The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is one of the biggest film franchises in cinematic history. Every film in it is a big-budget production and together form a shared storyline connected with events.
Therefore, watching Marvel movies in chronological order can help better understand the events in the films, as well as the characters.
How to watch MCU movies in order
The MCU is divided into four phases, each concluding with a major event that necessitates the involvement of most of the superheroes. The current phase is the fourth and is roughly set to conclude in 2023 or 2024.
Months before releasing the first film of Phase 4, Marvel extended the MCU storyline with a set of multiple shows, including an animated series, centred on the fate of some of the key characters who appeared in films till Phase 3. These include WandaVision (2021), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021), Loki (2021), What If…? (2021) and Hawkeye (2021). In 2022, Marvel introduced a new superhero, Moon Knight, in the series of the same name.
For those who wish to get deeper into character development and story progression for future references, all the above-mentioned 2021 shows are to be watched immediately after the film Avengers: Endgame (2019) and before watching Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019).
It is also important to note, that nearly all Marvel movies have mid-credits and post-credit scenes. These mostly offer a peek into what is going to follow. Sometimes, they also give a glimpse of new superhero characters yet to appear or superhero tie-ups in future films in the MCU canon. The timeline of the movies is, therefore, often influenced by these mid- or post-credits scenes.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The first film when watching Marvel movies in chronological order will be Captain America: The First Avenger. The reason is that the story is set in 1941-42 during World War II in Europe. Technically, this film marks the beginning of everything that follows in the MCU, including an explanation of the mystical Tesseract.
It also introduces key characters who would chronologically appear in subsequent films such as Captain America’s love interest and later S.H.I.E.L.D agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Tony Stark’s father Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who later becomes Winter Soldier, and Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).
Synopsis: Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny young man who wishes to join the American forces and fight in World War II but is found unfit. A golden opportunity comes when he volunteers to undergo an experiment, which turns him into Captain America. As a supersoldier, he must stop an evil Nazi-backed organisation, HYDRA.
Captain Marvel (2019)
The story of Captain Marvel is set in 1995 and introduces Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). It also presents younger versions of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) — both of whom are among the central characters of multiple MCU movies. The film also reveals how Fury lost one of his eyes and how he came up with the idea of Avengers.
Synopsis: When Captain Marvel finds herself in the middle of an intergalactic battle involving her people, the Kree and The Skrulls, she accidentally lands on earth only to realise that things are not how they appear.
Iron Man (2008)
The first MCU film as per release dates, Iron Man would come third when watching Marvel movies in order because it is set in the year of its release. The events depicted in the film set in motion the creation of Avengers and the eventual showdown with Thanos.
Synopsis: Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a billionaire weapons manufacturer. On a trip to Afghanistan, he gets injured in a blast and is kidnapped by a criminal organisation named Ten Rings. In captivity, Stark builds an armoured iron suit in a cave and finally escapes. Back in the US, he builds a more advanced suit and decides to protect the world as Iron Man.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The events in Iron Man 2 take place soon after the events of the first part. It builds on the character of Tony Stark, reveals details about his father’s legacy, and introduces a key hero to the MCU — Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
Synopsis: His identity now public, Stark must rely on his love Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to take on a powerful enemy, Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash (Mickey Rourke).
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Incredible Hulk was released just a month after Iron Man (2008), but the storyline appears to have been set during or after the events of Iron Man 2 (2010). This is because of the post-credit scene in which Tony Stark meets Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) to inform him of the formation of a “team”, later referred to as Avengers. This is why it can be picked as the fifth film when watching Marvel movies in order.
Synopsis: Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is a biochemist who gets exposed to gamma radiation that turns him into an extremely powerful but uncontrollable green monster named Hulk. Banner goes on the run, fleeing from the US military and his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). But then, he must confront The Abomination (Tim Roth), a monster who is equal in power to The Hulk.
The story of Thor is set just months before Avengers (2012). As such, it fits nicely as the sixth film in the MCU timeline when watching the movies in chronological order.
Synopsis: Because of his actions, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stripped of his powers and banished to earth by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). As he tries to live like a mortal and falls in love with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor must protect the earth and his homeworld of Asgard from the nefarious machinations of his adopted brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
The Avengers (2012)
The critically acclaimed film marks the end of Phase 1 in the MCU timeline. It features an ensemble cast featuring superheroes from all the movies that were released before it, which means that Captain Marvel doesn’t appear in it.
