The Best Order to Watch the MCU Films (And Which Ones You Can Skip)

When Avengers: Endgame came out, a few of my friends have asked me whether they really needed to watch all 21 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that came before it or if there are any they can skip.

At first, my instinct was “You need to stop everything and watch them all Clockwork Orange style immediately.”

And then the follow up question comes of “Okay, so what order do I need to watch them in?”

That was a bit of a trickier one, and it got me thinking about Machete Order for the Star Wars series. For those who don’t know, Machete Order was created by a blogger in 2011 as the definitive “best” order to watch the Star Wars films. Instead of watching the films in release order (4-5-6-1-2-3) or chronological order (1-2-3-4-5-6), Machete Order (4-5-2-3-6) presents an intriguing alternative. Machete Order attempts to give new viewers the best experience when watching the series for the first time (and deliberately leaves out Episode I).

When it comes to Marvel, things get even more complicated. The Russo Brothers confirmed the correct chronological order for the films on their Instagram before the release of Endgame. (We at AP2HYC have, of course, already put together a much more in-depth look at the MCU Timeline.) The fact that some Marvel TV shows are canon and some aren’t doesn’t make matters any easier.

Listen to our podcast all about the best order to watch the MCU films.

Note: all timelines/orders below will be updated as new MCU films are released. Last update: 16 November 2021

Chronological Order

*According to Disney+

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Captain Marvel
  3. Iron Man
  4. Iron Man 2
  5. The Incredible Hulk
  6. Thor
  7. The Avengers
  8. Thor: The Dark World
  9. Iron Man 3
  10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  14. Ant-Man
  15. Captain America: Civil War
  16. Black Widow
  17. Black Panther
  18. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  19. Doctor Strange
  20. Thor: Ragnarok
  21. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  22. Avengers: Infinity War
  23. Avengers: Endgame
  24. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  25. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  26. The Eternals
  27. Spider-Man: No Way Home

But that’s not really the best order to watch the films – like Machete Order, I think Iron Man is the best introduction to the world and should therefore be watched first. The tundra scene in The First Avenger is a rather odd place to begin. Besides, watching Captain Marvel before Iron Man totally undermines the impact of the iconic Nick Fury end credit scene. But I’ll get into that in a minute.

There are also issues with watching the films in Release Order. The Phase 3 timeline is an absolute mess, with films jumping forward and backwards at time all over the place. But the issues go back right to the start – the second film in the franchise actually takes place after the third film.

Release Order

  1. Iron Man
  2. The Incredible Hulk
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. Thor
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger
  6. The Avengers
  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
  13. Captain America: Civil War
  14. Doctor Strange
  15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 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
  24. Black Widow
  25. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  26. The Eternals
  27. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Granted, there aren’t any major issues with the release order – mainly because the films released out of order tend to be solo films with minimal ties to the rest of the universe. And in some cases, jumping back in time actually works to the benefit of the overall storytelling.

So here’s my proposed best order for watching all 24 films of the Infinity Saga, which I have dubbed “Cape Order” and is a mixture of Chronological Order and Release Order. The films marked with a star (*) are ones that you can skip if you’re really only interested in the main Infinity Saga plotline.

Cape Order

  1. Iron Man
  2. Captain Marvel* (minus mid-credit scene)
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. The Incredible Hulk*
  5. Thor
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger
  7. The Avengers
  8. Iron Man 3*
  9. Thor: The Dark World
  10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  12. Ant-Man*
  13. Captain America: Civil War
  14. Guardians of the Galaxy
  15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2*
  16. Black Panther*
  17. Spider-Man: Homecoming*
  18. Doctor Strange*
  19. Ant-Man and the Wasp* (minus mid- and end-credit scenes)
  20. Black Widow*
  21. Thor: Ragnarok
  22. Avengers: Infinity War
  23. Avengers: Endgame
  24. Spider-Man: Far From Home*
  25. The Eternals
  26. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  27. Spider-Man: No Way Home

So the speed-round version looks like:

Cape Order (Speed-Round)

  1. Iron Man
  2. Iron Man 2
  3. Thor
  4. Captain America: The First Avenger
  5. The Avengers
  6. Thor: The Dark World
  7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  9. Captain America: Civil War
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy
  11. Thor: Ragnarok
  12. Avengers: Infinity War
  13. Avengers: Endgame

You may notice that I left the Phase 4 films (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, The Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home) off the list. This is because they aren’t part of the Infinity Saga and their place in the MCU in terms of how essential they will be to the main plot remains to be seen.

