Best Viewing Order of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Part One

In the 10 days leading up to Avengers: Infinity War (2018), I rewatched all 18 films in the MCU franchise. While this was by no means necessary, I maintain– even months later– that this film was totally worth it. (Note: I am talking about REwatching, not viewing these films for the first time. That is a different discussion for another day.) I knew months out that I wanted to do this since 1) As a teacher, I would have a week off in April, and 2) Infinity War is the culmination of 10 years and nearly 20 movies.

But, I had a problem: what order do I watch them in? It’s well known that the release dates do not necessarily correspond to the MCU timeline (ex: Black Panther (2018) released just before Infinity War takes place 2 weeks after Captain America: Civil War (2016); Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) takes place only months after the original, despite being released 3 years later). So, what should I do? Do I watch them in the order they were released to get the most authentic experience (it could be that release dates/order correspond to some kind of artistic choice, but it’s more likely monetary motivations), or do I try to puzzle out the chronology?

After way too much time spent researching, it is safe to say I went with the latter.

This is the order I went with:
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)


Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Black Panther (2018)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)


*I discuss Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) at the end of Part Two.


That list is my quick answer. Now, let me explain why.


Iron Man: Jon Favreau’s entry did more than just open a franchise. This film revitalized the superhero film genre and the career of Robert Downey Jr. as well as position Marvel (without creative involvement from other studios) as a major player in the industry, eventually evolving into the now hugely successful Marvel Studios. In addition to how it changed the industry, Iron Man also introduces key concepts, setting the tone for future films and serving as an example to follow. Its influence can be felt throughout the MCU. I cannot express enough the significance of this film, but would also like to add that it totally holds up upon rewatch.


The Incredible Hulk: This film was released only a little more than a month after Iron Man and thus does not have its influence. This film is the early days of Marvel, just barely beginning to discover its formula. As a character, Bruce Banner/The Hulk has been hugely popular over the years, but making a solo movie has proven surprisingly challenging. As a result, this film is not well remembered and very little carries over into the greater MCU. It’s not actually a bad film, though, and serves a clear purpose in reintroducing Banner/Hulk and serving as a pallet cleanser following Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). Tony Stark does appear in the post-credit scene, though, forming a bridge between Iron Man and its sequel, which was released next.


Iron Man 2: Production began following the positive reception and huge box office returns from the first Iron Man film. In the movie, some time has passed since Tony Stark’s big reveal. It better establishes Nick Fury and SHIELD, as well as introduced Howard Stark as a key player in its history, a reveal that is expanded on in Captain America. It also introduced Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, although we will not see her again until Avengers.


Thor: The events of this movie occur at roughly the same time as Iron Man 2 and is even mentioned in that movie. Thor was designed to follow Iron Man 2. Like Incredible Hulk, it was also another of Marvel’s experiments in establishing its brand. The movie introduces part of the greater universe, Asgard, and explains how the human mythology was developed– something that is referenced in Captain America. Many of the characters and elements come into play in the movies that follow, and its post-credit scene sets up not only Captain America but the Avengers as well.


Captain America: The First Avenger: When I first decided I wanted to have my marathon, I had originally planned to watch this movie first, but then saw a blog post while I was doing research that pointed out that Captain America expands on breadcrumbs dropped in the other movies. Knowing the details of those topics isn’t helpful and can add confusion (SHIELD doesn’t even have an acronym until the end of Iron Man). Also, the beginning and end of the movie take place in the present and lead directly into Avengers (the post-credit scene is in the movie itself). This movie is a prequel through and through and the reality is that the chronology of Phase 1 really does line up with the release dates.


Marvel’s The Avengers: The end of Phase 1! This movie brings together the characters and plot threads introduced (mainly in Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America), including Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Phil Coulson, and Nick Fury. It also expands on SHIELD introducing additional support staff such as Maria Hill. Additionally, reintroduces and retcons Bruce Banner/The Hulk with Mark Ruffalo’s on point casting. This film establishes the Avengers as a group and sets up for the next phase. The events have a ripple effect that spreads through all the films that follow.


Iron Man 3: This film opens Phase 2 and demonstrates the direct effects and aftermath of Avengers and the Battle of New York, informing the character development and overall arc of Tony Stark/Iron Man and his relationship with Pepper Potts. The role of James Rhodes/War Machine continues to increase following Iron Man 2 and gives the audience an idea of what he gets up to before his reappearance in Age of Ultron.


Thor: The Dark World: Although the composition is an absolute train wreck, this movie provides a lot of valuable information. It occurs after Iron Man 3 and two years after the events of the first Thor. We learn Loki’s fate from the previous movies as well as revisit Jane, Darcy, and Selvig. A new Infinity Stone is introduced, moving us away from the Tesseract of Phase 1.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier: While Iron Man 3 and Dark World transition into Phase 2, this movie introduces drastic changes with an impact on par with Avengers. With two movies supporting the fact that two years have passed since Avengers, this film shakes up SHIELD, the organization that has been the foundation/support for the Avengers. It also has personal consequences for Steve Rogers/Captain America and directly informs his character arc, much like Iron Man 3 did for Tony Stark/Iron Man.


Because this is insanely long, I decided to break it into two pieces. I wrote a lot of words and its a lot to read and process, so I continue to explain my reasoning in Part Two, which I will post tomorrow.

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