The story of the film is set soon after Thor, with Loki appearing as the main villain. In this film, Mark Ruffalo replaced Norton with Bruce Banner/The Hulk. The Avengers is also a must-watch for another reason — the first look of Thanos.
Synopsis: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye are assembled by Nick Fury to take on an alien invasion of New York led by Loki, who is in possession of the Tesseract.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The main story of Thor: The Dark World begins with Loki’s trial and imprisonment in Asgard for his crimes on earth during the events of The Avengers. This film introduces another powerful Infinity Stone after Tesseract — known as Aether in its elemental form. The film also marks a turning point in the character of Loki.
Synopsis: Jane Foster accidentally absorbs the Aether during a rare event known as Convergence. Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), a ruthless Dark Elf, returns to take control of Aether from Foster. However, he ends up doing irreparable damage to Thor and Loki. The brothers join forces to take on Malekith.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The story is set around six months after the events of The Avengers. Therefore, it fits after Thor: The Dark World among Marvel movies in order of events.
Synopsis: A deeply troubled Tony Stark becomes too dependent on his Iron Man suits following the events in New York. As his personal life goes for a toss, an enemy from the past and a dangerous new foe known only as ‘Mandarin’ (Ben Kingsley) come close to finishing him and all his loved ones off.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
This film is set two years after the events of The Avengers and introduces Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, aka Falcon.
Synopsis: Adjusting to the modern world, Captain America stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. He joins forces with Black Widow and gains a new ally in Falcon but is confronted by a friend-turned-foe, Winter Soldier, who is as powerful as him.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Set in the year of its release, Guardians of the Galaxy introduces a new set of heroes who become integral to the events that follow in the MCU timelines. This film showcases the third Infinity Stone, the Power Stone, concealed in an orb.
Synopsis: Led by a man named Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), whose real name is Peter Quill, a group of intergalactic criminals — Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) — are challenged by the Kree warlord Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) who wants to destroy the universe with the Power Stone.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Though released three years later, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 almost immediately follows the events of its predecessor when placing Marvel movies in chronological order.
Synopsis: After one member of Star-Lord’s team betrays a powerful alien force, they find themselves on the run. Later, they come face-to-face with a Celestial named Ego (Kurt Russell), an extremely powerful being who might know the dark secret to Star-Lord’s parentage.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The 2015 film is set in the year of its release and brings back the Avengers once again. The film also expands the storyline of the characters Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) — a brother-sister duo who first appeared in the post-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film also reveals the Mind Stone, the fourth of the Infinity Stones.
Synopsis: In a quest for a far more powerful programme than J.A.R.V.I.S. (voice of Paul Bettany), Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create the sentient Ultron (James Spader) who soon gains control of Iron Man’s machines and wreaks havoc upon the world. To prevent him from doing more damage, the Avengers assemble once again.
Ant-Man concludes Phase 2 of MCU and is, therefore, the 14th film when watching Marvel movies in chronological order. It is also set in the year of its release, but part of the events depicted in this film precedes Captain America: Civil War (2016).
Synopsis: Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) wants to save the world from the evil plans of Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). To do so, he and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), enlist the help of a burglar named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). They train him to don a special suit, which has the power to shrink or expand and grant immense strength to the wearer beside the ability to control ants.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The first film of Phase Three of MCU reveals lots of past secrets, including the death of Tony Stark’s parents. It also introduces two of the most famous MCU superheroes of all time — Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
Synopsis: Divided in their views of political control over the team, the Avengers are split into two factions — Stark loyalists and Captain America allies — over Winter Soldier’s fate. Split between the two, Black Widow goes on a path of her own.
Black Widow (2021)
Black Widow is the first film of Phase 4 of MCU, but its story is set immediately after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016).
Synopsis: In hiding following the disintegration of the Avengers, Natasha Romanoff faces an enemy from her dark past who turned her into Black Widow. To survive, she needs help from her lost ‘family’ members — Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), and Alexei Shostakov aka Red Guardian (David Harbour).
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first full-length movie featuring Tom Holland as Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. The story follows the events in Captain America: Civil War (2016).
Synopsis: Peter Parker now has a mentor in Tony Stark and is trying to live the life of a normal high school kid. But he is forced to don the Spider-Man suit to fight a dangerous enemy named Vulture (Michael Keaton).
Black Panther (2018)
In the MCU timeline, the events in Black Panther immediately follow that of Captain America: Civil War, in which the King of Wakanda was killed.
