For nearly two decades, audiences have witnessed one of the most polarizing, record-setting cinematic universes take shape. We’ve watched Tony Stark create an iron suit in a cave, Steve Rogers battle Nazis, Thor Odinson prove he is worthy, and countless more iconic superheroes on the big screen.
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It’s hard to say if anyone expected the amount of success that Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige have experienced. Numerous top actors and actresses have left their marks on this franchise, and with the initial Infinity Sage now completed, the new frontier of Phase Four looks to be a wild one. On top of Feige expanding Marvel content onto Disney’s streaming service with weekly shows, the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to make incredible strides in the entertainment sphere. But with so much content rolling out, it’s easy to lose oneself in the midst of it all. This is the correct order to watch every movie and Disney+ show in the MCU in chronological order.
Updated July 19, 2023, by Avery Feyrer: The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand in Phase 5 with new adventures in space and on Earth. We’ve updated this list to add entries for the conclusion of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy and the controversial thriller Secret Invasion.
44 Captain America: The First Avenger (1942)
Initially starting in the present day, the vast majority of Captain America: The First Avenger takes place in 1942 when the United States entered the Second World War. Released in 2011, the movie follows a scrawny, yet determined young man who wants nothing more than to fight Nazis. It’s not so much that he wants to kill them, but Steve Rogers doesn’t like bullies, no matter where they come from. So fighting against the oppression and prejudice during that time period was an easy choice for him. Unfortunately, Rogers kept getting denied a chance to join the military.
While overhearing Rogers talk to his good friend Bucky Barnes, Doctor Abraham Erskine of the Strategic Scientific Reserve approaches him regarding the super-soldier serum. Erskine sees how different Rogers is compared to other people, his desire to help those less fortunate and not simply become a killing machine. This is the birth of Captain America, one of the greatest heroes and Avengers to ever live.
43 Captain Marvel (1995)
The introduction of Marvel’s second captain didn’t occur until 2019 with the release of Captain Marvel. Set in the mid-1990s, Captain Marvel contains key plot elements that are certain to come into play later in Phase Four with the shape-shifting alien race the Skrulls. This film first introduces Carol Danvers as Vers, a Kree warrior who suffers from memory loss. After finding out she was once a human, Danvers exacts her revenge on the people who ruined her past life and tries to help prevent her current life from falling apart as well.
Captain Marvel is one of the most important Marvel films canonically because this is where special agent Nick Fury comes up with the idea of the Avengers. His interaction with Danvers and the war between the Kree and Skrulls is his first taste of intergalactic conflict and he realizes that Earth is ill-equipped to engage in such affairs. And as a bonus, we find out how exactly Fury lost his left eye.
42 Iron Man (2008)
The first movie that truly kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man quickly established itself as a premier origin story. When weapon arms dealer Tony Stark gets attacked and abducted by people who are using the very weapons he develops, he realizes this isn’t right. Stranded in a cave, Stark somehow manages to retrofit an iron suit made from scrap metal (despite recovering from shrapnel in his chest) and escapes back to New York.
Throughout the film, it’s clear what type of person Stark is: condescending, arrogant, selfish, and quite rich. His near-death experience reformed the man he wanted to be and set him on the path of becoming Iron Man. While some might consider Captain America the leader of the Avengers, Tony Stark can be considered the leader of the MCU. Without Iron Man, there is no MCU.
41 The Incredible Hulk (2010)
Despite a change in lead actor, Universal’s The Incredible Hulk is, in fact, canon to the MCU. The decision to cast Mark Ruffalo as the green giant instead of Edward Norton seemed to have come from the head honcho himself, Kevin Feige. In a statement, Feige said that the decision wasn’t based on monetary factors, but more that he believed Ruffalo was better suited in a group setting than Norton, which the actor took incredible offense to.
