The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become a juggernaut of pop culture since blasting off with Iron Man back in 2008.
For comic book fans, this has been pure cinematic nirvana. Under the guidance of studio head Kevin Fiege, the gigantic film-and-TV-series has made global stars out of characters such as the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange.
Such a huge expansion (39 films, TV shows and specials and counting over a 15-year run) runs the risk of becoming confusing if you don’t pay attention to every press release or comics website. And that’s before you take into account the increasing number of time travel and dimension hopping stories…
This is exactly why I’ve put together the Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline.
Introducing the Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline
To maintain the continuity that Marvel Studios has so impressively kept since 2008, this guide will focus on the films and shows that are unequivocally part of the Marvel movie timeline.
TV shows such as Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD, and the Netflix ‘Defenders-verse’ are set against the backdrop of the MCU but are not considered part of the main storyline. However, the Disney+ TV shows and specials (think WandaVision, Werewolf By Night et al) are all 100% confirmed as part of the MCU chronology.
Some of these releases have already moved around the timeline as we’ve learned more about them – which is exactly why I’ll be keeping this guide up-to-date. So subscribe for updates and check back whenever Marvel Studios announce new MCU content.
Now then. Let’s get this timeline started!
|Phase One||Phase Two||Phase Three||Phase Four|
Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline: Phase One
1. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Who better to launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline than Cap?
He may be early for the age of heroes, but Steve Rogers’ World War II experiences shape him into the hero that the world – and universe – later needs.
Director Joe Johnston brought his Rocketeer pedigree to Captain America: The First Avenger and crafted an epic, tragic adventure for the MCU’s most wholesome hero.
It’s a fantastical comic book adventure worthy of kicking off the timeline.
2. Captain Marvel (2019)
Jumping forward 50 years, Captain Marvel takes us back to the 1990s to introduce Cpt. Carol Danvers and plant plot seeds galore.
Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, SHIELD, the Skrulls, the Kree Empire, Ronan the Destroyer, and cosmic pagers all make their chronological debut as Danvers establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with.
Captain Marvel combines Danvers’ missing identity with an intergalactic adventure that’s an excellent primer for the MCU’s heroic age.
3. Iron Man (2008)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe exploded into our universe with Jon Favreau’s pitch-perfect 2008 superhero adventure film.
Samuel L. Jackson’s post-credit cameo as Nick Fury set fans off about the Avengers Initiative, but nothing embodied Marvel’s total commitment to the MCU more than Robert Downey Jr’s performance. Downey Jr became a global icon as Tony Stark, and deservedly so.
If Iron Man hadn’t worked, no-one would be talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline today.
4. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 reaches for the stars but, in true sequel fashion, ends up being so crammed full that it struggles to carry itself.
At its core, the film is about Stark confronting his doubts and proving that there’s more to being Iron Man than just the suit.
Beyond that, we get to see Rhodey (recast as Don Cheadle) make his debut as War Machine and meet Scarlett Johansen’s Natasha Romanoff – AKA Black Widow.
5. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Until recently, this was all-but an optional entry on the MCU timeline. General Ross aside, it left little mark on the wider story.
Yet with Tim Roth’s Abomination returning for She-Hulk, this often overlooked 2008 entry may become more prescient.
Edward Norton is wildly dissimilar to Mark Ruffalo, but that doesn’t stop his Hulk from smashing. It’s pulse-pounding comic book fun that’s perfect Saturday afternoon viewing – precisely what you want from an Incredible Hulk film.
6. Thor (2011)
When watching the MCU in chronological order, the mythology of Thor doesn’t feel out of place. Yet in 2011, Marvel had still only explored science-based superheroes.
Thor was a risk.
Director Kenneth Branagh worked hard on the world-building and made Asgard believable in the context of Iron Man.
Thor’s character still needed work, but the film’s big win was selling general audiences on the concept.
7. The Avengers (2012)
Five films in four years built to this: the first on-screen Avengers adventure.
