A Guide To Watching The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Now's the perfect time to settle in and finally watch all the MCU.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

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We’re more than a decade into Marvel’s expansive storytelling universe. It can get really overwhelming for fans, let alone for casual viewers or total newbies. But once you know the basics it’s actually much less complicated than you think. And it’s not too late to jump on board (yes, really!).

There are a few orders you can watch the movies in, but for a beginner or casual fan, the most accessible is probably the release order.

So let’s break it down!

To date, the movies that have been released are known as the Infinity Saga, and they all essentially led into Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

They were released in three phases. (Note: unless otherwise stated, all movies listed below are available to stream on Disney+ in Australia).

Sign up for Disney+ to watch Marvel and other originals!

Phase One

This phase was all about introducing the core team of Avengers individually, before finally bringing them together.

Iron Man (2008)

The movie that started it all, starring Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark.

He’s a genius playboy billionaire who manufactures weapons for the US military and gets kidnapped by a terrorist group called the Ten Rings. He builds a rudimentary version of what would later become his Iron Man suit to escape, and once free he vows to change his ways, becoming the superhero Iron Man.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

You’re probably more familiar with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, but he was actually the replacement for Edward Norton, who plays the character in this movie.

Working with General Thaddius Ross (William Hurt), Banner experiments with trying to recreate a serum scientists used in World War II to create super soldiers (one of them being Captain America). The experiment goes wrong and turns Banner into the Hulk.

This is one of the few MCU movies not on Disney+ in Australia — you can catch it on Stan or Foxtel Go.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

The follow up to Iron Man, it sees Tony Stark grappling with illness and dealing with rivals and ghosts from his father Howard Stark’s past.

The movie introduces Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, who is an agent of SHIELD, a secret government organisation that later brings together the Avengers.

Thor (2011)

Thor, as the title suggests, introduces Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, a prince of alien planet Asgard who ancient humans believed was a god.

Thor is arrogant and takes too many risks, so he’s sent to Earth by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in order to learn some humility.

Meanwhile, Thor’s adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), tries to take over Asgard and destroy Thor (a first of many attempts).

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The First Avenger takes us back to World War II, when Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) volunteers for SHIELD’s super soldier experiment and transforms into Captain America.

His main enemy in this movie is Johan Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), who obtains an Infinity Stone (the Space Stone — one of the stones Big Bad Thanos is after in future movies, which each have special powers).

The Avengers (2012)

This is the first big crossover movie that brings together all the main characters from the previous movies, plus adds Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye, to form the Avengers.

The team gets together in order to try and prevent Loki from taking over the world. Using an Infinity Stone (the Mind Stone) that he gets from Thanos (the Big Bad guy!), Loki opens up a portal that allows a bunch of aliens to attack New York, in an event that later becomes known as the Battle of New York.

Phase Two

The second phase in the MCU deals with the huge ramifications of the Battle of New York. Understandably, an attempted alien invasion of the world has had a rather big effect on everyone.

This phase also ramps up the Infinity Stone/Thanos-related storyline in preparation for Phase Three.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 focuses on Tony Stark’s trauma from the Battle of New York. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and at the same time is trying to deal with a terrorist organisation and an evil scientist. Not exactly a recipe for healing.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

This movie sees Thor faced with another Infinity Stone — the Reality Stone, which infects his girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Meanwhile Loki, of course, causes more mischief.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The Winter Soldier opens with Captain America established as a SHIELD agent before promptly pulling the rug out from underneath him, when he and Black Widow discover that SHIELD has been infiltrated by enemy organisation HYDRA.

Cap also learns his best friend, Bucky, has been turned into an evil super soldier known as The Winter Soldier. It’s not a great time for our boy.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first movie outside of the Thor franchise in the MCU to be set primarily in space.

It explores how the Guardians — Chris Pine’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora (the daughter of Thanos), Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer, Vin Diesel’s Groot and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket — come together to form a rag-tag team who fight bad guy Ronan the Accuser with the help of an Infinity Stone, the Power Stone.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

This is the second cross-over movie involving the Avengers team.

