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How to Watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the Best Order

Submitted by Bethany on Sat, 04/17/2021 - 07:33

It's no secret that here at The Big and the Small, we love movies. In particular, we love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU.) So when I found myself with a week off from work and nothing to do (since we are still under lockdown in Wales) we decided it was high time to not only re-watch the entirety of the MCU but determine the best order in which to do so. 

How Did We Determine Our Best Order?

We started by doing a lot of research on what other people had to say about the best order for watching the MCU. There are some obvious choices like release order - literally just watching them in the order they were released to theaters. Others advocate for the chronological order - going by the year in which a particular movie takes place; the biggest difference this would make is moving Captain Marvel from near the very end to almost at the beginning since it takes place in the 90's. Plus some movies span multiple time periods such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther that both have sections of their storyline that take place much earlier than the main story. To watch in pure chronological order would actually be quite difficult.

Mainly, we rejected both of those orders because we wanted the best order for the overall story that the MCU is trying to tell. From beginning to end Marvel is telling one overarching story and I believe there is a particular way to watch the movies that tells that story best. We took into account end scenes that teased upcoming movies when figuring out the overall best order. 

We watched a lot of YouTube videos that put forth their own logic and ideas for how to watch the MCU. We started following one in particular then realized about a quarter of the way through that it made some major mistakes (in our opinion) such as putting Guardians of the Galaxy right after Avengers and before Thor: Dark World even though the end scene of Thor: Dark World makes zero sense then because of events that take place in GotG. 

So while we based our initial watch on the orders other people have come up with, in the end, we corrected what we saw as mistakes and ended up coming up with our own unique (as far as we know) order that we truly think is the absolute best order for watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Two quick notes:
1. We include placement for some MCU Shorts that were mostly released as DVD extras. They are 4-15 minutes long and while they do enhance the overall story, they aren't absolutely necessary to watch. 
2. We don't include things like Marvel's Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D as it doesn't seem to be canon and there are some discrepancies between it and the movies. 

How to Watch the MCU in the Best Order: 

1. Iron Man
2. Iron Man 2
3. The Incredible Hulk
Bonus! MCU Short: The Consultant
Bonus! MCU Short: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer
4. Thor
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
Bonus! MCU Short: Agent Carter
6. The Avengers
Bonus! MCU Short: Item 47
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
8. Iron Man 3
Bonus! MCU Short: All Hail the King
9. Thor: The Dark World
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Bonus! WHIH News Front Season 1
12. Ant-Man
Bonus! WHIH News Front Season 2
13. Captain America: Civil War
14. Spider-Man: Homecoming
15. Black Panther
16. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
17. Doctor Strange
18. Thor: Ragnarok
19. Avengers: Infinity War
20. Ant-Man and the Wasp
21. Captain Marvel
22. Avengers: End Game
Bonus! WandaVision on Disney+
23. Spider-Man: Far From Home

Keep reading if you want to know our logic and reasoning behind this order, but fair warnings, SPOILERS ahead!

How to Watch the MCU in the Best Order: 

1. Iron Man
     Unless you're going chronologically, most people don't argue with Iron Man as the kick-off to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It sets up themes and moments that pay off in Avengers: End Game and is a fun, fast-paced, visually enticing entrance into this new world. 

2. Iron Man 2
     I like following up with this one immediately because even though the stakes get higher, no other heroes show up to help Tony Stark. Why not? Well, they aren't quite around yet. We get to meet (an undercover) Black Widow, there are some fun hints at Captain America, Coulson goes off to check out something happening in Arizona (cough:Thor:cough) and at the end, Tony is watching news coverage of the Hulk's rampaging. But for now it's just Iron Man against the world...and all S.H.E.I.L.D. wants him for is to work as a consultant.

3. The Incredible Hulk
     The inclusion of this movie in the MCU bugs me because it throws some spanners in the works when they change actors later, but it is a good introduction to the Hulk and the emotional struggles behind his transformation.  

