MCU timeline: How to watch Marvel movies and TV shows in the perfect order
With Shang-Chi arriving soon, you may need a quick refresher on the MCU. Here's how to watch everything, if you dare.
Caitlin PetrakovitzDirector of audience
Caitlin Petrakovitz studies the Marvel Cinematic Universe like it's a course in school, with an emphasis on the Infinity Saga years. As an audience expert, she rarely writes but when she does it's most certainly about Star Trek, Marvel, DC, Westworld, San Diego Comic-Con and great streaming properties. Or soccer, that's a thing she loves, too.
After more than a decade of movies, TV shows, shorts and post-credits scenes, there's a lot to work through in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And WandaVision has forced us to rethink how we've built this original list and what we thought we knew was -- and was not -- a part of the
Editors' note, April 13, 2021: We've starting Phase 4, if Disney's Investor Day announcements are any indication (finally, maybe; well, who knows actually?), and we *still* have Black Widow to look forward to, coming July 9. Thing is, this beast of a timeline hasn't been updated in a while because, well, because there haven't been any film releases since the last round -- plus 2020 was hard, and no new releases meant no real need to work on this.
But that all changes soon. Check out the original Infinity Saga timeline below, and if you're looking to stream some MCU movies, we can help. Let us know what you'd update in this timeline by hitting the comments once again. Think you've found a mistake? Definitely let us know in the comments (but not about that typo) (or that one) (or those missing seasons).
Years ago, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige told me diversity is very important to Marvel: "You look at any of our films and they've been very diverse," he said. "We feel like we're just doing justice to the books by representing that fully."
After Black Panther and Captain Marvel's performances at the box office, all bets are off for the future of the MCU. Their record-breaking, record-setting origin stories discarded all the superhero story rules -- and helped lead to Endgame becoming the highest-grossing movie of all-time. Now the sky is most certainly the limit for MCU films.
ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finished its run in August 2020, and Inhumans on the same network years prior had such poor ratings any whisper of a second season quietly faded away.
Before that, Cloak and Dagger on Freeform was canceled after two seasons; Marvel's Runaways on
ended after three; and Marvel's New Warriors never materialized onscreen (but is rumored to still have an unaired pilot out in the world). For a bit there it seemed Marvel might finally become a theater-only franchise. But then came Disney Plus.
We have no idea if Disney Plus spawned this new renaissance or if it was always in consideration, on the back burner somewhere. What we do know is this year's release dates (we hope).
So to either help you fill in the gaps after Endgame, to just watch all the shows for fun, or even merely try to impress your friends, we've created a timeline of what Marvel President Kevin Feige has now dubbed The Infinity Saga in the perfect viewing order. Or maybe you just care about where Captain Marvel and the new Disney shows fit in (hint: not where you think!).
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the entire franchise is called, also sometimes includes connected properties such as movie tie-in comics or shorts. For the graphic, we've left out smaller properties and stuck to the big two of films and shows, but there are more goodies below.
OK, now before you lash out in anger about some of the, ahem, more recent films' placement, please keep two super, mega, major things in mind.
MCU postcredits scenes do not matter
Seriously, the mid- and postcredits scenes are nothing more than fun throwaways, or in-canon nods for fervent fans. Even Marvelitself has quite literally rewritten older scenes with new movies. Assuming Feige and other heads of Marvel Studios thought about the next 10, 20 or even 30 years of MCU films right from the start is a bit presumptuous and completely ignores the fun some directors have said they had with these scenes.
Watch this: Watching the MCU movies in the perfect order
It's madness to think that these films should only be watched or experienced in a single way. Do I believe this is the best way to watch the franchise, yes. Will I someday introduce friends and family using this CNET Method? OF COURSE. But that doesn't mean it's right for you.
My colleague Sean Keane has graciously ranked all of the MCU postcredits scenes for you (but if it would be helpful, maybe we can also develop a timeline of which to watch and when). I can't say it enough times for first-time viewers: Ignore all the postcredits scenes (just watch the fun ones your friends tell you to). Especially when watching in this order, do not watch the Ant-Man and the Wasp credit scenes or you will be very confused.
And as for your next big question...
Captain Marvel does not belong in *chronological* order
No really, hear me out!