Synopsis: Following the death of his father and events in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther returns to Wakanda to rule as King T’Challa. But he faces a formidable challenge at home in the form of his own cousin, N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan), who has adopted the name “Killmonger” and wants to distribute Wakanda’s weapons to the world.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange can be watched after Black Panther because the former’s mid-credit scene is connected to later events. This is the film which introduces another set of new superheroes and the fifth Infinity Stone — Time Stone.
Synopsis: Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an arrogant but brilliant neurosurgeon. Unfortunately, he meets with an accident and loses the ability to move his hands. His life spiralling out of control, Dr. Strange heads to Kathmandu in search of a mystical place which can heal him. He is then chosen to protect the world as the Sorcerer Supreme.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The mid-credits scene of Doctor Strange shows Thor in search of his father Odin on earth along with his brother Loki. This is the primary setting of Thor: Ragnarok.
Synopsis: When Odin passes away before their eyes, Thor and Loki fight but fail before the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett). While trying to escape, they land on an alien planet controlled by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor becomes a prisoner and now must stop Hela and prevent Ragnarök — the prophesied destruction of the world. Aiding him in his quest are The Hulk and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
The story is set in the year of its release and runs almost parallel to the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), though the latter was released before. Its mid-credits scene is, however, directly connected to the climax of the latter.
Synopsis: Hope van Dyne is now the Wasp. Along with her father, Dr. Hank Pym, she implores Scott Lang to become Ant-Man once again and enter the Quantum Realm in search of her mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). The problem, however, is that the trip is highly risky, and there is a threat named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who would stop at nothing to get the Quantum energy.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
One of the biggest films in the MCU timeline, Avengers: Infinity War marks the beginning of the end of what is dubbed “The Infinity Saga”. This is where the MCU movies begin to take a new turn with a central pivot that eventually shifts away from the Infinity Stones.
Synopsis: Thanos (Josh Brolin) wants to take all six Infinity Stones, including the Soul Stone, to carry out his twisted mission of eliminating half of the universe’s population. Now all superheroes join forces to stop him, but they must be ready for sacrifices.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Avengers: Endgame can be the 23rd film when watching Marvel movies in order of events. A sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, its main storyline is set five years from the previous film’s events. The film marks the final appearance of some prominent characters.
Synopsis: Thanos obliterates half of the universe with a snap. The distraught surviving Avengers now have to go back in time to recreate a gauntlet using Infinity Stones to reverse the snap. However, they must again face Thanos.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
A sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), the story of Far From Home is set after the events of Avengers: Endgame.
Synopsis: Peter Parker is adjusting to a world where half the population returned after the ‘Blip’ caused by Thanos’ snap. He must take charge as Spider-Man as elemental forces threaten his city. Providing him assistance is a fellow superhero who calls himself Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
This film reveals who the real ‘Mandarin’ is and what exactly is the Ten Rings — a mysterious global criminal organisation which has appeared in multiple MCU films through the years, including the first Iron Man film.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is set sometime after the events of Avengers: Endgame, which means that it is set in the ‘present’ of the MCU timeline.
Synopsis: Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is unwittingly drawn into the web of Ten Rings following a series of events connected to his past. Along with his friend Katy (Awkwafina), he must fight his own father — Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), the head of the Ten Rings organisation and wielder of ten powerful iron rings that grant their wearer unimaginable power.
The story of Eternals essentially takes place almost at the same time as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), but it was released later. Technically, its story doesn’t add much to the MCU continuity, but it teases (as a voice) an iconic superhero who is set to appear in an upcoming MCU film — Blade.
Synopsis: Eternals are a race of superpowered immortal beings who have lived among humans for millennia and shaped the earth’s history. Created by a Celestial, the Eternals suddenly find themselves facing an enemy who they thought they killed centuries ago.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Spider-Man: No Way Home directly follows the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). It also beautifully sets in motion the events that happen in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). This film is the third of the MCU Spider-Man trilogy.
Synopsis: His identity exposed, Peter Parker turns to Doctor Strange for help. When the spell goes horribly wrong, Spider-Man finds himself facing enemies from other universes, all of whom harbour a personal hatred for the wall-crawler.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
The 28th film when watching Marvel movies in chronological order is also the 28th MCU film by release. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness brilliantly expands Marvel’s concept of the multiverse and sets the stage for a future conclusion of Phase 4.
Synopsis: After his actions in Spider-Man: No Way Home open doorways in the multiverse, he turns to Wanda Maximoff for help. But the threat they face is too big for them to handle.
(Main image: © 2012 Marvel. All rights reserved./IMDb; Featured image: Jay Maidment – © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved./IMDb)