Updated on October 9, 2019
Featuring an incredibly complex story arc, the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) officially spans 23 movies and 11 television series at this point, not counting the ones that aren't directly tied into the narrative. The films are included in what Marvel refers to as the "Infinity Saga", because the action revolves around the discovery and use of six artifacts of immense power, dubbed the Infinity Stones.
The MCU Infinity Saga
Created at the time of the Big Bang, the Mind, Space, Time, Reality, Power and Soul stones hold the key to reshaping existence at whim, so it's no surprise that both the protagonists and the villains will put up a ferocious fight to obtain them.
These singularity-born magical gems seem to have a mind of their own and love to change proprietors. Our heroes will almost never find themselves in the stones' possession until the stones themselves decide the time is right.
Although the Infinity Saga reaches a conclusion with the events from Avengers: Endgame, it paves the way for a new generation of heroes, and the MCU keeps the ball rolling with Spiderman: Far from Home.
How to watch the Marvel movies in order
With all the actual time-traveling and the flashbacks in the MCU, it's no wonder that even the die-hard fans of the saga are sometimes confused regarding the actual order of the developments, and disagreements abound. In all fairness, even Doctor Strange wielding the Time Stone would have a hard time keeping up! What's more, the narratives of movies and television series are concurrent.
To clear things a bit, we focused on the cinema where the chronology of events is better mapped out:
Bonus: How to watch the Marvel TV series in order
Nonetheless, as the series is an equally integral part of the Marvel narrative, we added a timeline that attempts to put the series released in order too, as a bonus:
It's worth noting that showrunners are also pro separating the two environments. This approach allows the series to break free from the shadow of their big brothers and grow independently.
Our goal is to touch on the major, canon releases without delving outside of the established franchise. We are doing our best to keep the timeline fresh and up to speed with all major releases.
Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline explained (may contain spoilers!)
1. Chronological viewing order
There are definitely some inconsistencies between the events in the movies and the TV series. It is only natural, if you consider that multiple teams of writers work on the storylines simultaneously, often without knowing exactly what the 'endgame' is.
However, we believe that it's easier to wrap your head around the narrative if you watch these productions chronologically, rather than by the release dates. A word to the wise, fully immersing yourself in the MCU will require time, dedication and some essential knowledge of the main characters. If Thanos' quest for the Soul Stone taught us anything, it’s that nothing of importance can be achieved without sacrifice.
Those who are relatively new to the adventures of Marvel heroes and villains might have an easier time following the TV series in accordance with their airing dates, and definitely start with the movies first.
2. Cloak & Dagger
The first season of this show received praise for the tie-ins with the MCU and maintaining the continuity. Numerous references to the corrupt corporation Roxxon can be found in other series like Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil, but also in movies like Iron Man 2 & 3.
While it doesn't really sync up with the events of the Avengers timeline, avid fans with a keen eye will notice subtle nudges and hints that make Cloak & Dagger feel part of Marvel's narrative. We know the action is set against the backdrop of modern-day New Orleans, but not a lot about the actual timeframe.
A couple of hints come in the form of passing mentions about Luke Cage and the competition between Roxxon and Stark Enterprises, but there's also time travel thrown in the mix, so it's difficult to tell for sure when it takes place. You'll also notice that the exploits in Infinity War and Endgame are not brought up at all. The 3rd season is set to drop later this year and rumors have it that it will feature a cross-over with Runaways, further tightening the mesh of Marvel's universe.
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Chronological ambiguity is not limited to the series, and one example in this sense comes from Spider-Man: Homecoming. A briefly showed title card reveals that the creators placed the events of the movie in 2020, by referencing the fact that Avengers timeline happened eight years before. We can estimate this date by quoting an infographic released by Marvel, which tells us the epic battle against the Chitahuri that devastates New York took place back in 2012.
But, here's the kicker: Captain America: Civil War is set in 2016 and we also have to keep in mind that there should only be a few months in between it and Homecoming. To further add to the confusion, another mention made by Vision in Civil War changes the date of the first Iron Man timeline to 2008 when originally it was 2011. Now, Marvel did try to mend slip-up in Infinity War by reestablishing the fact that Avengers is set in 2012 and Infinity War in 2018, although now it's not 100% sure where Homecoming fits.
4. Avengers: Endgame
To celebrate 11 years since the first Marvel film hit the cinemas, Endgame is an opportunity to revisit the key points in the history of the Avengers through the introduction of time travel. In addition to that, the movie steers away from the tried-and-tested comic book influences and is packed to the brim with clever references to its predecessor.
We find both touching moments like Tony Stark mirroring one of the definitive moments of the MCU when he announces his identity to the world, but also playful ones, such as Morgan Stark's inheriting her father's love of cheeseburgers. Thanks to all of these carefully crafted details, the movie is not only a resounding box office hit, but it also sets the bar pretty high for the superhero genre. A story about sacrifice and perseverance against all odds, Avengers: Endgame is the final chapter in the Infinity Saga, but the MCU lives on.
5. Spider-Man: Far from Home
Written in a much lighter tone than Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home reasserts Marvel's intention to keep the MCU moving forward, even if most of the heroes have passed or chose to retire. This installment of Spider-Man's adventures finds Peter Parker navigating the treacherous waters of teenage life while simultaneously learning what being a superhero is all about, without the guiding hand of his friend and mentor, Tony Stark.
Thankfully for Spidey, the father role is taken over by Nick Fury, who's even less pleased with the youngster's antics than Tony. The plot also thickens when a post-credits scene reveals the Earth versions of Maria Hill and Nick Fury aren't who we thought they were, and a sequel for it is already in the works. Rumors have it that it will hit cinemas in 2021!
6. Under development
A number of other Marvel movies have been announced for 2020 and 2021, such as Thor: Love and Thunder, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse Madness, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, The Eternals, Black Widow, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3, Black Panther 2 and the untitled sequel to Spider-Man: Far from Home.
It is, however, too early to tell where exactly these will fit in the MCU chronology at this point. Once these are released in cinemas, we will do our best to update them here as well.
How we built the MCU timeline
The Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline was made with the help of Office Timeline, a professional project management solution that allows you to create visually appealing graphs in a matter of minutes.
There's a free version available that's great for if you want to try it out because most of the functionalities required for creating and editing simple timelines and Gantt charts are available. For more complex applications, the Pro package will grant you access to a whole array of new features such as Swimlanes or the ability to import data from other sources like Microsoft Project or Excel.
You can download the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline as a PowerPoint file and either move the shapes by hand or use the Office Timeline add-in to update the timeline automatically.
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