How to Watch the Marvel Movies in Story Order
Now is as good a time as any to get reacquainted with the events of the MCU, and so we've put together this list to help you watch the Marvel movies in order of the overall story.
It's fair to say that the Marvel movies, specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, have reached "cultural event" status. And there's a strong case to be made that the MCU is a currently a pop culture juggernaut, the likes of which we haven't since the original Star Wars trilogy hit theaters for the first time.
Now the MCU saga is continuing on TV, as 'WandaVision' just wrapped up, and 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' starts this week.
It is a great time to watch the Marvel movies in order now and you can watch them all on Disney Plus in 4K format. You can even plan virtual Marvel movie nights with your friends using Disney+ GroupWatch feature.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Although this was the fifth movie in what's now called the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it takes place in 1942. Aside from a few flashbacks in other movies, this story about Steve Rogers becoming Captain America during WWII is the earliest story in MCU arc.
"The fourth comic book movie of the summer is the best comic book movie of the summer. Johnston has delivered a light, clever and deftly balanced adventure picture with real lump in the throat nostalgia." - Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel
Set in 1995, Captain Marvel's story is the second chapter of the MCU epic. This timing gives us the chance to see Nick Fury in his prime, not only showing where his inspiration for the Avengers comes from, but also giving context to Captain Marvel as a heavy hitter in 'Avengers: Endgame.'
"Captain Marvel, the first Marvel adaptation both to star a woman and to be co-directed by a woman, is an obvious, crude, and transparent film. And it's also quite enjoyable and evocative — most of the time." - TheWrap, April Wolfe
This movie gave us an easter egg that kicked off the very notion of a shared universe with other Marvel movies, but it wasn't much more than wishful thinking at the time. With Marvel Comics' most popular characters, Spider-Man and the X-Men tied up at Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox (respectively), Paramount Pictures had to make do with characters that, at the time, were second-tier at best. But director Jon Favreau and the perfectly-cast Robert Downey Jr. pushed Iron Man into the big leagues. It's a great film that sets the stage for a powerhouse series that will all but take over Hollywood in a few years.
"'Iron Man' is an unusually good superhero picture. Or at least — since it certainly has its problems — a superhero movie that’s good in unusual ways" - A.O. Scott, NY Times Read the full 'Iron Man' review.
The Incredible Hulk
Ed Norton takes over as Bruce Banner, Hulk's alter ego, and we see the big guy go up against both the military and another gamma-powered monster, The Abomination (aka Emil Blonsky, played by Tim Roth. The film wisely does away with making this an origin story - between the classic TV series, the previous non-MCU Hulk movie, and a montage during the opening credits, the filmmakers assume the audience knows what they're getting into. Lastly we know that this takes place *after* Iron Man, because General Ross (William Hurt) meets a certain someone in a bar and compliments that someone's "nice suits."
"Embraces its identity as a sci-fi-summer-action-blockbuster extravaganza. Along the way, it actually comes close to finding the balance that Lee was looking for." - Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle - Read the full 'The Incredible Hulk' review.
Iron Man 2
Aside from Hulk's story, the other major story in the MCU is still centered on Iron Man. In Iron Man 2, we see Tony Stark wrestle with the aftermath of "I am Iron Man" announcement. That news has both inspired a competitive weapons designer to create a drone army, while also reigniting a feud between Stark and Ivan Vanko, (played by Mickey Rourke) who makes his own weaponized suit. Stark's long-suffering pal Rhodey (now played by Don Cheadle) gets his own suit, donning the mantle of War Machine. And Stark's new assistant turns out to be a secret agent named Natasha Romanov (played by Scarlett Johansson). But there's plenty of action to keep the story moving, and so it's another fun, early chapter in the MCU.
"Favreau supplies the go-go-go that makes the movie stratospherically entertaining, even without 3-D. But it's the promiscuously talented Downey who adds the grace notes that make Iron Man 2 something to remember." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
After the events of Iron Man 2, there's a falling out between two gods of Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The MCU gives us an idea that the Asgardians are long-lived, powerful and human-looking aliens and were only seen as gods by ancient Norsemen. But the Asgardians may have started believing in godhood themselves. Certainly Thor seems to, so much that Odin exiles him to Earth to learn some humility. In the end, it works, and this movie sets up more characters and plot threads we'll see later in the series; Loki (Tom Hiddleston) the trickster, up to no good, Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist trying to help Thor get home, and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) a snarky doctoral student, now appearing on WandaVision. And maybe most importantly, this movie introduces S.H.E.I.L.D. Agent Clint Barton, codename Hawkeye. We also check in with Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson after seeing him in both Iron Man movies.