Although Norton or Liv Taylor’s Betty Ross hasn’t reappeared since the movie’s release in 2008, William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross has become a recurring character. General Ross was an antagonist in Captain America: Civil War in constructing the Sokovia Accords, and also led the hunt for Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow. While there hasn’t been a solo Hulk movie since, possibly due to the film’s rights, Marvel released She-Hulk, which saw the return of Tim Roth’s Abomination.
40 Iron Man 2 (2011)
The return of Tony Stark brought along the introduction of the final member of the Avengers, Natasha Romanoff. Fresh off unveiling himself to the world as Iron Man, Stark quickly adjusted to the life of crime fighting. Though Stark has been previously approached by Nick Fury regarding the Avengers Initiative, he’s still operating alone…well, not so much alone.
Iron Man 2 was the debut of Stark’s buddy Colonel James Rhodey, who took to the skies as War Machine. Marvel replaced Terrance Howard, who played the role of Rhodey in the first Iron Man, with Don Cheadle. The two heroes battle against Whiplash and Justin Hammer, as the government tries to replicate Stark’s technology
39 Thor (2011)
The last of the Avengers trinity is finally introduced in Thor. Soon to become the king of Asgard, the God of Thunder is instead banished to Earth by his father, Odin. Stranded on Midgard, Thor befriends scientists Jane Foster, Eric Selvig, and Darcy Lewis, and the gang helps the fallen god regain his lost honor.
The film also introduces one of Marvel’s main recurring villains in Loki. Revealed to be the one responsible for Thor’s banishment, the God of Mischief wishes to not only rule Asgard but has his sights set on bigger exploits. Thor also shows the first appearance of Clint Barton, otherwise known as Hawkeye, and is the first film to show the cosmic side of the MCU.
38 The Avengers (2012)
The culmination of Marvel’s early building blocks resulted in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes finally assembling in The Avengers. Instructed by the Mad Titan Thanos, Loki has waged war on New York in search of the Tesseract. Knowing the battle is far too great for normal weaponry, Nick Fury executes his Avengers Initiative, bringing in the likes of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, and Clint Barton.
Loki proved to be a formidable foe and it required the combined powers of all six Avengers to defeat him. Though the Avengers triumphed, the difficulties along the way showed they had much to learn in working as a team. The Avengers film marked the end of the MCU’s Phase One.
37 Thor: Dark World (2013)
After successfully saving Midgard from his brother Loki, Thor returns to Asgard with the captured god for him to stand trial. Loki is placed in solitary confinement, and just when we think he’s changed his ways for the better, the other shoe drops. However, something more sinister has stirred in the darkness.
The dark elf Malekith, thought to have been destroyed eons ago by Odin’s father Bor, has emerged from the depths of the universe to exact his revenge on Asgard and the other Nine Realms. Harnessing the power of the Aether, which turns out to be the Reality Infinity Stone, Malekith threatens all of existence until Thor and his science buddies on Earth get the better of him.
36 Iron Man 3 (2012)
Tony Stark is in a dark place following the events of The Avengers. Having nearly died saving New York City from Loki and the Chitauri horde, Stark has experienced visions of his and the other heroes’ deaths. Throughout this time, Stark has built numerous Iron Man suits, but soon investigates a series of bombs that are being claimed to have been detonated by a terrorist known as the Mandarin.
The real mastermind turns out to be a scientist from Stark’s past, Aldrich Killian, who weaponizes a material called Extremis. Supposed to help individuals with crippling injuries, Extremis becomes an unstable energy source within Killian. Stark fails in his fight against Killian but with the help of a superpowered Pepper Potts, the two defeat the crazed scientist.
35 Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Following the Battle of New York, Steve Rogers took a position working directly with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury. On a mission to rescue hostages, Natasha Romanoff retrieves data for Fury regarding a secret project within the agency. Codenamed Project Insight, the data reveals three Helicarriers connected to a network that will preemptively eliminate threats.
