The Marvel Cinematic Universe is getting pretty huge but what order should you watch the movies in? I’ve been doing some research and have a timeline.
Spoilers ahead! There are also affiliate links on this page, if you click and buy any of the movies then the site earns some commission.
Captain Steve Rodgers was the first Avenger and appeared long before the others were born. In fact, Steve is good friends with Howard Stark (Iron Mans dad) during World War 2. At the beginning of the movie, we hear a reference to Odin and his kingdom by the Nazis and this random bit of the story helps to set up and start the connections between the other movies. Although this movie ends in the modern day, most of it is set in World War 2 which is why it should come first.
Shooting into the modern day, we have Iron Man. Howard Stark has died and left his son, Tony, in charge of the family business. After a terrorist attack leaves him injured, he builds his first Iron Man suit. This movie also gave us our first peek at Nick Fury and a tiny taster of what was to come.
The Incredible Hulk
This movie takes place at the same time as Iron Man 2 and Thor. There has been a lot of chit-chat about when you should watch this movie (some people say never) but if you want to stick as close to the timeline as possible, I would watch this one before Iron Man 2 and Thor.
Iron Man 2
Although this happening about the same time as The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 needs to come after Hulk because there is footage of The Hulk within this movie. Agent Colson has to leave at Tony during the movie as he has been “reassigned” and in the post-credits scene with Thor’s hammer we learn what the new assignment is. This post-credits scene leads nicely into Thor even though it is technically happening at the same time.
There is a slight overlap between Thor and Iron Man 2 because we learn how Thor’s hammer gets into the middle of the desert in that post-credit scene. This also shows us the kingdom of Asgard, Odin’s kingdom, which was referenced in Captian America by the Nazis. See how this is all starting to take shape now?
This is the first time that we see all of the Avengers on screen together. We are also introduced to Black Widow and Hawkeye. The post-credits scene in Captain America appears near the beginning of Avengers Assemble so we can assume that it hasn’t been too long since the Cap was recused from spending the rest of eternity as a capcicle.
Iron Man 3
This movie is set 6 months after Avengers and focuses on Tony as he suffers from PTSD and the aftermath of New York. Avengers Assemble is referenced a good few times during the movie as Tony struggles with his demons. There is a flashback to 1999 at the beginning of the movie (a certain party that is referenced in Iron Man) and it is this reference that sets up the rest of the movie.
Thor: The Dark World
Thor is set 1 year after Avengers and gives us another good look at Asgard. Thor returns to Earth after he learns that Jane is in trouble. The story could stand alone by itself if you fancied watching it randomly but the ending sets up the next Thor movie, and the post-credits scenes introduce us to the Collector.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2 years after Avengers, Captain is working with SHIELD and has to go up against The Winter Soldier. You will probably recognise him because it is Caps best friend from back in the day. How did Bucky survive? And why has he no memory? And what is with the metal arm? This movie also sees the end of SHEILD as we know it. We also get a mention of “Stephen Strange” as a potential target for the system as an enemy of HYDRA.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Meet Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord and his band of misfits as they try and save the galaxy. The movie is set in 2014, 26 years after Peter is abducted from Earth. The movie starts in 1988 when Peter is abducted from Earth but quickly shifts to 2014, and this is where most the of the movie plays out.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2
Baby Groot is dancing away in the opening scene as the Guardians take on a mighty beast. This movie is set just 3 months after the last GOTG movie (that’s why Groot is a tiny walking tree) and follows them as they discover Peters origins and who his dad really is. In the post-credits scenes, we see that Groot is growing up and Kraglin takes up the telekinetic arrow.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
This movie gives us the first nod to Black Panther with the mention of the country Wakanda. There are so many references back to the other movies, it would be impossible to watch this one without seeing them first. We also get a lot more information about the Infinity Stones, and we see the gauntlet for the first time.
Scott Lang becomes Ant-Man in this next branch of the Marvel Universe. Here we get a flashback to 1989 when Hank Pym quits SHEILD and we see an aging Peggy Carter, but most of the movie is set in the modern day. We also see Falcon in this movie when Scott tries to break into the Avengers facility. AND, the post-credits scene has Bucky and Captain America which leads to the next movie, Civil War. There is a lot to take in here.
Captain America: Civil War
The Avengers are split in two after the events of Ultron and Civil War takes place around one year after Ultron is defeated. This movie gives us our first look at Spiderman and Black Panther, and Ant-Man gets to work with the team for the first time too. Tony finally finds out what really happened to his parents the night that they died.
This movie is set just after the events of Civil War as Prince T’Challa has to break the news that his father has died and he is to take the throne. The movie follows his discovery about his father and his uncle, and he gets to face off against Ulysses Klaue, the man responsible for black market vibranium.
Dr Steven Strange is a talented surgeon who learns the mystic arts after suffering a career-ending car accident. In a post-credits scene, we can see Strange having a conversation with Thor about Loki being in New York, and this leads into Thor: Ragnarok. After being questioned, one of the writers said that the movie takes place in 2016 and into 2017 when Thor: Ragnarok takes place.
We saw Spiderman for the first time in Civil War, but now we know a whole lot more. Although the movie is set after Civil War, there is plenty of information about what happened after New York and Civil War. Spiderman is set 8 years after the battle in New York and deals with the aftermath that the people of New York had to deal with.
The post-credits scene from Dr Strange set up the story for Ragnarok when Thor and Loki are searching for Odin. The movie takes place two years after the battle in Sokovia, and one year after Civil War. If you watched Civil War, you probably noticed that Thor and the Hulk were missing (Hulk flew off in a jet at the end of Ultron). Ragnarok answers were they disappeared off to and what they were up to.
Avengers: Infinity War
This is the movie that Marvel fans have been waiting for. Groot is a teenager, Star-Lord meets Thor, and Spiderman thinks that Dr Strange is pulling his leg. We see Fury sending a signal to Captain Marvel and wonder who is really to blame for all of this. the big question is not when does this one take place but if it will stick.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Technically this happens before Infinity War, or while Infinity War is happening. But, at the risk of some serious spoilers here, all I’m saying is “post credits scene” is the reason why this should come after Infinity War.
Still to be released: Captian Marvel
This one is apparently set in the 1990s but we won’t know for sure until it is released which is why it is all the way down here. Once it is released, I’ll be popping it down between Captain America and Iron Man.
Still to be released: Spiderman Far from Home
How this one is going to fit into the Marvel Universe, I can only guess because there is no story available yet. We will just have to wait and see how this one will play out.
Still to be released: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3
Will Groot be a grown-up again? What will happen? Will there even be a movie after James Gunn was sacked for jokes he made nearly ten years ago? This movie is so up in the air it might as well be the moon.
Still to be released: Avengers 4
This is to be the final movie of the Marvel Universe but with how things are going it might be placed before Spiderman and GOTG Vol 3.
Don’t forget, there are also the TV shows Agents of SHIELD, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil which are amazing when you watch them alongside the movies. Keep in mind that there are some overlap in the movies but this is the way I think they should be watched and appears to be the closest order. But if you think I’m wrong, let me know in the comments with why your order is better.