The best order to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Sam Ashurst
Thanos faces off against the Avengers (credit: Marvel Studios)

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It’s official, Black Widow has been (rightfully) delayed from 1 May until 6 November, to help protect MCU fans from the coronavirus risks of gathering in large groups. That’s the understandable, but still bad, news.

The good news is, it gives you even more time to have an MCU-binge on Disney+ before Scarlett Johansson’s spin-off hits theatres (which will helpfully pass the time while you’re staying safe by staying at home).

In fact, you could have several MCU-binges, with a surprising amount of excellent viewing orders to choose from.

We’re going to start with the obvious ones, before shifting into the slightly more unusual ways to hang out with your favourite heroes. We’re using Thanos’ glove to help us do this - each order has an assigned Infinity Stone. But, whichever binge you choose to assemble, hours of pure entertainment await you.

So, put down your shield, lay down your hammer, switch off JARVIS, and get ready for some of the best blockbusters ever made, as they were meant to be seen.

Phase Order - Reality Stone

Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark goes boom (credit: Marvel Studios)

Phase 1

Iron Man (May, 2008)

The Incredible Hulk (June, 2008)

Iron Man 2 (May, 2010)

Thor (May, 2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22, 2011)

Avengers Assemble (May, 2012)

Phase 2

Iron Man 3 (May, 2013)

Thor: The Dark World (November, 2013)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April, 2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (August, 2014)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (May, 2015)

Ant-Man (July, 2015)

Phase 3

Captain America: Civil War (May, 2016)

Doctor Strange (November, 2016)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May, 2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July, 2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (November, 2017)

Black Panther (February, 2018)

Avengers: Infinity War (April, 2018)

Ant-Man and the Wasp (July, 2018)

Captain Marvel (March, 2019)

Avengers: Endgame (April, 2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (July, 2019)

We’re going to start really, really simply, and advise you to watch these amazing movies in their Phase-based release order. It’s kind of obvious really, but if you’re in this for the pure nostalgia hit of re-experiencing the MCU, the best way to do it is to go through it the same way you did twelve years ago, starting with Iron Man.

Read more: Disney shares new release dates for upcoming MCU films

And if you break it up in Phases, you can split your binges into different days (though you’ll need a couple for Phase 3 - man, that Phase was loooong).

Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s get a little trickier.

Chronological Order - Time Stone

Chris Evans' Steve Rogers celebrates (credit: Marvel Studios)

Captain America: The First Avenger (1942)

Captain Marvel (1995)

Iron Man (2010)

Iron Man 2 (2011)

The Incredible Hulk (2011)

Thor (2011)

The Avengers (2012)

Iron Man 3 (2012)

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2014)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Ant-Man (2015)

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2016)

Doctor Strange (2016-2017)

Black Widow (2017)

Black Panther (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2017)

Avengers: Infinity War (2017)

Avengers: Endgame (2018-2023)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2023)

The MCU’s timeline is a little bit all over the place when you do it in release order. The beginning of the narrative doesn’t come until five movies in.

That’s because the story actually begins in 1942, with Captain America: The First Avenger, so if you want to point the Time Stone at it and go chronologically, that’s where you need to start.

It’s a really fun way to experience the movies. You get The First Avenger and Captain Marvel out of the way early, and there’s a general feeling of dipping and rising in terms of quality - the weaker movies are always followed by a brilliant one. Oh, and you get to watch Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 back-to-back, because their events happen really close together. It basically feels like watching one long movie.

And, if nothing else, it’s entertaining to see this crazy alternate history play out in sequence.

Oh, and in case you’re interested, Black Widow will slot between Doctor Strange and Black Panther when it’s released, if you want to revisit this list then.

Iron Man Order - Mind Stone

Iron Man's broken, and so's Tony (credit: Marvel Studios)

Iron Man (2008)

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Iron Man 2 (2010)

The Avengers (2012)

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Now we’re getting a little more esoteric, and going by character order. If you want to offer your kids a binge-session, but you don’t want them to spend an enormous amount of time in front of the telly, this is the way to do it - get them to pick their favourite character and shuffle the films accordingly.

