MCU timeline explained: An in-depth guide to Marvel’s complicated timeline

Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: INFINITY WARL to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Black Panther/T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)Photo: Chuck Zlotnick©Marvel Studios 2018
Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: INFINITY WARL to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Black Panther/T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)Photo: Chuck Zlotnick©Marvel Studios 2018 /
(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.
(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL. /

Lost? Confused? New to the MCU? Need a refresher? Worry not – I got you. Grab a seat and let me tell you all about the MCU timeline.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has taken audiences on a thrilling rollercoaster ride, weaving together an intricate tapestry of superheroes, villains, and cosmic adventures. Spanning over a decade, the MCU timeline is a complex web of interconnected stories that has captivated fans worldwide. In this article, we’ll embark on a journey through the MCU, unraveling its chronological order and exploring the key events that have shaped this epic cinematic universe.

In the vast expanse of cinematic storytelling, one entity has soared to unprecedented heights, capturing the hearts and imaginations of audiences around the globe – the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Since its inception in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, the MCU has evolved into a cultural phenomenon, shaping the landscape of modern blockbuster filmmaking. What sets the MCU apart is not just its dazzling array of superheroes and breathtaking action sequences but the meticulous crafting of a shared universe, where narratives seamlessly interconnect like pieces of an intricately designed puzzle.

The MCU is more than a collection of superhero films – it is a meticulously woven story that threads together iconic characters and their own stories. From the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist Tony Stark to the Norse god of thunder Thor and the patriotic super-soldier Captain America, each hero brings a unique flavor to the overarching narrative. As we traverse through the timeline, we witness their growth, evolution, and the challenges that shape them into the formidable Avengers. The character arcs extend beyond the silver screen, with Disney+ series like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki delving deeper into the complexities of beloved characters, offering a richer and more nuanced understanding of their journeys.

What truly elevates the MCU is its ability to orchestrate monumental crossover events that resonate across multiple films and series. The Infinity Saga, spanning over a decade, reached its crescendo with the cosmic showdown against Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. This narrative masterstroke not only provided a fitting conclusion to the first major story arc but also opened the gateway to a multiverse of possibilities. As Phase Five unfolds, the MCU enters uncharted territory, exploring the ramifications of a fractured reality and the introduction of new heroes and villains. The interconnected nature of the MCU not only rewards dedicated fans with Easter eggs and callbacks but also invites newcomers to embark on a thrilling adventure, one film and series at a time. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not merely a franchise – it is a dynamic, ever-expanding cosmos of storytelling that continues to captivate and inspire audiences, transcending the boundaries of traditional cinema.

Phase One: The dawn of heroes (2008-2012)

Let’s zoom back to 2008, a year that marked the birth of something extraordinary – the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Iron Man, the film that started it all, not only showcased Tony Stark’s wit and charm but set the stage for a superhero saga of epic proportions. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist became an instant hit, creating a foundation as sturdy as Cap’s vibranium shield. As we fast forward through Phase One, we encounter the gamma-radiated my alternate version Hulk, the hammer-wielding Thor and his gorgeous brother Loki, the god of Mischief, and the shield-slinging Captain America, each getting their spotlight in their own movies that left us jumping up and down in excitement, eagerly anticipating what came next.

In this era of discovery, the Avengers Initiative was born. The threads connecting these standalone hero stories seamlessly intertwined, culminating in the 2012 ensemble extravaganza, The Avengers. We saw Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America teaming up to face Loki and his alien army in a battle for Earth – a cinematic spectacle that left jaws dropped and applause echoing.

The success of Phase One wasn’t just about individual heroes: it was about the collective roar of excitement as these characters crossed paths, setting the blueprint for all interconnected storytelling we now know (and some are unfortunately tired of). Phase One not only laid the groundwork for the MCU’s future but also created a template for superhero storytelling that set the standard across the industry. As the curtains closed on Phase One, the stage was set for an even grander act: Phase Two. Enter, the next chapter of our superhero saga.

Phase Two: Expanding the universe (2013-2015)

Marvel’s Phase Two marked a thrilling expansion of the MCU, taking our favorite heroes to new heights and uncharted territories. Kicking off in 2013 with Iron Man 3, the phase continued to explore the consequences of heroism and the complexities of wielding extraordinary power. Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier dove right into the cosmic and political dimensions, respectively, setting the stage for the cosmic odyssey that awaited.

In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy emerged as the unexpected gem of Phase Two, whisking us away to the far reaches of the universe. This band of misfit heroes, including the charming yet very infuriating Star-Lord and the lovable Groot, brought humor and heart to the MCU, expanding the canvas of the superhero genre beyond Earth’s boundaries.

The following year, Avengers: Age of Ultron brought our beloved Avengers back together for a high-stakes battle against the malevolent Ultron, an artificial intelligence gone rogue. The repercussions of this epic clash reverberated through the MCU, laying the groundwork for the challenges that would shape Phase Three.