So how did I decide which films were non-essential? I had a few different criteria.

First, I decided film quality had to be irrelevant to the decision (hence why Thor: The Dark World is essential and Black Panther is not).

Second, I asked whether characters introduced in a given film are also introduced in another film, or if you can you get away with not knowing exactly who they are? If the answer was yes, then the film was nixed. For instance, Ant-Man’s backstory isn’t really important to his appearances in Civil War and Endgame. If you have a passing knowledge of the character, then the film isn’t essential (that said, if you have no idea who a given character is, you probably should watch their solo film(s) so you aren’t completely in the dark.

Third, if the film had a major connection to an Infinity Stone, then it would be included by default.

Finally, the main criteria was how essential the film was to the main plot of the MCU. I broke down each of the three Phases into their bare-bones overarching plots and came up with the below:

**WARNING: The rest of this article contains major spoilers for many MCU films**

Phase 1: Fury assembles Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers so they can save the world from an extraterrestrial threat.

Phase 2: The Avengers discover the US government and SHIELD have been infiltrated by HYDRA and take them down.

Phase 3: With the Avengers disassembled, new heroes must rise to defend the world and help the Avengers reunite to defeat the greatest threat they’ve ever faced – Thanos.

If you haven’t watched the MCU films before, I would recommend that you stop reading here and go watch the films. The 13 films in the speed round are the most essential, but I do highly recommend watching all 23 to get the full experience.

For those who have watched the MCU films (or don’t care about spoilers) and are curious to know more about how I decided on this order, I’ve included a breakdown of my thinking for each film. I would also like to reiterate that while I deemed several of these non-essential, the best viewing experience comes from watching all the films in the series.

1. Iron Man

Where to watch: Disney+

As the first film in the franchise, Iron Man serves as the best introduction to the world of the MCU. It also just feels like sacrilege to not watch it first.

Since Tony Stark is one of the biggest characters in the MCU and appears in more films than any other, it is essential to watch his origin and see how he became Iron Man.

2. Captain Marvel*

Where to watch: Disney+

The post-credit scene in Iron Man is one of the most iconic in the franchise. Samuel L. Jackson appears as Nick Fury and mentions that Tony Stark isn’t the only hero in the world and he’s putting a team together. Watching Captain Marvel before you see that scene would take all the impact out of it – you would basically know everything he says.

But watching Captain Marvel after that scene turns it into an extended flashback explaining just what the hell Fury is talking about (much like how you watch Episode II & III after the reveal in Empire in Star Wars Machete Order). Fury, Coulson, just why Tony is “part of a bigger universe”, and even why it’s called “The Avengers Initiative” are all explained in this film. It also sets up the cosmic elements of the MCU early on, lending more credence to Fury’s paranoia and reasoning for creating the Avengers.

That said, we went 11 years without knowing any of this backstory and it has very little impact on any of the rest of the MCU films. As long as you know Captain Marvel is a super-powerful cosmic hero, you’ll be all set for her appearance in Endgame.

But speaking of post-credit scenes – you’ll have to skip the mid-credit scene of this one if you watch it out of Release Order as it skips ahead to Endgame and makes zero sense if you watch it out of Chronological Order.

3. Iron Man 2

Where to watch: Disney+

The next three films continue in chronological order and – along with the some of the early Marvel One Shots – all occur during the same week. Also known as “Fury’s Big Week”, it’s quite a lot to happen in such a short period of time. But whether you know that or not, it does make sense to watch these films in chronological order.

Iron Man 2 was one of those films that almost didn’t make it onto the Speed-Round list. In fact, the reason it’s essential has more to do with it’s secondary characters rather than the lead. Seeing Don Cheadle appear as Rhodey (and War Machine) in later films would be rather jarring without seeing this one, where they directly reference the recasting. Black Widow is also introduced, and Nick Fury is given a bit more to do this time around. Iron Man 2 also marks the first appearance of John Slattery’s version of Howard Stark. Skipping this would leave you with only the Dominic Cooper version until Ant-Man in the full Cape Order watch or Civil War in the Speed Round.

While no one of these characters would be enough to make the film essential, as they say the sum is greater than its parts.

