Avengers: Infinity War is more than just another Marvel movie. It’s a celebration of everything Marvel Studios has done to date, bringing a decade’s worth of storytelling to a head. With the film due to release on April 27, fans are preparing to binge-watch through Marvel’s entire history. Here’s the interesting question; what order should these movies be viewed in?
There are two common ways of viewing the MCU. The first is in release order, kicking off with 2008’s Iron Man. The second is chronological, i.e. following the order of events. That means moving Captain America: The First Avenger to the pole position, and shuffling Phase 3’s movies in some interesting ways. Over on Reddit, however, one smart fan has suggested his own approach. It’s unique, designed to focus not on the order of events, but on the MCU’s overarching themes. With 18 films to watch before Infinity War, this may be the best viewing order.
Captain America: The First Avenger
There’s a sense in which Captain America: The First Avenger is something of an extended introduction to the MCU. The bulk of the movie is set in the ’40s, and it introduces viewers to the SSR, which would become S.H.I.E.L.D.. Even the end-credits sequence, which features Nick Fury, is nice setup for everything that will follow.
Although Iron Man was the first MCU movie, watching it after The First Avenger gives it more power. Howard Stark is a known quantity courtesy of The First Avenger, and watching his son take his first faltering steps into the “bigger universe” is pretty effective. The final scene, with Nick Fury stepping out of the shadows, takes on a subtly different meaning. Now, it’s viewed as a connective tissue between the first two films.
Iron Man 2
Iron Man introduces viewers to the modern-day iteration of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the sequel dives deep into that organization. It also features Nick Fury in a far more significant role, allowing viewers to get a sense of just who this figure really is. Meanwhile, the focus on Howard Stark’s legacy continues to draw the narrative threads together. It makes perfect sense to watch Iron Man 2 at this point.
The Incredible Hulk
This particular adjustment to the viewing order is appropriate – while The Incredible Hulk actually happens at the same time as Iron Man 2, the end-credits sequence assumes Stark has a “consultant” role with S.H.I.E.L.D..
Thor introduces viewers to Asgard, and launches a series of movies inspired by events in the Realm Eternal. At the same time, it continues the S.H.I.E.L.D. focus, with Coulson and Hawkeye playing important roles.
This is a natural fit after the events of Thor, continuing many of that film’s themes and character arcs. Loki returns as a villain, the concept of the Tesseract is explored, and the existence of dangerous alien beings becomes public knowledge when the Chitauri invade New York. There’s also a more subtle detail as this is the first film to really hint that S.H.I.E.L.D. aren’t just “good guys.” The Avengers includes a disturbing sequence in which the World Council orders a nuclear attack on American soil.
Thor: The Dark World
Here’s where the order of events really changes, but for good reason; the last two films have explored the cosmic side of the MCU, and it makes sense to continue that line. Some of the most important themes and ideas – particularly the relationship between Thor and Loki – follow on perfectly from The Avengers. This also introduces the idea of the Infinity Stones, although they’re only partly explained at this point.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Continuing the cosmic focus, Guardians of the Galaxy unveils another Infinity Stone. The Collector, introduced in the stinger of Thor: The Dark World, makes another appearance, tying the two films together. Viewers are left with a strong sense that the Infinity Stones are being brought into play across the universe.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are set only a couple of months after the first film, so it makes sense for this to follow straight on. It continues the space-opera style and tone established by the last two movies.
Iron Man 3
The cosmic diversion is over, and the focus now moves back to Earth – where Tony Stark is dealing with the emotional fallout from The Avengers. The passage of time between the films actually makes Tony’s PTSD feel more significant, also more making it feel more natural that Stark has had the time to build so many armors.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Continuing with the Earthly focus, this shows what Captain America is up to. The Redditor actually suggests that this could even be happening at the same time as Iron Man 3, explaining why Cap doesn’t help Tony against the Mandarin, and why Stark isn’t on hand to deal with Hydra. That seems a stretch – not everything has to be connected, and Cap and Stark are still wary of one another at this stage in the timeline. Perhaps most importantly, placing this film here begins a Falcon arc that will run through the next few movies.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
This is another natural fit; the film opens with the Avengers taking down a major Hydra base. In thematic terms, placing this close to Iron Man 3 makes Tony’s emotional journey feel more immediate and natural. This film begins to tie the Earth-bound adventures into the cosmic stories, with another Infinity Stone revealed. Thor’s vision establishes a sense of impending threat.
Set in the immediate aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man contains subtle references to the devastation at Sokovia. Placing it here in the line-up makes the Falcon fight carry a little more weight, as Sam’s been a secondary character in the last two Earth-bound films.
Captain America: Civil War
The Sokovia arc begun in Avengers: Age of Ultron comes to a head in Captain America: Civil War, tearing the Avengers apart. Civil War acts as the launchpad for the next batch of Earth-bound stories, so they slot in nicely after it. It also follows on perfectly from Ant-Man‘s end-credits scene.
Black Panther was introduced in Civil War, and this continues his story. It’s appropriate to drop this movie in next, as Black Panther is set only a week after the Avengers divide and the Wakandan focus follows on nicely from the end-credits sequence. Unfortunately, Black Panther is the one thing that’s going to frustrate fans who are trying to binge-watch the MCU. The film’s home release date is as yet unconfirmed, but will certainly fall after Infinity War hits the big screen. It may be worth paying an extra visit to the cinema before Black Panther heads home.
Set two months after Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming focuses in on Peter Parker. It’s important to note that Tony Stark has been given time to heal a little, so this viewing order makes sense.
Ant-Man & the Wasp
It’s obviously not possible to watch this just yet – Ant-Man & the Wasp won’t release until later this year. But the Redditor notes that this film continues the fallout from Civil War, while also focusing in on the Quantum Realm. As such, it’s likely to be an effective bridge back to the more spectacular side of the MCU.
Placing Doctor Strange here gives the film real importance as a thematic tie between the MCU’s Earth-bound and cosmic movies. Doctor Strange introduces the concept of magic, and brings the Time Stone into play. The Quantum Realm also plays a subtle role, as Strange glimpses it while being sent careering through the dimensions. Finally, the end-credits scene leads nicely into Thor: Ragnarok.
In this viewing order, Thor: Ragnarok is the last movie to watch before Avengers: Infinity War. That’s because the film follows on logically from Doctor Strange (there’s even a cameo), while its end-credits scene happens mere minutes before the beginning of Marvel’s 10-year celebration. The Asgardian refugees are stopped in their tracks by Thanos’s Sanctuary II and tragedy can be the only result.
This is a smart and innovative approach to the MCU. Not strictly chronological, this viewing order instead groups the films together according to their themes and concepts. Everything builds nicely to a head, with far fewer diversions in the MCU’s ongoing narrative.
See Avengers: Infinity War on April 27.