"Thor delivers the goods so long as butt is being kicked and family conflict is playing out in celestial dimensions, but is less thrilling during the Norse warrior god's rather brief banishment on Earth." - Variety
Now that the important heroes have been introduced, it's time to put them in that "team" idea that both Tony Stark and Nick Fury have been talking about. The first Avengers outing sees Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Hulk take on Loki and his alien army of Chitauri warriors. Bruce Banner is now being played by Mark Ruffalo here, and he and the rest of the cast seem to instantly have great chemistry together. This rollicking adventure delivered what most Marvel fans were hoping for happen after all of the hints dropped in the earlier films. Naturally, the heroes prevail, in spite of a notable casualty, but there are definitely hints of a more dangerous plot behind Loki's actions. And we also see that the "tesseract" (introduced in 'Captain America') gets taken to Asgard for safe keeping.
"In terms of storytelling, The Avengers is for the most part a highly functional, banged-together vehicle that runs on synthetic franchise fuel. Yet the grand finale of CGI action, set in the streets of New York, is - in every sense - smashing." - Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly - Read the full 'The Avengers' review.
Iron Man 3
Set seven months after the events of 'The Avengers,' this movie finds Tony Stark suffering from PTSD caused by the battle with the Chitauri and his near-death experience. A classic comic villain, The Mandarin, is introduced as the leader of a terrorist organization responsible for bomb attacks. Aside from War Machine (now using the moniker 'Iron Patriot,' you won't see much of any other heroes here; this story is mostly focused on Iron Man.
"Black proves the perfect blacksmith, forging smart new tech and scenarios for the swaggering super-genius. If this does turn out to be Downey Jr.’s final solo outing, it’s a very strong exit." - Empire
Thor: The Dark World
At the end of 'The Avengers,' we see Loki in shackles and taken to Asgard by Thor. After an opening scene depicting the beginning of a fued between Odin and the Dark Elves, we see Loki on trial for his crimes. Meanwhile, unstable portals have opened on Earth, ultimately leading the the Dark Elves' vengeful return. Thor enlists Loki to defeat the elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), and their battle takes place across multiple worlds. Though this story is mainly about Thor, it previews some of the future chapters of the story. In a mid-credits scene we see Asgardians Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) take a second Infinity Stone to a being known as The Collector (Benicio Del Toro). We'll see both that stone and The Collector again.
"Thor: The Dark World gets a lot more entertaining in the second hour, when the shape-shifting Loki is sprung from his cell (for complicated reasons) and immediately begins trading bitchy insults with his forthright, manly brother." - New York Magazine (Vulture), David Edelstein
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
If you'd been wondering what Hydra had been doing since their defeat in WWII, Captain America's second solo outing answers that question. Taking some inspiration from 70s-era conspiracy thrillers, 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' finds Captain America teaming up with Black Widow to track down an elusive and nigh-unstoppable assassin known as The Winter Soldier. This movie introduces The Falcon, aka Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who becomes an ally to Captain America while Cap discovers the roots of a Hydra conspiracy that has poisoned both S.H.E.I.L.D. and the US government. Cap also discovers that his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastien Stan) didn't die in WWII, but was brainwashed by Hydra to be a perfect assassin - The Winter Soldier. As the credits roll, we see a German Hydra scientist running experiments on a brother and sister; all three of them will show up again in the future.
"In the first movie, an injection transformed wimpy Steve Rogers into strapping Captain America; similarly, this sequel gives the flagging comic-book movie an adrenaline shot of relevance. You've got to hand it to them." - The Guardian
Guardians of the Galaxy
Comic collectos will know that the Guardians if the Galaxy wasn't one of Marvel's top-selling titles, but director James Gunn took these lesser-known characters into the big leagues with this film. Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, steals a mysterious orb leading to both a price on his head and a battle to save the galaxy. Zamora (Zoe Saldana) is also on the hunt for the orb, and Rocket (voiced by Bradly Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are looking to collect the bounty on Quill's head. After all four of them go to prison for the chaos they caused when they all ran into each other, they enlist another inmate, Drax, to help them escape. This motley crew reluctantly agrees to work together to get that orb, which is another Infinity Stone, back into safe hands. We also discover that Zamora's father is Thanos, a villainous being that will turn out the be the Big Bad of later Avengers movies.
