From Iron Man through Avengers: Infinity War plus TV shows such as Daredevil, what order should you watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe in?
In the middle of the last decade an independent studio presented their first movie project to the world. That movie? Iron Man. That studio? Marvel Studios.
After the announcement, Marvel Studios was met with headlines like ‘Marvel Rolls Out The B Team’, hinting at the fact that Marvel sold away the live action movie rights of any character Hollywood studios wanted, when they were in dire financial trouble in the 1990s, leaving only the lesser known characters. It would be the start of a franchise, which is today the highest grossing ever: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Most of you will know the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU for short. However, where it was at first easy to follow the continuity of the MCU when there were only movies to consider, the problem that plagues the comics soon arose when TV shows where added. How do you watch it all in the right order? Well, do we have the answer for you!
The following is an unofficial and optional watch order (and if you will, also reading order) for the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to the date of publishing, and is intended for first time and repeat viewers. Spoilers will be kept to a minimum. It is not in chronological order, so while Captain America: The First Avenger happens first chronologically, it is not the first instalment of the MCU.
Decisions in this regard are made for a better story flow and viewing experience. Now let’s get to it!
The movie that started it all in 2008. It introduces us to Tony Stark and the origin of his Iron Man suit, Stark Industries, the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (or SHIELD for short), SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson, and the idea of the Avengers Initiative.
It also starts the tradition of having an after credits scene, so fast forward the credits. This is also the first Marvel Studios movie in which Marvel Studios partnered with Paramount Pictures for distribution, a partnership that would go on until Avengers.
The Incredible Hulk
Released in the same summer as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk introduces us to Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, portrayed for the first and last time by Edward Norton. The story goes for the same fugitive vibe as the TV show from late ’70s. The origin of the Hulk is told in the opening credits, and it’s straight to the action afterwards.
This movie made it clear that Marvel Studios indeed had the intent of tying everything together, with cameos of SHIELD and Stark Industries. Universal Pictures distributed the movie rather than Paramount, as they held and still hold the solo live action movie rights to the Hulk.
Note: The ‘Arctic suicide attempt’ deleted scene enjoys a bit of a semi-canon existence, as it is mentioned later in Avengers.
Iron Man 2
With Iron Man 2 being released in 2010, 2009 has been the only year to date without a Marvel Studios movie, since the MCU started. We are introduced to a new Rhodey, as Terrence Howard was replaced with Don Cheadle, and Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. It lays the groundwork for events to come. A bit too much, if some are to be believed.
Note: This movie has two canon prelude tie-in comics: Iron Man 2: Agents of SHIELD, and Iron Man 2: Public Identity.
Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer
In an effort to expand the MCU and give the fans an extra reason to buy the home media release, Marvel started to make short movies, called One-Shots, after the one off comics. This one focuses on SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson, and, well, the title says it all.
Note: You will find it as an extra on the home media release of Captain America: The First Avenger.
The MCU’s first foray into more fantastic and cosmic elements, and introducing us to another Avenger, the Norse God of Thunder, Thor. But we also meet Tom Hiddleston as the Norse God of Mischief, Loki.
Note: A deleted alternative ending would have introduced the (in the comics) extra-terrestrial-focused counterpart of SHIELD.: SWORD (which in the comics stands for Sentient World Observation and Response Department).
Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant
Remember that credits scene in The Incredible Hulk? According to Marvel there was more to it.
Note: You will find it as an extra on the Blu-Ray of Thor.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Steve Rogers is introduced in a flashback movie, transporting us back to World War II, and introducing us to a McGuffin of note with a Thor connection and to major antagonist organization HYDRA.
Some would place this movie at the beginning of a watch list. However, the movie expects you to know who Nick Fury is, and, to a lesser extent, who Howard Stark is. It was also released as the fifth movie in the MCU, and has an Avengers teaser trailer instaid of an after-credits scene.
The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and the present day parts of Captain America: The First Avenger are all set in one week. For more on this, check the Avengers tie-in comic Nick Fury’s Big Week.
Note: This movie has one canon tie-in comic: Captain America: First Vengeance.
Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter
This One-Shot is no longer canon, as the Agent Carter TV series overwrites it. You can watch it here, or as an epilogue to the Agent Carter series. Try to catch the SWORD easter egg.