After Fury confronts Alexander Pierce, the Secretary of Internal Security, about being unable to further decrypt the data, Fury is attacked by an unknown soldier known as the Winter Soldier. It’s revealed that Hydra has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Winter Soldier is actually Rogers’s old friend Bucky Barnes.
34 Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 1 (2014)
The first film in the MCU that introduced heroes unfamiliar to most people: the Guardians of the Galaxy. Essentially, the cosmic version of the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy is a rag-tag, unlikely group consisting of fugitives and thieves who ultimately save, well, the galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 reveals more of Thanos’s grand plan of collecting the Infinity Stones, by instructing the Kree warrior Ronan the Accuser to retrieve the Power Stone for him. Star-Lord finds the Infinity Stone before Ronan and eventually teams up with Thanos’s adopted daughter Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket the Raccoon, and Groot to protect the world of Xandar from Ronan. This film provides a great deal of detail concerning the background of Thanos and touches on his motives behind wanting to collect all six Infinity Stones.
33 Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2014)
Picking up a few months after the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, the sequel focuses more on Star-Lord learning more about his heritage. At the end of the first film, it’s revealed that Peter Quill is only half-human, while his other half is of celestial energy. After narrowly escaping Ayesha and the Sovereign, the Guardians come into contact with Ego, the living planet.
Ego reveals that he’s Peter’s father and that he’s been searching for him his entire life. While Peter enjoys some quality father-son bonding time, Ego’s assistant, Mantis, sheds the curtain on his more sinister plan for the other Guardians. Ego wishes to remake the universe in his image and needs Peter’s celestial energy to help him achieve that goal.
32 Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)
As a result of the Battle of New York, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner begin working on a global defense system to help combat cosmic threats. Their fight with Loki proved the Earth is not prepared to properly defend against such an attack without sustaining heavy casualties. They start experimenting on Loki’s scepter and the gem within it. Unfortunately for the two, instead of creating a “suit of armor around the world” as Stark wanted, Ultron is born.
Technically, Stark and Banner kind of succeeded in developing a system to defend the Earth, except Ultron believes humans are its biggest threat. Hellbent on eliminating the human race, Ultron recruits Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, otherwise known as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. The two despise the Avengers for their own reasons but eventually realize Ultron is the real danger. Avengers: Age of Ultron also introduces the synthezoid Vision, as he’s born from merging the gem within Loki’s scepter (which was the Mind Stone) and Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S. program. The film concludes with Thanos emphatically declaring that he’ll retrieve the Infinity Stones himself.
31 Ant-Man (2015)
Formerly an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hank Pym engineered technology that would enable a person to shrink to microscopic sizes but inherit incredible strength. Pym realizes the technology is too dangerous after his wife is stranded in the Quantum Realm during a mission. When the agency tries to replicate his technology against his warnings, Pym tries to hide his research.
Needing someone a bit younger and more active, Pym recruits the help of Scott Lang, a former convict. Deciding that helping this old man might be better than working at Baskin Robbins, Lang dons the Ant-Man costume to help Pym stop his protege Darren Cross. Cross has re-engineered Pym’s technology and turned himself into the deadly Yellowjacket.
30 Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Taking place a few months after Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War is the resulting consequence of Age of Ultron and kicks off Marvel’s Phase Three. Despite the Avengers successfully destroying Ultron, the country of Sokovia sustained catastrophic damage and civilian casualties that forced the United States government to draft the Sokovia Accords, documents that will employ super-powered individuals under the restrictions of the government.
Naturally, this causes a major rift among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Realizing the dangers if left unchecked, Tony Stark supports the Accords and wants to create a better system in how they operate. Steve Rogers thinks differently. Captain America believes if people are in danger, there’s no time to tread through the red tape. On top of that, more is revealed about the mysterious Winter Soldier program and who Baron Zemo ordered Bucky Barnes to murder. Civil War marks the end of the Avengers as we know them but introduces the web-slinger himself, Spider-Man, and T’Challa, the King of Wakanda and the Black Panther.
