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The Definitive Marvel Cinematic Universe Viewing Order

Whether you’ve seen all twenty-three movies in the MCU multiple times, or you’re taking this quaran-time to finally dive into an intimidatingly long movie franchise, you’ve probably heard from various sources about which order to watch these movies in.

We’re here to tell you they’re all wrong.

In an effort to make this as easy as possible, and give your brain the least amount of work to do, we’ve simplified our order, basing it on the last scene in each film. That means that if the majority of a story takes place in the past (e.g. World War II or the 1990s) we’re still going to base its order on the very last scene in the movie. This way, after the credits roll and post-credit scenes unfold, you’ll have a crystal clear understanding of where you are in the MCU timeline.

To simplify further, we’re only including MCU movies on this list. While we appreciate/love the fact that television series like Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, etc. fit into this timeline as well, with shows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. having a very specific place in history, we’re sticking to the films for now. 

Are you ready? Let’s begin!

Iron Man
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Marvel Studios

This is the one that started it all. Originally, we believed that Iron Man took place in 2008, the year it was released. After its sequel in 2010, however, the timeline moved up. Short answer: The Avengers takes place in 2012. Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk all take place over a year before that, and the original Iron Man takes place around six months before that. There’s conflicting information about whether Iron Man takes place in 2008 or 2009, but the important thing is, we know what order it goes in. It opens with the kidnapping of Tony Stark and ends with Nick Fury making a visit to Stark’s house to tell him about the… well, you know.

Iron Man 2
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Marvel Studios

Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk all take place over the course of the same few days, which, thanks to some great tie-in comics, have been dubbed “Fury’s Big Week” due to what Nick Fury had to deal with. But we’re gonna start with Iron Man 2 for a few reasons. It opens in Russia, where our villain Ivan Vanko is watching the iconic press conference where Tony Stark announced his identity to the world, so it’s a nice bridge from the first Iron Man movie. We pick up six months later, where Iron Man defeats Vanko and Justin Hammer at the Stark Expo. The film also ends with Fury teasing the rest of his “Big Week” to Stark, and Agent Phil Coulson finding Mjolnir in the desert.

Thor
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Marvel Studios

Phil Coulson is an excellent (rainbow) bridge to our next movie, which takes place around the same time as Iron Man 2. Thor opens with Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, and Darcy Lewis finding the banished hunk of a man, Thor Odinson, marooned on Earth. We follow our heroes for a few days until Thor defeats the Destroyer in Puente Antiguo, New Mexico, and beams up to Asgard to kick his brother Loki’s ass. After Thor destroys the bifrost and cuts himself off from Midgard, a.k.a. Earth, we see Nick Fury approach Erik Selvig about working on the Tesseract. And here’s the kicker: this is the first (of many) times we think Loki’s dead when—NOPE! He’s alive and manipulating the good doctor’s mind.

The Incredible Hulk
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Marvel Studios

Finishing up “Fury’s Big Week” is a movie that takes place around the same time as the events of Iron Man 2 and Thor, but which ends a little further in the MCU timeline. The Incredible Hulk opens with Bruce Banner living in Brazil as a fugitive from the U.S. Army. Over the course of the film, he faces his enemy General Thaddeus Ross, reconnects with the love of his life, Betty Ross, fights the Abomination in the streets of Harlem, and saves the city from a true monster. Thirty-one days later, Bruce Banner is learning to control the Hulk up in Canada. Down in the United States, S.H.I.E.L.D. sends a “consultant” over to Ross to talk about a team. Setup: Tony Stark walks into a bar…

Captain America: The First Avenger
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Marvel Studios

Although the majority of the movie takes place in World War II, The First Avenger is bookended with scenes set in the present day (2011), which means the whole story is technically a flashback. First, S.H.I.E.L.D. finds a famous frozen shield in the arctic, and then we travel back in time to 1942. We meet the Red Skull, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Agent Peggy Carter, and a perfectly cast Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips. We remain in the past until Captain America heroically sacrifices himself, and the war is eventually won in 1945. Back in the present, Steve wakes up, just in time to realize he missed his date. In the post-credits scene, we get a tease of the events in 2012 where Fury recruits Steve to possibly lead the Avengers…

