The Best Viewing Order of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Weekly Essay)

Captain Marvel is finally here, which means two things: Endgame is right around the corner, and the end of Marvel Phase Three is imminent. As is my tradition whenever a new Marvel Cinematic Universe film is released, I like to play around with the order a bit to find the best possible way to watch the films. The order can be changed to emphasize certain characters, arc, plot lines, tones, quality, or anything else that you’d like to focus on while watching the series as a whole. Since I’ve seen each film quite a few times, I know what to expect in each one and what parts of it should stand out. For instance, one could watch Phase Two in release order, but watching them in a different order allows elements of one film to stand out when juxtaposed with an entirely different film.

So, since this is probably the last time I’ll be doing this… let’s make this the Final, Official, Definitely Marvel-Approved Viewing Order of the MCU Films… Phases One Through Three


I’ll start by listing the viewing order, and then defining each film’s location…

  • Phase One (Origin)
    • Iron Man (2008)
    • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
    • Iron Man 2 (2010)
    • The Incredible Hulk (2008)
    • Thor (2011)
    • Captain Marvel (2019)
    • The Avengers (2012)
  • Phase Two (Expansion)
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
    • Iron Man 3 (2013)
    • Thor: The Dark World (2013)
    • Guardians of the Galaxy (2013)
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
    • Ant-Man (2015)
    • Captain America: Civil War (2016)
  • Phase Three (Conclusion)
    • Black Panther (2018)
    • Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
    • Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
    • Doctor Strange (2016)
    • Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
    • Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
    • Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Phase One is the Origin Phase. Origin stories have gotten a little run-of-the-mill so I think it’s important to get them all out of the way first. That way, after watching Iron Man, you’ll sort of be in the mood for that style of storytelling. But, after the end of Phase One and you’ve seen just how cool having them all on-screen at the same time is, you won’t be backtracking in storytelling technique much over the next 14 films. The first film is debatably the most grounded film in the entire series, so having Iron Man be the film to kick things off is the smoothest entry into the series. Then, after getting to know Tony Stark, we go back in time to see what his Dad was like in Captain America. Following that film, and the introduction to a “larger universe,” we return to Stark in Iron Man 2. This is really where the idea of the “shared universe” comes into play first.

Iron Man 2 leads into Thor and The Incredible Hulk well due to the fact that both of those films allude to our first character: Tony Stark, mainly in reference. Although, the post-credit scene for The Incredible Hulk has Stark appearing as a consultant for Nick Fury. Finally, before getting to The Avengers, we take a look at the film that is not only the final origin story of this phase but is also sort of the origin story for the entire MCU: Captain Marvel. This film gives us a good look at Fury/Coulson’s early days as well as introducing us to the idea of Infinity Stones through the Tesseract (which appeared in Captain America as well). Now, we can lead into The Avengers knowing a little more about what’s at stake than we did in 2012.

The Avengers doesn’t really need any explanation about why it should go here but as it is the final film of the phase, it’s important that it wraps up everything coming before it and changes the landscape for the succeeding Phase. Check, and check.

Phase Two is the Expansion Phase; all of the films in here expand on the universe, characters, or plot threads that the first one set up. We start this Phase with The Winter Soldier for a few reasons: to juxtapose Steve’s handling of the events of The Avengers with Tony’s, and to strengthen the audience’s relationship with Steve so that the end of Phase Two is more emotionally impactful (I’ll get to this in a little bit). The Winter Soldier sees the return of another Phase One character as well, who will be important throughout the rest of the MCU. Iron Man 3 is the film we watch next which is when we see Tony at his lowest, struggling with PTSD and what sort of person he wants to be. These two films are best to start with in Phase Two because Civil War will be how this phase ends.

Next we have Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy which expand on two things: the Cosmic side of the MCU that we are familiar with from Captain Marvel, and the idea of the Infinity Stones which we’ve seen but haven’t been properly introduced to until now. The next film after these will give us the best introduction to them but for now, these two films set things up pretty well. After we spend some time away from Earth in Guardians, and meet Thanos himself, we return to Earth to revisit the Avengers in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Here, we learn that Loki’s scepter was also an infinity stone and is used to create Vision. Thor summarizes the location of the Infinity Stones towards the end of the film and sets up the end of Phase Three with Thanos, who also appears in the post-credit scene.

After Ultron, we watch Ant-Man and Civil War, because there’s no better place for Ant-Man and then Civil War wraps up Phase Two. Some say that Civil War should start Phase Three but that’s preposterous for a great many reasons, the first and main one being that Civil War is the capstone of Phase Two in every way, and leaves the MCU changed as The Avengers did. Those people also say that Ant-Man should end Phase Two, so that explains how much thought they put into it. At the end of Civil War, we’ve seen Cap and Tony fight which was made more impactful since Phase One began with Tony and we started Phase Two with Cap, allowing us to spend more time with their strengthened characters before seeing them fight each other. We were also introduced to Spider-Man and Black Panther which is how we’ll start Phase Three.

Phase Three starts exactly how Civil War ended: with Black Panther followed by Spider-Man. Since these films are relatively stand-alone, the order only really matters because of a few small details. Black Panther takes place a week after Civil War, and Spider-Man takes place a few months later (Homecoming season). This films don’t introduce any grand players to the Universe or expand on any Infinity Stones, so they’re the best films to start the Phase with. After this, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 fits in nicely before the next films all lead into Infinity War and Endgame. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the best film to watch next because it stays with the tone of the previous two films (namely GotGV2) and introduces us to the idea of the Quantum Realm. Then, Doctor Strange introduces us to the final Infinity Stone before Infinity War and Thor Ragnarok leads perfectly into the last Avengers movies. Going into Infinity War, the freshest thing on your mind will be Thor Ragnarok, which has a very fun and carefree tone to it. Juxtaposed with that, Infinity War‘s opening and overall feel will seem even grimmer than when paired with anything else. Also, the SNAP! will feel even more hopeless than it did when the film had it’s theatrical release for two reasons: the Quantum Realm seems like it’s an extremely risky idea, and Captain Marvel hasn’t been seen in 23 years. When IW came out, fans speculated that both of those would be key to destroying Thanos but now that they’re here, fans are even more unsure than they were before.

Then, Endgame. 

And that’s the best order to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Phases One through Three. This is also how I’m going to be watching the films leading up to the finale over the next month! If you’d like to join me, let me know what you think of this order. As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!


Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

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