Captain Marvel is the first true origin story (as in, she wasn't seen in a Marvel movie previously) since 2016's Doctor Strange, but the film also gives fans a new look at Agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, as well as the Tesseract. If you were watching in chronological order for your first viewing, you'd have So Many Questions watching this movie right after
In the film, the main character Vers takes years to discover her true identity, and by waiting to watch her story with the context and nuance of 18 prior films you give yourself a treat. It's more fun to bask in the fun of numerous in-jokes, "A-ha!" moments and Fury backstory you most likely wouldn't have cared about 17 movies ago.
In this order, Captain Marvel is the treat you get before the Infinity War-prequel that is Thor: Ragnarok.
Despite what order you end up experiencing these movies in, you should save yourself a few hours and definitely still note that The Incredible Hulk is indeed still skippable and even William Hurt ("Thunderbolt" Ross himself) admitted it. Speaking to IGN in 2015, Hurt said that "[Ross in Civil War] is different because it's a different style... And what they've done is they've taken a character who was the Ross from the older film and made a new version. This is a much newer Ross. A much different Ross." After watching both, we can confirm this is indeed the case.
You'll also notice that shorts and the Marvel One-Shots are missing from the graphic. These brief videos were initially created as standalone stories to provide backstory for characters or things seen in the movies, with two of them later becoming full-fledged shows.
Title, release date
The Consultant (Sept. 2011)
At the end of Iron Man 2
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer (Oct. 2011)
Directly before Thor
Item 47 (Sept. 2012)
Immediately following the Battle of New York in Avengers
Agent Carter (Aug. 2013)
One year after Captain America: The First Avenger; before Agent Carter
All Hail the King (Feb. 2014)
Roughly two years after Iron Man 3; before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
There's definitely some continuity strangeness when you have both movies and television show properties, and those listed on the graphic are no exception.
Season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. saw the release of two Marvel movies and had to contend with incorporating those plots. Airing after the release of Thor: The Dark World, episode 8 of S.H.I.E.L.D. definitely takes place directly after those events.
Later in that season, episode 16 aired the same weekend as the release of Captain America: Winter Soldier and, in a neat bit of continuity, the events portrayed on S.H.I.E.L.D. take place at almost the same time as the film. (Some people say episode 16 comes before Winter Soldier, and you can certainly treat it as such. The *absolute* best way to watch them would be simultaneously, but I have yet to see anyone make that fan edit.)
Netflix's Daredevil and Jessica Jones also have wibbly-wobbly timelines. Early in the series, the Battle of New York is referenced to as The Incident, and it's said that it occurred about two years prior. But because of the show's lack of interaction with any big-screen Marvel characters, it could take place almost anywhere on the timeline between Thor: A Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. In our timeline, we placed it concurrent with the second season of S.H.I.E.L.D. so as to stay closer to the time it was actually released.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is higher up than you may have expected -- that's because of the number of years the film says have passed, meaning it takes place just a few months after the first film.
Some say that Doctor Strange should come before Winter Soldier, because of a certain rooftop scene. A rabbit hole one IGN editor has already gone done and debunked. So Strange stays where it is. (But with time manipulation up for grabs now, who really knows??)
Watch this: How to watch every Marvel movie in the perfect order
A frequent question about the timeline is why Captain America: TFA is first. This is all just my opinion, but I think watching Steve Rogers grow up first, followed by seeing Agent Carter's story, is a great way to begin an MCU foray. There's a case to be made that he is the most important Avenger, and whether you agree with that or not, it's worth it to jump in with him first.
As for the second most-asked question: No, Iron Man 2 shouldn't come before Incredible Hulk because of the short, The Consultant. That short was released much later on the Thor DVD in an attempt to simply backfill the storyline. I'm 100 percent going to say that if anything should move, it's the timing of when you watch that short -- maybe put it after Iron Man 2 instead and that will help. Yeah, I'm going to make that change on the one-shot list, that should help.
The growth of the Marvel universe is extraordinary (har-har) and as the comics giant introduces new fans to new characters (some people had no idea who Doctor Strange was a couple of years ago) and partners with cable television and Netflix to expand even further, we could see some pretty epic pairings, teams and characters come out of the woodwork.
Which characters would you want to see in Marvel's not-yet-announced-but-certainly-inevitable next phases on both the small and big screen? Let us know in the comments.