2020 marked a landmark in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For the first time since 2009, there was no feature film entry in the MCU canon. And while that was a loss for fans of the most expansive world-building franchise in cinema history, we can also choose to see some silver linings. It marked a particularly great chance for some to rewatch and refresh memories; for some others, it might be a chance to take in the entire MCU for the first time. 2021, then, marked a shift. The MCU successfully migrated to streaming television with five event limited series: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, What If… , and Hawkeye all landed in the year 2021. The movies were big too—Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and Eternals—but almost seemed to take a backseat until the big boy, Spider-Man: No Way Home came out in December.
That momentum will continue into 2022, which will see the release of more event series—including Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Secret Invasion—and some of the most awaited movies in the MCU, beginning in May with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
If you’re someone who’s been along for the ride for the past 14 years, it might be a little difficult to plot a full rewatch of the whole saga; 28 films is a tough lift, and we can’t blame you for wanting to watch Thor: Ragnarok here or Captain America: The Winter Soldier there. And if anyone just wants to watch the first film in a series—say, Black Panther or Guardians of the Galaxy—the movies tend to stand very nicely on their own.
But at the end of the day, these movies are unique because of the way they all fit together. If you’re planning to really watch the MCU through, all the way, whether it’s for the first time or the sixth time, there’s only one right way to do it.
The only way to watch the Marvel movies, is in the order in which they were released.
That’s right. Just like with Star Wars, the now-discontinued X-Men movies, and the DC Extended Universe, we’re going to advocate watching these in one very specific way: in order. Sure, some people might have theories about watching something one way, to better understand one thing, and better frame this, and get a better handle for that. But we’re going to go ahead and call that a bunch of hogwash—these movies were designed for in-theater viewing, which would mean its designed for people who have seen every movie at that given moment. Reveals are meant to be seen as if that is the latest movie in the series. When Stephen Strange is briefly mentioned in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for example, that’s meant to be a bit of foreshadowing for the character’s introduction in his own solo film a few years later. Just a hint. Just a little bit.
If you’ve already seen every Marvel movie, you might want to rewatch them in chronological timeline order.
Meaning, the event that occurred first in the timeline—say, Steve Rogers/Captain America living during WWII—comes first. If you wanted to watch this way, though we wouldn’t recommend it, this would be the order:
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Captain Marvel
- Iron Man
- Iron Man 2
- The Incredible Hulk
- The Avengers
- Iron Man 3
- Thor: The Dark World
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Captain America: Civil War
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Doctor Strange
- Black Panther
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Black Widow
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Ant-Man and the Wasp
- Avengers: Endgame
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
- Spider-Man: No Way Home
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
But, again, that’s not what we would recommend; if you’re choosing to watch these movies in that “chronological order,” you’ll be missing out on key reveals in favor of just seeing things “in order.” It’s not worth the trade-off. If you can follow Infinity Stones and intergalactic travel, you can follow a timeline that jumps around here and there. We promise.
Here’s the correct order you should watch the Marvel movies in—the order in which they were released.
All that being said, [deep breath], here’s the real order you should watch the movies. The order in which they were released:
Iron Man (2008)
Every Marvel watch through should begin with Iron Man, the movie that started it all. Sure, Tony Stark—a snarky, billionaire, playboy arms dealer—is something of a relic from the late Bush era. But the movie plants all the seeds of what the MCU will eventually become—and that post-credits scene is a tease for the ages. If you don’t watch this first, you lose all the excitement of the enormous, expansive world that is only just beginning.
Stream It Here
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Incredible Hulk is the closest thing to an exception of anything on this entire list in that…if you want to, you can probably skip the whole thing entirely. The most obvious disconnect is that Edward Norton plays Bruce Banner/The Hulk here (he’s replaced by Mark Ruffalo for all subsequent appearances), but the movie also has a number of story hints that were never followed up on (Tim Blake Nelson gets an introduction and a transformation scene as classic comic character The Leader…and it has never been followed up on).
But if you’re going to watch all the movies, you’ve got to watch The Incredible Hulk. And the connective tissue is there—Robert Downey Jr. has a fun cameo, and William Hurt’s General Ross turns out to be a character who shows up throughout the series.
Stream It Here
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Another one that is…not exactly the shining jewel of the MCU. But Iron Man 2 has pivotal pieces for what would become the future of the franchise, including the first substantial role for Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and the introduction of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Mickey Rourke’s villain is…well, it’s bad, and he’s bad. But Sam Rockwell as secondary antagonist Justin Hammer is a delight (and they should bring him back!), and Garry Shandling’s cameo as a pesky Senator winds up tying in quite nicely a bit down the line.