     Bonus! MCU Short: The Consultant
     Bonus! MCU Short: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer

4. Thor
     This is one of the first movies that was teased heavily in an end scene. Now we get to meet Thor, Loki, and get our introduction into Asgard and the idea of the universe being a lot larger than just the planet Earth. 

5. Captain America: The First Avenger
     There are plenty of arguments for watching this one earlier but what clinched it for us is the very end. I think it has much more of an emotional impact to watch Cap wake up in this new world and then follow him immediately to The Avengers, than it does to watch him wake up and then wait through several more introductory movies before getting that payoff. Yes, this makes most of the movie a flashback, but that is a common storytelling device used in the MCU. 

     Bonus! MCU Short: Agent Carter 

6. The Avengers 
     This is really the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins to feel like a universe.  All the previously disparate story lines come together and we get to watch our heroes begin to work as a unit. It is one of the best movies in the MCU because it is a culmination of all that precedes it. As I watched the MCU through a second time I was struck by how much they set up the conflicts between Iron Man and Captain America right here at the start. 

     Bonus! MCU Short: Item 47 

7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
     What always bugged me about the "Phase 2" movies of the MCU was how disjointed they were. After all the heroes had come together and know each other why now are there major happenings with high stakes in which they are alone? Why does no one help Thor when the Dark Elves threaten the planet? Why isn't Captain America there to help Tony save the dang President of the United States? All of that is solved by watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, first. The fall of S.H.E.I.L.D explains everything - without Nick Fury to bring them together, the heroes are separated and focused on their own immediate problems. 

8. Iron Man 3
     This was always one of my least favorites movies before, but now watching it after Captain America: The Winter Soldier I enjoyed it much more. This gives time for Tony's emotional fallout from New York to build. At the end, it is revealed that he is telling this whole story to Banner so that explains where he is. Cap doesn't show up to help because he is dealing with the fallout of the previous movie. It makes so. much. more. sense.

     Bonus! MCU Short: All Hail the King

9. Thor: The Dark World 
     This one still remains one of my least favorites, but again, many of my major problems with it are fixed by watching it in this order. Fury isn't in power to bring them together, Cap has his own problems, Stark just blew up all of his suits, smashing isn't really helpful so of course, Thor is fixing this problem all on his own. It also explains why Selvig is running around crazy - he isn't working for S.H.E.I.L.D. anymore and lost all direction in his life. At the end, the ether (reality stone) is taken to the collector which is a good doorway into the next film. 

10. Guardians of the Galaxy 
   GotG is a bit of an odd man out, and there are arguments for watching the first and second one closer together. They don't really tie in with the rest of the universe until Avengers: Infinity War but our reason for putting this one here is that it finally explains clearly what the infinity stones are - and how dangerous they are. Also, the stakes for this one are upped by watching it after Thor: The Dark World - because we know the collector already has one infinity stone when they are trying to bring him a second! 

11. Avengers: Age of Ultron 
     After spending so much time apart and being disorganized because of the fall of S.H.E.I.L.D. and the reveal that Hydra still exists, all of our heroes finally come together to finish sweeping up the mess from their previous movie - the scepter was being used by Hydra (thus creating Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) and now they try to get it back. When Wanda messes with Tony's mind and shows him a devastated world (foreshadowing Infinity War) he tries to create an AI that will protect the world. This backfires and the Avengers have to band together once again to save the world - this time from a threat of their own making. 

     Bonus! WHIH News Front Season 1

12. Ant-Man
    As with GotG, this one feels like it comes a bit out of nowhere. But there are S.H.E.I.L.D. connections and it is a fun story, although perhaps one where you have to suspend your disbelief the most (yes, even more than the space and magical hammer stories.) It's a great breather in between Ultron and the major fallout from Ultron that we see in the next movie. Pro-tip: Skip the very end after-credits scene it is literally just a spoiler for the middle of the next movie.

