The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is vast, spanning 12 years, 23 films and 11 shows. The MCU is also not stopping any time soon as the next set of movies and series are set to air later this year, pending any further setbacks due to COVID-19.

In the meantime, an MCU marathon is a great way to pass the time and immerse yourself in the lore of Marvel. The problem becomes then how to watch it all? For newcomers this can be kind of daunting since the movies don’t all take place in the same time, or dimension for that matter. For veterans a newer approach might make the experience more interesting.

There are two main ways to watch the MCU movies and each one comes with its own benefits and quirks: the theatrical release order and the chronological order.

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PHOTO SOURCE: Marvel Studios, Disney

Theatrical Release Order

This method works best for newcomers to the franchise. This is because its the order that Marvel intended and has its own internal logic and momentum. The theatrical release method tells the story of the Infinity Saga and from a viewer’s perspective is the easiest to follow since it plays like a novel. You can also appreciate the immense setup and eventual payoff that the writers built in to its design. It’s also fascinating to see Marvel basically trial and error various genres in the early stages. The quality of the movies also gets noticeably better as each one goes by, save for a few exceptions. This method proceeds in phases of which there are 3 and each one contains its own small story arc which complements the larger narrative.

Phase One

  1. Iron Man
  2. The Incredible Hulk
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. Thor
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger
  6. The Avengers

Phase Two

7. Iron Man 3
8. Thor: The Dark World
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
12. Ant-Man

Phase Three

13. Captain America: Civil War
14. Doctor Strange
15. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
16. Spider-Man: Homecoming
17. Thor: Ragnarok
18. Black Panther
19. Avengers: Infinity War
20. Ant-Man and the Wasp
21. Captain Marvel
22. Avengers: Endgame
23. Spider-Man: Far From Home

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PHOTO SOURCE: Marvel Studios, Disney

Chronological Order

This method works best for veterans of the franchise who may want a more unique and perhaps challenging viewing experience. It is arguably worth watching it in this order since you’ll see important events play out as they should in the timeline. Inevitably, there are drawbacks to this method of viewing; for starters you may struggle to remember the backgrounds of certain characters. Captain Marvel, for instance, is the second film in this order and is only mentioned again some 40 screen hours later.  Likewise Thor appears a lot early on but you wouldn’t see him again until near the end.  The other issue with Captain Marvel is that you miss out on the in-jokes built up over 15 films. Despite this though the chronological order provides greater depth to the backstory and arcs of some of the characters making the experience that much more rewarding.

1. Captain America: The First Avenger (1942-1943)
2. Captain Marvel (1995)
3. Iron Man (2010)
4. Iron Man 2 (2011)
5. The Incredible Hulk (2011)
6. Thor (2011)
7. The Avengers (2012)
8. Iron Man 3 (2012)
9. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
11. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
12. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2014)
13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
14. Ant-Man (2015)
15. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
16. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2016)
17. Doctor Strange (2016-2017)
18. Black Widow (2017)
19. Black Panther (2017)
20. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
21. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2017)
22. Avengers: Infinity War (2017)
23. Avengers: Endgame (2018-2023)
24. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2023)

There is a potential third way to watch the films, called the Spaghetti Order. Created by Jonathan Sim, the gist of the order is this: starting with Iron Man watch the next films based on the post credit scenes. Not much changes in phase’s one and two but phase three sees a lot of rearranging. Its interesting and certainly unique and worth a look if you’re feeling adventurous.

So there you have it, sit back, relax and marvel at the cinematic universe thoughtfully laid out by Kevin Fiege. Comment down below which order you prefer!