Enter Ant-Man, the phase’s concluding chapter, offering a delightful break from the cosmic and the colossal. This smaller-scale hero brought a unique charm to the MCU, proving that Galadriel was always right: even the smallest person can change the course of the future. As Phase Two drew to a close, it left us on the edge of our seats, impatiently waiting to see what lay ahead.

The devastating events of Age of Ultron and the introduction of new characters, like my all-time favorite Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch, hinted at a cosmic shift in the MCU landscape, setting the stage for the epic adventures and multiverse mayhem that awaited in Phase Three.

Phase Three: The Infinity Saga (2016-2019)

Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, aptly dubbed The Infinity Saga, was probably my favorite Phase. With the crescendo that had been building since Tony Stark first suited up as Iron Man, it kicked off with Captain America: Civil War. Phase Three was a rollercoaster of emotions and alliances, as our favorite heroes found themselves on opposite sides in a clash of ideologies. This internal strife laid the groundwork for the challenges that awaited them, creating a rift that impacted the MCU as we know it.

The stakes skyrocketed with the introduction of the purple cosmic villain, Thanos. The mad titan’s quest for the Infinity Stones became the focal point, connecting stories that spanned the galaxy and beyond. The epic battle against Thanos started in Avengers: Infinity War, leaving audiences in awe of the sheer magnitude of the threat faced by our beloved heroes.

The saga reached its peak in Avengers: Endgame, a cinematic masterpiece that not only served as a fitting conclusion to the Infinity Stones narrative but also bid farewell to some of the franchise’s foundational characters (and I saw the first of my MCU favorites sacrifice himself to save the world). Phase Three not only set the stage for the cosmic battles but also deepened our emotional connection to the characters, making the impending changes in the MCU even more painful and meaningful.

As the dust settled from the universe-shattering events of Endgame, Phase Three concluded, leaving the MCU forever altered. The heroes faced loss, redemption, and the promise of a new era. The aftermath of the Infinity Saga serves as a transitional period that paves the way for Phase Four.

With the multiverse now in play, Phase Four introduced movies like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and the one I love to hate and hate to love, Thor: Love and Thunder, explore the mystical side of the MCU, while series like WandaVision and Loki also contribute to the narrative complexities of the Multiverse with both answers and even more questions.

Phase Three, with its blend of heart-wrenching farewells and thrilling cosmic battles, acts as the catalyst for a new chapter in the MCU, ensuring that the legacy of our favorite heroes endures and evolves in ways we could have never imagined.

Phase Four: Multiverse mayhem (2021-2022)

In the ever-expanding MCU, Phase Four throws us fans into uncharted territory. This exhilarating chapter kicks off with WandaVision and Loki, where the boundaries of reality are bent and twisted, introducing the complex concept of the multiverse. Scarlet Witch’s reality-warping journey in WandaVision and Loki‘s time-twisting escapades open a Pandora’s box of possibilities, leaving fans questioning the very fabric of the MCU’s reality.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals then take center stage, offering fresh faces and expanding the superhero roster. Shang-Chi introduces us to the master of martial arts, navigating a world full of ancient mysteries, while Eternals shows us immortal and ancient beings with a duty to protect Earth. The diversity of heroes and the exploration of different genres contribute to the excitement of Phase Four, providing a dynamic and ever-evolving landscape for our favorite characters.

The climax of Phase Four arrives in the form of Spider-Man: No Way Home, a fantastic cinematic event that catapults us deeper into the heart of multiverse madness. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, joined by familiar faces from previous Spider-Man versions, like Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield, swings us through different dimensions, creating a story that goes past the boundaries of space and time.

As Phase Four sets the stage for all our beloved heroes, it also serves as a prelude to the mysteries that Phase Five promises to unveil, hinting at a future where the MCU’s multiverse mayhem takes center stage in even more spectacular and unpredictable ways.

Phase Five: All the Variants and branches (2023 – Present)

Phase Five introduces a myriad of variants and branching storylines that keep fans on the edge of their seats. With each movie and show carrying the weight of anticipation and excitement, Phase Five boldly ventures into uncharted territories, setting the stage for our beloved heroes to face new challenges and confront the multiverse’s mind-bending complexities. The stage is set and the familiar collides with the unexpected, and the term “variant” becomes the new buzzword that sparks endless speculation and excitement among fans.

Kicking off Phase Five with a bang, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes our Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange, and the MCU’s best villain and Avenger all in one (Scarlet Witch, of course), on a mind-bending journey through alternate realities. This sets the tone for what follows, as heroes struggle with the consequences of fractured timelines and variant versions of themselves.

