(Updated through Nov 2017!) With Marvel films being released twice per year since 2013, and three times per year starting in 2018, one might feel as though it’s become an overwhelming task to jump on the bandwagon. Your peers, coworkers, friends, kids and even just people on the street all seem to be raving about these Marvel movies…but there are so many, where do you even begin? Well, I’m happy to help you with your conundrum!
Let me first begin my saying: not ALL Marvel movies are connected. In fact, there are currently three different companies that make Marvel movies, and those three companies’ films do not connect to each other at all. Those three companies:
-Sony Pictures: all 5 older Spider-Man films (released from 2002-2014), and any future films with Spider-Man films with related characters… and Spider-Man, but even though it will be the same actor, it will not be considered related to the Marvel Studios films
-Marvel Studios: every other Marvel film released 2008 or beyond (what we’re focusing on)
One aspect that Marvel Studios has incorporated into their series of films is the division into “phases,” which are groupings of their movies that sort of make them into smaller series. For example, the first six movies are in the first phase, and each phase ends with an event film that sort of ties that chapter of the series up nicely. So, I’ve organized them in an order that makes more sense by emphasizing certain characters and plot points. Without further ado, let’s begin… here is the Elite Order of the Marvel movies:
- Iron Man (2008) // This movie introduces us to the first hero: Tony Stark, the Iron Man. Beginning with this film is the ONLY way to start watching these films. As with any fantastical or sci-fi story, we begin in the normal world before going into the other world (so to speak), and Tony Stark is a great way to enter the MCU. Also, this is the first film in the MCU that contains a Post Credit Scene (PCS), which all following movies have as well. Stay sitting until the very end!
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) // I like to watch this movie second because Tony Stark’s father, Howard Stark, plays a good role in the film as we are introduced to Steve Rogers, Captain America. This film also has a PCS, but DON’T watch it; just stop watching after the stylized credits and skip ahead to film 3 in this series. But don’t forget about the other characters in this film, they’ll be mentioned throughout the rest of the series and their legacies play a big role.
- Iron Man 2 (2010) // After watching Captain America, we return to Tony Stark’s story which takes place soon after the first film ends. We are also introduced to many other characters that will recur in the following films. Also, we learn more about Tony’s relationship with his father which makes more sense now that we’ve seen Captain America. Feel free to watch the PCS for this film, you won’t gain or lose anything by watching it so I usually just skip it since we’ll see it in another film…
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) // I like watching this film after Iron Man 2 since the Credit Scene in this film makes more sense after seeing the ending to Iron Man 2. As with Captain America, this film also contains characters that will show up later in the MCU, but only the actor for General Ross will stay the same. Even the actor for Bruce Banner aka The Hulk changes in the next time we see the titular character. It’s probably the film least connected with the rest of the films, but it’s still important to watch.
- Thor (2011) // This is probably the film most connected to the following film as we learn about Thor, Loki, and many other characters that will play an enormous role in the entire series. This is also the first cosmic adventure so far in the series, and the cosmos will be seen much more in most subsequent films. Definitely DO make sure to watch the PCS as it leads directly up to The Avengers, and gives you a little tease as to what might happen in the final film of Phase One.
- The Avengers (2012) // This film ties together all previous films, and was the biggest and only film in history to ever really do something like that, at least on this scale. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk, as well as other characters seen in all of their films, team up to fight yet another character from a previous film in order to protect the Earth. Absolutely make sure to watch the PCS’s though (there are two), the first of which teases a villain that will pretty much be the overarching villain of the entire saga.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) // This film is my favorite to watch after The Avengers because we see how Cap is reacting and changing to fit the world around him, which is much different than his previous life in the 1940’s. Also, two characters from his first film are at the very least referenced, so watching this film as soon as possible after The Avengers is best, so that everything stays fresh. Also, make sure to watch BOTH PCS’s as they tease what will come in future films in this Phase.
- Iron Man 3 (2013) // This film takes place soon after the events of The Avengers, and explores the PTSD that Tony Stark now has from battling aliens, but his PTSD is greater emphasized after seeing how Steve Rogers has acclimated so well in comparison. While Steve has already gone through a lot of trauma, Tony has always sort of brushed away things that could emotionally bother him. This film is a nice change of pace when viewed after Cap 2. Also, feel free to watch the PCS, but it’s definitely not needed.
- Thor: The Dark World (2013) // After the events of The Avengers, Thor cleans up the planets of the Nine Realms while the 9000-year Convergence takes place and threatens the galaxies once again. This film is not the most notable of the Marvel films but it DOES contain one something of vast importance that will be paid off in Infinity War at the end of Phase III. The post-credit scenes are also very important as they lead up to the next two films, definitely must watch those.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) // In this film, we meet the Guardians of the Galaxy which may seem to be pretty unrelated to the other characters, but we are introduced to the idea of the Infinity Stones which we learn have been a large part in many of the previous films. The infinity stones, when assembled together, will have the ultimate power and will be devastating in the wrong hands. Thus, we have the thing that all of the Marvel films are working towards. PCS not necessary to watch, but feel free.