Read more: Scarlett Johansson says 'Black Widow' movie is 'brave'

We’re opening with Tony Stark because, let’s face it, he’s definitely the protagonist of the MCU - he was in the first movie and he (spoiler alert) made the ultimate sacrifice in the final film. If you want to enjoy that character arc in its purest form, this is the way to watch. Oh, and he gets the Mind Stone because he’s the smartest guy in whatever room he’s in, duh.

Captain America Order - Soul Stone

Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff start their own viewing party (credit: Marvel Studios)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Avengers (2012)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Ant-Man (2015)

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Captain Marvel (2019)

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Captain America is both the leader of the Avengers and the team’s moral heart, so we couldn’t give any other character the Soul Stone when assigning our stone-based binge-lists.

And, here’s a weird thing, if you watch the movies in the chronological order we laid out earlier, Steve Rogers becomes the protagonist of the MCU, as he’s the first person we meet, and the last person we see before the Endgame credits run.

There’s actually a pretty solid case for arguing Cap’s the main hero of the MCU in whatever order you watch it in, especially when you consider he’s the only character to have an ensemble movie in his own trilogy (in a film which impacts every movie that comes after it).

But we’ll save those arguments for another day, and simply reflect on this as one of the reasons the MCU is so good - all the characters are so great they feel like protagonists.

Black Widow Order - Power Stone

Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow on the battlefield (credit: Marvel Studios)

Iron Man 2 (2010)

The Avengers (2012)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Of course, if the aim of your MCUathon is to prep for Black Widow, you can save time by only watching the movies she appears in. If you want to be a total completist, you can add Spider-Man: Homecoming (video footage), Thor: Ragnarok (footage), Captain Marvel (mid-credits scene) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (picture) to the above.

But if you just stick to the above, you’ll quickly realise that - whisper it - Black Widow actually has the strongest MCU CV, with the only truly middling movie of the bunch being Age Of Ultron. This is clearly a very good sign for the potential quality of her solo movie.

Read more: The best order to watch Star Wars

As for why we’ve assigned a lowly human the Power Stone, as the sole woman in the original Avengers line-up, she’s been a powerful symbol for a decade now. Thank goodness she’s finally got her own film, even if we do have to wait a little longer to see it.

Galaxy Order - Space Stone

Chris Pratt's Star-Lord/Peter Quill is ready for action (credit: Marvel Studios)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Captain Marvel (2019)

Avengers: Infinity War (2017)

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

If you’ve just binged Star Wars using our other guide, and you feel like staying in space, then this is the watch-list for you. Controversially, we’ve left out Thor and Thor: The Dark World, not because they’re bad movies (though one of them is), but because they both spend too much time chilling on earth to count. This is a binge for people who want to hurtle through universes, so these are the MCU movies scattered with more stars than a ten year anniversary group shot.

So, now that you’ve assembled all of your stones, you may want to click your fingers to lose a load of films for a binge that doesn’t require such a large time investment. Well, we’ve got you covered there too. Get ready for the mid and post-credits scenes of this recommendation list...

The Trilogy Order

Chris Hemsworth's Thor meeting a friend from work (credit: Marvel Studios)

Iron Man trilogy (2008 - 2013)

Thor trilogy (2011 - 2017)

Captain America trilogy (2011 - 2016)

There are only three trilogies (how appropriate!) in the MCU currently, so you can either pick your favourite, or do all nine movies. We’d say that if you need to drop one set, Thor’s is probably the weakest of the three, but as we don’t want a Mjølnir flying at our face any time soon, we’ll just stay silent on that one.

The Quadrilogy Order

Avengers assemble! (credit: Marvel Studios)

The Avengers (2012)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Infinity War (2017)

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

But if you’re really pushed for time because you’ve got a universe to save or something, you can tackle the sole MCU quadrilogy - the Avengers saga. It’s basically the four most epic movies you’ll ever see in a single sitting. You’re welcome.

So there we go, eight ways to watch the best superhero series of all time. Why did we put so much thought and effort into this? Because we love you 3000, of course.

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