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How to watch the Marvel movies in order: the definitive MCU timeline

Understand the MCU timeline and get yourself Marvel ready.

How to watch the Marvel movies in order: the definitive MCU timeline
21 September 2020

With the world waiting for Phase 4 of Marvel's grand plan to kick in, there's never been a better time to watch Phase 1-3 all over again. But, how to watch the Marvel movies in order, we hear you cry? Well, it's not always as simple as watching them in the order they came out on the big screen as there is a lot of timey wimey stuff to consider.

UPDATE:A new WandaVision trailer has been revealed and it's a doozy. It looks like Marvel is deciding to go as weird as possible with its show, mashing up a '50s sitcom with the normal Marvel superhero adventures. What this means for the MCU timeline, we have no idea but it will be fun trying to put into this 'how to watch the Marvel movies in order' guide.

That's because there's now a decade-long buildup of several hundred hours of material, that consists of more than 20 movies, an extraordinarily massive cast - remember to vote for the best Avengers characters - and a whole host of TV shows and shorts.

Don't let that put you off, though, as we wait for the delayed Black Widow, it's a perfect time to either rewatch everything that came before, whether you have seen it all or are coming to Marvel's Cinematic Universe fresh.

We'll admit that if you went into Avengers: Infinity War / Endgame knowing nothing at all, they'd probably still be fun movies due to the bright colours, loud noises and good-looking actors saying funny one-liners, but to get the most out of it, you need to know your Marvel Cinematic Onions.

There are two ways of doing this: we have labelled them, the Essential version and the Hardcore version.

For the Essential 'how to watch the Marvel movies in order' version, we’ll stick to the movies, while the hardcore option can (and shall, damn it) include TV shows, Netflix shows, short films included on DVDs, web-only shows, the whole shebang.

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

How long is this going to take, you might be wondering? Well, based on some time-consuming, biro-finishing maths, we estimate the just-the-films option to come to around 50 hours, the hardcore extras to come to an additional 190 hours and therefore the full hardcore option to take somewhere in the region of 240 hours. Do it all back-to-back and you're looking at 10 days straight of watching.

There’s a lot of it, isn’t there? So let’s not waste any more time.

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How to watch the Marvel movies in order

MCU: Phase One (essential version)

Captain America: The First Avenger

The fifth film released is the first chronologically, following Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) transformation into Captain America and his Nazi-punching adventures in World War Two. The first half of it can genuinely be called “a romp”, which is high praise indeed.

Captain Marvel

Strictly speaking Phase 3 but set in 1995 so takes place in the Phase One timeline, when Nick Fury still had an eye and No Doubt was playing in Blockbuster's, this is a fun movie that feels a little like filler in places. But it does have a great lead in Brie Larson and (kind of) explains why she's been missing all this time.

Iron Man

The one that started it all and solidified Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) as the centre of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and brought Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in after the credits, laying the groundwork for getting a let’s-bring-the-whole-gang-together thing going on..

Iron Man 2

Not the best of entries if we’re all completely honest with ourselves, this nonetheless introduced Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.

The Incredible Hulk

Edward Norton’s sole outing as Bruce Banner is one of the less celebrated entries, both due to the subsequent recasting leading people to forget about it and its release mere weeks after the first Iron Man.


The first film to bring bonkers space magic into the MCU, Thor also brought Chris Hemsworth smashing coffee cups while reciting faux-Shakespearean dialogue, so it somehow all worked. It also introduced us briefly to Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who isn’t anyone’s favourite.

Avengers Assemble

The first massive ensemble piece, with Mark Ruffalo taking on the Hulk, Avengers Assemble is a sequel to everything that had come before it both individually and collectively, and marks the point where it all becomes completely giant.

MCU: Phase One (hardcore version)

Captain America: The First Avenger

Agent Carterseason one

Hayley Atwell stars in the ABC series about her character from Captain America: The First Avenger and her escapades as a spy in the 1940s. It remains, shockingly, the only female-centred project in the MCU, until 2019’s Captain Marvel.

Agent Carter season two

Agent Carter
(short film on the Iron Man 3 DVD)

When people still bought DVDs, all the Marvel films came with a short film called a “Marvel One-Shot”. The success of this one, and Atwell’s performance, is what led to the ABC series.

