The shared universe in popular entertainment is nothing new. It goes back decades in comic books, although it wasn’t truly defined as such until the 1970s. The essential way to look at it is, if fictional character A meets fictional character B, then B meets C, then A and C (and everyone else) live in the same shared universe.
You seen it to the Nth degree in media franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, even Godzilla and the Universal Films monsters. It’s even on TV by default with shows like Law and Order and Cheers and All in the Family, which have sequels galore. Currently, the finest example with superheroes is The CW’s Arrow-verse.
No company has better pulled off a shared universe with a cohesive set of stories all told by completely different directors, writers, and stars, than the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It’s the crown jewel of shared universes, with 23 films thus far and more on the way (eventually). They may not all be telling the exact same story, but the different phases certainly built up to the monolithic double shot of Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 and Avengers: Endgame in 2019.
And now, as you sit at home and wonder how to fill your days, every single one of them is streaming online. We’re here to tell you how to watch them in the proper order, which depends on what you consider proper.
You can go with the Order of Release option, which is how the die-hard fans did it, because we can’t wait. If you’re not a fan of jumping around in space and time, check out the Chronological Order, because some of the films have flashbacks or time jumps that may throw you off (assuming you’ve never read Slaughter—House Five or watched Doctor Who). What’s more, under Chrono with TV and One-Shots, we’re tossing in as many possible MCU-related TV shows and short films as we can, because it’s fun, even if the TV shows are tangentially affiliated, at best. At least for now.
For most of the movies, Disney+ is all you need. Most of the films are on the $6.99-per-month service, because Disney owns Marvel. Exceptions are noted in bold below.
Order of Release
Dates indicate when the film was released to theaters, not (necessarily) the time it takes place.
MCU: Phase One
- Iron Man (May, 2008)
- The Incredible Hulk (June, 2008)
- Iron Man 2 (May, 2010)
- Thor (May, 2011)
- Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22, 2011)
- Avengers (May 4, 2012)
MCU: Phase 2
- Iron Man 3 (May, 2013)
- Thor: The Dark World (November, 2013)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April, 2014)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (August, 2014)
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (May, 2015)
- Ant-Man (July, 2015)
MCU: Phase 3
- Captain America: Civil War (May, 2016)
- Doctor Strange (November, 2016)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May, 2017)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (July, 2017)
- Thor: Ragnarok (November, 2017)
- Black Panther (February, 2018)
- Avengers: Infinity War (April, 2018)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (July, 2018)
- Captain Marvel (March, 2019)
- Avengers: Endgame (April, 2019)
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (July, 2019)
MCU: Phase 4 (and Upcoming)
- Black Widow (To Be Determined in 2020, we hope)
- The Eternals (Nov. 6, 2020)
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Feb. 12, 2021)
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 7, 2021)
- Untitled third Spider-Man movie (July 16, 2021)
- Thor: Love and Thunder (Nov. 5 2021)
- Ant-Man 3 (TBC)
- Black Panther 2
- Captain Marvel 2
- Guardians of the Galaxy 3
- Fantastic Four
The date on each film below indicates the year or years it takes place, maybe specifics if they’re available or at least have been speculated. We also have some caveats thrown in about some timeline anomalies, and that’s before the films even get to the time travel stuff.
We also have links to find the movies. Like we said, 20 of the 23 are on Disney+. However, the rights issues Marvel has with some characters go back decades, in particular with the Hulk and Spider-Man, which is why they’re on other services (for now).
The post-credits scene at the end of each Marvel movie, by the way? Sometimes they take place in wildly different time frames than the main film itself, or were bits cut from the next film to come out, and we’re not counting them here.
- Captain America: The First Avenger (1942)—Disney+
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (opening 3 minutes take place in 1980)—Disney+
- Guardians of the Galaxy (opening 3.5 minutes take place in 1988)—Disney+
- Captain Marvel (1995)—Disney+
- Iron Man (2010)—Disney+
- Iron Man 2 (2011)—Disney+
- Thor (2011)—Disney+
- The Incredible Hulk (May-June 2011; takes place after Iron Man 2 and Thor despite being released first)—Rent or Buy on Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play
- The Avengers (2012)—Disney+
- Iron Man 3 (2012)—Disney+
- Thor: The Dark World (2013)—Disney+
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)—Disney+
- Guardians of the Galaxy (the rest of it is set in 2014)—Disney+
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (remainder of it is set in 2014—34 years after 1980, so it says—even though it came out in 2017)—Disney+
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)—Disney+
- Ant-Man (2015)—Disney+
- Doctor Strange (2016-2017, part of it happens after Civil War)—Disney+
- Captain America: Civil War (2016)—Disney+
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2016—Opening takes place DURING Civil War; the rest is set only 4 years after The Avengers despite what it says on screen)—FX
- Black Panther (2017)—Disney+
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017)—Disney+
- Black Widow—(supposedly this is a prequel set in 2017; we’ll find out when it arrives)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2017)—Disney+, and it’s the last MCU film left on Netflix
- Avengers: Infinity War (2017)—Disney+
- Avengers: Endgame (starts in 2018 then jumps to 2023, with hops back to 2012, 2013, 2014, and 1970)—Disney+
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2023)—Starz
Chrono With TV and One-Shots, by Year
A shared universe that encapsulates not only movies but TV shows? It happens. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t. The MCU only works because the shows were kept so separate—a by-product of warring factions within two areas of Disney production that didn’t see eye to eye. Now, with mega-producer of the MCU Kevin Feige in charge of even the TV shows that are coming to Disney+ soon, the ties to the MCU will be tighter than ever. We can only hope he’ll throw fans of some of the older canceled shows a bone and bring back favorites like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Quake from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and others. Some were planned (Ghost Rider) but already have been scuttled.
Only time will tell which heroes get a revival. The one rule we know from comics is, eventually, ALL heroes get a revival, no matter how dismal their last outing might have been. (See that aforementioned Ghost Rider.)
A show like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is full of flashbacks; we didn’t account for them all unless it was an entire episode or more set in a different time period. But really, don’t watch those episodes out of order, that’s nuts. And don’t watch Inhumans at all. Ever.
TV shows and One-Shot short films are in bold below.
The 20th Century Years
- Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—Season 7, Episodes 1-2 (1931)—Hulu
- Captain America: The First Avenger (1942)
- Agent Carter—Marvel One-Shot short film (1946)—Disney+
- Agent Carter—Seasons 1 and 2 (1946 to 1947)—Disney+
- Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—Season 7, Episodes 3-4 (1955)—Hulu
- Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—Season 7, Episodes 5-6 (1972-1976)—Hulu
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (opening in 1980)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (opening in 1988)
- Captain Marvel (1995)
2010 – 2011
- Iron Man (2010)
- Iron Man 2 (2011)
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer—Marvel One-Shot short film starting Agent Phil Coulson (2011)
- Thor (2011)
- The Incredible Hulk (May-June 2011; takes place after Iron Man 2 and Thor)
- The Consultant—Marvel One-Shot short film starring Agent Phil Coulson; plays right into the post-credit’s scene of The Incredible Hulk (2011)—Disney+
- The Avengers (2012)
- Item 47—Marvel One-Shot short film, takes place post Avengers (2012)
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