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, the studio has yet to win any Oscars and is rarely nominated outside 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.) Black Panther, which has been getting Oscar buzz since its release in February, could potentially change that.
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 still have to wait months to see the first female-led MCU film with Captain Marvel—nearly two years after Wonder Woman was 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 4 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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)
Captain Marvel is likely to reveal Carol Danvers’ origin story—which takes place in the ’90s and will feature appearances from Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, and Ronan—and explain why she hasn’t been part of the MCU until now. (Aside from the logistical, out-of-world reasons.)
22) Avengers 4 (2019)
The untitled fourth Avengers movie will most likely handle the fallout from Avengers: Infinity War
MCU movie order: Phase 4 and beyond
The films slated to be released in theaters after Avengers 4 are collected under the “Phase 4” umbrella, although Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has said that he’s not sure if the next slate of movies will be titled “Phase 4” or be called something else.
So far, only two movies are confirmed for Phase 4: Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is filming as of July 2018 and is set to be released July 5, 2019, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which was tentatively being released in 2020. But after Disney’s firing of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn in July 2018, it’s unclear if that’s still the case.
Several other movies are in various stages of development, including a long-awaited Black Widow movie and sequels for Doctor Strange and Black Panther being planned. But until the events of Avengers 4 play out, Marvel is keeping its cards close to its chest.