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) // Our main heroes reunite and Tony Stark creates a tool that becomes self-aware and turns on Earth, treating it as an enemy and vowing to destroy the Avengers. Relationships are reevaluated, trust is tested, and superheros fight robots; what’s not to love? The most important aspect of this film is how it sets up for the future films, Ant-Man, Civil War, Homecoming and Ragnarok. Absolutely watch the PCS as it shows us Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet…
- Ant-Man (2015) // Like Guardians, this film also feels somewhat disconnected from the others in the series but it actually ties itself to the Universe very well by showing us another hero as well as a few familiar places and characters we’ve seen in the past. Also, this character comes back in a big way in the following film, so this isn’t one that you can miss (none of these are, actually). The PCS’s, on the other hand, are a different story: watch the first one, but DO NOT watch the second one as you’ll see it in the next film…
- Captain America: Civil War (2016) // This film ties together all of the Phase Two movies as the UN has written the Sokovia Accords, a law that forces all heroes to register themselves as property of the UN so that they will no longer play a part in battles that destroy cities. Of course, not every hero agrees with this and the Avengers are split in two. Also, Captain America’s story following The Winter Soldier comes back in an extremely dramatic way, changing all heroes’ lives forever. Watch the PCS’s, too.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) // Following the events of Civil War, 15-year-old Peter Parker is struggling to find as much fun being a superhero as he did when he fought among the Avengers. Balancing his school studies and web-slinging, we wants to be a great hero but he feels that Tony Stark is being too protective as a father-figure. This film definitely gives us a lot of both characters that we’ve never seen on film and a story that will entertain and surprise all audience members. Watch the PCS’s, for sure.
- Doctor Strange (2016) // Here, things get weird. In Doctor Strange, we meet Stephen Strange who learns the ways of the mystic arts in order to conjure spells, portals, and dimensions beyond our own. It’s very fascinating, open-minded and entertaining and is quite self-contained, so it’s order here doesn’t matter but definitely before Thor 3. Somewhat formulaic, but a ton of fun, no less. The first PCS is a scene lifted from Thor Ragnarok, so I’d skip it, but feel free to watch the second PCS!
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) // Soon after the events of the first film, the Guardians are still guarding the galaxy but now we finally get to learn more about Peter Quill’s parentage which was only just teased in the first film. This movie is probably the most unrelated from the Marvel film Universe but this is a good place to watch it as the next two films will largely be focus on the cosmos as well, and watching this one before those allows the others to feel familiar, at least in setting.
- Thor: Ragnarok (Nov 2017) // This film brings back Thor as well as the Hulk, who has been missing since Age of Ultron. Picking up about where The Dark World left off, Thor returns to Asgard to right some wrongs. Vastly different from the previous Thor movies, this one is more of a comedy than even Guardians of the Galaxy and is arguably the funniest one yet. Even so, this one leads up into Infinity War perfectly and is most likely the best one to watch before that, but we haven’t seen Black Panther yet…
- Black Panther (Feb 2018) // This film comes out in about three months so I’m unsure as to where it will work best in Phase Three, but we know it comes after Civil War and before Infinity War, so having it here seems reasonable. I can’t say too much about the plot as I don’t know too much but what I do know is that we return to Wakanda, which was seen in the PCS of Civil War, where we follow Black Panther as he becomes, and fights for, the position of the rightful King.
- Avengers: Infinity War (May 2018) // As mentioned, this film is the groundbreaking culmination of ALL of the Marvel films. We see just about every single hero from the past 18 films and are even introduced to more. Thanos threatens the universe as he attempts to assemble the Infinity Stones seen from previous films, and it’s up to the Avengers and the Guardians to stop him. Who knows how this film will change the series as a whole…? Definitely try to watch all of these Marvel films before May 2018
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 2018)
- Captain Marvel (March 2019)
- Untitled Avengers 4 (May 2019)
HOW TO FIND THEM
Since Marvel is owned by Disney, buying the movies isn’t cheap, but they are available to rent on just about any streaming service. If you’d like to see if they’re on Netflix or any other service, try using JustWatch.com or GoWatchIt.com which are pretty much the Googles of streaming platforms. Other than that, you can definitely find them on sites such as primewire.ag if you’re moral compass isn’t as strong, or check out your local public library which should also have them….or, your neighbors:)
The Marvel series gets longer every year, but it’s absolutely something worth investing your time into. You can strike up a meaningful conversation with just about anybody in regards to this series’ past and future films, and speculating what will happen in the upcoming movies is an exciting treat every time. Impress your friends, family, children, spouse(s?), coworkers, and anybody else with your insight and knowledge of the Marvel films. I hope my little guide has helped you out, and keep coming back to it for updated orders and details on the films! As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!
The whole Marvel/Sony Spider-Man stuff is a little confusing, so it’s best to think about it in this way: Marvel Spider-Man films will likely always have/reference other Avengers, but Sony is not allowed to do that. Instead, the Sony films will focus on characters such as Venom, Black Cat, Silver Sable (I don’t know either), with Spidey making small appearances as a villain, of sorts.
Marvel loves to work in 3’s. Each of their heroes that gets their own film gets a whole trilogy: Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor all have trilogies so far; Doctor Strange, Guardians, Ant-Man and Spider-Man all have trilogies being worked on (assuming they’ll survive Thanos?). One character that we will not see a trilogy for, however, is Hulk for similar legal reasons that Spider-Man is dealing with. Universal still owns the rights to any Hulk standalone film, so Marvel is weaving a three-act story-line for him into Ragnarok, Infinity War and Avengers 4 to get around that restriction. We’re not sure who, aside from Spider-Man, will survive the next two Avengers films, so they will serve as the ending to the trilogy of Phases 1-3.