More than a decade after its launch, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a force to be reckoned with, so sprawling, in fact, that it can be difficult to keep track of the MCU movies order.
Marvel Studios wasn’t the first to tackle the superhero genre, and it won’t be the last. Amid the classics (Superman, 1989 Batman), the more modern gems (X2, Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins) and the duds (X-Men 3: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, Daredevil, The Hulk, and many more), Iron Man’s success was never a guarantee. It wasn’t just the idea of an interconnected universe or planning several movies ahead with no guarantee that they’d ever see the light of day. Each movie had to hook you in on its own.
Nowadays, box office success is practically given; the question is not whether a Marvel superhero movie makes money at the box office but how much. Marvel releases are major events, ones that fans prepare for with supersized marathons—sometimes run by movie theater chains—and obsessing over every detail. They dominate geek conversations for days or weeks on end until the next tentpole movie is released; sometimes that next movie is another Marvel movie.
But Marvel Studios still has work to do.
For as much success as it’s had financially and critically, it took until Black Panther for Marvel to finally get an Oscar; the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards including best picture and ultimately won three awards for costuming, production design, and score. Previously, superhero films were rarely nominated outside of technical Oscar categories like visual effects and hair and makeup. (DC Comics films have received multiple awards, with Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar for The Dark Knight and Suicide Squad winning for hair and makeup, while Logan, a Fox-owned movie based on a Marvel character, garnered a best adapted screenplay nomination.)
For all of the risks Marvel Studios is said to have taken to make the MCU what it is today, it has still moved slowly in other regards. Marvel is packed with straight white male superheroes, with women and characters of color often placed on the sidelines, given thankless roles, or made to be secondary or tertiary heroes. Marvel didn’t give audiences a movie with a Black superhero lead until Black Panther, and we had to sit through 20 films before getting Captain Marvel in March 2019—nearly two years after Wonder Woman became a box office smash. And we’ve yet to see any LGBTQ superheroes make the big screen. But with some actors finally hanging up their capes after Avengers: Endgame and new properties being worked on everyday, that could change soon enough.
Here’s your complete guide to the MCU movies order a.k.a. the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.
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MCU movies order: MCU Phase 1
1) Iron Man (2008)
Aside from the final battle scene—often a weakness in Marvel Studios movies—Iron Man still holds up as a funny and very well-paced action movie. Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow provide instantly engaging portrayals of two characters who, at the time, most viewers had never even heard of, marking RDJ’s comeback to the Hollywood A-list.
As well as being a very entertaining movie, Iron Man is interesting as a cultural artifact. At the time it was seen as a risky project, but it ended up creating the blueprint for every subsequent MCU movie. That formula is undeniably effective, although Marvel has paid less attention to Iron Man‘s other lesson: Sometimes you need to experiment with something new. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
2) The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Bruce Banner’s origin story—he turned into the Hulk after a failed experiment attempting to restart the program that created Captain America—is revealed along with the Hulk’s early years as he attempts to find a way to cure himself—none of which, obviously, were very successful. Although it’s part of the MCU (albeit a movie some fans tend to skip), Marvel replaced lead actor Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo, who’s played supporting roles in several Marvel movies since. And the Avengers thread continues with Tony Stark passing along word of making a team. —Michelle Jaworski
3) Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 is a revenge story: The son of a disgraced physicist (who once worked with Howard Stark) tries to ruin Tony Stark’s life, but in the grand scheme of the MCU, the film is marked by the introduction of two new characters: a new James Rhodes (now played by Don Cheadle) and the first appearance of Black Widow. It also leads straight into Thor as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson goes to New Mexico to investigate Thor’s hammer Mjølnir. —Michelle Jaworski
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4) Thor (2011)
Anyone who thinks Thor is bad can fight me. It’s hilarious, heartfelt, and has multiple well-written female characters in a genre that usually draws the line at including one woman in a love interest role. Loki remains a high point in the MCU’s pantheon of often lackluster villains, introducing Tom Hiddleston to the world as a creepy yet charming alien god. This movie is also a strong reminder that Chris Hemsworth is much better at comedy than serious dramatic roles, as per his performance in Ghostbusters. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
5) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The Captain America origin story takes us back to World War II as Steve Rogers is transformed into a strong fighter with super-soldier serum and takes on Red Skull and HYDRA forces. Featuring one of Marvel’s best romances (and one of its strongest ships), it grounds a character that could be cartoonish complete with a heartbreaking ending. Of course, we know Captain America will eventually get out of that ice. He’s plucked out in present-day, which he quickly figures out, putting him in the right spot to be an essential part of the Avengers. —Michelle Jaworski
6) The Avengers (2012)
