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    How To Watch Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie In Chronological Order

    Keep this handy for all future MCU marathons.

    With 20 movies now out, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is sprawling and can be kind of overwhelming, especially for more casual fans or newcomers.

    You can, of course, watch them in release order for a satisfying viewing experience.

    Marvel / Sohan Judge / BuzzFeed

    But if you're anything like me, you enjoy watching events unfold chronologically.

    The MCU can be challenging in this regard, because typically the release order has little to do with the actual timeline of events. Plus the plots of some movies overlap, while others move back and forth through time, making it hard to nail down one definitive viewing order.

    As someone who has attempted chronological MCU marathons a couple of times, I've figured out an order I'm pretty satisfied with – so here it is! Fair warning, there are some spoilers below, so if you haven't seen the movies yet and want to avoid them, you can skip to the end of this post and see a handy spoiler-free guide to the chronological viewing order.

    1. Captain America: The First Avenger


    The placement of Captain America: The First Avenger is challenging. The bulk of the movie happens in the 1940s, but it's bookended by "present day" scenes that happen after Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk. For me, because the main plot of the movie is in the past, I find it more enjoyable to watch at the beginning. Starting with a film literally titled The First Avenger just feels right, and Cap is always a great entry point. I also like seeing a young Howard Stark at work, before ~meeting~ his son in Iron Man. This movie also introduces us to HYDRA, one of the major villainous forces in the MCU. Plus, Nick Fury appears both within the movie and in a post-credits scene. On top of all that, the set-up done here around the first Infinity Stone – the Space Stone encased within the Tesseract – means you can trace the road to Infinity War from the very beginning (not to mention the full circle experience of Red Skull's actions).

    2. Iron Man


    The movie that started it all! Going back and rewatching Iron Man, the universe feels so small, but you can see the foundation being laid for everything that came after it. What happens to Tony Stark in that cave in Afghanistan indelibly shapes not only him moving forward, but the whole cinematic universe. And, of course, his infamous proclamation of "I am Iron Man" at the end of this movie opens the world up for all the heroes that follow him. We're also introduced to Agent Coulson, Pepper Potts, and Happy Hogan here, plus we get to see Nick Fury in the post-credits scene, when he comes to talk to Stark about his "Avengers Initiative".

    3. Iron Man 2


    Here's where things start getting tricky. Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor all happen more or less concurrently as part of Nick Fury's "Big Week", so it's hard to know what order to place them in. But I find that following Tony's journey from Iron Man straight into Iron Man 2 is rewarding, if you can handle that much of him back-to-back. Plus, the post-credits scene in The Incredible Hulk takes place after the events of Iron Man 2, so it's good to watch them play out beforehand. In terms of tracking the wider universe, this movie introduces Black Widow, as well as Senator Stern (who we'll later discover is secretly in HYDRA). It also brings Agent Coulson back (before carting him off to chase Thor), turns Rhodey into War Machine, and features a couple of scenes between Fury and Stark where they discuss the Avengers.

    4. The Incredible Hulk


    Some people suggest skipping The Incredible Hulk, but if you're a completist like me that's not an option. Especially because it introduces not only Bruce Banner (albeit Edward Norton's version), but also Thaddeus Ross, who goes on to play a key role in Captain America: Civil War and also crops up again in Avengers: Infinity War. Get it out of the way between Iron Man 2 and Thor.

    5. Thor


    I suggest keeping Thor until immediately before The Avengers. The events of the latter are a direct fallout from what happens here, complete with Loki being the main villain and Selvig becoming involved with SHIELD (and subsequently coming under Loki's control). We also see Agent Coulson again, meet Agent Sitwell (who will later turn out to be a HYDRA spy), and get our first look at Hawkeye.

    Thor additionally provides the first official ~alien~ encounter in this timeline, preparing people both in-universe and out (er, that'd be us viewers) for the game-changing Battle of New York in The Avengers. And, of course, Loki coveting the Tesseract in the post-credits scene of Thor is the perfect stepping stone for what comes next.