The Avengers
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Marvel Studios

Here it is—the big show. Thankfully, this movie takes place exactly when it was released: 2012. Also, notably, the time heist from Avengers: Endgame. It opens with The Other, who gifts Loki with the Scepter, which gives him command over the Thanos’ Chitauri army. Then, shit gets real. Loki tesseracts to Earth, brainwashes Hawkeye, and escapes S.H.I.E.L.D.’s clutches. Nick Fury recruits Black Widow, Iron Man, Captain America, and Bruce Banner to stop him. Thor shows up. Banner hulks out. History was made. The Avengers assemble to stop Loki at the Battle of New York and celebrate their victory with shawarma. Thor brings Loki back to Asgard, and Tony begins building Avengers Tower. The next day, Thanos hears how unruly Earthlings are from The Other, and smiles. 

Iron Man 3
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Marvel Studios

The first MCU holiday movie! Lots of clues tell us this takes place during the first winter after The Avengers, either late 2012 or early 2013. Iron Man 3 technically opens with Tony recounting recent events to (we learn later) Bruce Banner, making the film another flashback. He then tells the story of New Year’s Eve 1999, where we see Ho Yinsen (yay!) meet Aldrich Killian, Maya Hensen, and Happy’s haircut. Back in the present, Tony is dealing with PTSD from the Battle of New York. Rhodey becomes “Iron Patriot,” the two iron dudes battle the Mandarin… and then fight the actual Mandarin. The day (and the President) is saved! Tony then destroys his excessive suits, removes the shrapnel in his chest, and comes to terms with who he is: Iron Man. Then he bores his science bro Bruce to sleep.

Thor: The Dark World
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Marvel Studios

Though it’s arguably the worst in the MCU, Thor: The Dark World is actually made better by Avengers: Endgame! Don’t skip it! Let’s power through, people! We begin with some backstory on the Dark Elves. 5,000 years ago, Odin’s father clashed with Malekith the Accursed, who sought to use a weapon known as the Aether against the Nine Realms. Malekith eventually escapes with some of the Dark Elves, while the Aether is hidden away on Asgard. In present day, one year after the events of the Battle of New York, Thor reunites with Jane Foster on Earth when portals start popping up throughout the realm. Loki is eventually freed and fakes his death (again), Thor and his allies save London from a returned Malekith, and Loki rules Asgard disguised as Odin. Later, Sif and Volstagg take the Aether (the Reality Stone) into space and the waiting hands of Taneleer Tivan, the Collector.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
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Marvel Studios

Many of the films in the MCU thankfully take place at the time the movie was released, and The Winter Soldier is no different! We open two years after The Avengers, in early 2014, where Steve Rogers first meets Sam Wilson. He then learns on a mission that S.H.I.E.L.D. might (definitely) be up to some shady business. When Fury is attacked by the Winter Soldier, Captain America and Black Widow discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been taken over by HYDRA. In between fighting his way out of an elevator, Steve also recruits Sam Wilson, reconnects with an older Peggy, and saves the day! Most importantly, Steve saves and is saved by his old friend Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier. Later, we learn that HYDRA agent Baron Strucker has been experimenting on a pair of twins…  

Guardians of the Galaxy
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Marvel Studios

SPACE! This now-classic movie opens with a heartbreaking scene in 1988 where we meet young Peter Quill, who is abducted by aliens. 26 years later, in 2014, adult Peter discovers a mystical Orb (the Power Stone) and meets Gamora, an assassin sent by Thanos flunky Ronan the Accuser, to retrieve it. Along with Groot and Rocket Raccoon, Peter and Gamora are by intergalactic military force Nova Corps and sent to space prison. This rag-tag group of would-be heroes escape with the help of Drax the Destroyer and learn that instead of delivering the Power Stone to Thanos, Ronan plans to use it to rain destruction down on the planet Xandar. The Guardians guard the Galaxy, Groot “dies” (leaving a sapling behind), and the group decides to stay together. In the Guardians of the Galaxy post-credits scene, we meet the one and only baby Groot!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Marvel Studios

