The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is easily one of the most significant cultural juggernauts of our time. It’s everywhere — movie theaters, streaming services, graphic tees, social media. Sometimes, it feels like the MCU is inescapable. Though there are plenty of people who don’t care for it, all it takes is one great moment to draw you in forever.
Before Guardians of the Galaxy, the MCU just felt like it was full of silly superhero movies with action sequences geared toward men. But after Guardians, it became clear that the MCU is also full of the best music, hilarious one-liners, badass women, and metaphors for greater societal issues. So we’ve created the perfect guide for any girl who’s ready to jump on the MCU bandwagon, from female-led projects to badass female villains.
Female-Led MCU Movies & Series
Don’t worry, this isn’t the only category that makes this a girl’s guide, but it is the most obvious one to start with. Unfortunately, it took 11 years of films before the MCU decided to put a woman in charge in Captain Marvel. The film stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, and luckily, you need very little MCU knowledge to enjoy the film. It takes place in the ’90s (Blockbusters included) and provides the origin story behind one of the most powerful heroes in the multiverse.
Black Widow is also female-led, with Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff. It provides her long-awaited origin story, but is, unfortunately, best for those who have seen all the MCU projects in order. Even still, its trifecta of Scarlett, Rachel Weisz, and Florence Pugh is better than we could have imagined. In the film, we see that many Black Widows were essentially sex-trafficked, which makes Black Widow an allegory for a greater political issue many women have a stake in. And by seeing women work together instead of seeing them pitted against one another, we’re getting a taste of MCU feminism at its finest.
WandaVision was the first MCU series and was female-led, so we can’t knock them on that front. The 2021 series is still considered the best MCU series by many because of its clear love of television, the meta-story within the format, and Elizabeth Olsen’s performance as Wanda, not to mention Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha. Their performances were quite literally Emmy-worthy, with Elizabeth transforming Wanda from an MCU afterthought into one of the franchise’s most complex characters. Kathryn was so iconic that she inspired Marvel head honchos to create an entire series about Agatha (set to premiere in late 2024).
At first, we all thought Hawkeye was going to be about Jeremy Renner’s long-standing Avenger, whose superpower is shooting arrows. Instead, it follows Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop as she takes on Hawkeye’s mantle. It’s definitely a thriller, but with a teenage girl at the forefront, it makes us wonder why we didn’t become literal superheroes in high school. Like any teenage girl, Kate has a rebellious streak and faces pressure to live up to expectations. She fights New York City’s underground crime scene while also fighting society’s view of what women can and cannot do. Plus, for Rentheads, there’s a 5-minute Marvel musical starring Adam Pascal, so that’s a definite bonus.
Another coming-of-age story, Ms. Marvel follows Iman Vellani’s Captain Marvel-obsessed Kamala Khan. It definitely takes some prior MCU knowledge to understand all the references, but it’s also a story about fitting in and finding your identity as a high school girl.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law follows the tradition of female-led MCU series with Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, who turns into a She-Hulk. The only precursor you need would be the MCU’s The Incredible Hulk, and it’s totally worth it. At times, She-Hulk is pure camp, and other times, it’s a feminist story that questions why female superheroes are called “female” and male superheroes are just called superheroes. It has its fair share of criticisms, but it’s also fun, engaging, and a total *smash* hit.
Best MCU Female Villains
As with any cinematic universe, there are a lot of female love interests and side characters. But there are also some of the best villains we’ve ever seen. In fact, Hela from Thor: Ragnarok has been ranked by Marvel experts Mallory Rubin and Joanna Robinson as a Top 10 MCU villain. Played by Cate Blanchett, she’s the epitome of evil, while also being worship-worthy. Her drag-like persona fits perfectly into the world of the hilarious Thor: Ragnarok. Cate’s timing, confidence, and campiness complement the high-octane comedy. Plus, Thor: Ragnarok is also a strong allegory for refugee crises around the world.
Agatha Harkness also comes in full-force villainy in WandaVision, and now she’s getting her own spinoff series, Agatha: Darkhold Diaries. The fact she’s a villain is a bit of a spoiler, but don’t fret, because there’s still so much to learn about her past. She has all the charisma of a sitcom star with all the motives and unbridled ambitions of an evil genius.
You might be shocked, but Wanda Maximoff also takes a villainous turn in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The relatively new film leans on the horror genre as Wanda struggles with the desire to be a mother, something many women can relate to. But her villainy is next-level and a must-see in the multiversal film.
And we can’t forget Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, or Val for short. Her first appearance is in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but she plays a major role in Black Widow and appears in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. There’s definitely still more to see from Val, but for Seinfeld and Veep lovers, it’s clear that Julia is thriving in her villain era. She’s both funny and manipulative, and theories suggest she might be putting together a team of anti-heroes.
There are so many more ways into the MCU — for example, its films and series inspired by classic female-loved comedies, such as Spider-Man’s nods to Back to the Future or Ant-Man’s leading heartthrob and funnyman Paul Rudd. We could have highlighted the films and series directed by Chloe Zhao, Anna Boden, Cate Shortland, Jac Schaeffer, Kate Herron, and Jessica Gao. All of this is just to say that even if it once felt like a boys’ club, the MCU is definitely for women too.