Marvel’s shared universe floundered a little with Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, but The Avengers delivered on every fan’s hopes for a crossover between the MCU’s first phase of superheroes. All of the Avengers fit together like puzzle pieces, both narratively and during the enviable final battle sequence, which is an impressive reimagining of the team fight scenes of the comics. The Avengers also had the dubious honor of changing Hollywood’s attitude toward franchises, inspiring every other studio to try a crossover team movie. So far, none of them have managed to surpass the success of The Avengers. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
MCU movies order: MCU Phase 2
7) Iron Man 3 (2013)
The third Iron Man movie was a box office success but made surprisingly little impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, possibly because Avengers: Age of Ultron stomped all over its conclusion of Tony Stark’s story arc. Directed and co-written by Shane Black (who made the excellent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, also starring Robert Downey Jr.), its interpretation of the Mandarin is one of the most subversive ideas in the MCU—although admittedly, there isn’t much competition for that title. Iron Man 3 also focuses strongly on Tony’s PTSD, allowing Robert Downey Jr. to give a stronger performance than in the undeniably messy Iron Man 2. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
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8) Thor: The Dark World (2013)
With Loki locked away on Asgard—for part of the movie, anyway—Thor has an even bigger (albeit not as interesting) threat on his hands with the dark elf Malekith, made much more pressing after Thor’s girlfriend Jane Foster accidentally gets hold of the Aether (aka the Reality Stone). Malekith is stopped, but not before Thor is led to believe that Loki died in the effort. Meanwhile, Loki, while impersonating Odin, takes control of Asgard. Now removed from Jane, the Reality Stone is handed over to the Collector for safekeeping. —Michelle Jaworski
9) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
As a mournful and politically astute follow-up to the nostalgic Captain America: The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier has everything—except decent cinematography during the fight scenes, thanks to the lack of action filmmaking experience from directors Joe and Anthony Russo. Sebastian Stan shines as the intimidating yet tragic Winter Soldier, the emotional lynchpin of the trilogy. Black Widow, whose characterization is otherwise uneven across the franchise, received her best role to date, with Sam Wilson being introduced as Steve’s much-needed emotional support—probably the only happy person in the entire movie.
There’s so much going on in The Winter Soldier that fans are still analyzing it years later, from the many visual callbacks to the first film, to the themes of memory loss and identity, to the political subtext of HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. The only real downside is that it set the bar too high for Captain America: Civil War, which was entertaining but disappointingly incoherent and didn’t deliver the emotional payoff fans expected for the Winter Soldier’s redemption arc. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
10) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Thanos and the Infinity Stones come into the limelight for the first time after Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) unknowingly gets his hands on the Power Stone. The ensuing chase, attempt to sell the stone to the highest bidder, and the battle once Ronan gets his hands on it transforms five strangers—Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Racoon, and Groot—into a dysfunctional family. It also opens the MCU up even further as it showcases the infinite possibilities by featuring a film set almost entirely in space. —Michelle Jaworski
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11) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
After teaming up for another mission, Tony Stark attempts to build an AI called Ultron to operate as a peacekeeper for Earth. Naturally, everything goes awry: Ultron determines the best way to do that is to wipe out all of humanity, and the Avengers are forced to take Ultron and his army out with help from Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision, a synthetic body with J.A.R.V.I.S.’s AI and the Mind Stone. Thanos, however, is impatient with his effort to obtain the Infinity Stones and vows to get them himself. —Michelle Jaworski
12) Ant-Man (2015)
Ex-con Scott Lang is recruited by physicist Hank Pym to wear his old Ant-Man suit and steal his company’s own technology after Hank’s protege attempts to make a suite based on his old tech. Although Hank’s daughter Hope van Dyne is more capable in practically every way, Scott manages to stop Yellowjacket and discovers the Quantum Realm for himself. And while Hope does eventually get her own suit, Ant-Man’s world is about to get even bigger. —Michelle Jaworski
MCU movies order: MCU Phase 3
13) Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Sometimes referred to as “Avengers 2.5,” most of Marvel’s superheroes have to choose a side after superheroes are required to register as superheroes under the Sokovia Accords. We’re introduced to Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man for the first time while the fight between Iron Man and Captain America (with Bucky Barnes right in the middle) quickly gets personal for both of them. Many of the heroes end up going into hiding while Bucky is put under while Wakanda’s best figure out how to remove his brainwashing. —Michelle Jaworski
14) Doctor Strange (2016)
After his hands are damaged in a car accident and medicine and therapy fail him, Dr. Stephen Strange discovers Kamar-Taj and starts to learn sorcery under the tutelage of the Ancient One. With the use of the Time Stone, Dr. Strange is able to stop the efforts of Kaecilius and Dormammu in the dark dimension while breaking the laws of time and space in his efforts. —Michelle Jaworski
15) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a breath of fresh air for the Marvel franchise, even if we weren’t especially impressed. The sequel, however, was disappointingly formulaic. It closely followed the original in a way that felt more cynical the second time around. We love a catchy soundtrack as much as the next person, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a bland story with a toxic and sexist sense of humor, disguised by pretty special effects and some nostalgic music choices. (Although we do admit that Baby Groot is extremely cute.) —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
16) Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Rebooting the franchise once again, Homecoming had a difficult job. It had to reintroduce a character that audiences were already sick of seeing, and do so in a fresh and entertaining way. It succeeded with aplomb. Tom Holland is hilarious and realistically youthful in a teen comedy that both returns to Spider-Man’s roots and updated the franchise with a diverse cast of contemporary characters. Zendaya won our hearts as Peter Parker’s grungy feminist friend Michelle, and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of the MCU’s greatest supervillains to date. The only downside was a rather pedestrian showdown in the final act, undercutting the overall message that Peter Parker should be a team player instead of trying to go it alone. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
17) Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Taika Waititi’s sense of humor was a perfect match for the absurdity of the Thor franchise, rescuing it from the overly serious tone of Thor: The Dark World. The supporting cast members were brilliant (Jeff Goldblum! Tessa Thompson! Cate Blanchett! Mark Ruffalo!), and the production designers reveled in a rainbow-hued, Jack Kirby-inspired vision of the Marvel universe. It’s arguably one of the best comedies of 2017, and on top of that, it features some deceptively thoughtful political subtext. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
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18) Black Panther (2018)
Blending sci-fi and fantasy, director Ryan Coogler brought new life to the Marvel franchise this year. Starring Chadwick Boseman as the superhero king T’Challa, this movie introduced the world to Wakanda, a secretive African nation with super-advanced technology and a rich cultural backstory. Much of the conversation around Black Panther focuses on its impact as a blockbuster with a predominantly Black cast. It set a precedent for Hollywood, telling an unabashedly political story about colonization and the African diaspora. On top of all that, it’s a damn good action movie. Packed with already-iconic moments, it earned praise for its witty dialogue, stellar cast, and visual worldbuilding. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
19) Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Thanos’ plan to obtain the Infinity Stones and wipe out half the universe goes into overdrive as he travels from planet to planet and overwhelms the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy. A final standoff in Wakanda ends in disaster after Thor’s new ax injures Thanos but doesn’t kill him, allowing the Mad Titan to set his plan into action and turn many of Marvel’s heroes into dust. With his final act before succumbing to his fate, Nick Fury sends out a distress call to Captain Marvel. —Michelle Jaworski
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20) Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Ant-Man and the Wasp had the impossible task of following Avengers: Infinity War, and it wisely chose to do its own thing instead of trying to one-up Thanos. Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who’ve been on the run from the FBI since the events of Captain America: Civil War, have built a tunnel that will take them into the Quantum Realm so they can rescue a trapped Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). But they need a missing piece of the puzzle from Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who’s three days away from the end of his house-arrest sentence. With plenty of callbacks to the first Ant-Man, the visual and verbal gags mostly land, and the action scenes are engaging and take full advantage of its landscape. Though it probably won’t convert any viewers who aren’t keen on its titular hero, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun and humorous film that doesn’t overstay its welcome. —Michelle Jaworski
21) Captain Marvel (2019)
Largely taking place in 1995, Captain Marvel is an origin story for Air Force pilot Carol Danvers, who is caught in the middle of a war between the Kree and the Skrulls. When she crash-lands on Earth, she meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, discovers the life she once had on Earth, how she came into her powers, and learns that there is much more to the war than meets the eye. —Michelle Jaworski
22) Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The three-hour conclusion to the Infinity Saga (and the direct sequel to Infinity War) delivered the end that we expected: the surviving Avengers reversed Thanos’ snap, bringing back the MCU’s fallen heroes and half the universe. But before it gets there, Avengers: Endgame took its time to allow those who remained to grieve, leading to an improbable time heist to grab the Infinity Stones from the past—and visit previous MCU films. But Thanos’ final defeat doesn’t come without sacrifices and reflection. Black Widow sacrificed herself on Vormir, Iron Man sacrificed himself to deliver the final blow to Thanos, Thor passed on his crown to Valkyrie, and Captain America stayed in the past after returning the Infinity Stones and grew old before passing on his shield to Sam Wilson. —Michelle Jaworski
23) Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Iron Man’s shadow looms large in Spider-Man: Far From Home as Peter Parker wrestles with losing his mentor and the pressure on him to step up from Nick Fury. Add in a class trip to Europe and the possibility of romance with MJ, the threat of the Elementals destroying the universe, and the arrival of Mysterio, who is not what he seems, it’s clear that Peter is out of his depth. But it’s by staying true to himself—and not emulating Iron Man—that ultimately helps him save the day. But after a character familiar to Spider-Man fans reveals Peter’s identity to the world, it leaves Peter’s future completely uncertain.—Michelle Jaworski
MCU movie order: MCU Phase 4
At San Diego Comic-Con 2019, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige announced 10 new films and Disney+ TV shows that would make up the MCU’s Phase 4. Among those titles are two sequels, an origin story, several shows that follow existing MCU characters, and a couple of entirely new stories.
