In the span of just 11 years, Marvel Studios have successfully created no less than 22 movies and 9 TV series that collectively make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Their hard work has paid off in spades – MCU is acknowledged as the single most profitable franchise in film history. Even so, it’s far from being over.
For newcomers especially, the MCU can be intimidating. One big mistake to make is watching them in the order they were released, as you won’t get the absolute best experience. But, with our list of Marvel movies organized by how they occur in the Marvel Universe, everything will unfold and fit in together nicely.
Marvel’s creative directors segmented this timeline into three phases, which we’ve also taken into account. Just scroll down to find out where to start! Spoiler alert: there will be no spoilers.
Phase 1 – 7 Movies
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Although not the first film created by the studio, many regard The First Avenger as an exhaustive and necessary introduction to the MCU. Set in the 1940s, the picture also lays the foundation for S.H.I.E.L.D, as well as the Iron Man movies.
Captain Marvel (2019)
The story of how the Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) becomes a superhero is set in the 1990s, making it the second movie you should watch from a chronological perspective. It also features the first development of S.H.I.E.L.D, connects with later titles Infinity War and Endgame, and introduces the Kree race, as well as something of essential interest for this particular phase.
Iron Man (2008)
Viewers would be most acquainted with the first MCU movie, Iron Man, but the former two titles are better placed before this modern-day evolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. The First Avenger introduces Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s father, while the final scene with Nick Fury acquires a different meaning as a result of Captain Marvel.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
It makes more sense to watch Rober Downey Jr.’s sequel right now, as the movie features Nick Fury in a slightly different, more important role within the modern evolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. We are rewarded with a more comprehensive view of the latter organization and its inner workings, while also witnessing the way in which the legacy of Howard Stark develops.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Also known as the one you can skip, The Incredible Hulk actually takes place at the same time as the previous movie. However, the end-credit sequence references Tony Stark’s involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D in a way that makes more sense to be placed after the action of his second movie.
There’s a bit of dispute as to whether Thor or The Avengers should be next on the list. We decided to go with the former, as it effectively introduces us to Asgard, but also to Loki as a powerful antagonist.
The Avengers (2012)
The concluding title for the first phase sees Loki return as an antihero. More importantly, this movie offers the first nuanced perspective on S.H.I.E.L.D. Without giving anything away, the World Security Council which oversees the former will decide something unexpected, to say the least.
Phase 2 – 7 Movies
Iron Man 3 (2013)
As some of the more expressive screenshots from this movie have shown, the third movie to star Iron Man sees the latter hero having to deal with the emotional consequences of The Avengers movie. The only thing we can say about it is that Tony Stark does not have it easy.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
With this movie, we return to the cosmic plane of the Marvel universe as the relationship between the trickster god Loki and Thor is given more attention. From this perspective, the picture picks up on the last two movies of Phase 1, while also introducing the Infinity Stones.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Back on Earth, Captain America is also dealing with the aftermath from The Avengers. It’s difficult to say when the action of this movie is actually set, but some speculate that it’s simultaneous with Iron Man 3.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The Collector, who appears in Thor: The Dark World, makes another appearance, tying this movie in with the one before. Another noteworthy aspect is that the Infinity Stones plot is further developed and brought to the fore.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
The sequel, set just a couple of months after the first movie, picks up on the prequel’s action and plot, so it only makes sense to watch them together.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Picking up on the Hydra theme from Iron Man 3, the role of this movie is to essentially tie in the cosmic and Earth-bound narrative arcs with the help of Thor.
With subtle references to the former movie and the devastation following its aftermath, Ant-Man introduces another hero, as well as a villain to the cinematography side of MCU.
Phase 3 – 8 movies
Doctor Strange (2016)
Albeit a bit difficult to place, Doctor Strange is definitely part of Phase 3. The ideas of the Quantum Realm and Time Stone are introduced. The picture further solidifies the narrative connection between Marvel’s Earth-related movies and the ones taking place at a cosmic level.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
At this point, it’s high time to conclude a narrative arc that was begun in Avengers: Age of Ultron. For the first time, we get to see real conflict and battles within the Avengers group. The former will be split into two factions based on their take of the Sokovia Accords.
Black Panther (2018)
Having been formally introduced in Captain America: Civil War, the correct place of this origin story for the Black Panther superhero is right after those events. There’s also a mid-credits scene where an important character is granted asylum in Wakanda.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Two months after Civil War, Peter Parker’s life is torn between fighting crime and high-school life. Although he will refuse a significant invitation from Tony Stark, the events that involve Iron Man lead us to believe that he is faring better.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
With a cameo from Doctor Strange, this movie specifically deals with the fate of the realm of Asgard in the absence of Odin. A power struggle ensues and the plot gradually builds up to the events of Infinity War.
Ant-Man & the Wasp (2018)
Despite the fact that many tend to forget this movie, the comic Ant-Man returns viewers to Earth-bound events, but it doesn’t lend itself easily to a chronological placement. What we know for sure is that it comes before Infinity War.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The last thing you need to see before Endgame is this movie that reunites the Avengers with Black Panther and Shuri in order to thwart Thanos’ destructive plans. The good guys get even more reinforcements, but whether they will be successful against this supervillain remains to be seen.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The recently released, critically-acclaimed Endgame provides a much desired wrap-up to the events of Phase 3 in the MCU. The movie picks up right after the conflict with Thanos, while also connecting with and concluding a host of Avengers-related storylines in an organic and fulfilling manner, without too much idealization.
However, the movie does leave room for several story arcs to be further explored and we do have confirmation of at least one more Guardians of the Galaxy, another Black Panther, and much more. So, now that you know what order to watch the MCU movies in, sit back, get some popcorn, and enjoy.