"The fun of it – and Guardians of the Galaxy specialises in fun, served by the sugar-sprinkled ice-cream-scoopload – is in seeing this odd quintet bluster through space battles and alien brawls that would have defeated anyone smarter and better-equipped. Just as the team makes do with the junk they find around them, the film feels like a mound of gems culled from decades of pop-culture scavenging." - The Telegraph Robbie Collin
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Since the Guardians' adventures don't have much of an effect on Earth (yet), you can pick up the next chapter of their story immediately. 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' finds the crew making a mess of their latest job, which leads to predictably hilarious and action-packed battles early in the movie. This story really focuses on family relationships; Quill is pulled between his real father, Ego aka The Living Planet (Kurt Russell) and the pirate that raised him, Yondu aka Mary Poppins (Michael Rooker). And Gamora makes peace with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). The now-expected credits scenes hint at what we might see in future Guardians movies, but nothing that's really driving towards the Infinity War saga.
"Shot for shot, line and line, it’s an extravagant and witty follow-up, made with the same friendly virtuosic dazzle. Yet this time you can sense just how hard the series’ wizard of a director, James Gunn (now taking off from a script he wrote solo), is working to entertain you. Maybe a little too hard." - Variety, Owen Gleiberman
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The second Avengers adventure kicks off with the team raiding a Hydra facility to bring down Hydra scientist Baron Strucker. They meet two of Strucker's test subjects, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Elizabeth Olsen), who ultimately escape, but Tony Stark confiscates Loki's magical scepter. The gem in the scepter turns out to be yet another Infinity Stone, which Stark and Bruce Banner use to enhance their Ultron project. Designed to protect the world, the now-sentient Ultron decides that humanity is the biggest threat to the planet, so he builds himself a body and starts working on a global extermination plan.
"It may well be that we’ll eventually stop looking at these Marvel films as discrete, individual experiences rather than chapters in an epic binge-watch, but even by those standards, Avengers: Age of Ultron feels like a solid but overstuffed episode, one more concerned with being connective tissue than anything else." - TheWrap, Alonso Duralde
After the epic events of 'Age of Ultron,' we get a somewhat smaller story - that of Scott Lang, an ex-con working on going straight. He's also working on being a decent dad to his daughter, even though his ex-wife has custody of her. But it's tough for Scott to leave theiving behind, which leads him to stealing from inventor Hank Pym. Turns out Pym used to work for the government under the moniker 'Ant-Man,' using his hi-tech suit that allowed him to shrink down to the size of (you guessed it) an ant. Lang and Pym team up to stop Pym's technology from being used for evil, and Lang becomes the new Ant-Man.
"Reed’s movie succeeds well enough as a genial diversion and sometimes a delightful one, predicated on the rarely heeded Hollywood wisdom that less really can be more." - Variety, Justin Chang
Captain America: Civil War
After the events of 'Age of Ultron,' the major powers of the world put forth the Sokovia Accords, under which all super-powered individuals need to disclose their true identities and agree that governments can regulate their powers. The Avengers have differing opinions on this, leading to some serious arguments between our heroes. This all comes to head when T'Chaka, king of Wakanda, is assassinated, and it looks a whole lot like Bucky Barnes is responsible. 'Civil War' introduces Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa, heir to the throne of Wakanda, who is also Black Panther, that country's super-powered protector. Captain America is trying to protect Bucky and prove his innocence, Iron Man while the Avengers to agree to the accords and arrest Bucky. The rest of the Avengers reluctantly pick sides, leading to a physical confrontation that brings in Spider-Man (on Iron Man's side) and Ant-Man (on Cap's side). In the end, the original team is dissolved, and although some new heroes join The Avengers, a chapter has definitely come a to close.
"What makes Captain America: Civil War such a terrific accomplishment is the way it takes what could have been the most crass and overcrowded story to adapt as a film and instead transforms it into an examination of just who these heroes are and what impact they’ve had on the world around them, and vice versa." - Hitfix, Drew McWeeny
Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.
The MCU's Spider-Man made his debut in 'Civil War,' but now we get a story that really focuses on the "friendly neighborhood" version of the hero. This movie wisely side-steps the webhead's origin story, instead focusing on how Peter Parker has to juggle his teen life and crime-fighting. Tony Stark is here as Pete's mentor, reminding us that there's still a larger world outside of Queens, but Tony keeps Peter mostly grounded.