Note: You will find it as an extra on the home media release of Iron Man 3.
And there came a movie, a movie unlike any other, where all the MCU heroes found themselves united against a common threat. On that day Avengers premiered. To show them fighting a foe no single superhero could withstand!
This movie takes elements from the comic The Ultimates, has both a mid-credits as well as an after credits scene, and is the first step towards Infinity War.
Mark Ruffalo takes over from Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk from this point onwards.
Note: This movie has two canon prelude tie-in comics: the previously mentioned Nick Fury’s Big Week, and Black Widow Strikes.
Marvel One-Shot: Item 47
Focusing on a young couple who taking the criminal opportunity the Chitauri technology presents, as they are hunted by SHIELD Agent Jasper Sitwell. It also introduces SHIELD Agent Felix Blake, who shall return in Agents Of SHIELD.
Note: You will find it as an extra on the home media release of Avengers.
Iron Man 3
The first movie in Phase 2, after Phase 1 was concluded with Avengers. The movie takes elements from the Extremis story arc from Iron Man comic, deals with Tony Stark’s personal aftermath of the events in Avengers, and introduces us to his greatest enemy. Sort of.
This movie is the first to drop the Paramount Pictures logo at the beginning, as the movie distribution is now fully in the hands of Walt Disney Studios, whose parent The Walt Disney Company bought Marvel in 2009.
Note: This movie has a canon tie-in comic: Iron Man 3 Prelude.
Agents Of SHIELD season 1: episodes 1 to 7
The first TV series set in the MCU, produced by Marvel Television and ABC Studios. Premiered with amazing ratings on American broadcast network ABC. The series means the return of SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson, with the how of his return as one of the main story arcs of this first season. It is placed after Iron Man 3, because the first episode makes mention of Extremis.
Thor: The Dark World
This Thor sequel also deals with the aftermath of the events in Avengers, but finds a new antagonist in Malekith and his Dark Elves. It has a direct connection with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok.
Note: This movie has a canon tie-in comic: Thor: The Dark World Prelude.
Marvel One-Shot: All Hail The King
While an epilogue to Iron Man 3, this final One-Shot is placed after Thor: The Dark World. This is done because it is strongly hinted that the main character has been at this place for some time now. This, plus the time it should take before the main character ends up there. It further gives a whole different swing to Iron Man 3’s antagonist.
Note: You will find it as an extra on the home media release of Thor: The Dark World.
Agents Of SHIELD season 1: episodes 8 to 16
Episode 8 and 9 are the first tie-in episodes to an MCU movie, Thor: The Dark World. Having the team deal with Asgardian artefacts and worlds. These episodes also reveal how Agent Coulson returned. Meanwhile, the late Bill Paxton is introduced as an recurring character. Episode 15 also has a very nice Thor connection.
Note: There is one canon tie-in comic set between episodes 12 and 13: Agents Of SHIELD: The Chase.
Episode 16 really ups the stakes for this show, as it directly leads into…
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Steve Rogers/Captain America now works together with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow for SHIELD in their counter-terrorist Special Mission Unit STRIKE (Special Tactical Reserve for International Key Emergencies, and in the comics actually the UK’s counterpart to SHIELD). The twist in this movie really shakes up the MCU. Not only for future movies and TV shows, but also the previous entries in retrospect.
Note: This movie has a canon tie-in comic: Captain America: The Winter Soldier Prelude. This is an Infinite Comic, a comic specially made for mobile devices.
Agents Of SHIELD season 1: episodes 17 to 22
The team deals with the massive fallout of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Marvel Studios introduces us to the full-on cosmic side of Marvel, via Guardians Of The Galaxy. The chair loving purple alien from the mid-credits scene in The Avengers is finally named. We also indirectly find out what that blue alien in Agents Of SHIELD is.
The movie’s story is pretty much standalone, but apparently Thor knows about it in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Because of that and the Agents of SHIELD connection, it is placed here.
Note: On the Blu-ray the 3D version of this movie has IMAX scenes, removing the black bars on the top and bottom of your screen.
