I’ve noticed the general public doesn’t exactly understand the mastery that is the Marvel cinematic universe right now, but I am more than happy to be your guide to all forms of geekery. There are three phases the Marvel movies fall into, and understanding that format — and watching the movies in order — is key to understanding its beauty. This is because they all tie together in some way; they are all designed to be watched and understood separately, but viewing them this way takes away from the overall experience.
It is important to remember to watch the secret scene at the end of every movie. Some even have more than one, like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
This phase introduces the majority of the key players and focuses around a powerful item called the Tesseract. These characters are well known. Here is the order of release along with the release dates:
1. “Iron Man” (May 2, 2008)
Arguably the most popular Marvel movie, this one’s all about the roguish CEO of Stark Industries and the robotic suit he invents.
2. “The Incredible Hulk” (June 13, 2008)
Scientist Bruce Banner gets himself into trouble with his gamma ray experimentation and turns into a giant, green destruction machine when he’s angered.
3. “Iron Man 2” (May 7, 2010)
Continuing shortly after the first movie, Tony Stark fights a new enemy — really trying not to spoil anything here. The movie also introduces Thor.
4. “Thor” (May 6, 2011)
Thor is an Asgardian warrior who is exiled to Earth for his pride and must regain the right to wield the hammer Mjolnir.
5. “Captain America” (July 22, 2011)
Rogers is a sickly man who wants nothing more than to serve his country; he finds a way in the form of a super serum.
6. “Marvel’s The Avengers” (May 4, 2012)
These superheroes are brought together by S.H.I.E.L.D. (an agency dedicated to defending the populace from paranormal and supernatural threats) along with agents Black Widow and Hawkeye to eliminate the combined threat of an alien invasion and a corrupt Asgardian. (This one’s my favorite because Joss Whedon directed the film and wrote the script. You may know him from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly.”)
We’re currently near the end of this phase. As you may know, the second “Avengers” hasn’t come out yet, but it looks awesome.
7. “Iron Man 3” (May 3, 2013)
You get the gist by now; Stark’s a rich tycoon who’s balancing his job as a superhero with his love of Pepper while fighting a new evil. Still a fantastic recipe.
8. “Thor: The Dark World” (Nov 8, 2013)
Thor’s back on Earth to defend humanity from the dark elf Malekith and his powerful weapon, the Aether.
9. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Apr 4, 2014)
Captain America’s past catches up with him as he works for S.H.I.E.L.D. and defends it from a devastating attack. This one is probably my favorite of phase two so far; I don’t want to ruin anything, but the characters are all amazing and well performed.
10. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (August 1, 2014)
Apparently the highest-grossing superhero flick of the year, this movie follows a dysfunctional group of heroes. I’ve heard tell Gamora would’ve made a better protagonist, as Boing Boing‘s Caroline Siede — who rates the films here — thinks, but I, haven’t watched it yet. I’m sorry, I’m lazy. It didn’t have Black Widow in it; sue me.
11. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (May 1, 2015)
Joss Whedon’s at the helm again, and it’s going to be good. There’s sure to be more about the Inhuman and super powerful artifacts like the Aether and the Tesseract.
12. “Ant-Man” (July 17, 2015)
Not really sure why Marvel wouldn’t have “Avengers” close out the phase like they did with the first one, but I’m sure they have their reasons. I may not be crazy about their comics, but their movies are on point. I’m not terribly interested about a guy who can shrink down to an ant’s size while maintaining his super strength, but I’ll watch it anyway.
I could go into each of these, but I figure that once you get to this point, you’re pretty locked in to watching them all, so I’ll just share the movie and the release date if it’s a well-known name.
13. “Captain America: Civil War” (May 6, 2016)
14. “Doctor Strange” (Nov. 4, 2016)
A surgeon loses his career and turns to black magic. Should be exciting to see where Marvel takes this one.
15. “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” (May 5, 2017)
16. “Thor: Ragnarok” (Nov. 3, 2017)
17. “Avengers: Infinity War Part 1” (May 4, 2018)
18. “Black Panther” (July 6, 2018)
His father, the ruler of the African kingdom Wakanda, dies, making him take up the mantle of Black Panther. I admittedly know little about the comics other than the fact that Black Panther was the first African-American superhero with powers, so that’s cool.
19. “Captain Marvel” (Nov. 2, 2018)
Finally, a Marvel movie with a lady lead. I’m pretty excited about this one. Apparently the powers come from contact with the Kree empire, which you should probably maybe know a little about. Anyway, it’s not for another three years, so buckle down.
20. “Avengers: Infinity War Part 2” (May 3, 2019)
As the current closing movie for the phases, this one’s going to be epic. I’m not going too much into this, considering the possible spoilers, but you can read more here. In short, the Inhumans are superhuman test subjects.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
The show follows the events of the movies fairly closely, but it’s an excellent watch on its own. Start watching the majority of season one after “Avengers,” but stop after they’ve gone to find the serum for Skye. If you want to keep on track, watch the movies up until “Winter Soldier,” and then you can pretty safely watch the rest up until where we are in season two without ruining anything. It should be safe to watch everything as it comes out after that.
“Marvel’s Agent Carter”
The only thing here is to make sure you watch the first “Captain America” before you hit this one up, just for the backstory. “Winter Soldier,” while amazing, can be watched at any time. This one’s about Peggy Carter, founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. and love interest of Captain America. I think it’ll have something to do with Black Widow later (just a hunch), so watching sooner might be better.
I hope you enjoy the cinematic universe as much as I do. In whatever order you end up watching these, don’t forget the popcorn. Chocolate is also recommended.
Mary Frances Bryson
I have stated before I enjoy your writing. I have one question.
Is Joss Whedon also from Star Trek TV and movies?
No, you may be think of J.J. Abrams. Joss Whedon is associated with “The Avengers” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Thanks for your comment!
Avengers 2 was originally intended to close out Phase 2, but when Edgar Wright pulled out of the Ant-Man project, they had to buy some time to find his replacement and swapped the release date of the two films.
That’s actually incorrect Toby. We don’t know why Ant-Man moved from Phase 3 to Phase 2, but from the timeline of events your explanation doesn’t make any sense; Avengers: Age of Ultron was always intended to come out before Ant-Man – and in fact the space between the films diminished over time rather than expanded:
August 16, 2012: Marvel announces the release date for Avengers: Age of Ultron as May 1, 2015.
October 2012: Marvel announces that Ant-Man will be released November 6, 2015.
January 2013: Kevin Feige states that Ant-Man will be part of Phase 3.
September 2013: Disney moves the release date to July 31, 2015.
May 23, 2014: Marvel and Wright jointly announce that Wright is leaving the film.
October 2014: Kevin Feige announces that Ant-Man is no longer the first film of Phase 3, but rather the closing film of Phase 2.
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