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How to watch every Marvel movie and TV show in the perfect order

Every MCU property currently airing or announced -- and the absolute ideal order for watching them -- so you can catch up before 2019's big changes.

Marvel Studios

Will Marvel Studios ever slow down? (Should it?)


You've probably seen most of Marvel's films, but what about the TV shows? 

If you're like me, that is to say a continuity junkie, timelines are very important to you -- but timelines in the world of comics and movies can be more than a little confusing. 

Editors' note, Nov. 19, 2018: This week, Marvel unveiled its own "official" timeline of MCU films. It's interesting, but mostly we think it just proves what we started almost five years ago. (Keep in mind we also slot in the TV shows, hence why ours is a beast.)

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As we get closer to Captain Marvel and Avengers 4, we'll update the timeline again in 2019 so stay tuned for that. And if you're looking to stream some MCU movies, we can help. Think you've found a mistake? Let us know in the comments!


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So to either help you fill in the gaps before "Avengers: Infinity War," to (or after that Avengers post-credit scene) just watch all the shows for fun, or even merely try to impress your friends, we've created a timeline of Marvel's Phase 1, 2, 3, 4 (and maybe beyond tbh) properties in the perfect viewing order.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it's called, also sometimes includes connected properties such as movie tie-in comics or shorts. Here we've left out smaller properties and stuck to the big two: films in red, shows in black.


Click for the super-mega version in a new tab.

Aaron Robinson/CNET

Also, you should definitely still note that "The Incredible Hulk" is still skippable (we even watched it yet again just to confirm) and even William Hurt ("Thunderbolt" Ross himself) has admitted it. Speaking to IGN, 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 are brief videos initially created as standalone stories to provide backstory for characters or things seen in the movies; two of them would later become full-fledged shows.

Marvel One-Shots

Title, release date Takes place...
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."

Marvel Webisodes

Title, release date Takes place...
WHIH Newsfront with Christine Everhart, minisodes 1-5 (July 2015) Immediately before "Ant-Man"
WHIH Newsfront with Christine Everhart, minisodes 6-10 (April 2016) Directly before "Civil War"
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Slingshot, all 6 webisodes (Dec. 2016) Ahead of season 4 of "S.H.I.E.L.D."

Continuity in the MCU

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. 


"Strange" definitely does not take place before "Winter Soldier."


Later in the same season, episode 16 aired the same weekend as the release of "Captain America: Winter Solider," 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 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 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. 

Finally, many commenters feel that "Doctor Strange" should come before "Winter Soldier," and they cite the scene with Jasper Sitwell on the roof naming Stephen Strange. But to be honest, this one has a better explanation as "the algorithm was right on the money with Strange" rather than "he was already a sorcerer" by then. In fact, one IGN editor has a pretty great breakdown of why this is exactly the case here.

It could probably go either way but all signs point to "Strange" taking place afterward. (But with time manipulation up for grabs now, who really knows??) 

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A frequent question about the timeline is why "Captain America" is first; specifically, the questions often revolve around how you won't know who Nick Fury is, or what S.H.I.E.L.D. is, and really this is all just my opinion. I think watching Steve Rogers grow up first, followed by seeing Agent Carter's story, is a great way to begin as 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% 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.

You might notice that I moved "Ant-Man & the Wasp" up above "Infinity War" even though neither has come out yet. This is truly just a gut call judging by the trailers and teasers so far, but if it turns out to be wrong I'll move it back down this summer.

And even though it's been reported that "Captain Marvel" will take place in the 1990s, I did not move it -- with the cast additions, I'm waiting to see if it will truly be a full-fledged flashback, or if it will be using the past similar to "Wonder Woman," that is as a plot device to tell a story. I likely won't be evaluating that change until next year when the movie comes out (but who knows what time will bring).

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Black Panther, Infinite wars and Phase 4

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."

Chadwick Boseman
Mark Mann

After "Black Panther", all bets are off for the future of the MCU. Its record-breaking, record-setting origin story broke all the superhero story rules -- here's hoping Marvel continues to 

Check out our CNET Magazine feature on Boseman, that accent and the power that is Black Panther.

Prepare yourself for tears with "Avengers: Infinity War." We're pretty certain *someone* will die, and while no one is safe, bets are heavily leaning toward Iron Man or Captain America. 

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo say there will be some unexpected characters in Infinity War and, oh, it's basically a heist movie with Thanos at the center of it all.

With "Infinity War," the biggest new element to the movie is Thanos and the fact that he's entering the storytelling in a very bold, strong way, to the degree that he's almost one of the leads. We've shaped an interesting narrative around him that in some ways leans heavily on a heist film in the fact that he's going after the infinity stones in a much bolder, successful way than he has in the past. The entire movie has that energy of the bad guy being one step ahead of the heroes. We looked at a lot of movies that had that heist-style energy to them, [and] that brought some inspiration.

For more info on Avengers 3 & 4 from the directing duo, check out Erin Carson's interview with the brothers. 

"Ant-Man & the Wasp," starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily, is set for this July, making it the first film to give title billing to a woman. And let's not forget that Brie Larson will be playing Carol Danvers in 2019's "Captain Marvel." But we're still holding out hope we'll see her in "Infinity War."

Marvel on Netflix and other TV shows

Netflix's Marvel shows still rule outside of the theaters, but ABC attempted to jump back into the game with "Inhumans" this fall but poor ratings mean any whisper of a second season is gone. The fifth season of "S.H.I.E.L.D." has taken our heroes to the future (literally), but no word yet on its renewal. The season finale, however, will be titled "The End" which sounds even more ominous in the absence of season six news.  

New Marvel shows are now pretty consistently popping up, but only some are within the MCU canon. In June, "Cloak & Dagger" is set to premiere on ABC's young adult channel Freeform; "Marvel's New Warriors" was originally intended for the same network this year, but last November THR revealed it was being shopped to other networks. It currently has no air date so I removed it from the timeline.

Also, "Marvel's Runaways" launched on Hulu, centering on a group of teenagers who come together to defeat their evil parents it performed well enough to get a season 2 renewal. 

As for Netflix-Marvel properties, for the most part these series have fared better than the ABC projects. Speaking to CNET Magazine, Mike Colter mentioned that the humanity of Luke Cage and The Defenders is a big part of what he thinks resonates with people.

"A big part of what separates the Netflix kind of Marvel Cinematic Universe from the films is its ability to stay away from 'quote, unquote' superheroes, mysticism and alien interference. So yeah, I feel like it's got its own audience. Our characters you know, we do tread some of the same territories as people [in real life]... We're doing something different -- not better, but just different. You can have both."

Here's where those Netflix properties stand as of now:

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.

So, be honest. 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?

This piece was originally published April 30, 2015, and is updated sporadically.