Marvel Cinematic Universe Viewing Order: The Best Way To Watch The MCU


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Across 14 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the Hollywood landscape and gave comic book fans something they long dreamed of – an interconnected set of movies and Disney+ series featuring some of the greatest superhero characters of all time. The MCU offers up an epic canvas of earthbound heroics, intergalactic adventures, microscopic missions and pulse-pounding political thrillers – every character occupies their own space, but they all co-exist with ease, crossing over in must-see event movies. The Marvel behemoth has made household names of the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Black Widow, spawned several of the biggest films of all time – from Avengers: Endgame, to current box-office mega-smash Spider-Man: No Way Home – and has brought blockbuster-sized shows like WandaVision, Loki and Hawkeye to the small screen too.

For newcomers or those not steeped in the lore, though, knowing where to begin can be confusing. Whether you’re checking out the MCU for the first time, delving back in to witness it all over again, or looking for a reminder of the entire series timeline, here’s our guide to the best viewing order.

READ MORE: How Loki Set The Stage For The MCU’s Future

READ MORE: Why Eternals Deserves A Second Chance On Disney+

Production Order

Iron Man

Let’s get this one out of the way. The most obvious order is ostensibly the correct one – watch them in the order that they were produced and made. One of the most impressive things that Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios achieved was building up the MCU film by film, starting small and slowly bulking out the roster of heroes, supporting characters, and locations – from California to the cosmos, via Wakanda and Asgard. While some of the returning heroes have their own trilogies – Iron Man, Thor, Cap and the like – even those are woven into the fabric of the whole series. Really, this is the best order to view them in – here’s how you do it.

Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man

Director: Jon Favreau

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard

The one where it all began –Robert Downey Jr.’s billionaire genius playboy philanthropist Tony Stark is captured by terrorists using the weapons he created, leading him to invent something all-new and become a hero (of sorts).

Read the Empire review.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Incredible Hulk

Director: Louis Leterrier

Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt

Bruce Banner (here played for one time only by Edward Norton) is hiding out in Central America and trying to control his anger issues. Inevitably, he fails. (Honestly, you can mostly skip this one – it’s not bad per se, but it’s one of the MCU’s early missteps. You also won’t find it on Disney+ as Universal owns the rights to Hulk.)

Read the Empire review.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2

Director: Jon Favreau

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell

After outing himself to the world as Iron Man, Tony Stark is targeted by Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash (Russian, but not dragging), and fellow industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

Read the Empire review.

Thor (2011)

Thor

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins

In the realm of Asgard, hot-headed Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stripped of his lightning powers for his reckless behaviour and exiled to Earth – meanwhile his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the god of mischief, plots to take the throne from their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

Read the Empire review.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger

Director: Joe Johnston

Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones

In 1940s Brooklyn, scrawny do-gooder Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) signs up to join the army – where he’s selected for a super-soldier serum trial.

Read the Empire review.

Avengers Assemble (aka The Avengers) (2012)

Avengers Assemble

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston

When Loki attacks Earth with a giant alien army, SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) assembles Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk (now Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to fight him off.

Read the Empire review.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3

Director: Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall

Suffering from PTSD after the New York attack of Avengers Assemble, Tony Stark is haunted by ghosts from his past who want to hurt him.

Read the Empire review.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World

Director: Alan Taylor

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston

When Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) returns, Thor has to fight back and protect his Earth-bound girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who has become the host for an ancient power called the Aether.

Read the Empire review.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford

As Steve Rogers settles into life in contemporary America, he soon finds himself on the run from major institutional corruption and is attacked by a familiar face from the old days.

Read the Empire review.

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan

Former Earthling adventurer Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Starlord (“Who?”), becomes de facto leader of a ragtag bunch of aliens, misfits, and “a-holes” in the trippy reaches of outer space.

Read the Empire review.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader

Tony Stark’s attempt to make a sentient AI to protect the world goes very, very wrong – and the Avengers have to re-assemble to defeat it.

Read the Empire review.

Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man

Director: Peyton Reed

Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll

Ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) falls in with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), an ageing eccentric inventor who has created a suit with incredible shrinking abilities.

Read the Empire review.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Daniel Brühl

When the government demands control over the Avengers, a rift opens between Tony Stark, who agrees with the idea, and Steve Rogers, who doesn’t. The split deepens when painful personal revelations come into play.

Read the Empire review.

Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange

Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong

When arrogant New York surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) mangles himself up in a car crash, he treks to Kamar-Taj to learn the ways of the mystic arts – and finds himself fighting off Mads Mikkelsen’s magical baddie Kaecilius.

Read the Empire review.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell

After saving the galaxy, Peter Quill and the Guardians continue scamming, smuggling and wheeler-dealing wherever they go – until Quill’s long-lost dad Ego (Kurt Russell) turns up out of the blue.

Read the Empire review.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Director: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau

After joining Captain America to fight in Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is desperate to be a full-time Avenger. But there’s trouble brewing in his neighbourhood in the form of alien-tech weapons dealer Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture (Michael Keaton). (You won’t find this on Disney+, sadly, as Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man.)

Read the Empire review.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok

Director: Taika Waititi

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum

Thor’s life is turned upside down by the emergence of his long-lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) – the goddess of death, who threatens to bring the apocalypse.

Read the Empire review.

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

Director: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira

After the death of his father in Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is next in line to the throne of secretive, technologically-advanced African country Wakanda. But his reign is challenged by the righteous fury of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Read the Empire review.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Josh Brolin, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman

Rampaging galactic warlord Thanos (Josh Brolin) vows to bring together the Infinity Stones – a set of powerful stones that will grant him limitless abilities. It’s up to a whole galaxy of heroes to try and stop him.

Read the Empire review.

Ant-Man And The Wasp (2018)

Ant-Man And The Wasp

Director: Peyton Reed

Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen

Living under house arrest, Scott Lang has to don the Ant-Man suit again and work alongside Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to find her long-lost mother (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Read the Empire review.

Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel

Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening

When intergalactic Kree warrior Vers (Brie Larson) touches down on Earth in 1995 to track down a group of shape-shifting Skrulls, she begins to question her life and origins.

Read the Empire review.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Josh Brolin, Brie Larson

The surviving Avengers hatch a plot to defeat Thanos against all odds and undo the damage he caused in Infinity War.

Read the Empire review.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Director: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Jake Gyllenhaal

In the wake of Endgame, Peter Parker struggles to adjust back to normal life, but has more pressing matters to contend with – namely, a school field trip across Europe, new hero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the arrival of destructive Elemental creatures. (NB: Also not on Disney+, because it’s a Sony film.)

Read the Empire review.

WandaVision (2021)

WandaVision

Director: Matt Shakman

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris

After losing Vision in Infinity War, Wanda Maximoff suddenly finds herself living with him in a sitcom-styled reality. But what’s actually going on beyond the mysterious town of Westview?

Read the Empire review.

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier (2021)

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

Director: Kari Skogland

Starring: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Daniel Brühl, Emily VanCamp, Wyatt Russell

In the wake of Endgame, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) wrestles with being Steve Rogers’ hand-picked choice to receive the Captain America shield – and tries to navigate a post-Blip world with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).

Read the Empire review.

Loki (2021)

Loki – Episode 6

Director: Kate Herron

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jonathan Majors

The extraneous 2012-era Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who escaped capture in the Battle Of New York sequence of Endgame is taken in by the Time Variance Authority – an organisation that controls the flow of time and erases ‘Variant’s like him. But when TVA agents start being murdered, Loki is recruited by TVA Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) to help solve the killings.

Read the Empire review.

Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow

Director: Cate Shortland

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz

Between the events of Civil War and Infinity War, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) confronts the ‘red in her ledger’ – and reunites with her Russian family, including ‘sister’ Yelena (Florence Pugh), ‘father’ Alexei (David Harbour), and ‘mother’ Melina (Rachel Weisz)

Read the Empire review.

What If…? (2021)

What If...?