Note: This movie has a canon tie-in comic: Guardians Of The Galaxy Prelude.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Based on a title card early on, this movie still takes place in 2014 in terms of Marvel Studios time. Since this has no other ties to the broader MCU, you can assume it takes place just a few months after the first one, but really, you can watch it wherever you want.
Agents Of SHIELD season 2: episodes 1 to 10
Since we left, the team has formed a Nick Fury backed SHIELD faction and takes on a long believed defeated enemy. We are also introduced to Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird, in the comics a full-on Avenger.
Agent Carter season 1
Agents Of SHIELD season 2 had a mid-season break. In it ABC decided to premiere a second MCU TV series: Agent Carter. Created after the success of the character in the One-Shot of the same name and the first Captain America movie. It is eight episodes long and plays soon after the conclusion of World War II, with Peggy now working in an SSR office in New York, where she has to deal with the return to gender status quo after the War and Howard Stark’s plundered vault of dangerous inventions.
The flashbacks in Agents Of SHIELD season 2 are a lead-in to the series, therefore it is placed here.
Note: Watch out for an implosion in one of the episodes, which looks very similar to the one we will see in a movie down the list.
Daredevil Season 1
The first Marvel TV series to premiere on Netflix. Taking a look in a darker corner of the MCU, the series is more adult when compared to the other entries. It introduces us to the blind Matt Murdock – lawyer by day, vigilante at night. His main antagonist in season 1 is the Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk, as played by Vincent D’Onofrio.
Daredevil is the first hero to be introduced to us to eventually take part in the team-up series The Defenders; this series has multiple clear hints at being set after Avengers. It is also not set right after that movie, as it is said that there has been extensive rebuilding since the events of Avengers. This takes time.
There is also no mention of the events in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Because of this the first season is placed here.
Agents Of SHIELD season 2: episodes 11 to 19
The second half of season 2 introduces us to a new faction in the MCU: the Inhumans, but also to another SHIELD faction. Episode 19 is a prologue to…
Avengers: Age Of Ultron
The Avengers are now an established team, but when Tony Stark sees a chance to make the team defunct in the best possible meaning of the word, the Avengers will be needed more than ever. This movie sets up a number of things relevant to Phase 3. It also has only a mid-credits scene and no after-credits scene.
The title of the movie is taken from the 2013 Marvel comic event, but takes nothing from its plot.
Note: This movie has one canon tie-in Infinite Comic: Avengers: Age Of Ultron Prelude: This Sceptre’d Isle.
Agents Of SHIELD season 2: episodes 20 to 22
This is a nice brief bridge before we get to…
Clearly taking place after Avengers: Age Of Ultron, this movie is the conclusion of Phase 2. We are introduced to Scott Lang, a man with a moral compass that led him to jail. When he is released he is approached by Doctor Henry Pym, who needs his help to protect his greatest invention, Pym Particles, by becoming the Ant-Man.
The movie had been in development for years, even before the MCU kicked off. Originally Edgar Wright, who had been closely connected to the development, was to direct the movie. However, Wright left the project. Marvel got Peyton Reed to fill in as director. According to reports Wright’s fingerprints are still all over the movie.
Note: Marvel has posted multiple viral videos leading up to this movie on the YouTube channel WHIH Newsfront, which sees the return of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 reporter Christine Everhart.
Note: This movie has two canon tie-in comics: Ant-Man Prelude, and Ant-Man: Scott Lang: Small Time, which is an Infinite Comic.
Jessica Jones season 1
This second Netflix show introduces us to two Defenders to be: Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage in a supporting role. Also introduced in a supporting role is Patricia ‘Trish’ Walker, in the comics know as Patsy Walker/Hellcat. Jessica has to deal with her past when an old enemy returns, Kilgrave, who can control peoples minds. In the comics Kilgrave is also known as the Purple Man, but as purple skin does not really work in this series, that alias is not used.
While mostly standalone, there is a reference to the events of Avengers setting this season after it. The tie-in prelude comic Jessica Jones references Daredevil season 1, and a character from that series pops up in both the comic and the show, also setting this season after Daredevil season 1.
Agents Of SHIELD season 3: episodes 1 to 10
The team is confronted with the government’s replacement for SHIELD, the ACTU (Advanced Threat Containment Unit), when new Inhumans pop up everywhere after season 2’s events.
