will do anything to learn from her, and along the way, must acquire the will to set his own ego aside to fully understand the mystical world and how to protect it.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 89%
Audience Score: 86%


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Rated: PG-13
Released: May 2017
In addition to some of the original cast of Guardians of the Galaxy, this film stars Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, and Sylvester Stallone

As an official team, the Guardians are hired to recover stolen property. Unfortunately, Rocket is Rocket and double crosses those that hired him – and it’s all downhill after that. Along the way, they also run into Peter Quill’s absentee father, and that presents an entirely different set of circumstances, and feelings, altogether.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 83%
Audience Score: 88%


Spider-Man: Homecoming
Rated: PG-13
Released: July 2017
Starring Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, and Zendaya

Following up on the agreement that saw Spider-Man play in Captain America: Civil War, the web slinger has a stand-alone film in the MCU, featuring Iron Man. After Peter Parker’s involvement in Civil War, he returns to his life with a new mentor, Tony Stark. The film highlights Parker’s desire to prove himself, while also introducing Vulture, a classic Spider-Man villain.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 92%
Audience Score: 88%


Thor: Ragnarok
Rated: PG-13
Released: November 2017
In addition to some of the cast of Thor: The Dark World, this film stars Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, and Karl Urban

The latest addition to the MCU gives reason to cheer for those that lose something they hold dear, as they try to find their way again. Ragnarok follows part of the well-known storyline from Planet Hulk, which leads to the wonderful chemistry from the Avenger films between Thor and Hulk – and Thor creates a new team that might or might not be called “The Revengers.”

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 92%
Audience Score: 88%


Including Iron Man, Marvel Studios has created 17 films from 2008 through 2017, with a total of 20 by the end of 2018. The long-awaited release of Black Panther lands in theaters next month on February 16. Later in May, Avengers: Infinity War, with its trailer setting the record for most views in 24 hours, speaks volumes to how many fans want to see the many superheroes scheduled to come together for an enormous confrontation with Thanos. Lastly, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the final scheduled movie for 2018, and thus far, the first movie in the MCU to feature a female superhero in the title – with the first movie scheduled for 2019 being Captain Marvel.

The Marvel universe gives parents and teens a binge-watching marathon worthy of your time. The sheer number of films gives each family an abundance of things to talk about – favorite films, characters, storylines, and villains. If that wasn't enough and you love creating lists, think of all the ways you can create a “Top” list for the MCU. Where would you rank all 17 movies?

Although the MCU has clearly been identified as having “the right stuff” by having the right mix of action and comedy from stellar casts, it hasn’t beat DC Comics to headline a female superhero in an independent film. Now, let’s move to that cinematic universe to see which films have landed in theaters since The Dark Knight, which will primarily include those tied to DC’s Extended Universe (DCEU).


DC Comics

Green Lantern
Rated: PG-13
Released: June 2011
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, Mark Strong, and Taika Waititi

Hal Jordan is a pilot chosen by a powerful ring from a fallen member of the Green Lantern Corps. The mission of this intergalactic group is to defend the universe from all threats, and when such a threat appears on Earth, Jordan must find strength within himself that he might not see readily.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 26%
Audience Score: 45%


The Dark Knight Rises
Rated: PG-13
Released: July 2012
Starring members from the original cast, in addition to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, and Marion Cotillard

This is the last in Christopher Nolan’s directed Batman trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises takes a piece from Knightfall, a comic book series with the devastating image of Bane breaking the back of Batman. The timeline of this movie lands several years after The Joker upends Gotham in The Dark Knight, where Batman will come face-to-face with Bane.

Despite this being the last film for Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, the final scenes laid the groundwork for passing the torch – even though that work did not come to pass. This is a fantastic opportunity for fans to discuss the potential moving forward, and what storylines or characters they would want to see take over as the Batman rides off into the sunset.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 87%
Audience Score: 90%


Man of Steel (Set in the DCEU)
Rated: PG-13
Released: June 2013
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Ayelet Zurer, and Russell Crowe

Reimagined from Superman Returns in 2006, Man of Steel presents a gritty look at what life has become for Superman as he attempts to stay under the radar and limit those that know his true identity. It takes an invading force from his destroyed home world to show everyone that such a superhero exists – and he will fight to defend his home.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 55%
Audience Score: 75%


Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (Set in the DCEU)
Rated: PG-13
Released: March 2016
In addition to cast members from Man of Steel, this film stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Irons, and Jesse Eisenberg

This film ties Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman together in one film – and this is a significant moment as it shows an iconic character yet to be seen on the big screen. Wonder Woman’s origin dates back to her 1942 appearance in Sensation Comics #1. Although this film has an overall mixed reception with the Batman versus Superman storyline, it doesn’t take away from Wonder Woman’s cinematic debut, portrayed by Gal Gadot – a stepping stone for a highly anticipated solo film.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 27%
Audience Score: 63%


Suicide Squad (Set in the DCEU)
Rated: PG-13
Released: August 2016
Starring Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara, Joel Kinnaman, Adam Beach, Jared Leto, and Cara Delevingne

Sometimes, bad guys can do the right thing. Sometimes, they don’t have a choice – especially when a tiny bomb is placed in their neck and used as leverage if they act outside the scope of their orders. Suicide Squad dives into the ethical questions of forcing criminals to do black ops or something close to suicide missions. Is a person truly a villain when they choose to put themselves at risk, even when the cost might be losing one’s own head?

Rotten Tomatoes
Critics’ Score: 26%
Audience Score: 60%


Wonder Woman (Set in the DCEU)
Rated: PG-13
Released: June 2017
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, and Elena Anaya

Wonder Woman is now the top-grossing superhero origin movie in both the domestic and worldwide box offices” (November 3, 2017). This is such an important moment for parents to highlight to their kids – women can be leads, kick butt, and make money at the movie theater.

Princess Diana encounters a lost pilot who crashed on her home of Themyscira. After being told about the Great War, Diana decides to leave her home in the hopes of helping end the First World War.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 92%
Audience Score: 88%


Justice League (Set in the DCEU)
Rated: PG-13
Released: November 2017
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Amy Adams, and Henry Cavill

Strength in numbers and depending on others – it’s a significant theme of the movie if members of the Justice League are going to protect Earth. As the movie starts, Bruce Wayne and Diana must recruit others to join forces to save the planet. Recruiting these heroes might be a difficult task, but sometimes, being eager to have friends might influence one’s decision to join.

Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatometer Critics’ Score: 40%
Audience Score: 78%


For families, the past ten years have introduced two cinematic universes that can be explored, discussed, and ranked. There are stories of redemption, failures, sacrifices, overcoming obstacles or ego, depending on others, and throughout all of the themes, parents and kids have an opportunity to learn how to voice their opinions. It might seem quite simple to say one cinematic universe is better than the other, but the discussion will allow everyone to share their thoughts. One might say “Marvel is better,” while the other will point out that “DC created the first solo film led by a woman.”

The possibilities for conversation topics are seemingly endless, and it doesn’t have to end there. If movies become a similar interest, it might be a gateway for families to enter the comic book world or other storytelling mediums, such as books, television shows, or Broadway plays.

Have you and your kids watched any or all of these movies in one or both universes? Do you have a favorite movie from either Marvel or DC? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and if you like this article and want to see more comic book movie content, don’t forget to like this page and share with all of your geeky (parent) friends.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.

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