    6. The Avengers


    Six movies in and we get to what was, at the time, an incredibly ambitious crossover movie (oh, how little we knew of what was to come). The Avengers brings the gang all together for the first time under the watchful eye of Nick Fury. Plus, we get to see Selvig and Agent Sitwell again, meet Agent Hill for the first time, and say goodbye to Agent Coulson (in the movie timeline, at least).

    The Battle of New York is a pivotal moment for the MCU, and the ramifications are deeply felt right through to the most recent movies. Moreover, not only does The Avengers heavily feature an Infinity Stone that was previously introduced – the Tesseract/Space Stone – it also brings in a second one: the Mind Stone, contained within the Chitauri Scepter wielded by Loki. It's given to him by none other than Thanos (along with an army), in exchange for Loki returning the Scepter AND the Tesseract to Thanos once he's conquered Earth. As we know, things don't go exactly to plan, causing Thanos to take more interest in what's happening on Earth (thanks, Loki). We even get our first on-screen look at the giant purple bastard in the mid-credits scene.

    7. Iron Man 3


    We now enter Phase 2 of the MCU, in which the movies were actually released more or less in chronological order. This means the watch sequence is pretty straightforward (with one slight tweak which I'll get to below).

    The aftermath of The Avengers is heavily felt in Iron Man 3. Tony is dealing with anxiety attacks as a result of his brush with death at the hands of alien life. The seeds for his actions in Avengers: Age of Ultron can be found in this movie.

    Other things to watch out for: a brief cameo from Yinsen, the guy who was in that cave with Tony in the first Iron Man, as well as Harley Kenner, the little kid who helps Tony. Rumour has it Harley will be appearing again in the upcoming Avengers 4.

    8. Thor: The Dark World


    Thor: The Dark World covers the Asgardian fallout of The Avengers, with Loki imprisoned (although not for long), and the Tesseract safely tucked away in Odin's Vault (for now). It also introduces the third Infinity Stone: the Reality Stone, which takes the form of the Aether. The mid-credits scene marks the first appearance of The Collector, with Volstagg and Sif handing over the Aether to him for safe keeping (again, for now).

    9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier


    While The Winter Soldier doesn't really tie in directly to the overarching Infinity Stones plot (except for one credits scene), it is pretty significant in terms of shaking up the story universe. We learn that HYDRA has infiltrated SHIELD, and has also turned Bucky into a brainwashed super-soldier. Black Widow leaks classified information to the public, exposing HYDRA and leaving SHIELD in disarray. Cap, meanwhile, goes on a mission to redeem Bucky, something that will have huge ramifications for the Avengers down the track.

    The Winter Soldier also sees Fury faking his own death with the help of Agent Hill, plus it introduces Sam Wilson/Falcon. There's also the revelation that Agent Sitwell, Senator Stern, and Brock Rumlow/Crossbones are all part of HYDRA (there are reports Crossbones might show up in Avengers 4, btw).

    Then the mid-credits scene brings us back to the Infinity Stones, revealing that HYDRA now has control of the Chitauri Scepter from The Avengers, and that Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and Dr. List have used it to give two siblings superpowers. Enter Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.

    10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1


    Even though Guardians of the Galaxy introduces another Infinity Stone (the Power Stone, contained inside the Orb), at this point it feels quite disjointed from the rest of the MCU, what with it introducing a whole new cast of characters. But those characters, of course, become incredibly important for Avengers: Infinity War (especially Thanos' daughters, Nebula and Gamora – but also, like, the whole team) (not to mention Thanos himself). It also introduces Ronan the Accuser and Korath, who will feature in the upcoming Captain Marvel, which is set in the '90s.

    But aside from all of that, it's just a really fun ride, and frankly offers a welcome break from the pretty dark themes of the preceding movies.

    11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


    This marks the only change to the Phase 2 release order vs chronological viewing order. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is actually from Phrase 3, but although it was released in 2017, it takes place just a few months after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. From a narrative standpoint, it's satisfying to watch them back to back, and it's also another dose of fun that helps to brace you for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

    Beyond that, Vol. 2 is quite disconnected from the larger plot, although it does bring Mantis into the fold. A mid-credits scene also hints at the creation of Adam Warlock, who is, in the comics, basically Thanos' arch-nemesis and is the one who ultimately defeats him. While it doesn't seem likely the MCU will develop this character in time for Avengers 4, it's very possible he will be a major player at some point in the future.

