Times Marvel Movies Featured Real World Events

Marvel’s comic book movies must take place in a world separate from ours, since ours doesn’t have any superpowered mutants or crime-fighting billionaire industrialists — at least as far as we know. But much like the comics that inspired them, Marvel films have a way of mirroring the real world despite the obvious differences between the two.

Many of them have even grounded their superpowered characters and goings-on by relating them to major events of the 20th century. Let’s review some of these instance to find out where our world and the Marvel world overlap.

1. World War II in Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger | Marvel
Captain America: The First Avenger | Marvel

There’s no Captain America without World War II, and the first MCU film to prominently feature the iconic hero did a good job of recreating the pulpy, idealistic vibe of Cap’s early comics. The patriotism and struggles of wartime are there, even if many of the details are changed, including sidelining the Nazis in favor of Hydra, where the villainous Red Skull’s allegiances truly lie.

Cap does spend a good chunk of the movie doing USO shows to promote war bonds, which were a major part of U.S. war efforts — so, at least that’s right.

2. The war in Afghanistan in Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man | Marvel Studios

The first Marvel Cinematic Universe films had a lot of relevant political undertones that were otherwise abandoned in later MCU movies. It makes sense, as Tony Stark begins his hero arc as an opportunistic weapons dealer directly profiting from wars in the Middle East.

The war in Afghanistan ends up playing a major part in his hero transformation, as he develops the suit while being held hostage in a desert cave by Raza, the leader of a terrorist cell called The Ten Rings, an obvious analogy for Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda.

3. Most major American wars in X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine | Fox
Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine | Fox

Despite the occasional inclusion of real-life events within the MCU, it can’t compare to the blend of fiction and history that has become a cornerstone of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films. This franchise has made a habit of nodding toward real world events, if not just rewriting them completely to fit into their mutant-centric version of American history.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine begins with a montage of the titular hero and his similarly invincible half-brother Victor Creed fighting their way through the most memorable of American conflicts. We see them taking part in the Civil War, both World Wars, and the Vietnam War, where Creed attempts to rape a Vietnamese woman — a possible nod to the well-publicized atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers during the conflict.

4. The Cuban Missile Crisis in X-Men: First Class

Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class | 20th Century Fox
Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class | 20th Century Fox

X-Men: First Class features a brief glimpse into the much-discussed backstory of the villainous Magneto, showing him as a young boy in a Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland. The majority of the film, however, more directly concerns the Cold War tensions that came after World War II, as yet another villain, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), plans to use those tensions to trigger a nuclear war that would destroy humanity, allowing mutants to become the Earth’s dominant race.

He does this by playing the two sides against one another, advocating the USSR to break the American blockade to install missiles in Cuba. In other words, he engineers the Cuban Missile Crisis, likely the closest the world has ever come to actual nuclear war.

5. The bombing of Japan in The Wolverine

Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine | 20th Century Fox
Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine | 20th Century Fox

The immortal Wolverine has no shortage of tragic backstories. His second solo film The Wolverine begins with yet another one of them. This time, he’s trapped in one of Japan’s famously brutal POW camps during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki at the end of World War II, during which time he shields enemy officer Ichirō Yashida from the past.

Props to the film for using Nagasaki as its setting over the more widely-recognized Hiroshima bombing.

6. Nixon’s missing tape from X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Future Past | Fox

The sequel to X-Men: First Class moves the action from the early ’60s to the early ’70s, but keeps all the period-specific detail and clever historical fiction. Charles Xavier, for example, is devastated by the loss of his students to the Vietnam war, while Mystique attempts to infiltrate the Paris Peace Accords that ended the war. Magneto is held prisoner for assassinating President Kennedy, himself a mutant whose main power was an almost hypnotic likability.

The most entertainingly specific bit of historical revisionism, however, comes when Nixon discusses implementing the anti-mutant Sentinel program and one of his aides switches off a tape recorder concealed in his desk — a clear reference to the missing 18-and-a-half minutes on Nixon’s Oval Office tapes, likely destroyed to cover-up damaging information after Watergate.

Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf

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