"'Homecoming' works by allowing itself to become an actual genre film, the first of its ilk to recognize that superhero movies might be more interesting if they were also something else." - IndieWire, David Ehrlich
In the wake of his father's death, T'Challa is set to take the Wakandan throne to lead and (as Black Panther) protect the nation. Although he secures the throne in ritual combat, Erik Killmonger, the son of an exiled, royal Wakandan, arrives and claims the right to challange T'Challa. Like 'Spider-Man: Homecoming,' this chapter of the MCU saga is a mostly self-contained story. The film mostly focuses on T'Challa and his fight for his country, but what we learn about Wakanda here will be important in later chapters.
"While the themes are deep, Black Panther is at the same time a visual joy to behold, with confident quirkiness (those aforementioned war rhinos), insane action sequences and special effects, and the glorious reveal of Wakanda, whose culture is steeped in African influences but which also offers a jaw-dropping look at what a city of the future could be." - USA Today, Brian Truitt
Here we get Doctor Strange's origin story, where we learn how he took up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme, took on an interdimensional conquerer, and took responsibility for guarding the Time Stone, another one of the Infinity Stones that Thanos (a galactic conquerer) is looking for. Up until this point in the MCU, magic was almost entirely the domain of Thor and the Asgardians, since Wanda Maximoff's powers hadn't really been all that defined (and wouldn't be, until later episodes of WandaVision). Now we see more magic in play with the release of this film, and Doctor Strange, now one of the more powerful heroes in the MCU, will play a key part in the upcoming Avengers movies.
"Derrickson (Sinister) crafts a trippy phantasmagoria for Strange to fly screaming through as he begins his path to sorcerer supreme. The only thing missing is a Doors jam as the sequence unfolds a dizzying blend of psychedelia, geometric oddities and nightmarish dreamscapes." - USA Today, Brian Truitt
A lot of fans came out of 'Captain America: Civil War' wondering "Where were Thor and the Hulk?" 'Thor: Ragnarok' gives us the answer - after the battle of Sokovia in 'Age of Ultron,' the thunder god searches for his missing father in Asgard, but finds Loki instead. The brothers finally find Odin, but more importantly, find the sister that they never knew they had, Hela. The boys get sidetracked to Sakaar, where Thor is forced to become a gladiator and has to take on the reigning champion, none other than the Hulk (a friend from work!) There's a lot going on here, including the fall of Asgard, Loki's redemption (mostly), and Thor's vow to protect the people of Asgard and find them a new home. With Hulk and Thor on their way back to earth, the stage is set for the climactic chapters of the Infinity Saga.
"A goofy, kitschy- but- fun romp and the most purely entertaining of the three Thor movies, marked by its distinctive designs, '80s synth score, and assemblage of spirited characters. It's carried by the excellent chemistry between Thor, Hulk, and Valkyrie, who give humanity to a visual effects-heavy spectacle that finally makes good on Thor's title of God of Thunder." - IGN, Jim Vejvoda
Ant-Man and the Wasp
This is another movie where the events in the film happen prior to the events in the preceding MCU film. Scott Lang is under house arrest after skipping off to Europe to participate in the 'Civil War' showdown, but he's been keeping busy by (among other things) teaching himself close-up magic. After getting a message from Janet Van Dyne (the original Wasp), trapped in the quantum realm, Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne work with Scott to get her back, while also dealing with a molecularly-unstable foe. A mid-credits scene shows characters caught up in the aftermath of events shown 'Avengers: Infinity Way' so most of this story takes place concurrently (if not before) most of that preceding film.
"Visually here's the crucial thing with Ant-Man and the Wasp, and it sounds like a small thing, but really it's a big thing: The sequel has upped the instances and exploits of the rapidly changing superheroes, and every time the movie cuts to a shot of the heroes' miniaturized car, scooting around the streets of San Francisco, it's good for a laugh." - Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips
Avengers: Infinity War
The epic showdown starts here. Picking up from the end of 'Ragnarok,' Thanos captures Thor, beats up the Hulk(!) and kills Loki(!!). Heimdall sends Hulk to Earth, where Banner warns Doctor Strange, Wong, and Iron Man that an attack is coming. Thanos' henchmen fight some of our heroes in New York over the Time Stone while other henchmen head to Edinburgh, to take the Mind Stone out of Vision's head. Niether attempt is successful, with Stark, Strange and Parker heading to space to defeat Thanos, and most of the remaining Avengers heading to Wakanda to remove the Mind Stone from Vision so that they can destroy it. In the meantime, Thor, Groot, and Rocket work on finding a new weapon powerful enough to defeat the increasingly powerful Thanos. We don't need to go into too much detail here, but suffice to say that half of everyone in the MCU won't make it to the end credits of this one.
