Are you holding out for a hero, especially one who’s gotta be strong, gotta be fast
and gotta be fresh from the fight? Well, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more than a few of those.
Since 2008, the Marvel movies have given us a steady stream of superheroes and stories that have ruled movie theaters – and now streaming services! – to become must-see pop-culture staples. With “Black Widow” (in theaters and on Disney+ via Premier Access Friday) finally arriving after a pandemic delay, it’s a good time to binge all 24 movies (so far) for the first time or the umpteenth.
Sure, you could watch them in release order, starting with the original “Iron Man,” and be totally fine. But with certain tales taking place in the past and some connecting more directly to others in the overall narrative, maybe try out a different viewing order to change things up. (Most Marvel movies can be streamed on Disney+, while the rest – including the Sony-released “Spider-Man” films – are available on various digital platforms.)
Start here: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’
A top-notch World War II origin story for Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the first Cap flick comes earliest in the timeline, introduces the heart and soul of the MCU, and flings our hero into modern day to meet Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to tease a bigger deal at stake.
2. ‘Captain Marvel’
In addition to seeing a cosmic aspect to the MCU, we get to see Fury in the ’90s as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and how his dealings with supremely powerful Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) inspire the Avengers Initiative. Also, the end-credits scene where a modern-day Carol meets the Avengers is one heck of a flash-forward tease.
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3. ‘Iron Man’
Now’s the time for the other important origin, of arms-dealing genius playboy billionaire philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his journey toward being a tin man with a heart. This is also a totally fine place to start – since it’s the first MCU movie – but it’s cool to know a little more about Fury’s initiative when he arrives, cloak and dagger style, to recruit Stark.
4. ‘The Incredible Hulk’
True, Mark Ruffalo is a WAY better Bruce Banner than this film’s star, Edward Norton, but it’s still helpful to watch this chapter to figure out how the Hulk came to be with the whole gamma radiation thing and all. However, for those who want a speedier experience, it’s totally skippable.
5. ‘Iron Man 2’
This one isn’t great either, though it is essential in terms of introducing assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and boosting the status of another future Avenger, Stark’s bud James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), aka War Machine. An end-credits scene also showcases a magical hammer, setting the stage for …
Finally! Chris Hemsworth’s thunder god enters the MCU with an adventure that kicks him out of Asgard to spend time on Earth to figure out his worthiness. The flick brings Thor’s trickster half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into the fold, plus keep your eyes open for a quick first appearance from ace archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
7. ‘The Avengers’
Ah, now we’re getting epic! The blockbuster shawarma-chomping party brings together Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Hulk (hello, Ruffalo!) to stave off an alien invasion of Manhattan perpetrated by Loki. Also of note: A glimpse of cosmic baddie Thanos pops up in an end-credits scene, setting the stage for our heroes’ biggest challenge.
8. ‘Thor: The Dark World’
The bad news: It’s a forgettable movie with the MCU’s absolute worst villain (Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith). The good news: The Aether, one of the Infinity Stones, possesses Thor’s girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and gets transported to outer-space oddball The Collector (Benicio del Toro). His appearance sets up …
9. ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
Here’s where we finally get an explanation of the all-powerful Infinity Stones and their appeal for Thanos. More entertaining, though, is a bunch of misfits banding together as a team, a talking tree and a raccoon are best friends and rogue-ish Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) tries to explain “Footloose” to space assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
10. ‘Iron Man 3’
“Science Bros” Stark and Banner drove off together at the end of “Avengers,” so let’s catch up with them here in a primarily solo adventure as Iron Man deals with some serious PTSD from the attack of Manhattan and Ben Kingsley as the terrorist Mandarin (though there’s some twistiness in his reveal).
11. ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
Cap learns his childhood best bud Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is a brainwashed assassin and that the evil Hydra has pretty much taken over S.H.I.E.L.D. from within. In addition, an end-credits scene introduces Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who becomes very important later, and her speedy bro Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
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12. ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver form an anti-Avengers squad with evil robot Ultron (James Spader), a peacekeeping artificial intelligence created by Stark and Banner that turns megalomaniacal. The kids wind up teaming with the Avengers to save their Eastern European country and Vision (Paul Bettany) debuts as an android powered by the Soul Stone.
Ex-criminal Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) hooks up with inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to save the day using a supersuit that utilizes Pym’s size-changing tech. Bigger picture: An end-credits scene shows Cap and Falcon helping Winter Soldier and needing help from a certain super-shrinky guy.
14. ‘Captain America: Civil War’
The drama of “Civil War” mainly centers on Cap and Tony’s disagreement over government oversight of the Avengers, leading to a humongous hero-vs.-hero battle and some old favorites locked up or on the run from the authorities. Cap and Winter Soldier throw down with Iron Man, plus fans see a high-profile debut from Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
15. ‘Black Widow’
Just because we had to wait years and nearly two dozen movies for a Johansson solo adventure doesn’t mean you have to. A fugitive on the lam, our heroine goes on a global quest to take down the shady Russian organization responsible for her lost childhood, plus teams up with her sister, kid assassin Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh).
16. ‘Black Panther’
Boseman’s Wakandan ruler T’Challa watched his dad die in “Civil War” and now heads home to rule the African nation, whose vast high-tech superiority to the rest of the world is a secret. However, American mercenary Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) emerges as a dangerous contender to the throne.
17. ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’
“Homecoming” is the MCU’s version of a teen movie, as Holland’s Peter Parker – with Stark as mentor and father figure – tries to figure out a balance between being a kid and a hero. The crazy-smart rookie also has to deal with the Vulture (Michael Keaton), a criminal salvager using alien tech for various misdeeds.
18. ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2’
Heading back into space to check in on our favorite galactic jerks, the sequel reveals that Star-Lord’s dad Ego (Kurt Russell) is a god-like Celestial with designs on universal consumption. Speaking of parents, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) makes it clear she wants to off their bad dad, Thanos. (Yes, don’t forget about him.)
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19. ‘Doctor Strange’
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a self-centered surgeon crippled by a car accident, who, at his lowest point, learns the ways of the mystic arts from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). It turns out the new Sorcerer Supreme’s Eye of Agamotto is the Time Stone and an end-credits scene features a visit from Thor that leads right into …
20. ‘Thor: Ragnarok’
Thor’s long-lost evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) leads a hostile takeover of Asgard and the thunder god is blasted to the battle planet Sakaar, where Thor reconnects with Hulk and, with the help of warrior queen Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), tussles with Hela. It ends with Asgardian survivors on a spaceship, where Thor and Loki are met with a mysterious and formidable vessel.
21. ‘Avengers: Infinity War’
Oh, no, Thanos (Josh Brolin) is here – and he’s irked. The big guy defeats Thor and other various superfriends en route to collecting all six Infinity Stones, leading to an all-out battle vs. our heroes in Wakanda. Thanos uses the collected stones for some brutally heinous shenanigans in one bonkers cliffhanger.
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22. ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’
The “Ant-Man” sequel acts as an interlude, with Scott, Hope (now with her own supersuit as the Wasp) and Hank needing to rescue Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the trippy Quantum Realm. Unfortunately, Scott gets trapped there himself during an expedition with no way to get out until …
23. ‘Avengers: Endgame’
A desperate attempt to set things right ends badly, and five years later, the remaining Avengers travel through time and space to collect the Infinity Stones before Thanos can nab them. The result is a thrilling climax filled with huge action and emotional sacrifice – all you really need to know is Cap wields Thor’s hammer and it’s totally amazing.
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24. ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’
In the “Endgame” epilogue, Peter Parker puts superhero business on hold so he can go on a class trip to Europe and tell his crush, MJ (Zendaya), how he feels about her. Strange new dude Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) proves an obstacle, and Spidey is rocked with a gut-punch announcement by controversial newsman J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons).
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