The team forms in true comic book fashion (misunderstandings and fights before teaming up) just in time to stop an alien invasion led by Loki – played by a show-stealing Tom Hiddlestone.
Director Joss Whedon’s talent for self-aware snark and ability to handle a large cast gave us the MCU’s first big payoff – the ultimate proof-of-concept blockbuster.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline: Phase Two
8. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
It’s often tarred as a low point of the MCU, but Thor: The Dark World works a lot better in the context of the complete Infinity Saga.
This pious version of Thor is not as fun without the Avengers to bounce off, and Christopher Ecclestone’s Malkeith is a paper-thin antagonist.
Yet an inventive final battle, the cosmic worldbuilding, and the rehabilitation of Loki all make this a worthwhile watch.
9. Iron Man 3 (2013)
It’s back to Earth with a bump for Iron Man 3.
Shane Black’s film is a more even production than Iron Man 2. Stripping Tony Stark of his armoury is a compelling setup, and in parts the film plays out like a Brosnan-era James Bond adventure.
Yet the Extremis concept – at least in execution – doesn’t sit right with the wider MCU. And Trevor Slattery’s Mandarin is a missed opportunity.
Ultimately Iron Man 3 feels like a direction that MCU could have taken in 2013, but thankfully opted against.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo marked the franchise with this action-packed spy thriller.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier expands the characters and the storytelling possibilities of the MCU. The film explores Steve Rogers’ morality and place in the world, expands Natasha Romanoff’s compelling character, and introduces Sam Wilson’s Falcon.
If that weren’t enough, Winter Soldier also pulls off the feat of re-introducing Bucky Barnes.
Along with Guardians of the Galaxy, this film laid the foundation for the future of the MCU.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy is the film that launched the MCU into the cosmos, fully embracing the craziness of the Marvel Comics universe.
The misadventures of sharp, selfish alien characters could have been a miss, but James Gunn infuses the film with a big heart and genuine human warmth.
True, the film suffers from a bland protagonist in Ronan the Accuser. But the strengths of the core cast and that killer soundtrack really do make up for it.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Putting the Guardians films back-to-back might seem odd given the three years and five MCU releases between the two.
In execution, it works.
Vol. 2 digs deeper into the characters and their relationships. Nebula benefits the most from this. Quill and Gamora grow closer, while Groot finds a new lease of life as a mischievous young tree.
To top it all, Ego serves as one of the stronger villains of the MCU to date.
It’s a film that focuses on character and reaps the rewards.
13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Avengers: Age of Ultron feels like a throwback to an earlier era of the superhero film.
Whedon’s film is fun and action-packed, but nowhere near as tight as its predecessor. But it picks up as it goes on.
Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision are exciting additions to the series. And Thor and Tony’s visions of Thanos and Endgame are remarkable in light of the complete story.
But while Age of Ultron sets up the rollercoaster ride of Phase Three, it’s still the weakest of the ensemble films.
14. Ant-Man (2015)
Peyton Reed’s action-comedy marks another departure for the MCU.
Making smart use of lead actor Paul Rudd and the comedic value of the concept, Ant-Man is an entertaining small scale Marvel adventure.
Using Michael Douglas as an older Hank Pym is a good way to sidestep some of the issues with that character. And his vendetta with Tony Stark is a neat angle to explore for another science-based superhero.
Ant-Man doesn’t feel like the most important chapter of the saga. But it’s actually yet another vital building block.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline: Phase Three
15. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The Russo Brothers return for Captain America: Civil War and shift the MCU firmly into top gear.
As a superhero registration act causes a divide between the Avengers, the villainous Zemo enacts a plan to completely destroy the team.
Civil War tests Cap’s values like never before while also course-correcting Tony Stark. The conflict is earned and heartfelt, and cannot be overshadowed even by the introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man.
If Winter Soldier was the potential, Civil War is the delivery.
16. Black Widow (2021)
Long-delayed and eagerly awaited, Black Widow finally gave us a definitive delve into Natasha’s origin and background.