"Avengers: Infinity War leaves viewers up in the air, feeling exhilarated and cheated at the same time, aching for a closure that never comes ... at least not yet." - Rolling Stone, Peter Travers
Picking up not long after the end of 'Infinity War' the remaining Avengers, Guardians, and Captain Marvel track down Thanos, but find out that they can't undo his actions when Thanos tells them he destroyed the Infinity Stones. In a rage, Thor kills him. Five years later, we see our heroes (and the rest of the world) trying to cope with the loss of literally half the people on the planet. It's not going great. Enter Scott Lang, who has been trapped in the quantum realm for the last five years. But since it's only been a couple of hours for Lang, he and the Avengers realize time travel is possible, which means they can pull a "time heist" to borrow the Infinity Stones from the past, and use them to undo Thanos' snap. The heist works, but when the Thanos in the past discovers the plot, he attacks the Avengers compound, and that leads to the biggest battle we've seen in the MCU. Our side wins, but not without great sacrifices, sacrifices that will drive plots of subsequent movies and TV series.
"The movie largely delivers, splashing its ambitious three-hour narrative across a sprawling canvas of characters, eras, and not-quite-insurmountable challenges." - Entertainment Weekly, Leah Greenblatt
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
The first movie after 'Endgame' gives us our first look at life after "The Blip." Nick Fury and Maria Hill have recruited Quentin Beck, a super-powered individual that just might be able to fill Iron Man's shoes. Peter Parker and half of his classmates are still in high school, and this movie finds them on a field trip to Europe. In spite of dodging his calls, Fury tracks down Parker to recruit him for a new team, but Peter isn't interested. But Beck isn't all that he seems, and Spider-Man fights to protect the world from Beck's plans.
"Spider-Man: Far From Home is best viewed as the dessert at the end of an elaborate and overindulgent tasting menu. You've already eaten twenty-two courses, you're totally stuffed and in no mood for more food, and then they bring out the cookie sampler with eight different kinds of homemade sweets and of course you eat it and you're even more full than before but it was worth it because the cookie sampler is amazing." - ScreenCrush, Matt Singer
Check out our post where we also ranked all of the Marvel movies from worst to best.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Peter Parker is unmasked and no longer able to separate his normal life from the high-stakes of being a super-hero. When he asks for help from Doctor Strange the stakes become even more dangerous, forcing him to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.
The Eternals are a team of ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years. When an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows, they are forced to reunite against mankind’s most ancient enemy, the Deviants.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Doctor Strange, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.
Obviously, Spider-Man isn't the only one greiving over someone they lost in events of 'Infinity War' and 'Endgame.' We're now getting more Avengers stories in a few series on Disney+.
- 'WandaVision' finds Wanda Maximoff and Vision living in sitcom-style idyllic existence in the town of Westview, New Jersey. But there's much more than meets the eye here, and we finally learn how Wanda has (or hasn't) been handling her grief over Vision's death.
- 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' has Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes working together to foil an international plot that may have its roots in The Blip. The series debuts on March 19.
- The upcoming 'Loki' series is most likley to take place after 'Endgame,' but based on what we've seen in the trailer things may not be so simple, becuase there are hints that time travel may be a factor in the series. It's set to debut in June of 2021.
- 'Ms. Marvel' is about Kamala Khan, Jersey City's own teen superhero. Khan's hero handle is inspired by Captain Marvel, which means that the show has to be set after Captain Marvel returned to Earth in 'Endgame.' The series will premiere late 2021.
- 'Hawkeye' will focus on Clint Barton as he trains his protegee Kate Bishop to take over the Hawkeye mantle, and it's scheduled to debut in late 2021.
Completeists may want to wait to finish the movies before starting 'WandaVision' and 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.' And its likely that 'Loki,' 'Ms. Marvel,' and 'Hawkeye' will take place after 'Far From Home,' but that's not entirely clear yet.
Upcoming Marvel Movies
It's no secret that there are more MCU films coming our way, but there's a good chance that the in-universe timeline will match the order in which the films are released. We're listing the films according to their projected release dates here, and we'll add them into the list above as their place in the timeline becomes apparent.