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How to watch every Marvel property in the perfect order

Every Marvel movie and TV show currently airing or announced -- and the absolute ideal order for watching them -- so you can check out the latest Marvel movie super-prepared.

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Marvel: Will it ever stop growing?

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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, July 7, 2017: This is the biggest update ever with an all-new design. Think you've found a mistake? Let me know!

So to either help you fill in the gaps before "Spider-Man: Homecoming," 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 and 3 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. 

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Aaron Robinson/CNET

Also, you should definitely still note that "The Incredible Hulk" is still skippable (we even watched it recently 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 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 (September 2011) During the end of "Incredible Hulk"
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer (October 2011) Directly before "Thor"
Item 47 (September 2012) Immediately following the Battle of New York in "Avengers"
Agent Carter (August 2013) One year after "Captain America: The First Avenger;" before "Agent Carter"
All Hail the King (February 2014) Roughly two years after "Iron Man 3;" before "Agents 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. 

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

Marvel

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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Upcoming films

While the lead and main villain of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" are both white males, much of the supporting cast features women and persons of color. A fact which Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told me 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."

"Black Panther" comes out in February 16, 2018, and is the first Marvel film with a POC as the lead, with Chadwick Boseman as the title character. The film also stars Micheal B. Jordan ("Creed"), Lupita Nyong'o ("Queen of Katwe"), Danai Gurira ("The Walking Dead"), Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out"), Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker -- the list goes on, but hopefully you get the idea.

Set for a November release, "Thor: Ragnarok" has already exceeded expectations by looking outlandish, colorful and hilarious. Check out the trailer above and tell me it doesn't seem like the next great buddy film. 

And let's not forget that Brie Larson will be playing Carol Danvers in 2019's "Captain Marvel". With "Infinity War" set for a May 2018 release, what're the odds we'll see her character well before her own film arrives? (I'd say pretty good.) There's also "Ant-Man & The Wasp," starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily and set for release July 6, 2018

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On the small(er) screen

Netflix Marvel shows still rule outside of the theaters, but ABC is jumping back into the game with "Inhumans" this fall. While the first trailer didn't exactly inspire confidence, Lockjaw looks pretty badass. 

As for Netflix-Marvel properties, for the most part those 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.