Taking place immediately after Civil War, Nat is drawn out of hiding when her “sister” Yelena Belova breaks free from the mind control of the Red Room programme. Nat and Yelena re-connect with each other and with their former deep-cover “parents” in order to bring down the Red Room for good.
It’s an explosive finale to Scarlett Johansen’s tenure as an Avenger that works much better viewed in timeline order than as it was released.
17. Black Panther (2018)
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is a spellbinding introduction to the new king T’Challa and the kingdom of Wakanda.
On the one hand, it’s a fast-paced sci-fi action film. On the other, it’s a deep dive into what it means to be a king – the good, the bad, and the murky grey in-between.
It’s both a boundary-breaking popcorn film and a thought-provoking debate on how humans engage with one other.
And it does all that whilst introducing the most exciting country on Marvel’s planet Earth.
18. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Homecoming ties itself completely to the MCU – so much so that Michael Keaton’s Vulture flies directly out from the Battle of New York.
Tom Holland’s take on the wallcrawler draws heavily from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. Parker himself acts just how a 15-year old Spidey within the MCU would – he’s eager to please and desperate to get involved in something bigger. Yet when push comes to shove, he always does the right thing.
It’s not the best Spider-Man film, but it is the best Spider-Man on film. That counts for a lot.
19. Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange occupies an odd spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.
During the Battle of New York, the Ancient One tells Hulk that Strange is still a surgeon. Yet a short time later in Winter Soldier, Strange is already established and a named target of Project Insight.
But then given how the film turns on time travel, it’s maybe not a sticking point.
Doctor Strange is a visually inventive foray into the mystic world of Marvel. And it’s also another example of the MCU taking an odd comics character and turning them into box office gold.
20. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Director Taika Waititi leaned hard into Marvel’s cosmic stories to breathe new life into Thor’s character.
By tying Thor: Ragnarok in with elements from the Planet Hulk comic storyline, Waititi spins a bombastic tale that makes Thor fun. And the end of the film takes us directly into the climax of the Infinity Saga.
Seeing Marvel’s heavy hitter heroes in a cosmic setting is a lot of fun – and just a teaser of what’s to come.
21. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Being released just after Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp felt like a lightweight snack. But when viewed in chronological order it works much better, and serves as the calm before the storm.
Peyton Reed returns on directorial duties and takes us on a funny, metaphysical adventure into the Marvel science world.
With inventive storytelling and more than a few laugh out loud moments, it’s the perfect palette cleanser for what comes next.
22. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Part one of the two-part epic that re-wrote the record books.
Avengers: Infinity War works because it takes years of consistent character building across the MCU galaxy and throws it all into a blender.
The MVP, however, is Thanos. And the effort that Marvel Studios puts into making him understandable – not just powerful – is the reason that his threat is absolute.
By the end, we’re as exhausted, shocked, and numbed as Captain America. It’s a true epic.
23. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Avengers: Endgame doesn’t just begin in the depths of despair – it wallows there, as the defeated heroes struggle to cope with five years of loss.
When hope arises from the unlikeliest of sources, a timeline-spanning, galaxy-hopping adventure of incredible scale begins.
The Russo Brothers had a tall order in bringing the Infinity Saga to a satisfying conclusion. Yet they stick the landing and deliver one of the most fist-pumping final forty minutes in blockbuster history.
If the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline ended here, it would be a truly worthy ending.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline: Phase Four
24. Loki (2021)
This is where these chronological order lists get complicated.
In Endgame, a version of Loki escapes with the Tesseract shortly after the first Avengers. In Loki episode one we quickly see the erstwhile God of Mischief removed from the timeline and placed in the custody of the TVA, the celestial authority responsible for keeping the timelines clean.
The series – revealed to be the first of at least two – ends with the multiverse cracking open, an incident that’s echoed in WandaVision and Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Loki is a mind-expanding trip into the workings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with an excellent central performance from the always-engaging Tom Hiddleston. By opening the door for Kang the Conqueror to arrive, this series is key to whatever comes up next.