Captain Marvel

Iron Man

Iron Man 2

The Incredible Hulk

The Consultant (short film on the Thor DVD)

An exploration of the bureaucratic side of S.H.I.E.L.D, this integrates recycled footage from the two films preceding it.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (short film on the Captain America: The First Avenger DVD)

A showcase for Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, this shows there’s more to him than meets the eye.


Avengers Assemble

Item 47 (short film on the Avengers Assemble DVD)

In the aftermath of the attack on New York, a couple find an alien weapon and use it to rob banks. This short both sets up Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D and makes it clear that the events in these movies don’t end with the credits - they cast shadows over everything that comes after them.

MCU: Phase Two (essential version)

Iron Man 3

IM3 features a polarising take on the iconic comic book villain The Mandarin (it’s really good, don’t @ us but if you don’t like it but know you are wrong) as well as the only instance (so far) of Iron Man calling a young boy a pussy. Also, Martin Škrtel’s in it.

Thor: The Dark World

One of the, shall we say, less good chapters in the canon, this is particularly notable for featuring the most infuriating scene ever set on the London Underground.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A Cold War-esque conspiracy thriller co-starring the great Robert Redford, this excellent entry also features one of the MCU’s best ever fight scenes, taking place between Chris Evans’ Captain America and a dozen or so baddies in a lift.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This made Chris Pratt a megastar, introduced the world to Dave Bautista’s awesome comedy skills and propelled Hooked On A Feeling back into the charts. Distant-ass, dangerous-ass space never looked like so much fun.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Despite coming out several years after the first one, the second GOTG is set mere months later. Infant, sentient space-tree Baby Groot steals every scene he/it is in, and the last scenes with Yondu could bring a tear to the eye of the most robotic of individuals.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The second company-wide pile-on brings everyone together (bar the Guardians) to battle James Spader’s Ultron, a big old high-tech shitbag hellbent on destroying humanity.


A troubled production (original director Edgar Wright left due to creative differences) somehow resulted in one of the more charming films in the series, thanks hugely to co-writer Paul Rudd’s effortlessly likeable lead performance. A lot smaller than Ultron in many ways, it’s arguably the first full-on comedy in the MCU.

MCU: Phase Two (hardcore version)

Iron Man 3

All Hail the King (short film on the Thor: The Dark World DVD)

The longest one-shot at a staggering 14 minutes (who has that kind of time?), this delves further into the backstory of IM3’s Mandarin, as well as bringing IM2’s Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) back for a cameo.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season one, episodes 1-7

Starring Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, the ABC show Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D integrates plot points and minor characters from the films, both showing the aftermaths of events within them and introducing ideas beforehand.

Thor: The Dark World

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season two, episodes 8-16

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season one, episodes 17-22

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Daredevil season one

Premiering on Netflix and starring Charlie Cox as super-powered blind lawyer Matt Murdock, Daredevil took advantage of the freedoms of the streaming platform, featuring a lot more grisly violence than Agents of SHIELD could ever get away with. It also featured one of television’s best ever fight sequences, a knock-down, drag-out hallway punchfest that is exhausting even to watch.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season two, episodes 1-10

Jessica Jones season one

Krysten Ritter (Jane from Breaking Bad) stars in Netflix’s second show as a superhero turned detective dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after her treatment at the hands of a hypnotic supervillain, played by former Doctor Who David Tennant.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season two, episodes 11-19

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season two, episodes 20-22

Daredevil season two, episodes 1-4

Luke Cage season one, episodes 1-4

Introduced in Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is a former convict with indestructible skin. The Harlem-set series pays homage to blaxploitation films of the past, as well as hip-hop culture, and features an incredibly impressive, predominantly black cast.

Daredevil season two, episodes 5-11

Luke Cage season one, episodes 5-8

Daredevilseason two, episodes 12-13

Luke Cage season one, episodes 9-13


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season three, episodes 1-10

MCU: Phase Three (essential version)

Captain America: Civil War

Pretty much Captain America Vs Iron Man, as the Avengers split into two opposing teams, torn over how the government wants to regulate superhumans. This both introduces Wakanda (the world of Black Panther) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man to the MCU.

Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the cool-named Stephen Strange, a neuroscientist who acquires mystical powers and finds himself having to protect the world from inter-dimensional menace.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

The second Ant-Man is a breezy, fun addition - it ups Evangeline Lilly's Hope Van Dyne into pole position with Paul Rudd's Ant-Man and introduces a rather one-note villain Ghost. But Water Goggins is in it so that makes everything okay.

Thor: Ragnarok

The MCU’s funniest film to date thanks to the influence of director Taika Waititi, this stylish space romp sees Thor and the Hulk competing as gladiators for Jeff Goldblum, who is essentially playing Jeff Goldblum.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

The product of years of legal wrangling due to contractual clashes in terms of who had the rights to the characters, Homecoming (the title of which might be a bit of a nod to that) sees Parker juggling life as a teenager with trying to protect his city.

Black Panther

The third highest-grossing film ever in the US (beaten only, at the moment, by Avatar and The Force Awakens) and the most critically-acclaimed entry in the MCU yet, Black Panther follows new Wakandan king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he deals with an old rivalry that could lead to global catastrophe.

Avengers: Infinity War

Super bad guy Thanos travels the universe in search of all the Infinity Stones - if he gets them then he can control destiny. The Avengers team up to stop Thanos before he 'snaps'. A wonderful ensemble that has devastating consequences for the MCU, this movie is an epic first half of the end of a Marvel era. The second half is the blistering End Game.

Avengers: Endgame

It was difficult to see how Endgame would untangle the events of Infinity War but it did this aplomb, going against convention and making a movie that surprises at every turn. This is the best ending (as such as nothing really ends int he MCU) that we could have all asked for, given the plates it had to continue to spin.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

This is the movie that ends Phase 3 and it's manages that tricky balance of showing the aftermath of Endgame, while furthering the story of Peter Parker as Spider-Man. The villain of the piece is unconventional with twists and turns we haven't seen since Iron Man 3. It's good to see that the MCU can still have fun, after the epic ending of the Avengers' movies.

MCU: Phase Three (hardcore version)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season 3, episodes 11-19

Iron Fist season one

The fourth of Netflix’s shows is centred on Danny Rand (Finn Jones), the heir to a fortune returns after a fifteen-year absence with mystical Buddhist powers and is torn between his duties to both the ancient forces he’s inherited and the drama going on with his family.

Captain America: Civil War

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season three, episodes 20-22

The Defenders season one

Defenders is to the other Netflix shows as Avengers is to the other individual films: a whole-gang team-up uniting characters we’ve already got to know well. Plus it has Sigourney Weaver in it, who is the best.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season 4, episodes 1-6

Doctor Strange

Black Panther

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season four, episodes 7-8

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Slingshot season one

An online spinoff from the ABC series, this centres on Yo-Yo Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), although features the brunt of the cast of the main show. It is all available to watch on ABC’s YouTube channel.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season four, episodes 9-22

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Thor: Ragnarok

Inhumans season one

Despite being a TV show, the first episode of Inhumans was debuted in IMAX cinemas. The show follows a royal family from the Moon who are forced to flee and end up in Hawaii. It’s got a really good massive dog in it, and some very ropey wigs, and isn’t very good, but you’ve come this far, you can make it through eight crap episodes.

The Punisher season one

Frank Castle (John Bernthal), one of Marvel’s most violent and morally grey antiheroes, was introduced in the second season of Daredevil. His solo series is no less full-on, as Castle employs his shoot-people-in-the-head-and-ask-questions-later approach to everything that arises.

Runaways season one

Co-created by The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, this teen-oriented Hulu series follows a group of supervillains’ teenage offspring who decide not to follow in the footsteps of their parents. It’s got a dinosaur in it!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season five, episodes 1-10

Jessica Jones season two

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season five, episodes 11-18

Cloak and Dagger season 1 and 2

Luke Cage season 2
Iron Fist season 2

Daredevil season 3

Runaways season 2

The Punisherseason 2
Jessica Jonesseason 3

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Avengers: Infinity War / Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season 5, episodes19-22

Ant-Man and the Wasp's mid-credit's scene

While the movie was 'fine', its mid-credits scene is the glue that holds Infinity War and Endgame together - positing the key to how the Avengers just might get out of their mess.

Marvel's Runaways Season 3

Avengers: Endgame / Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season 6

Spider-Man: Far From Home