       Bonus! WHIH News Front Season 2

13. Captain America: Civil War
     Sokovia happened and even though the Avengers saved as many people as they could it was still a humanitarian disaster. Now all of our heroes are dealing with the fallout except for Thor who is off saving the nine realms and Banner/Hulk who flew off in a quinjet at the end of Ultron (and we don't see again until Thor: Ragnarok.) We meet up with the Winter Soldier again, see Wanda struggle with her powers, get introduced to Black Panther and Spider-Man makes his first appearance. This movie has deep themes and yet is so much fun as the heroes team up against each other and Cap and Iron Man's rivalry comes to a serious head. 

14. Spider-Man: Homecoming 
     This one starts with phone video footage of the big fight scene in Civil War so it is a natural follow-up to see what is happening with Spider-Man when he heads back home after all of the excitement in Germany. He struggles to be just a "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" and Stark works on mentoring him as a hero. Tom Holland is my favorite version of Spider-Man to date and this movie is fun and strikes the perfect balance of a villain that provides a threat yet isn't an "Avengers level" threat so it makes sense as a stand-alone (mostly) movie.

15. Black Panther
     After his appearance in Civil War, we want to know more about Black Panther and this movie provides! It is focused on Wakanda and their own internal struggles so again, it makes sense as a stand-alone film. It is also beautifully done and very moving. 

16. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
     This one takes place shortly after the first one, so again, they could be watched closer together, but we felt it made sense here. Peter learns more about his parentage (and why he could hold an infinity stone for as long as he did) and the team both comes closer together and welcomes a new member. 

17. Doctor Strange
     We need to be introduced to Doctor Strange before Infinity War, and here it is. We get his back story, growth journey, and a fight with an otherworldly threat that he can and does handle on his own. Plus the end scene leads directly into the next movie. 

18. Thor: Ragnarok
     Finally, we check back in with the Hulk, and with Thor and the reveal at the end of The Dark World that Loki is pretending to be Odin on the throne. The brothers then set off to find their dad (briefly meeting Doctor Strange in the process) and then he reveals to them a long-lost sister. The more I watch it the more I agree with Joel that this is the worst movie in the whole MCU - the humor is inappropriate, they build up Banner's risk of losing himself to the Hulk completely then play it off for a laugh, and Hela both comes out of nowhere and then is defeated rather easily. But, it plays directly into the next movie and explains (albeit poorly) where Hulk has been so it is a necessary watch. 

19. Avengers: Infinity War
     From one of the worst to one of the best in the series, Infinity War is a masterful piece of storytelling. They bring together all the characters seamlessly, tie together so many storylines, and the attention to detail is great. And talk about emotional! I cry every. single. time.

20. Ant-Man and the Wasp
     This is a bit of an emotional break after Infinity War, though I have major problems with the story itself (ghost girl could have just asked Hank for help instead of fighting, also then she just disappears, never to be heard from again) but it needs to be watched here because the very end coincides with the end of Infinity War. 

21. Captain Marvel
     Again, there are arguments to be made to watch this one back when it would have happened chronologically but I think all of those arguments are WRONG. Watching it here gives you more emotional impact as you actually care about Nick Fury, the idea of the Avengers as a team makes more sense, and the emotional payoff of going from this one to her appearance in the next one is great. If you watch it early you'll just spend a heck of a lot of time wondering why Fury didn't call her earlier...

22. Avengers: End Game 
     Wow, wow, wow. Just, such a good movie, and its placement is pretty obvious. 

     Bonus! WandaVision  - this series on Disney+ takes place days after the events of End Game and this is the perfect time to watch it. 

23. Spider-Man: Far from Home
     This one also deals with the fallout of End Game and is just a fun story - some things might not make sense till the end but the reveals are great! 

So there you have it, our opinion on how to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the best order. We think this ties the story together in the best possible way, gives the most continuity through the end scenes (despite some outliers like the end scene of Ant-Man which is literally just a clip from Civil War - why?!) and gives you the best emotional journey. 

I'd love to hear what you think about our order and if you would make any changes! 

XOXO, Bethany

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