25. WandaVision (2021)
Whether viewed in chronological or timeline order, WandaVision is an off-beat entry to this next phase of the MCU.
As the first TV show to form a “proper” part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, WandaVision takes real chances. It’s creative, entertaining, a little bit disturbing, and increasingly surreal. And it has an amazing soundtrack to boot.
While the ending of the show doesn’t quite deliver on the promise it sets up, it still makes for a fascinating study of Wanda’s character. She’s left looking at an increasingly powerful future in the series.
26. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)
The first extensive in-universe look at the post-Endgame world, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier explores post-blip politics and what it means to be a hero.
The series is uneven but it is stronger than its mixed reception may have you believe. Baron Zemo steals the show, whilst the US Government-sanctioned John Walker demonstrates that it takes more than a shield and a super solider serum to be Captain America. Bucky, meanwhile, works through his past as the Winter Soldier.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier shuffles up the pieces on the MCU board and leaves things well-positioned for the future.
27. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
After the events of Infinity War and Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home sets a marked change of pace. Peter Parker’s European roadtrip plays out like a screwball comedy with superpowers for much of the first half.
His blossoming romance with MJ is the beating heart of the film, whilst Jake Gyllenhal’s Mysterio is an excellent trickster villain in every sense. The core of the story is Peter more-or-less learning to step out of Tony Stark’s shadow. At the time this was underwhelming, but following Spider-Man: No Way Home this half step makes sense.
28. Shang-Chi (2021)
As the first origin story released in Phase Four, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gets to be a refreshing break from the built-up continuity of the surrounding releases.
The beauty of Shang-Chi is that it explores completely new worlds and mythology while still feeling firmly set within the MCU. That feeling is helped by the cameo appearances for sure, but there’s something to the world that feels akin to the post-Endgame vibe established by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
29. Eternals (2021)
Eternals is the first major outlier in the MCU since Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. With these god-like beings having removed themselves from every major conflict seen before, the film feels more self-consciously separate to the rest of the universe.
By the end of the film its placement within the MCU becomes more clear, and the post-credits scene gives us our first look at the next stage of the “cosmic” story.
30. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
If Spider-Man: Far From Home missed the mark of what makes a good Spider-Man story, then its immediate follow-up nails it and then some. Marvel Studios and Sony’s collaboration peaks with this multiverse-shattering epic that finally gives Tom Holland’s Spider-Man the origin story that he needed.
It’s a film that starts strong and just gets better and better as it goes. Equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, it manages to improve on every Spider-Man film that came before and leave us all wanting more.
31. Hawkeye (2021)
After the reality-warping and multiversal shenanigans of WandaVision, Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home, Hawkeye brings us back to Earth. Hawkeye keeps a tight focus on its characters, and that puts it up there with Loki amongst the strongest of the the MCU Disney+ shows.
Whilst we see Clint Barton reconciling his past as Ronin, what’s most exciting is what Hawkeye sets up for the future. Yelena Belova returns, Echo is introduced, we see a version of the Kingpin (that may or may not be the same character from the Netflix Daredevil series), and we get a full origin story for the excellent Kate Bishop.
32. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Less of a building block for future films than a bonkers multiverse adventure in its own right, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a triumphant return to the superhero genre for director Sam Raimi. Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely excels as the arrogant sorcerer, with a character journey that’s up there as one of the strongest we’ve seen since Phase One.
That said, it’s not an installment without controversy. Some of the cameos feel cheap, whilst the film’s depiction of Wanda Maximoff certainly splits opinion. Regardless, Raimi’s flair and stylistic sensibilities allow him to deliver one of the most unique, creative, horrific and visually stunning films in the MCU to date.
33. Moon Knight (2022)
If Phase Four has so far been about letting the characters grow into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe (there’s no big bad out there yet at this point on the timeline), Moon Knight is like the shy kid that’s determined to stay in their own little corner.