This season introduces elements from the Marvel comic Secret Warriors. It also sees the return of the only World Security Council member from Avengers that was not seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Agent Carter season 2
Season 2 changes the setting from New York City to Los Angeles. It explores more about the Darkforce, first introduced in Agents of SHIELD season 1.
Note: The previous episodes of Agents Of SHIELD season 3 make it clear who the actual big bad in this season is, if you pay attention. This information falls on the wayside if you watch this series earlier.
Note: This is the final season of Agent Carter, as ABC cancelled it.
Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter (again)
Note: Again, this One-Shot is not canon anymore. You can watch it as an epilogue of sorts to the Agent Carter TV series.
Daredevil season 2
Season 2 continues from season 1, sets up elements for The Defenders, and introduces us to The Punisher, and Elektra. We also see a return from the biker gang from Agents Of SHIELD season 1. The season most notably takes inspiration from the 2000 Punisher comic story The Choice.
This season of Daredevil is placed here for multiple reasons. The first being that the second part of Agents Of SHIELD season 3 will reference this season in the background on a TV, indicating that it overlaps.
There isn’t any narrative crossover, so mixing of episodes is not suggested. The second is that there has been no mention of the events of Captain America: Civil War, indicating that this season is set before it. And finally, this season deals with certain themes that are shared with Captain America: Civil War.
Agents Of SHIELD season 3: episodes 11 to 19
In the second half of this season the origin of SHIELD’s greatest enemy is revealed. The events of Daredevil season 2 are mentioned, and Damage Control gets a name check, who will pop up again in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Captain America: Civil War
This third Captain America movie sees not only Steve Rogers/Captain America returning, but a whole host of Avengers. The story deals with the fallout of the events in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and picks up the Winter Soldier arc from the previous Captain America movie. The title is borrowed from the 2006/2007 Marvel comic event and uses elements its plot.
Note: As with Ant-Man, Marvel has released a number of WHIH Newsfront YouTube videos leading up to this movie.
Note: This movie has a canon tie-in Infinite Comic: Captain America: Civil War Prelude. There is also a Prelude comic, but that one just adapts the story of Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Note: On the 3D Blu-Ray you will find an IMAX version of the movie, which removes the black bars in the airport scene.
Agents Of SHIELD season 3: episodes 20 to 22
Episode 20 directly mentions the events of Captain America: Civil War.
Black Panther picks up shortly after the events of Civil War, with T’Challa returning home and assuming the mantle of king. The pacing of this movie is a little weird (one of its only flaws) so it’s not clear how much time elapses as we watch it. Nevertheless, this is a safe bet for where it sits in the timeline.
Unlike Black Panther, which picks up right after Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming indicates that Peter Parker has had a little time to adjust. If we assume Civil War took place around May, and we know Spider-Man: Homecoming takes place in mid-September, then we figure the events of Black Panther were before this, over the summer.
Luke Cage season 1
Introduced in Jessica Jones season 1, Luke Cage has since set up shop in Harlem. Also introducing: NYPD detective Misty Knight, in the comics heavily involved with Heroes For Hire. The appearance of a character from both Daredevil and Jessica Jones puts the series after those.
While we have seen ‘scientific magic’ in Thor, Doctor Strange introduces proper magic and mysticism into the MCU, as well as properly introducing alternative dimensions, of which the existence was already hinted at in Ant-Man.
Placing Doctor Strange is rather difficult as the story takes place over a long stretch of time, starting some time after Avengers Tower has been reconstructed. However, Doctor Strange will play a big role in the MCU from this point onwards, as the after-credits scene hints. Furthermore, elements from Doctor Strange return in Agents of SHIELD season 4.
Note: Doctor Strange has two tie-in comics: the two issue Doctor Strange Prelude, and the Infinite Comic Doctor Strange: The Zealot. Both comics explain more of the backstory of antagonist Kaecilius, but especially Doctor Strange Prelude is interesting here. The comic introduces us to fellow sorcerers Daniel Drumm and Tina Minoru, who also show up in the movie. In the comics Daniel Drumm is Jericho Drumm’s twin brother, a man better known as Brother Voodoo, who at some point became the Sorcerer Supreme.
