The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been rolling forward for over 10 years and as these movies (including Avengers: Infinity War, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel) have gone on, they’ve also become ever-more interlinked, featuring regular cameos, references, and Easter Eggs to other instalments.
For newcomers to superhero movies — perhaps those who have become absorbed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) following Black Panther — the amount of material to watch can be overwhelming. But for those wanting to persevere, there are two watching orders.
Really, you should probably watch these movies in release order, starting the journey with Iron Man and moving onto The Incredible Hulk, then Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, finishing Phase One with Avengers. This order works well in terms of the post-credit scenes setting up the next movie, plus this gives the series the intended rhythm formed by producer Kevin Feige.
However, many fans have taken to watching the movies in chronological order. This might be a little convoluted, but that should not put you off: below is every piece of MCU viewing material mapped out in chronological order, including movies, Netflix shows, one-shots (those mini-films you will find in the DVD extras), and other TV shows. In brackets are the years the films officially take place in, as confirmed by Marvel studios.
Captain America: The First Avenger (1943 - 1945)
Agent Carter (seasons one and two)
Agent Carter (one-shot — Iron Man 3 DVD)
Captain Marvel (1995)
Iron Man (2010)
Iron Man 2 (2011)
The Incredible Hulk (2011)
The Consultant (one-shot — Thor DVD)
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer (one-shot — Captain America: First Avenger DVD)
Item 47 (one-shot — Avengers DVD)
Summary: Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe all began. While Iron Man may have been the very first film released, the Second Word War-set Captain America comes first on the timeline. The rest plays mainly out in release order, minus Brie Larson's Captain Marvel. Released as part of Phase Three, the film takes place in the mid-Nineties (when Nick Fury still had both eyes) and therefore lands in the Phase One chronology.
Iron Man 3 (2012)
All Hail the King (one-shot – Thor: The Dark World)
Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 1 — 7)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 8 — 16)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 17 — 22)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2014)
Daredevil (season one)
Agents of Shield (season two: episodes 1 — 19)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Agents of Shield (season two: episodes 20 — 22)
Jessica Jones (season one)
Daredevil (season two)
Agents of Shield (season three: episodes 1 — 19)
Summary: Phase Two also plays out almost exactly in release order, except Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which comes directly after the first Guardians (like Captain Marvel, the film was released in Phase Three but actually takes place before then). Also of note, one-shots were phased out during Phase Two as the Netflix shows and Agents of Shield were introduced. For those who do embark on watching Agents of Shield (the second and third seasons are great), you should definitely watch along with the movies as their cinematic counterparts have major effects on the show’s story.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Agents of Shield (season three: episodes 20 — 22)
Luke Cage (season one)
Agents of Shield (season four: episodes 1 — 8)
Agents of Shield: Slingshot (web series)
Agents of Shield (season four: episodes 9 — 22)
Iron Fist (season one)
The Defenders (season one)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016 - 2017)
The Punisher (season one)
Runaways (season one)
Black Panther (2017)
Agents of Shield (season five, episodes 1 — 19)
Cloak and Dagger (season one)
Jessica Jones (season two)
Inhumans (season one)
Luke Cage (season two)
Iron Fist (season two)
Daredevil (season three)
Runaways (season two)
The Punisher (season two)
Cloak and Dagger (season two)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2017)
Avengers Infinity War (2017)
Agents of Shield (season five, episodes 20 - 22)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Summary: Made it this far? Well done, you’ve watched a whole lot of Marvel! Phase Three marks some of the best MCU movies so far, but also some timeline bending difficulties. For instance, Doctor Strange begins before Civil War, but finishes after Civil War, Slingshot features lots of flashbacks, and Agents of Shield season five features a lot of obscure time travelling.
Also, Spider-Man both takes place directly after Civil War, while Ragnarok, Black Panther and Ant-Man and The Wasp lead directly into Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. There's also the latter part of Shield that takes place concurrently with Infinity War. Above is just a guide for a manageable way of watching based mainly on release order.
Congratulations. If you’ve watched all of the above, you’ve processed over nine days worth of Marvel movies and television. Nine days! And there’s still more to come, including: Spider-Man: Far From Home, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, The Eternals, Doctor Strange 2, Black Panther 2, Jessica Jones season three, and New Warriors season one. Oh, and the upcoming Disney streaming service shows, focussing on Loki, Scarlett Witch and Vision, Hawkeye, and one on Falcon and The Winter Soldier.