There has never been a better time to settle in and watch all 23 movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The majority of the movies are available on a streaming service you probably already have, and all but one are available to stream somewhere.
If you haven’t seen any of the movies that make up Phases I-III (plus Spider-Man: Far From Home), it can feel a little overwhelming. If you’ve only seen a handful here and there, you may not feel like you have a good grasp on the overarching story that weaves throughout the films. If you’ve seen all of them, you might be looking for a new way to enjoy the series.
That’s where chronological story order comes in.
Watching in chronological order isn’t particularly different than watching in release order, but it makes everything feel much more coherent. The two biggest changes come right out of the gate as Captain America: The First Avenger (the fifth movie released) and Captain Marvel (the 21st movie released) jump to No. 1 and 2, respectively.
MCU Chronological vs. Release Order
|Chronological Order||Release Order|
|Chronological Order||Release Order|
|Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)||Iron Man (2008)|
|Captain Marvel (2019)||The Incredible Hulk (2008)|
|Iron Man (2008)||Iron Man 2 (2010)|
|Iron Man 2 (2010)||Thor (2011)|
|The Incredible Hulk (2008)||Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)|
|Thor (2011)||The Avengers (2012)|
|The Avengers (2012)||Iron Man 3 (2013)|
|Iron Man 3 (2013)||Thor: The Dark World (2013)|
|Thor: The Dark World (2013)||Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)|
|Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)||Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)|
|Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)||Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)|
|Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)||Ant-Man (2015)|
|Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)||Captain America: Civil War (2016)|
|Ant-Man (2015)||Doctor Strange (2016)|
|Captain America: Civil War (2016)||Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)|
|Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)||Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)|
|Doctor Strange (2016)||Thor: Ragnarok (2017)|
|Black Panther (2018)||Black Panther (2018)|
|Thor: Ragnarok (2017)||Avengers: Infinity War (2018)|
|Avengers: Infinity War (2018)||Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)|
|Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)||Captain Marvel (2019)|
|Avengers: Endgame (2019)||Avengers: Endgame (2019)|
|Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)||Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)|
So, why chronological?
Right from the get go in Captain America: The First Avenger, you’re introduced to the Tesseract (the Space Stone). It’s a major plot point for that movie specifically, but it comes back into play in Captain Marvel, and again in Thor. The continuity of the Tesseract’s journey from falling through the hull of Johann Schmidt’s aircraft to Project Pegasus to being in Nick Fury’s possession following Thor flows so perfectly.
That end-credit scene in chronological order delivers you right into The Avengers, a movie that deals with the Tesseract/Space Stone extensively.
Then you have appearances of other Infinity Stones in The Avengers (the soon-to-be found out Mind Stone) and Thor: The Dark World (the Reality Stone) before Guardians of the Galaxy lays it all out on the line for you as the Collector explains what the stones even are.
This isn’t to say you have no flexibility in chronological order, however. The first few movies are pretty set in stone as you do need to get all of the Avenger origin stories and introductions in before The Avengers. Once you finish Captain America: Civil War, you can hit the trio of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange in any order. I, for one, prefer to keep T’Challa’s storyline flowing with Black Panther, then Homecoming, then check in with Doctor Strange.
Thor: Ragnarok’s end credit scene leads right into the intense opening of Avengers: Infinity War. In release order, you’d go from Thor: Ragnarok to Black Panther before returning to the fate of the Asgardians.
Personally, I like to watch the two-movie epic of Infinity War and Endgame in one six-hour chunk. That way I can settle in and weep non-stop for six hours. Therefore, I watch Ant-Man and The Wasp before Infinity War (and just watch this end credit scene between the two epics). If you’d prefer an understandable break from the crying, you can use Ant-Man and The Wasp as a palate cleanser.
Overall, the differences between chronological and release order are subtle. Once you go chronological, though, you’ll never go back.