Marvel Cinematic Universe MCU
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The best order to watch Marvel’s movies and shows for the first time

With over 40 titles across film and television, you'll need a guide to start your MCU journey. We've got you covered.

If you are just now jumping on the Marvel bandwagon, there is a lot — and we mean a lot — of catching up to do.

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It can be intimidating staring at a list of over 40 films and shows wondering when exactly you’ll have the time to watch them all, yet there is one upside to arriving at the party over 10 years after it began: Hindsight.

Fans have been mulling over what the best watch order is for almost a decade now, trying to arrive at the perfect combination of chronological and release order. Sure, watching it all in chronological order makes it easier to follow, but it might reduce the impact of certain arrivals or emotional moments if they’re not watched within the context of the original release date. As an example, the Black Widow film is set prior to the events of Endgame, so it was all the more emotional watching it after that film when it was released in 2021.

Time jumps backward and forward are common in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it can be satisfying watching it all in chronological order in the timeline of events, but some adjustments to perfect the balance between order and maximum entertainment are key.

We’re also tweaking the official Disney Plus MCU timeline a little bit. Even Disney seems to be confused about how everything falls into place after Endgame. If you’re watching the MCU for the first time, at least you won’t have to deal with the headaches that have been plaguing the rest of us since the start of Phase Four.

The Defenders saga and Disney Plus’ in-app timeline order

Image via Marvel Studios

Recently, with the arrival of Echo and a closer look at what shape Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk will take in the current MCU, Disney Plus has added all six of the Marvel Netflix shows to its official MCU timeline. A confusing decision in light of the conflicting reports about Matt Murdock’s first official solo project in this version of the MCU, Daredevil: Born Again, as it pertains to its connection to the events of the Netflix version.

The move implies that the extended narratives of Netflix’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders are now canon in the Sacred Timeline. However, considering the number of rabbit holes that this sudden change of heart opens, it’s our opinion that these shows are best watched separately and in sequence, as their own — let’s call it — micro-universe.

As Nick Fury once said, “I recognize that the Council has made a decision. But given that it’s a stupid-ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it” — at least until we have more information about the upcoming Disney Plus show, starring Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio as their characters from 2015’s Daredevil.

Obviously, you know we wouldn’t just leave you hanging, so if you do want answers about how to fit these shows within the accepted MCU chronology, we have answers for you all the same. All the answers. Seriously, we’ve got you covered.

What about everything else?

The main cast of
Image via ABC

Real Marvel fans know some of the brand’s best work is wildly under-watched and underappreciated. While we strongly recommend checking out the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Cloak & Dagger, and Runaways, we will keep them separate from this watch order for now, given their iffy ties to the larger MCU.

Of course, the multiverse is officially a thing in the MCU now, so you can always add everything from FOX’s X-Men films to Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Shameik Moore’s Spider-Men to your watching list — just don’t waste your time with the 2015 Fantastic Four movie, it’s not worth it.

With all disclaimers aside, strap in, because here is the best way to watch all 33 Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and 12 Disney Plus shows/television specials.

1. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The MCU starts with Steve Rogers’ story in the 1940s as he tries to enlist in the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. A brave but scrawny soldier, Steve is eventually given the experimental super soldier serum thanks to his upstanding values and morals. It’s all very patriotic, but nonetheless a solid start for one of the most fleshed-out characters in the franchise.

2. Captain Marvel (2019)

It’s into the ’90s now with Captain Marvel, an origin story with a punch and a nice dose of grunge. Working as a member of Starforce, an elite Kree military taskforce, and answering to the name of “Vers,” Carol Danvers soon finds that what she thought she knew about herself was a façade all along, hiding a complicated past. Maybe stay away from the post-credits scene with this one.

3. Iron Man (2008)

Get to know the not-so-humble beginnings of one of the leaders of the Avengers, and arguably the most important character in all of the MCU, Tony Stark. After being captured by terrorists in Afghanistan, Tony develops the Iron Man suit prototype in order to escape. Back at home, trouble brews as word gets out about his powerful invention. The post-credits scene introduces Nick Fury, and lays the groundwork for the expansive MCU to follow.

4. Iron Man 2 (2010)

After telling the world he is Iron Man, Tony Stark’s enemies start piling up, and the history that comes with his last name catches up to him. In this 2010 sequel, we are also introduced to Natasha Romanoff as they try to recruit Tony for the Avengers initiative, effectively kicking off the team-up of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

5. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

For the longest time, The Incredible Hulk was one of the most irrelevant films in the MCU’s larger continuity, but the last few years have largely changed that, by bringing back a slew of important characters from this entry. For fans curious to know the who, when, and how of Bruce Banner becoming the green giant, this is mandatory viewing.