A compelling, dizzying character piece, Moon Knight gives Oscar Isaac the chance to shine – and he runs with it. Playing the two dominant personalities of a character with Disassociative Identity Disorder, Isaac manages to convey two distinct characters that play naturally off of one another. Roll all of that into an action-packed North African adventure featuring an also-excellent Ethan Hunt, disorienting asylum visits, Egyptian deities, and a giant, soul-eating crocodile, and you’ve got the most unique MCU superhero caper yet.
34. Ms. Marvel (2022)
Ms. Marvel marks a return to street-level heroics for the MCU. Newcomer Iman Vellani stars as Kamala Kahn, a starry eyed dreamer from New Jersey who absolutely loves the superhero life. After discovering an heirloom that gives her size altering powers, her dreams of becoming a real superhero (we’ve all been there, right?) come true – only to discover that with great power really does comes great responsibility.
The series is warm, full of heart, visually creative, and even sneaks in a bombshell MCU moment right at the end.
With Ms. Marvel, Marvel Studios has yet another welcome, vibrant new voice.
35. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
Thor Odinson became the first MCU character to get four solo films with the second entry to the series from director Taika Waititi.
Love & Thunder delves further into the realm of historical gods as Thor attempts to stop Gorr the God Butcher (played in scene-stealing fashion by Christian Bale) whilst also dealing with Jane Foster’s return to the scene as… the Mighty Thor?
Waititi’s irreverent humour often grates, but when the film works it still highlights how strong the characters can be. And it leaves Thor in a completely different place as a character, which is something to look forward to for the future.
36. She-Hulk: Attorney At Law (2022)
She-Hulk marked a new venture for Marvel Studios as it turned its focus to making a straight-up dramedy (with the odd fantastical punch up to ensure the series stayed on-brand).
The series focuses on Jessica Walters, the criminal defence lawyer cousin of Bruce Banner, who ends up with similar hulk powers as Bruce following a car accident. What follows is the story of a young professional trying (and often failing) to maintain an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances.
The show hits much more than it misses, with high points including Tatiana Maslany’s excellent lead performance, Charlie Cox’s MCU debut as Daredevil, and – best of all – Walter’s fourth wall breaking. She-Hulk is an excellent character addition to the MCU in need of a great project.
37. Werewolf By Night (2022)
Michael Giacchino isn’t just an excellent composer (according to Spotify Wrapped, The Batman soundtrack was my most listened-to album of 2022). The first Marvel Studio “Special Presentation” of Werewolf By Night marked his directorial debut, and the hour long, black-and-white horror film instantly stood out as a high point of Phase 4.
Action-packed, gory, and as fresh and weird as anything in the MCU since the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Werewolf By Night opens up a whole new avenue of the Marvel universe with its focus on the supernatural. Both Giacchino and lead star Gael Garcia Bernal have a bright future in the series.
38. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)
Marvel Studios followed up Werewolf By Night with a second special featuring everyone’s favourite Guardians of the Galaxy.
Directed by series stalwart James Gunn, the hour-long special features an all-star cast, the kidnap of Kevin Bacon and the introduction of a brand new holiday song. It’s a story that gets to the heart of Christmas and provides some emotional character moments along the way.
All that, plus a VFX budget-friendly swole Groot that has to be seen to be believed!
Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline: Phase Five
39. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was a difficult film for all involved following the far-too-young death of Chadwick Boseman in 2021.
Director Ryan Coogler tackles this head on as Wakanda reels from the in-universe death of T’Challa, leaving the nation seemingly without a protector. As new threats emerge, so must a new Black Panther.
Wakanda Forever gets phase five off to a strong start. It also adds yet more mythology to the MCU through the long-overdue introduction of Marvel’s very first mutant – the Atlantean King Namor.
The Future Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline
It’s been a hell of a ride already and it’s showing no signs of stopping.
Phase Five promises to start bringing the multiverse strands together with Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania kicking things off and bringing a host of fan-favourite characters back to the big screen. With the multiverse saga now well underway, the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline is only going to get more interesting…
I’ll be keeping this guide up-to-date to match. Subscribe to the monthly email newsletter and keep checking back to see how each new film and series fits into the ongoing MCU chronology!