Taking place after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., our next movie opens in 2015 and gets the big “heroes assembled” shot out of the way pretty much immediately. The Avengers take down HYDRA agent Baron Strucker, meet Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and dunk on Hawkeye a lot. (Can you blame them?) The science bros then create Ultron as a way to protect Earth, which… does not go well. J.A.R.V.I.S. also becomes Vision, the twins defect and join our heroes, and Ultron attacks their native home of Sokovia. Hawkeye inspires Wanda, Quicksilver dies, Fury returns, and Vision kills the last Ultron. Despite their victory, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Hawkeye decide to leave the team, making way for new recruits: Scarlet Witch, Falcon, War Machine, and Vision. They assemble for the first time about a month later, in the New Avengers facility upstate.

Ant-Man
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Marvel Studios

The final film in Phase Two, Ant-Man opens in 1988 with physicist Hank Pym punch-quitting S.H.I.E.L.D. because he knew they were shady AF. In the present, sometime after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we meet Scott Lang. Newly released from Prison, Lang can’t find a job and resorts to his criminal past to rob an older Hank Pym of his cool-looking Ant-Man suit. Or so he thought. Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne, were actually recruiting Scott for a job to stop the evil Darren Cross from using his Yellowjacket technology for evil. They stop Cross! Scott meets The Falcon! Scott and Hope kiss! Luis is the man! The movie ends with a tease of Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson in 2016, needing some… unique backup.

Captain America: Civil War
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Marvel Studios

Black Panther! Spider-Man! EVERYONE ELSE! The Russo Brothers’ audition to direct Avengers 3 and 4 is pretty damn great, and mostly takes place about a year after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Civil War opens in 1991, where we see the Winter Soldier activated for a mission. In 2016, General Thaddeus Ross (same actor!) reveals the Sokovia Accords and the creation of a UN panel to oversee the Avengers. After the events of The Avengers and Age of Ultron, Tony Stark is convinced the Accords will help save more people, while Captain America distrusts the government after the whole HYDRA debacle. When vengeful Soviet soldier Baron Zemo re-activates the Winter Soldier’s assassination protocols, Black Panther is brought into the mix to avenge (heh) his father’s death. The Avengers quickly split into factions: those for and against the Sokovia Accords. Tony Stark recruits Peter Parker to his side in one of the most epic battle sequences of the franchise. Tony Stark learns that the Winter Soldier killed his parents, Steve once against saves his pal, and Baron Zemo is eventually captured. We end Civil War with half of our heroes arrested due to the Accords, and weeks later, Rogers brings Bucky to Wakanda.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
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Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios

Remember when we mentioned that we get a lot of conflicting information about the MCU’s timeline? Here’s Exhibit A. While Spider-Man: Homecoming does have some on-screen errors concerning these dates, we can still place the first solo MCU Spider flick. It opens in 2012, right after the Battle of New York, where we meet Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture. Then, in September 2016, Peter Parker’s back from his adventure with the Avengers and itching to be Spider-Man! When he learns about the Vulture’s nefarious deeds, Peter attempts to stop him and gets in way over his head. When father figure Tony Stark takes away the upgraded Spider-Suit to try and teach him a lesson, Peter must redeem himself with his old homemade number. The film ends with Peter turning down The Avengers (for now) and the Vulture befriending Mac Gargan (soon-to-be the Scorpion) in prison.