Director: Bryan Andrews

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Samuel L. Jackson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth

Marvel’s first animated series dives straight into the multiverse, as omniscient entity The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) peers into alternate realities that change the destinies of the MCU’s biggest heroes.

Read the Empire review.

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh

Car valet Shaun (Simu Liu) is forced to face up to his true destiny – that he’s Shang-Chi, the son of immortal crime lord Wenwu (Tony Leung), aka The Mandarin – with the help of his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) and estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang)

Read the Empire review.

Eternals (2021)

Eternals

Director: Chloé Zhao

Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Barry Keoghan, Bryan Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Don Lee

Across 7000 years, a group of super-powered immortals influence the course of human history on Earth – and are forced into a family reunion centuries after parting ways when a planet-threatening foe emerges.

Read the Empire review.

Hawkeye (2021)

Hawkeye Review

Directors: Rhys Thomas, Bert & Bertie

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Hailee Steinfeld, Vera Farmiga, Alacqua Cox, Florence Pugh, Fra Fee

Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is forced to team up with talented young archer – and massive Hawkeye fangirl – Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) when she unwittingly attracts the attention of the Tracksuit Mafia. Can Clint sort out the mess and get home in time for Christmas?

Read the Empire review.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Director: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx

With his secret identity revealed to the world, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) asks for reality-altering assistance from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). But their spell opens the multiverse, letting in villains from other Spider-verses, including Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) and Electro (Jamie Foxx).

Read the Empire review.

Chronological Order

Captain America: The First Avenger

This one gets a little messy. Unless you pulled apart all the different flashbacks across the franchise, you’ll never get a true chronological order – but there are some tweaks you can make to get close to it.

Since it’s mostly set in the 1940s, you start with Captain America: The First Avenger – and let the final minutes of Steve Rogers in 2012 America be a teaser of what’s to come. From there, you go to Captain Marvel, which is set in 1995 – just prepare yourself that you won’t see her again in the series for a long time. From there, things proceed as normal in production order until you get to Guardians Of The Galaxy. Once Peter Quill’s first adventure has wrapped up, feel free to go straight into Vol. 2, seeing as it takes place just days after the previous film.

Meanwhile, after Age Of Ultron, you can line up Doctor Strange early – while Stephen Strange’s origin story finishes up in the ‘present day’ of 2016, his journey actually begins a couple of years earlier. From there, there’s a nice continuity in lining up Spider-Man: Homecoming straight after Civil War, seeing as Peter Parker’s debut film finds him still buzzing from his role fighting alongside Captain America at the airport. Then, go for Black Panther, which is also set in the near-immediate aftermath of Civil War, with T’Challa taking the throne after T’Chaka’s assassination. That’s when you should pull in Black Widow – bringing Natasha Romanoff’s solo adventure to its proper place in the timeline, post Civil War but before Infinity War.

Black Panther

Next, you should also shunt up Ant-Man And The Wasp a few places (but save the mid-credits sting for later) so that afterwards you can roll Ragnarok right into Infinity War, which begins with Thor, Hulk and Loki on the Asgardian ship. When you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor at the end of Infinity War, hit play on the mid-credits sequence from Ant-Man And The Wasp before delving straight into Endgame.

After Endgame, the timeline gets a little fuzzy. Technically, WandaVision and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier actually take place before Spider-Man: Far From Home, but that Spidey-flick works nicely as an Endgame chaser, so you might want to keep that where it is. Loki and What If…? are set outside of the usual boundaries of time – and so best to keep them where they are in release order. Then, you’re sticking with release order – in Shang-Chi, the world seems a little more settled after the Blip, so it’s fair to say that takes place after Far From Home. Eternals‘ present-day story is set shortly after Shang-Chi, while Hawkeye is set very firmly in the run-up to Christmas that year.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a tricky one. It picks up immediately where Far From Home left off and most of the action takes place in November, post-Halloween. By the end, it’s approaching Christmas, around the same time as Hawkeye, but technically before that series’ final episode. How do we know that? Because the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is still standing in No Way Home’s final shots. Basically, all of this stuff takes place kind of concurrently in the months after Endgame, so release order really should work fine.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain Marvel

Iron Man

The Incredible Hulk

Iron Man 2

Thor

The Avengers

Iron Man 3

Thor: The Dark World

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Doctor Strange

Ant-Man

Captain America: Civil War

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Black Panther

Black Widow

Ant-Man And The Wasp (Minus Mid-Credits Sting)

Thor: Ragnarok

Avengers: Infinity War

Ant-Man And The Wasp Mid-Credits Sting

Avengers: Endgame

WandaVision

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Loki

What If…?