29 Black Widow (2016)
Initially, Natasha Romanoff sided with Tony Stark, most likely due to her early working relationship with him in Iron Man 2. However, during the battle at the airport, Romanoff suddenly switches sides and subdues Black Panther, allowing Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers to escape. Black Widow opens with General Thunderbolt Ross hunting down Romanoff, who naturally evades his capture.
Much of Romanoff’s past has been shrouded in mystery but finally comes to light in Black Widow. After her younger sister, Yelena Belova, is freed from the mind control of the Red Room, she recruits Romanoff to destroy the Russian secret agent program and its leader, Dreykov. Aside from introducing the possible future Black Widow, the film has the first look at Red Guardian, Taskmaster, and Iron Maiden. Chronologically, Black Widow fills the gap for Romanoff between Captain America: Civil War and Infinity War.
28 Spider-Man: Homecoming (2016)
The existence of Spider-Man: Homecoming is the embodiment of the phrase “Never say never.” After seeing the web-slinger make his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War, it was only a matter of time before Peter Parker starred in his own movie. Taking place shortly after the events of the third Cap movie, Parker is still adjusting to his new part-time job of superhero-ing.
Also making his MCU debut is the villain Vulture. Adrian Toomes was the once-proud owner of Bestman Salvage but was phased out by another demolition cleanup crew called Damage Control that was constructed by the federal government and Tony Stark. Toomes turns to a life of crime but is opposed by Spider-Man. Aided by Stark, Parker learns it’s the man who makes the suit and not the other way around.
27 Black Panther (2016)
With so many movies, it’s easy for the timeline to encounter a few hiccups. First, Spider-Man: Homecoming stated it took place eight years after The Avengers, which would place it in 2020, though that doesn’t add up with the timeframe of the other movies. The events of Black Panther seem to take place almost immediately after Captain America: Civil War but are later said to have occurred a year later in 2017.
Following the assassination of his father, T’Chaka, T’Challa assumed the throne of Wakanda. The film details the history of the Black Panther and the user’s superhuman abilities and the nation’s valuable material, vibranium. It’s revealed that another Wakandan exists to stake claim to the throne by the name of Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens. The son of disgraced N’Jobu, Killmonger creates internal conflict in Wakanda and nearly succeeds in usurping T’Challa for the throne. Sadly, actor Chadwick Boseman who portrayed the Wakandan hero in the MCU passed away on August 28, 2020.
26 Doctor Strange (2016)
In addition to the introduction of Spider-Man, Marvel’s Phase Three also introduced the Sorcerer Supreme. Doctor Strange kicks off with Stephen Strange being one of the best neurosurgeons in the world. Driving late one night, Strange makes the ill decision to check his phone and suffers a terrible crash. When he is eventually cured, Strange’s hands won’t ever be the same again and he embarks on a spiritual journey.
Strange is taught the mystic arts by the Ancient One and learns about the dark energies that inhabit and threaten our world. Another sorcerer named Kaecilius attempts to summon Dormammu, the ruler of the Dark Dimension. By using the Eye of Agamotto, Strange defeats Dormammu and assumes the role of mystical protector of our dimension.
25 Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Roughly two years after the events of Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok marks the beginning of the end for Asgard. After learning the fire demon Surtur intends to destroy Asgard and fulfill the prophecy of Ragnarok, Thor travels back to his realm to discover Loki not only alive and well, but impersonating the All-Father, Odin. Aided by Doctor Strange, the pair find their ailing father in Norway and sit beside him as he dies.
Soon after his death, Hela appears and destroys Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. In an attempt to escape, Thor finds himself stranded in the war-torn gladiator world of Sakaar and runs into a friend from work, Hulk. Ultimately, to stop Hela, Thor must allow Ragnarok to occur and Surtur to destroy his home. The film concludes with Thanos attacking Thor’s ship to retrieve a possible Infinity Stone on board. Thor: Ragnarok also introduced the MCU’s first LGBTQ character Valkyrie, the future king of Asgard.
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