The Marvel cinematic universe is one of the most in-depth series of all time.
While the franchise began with Iron Man in 2008, for those following the narrative this isn’t where the story begins.
There are currently 24 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe released throughout three phases. While each movie was contained to its own story, throughout the phases each film brought viewers closer to the arrival of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.
In this article, we will be breaking down the chronological timeline of all films in the MCU so you can watch them in the correct narrative order.
What order should I watch the MCU in?
Captain America: The First Avenger
Taking place first in the timeline, Captain America: The First Avenger provides the origin story for one of Marvel’s most popular heroes – played by Chris Evans. This film mostly takes place in 1942 and showcases Steve Rogers’s journey from a scrawny infantry soldier to becoming Captain America and facing off against Red Skull.
Next up is Captain Marvel which is set in much closer to modern times in 1995. This movie is the first in the timeline to explore space travel and intergalactic threats. As we are introduced to both Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and soon-to-be Shield Director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), the pair get involved in the conflict between the Kree and the Skrulls.
The third film in the timeline was the first to be released, Iron Man. The billionaire philanthropist turned superhero, Tony Stark has his origin story told in this fan-favorite film. Thanks to its box office success and fans’ adoration for Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man, the film ultimately kicked off the MCU.
Iron Man 2
Picking up shortly after the events of the first Iron Man film, Iron Man 2 continues the story of the suited superhero now with his identity known to the public. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) the son of a scientist who previously worked at Stark Industries is back with a grudge and creates his own weaponry with the goal of taking revenge for his fallen father.
The Incredible Hulk
While many fans may choose not to include this in their watch-through of the MCU, given that it features Ed Norton instead of Bruce Banner’s eventual MCU actor Mark Ruffalo. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still technically part of the timeline. This movie gives fans a unique take on the Hulk’s origin story, and during the closing credits it hints at more MCU things to come.
Thor’s initial big-screen debut took place in 2011 and gave fans their first look at Asgard amongst other realms using the Bifrost to travel to Earth defending the world from Loki and Frost Giant threat. For many moviegoers, this was their introduction to the Thor character played by Chris Hemsworth and for most it delivered.
The first crossover film in the timeline, at the conclusion of Marvel phase one the Avengers brought together Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), The Hulk, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to protect the earth from Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the Chitauri invasion. The movie also played a key role in introducing the Tesseract as the first of the Infinity stones. These stones ultimately were the key to all future plans in the MCU.
Thor: The Dark World
The second Thor film in MCU, The Dark World gives us a closer look at Asgard, its inner workings, and the relationship between Thor, his brother Loki, and his father Odin. The film also gives us a look at the second infinity gem, the Aether, wielded by the movie’s antagonists the Dark Elves.
Iron Man 3
In Iron Man 3, Stark deals with anxiety after learning of the intergalactic threat of the Chitauri. After diving into full damage control mode and assembling an army of suits he is forced to choose between being Iron Man and protecting those he loves. Meanwhile, he must also deal with the looming threat of “The Mandarin”.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Hailed as one of the best films in the franchise, Captain America: The Winter Soldier introduces viewers to some more of Captain America’s past through Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier. The movie also reveals the hidden Hydra threat still present amongst agents of S.H.I.E.L.D that ultimately leads to its demise.
Guardians of the Galaxy
When it was announced that Disney was going to bring the Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen many were skeptical, however, this is one of the most fun films in the franchise. We are introduced to Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) as this unlikely team attempt to stop the plot of Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) to use the Power Stone to destroy Xandar.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2
Taking place shortly after the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 gives us a closer look at Peter Quill’s backstory and heritage, while also introducing a new member to the squad in the form of Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Crossing over once again, the cast of the original Avengers film joins forces to defend the earth from the threat of Ultron (James Spader), a supercomputer developed to be a peacekeeping program by Tony Stark, which overrides its programming and now seeks to eliminate all mankind. In the latter half of the film, the Avengers get a few new additions in the form of Vision (Paul Bettany) and the Maximov twins Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
Ant-Man tells the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a thief who is recruited by Dr. Hank Pym to assist him with stopping the plot of his former protege who cast him away from his company. During the film Lang becomes Ant-Man after being gifted a suit and being trained to use the Pym Particles so he can shrink his size, having superhuman strength and being able ot to talk to ants.
Captain America: Civil War
While not an Avengers film by name, Captain America: Civil War brings most of the superhero cast so far together for a faceoff over a disagreement in the Sokovia Accords. Civil War was also used to introduce new characters to the Avengers roster including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man Tom Holland).
Finally getting her own origin film after being a part of the MCU for over a decade, Black Widow heads back to her roots in the titular film to launch earlier this year. The film also introduced other characters that could make appearances in later films and TV shows to come.
Taking place right after the events of Civil War, Spider-Man’s MCU debut chose not to retell the hero’s origin story, instead giving us a coming of age film of Peter Parker dealing with his time as Spider-Man. There is plenty of comic book Spidey villains teased throughout the film, but its major threat is the Vulture – who is menacingly played by Micheal Keaton.
Instead of an origin story, when we pick up in Black Panther T’Challa has already taken the mantle as the hero after the passing of his father in Civil War. This film gives viewers their first look at the inner workings of the afrofuturistic Wakanda as well as an epic tale of personal and ideological rivalry between T’Challa and Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) .
The first time we are treated to Doctor Strange in the MCU is within his self-titled film. The story explored the origins of Steven Strange’s character and teases the ideas of multiple dimensions, cosmic beings, and time-traveling threats. As you’d expect the Time Stone is also a crucial element of the film that becomes more important in later films.
Directed by Taika Waititi and taking a different style than the previous two Thor films, Ragnarok has a more comical personality while maintaining high-quality action setpieces. The film addresses many of the loose ends following Age of Ultron and follows Thor and Loki and they attempt to stop their half-sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) from taking over Asgard.
Avengers: Infinity War
The first part of the epic culmination of all the previous MCU films, Infinity War finally gives us our first introduction to Thanos (Josh Brolin) who has been working behind the scenes to gather the infinity stones with the goal of destroying half of humanity. Ultimately, this film leaves fans with a cliffhanger ending awaiting the conclusion from Endgame.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
The sequel to Ant-Man, this film takes place alongside the events of Infinity War and does a great job of telling its own story set within the Ant-Man comic book canon, while eventually laying the groundwork for the transition into Endgame.
The epic conclusion to over a decade of storytelling. Endgame has everything fans could want. Picking up years after the events of Infinity War, the remaining Avengers must regain hope of defeating Thanos and restoring what was lost. In the closing act, Endgame boasts one of the most epic action setpieces in cinema which more than exceeded any expectations.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi is the latest hero to join the MCU and in the first film telling the character’s origins, we learn more about his role amongst the greater events within the franchise. It’s clear that the film takes place prior to Spider-Man: Far From Home and likely alongside the Falcon and the Winter Soldier series.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Picking up after the events of Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home addresses the events that took place during the previous film but also introduces some new faces and returning characters from the past. This film is the perfect bridging point to close out phase three and enter phase four of the MCU.