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Eternals

Hawkeye

Spider-Man: No Way Home

The Complete, Comprehensive Order

Agents Of SHIELD Season 1

Want to go super-comprehensive? OK then – let’s try and add Agents Of SHIELD and Agent Carter in there too, plus the One-Shot shorts.

For the most part, the later seasons of Agents Of SHIELD diverged from the films – but the first run in particular was tied in to some major events from the MCU main. Start the first episode of Season 1 after Iron Man 3, seeing as it involves the use of Extremis, and watch through to Episode 7. Then, after you’ve seen Thor: The Dark World, stick on Episode 8, which depicts the team cleaning up the mess Thor made at Greenwich. Then be sure to catch Episode 15, ‘Yes Men’, which stars Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif. Hold off on watching Episode 17, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, until after you’ve seen The Winter Soldier, as it ties in to Hydra’s infiltration of SHIELD. Needless to say, the fall of the titular agency has major ramifications for Agents Of SHIELD.

Then in Season 2, you can book-end your viewing of Avengers: Age Of Ultron with Episode 19, ‘The Dirty Half Dozen’, and Episode 20, ‘Scars’, which take place before and after the second Avengers movie respectively. From there the show continued to diverge from the movies for the most part – so just watch the rest as you wish.

Agents Of Shield – 'Yes Men'

It’s much easier to place Hayley Atwell’s Captain America spin-off show Agent Carter – Season 1 takes place in 1946, and Season 2 in 1947, so both of them come after Captain America: The First Avenger (and after the ‘Agent Carter’ One-Shot – keep reading).

As for the One-Shots, they slot nicely into the chronology. First up, ‘The Consultant’ (centring on Agents Coulson and Sitwell) comes after Iron Man 2. After that, watch ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer’, which is set before the first Thor film. The third one-shot, ‘Item 47’, comes after Avengers Assemble, while Agent Carter comes straight after Captain America: The First Avenger and before her solo spin-off series kicks in. As for the best (and sadly final) One-Shot, you should stick on ‘All Hail The King’ after Iron Man 3, which has some handy info you’ll want to know before seeing Shang-Chi. Here’s that order in full:

Captain America: The First Avenger

‘Agent Carter’ – One-Shot

Agent Carter: Season 1

Agent Carter: Season 2

Captain Marvel

Iron Man

The Incredible Hulk

Iron Man 2

‘The Consultant’ – One-Shot

‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer’ – One-Shot

Thor

Avengers Assemble

‘Item 47’ – One-Shot

Iron Man 3

‘All Hail The King’ – One Shot

Agents Of SHIELD: Season 1 Episode 1 – ‘Pilot’

Thor: The Dark World

Agents Of SHIELD: Season 1 Episode 8 – ‘The Well’

Agents Of SHIELD: Season 1 Episode 15 – ‘Yes Men’

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Agents Of SHIELD: Season 1 Episode 17 – ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Agents Of SHIELD: Season 2 Episode 19 – ‘The Dirty Half Dozen’

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Agents Of SHIELD: Season 2 Episode 20 – ‘Scars’

Doctor Strange

Ant-Man

Captain America: Civil War

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Black Panther

Black Widow

Ant-Man And The Wasp (Minus Mid-Credits Sting)

Thor: Ragnarok

Avengers: Infinity War

Ant-Man And The Wasp Mid-Credits Sting

Avengers: Endgame

WandaVision

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Loki

What If…?

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Eternals

Hawkeye

Spider-Man: No Way Home

READ MORE: The 50 Best MCU Moments


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