    12. Avengers: Age of Ultron


    This movie is one hell of a game-changer. We get our first proper look at Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as characters (and our last, for Quicksilver – which has a profound effect on Hawkeye). There's also the introduction of Ulysses Klaue and his connection with Wakanda, plus the creation of Vision, using the Mind Stone from the Chitauri Scepter. We also learn that Hawkeye has a family, and we discover more about each Avenger in their visions.

    Thor's vision is perhaps the most notable, as he delves deeper into it with the help of Selvig, seeing not only the end of his people, but also a glimpse of the Infinity Stones and Infinity Gauntlet. This sends him off alone to investigate what the hell is going on, putting him on a direct path to Ragnarok and Infinity War. Speaking of Ragnarok, it's Hulk's experiences here which cause him to exile himself, not to be seen again until Thor stumbles across him on Sakaar.

    Meanwhile, Tony's vision – of being stranded in space, with everyone around him dead, watching helplessly as Earth is destroyed – actually comes to pass in Infinity War. In the meantime, it causes him to create Ultron, which causes the Sokovia incident, which causes the Sokovia Accords, which causes Civil War, which leaves the Avengers in a weakened position when Thanos finally comes calling.

    So yeah. The events of this movie are pretty important for the timeline. In the mid-credits scene, we even get Thanos donning the Gauntlet and deciding to hunt for the Stones himself.

    13. Ant-Man


    This movie not only gives us Scott Lang/Ant-Man and the whole cast of characters connected to him, it also tees him up with Sam Wilson/Falcon, which is significant for Captain America: Civil War. Plus, it introduces the idea of the Quantum Realm, which is a huge part of the plot in Ant-Man and the Wasp and may also be key to Avengers 4 (more on that below).

    Ant-Man also just provides a really nice, fun breather after the rather dense Age of Ultron.

    14. Captain America: Civil War


    And we're into Phase 3. Unlike Phase 2, the release order differs pretty drastically from the chronology. But both start with Captain America: Civil War. The shadow of Age of Ultron looms large this film. Thanks to their differing opinions on the Sokovia Accords (amongst other issues), we see Cap team up with Bucky, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Falcon to battle Iron Man, War Machine, Vision, Black Widow, and new entrants into the MCU: Black Panther and Spider-Man. There's also the appearance of Thaddeus Ross and Crossbones, as well as the introduction of Agent Ross, May Parker, and Ayo of the Dora Milaje. The mid-credits scene also offers our first look at Wakanda, with Bucky and Cap seeking refuge there.

    While there are no Infinity Stones in Civil War, the events of the movie have huge ramifications for Infinity War, with the Avengers left apparently irrevocably divided. Cap and Tony are no longer on speaking terms – unless you count the letter Cap sends Tony at the end, along with a flip-phone to use if he ever needs him (which Tony has but doesn't have the chance to use in Infinity War). Team Cap, meanwhile, is on the run, with the addition of Black Widow, and minus Hawkeye and Ant-Man, who we later discover were put on house arrest.

    15. Black Panther


    Black Panther picks up soon after Captain America: Civil War, which saw T'Chaka's death in Vienna. Still mourning his father, T'Challa travels back to Wakanda, bringing a bunch of new characters into the MCU – including Okoye, Shuri, and M'Baku. Agent Ross and Ulysses Klaue also appear (Klaue for the last time), while a recuperating Bucky crops up in the post-credits scene.

    The mid-credits scene, meanwhile, sees T'Challa open up the technologically-advanced Wakanda to the world, which will presumably have implications for the future of the MCU beyond it becoming the main battle ground in Infinity War.

    16. Spider-Man: Homecoming


    Spider-Man: Homecoming takes place a couple of months after Captain America: Civil War, with Peter Parker struggling to adjust to normal life after the events of that movie. What's most interesting about Homecoming in terms of the wider timeline – apart from the way it fleshes out Peter – is the fact that it explores how the Battle of New York affected ~ordinary~ citizens. In this case it focuses on Adrian Toomes and his cronies, who seized the opportunity to start dealing alien tech.