4. The Incredible Hulk*

Where to watch:
UK: Netflix
USA: Amazon

Perhaps the single most expendable film in the entire MCU, The Incredible Hulk loses out on both relevance and quality. The fact that it is also the only Marvel film not on Disney+ (due to the original distribution deal with Universal) only goes to support how unimportant it is.

As previously explained by Jon Favreau himself, Hulk is set just after Iron Man 2, with Tony now officially on the Avengers team (as evidenced by his cameo in the end of the film).

And that’s pretty much the only scene you need to watch. While the Hulk does appear later in the franchise, none of the character development of this film – or even the actor who plays him – continues on. William Hurt does come back as General Ross, but even then he’s basically just playing a generic general. Whether you know he once hunted down the Hulk is pretty much irrelevant.

Honestly, unless you’re an absolute complete-ist, I’d recommend everyone skip this one, whether you’re going for full Cape or Speed-Round.

5. Thor

Where to watch: Disney+

Rounding off the Big Week, Thor introduces the Gods of Thunder and Mischief to the MCU – and both introductions are very much required viewing. Without this film, much of Avengers will be confusing for new viewers. Loki especially is a complex character and unlike, say, the Hulk, isn’t so easy to describe in a single sentence.

Also, since the (much maligned) sequel is essential because of the role it plays in Endgame, you have to watch this one first. Besides, it’s a fun one.

6. Captain America: The First Avenger

Where to watch: Disney+

I know what you’re thinking. Why not put The First Avenger first? It’s there in the title after all.

But despite the time period it’s set in, I still think The First Avenger plays better when watched just before Avengers, and it’s got a lot to do with the ending. If you watch the films in Chronological Order, Steve wakes up in 2012 and then… you have to watch five films before you get to see the payoff. While this does play as a second flashback film when viewed in Cape Order, you’re rewarded for getting more out of Cap’s fish-out-of-time storyline in Avengers. That film more than any other focuses on Steve being out of place.

And technically the bookends are in chronological order when viewed this way. Just saying.

This film also acts as a bit of a palate cleanser before Avengers. We’ve just had a run of three heroes who are kind of selfish and not naturally heroic. It’s nice to be reminded that not all the Marvel heroes are like that as we head into the first big team up.

7. Avengers

Where to watch: Disney+

Do I really need to explain why this film fits in here? Or why it’s essential viewing? If I do, you clearly need to go watch it again.

This also kicks off the next set of films that are best viewed both in Chronological and Release Order. These films each carry on directly from Avengers and show what each of the Avengers (minus Hawkeye) were up to next (for those saying “what about Hulk?” – you forgot about Banner’s cameo at the end of Iron Man 3, didn’t you?).

8. Iron Man 3*

Where to watch: Disney+

Despite being one of my personal favourites of the MCU, Iron Man 3 doesn’t make it onto the essential list for the Speed Round. Tony Stark dealing with PTSD following the events of The Avengers is great, and it does feed into some of the reasons why he ends up building Ultron later, but if you skip this one, you won’t miss anything. It also gives a false sense of closure to Tony’s story that is completely undone in his subsequent appearance.

That said, this is the best film to watch post-Avengers in the full Cape Order as it’s the most direct follow-on from that film.

9. Thor: The Dark World

Where to watch: Disney+

The Reality Stone is the main thing that makes this film essential. Oh, and Loki. Because who doesn’t want more Loki? But seriously – his arc to redemption starts here (despite his fake-out death) and if you skip this one, the start of Ragnarok with Loki-as-Odin will be rather confusing, especially if you last saw him in cuffs in Avengers.

The other important part of this film is Frigga’s death. It’s referenced in both Infinity War and Endgame – and in the latter it becomes rather significant to the time travel plot. Without seeing Frigga’s death, her conversation with Thor in Endgame doesn’t quite hit the same emotional chord.

Having said all that, much like Iron Man 2, I was a bit on the fence about including this in the Speed Round, especially as it’s often considered one of the worst MCU films (which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad in and of itself). I’m gonna say this one is really a dealer’s choice for the Speed Round.