Black Panther 
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Marvel Studios

Even though the majority of this movie takes place almost immediately after Civil War, it’s about where that last post-credits scene places us. After a flashback to 1992 Oakland and the assassination of N’Jobu, we join King T’Challa as he returns home to Wakanda after the events of Civil War. Michael Jordan’s compelling villain (who was kind of right!) Killmonger tracks down Wakanda and almost immediately usurps T’Challa’s throne. T’Challa goes on a personal journey, as every hero does, and regains his Black Panther powers. With the help of M’Baku and the Jabari tribe, his sister Shuri, lost love Nakia, and badass warrior Okoye and the Dora Milaje,  Black Panther defeats Killmonger and takes back his country. A few months later, in late 2016, Bucky Barnes wakes up and earns the nickname “White Wolf.” 

Doctor Strange
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Marvel Studios

The movie that introduces the world of magic to the MCU actually spans a few years, but the important thing is where the last scene ends. We open in 2015, where the Ancient One is fighting off rogue sorcerers who stole an important book. Then, in 2016, we meet Stephen Strange, a hotshot doctor who’s about to take a tumble. He injures his hands in a car accident, pushes his girlfriend and colleague Christine Palmer to leave him, and months later travels to Kamar-Taj looking for a cure. He finds something more, trains for months, and learns actual magic. Disillusioned Masters of the Mystic Arts sorcerer Kaecilius (aka Dormammu, aka Mads Mikkelsen) then murders the Ancient One. (Oh no!) With Wong’s help, Stephen saves our reality from Dormammu and becomes our new Sorcerer Supreme. Sometime later in late 2017, Doctor Strange is visited by Thor… 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2
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Marvel Studios

Instead of picking up where Doctor Strange left off and joining Thor mid-adventure, we’re going with this movie that ends just a bit before Thor: Ragnarok does. It’s all about that last scene, folks! After a flashback in 1980 featuring a young Meredith Quill and Peter’s dad, Ego, we return to 2014, just a few months after the events of the first Guardians movie. Our heroes save the Sovereign from a huge worm monster, recapture Nebula, get SAVED by Ego, learn he’s a galaxy-class jerk, and team up with Mantis, Nebula, and Yondu to stop him from spreading his *unwanted* seed all over the universe. Ego is destroyed but at the cost of Yondu’s life. We all cry. But what a funeral, right? Then FOUR YEARS later in 2018, about a week before the snap, Star-Lord asks teen Groot to clean up his room. 

Thor: Ragnarok
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Marvel Studios

Now we can see what Thor was up to! Taking place mostly when the movie was released, we join Thor in late 2017 as he kicks major ass in Muspelheim and takes Surtur’s crown back to Asgard. He learns Loki’s been posing as Odin in disguise, so the brothers go to Earth to find dad. Doctor Strange interjects to help the search, but Odin dies right before Hela shows up and takes over Asgard. She kills the warriors three, while Thor and Loki end up on Sakaar at different times (space travel!). We meet our queen Valkyrie, who captures Thor for Jeff Goldblum’s Contest of Champions. Thor reconnects with his friend from work and recruits Banner, Valkyrie, and Loki to save Asgard. Though they can’t save their actual home, they manage to save the people of Asgard, which is what truly matters. Months later in 2018, Thanos’ ship shows up! Which leads us right into… 

Avengers: Infinity War
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Marvel Studios

The beginning of the end of the Infinity Saga. Picking up directly where Thor: Ragnarok left off, Thanos and his children attack the Asgardians and kill Loki. Thor bifrosts Hulk to Doctor Strange, while Thor ends up smacking right into the Guardians ship. And then it just doesn’t stop. All of Infinity War takes place a little over 24 hours, from Wednesday (as it says on Tony’s flip phone) to Thursday. Stark, Strange, Wong, and Bruce try to defend Earth from Squidward, while fugitive Avengers Rogers, Romanoff, and Wilson show up to help Wanda and Vision fight of Thanos’ children. All the while Thanos is collecting Infinity Stones… He touches down in Wakanda, defeats the Avengers, and snaps his fingers. As people start to disappear, Fury barely manages to page someone…

Ant-Man and the Wasp
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Marvel Studios

