I’ve been a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the end credits scene in the first Iron Man movie, but I really got into it once I saw the Avengers. With the return of Agents of SHIELD tomorrow, the Daredevil Netflix series starting in April, Age of Ultron hitting theatres in May and Ant-Man following in July, there has never been a better time to be fan or become one.
With such a large catalog of content available it can be intimidating to get into if you just want to catch up in time to see the latest blockbuster this May. For that reason I’ve adopted a method similar to a Comic Book Reading List to help organize the best way to watch all of the MCU. This is not in chronological order or release order but instead the way that I think you can best enjoy the entire series as a whole. After each film or series I give a brief explanation of its placement in the order. Sometimes end credit scenes are best viewed sometime later so I have specified that in those cases.
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this and there is in fact no definitive way to watch everything but I hope this helps you or someone you know. If you feel I made a mistake or you don’t agree with a film’s placement feel free to leave me a comment at the bottom of the page.
#1 Iron Man (2008)
Iron Man is the perfect jumping off point to the MCU as it defines the general tone of the entire world and introduces us to one of our most important characters. The end credit scene also sets up the entire idea that there is a larger universe to the films.
#2 Iron Man 2 (2010)
Although it was released after The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 picks up directly after the original Iron Man movie. In fact, when watched back to back it becomes considerably more enjoyable since all the references to the first movie are much more fresh. Skip the end credits scene until later.
#3 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (2011)
The first Marvel One-Shot stars SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson in a pretty kick ass short. There is no need to watch this for continuity but it’s fun nonetheless. If you haven’t already, after watching this, watch the Iron Man 2 end credits.
#4 Thor (2011)
The movie that introduces the god of thunder also follows directly after Iron Man 2. The connective tissue that is SHIELD in the form of Phil Coulson narratively ties these three films together in a very satisfying way. The end credits scene is not bad but it can be a little confusing regarding the timeline. You could watch it right away but it isn’t really ever necessary to see. Ideally you should save it until after Captain America: The First Avenger.
#5 The Incredible Hulk (2008)
During the events of Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Thor, General Ross is hunting down the Hulk. For that reason I think it’s best to either watch it first or here. I personally prefer to watch it after the first three movies on this list because it encompasses their entire timeline. While I think this movie needs some serious help to be as good as it could be, in the form of a complete re-edit to include deleted scenes, it’s definitely not terrible. However, you don’t actually need to watch it for any reason. None of the events are referenced in more than a cursory way in the other films. Either way, skip the end credits.
#6 The Consultant (2011)
The second Marvel One-Shot ties the events of The Incredible Hulk with the events of Iron Man 2. Once again Phil Coulson holds the whole universe together.
#7 Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Although the main events of this film take place 70 years before the previous films, it ties into the next film directly so is best placed here as a sort of extended flashback to show us how we got to where we are at the culmination of this film. The end credits for this film was just a trailer for the Avengers so you can totally skip it. Also if you haven’t already this is a good time to watch the end credits from Thor.
#8 The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers picks up directly after the Captain America and builds on all the films you’ve watched thus far. In a way, it’s a reward for all the character development you’ve experienced if that wasn’t already reward enough. It’s kind of like eating an ice cream sundae for desert when dinner was a plate of chocolate chip cookies. The first end credit scene will become important later but for now you can probably skip it. The second end credit scene is just for a laugh and takes place before the end of the main film.
#9 Item 47 (2012)
For obvious reasons Phil Coulson doesn’t get to represent SHIELD in the third One-Shot but it’s still a fun little story. Not a must watch by any means but it does show some of the ramifications of the events that shook New York during The Avengers.
#10 Iron Man 3 (2013)
This movie picks up on Tony Stark only a few months after The Avengers but was released a year later in May. To add confusion it takes place in the previous December. The events of this film become somewhat important to the plot of the first season of Agents of SHIELD. The end credits scene explains why you’re watching the movie in May instead of December in a really ham-fisted way but it’s still good for a laugh and sets up a relationship that will probably become important in Age of Ultron.
#11 All Hail the King (2014)
The fifth One-Shot is the first one I’ve recommended watching outside of its release order and that’s because it directly follows the events of Iron Man 3. It ties Iron Man 3 back to the original Iron Man movie in a really fun way and is worth the watch. Stick around for the after credits scene to see a fun Iron Man 2 tie in too!
#12 – #19 Agent Carter Season 1 (2015)
The eponymous TV show takes place directly after the main events of Captain America: The First Avenger but in order to maintain the momentum of The Avengers story line I have placed it here in order to proceed the Agents of SHIELD series. This show was better than even I expected and I’m looking forward to a second season.
#20 Agent Carter (2013)
The fourth One-Shot short film was so well received that it spun off into its own TV show! A great little adventure for Peggy, this follows after the events of the show and leads well into the Agents of SHIELD series. Make sure you watch the after credits scene!
#21 – #28 Agents of SHIELD Season 1 – Episodes 1 – 7 (2013)
The first seven episodes of this series are definitely not the strongest as they spend a ton of time setting up characters and plot devices. Regardless, almost everything that happens has some effect on the series later on, so if you want to be fully informed you need to watch these.
#29 Thor: The Dark World (2013)
This film also picks up directly after The Avengers, this time following Thor instead of Iron Man, but the main events on earth take place sometime between Episode 7 and 8 of Agents of SHIELD so this is where I would watch it. The end credits scene will be important to Guardians of the Galaxy and take place directly after the film so be sure to watch it.
#30 – #37 Agents of SHIELD Season 1 – Episodes 8 – 16 (2013 – 2014)
Although the episode following the events of Thor: The Dark World isn’t one of the best, even it is referenced later in the series. After the midseason break when the show returns with Episode 11 the series really starts to pick up steam and becomes more relevant than ever in the next film. It’s like the series was just holding it’s breath for The Winter Soldier to be released.
#38 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Once again the events of this film follows up on The Avengers although not directly. In fact this film is more closely tied to the Agents of SHIELD TV Series than anything else. The main events take place simultaneously with episodes 16 & 17 but the main plot of this film will not be spoiled if you watch 16 first. The end credits sequence is just more story so make sure you stick around for it.
#39 – #45 Agents of SHIELD Season 1 – Episodes 17 – 22 (2014)
Although the events of The Winter Soldier spoil the big reveal in episode 17 there are still plenty of surprises left in this series. Over these last episodes the show finally finds its voice and builds to a rollercoaster finish that completes almost all of the plot points from the first half of the season.
#46 – #54 Agents of SHIELD Season 2 – Episodes 1 – 10 (2014)
From the very start of the very first episode this season of SHIELD is so much better than the first and it continues to entertain throughout while calling back to Agent Carter as well as the previous seasons and films. Then it goes on to set up one of the biggest storylines for the MCU going forward. I’m so excited to see where it goes tomorrow night!
??? Guardians of the Galaxy
I really enjoyed this movie but as of right now it doesn’t have a great place in the viewing order. If you want to watch it without spoiling anything you should watch the end credits sequence from The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World before you do. As we get closer to Infinity War, I’m sure this will find a better place in the order.
Thank you for reading! As the keep making more MCU content this list will keep changing but I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing how I re-watch all this great film and television.