Although Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, it was Thor three years later that lifted this franchise off Earth and into cosmic territory for the first time. Kenneth Branagh was tasked with introducing Marvel's God of Thunder and his surrounding mythology to the big screen, and the movie went on to earn solid critical reception and make nearly $445 million worldwide. It's fortunate that it performed so well, because as Branagh recently recalled, there was a lot of pressure on him to ensure it was successful so that the MCU could properly expand. When asked if Thor's failure might have resulted in the MCU toppling over, Branagh responded:
That's certainly how they felt. No question that Kevin Feige used to say to me, 'This is the single most difficult tonal challenge for us, to make this movie work in itself and fit into this large universe.' In fact, I think Thor, and in Chris Hemsworth's performance, becomes an absolutely integral part.
Before Thor's release, the MCU's only starring superheroes were Iron Man and Hulk, both of whom are Earth-based Marvel heroes. Iron Man 2 foreshadowed Thor's arrival through the post-credits scene with Mjolnir, but it was the Thor movie that showed audiences that there were wonders beyond our world in this superhero universe. But it wasn't just about laying ground work for the MCU cosmos that was riding on Thor. As Kenneth Branagh also mentions during his interview with Uproxx, while the Iron Man movies were successful, The Incredible Hulk hadn't performed the way Marvel hoped it would. Fortunately due to Branagh's vision and Chris Hemsworth's performance as the God of Thunder, Thor came out just fine, and by the time Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers came out, the MCU was on solid ground.
Kenneth Branagh only stuck with the MCU for one movie, so for Thor: The Dark World, Game of Thrones' Alan Taylor was hired as his directorial replacement (replacing Monster's Patty Jenkins, who went on to helm Wonder Woman). The sequel was a bigger commercial success than its predecessor, making over $644 million worldwide, but its reviews were mixed. Four years later, Thor: Ragnarok is enjoying acclaim across the board and has surpassed the $5 million mark. Under Taika Wapiti's direction, the threequel feels a lot different than the Kenneth Branagh-helmed Thor, but for those who've enjoyed Thor Odinson's cinematic exploits over the last six years, be thankful that Kenneth Branagh and Thor's cast and crew got the ball rolling so effectively.
Whether you've already seen Thor: Ragnarok or haven't made it to the theater yet, don't forget to read our review of the movie. Both Thor and his brother Loki will return for Avengers: Infinity War on May 4, 2018. As for Kenneth Branagh, his latest creative endeavor, Murder on the Orient Express, is also now playing in theaters.