10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Where to watch: Disney+

One of the best MCU offerings, this one has it all. It takes the previous government corruption we saw in Iron Man 3 (remember how the Vice President was one of the baddies in that one?) to a whole new level with the reveal that SHIELD has been completely infiltrated by HYDRA. On top of that, we get more Black Widow, the intro to Falcon, and the re-introduction to Bucky as the Winter Soldier. Add to that some truly great action set pieces and you’ve got an unmissable film.

Where the previous two films weren’t quite required viewing, The Winter Soldier absolutely is. In fact, if you wanted to do a super-speed round, I would say Avengers plus the four Russo Brothers films (in order) would be the best way to go.

11. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Where to watch: Disney+

If the Phase 2 films all have one thing in common, it’s that they are more focused on building character than they are on plot. Age of Ultron epitomises that, with two breaks in the action to see the Avengers just hanging out (first at Avengers tower, then later at the Barton farm). But that’s what makes the film so good – we get to see the Avengers being people as well as heroes.

In addition to setting the stage for Tony and Steve’s conflict in Civil War, Ultron introduces Vision and Scarlet Witch, both of whom play an important role in Infinity War. Also, if you haven’t seen this film, the opening of Endgame showing Clint with his family is a bit jarring and won’t have the same emotional impact. The surprise that Clint has a secret family plays much better in Ultron.

Since this film more or less wraps up the HYDRA storyline, it’s better when watched straight after The Winter Soldier instead of taking a detour into space for Guardians of the Galaxy (which would happen whether you went with Chronological or Release Order).

12. Ant-Man*

Where to watch: Disney+

Marvel did the right thing when they released Ant-Man between Age of Ultron and Civil War. As a smaller (pun intended) film, it’s a nice reprieve from the big crossover films.

I had a hard time trying to find a reason why Ant-Man was absolutely essential. Much of what you need to know about Ant-Man is covered in Civil War (exactly how he got his powers isn’t particularly relevant for that one) and even when Scott shows up in Endgame, much of what he says about Pym Particles and the Quantum Realm isn’t really important in and of itself. He explains how time works different there, therefore making time travel possible, and that’s all you really need to know.

Still, this was sort of sitting on the opposite end of the spectrum as The Dark World, where I was almost inclined to include it in the Speed Round just because it’s a fun film. But ultimately, I just couldn’t find a reason why it was essential.

13. Captain America: Civil War

Where to watch: Disney+

This is really more of an “Avengers 2.5” than it is a Captain America film, and boy is there a lot packed into this one. And that’s just the airport scene!

Spider-Man and Black Panther both get their introductions here, with each making quite the splash. You also finally get the payoff to the conflict setup in Age of Ultron between Tony and Steve and boy is it a big one. In fact, they don’t make up until 9 films later.

Almost every character gets significant character development in this one and all of those arcs come back by the time we hit Endgame.

14. Guardians of the Galaxy

Where to watch: Disney+

Okay, so this film is definitively set in 2014. Why should you watch it after a film set in 2016? Well, because it honestly doesn’t matter all that much.

I think watching all the previous films without the interruption of the two Guardians movies creates a single through-line for the Avengers as a group, starting with their origins, following them as they come together, and then seeing them disassembled. Add in the fact that the two Guardians films are best viewed together, and you’ve got quite the long break between The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron.

Instead, I think it’s better to let Guardians play as a “Meanwhile…” distraction from the downer ending of Civil War.

The first Guardians film is also the first real introduction to Thanos, so it sort of makes sense to let it play at this middle point, showing a distinct shift towards something bigger than what’s happening on Earth.

15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2*

Where to watch: Disney+

The next five films are all basically side adventures (with the exception of Doctor Strange, but we’ll get to that) which make them all fairly easy to skip.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 falls squarely in this camp. Yes, we get some extra character development thrown in for Quill, Gamora, and Nebula and the introduction of Mantis. But that’s about it, so it didn’t make the cut for the Speed Round.

The soundtrack, however, is an absolute must.

16. Black Panther*

Where to watch: Disney+

The order for these next few was a bit tricky. I mainly went with Chronological Order. But honestly, it doesn’t matter what order you watch Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Black Widow in, as long as you watch them all before Infinity War.

Black Panther picks up right after Civil War, which is why it comes first (and the others I put in Chronological Order too). But it’s also not essential. The character and enough about Wakanda is introduced in Civil War. In fact, it might make the Wakanda scenes in Infinity War more surprising if you skip this in the Speed Round.