While yes, most of this movie takes place about a week before the events of Infinity War, it still technically ENDS further along the timeline than Avengers did. And more importantly, we can maintain the surprise that Thanos was actually able to pull it off! After a 1987 flashback with Catwoman Janet van Dyne, we come back to Scott Lang, who has been under house arrest for two years (relatable). Hank and Hope recruit him to try and save Janet from the Quantum Realm. They do have to fight Ghost, a woman with molecular instability who can phase between objects, but eventually save Janet! More Michelle Pfeiffer in the MCU, please! A week later, a routine trip leaves Scott trapped in the Quantum Realm after Hank, Janet, and Hope are dusted. Sometime after Thanos’ snap, during an emergency broadcast, a giant ant plays some drums. 

Captain Marvel
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Marvel Studios

We can definitively place most of this movie in June 1995, but the post-credits scene occurs three weeks after Infinity War. The movie opens in ‘95, with “Vers” on the Kree homeworld, dealing with nightmares she can’t understand. She is kidnapped by Skrulls and crash-lands on Planet C-53 (Earth), where young S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson arrive to investigate. Fury teams with “Vers” and they learn she’s actually Carol Danvers, a human Air Force pilot lost in space. She reunites with her friend Maria, discovers that the Kree are the bad guys and Skrull Talos is good. After defeating Starforce and the Supreme Intelligence, Carol leaves Earth to help the Skrulls find a new home. 23 years later, she answers Fury’s page and returns to Earth… But Fury is already gone. 

Avengers: Endgame
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Marvel Studios

Right after the events of Infinity War, Clint Barton loses his family to the blip, while Captain Marvel rescues Tony Stark and Nebula from certain death in space. The rest of the Avengers assemble when they return to Earth, track down Thanos, and learn that the stones have been destroyed. Thor goes for the head, and then we jump to FIVE. YEARS. LATER.

In 2023, life is bleak. Until Scott Lang comes back from the Quantum Realm with a fragment of a plan: the time heist. The remaining Avengers time travel to hopefully find other copies of the stones to bring everyone back. Most of them make it back (RIP Black Widow) but have to defeat a 2014 Thanos and his army. And they do. Spectacularly. The movie ends with Tony’s funeral, Steve Rogers returning the stones to their timelines, and a much older Steve passing the Captain America shield to Sam Wilson.

Spider-Man: Far From Home
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Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios

The epilogue to the Infinity Saga is easy to place in the timeline, as it all obviously takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame. In 2024, eight months after the blip, Fury and Maria Hill (or so we think) are back at work finding world-ending threats, while Peter Parker and his classmates go on an international class trip. In Europe, Fury recruits Spider-Man and beefcake superhero Quentin Beck to help them on a mission. Spidey, the sweet little fool he is, gives Tony Stark’s E.D.I.T.H. glasses to Beck—a.k.a. Mysterio! Though Mysterio is eventually defeated, the latest installment in the MCU gets an amazing cliffhanger: J. Jonah Jameson reveals Peter Parker’s identity. WHAT THE F–

And there you have it! The most accurate chronological viewing order for the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

For reference, here’s the order again:

Iron Man
Iron Man 2
Thor
The Incredible Hulk
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ant-Man
Captain America: Civil War
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Black Panther
Doctor Strange
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Thor: Ragnarok
Avengers: Infinity War
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Captain Marvel
Avengers: Endgame
Spider-Man: Far From Home

Special shout out to the geniuses over at the unofficial Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki, who have done incredible work! These folks have even gone so far as calculating when full moons are taking place and cross-checking with our real-life lunar calendar to piece together this timeline. Give them a visit next time you feel inclined to head down an MCU rabbit hole.

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Marvel Studios

How will Black Widow fit into this timeline? Will it take place after Captain America: Civil War in 2016? Right before the events of Avengers: Infinity War in 2018? Will there be a scene that brings us up to the “present” day of 2024? Will we finally get to see a funeral for Natasha Romanoff?

We have until November 2020 to speculate, and you’ve got until then to rewatch the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Enjoy!

Header Images: Marvel Studios