[Please note: obviously there are full spoilers for the entire MCU, up to and including Captain Marvel. Please and thankyou.]
Avengers: Endgame is just a few days away, and to prepare yourself, here is the definitive MoshFish MCU viewing order, with recommendations for must-see films. The majority of these are based mostly on the post-credits scenes, because surprisingly, the internal plots of most of the movies are relatively disconnected from each other (aside from things likes character introductions). If you only have time for a few, the ones listed in bold will get you where you’re going.
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Marvel’s The Avengers
Phase 1 is relatively simple, as it’s full of origin stories before the final team up. Starting with Captain America: The First Avenger makes the most sense, chronologically, especially as it is chronologically the first. The introduction of SHIELD, Nick Fury and the concept of superheroes in general also makes sense to come first, as does having this be the only film in which we see Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (to prevent some flip-flopping of actors later down the line). Having this come before Iron Man also makes Nick Fury’s line to Tony Stark that much more poignant: “You think you’re the only superhero in the world?”
Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 should be watches in that order, as the events are shown to be after each other – many seem to think that Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk take place concurrently, but the news report of Hulk’s Culver University rampage is not a live video. Ensuring The Incredible Hulk comes after Captain America: The First Avenger also introduces the idea of the super soldier serum, which is what turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk.
The post-credit scene from Iron Man 2 leads directly into Thor, and therefore Thor must be the last before the big finale. It also introduces the characters of Thor and Hawkeye, as well as Loki, and the Tessarect, all of which are important in The Avengers. The post-credit scene from Thor ties directly into The Avengers, and frankly, it just makes sense to finish on the first major group film.
Thor: The Dark World
Guardians of the Galaxy
Iron Man 3
Captain America: Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Things do get a little bit wonky in phase 2, thanks in part to the post-credits scenes of each movie. First and foremost, it still boggles my brain that the MCU would run with an Ultron story without even a hint of Hank Pym (not even a single line in AoU, where Stark could say “My dad worked on this with Hank Pym back in the 70s.”)
Thor arriving back in Asgard with Loki picks up immediately after the ending of The Avengers, and leaving Loki in charge of Asgard, after faking his death for as long as possible heightens the drama and humour of the eventual reveal. This film also introduced the Aether, soon to be revealed as the Reality Stone, and it’s being left in the hand of The Collector has to come before the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, where the Collector reveals what the Infinity Stones are.
Iron Man 3 initially seems to take place nearly immediately after the first Avengers teamup, but not much in the film itself is out of place this far down the chain. The post-credit scene, featuring Bruce Banner, seems to imply Banner and Stark have been hanging out for a bit longer than it might seem if this was the first film after the Battle of New York.
The lack of direct connection from Iron Man 3 to a following movie means we can slot Captain America: The Winter Soldier in here with no repercussions (and the fact it is one of the best movies also helps). The post-credit scene, introducing Baron Strucker and the twins of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, is also the first direct tie into Avengers: Age of Ultron. Finally, as much as I really wish there was some way to watch Ant-Man before the second Avengers film, it just isn’t possible due to some of Hank Pym’s thoughts on the superhero team.
Captain America: Civil War
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Avengers: Infinity War
Ant Man & The Wasp
In Phase 3, things are surprisingly quite simple, mostly due to the post-credit scenes from each outing. First and foremost, and as much as I am still annoyed by the idea of the movie, Captain America: Civil War comes first. Aside from introducing Spider-man and Black Panther, this also adds some more dramatic weight with Captain America being missing until his return in Avengers: Infinity War. Black Panther and Spider-man: Homecoming come next, in any order, really, but I personally like to give Iron Man time to get over War Machine’s injury before his appearance in Spider-man: Homecoming, and get a quicker payoff to Bucky being in Wakanda, following Civil War.
The way these three films all fit together also cleanly separate the second half of this third phase, with a bit of levity in between in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. GOTG2 only slots in here because of the tie-ins between Civil War/Panther/Spidey, and the incoming segues between Strange/Ragnarok/Infinity War/Ant-Man and the Wasp, which have to be in that order.
Doctor Strange itself can be pretty much anytime at all, except that it’s stinger immediately leads into Thor: Ragnarok, and I suppose you may not know who Doctor Strange is in Thor: Ragnarok. Similarly, Thor: Ragnarok leads directly into the opening scene of Avengers: Infinity War, which takes place, as a whole, at roughly the same time as Ant-Man and the Wasp. Only the post-credit scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp has to be after Infinity War, but watching that first would ruin the Thanos Snap surprise.
Finally, you may notice that something is missing, and that is because, as a whole, I cannot figure out where to slot Captain Marvel in. Taken as a flashback, it makes a lot of sense to go immediately after Captain America: The First Avenger, where it takes place chronologically, and it also heavily involves the Tessarect. Since Captain Marvel is the first chronological introduction of Ronan the (soon to be) Accuser, it could even go at some point before the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Were you to watch it before Infinity War, you would have an understanding of what the pager Nick Fury has would be.
However, the post-credits scenes, firstly of Carol arriving at the Avengers’ Compound post-Snap means it must be after Infinity War. It could, therefore, go before Ant-Man and the Wasp, but Carol meeting Captain America and Black Widow is arguably a bigger cliffhanger for Endgame than Ant-Man being stuck in the Quantum Realm. Secondly, Goose hurking up the Tesseract takes place in the 90s, well before the Tessarect it of importance in Marvel’s The Avengers. I really don’t like that Endgame stinger in Captain Marvel, and it throw off my list significantly.
But of course, if, like me, you’re already prepared for Endgame, then you’ve most definitely seen most, if not all of these movies several times already. It’s been a decade of dominance for Marvel at the box office, with three of the top ten grossing films of all time coming from this franchise, and it is expected that Endgame will make a killing itself. But for some of us, this is more about closure, because after 21 movies, over seven billion dollars worldwide and literally half of our favourite heroes dead, I am looking forward to not just the end of this Saga, but everything that comes next.