6. Thor (2011)

Thor completes the collection of origin stories of the archetypal Avengers. The only member of the team coming from outer space, Thor is a Norse god hoping to succeed Odin the All-Father as king of Asgard. Standing in his way are his arrogance and his scheming adopted brother, Loki, whose daddy issues turn him into a power-hungry killer.

7. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

The previous films’ events culminate in The Avengers when a threat too great to be concealed demands the combined strength of all six heroes. Don’t expect Captain Marvel to show up just yet, Fury will keep her as a secret weapon for a while longer. Loki attacks the Earth in what is the first taste of Kevin Feige’s big plan for The Infinity Saga. Remember to keep a close eye on the infinity stones as you make your way through these movies.

8. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

The Convergence of the Nine Realms disrupts the order of the universe as Jane Foster, scientist and Thor’s love interest, becomes possessed by a dark force called the Aether, aka the Reality Stone. Healing from family loss and outnumbered by his enemy, Thor reluctantly seeks Loki’s help to defeat the latest evil.

9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

The Iron Man trilogy comes to an end as Tony struggles with PTSD from the Battle of New York that took place in The Avengers. He’s targeted by a terrorist group led by the mysterious Mandarin, and Tony becomes obsessed with taking him down. Twists and turns unfold, with Pepper gaining her own super abilities in the process.

10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Steve’s new life in the 21st century as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative comes crumbling down when Hydra is found to have infiltrated the organization. As an old friend comes back from the dead and a new friend is made, Steve and Natasha go rogue trying to stop the Nazi threat from taking over the world.

11. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

A new team is introduced to the MCU. Think of them as the misfit renegade equivalent of the Avengers. This fan-favorite movie takes us deeper into the galaxy to meet Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax as their outlaw adventures eventually lead them to one another and to defeat Ronan the Accuser. Some more infinity stone action also goes down.

12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Directly following the events of the first volume, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 dives deeper into Peter Quill and Gamora’s individual pasts, and strengthens the relationship between the team members. We’re also introduced to Mantis, who joins the squad by the end. There is a lot of important Marvel lore teased in the details of this film.

13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Back on Earth, Tony Stark creates an artificial intelligence-controlled global defense program called Ultron that will supposedly act as a shield between the Earth and all extraterrestrial threats. It becomes an independent killer robot that recruits two Sokovian twins, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, for his mission.

14. Ant-Man (2015)

Ex-convict Scott Lang is recruited by famous ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym to succeed him as Ant-Man and stop his former protégé, Darren Cross, from replicating his invention. Scott learns to control ants and shrink to their size as he gears up to take on Yellowjacket. The Quantum Realm is first introduced in this film, and it is massively important for the future of the MCU.

15. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Basically the honorary fifth Avengers movie, Captain America: Civil War turns Steve against Tony when the former rejects the newly introduced Sokovia Accords, created to keep the team in check after the consequences of their missions start piling up. The highly anticipated introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther into the MCU also happen in this film.

16. Black Panther (2018)

There’s a power gap in the wealthy secret nation of Wakanda after the death of King T’Chaka in Civil War. It draws out his secret nephew to challenge T’Challa for the throne. In the process, the heir is inspired to rethink his view of the world. Black Panther introduces us to a whole new side of Marvel, and has since become a cultural paradigm in film.

17. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Don’t expect another Spidey origin story in the MCU. Homecoming picks up after the events of Civil War as Peter figures out how to reconcile school work with superhero duties. With his best friend Ned always by his side, Peter must deal with all the trials and tribulations of adolescence, while trying to save the day from the Vulture. Tony Stark features a number of times.

18. Doctor Strange (2016)

We’re introduced to another hero and a key player in the future of the MCU in this film. Dr. Stephen Strange, a renowned neurosurgeon, gets into a car crash which renders his precious hands useless. He turns to the mystic arts for help. Doctor Strange also introduces the concept of the Multiverse to the MCU.

19. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

If you were wondering what Hulk and Thor were up to during Civil War, they’re reuniting in space after Hulk ran away from his problems in Age of Ultron and Thor returned to his home of Asgard. Joined by Valkyrie and a reluctant Loki, they try to prevent the Asgardian princes’ older sister, Hela, from unleashing Ragnarok upon their home.

20. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

We finally enter the big climax of the MCU’s first overarching saga. Thanos is out for the infinity stones, and all the Avengers must come together to stop his plan to eradicate half the universe. Whether it is on Earth or in outer space, Prepare for a lot of incredible action sequences, but also a good dose of heartbreak to match.

21. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Ant-Man and The Wasp is more or less concurrent with the events of Infinity War but offers valuable insight into how to save the world from Thanos. The team tries to find a way to rescue Hank’s wife and Hope’s mom, Janet van Dyne, from the Quantum realm, but not before contending with the unstable antagonist Ghost.

22. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

The Avengers are in shambles after the outcome of both Civil War and Infinity War. The toughest battle they have ever faced forces them to think outside the box for a solution, and Captain Marvel finally joins them. This movie is the culmination of the Infinity Saga and a farewell to the original team as we have come to know and love them.

23. Black Widow (2021)

The movie that finally gave us Natasha Romanoff’s backstory, Black Widow delves into the world of the Red Room, as Nat decides to end its torturous scheme once and for all. We meet the Widow’s highly dysfunctional family, including her sister Yelena, whose future in the MCU will expand far beyond this film.

24. Loki, season 1 and season 2 (2021, 2023)

There is no easy way of explaining the width of Loki‘s scope when it comes to its impact on the larger MCU continuity. It’s absolutely essential viewing to understand everything that comes after it. A fantastic show, with massive stakes and brilliant character development for its title character, in a culmination of an arc that has spanned 12 years of film and television. Easily one of Marvel’s best productions.

25. What If…?, season 1 and season 2 (2021, 2023)

What If…? doesn’t seem to hold any stakes in terms of what happens in the MCU as yet, but it’s a fun animated show where major storylines from the rest of the franchise are reimagined in different timelines. However, we do see a live-action Captain Carter — a version of Captain America’s WWII-era love interest, Peggy Carter, who gets the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers — in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness after she was introduced in What If…?‘s first episode, so that could mean it’s more connected to the overarching MCU than we might have thought.

26. Wandavision (2021)

Mere weeks after Endgame, Wanda is struggling with grief, going to great lengths to escape it. The full scope of her powers, which are some of the strongest in the MCU, is finally explored in this refreshing turn for the MCU. A few familiar faces we hadn’t seen in a while return as the show sets up a number of future outings in the franchise.

27. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)

Captain America’s shield is up for grabs now that Steve has retired. His best buddies Sam and Bucky don’t really like the replacement the government has found, and take matters into their own hands to try and stop the smuggling of the super soldier serum and the actions of the Flag Smashers. More details are revealed about the state of affairs post-blip, and Steve’s true successor is found.

28. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Set eight months after Endgame, Peter, M.J., and Ned go on a field trip around Europe, which gets interrupted by Mysterio and the so-called Elementals. Spider-Man must help stop them, all while struggling to get over a big loss in his life, which ends up clouding his judgment. Nick Fury and Maria Hill lend a hand, but they are not what they seem.

29. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Directly following Far From Home, Spider-Man’s identity as Peter Parker has been revealed to the whole world by Mysterio, turning his life upside down. He turns to Avenger pal Doctor Strange for a solution, which only makes matters worse. This movie makes the dreams of every Spidey fan come true in surprising and delightful ways.

30. Eternals (2022)

Concurrent with No Way Home, this film introduces a whole new team and realm of possibilities to the MCU. The Eternals are immortal alien beings sent to Earth by the Celestial Arishem to protect it from the Deviants, which are apex predators threatening human life. The team, led by Sersi, soon finds the real end goal of Arishem’s plan and reunites after years apart to stop it from taking place.

31. Hawkeye (2022)

It’s Christmas and teenager Kate Bishop is up to her usual shenanigans. This time, they lead her to Clint Barton in his path to come to terms with his violent time as Ronin after the blip. A couple of awesome crossovers take place as we are introduced to a new generation of superheroes and the protagonist of the next entry on this list.

32. Echo (2024)

Jump right into Hawkeye spin-off and Marvel Spotlight pioneer, Echo. Released in 2024, this somewhat more mature look for the MCU picks up the story of Maya Lopez five months after the events of the Clint Barton/Kate Bishop outing. Across five episodes, it expands on the young outlaw’s relationship with the fearsome kingpin Wilson Fisk and introduces audiences to a widely unexplored comics favorite.

33. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Love and Thunder‘s place in the timeline is tricky, but in it, we get to see Thor’s time in the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy after Endgame. He must return to New Asgard to save it from Gorr the God Butcher while an old flame comes back in a most unexpected way.

34. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Some months after Stephen lent a hand to Peter Parker, there’s another teenager in need of rescuing. America Chavez can travel through the Multiverse, a power that highly interests a grief-stricken Wanda. Along with No Way Home, this horror-influenced movie is the first to deal with the multiversal consequences of Loki‘s events and includes a gem of a scene that only the most avid fans will appreciate.

35. Moon Knight (2022)

Moon Knight‘s ties to the larger MCU are kept vague, so you can switch it around on the timeline. Strange things begin happening to museum worker Steven Grant, unveiling much more than he could have imagined. This spooky Disney Plus original is another jump for the franchise, touching on ancient Greek mythology and mental disorders.

36. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

One of the MCU’s biggest fake-outs is finally corrected in this film. Shaun, aka Shang-Chi, has been running away from his difficult family for years, but his dad needs something from him, forcing him to finally meet his destiny. The mythical magic of Chinese culture is explored, and the legacy of martial arts is honored. The cinematic legends Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh become the biggest scene stealers in the history of the franchise.

37. She-Hulk: Attorney At Law (2022)

Set in the summer of 2025, this lawyer comedy details the early days of Jennifer Walters as She-Hulk after she’s infected with her cousin Bruce’s gamma-irradiated blood. In a move that ruffled a few self-conscious feathers, the show’s main storyline tackles the online misogynistic vitriol that has plagued the MCU ever since Captain Marvel’s introduction.

38. Ms. Marvel (2022)

Avengers fangirl Kamala Khan is starting her junior year in high school when she comes across a magic family heirloom. It unleashes powers in the teenager, setting a number of unfortunate events into motion. The season finale marked the first mention of the “mutant gene” that will be tied to the X-Men’s MCU arrival.

39. Werewolf by Night (2022)

The correct place in the timeline for Werewolf by Night is unknown, but it was released as a Halloween special by Marvel. It follows five monster hunters who must compete for a powerful relic. We also meet Man-Thing, who was teased in Thor: Ragnarök.

40. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)

It’s Christmas 2025, and Mantis and Drax decide to surprise Peter with a special present they can only find on Earth. Meanwhile, Knowhere is being rebuilt as the Guardians’ new home. This sweet interlude gives us a closer look at the Guardians’ found family dynamics while setting up the end of their journey in Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 3.

41. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

It’s one year after the death of King T’Challa, and Wakanda is under pressure to share its resources when a new secret nation takes advantage of its weakened state. Although it supposedly takes place at the same time as Love and Thunder, we believe this emotional epic is the best possible closer to Marvel’s Phase Four. It also provided the long-awaited introduction of Marvel’s oldest character, Namor.

42. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

This trippy voyage into the Quantum Realm officially kicks off Phase Five, delving deeper into the history of Kang the Conqueror and his many variants. Scott, Hope, Janet, Hank, and a grown-up Cassie must find a way out of the subatomic world to the safety of their homes, but Kang and the hilariously awful M.O.D.O.K. do not intend to make their jobs easy.

43. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

James Gunn’s final contribution to the MCU is a return to form for the franchise, which had been affected by a number of less-than-ideal performances. The swan song for the team-up that went from obscure comic characters to fan favorites is an emotional, adventure-filled film with satisfactory conclusions to every character arc, including Quill and Gamora’s romance which, like many other storylines, was ravaged by the events of Endgame.

44. Secret Invasion (2023)

Fans of Marvel Comics will recognize this title as one of the most important events in the publication’s history. Sadly, that magnitude did not transpire in its television adaptation. What was one of the most anticipated outings in post-Endgame MCU featuring a mouth-watering cast led by one of the franchise’s founding fathers, Samuel L. Jackson, was but another disappointment. The show finally addresses the invasion of the Earth by the Skrulls which had been teased in movies like Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

45. The Marvels (2023)

So, remember Secret Invasion? It really does not matter as the movie that was supposed to pick up after it makes no mention of its events. The Marvels does finally fulfill the promises of Ms. Marvel and WandaVision, however, by bringing Carol Danvers, Kamala Khan, and Monica Rambeau together. A strange occurrence has caused their powers to entangle, forcing them to team up to defeat the villain of the week. Still, the real hurdles to overcome are the grudges, expectations, and hurt feelings of a shared past history. The ending and the post-credits scene are juicy in this one.


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Author
Francisca Tinoco
Francisca is a pop culture enthusiast and film expert. Her Bachelor's Degree in Communication Sciences from Nova University in Portugal and Master's Degree in Film Studies from Oxford Brookes University in the UK have allowed her to combine her love for writing with her love for the movies. She's a freelance writer and content creator, working in both the English and Portuguese languages for various platforms, including WGTC.