Still traumatised by the Battle of New York, Tony Stark, with Bruce Banner’s help, uses the Mind Stone in an attempt to create a global defence program to protect the Earth from another such event.

The problem is the program, Ultron, becomes sentient and tries to destroy humanity. The events of this movie have a massive effect on the Avengers, as their cohesiveness as a team begins to splinter.

Ant-Man (2015)

Petty thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) accidentally steals ex-SHIELD scientist Hank Pym’s Ant-Man suit, which allows the wearer to change sizes and also bestows a bunch of other ant-like powers, which results in Scott becoming the superhero Ant-Man.

Phase 3

We move into the third and final phase of the Infinity Saga (but NOT the final phase of the MCU, of course). This phase is all about the build up to the big fight with Thanos.

New characters are introduced, the Avengers fall apart (leaving them weakened for the battle), more Infinity Stones are revealed, and Thanos gets really involved in the action.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Although this is a Captain America movie, it almost feels like an Avengers because of how many main characters are in it.

The civil war in question is between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, who are split over what to do with the Avengers in the aftermath of Age of Ultron. Different heroes each take their respective sides, including the newly-introduced Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange introduces Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a neurosurgeon who permanently damages his hands in a car crash and whose search for a cure leads him to becoming a sorcerer. He obtains and guards another Infinity Stone — this time, the Mind Stone.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

Guardians cast James Gunn

The sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy is all about daddy issues. Peter Quill learns his father is Ego (Kurt Russell), a god-like creature known as a Celestial who is intent on destroying the universe. Just your average, totally chill family.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review

Peter Parker/Spider-Man struggles to adjust to normal teen life after his brush with the Avengers in Civil War.

Meanwhile a guy called Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) deals alien tech he found in the Battle of New York, which gives some insight into how the Battle of New York impacted ~ordinary~ people.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor discovers Loki isn’t actually his worst sibling when Hela (Cate Blanchett) emerges and tries to take over Asgard/the universe. Thor and Loki team up with the Hulk and Tessa Thompson’s Asgardian warrior Valkyrie to take Hela down.

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

T’Challa/Black Panther prepares to become king of Wakanda after his father was assassinated in Civil War, but is challenged for power by his cousin, Killmonger (Michael B Jordan).

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War

Thanos collects the Infinity Stones at a rapid rate, leaving death and destruction in his wake. He plans to gather all the Stones in his Infinity Gauntlet, which would enable him to destroy half the universe with a literal snap of his fingers.

The Avengers, scattered after the events of Civil War, nevertheless do their best to try and stop him.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Taking place at the same time in the chronology as Avengers: Infinity War, Scott Lang is on house arrest because of what happened in Civil War.

He tries to help Hank Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) explore the Quantum Realm in an attempt to recover Hank’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who got trapped there in the ‘80s.

Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel Super Bowl Teaser Trailer

Set in the ‘90s, this is the origin story of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).

Carol is a US airforce pilot who gets exposed to energy from the Space Stone, which gives her superpowers but causes her to lose her memory. She ends up fighting for alien race the Kree as part of their Starforce until she returns to Earth and begins to unravel her real identity.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame Easter Eggs

The culmination of basically every movie that came before. It deals with the consequences of Avengers: Infinity War as the Avengers try to defeat Thanos once and for all. It’s epic in every sense of the word.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal in the new trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home

The first post-Endgame MCU movie necessarily deals with the fallout of what happens in the former.

Peter Parker is struggling to deal while also trying to get back to being a regular teenager when he’s confronted with a new super-powered bad guy. Unfortunately Spider-Man: Far From Home is not currently available for streaming in Australia, although you can buy or rent it.

Which officially brings us to the end of the Infinity Saga! If you’ve watched the movies in release order and are ready to experience them in a different way – or just want to skip to this stage altogether — you can check out our handy guide to watching the MCU in chronological order.

Now is the perfect time to do it ahead of the release of Black Widow, sometime in post-pandemic 2020. Happy bingeing!

Hey, just FYI, if you buy something from one of the links in this article, we may earn a small commission.

Jenna Guillaume is a Sydney-based writer who loves all things TV and pop culture. She tweets @JennaGuillaume, and her new book, ‘What I Like About Me’ is available now.