24) Black Widow (2020)
Scarlett Johansson is returning as Black Widow while Florence Pugh (Midsommar) will portray antagonist Yelena Belova. Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, and Ray Winstone will also star. Jack Schaeffer wrote the script while Cate Shortland is directing.
Exclusive clips shown in Hall H featured a fight between Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova in Budapest and the introduction of its villain, the Taskmaster.
25) The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2020 on Disney+)
Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan will reprise their roles as Sam Wilson (who was given Captain America’s shield at the end of Endgame) and Bucky Barnes, respectively in the six-part series. And the main villain in the miniseries will be a familiar face as well: Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), who was last seen in Civil War. Emily Van Camp is also reportedly reprising her role as Sharon Carter.
Malcolm Spellman wrote the series while Kari Skogland was tapped to direct.
26) The Eternals (2020)
The Eternals, which is one of Marvel’s more cosmic entries in its comics archives, now has an all-star cast with Chloé Zhao set to direct.
Salma Hayek will lead the Eternals as Ajax. Fellow Enterals will include Thena (Angelina Jolie), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Kingo Sunen (Kumail Nanjiani), Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok, who’s also known as Don Lee), and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff).
27) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Simu Liu will portray the titular Shang-Chi, who will face the Mandarin (Tony Leung)—who previously appeared in name only in Iron Man 3; that character, as played by Ben Kingsley, turned out to be a fraud. Awkwafina is also joining the cast in an undisclosed role.
David Callaham wrote the script while Destin Daniel Cretton will direct.
28) WandaVision (2021 on Disney+)
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany will reprise their roles as Scarlet Witch and Vision, respectively, in a series that takes place after Endgame. Teyonah Parris will portray an adult Monica Rambeau, who’s first seen as a young girl in Captain Marvel; in the comics, Monica has operated under multiple aliases including Photon, a nickname that appeared on her mother Maria’s aircraft.
29) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021)
Benedict Cumberbatch will return to portray Doctor Strange, which will also feature Olsen’s Scarlet Witch. Director Scott Derrickson described it as “the first scary MCU film,” and what happens in WandaVision will tie into the Doctor Strange sequel.
Thanks to the time travel shenanigans in Endgame, there’s a version of Loki who didn’t die at the hands of Thanos in Infinity War. That Loki, with Tom Hiddleston reprising his role, will be at the center of Marvel’s limited series.
31) What If…? (2021 on Disney+)
Several MCU alums—including Hayley Atwell, Mark Ruffalo, Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, and Samuel L. Jackson—will reprise their roles in the MCU’s first animated series that sets to explore alternate versions of events throughout the MCU.
Jeffrey Wright is the sole new cast member confirmed for the series. He will portray the Watcher.
Jeremy Renner will reprise his role as Hawkeye in a limited series that takes place after Endgame. The series will introduce Kate Bishop, a beloved character who has also operated under the moniker Hawkeye and whom Clint Barton will train. Based on the typography of the Hawkeye logo, it appears that the series will be particularly influenced by the comic book run by Matt Fraction and David Aja.
33) Thor: Love and Thunder (2021)
Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are reuniting with Taika Waititi for a second Thor movie (and the fourth Thor overall). Natalie Portman is also returning to the MCU as Thor, suggesting that the film is at least partially inspired by Jason Aaron’s The Mighty Thor, which saw Jane Foster take on the mantle of Thor.
MCU movie order: Beyond MCU Phase 4
At the end of Marvel Studios’ SDCC panel, Feige teased some of the projects that have been rumored that he couldn’t get to in the panel, which included an already confirmed sequel, sequels for incredibly popular characters, teases for future properties, and a surprising casting announcement that shocked Hall H.
The only film previously confirmed, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, was pushed back after Disney fired (and then rehired) director James Gunn until after Gunn completes Suicide Squad 2. Sequels for Black Panther, which will reportedly have writer-director Ryan Coogler returning to helm the film, and Captain Marvel were no-brainers. Marvel also plans to remake Fantastic Four and to make a film with mutants (although he didn’t explicitly mention the X-Men), which are now possible for Marvel Studios to make after Disney’s acquisition of Fox.
Marvel also plans to remake Blade, which does not have a writer or director but does have its star: two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali.
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