The Marvel cinematic universe is an entertainment juggernaut, always expanding and broadening its narrative reach every year with new TV shows and films. How’s a person supposed to keep up with all that material? Well, fear not. We’ve done our research and we’re here to let you in on all the secrets. From Captain America: The First Avenger to the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, we’re here to help you get caught up just in time for Ant-Man.
We’re doing this by whole stories, because if we broke up every flashback in order you’d spend more time switching Blu-rays than actually watching the movies. We’re not doing that to you because your time is important to us.
We’re also not including the Marvel One-Shots, as Marvel has stated they aren’t hard canon, and can be re-written at any time.
[Updated 12/22/2015] We’ve adjusted the placement Jessica Jones to the timeline below thanks to the keen eye of some of our readers!
Captain America: The First Avenger
Starting us off in 1942, we have the first Captain America film. It actually works very well as an entry point into the franchise by using the recognizable backdrop of World War II and the relatable character of Steve Rogers to help introduce the supernatural aspects of the lore such as the cosmic cube.
Captain America is gone and World War II has ended. It’s 1946 and Peggy Carter is no longer fighting the Nazis or HYDRA, but the sexism of her own peers. An excellent series that expands on a fantastic character, but also the fundamentals of the universe that help shape the stories to come.
The movie that started it all is now the third entry in our viewing order. It is, however, the first movie set in the 21st century. It not only introduces us to Tony Stark, but the advanced technology of the era that will show up in many more installments to come.
Iron Man 2
More suits, more Tony, and more corporate espionage. While it doesn’t contribute much to the overall canon of the MCU, it’s an entertaining film that introduces us to Black Widow and Howard Stark.
The Incredible Hulk
Something of the black sheep of the MCU, the movie is much better than people give it credit for. The film really nails the “man on the run” feel and Edward Norton’s turn as Bruce Banner is strong. The first act in Rio is especially engaging, as is learning all the little ways Bruce learns to live with his condition.
Now we’re going cosmic with the Asgard gang. We’re given our introduction to worlds beyond Earth, not to mention Thor and Loki. Thor is a key title in the MCU, as it sets up all the intergalactic plotlines that will run through the story leading up to Infinity War. We also get our first (albeit dark) glimpse of Hawkeye.
Here we are. The culmination. The pay off. The film that Marvel pinned its hopes, dreams, and bank accounts on. Luckily, it was a rousing success critically and financially. Somehow, the movie brought together seven larger than life characters (not even counting Loki and the side players) in a way that felt completely natural. Everyone gets their moment to shine and Phase 1 goes out in style. Also we see two infinity stones in each of this film: the mind gem in Loki’s scepter and the cosmic cube.
Iron Man 3
Tony’s been going through an existential crisis since fending off an alien army in The Avengers. Luckily, Shane Black is on hand to give him an intimate old school action story to help him get his mojo back. A lose adaptation of the Extremis storyline, Iron Man 3 proved a bit divisive among old time Marvel fans for how it treated the character of the Mandarin. It’s hard to deny the movie is very entertaining, though.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 1, Part 1. Episodes: Pilot – The Hub)
The first few episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aren’t its best, but they do set up the team and their challenges. Most people will probably skip this section, but we’re thinking of the die hards who want every hour of the canon on screen.
Thor: The Dark World
A solid movie that ups the action from the first Thor and gives Loki some really great scenes to work with. It also introduces us to another infinity stone: the Aether. It also has a really fun third act.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season1, Part 2. Episodes: The Well – End of the Beginning)
The Well acts as a fallout episode from Thor: The Dark World, with the team cleaning up after Thor’s battle with Malekith in London. These are the last episodes with a fully functional S.H.I.E.L.D. until it’s destruction in the next entry…
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
One of the best (if not the best) installment of the MCU, The Winter Soldier borrows heavily from 1970s political thrillers to deliver a fantastic action film. Steve’s difficulties adjusting to the 21st century are finally brought front and center as he finds a new mission for himself… which happens to be very similar to his old one.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 1, Part 3. Episodes: Turn, Turn, Turn – Beginning of the End)
Season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. closes out dealing with the aftermath of The Winter Soldier. Our team scrambles to stay together after a series of betrayals and the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. is no more.
Guardians of the Galaxy
While it may be a side story in the saga we’ve seen thus far, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fantastic chapter in its own right, sure to play into Phase 3 in many ways… the least of which is introducing another infinity stone: a purple orb of power. The characters are great, the action entertaining, and the story is surprisingly touching. Also, the soundtrack is the best thing ever.
The timeline of when exactly Daredevil takes place is a little murky, but we do know for sure it occurs two years after the Battle of New York in The Avengers. A fantastic show that borrows from 70s crime dramas such as The French Connection, Daredevil is the adaptation of the character the fans always wanted. We opted to put it before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2, as that show will overlap with Age of Ultron and we didn’t want to break up the viewing experience any more than we had to.
Thanks to some of our readers, we’ve pegged this show as taking place in early 2015, starting in winter. That means it takes place either during or just after the events of Daredevil.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 2, Part 1. Episodes: Shadows – The Dirty Half Dozen)
Our gang is still trying to pick up the pieces from the HYRDA infiltration. They meet new friends, new enemies, and we’re introduced to the Inhumans.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Here it is: more pay off for the faithful. We’re sure to get more epic battles and character quips as the Earth’s mightiest heroes assemble for a second time to confront Ultron.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 2, Part 2. Episodes: Scars – S.O.S. Part Two)
The last few episodes of season 2, dealing with Age of Ultron fallout as they wrap up their own story lines.
Good things come in small packages as Hank Pym trains a young thief in the ways of shrinkage in order to save the world. This takes place shortly after Age of Ultron and features a few small references to the events of that film.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3
The Inhumans are rising and only Coulson’s team can keep them in check. Most of Season 3 should air without any films breaking it up, but expect Captain America: Civil War to be between episodes near the finale..
Captain America: Civil War
The bulk of the third Captain America film takes place sometime after the events of Ant-Man.