Thor: Love and Thunder brings the God of Thunder back to the forefront, exploring not only the cosmic realms but also introducing a new Thor, played by Natalie Portman. Meanwhile, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever honors the legacy of Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, expanding the narrative to showcase the vibrancy and strength of Wakanda.

As if the multiverse madness wasn’t enough, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania introduces my personal favorite MCU villain, Kang the Conqueror and his variants, and goes even deeper into the Quantum realm, teasing the mind-bending adventures that have challenged our very understanding of reality. In this current phase, the MCU is a playground where heroes, variants, and unexpected twists converge to deliver an unforgettable cinematic experience for fans of all ages. The only certainty in Phase Five? Expect the unexpected.

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Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WandaVision. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021 All Rights Reserved. /

Connecting the dots: TV series and movies

In the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, the narrative doesn’t solely unfold on the silver screen: it extends its tendrils onto the small screen through Disney+ series like WandaVision, Hawkeye, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Ms. Marvel, and Moon Knight. These shows transcend the traditional boundaries of television, offering fans a deeper dive into the multifaceted layers that shape the MCU.

WandaVision mesmerizes with its genre-blending story, revealing the depths of Wanda Maximoff’s grief and the vast extent of her reality-warping abilities. Meanwhile, Hawkeye navigates the legacy of Clint Barton, providing an intimate portrayal of an everyday hero, all while introducing the next archer in line, Kate Bishop.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes us on a journey through the complexities of a post-Blip world, exploring the socio-political ramifications and the struggle for a new Captain America. Loki, arguably the best Marvel show to date, thrusts our favorite God of Mischief into a cosmic conspiracy, unraveling the consequences of his escape with the Tesseract.

As we move forward, Ms. Marvel introduces Kamala Khan, a teenage superhero navigating her newfound powers and the challenges of being a hero. Simultaneously, Moon Knight unravels the mysterious world of Marc Spector, who deals with his dissociative identity disorder while kicking ass and taking names as Moon Knight. These series are not just little supplements to keep us going until the next movie – they are essential, integral chapters that offer a comprehensive understanding of character motivations, consequences, and the ever-evolving dynamics within the MCU.

As fans seamlessly transition from big to small screens, the MCU ensures an immersive experience where every episode is a crucial thread, coming together in a grand narrative and ensuring that no detail is too small as every hero finds their place in the larger-than-life saga.

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(Center): President Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in Marvel Studios’ LOKI, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

The actual chronological order of MCU shows and movies

Now that we’ve looked at the Phases of the MCU, let’s talk about chronological order. Unfortunately for us, the MCU movies and shows are not released in the order as they happen. As the MCU continues to cement its story and pave the road to more and more movies, what we see are multiple narratives happening at the same time and out of order.

If you’re looking to get a timeline-chronologically-accurate MCU marathon, this is the order in which the shows and movies should be watched:

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Agent Carter
  3. Captain Marvel
  4. Iron Man
  5. Iron Man 2
  6. The Incredible Hulk
  7. Thor
  8. The Avengers
  9. Iron Man 3
  10. Thor: The Dark World and Agents of SHIELD
  11. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy
  13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  14. Daredevil
  15. Ant-Man
  16. Jessica Jones
  17. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  18. Luke Cage
  19. Captain America: Civil War
  20. Black Widow
  21. Black Panther
  22. Iron Fist
  23. The Defenders
  24. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  25. The Punisher
  26. Doctor Strange
  27. Inhumans
  28. Runaways
  29. Cloak & Dagger
  30. Thor: Ragnarok
  31. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  32. Avengers: Infinity War
  33. Avengers: Endgame
  34. WandaVision
  35. Loki
  36. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
  37. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  38. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  39. Spider-Man: No Way Home
  40. Hawkeye
  41. What If?
  42. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
  43. Moon Knight
  44. Thor: Love and Thunder
  45. Ms. Marvel
  46. She-Hulk
  47. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  48. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
  49. Werewolf by Night
  50. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
  51. Secret Invasion
  52. The Marvels

Yes, it’s a lot. But it’s hours upon hours of pure entertainment that never fails to move us, no matter how many times we’ve watched these titles.

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Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye in Marvel Studios’ HAWKEYE. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

The MCU is a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring appeal of iconic characters. As the timeline continues to evolve, we can expect more surprises, twists, and epic battles that will keep us on the edge of our seats. One fan’s favorites are always different from another fan’s, and that’s the beauty of this multiverse – it is not one-size-fits-all (exhibit A: my MCU movie ranking differs greatly from my bestie and editor, Michael’s).

Whether you’re a fellow die-hard Marvel enthusiast or a casual viewer, the MCU offers a cinematic experience like no other: a journey through a vast and interconnected universe filled with heroes, villains, and the infinite possibilities of the multiverse.

Buckle up, because the Marvel adventure is far from over!

Next. All 33 Marvel Cinematic Universe films ranked. dark