Agents Of SHIELD season 4: episodes 1 to 8
Season 4 picks up six months after the conclusion of season 3. The later timeslot provided the show with the possibility to go darker. This resulted in the introduction of the Ghost Rider and more magical elements akin to what we see in Doctor Strange. Inspiration is taken from the 2014 comic All-New Ghost Rider.
The Ghost Rider story arc episodes aired mostly before Doctor Strange’s release and do not directly tie-in, but there are a lot of things you might better understand having seen the movie first. Next to that, there is no opening for Doctor Strange to take place between episodes, without breaking narrative of the show.
Agents Of SHIELD: Slingshot
To bridge the holiday gap between episodes of Agents Of SHIELD season 4, Marvel gave us this webseries focussing on Inhuman Yo-Yo Rodriguez. While the webseries is mostly a flashback to the six month jump, the beginning and end are placed after the previous episodes of Agents Of SHIELD season 4. There are six episodes, with a total runtime of just under the length of a normal episode of the parent series, and they can be watched on the ABC Television Network YouTube channel.
Agents Of SHIELD season 4: episodes 9-22
Episode 9 picks up almost straight after episode 8, and starts the LMD story arc. This story arc will go for seven episodes, and will deal with so called Life Model Decoys. Something first mentioned by Tony Stark in Avengers.
Episode 16 continues the series with the interestingly titled ‘Agents of HYDRA’ story arc, which will consume the final third of the season.
Iron Fist season 1
The final Defender gets his show on Netflix. The show introduces us to Danny Rand/Iron Fist, and Colleen Wing. With Rosario Dawson returning yet again as Claire Temple. Jessica Jones’s Carrie-Ann Moss returns as Jeri Hogarth.
The Defenders picks up a within a couple of months of the end of Iron Fist. It’s possible we could swap places with something like Inhumans, Runaways, or Punisher here, but when in doubt, we default to release order. There’s nothing to contradict that.
Just kidding…you don’t need to watch Inhumans. But if you do…here it is.
Other than taking place after Daredevil Season 2, The Punisher is the least connected to the rest of the Marvel Netflix shows, and the MCU in general. It clearly takes place some time after the events of Daredevil Season 2, though, as Frank Castle has had time to “complete” his initial mission, grow a beard, go into hiding, and create a new identity for himself.
Again, when in doubt, we’ll just default to release order, and this is a safe bet for this show.
Marvel’s Runaways is technically a Marvel TV show, but one that has been introduced to the Marvel universe well after the film and TV worlds have, ostensibly, gone their separate ways. Take into account that Runaways “airs” not on Netflix or ABC, where the other Marvel TV shows at least have Marvel TV show friends, but Hulu, and you have a show that, while technically in the MCU, might as well not be.
That being said, Runaways is a very cool addition to this world, one that extends this universe to Los Angeles and the world of teenagers, so it’s definitely worth watching and will break up the similarities of much of the other MCU content during your binge-watch in some interesting ways. Runaways seems to be happening in 2018, as there are mentions to the Obama administration being in the past, so you can throw all 10 episode of the first season roughly in the “present.”
Jessica Jones Season 2
Unquestionably taking place after the events of The Defenders, even though that is hardly even mentioned, Jessica faces a new challenge and uncovers the secrets of her past.
Like The Punisher and Runaways, this show is very much a part of the Marvel Universe, even though it doesn’t go out of its way to reference it at every opportunity.
Agents of SHIELD Season 5
Agents of SHIELD Season 5 is all about time travel shenanigans, with a bulk of the main cast traveling to the future, after the Earth’s destruction, in the season premiere. Although there are parts of this season that happen closer to our present, it doesn’t make sense to view it out of order, as the plot follows time as seen through our heroes’ perspective.
In terms of setting and tone, it’s fun to view Agents of SHIELD Season 5 alongside Ragnarok and Infinity War as the bulk of the action in all three takes place in space. Theme!
Obviously this takes place well after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, as both Hulk and Thor have had plenty of cosmic adventures to fill in the blanks. How long doesn’t really matter.
What’s far more important is how the post-credits scene leads directly into the events of Avengers: Infinity War. There’s really no other place this one could go.
Avengers: Infinity War
We don’t need to explain why this one comes at the end, right? Of course not. No spoilers from us, either. In the meantime, you can read our spoiler free review right her