    For those keeping track, Pepper and Cap make cameo appearances here, along with more extended roles for Happy and Tony. Meanwhile, Aaron Davis is introduced and references his "nephew", who is Miles Morales (another Spider-Man) in the comics – potentially setting him up for a future appearance.

    17. Doctor Strange


    Doctor Strange is quite difficult to place in the chronology, because it takes place over the course of about a year. It starts around the same time as Captain America: Civil War, and ends months after the events of Spider-Man: Homecoming. It makes sense to me to watch it after that movie for this reason, and also because the mid-credits scene, featuring Thor, is more satisfying as a lead-in to Thor: Ragnarok.

    But on Doctor Strange, it crucially introduces not just Stephen Strange and adjacent characters like Wong, it also features the fifth Infinity Stone: the Time Stone, contained within the Eye of Agamotto. It also presents time travel as a legitimate way to defeat a villain – something which most fans agree will be an important factor in Avengers 4.

    18. Thor: Ragnarok


    Thor: Ragnarok largely skips over Thor's quest to find out more about the Infinity Stones (mainly because he didn't find anything, I guess), and picks up two years after Avengers: Age of Ultron. In terms of crossover appeal, we finally learn what happened to the Hulk in Ragnarok, and we also get an extended sequence where Thor and Loki interact with Doctor Strange. More significantly, the plot leads directly into Infinity War. The movie ends with the destruction of Asgard, and the Asgardian people left stranded as refugees in space. Still, it's somewhat hopeful – right up until the mid-credits scene, when Thanos' spaceship suddenly looms large over them.

    19. Avengers: Infinity War


    Avengers: Infinity War begins exactly where that Thor: Ragnarok mid-credits scene left off – give or take an hour or two and the slaughter of at least half the Asgardian population.

    Infinity War is, of course, the most ambitious cross-over in Marvel history, bringing together nearly all of the major players from the previous 18 films. We learn about the sixth and final Infinity Stone – the Soul Stone, kept on the planet Vormir – just in time for Thanos to bring all the stones together in his Gauntlet. The Snapβ„’ then kills half the universe, and a large portion of our heroes. They'll definitely be brought back somehow in Avengers 4 (especially because those that died are the future of the MCU: Black Panther and Spider-Man, for instance). Less certain is whether the deaths pre-Snap will be permanent: Loki, Heimdall, Gamora, and Vision.

    Left standing to deal with the aftermath/somehow reverse it in Avengers 4 are Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Rhodey, Thor, Black Widow, Cap, Rocket, Nebula, Okoye, M'Baku, and Ant-Man. There are also several heroes whose status remains unknown, for example Hawkeye, Valkyrie, Sif, Shuri, and Wong. And then there's Captain Marvel, who Nick Fury tried to contact in the post-credits scene right before he disappeared. No doubt her solo movie – which comes out two months before Avengers 4 – will answer some questions about what role she'll play in the fight against Thanos.

    20. Ant-Man and the Wasp


    I debated whether to put Ant-Man and the Wasp before or after Avengers: Infinity War. In terms of the timeline, it happens at roughly the exact same time as the events of Infinity War, although it deliberately doesn't connect to or reference those events at all. That is, until the mid-credits scene, which takes place at the precise moment Thanos' Snap happens. I've placed Ant-Man and the Wasp after Infinity War, because this scene only makes sense in the context of that movie – and it's also more powerful if you've watched Infinity War first. Aside from that, Ant-Man and the Wasp is just a gloriously fun ride, which is kind of what you need after the devastation of Infinity War.

    As for how it ties into future films – the mid-credits scene mention of time vortexes in the Quantum Realm makes me think that there's a good chance this is how the Avengers will travel back through time to reverse the Snap/defeat Thanos. The Quantum Realm will also reportedly feature in Captain Marvel, so hopefully we'll get some more clues when it's released in March 2019.

    Until then – happy (re)watching!

    Marvel / Sohan Judge / BuzzFeed