17. Spider-Man Homecoming*

Where to watch:
UK: Amazon / Sky / Now
USA: Amazon

Another personal favourite of mine, and a hard one to tell people to skip. But like Black Panther, Spidey already showed up in Civil War and you don’t really need to know what happens in this to appreciate his appearance in Infinity War.

In fact, Tony Stark’s arc in this film is actually more plot-relevant than Peter’s as we see that he is trying to be a hero again after the events of Civil War. And while I really do like it, it doesn’t make the cut for the Speed Round.

18. Doctor Strange*

Where to watch: Disney+

Whilst this is the introduction and origin of Doctor Strange, it’s also the film where he’s least likeable. In fact, I’ve liked all of his subsequent appearances far more than his characterisation in his own film.

Strange’s cameo in Ragnarok serves as a decent enough introduction to the character to make this film non-essential. And while I know I said all films with Infinity Stones were included in the Speed Round, everything you need to know about the Time Stone is covered off in Infinity War, so I made an exception for this one.

19. Ant-Man and the Wasp*

Where to watch: Disney+

Even more than it’s predecessor, this film is an easy one to skip. Yes, it expands on the Quantum Realm, but again not enough to make it essential viewing.

That said, when viewed in Cape Order, you should skip the mid- and end-credit scenes in this one as they kind of give away the ending of Infinity War.

20. Black Widow*

Where to watch: Disney+

Despite being the first film released in Marvel’s Phase 4, this is really a Phase 3 film. It fits in perfectly with the other solo films that came out between Civil War and Infinity War, and indeed that is when the main story is set.

Since it came out after the Infinity Saga ended, it obviously isn’t required viewing, but it’s unclear how it will connect to the future of Marvel, especially if Yelena becomes a major character.

Also, while some might disagree, I think it’s fine to watch the end credit scene before Infinity War. Despite being potentially seen as a spoiler, it could also set up some intrigue going into Endgame.

21. Thor: Ragnarok

Where to watch: Disney+

When I first watched Ragnarok, I felt like it ended on this huge cliff-hanger and then the next film was Black Panther – which is technically set before it and thus frustratingly prolonged the resolution of that final scene. It makes much more sense to put it just before Infinity War. This way, you get a sort of mini trilogy with Infinity War and Endgame. And as a bonus, now there are two cliff-hanger endings instead of just the one in Infinity War.

Thor and Hulk’s journeys in this are definitely essential to the overarching plot. In fact, the arcs for both characters play nicely into my “mini trilogy” idea. You also get the culmination of Loki’s redemption arc (sort of). And of course, there’s the introduction of two of the most important characters in all of the MCU: Korg and Miek.

(Did I say most important? I meant funniest.)

22. Avengers: Infinity War & 23. Avengers: Endgame

Where to watch:
Infinity War: Disney+
Endgame: Disney+

These two go hand-in-hand and again play best as a duology (so much so that I’m not even going to write about them separately). The MCU spent 10 years building to these two films, so obviously they are both essential and just as obviously, they go at the end.

24. Spider-Man: Far From Home*

Where to watch:
UK: NetflixAmazon / Sky / Now
USA: Amazon

This one absolutely has to be watched in order – it spoils Endgame about 2 minutes in.
Because the next MCU saga is still in the early stages, it’s hard to say yet whether this will be required viewing later down the line. For now it feels optional, and I personally like leaving the story to end with Endgame.

Phase 4

As previously noted, Phase 4 is a bit hard to place at the moment. We know where the films fit into the timeline (roughly) but beyond that it’s impossible to comment on how they will play into the overarching story.

25. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Where to watch: Disney+

Spider-Man: Far From Home takes place roughly eight months after Endgame, and it seems like Shang-Chi takes place around the same time. The main action of the film is definitively set after the Blip, but beyond that we don’t get any real indication of the date.

26. The Eternals

Where to watch: Disney+

Much like Shang-Chi, we only really know that The Eternals is set after the Blip. Again, no specific date is given.

27. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Where to watch: Various streaming platforms

Picking up right after Spider-Man: Far From Home, we can place the time period of No Way Home in the autumn/winter of 2024, so roughly the same time as Shang-Chi and The Eternals. It is already clear that No Way Home is required viewing as it will lead into Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, which is set to be one of the most important Phase 4 films.

As more MCU films come out, we will continue to update this page.