Movies | Marvel Cinematic Universe 'Infinity Saga' Viewing Order
The Marvel Cinematic Universe began with Phases, the first starting with Iron Man in 2008 and ending with The Avengers in 2012. Then came Phase 2, beginning with the last solo Stark move, Iron Man 3, and finishing with the (literal) small-scale Ant-Man. Then came the largest - and most Ike Perlmutter-free - Phase, starting with Captain America: Civil War and finishing off earlier this year with Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Now, the MCU is so large that Phases aren't enough anymore, with these first three now being known as the 'Infinity Saga' - which makes sense considering how many of the movies feature or centre around the six Infinity Stones. You could watch these movies in release order, but I've found it's actually far more fun, and interesting, to watch them in the order of the year they were set.
Captain America: The First Avenger is probably the most obviously out of order, but there are a few that may surprise, including one that actually jumps from where I thought it was positioned in the timeline thanks to a line in Avengers: Endgame that most probably skipped over.
One last note: this is purely the order in which I would now watch the Infinity Saga and the reasons why I think the movies go in their places in the timeline of the MCU. Also, there's only one non-movie entry here, with most eventually becoming canonically-questionable at best, One-Shots included.
Captain America: The First Avenger
There may be scenes in other movies set earlier, but the period running from Red Skull's attack on the Norwegian village of Tonsberg (the future New Asgard) in 1942 all the way up to Cap's burial in the ice just before VE Day in 1945 is the earliest point in time a single MCU story takes place.
Agent Carter, Season 1
And here is the only non-movie entry here, thanks to just how integral the story of The First Avenger is to the plot of the season, especially with Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper returning to reprise their roles in 1946 New York. Joe Russo directing, Markus and McFeely writing, and Kevin Feige overseeing everything makes damn sure this should be included.
A big jump forward here, although still not quite up to where the MCU actually began on-screen. Set in 1995 with multiple flashbacks to 1989, this takes place over a decade before Tony Stark first suits up, although is also well after Janet van Dyne was lost in the Quantum Realm and Hank Pym quit SHIELD (1989 again).
Finally, we get up to where the MCU began, with this movie effectively being set in the year of release, 2008. Watching in this order (and especially if you've seen the later movies too), Nick Fury's line about Iron Man not being the only superhero is waaay more convincing, because it's now an absolute fact.
The Incredible Hulk
Continuing the trend of being set in the year of release, 2009's Hulk movie is up next despite its location in the timeline being pretty interchangeable with the next two movies as they happen at almost the same time. I put it here to get it out of the way as soon as possible thanks to this being Edward Norton's only outing as Bruce Banner/Hulk.
Iron Man 2
Set six months after Iron Man, this probably takes place just after Incredible Hulk as Stark is definitely not being viewed favourably by Nick Fury nor SHIELD despite seemingly working with them at the end of Hulk. We also get to see an older Howard Stark in action for the first time, and Black Widow joins the MCU.
This movie has to take place after Iron Man 2 no matter what, thanks to SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson leaving that movie to arrive in this one! In addition to the God of Thunder, Hawkeye also shows up for the first time and the post-credits scene reveals that Fury is still looking after the Tesseract following the events of Captain Marvel.
This one is pretty much a fixed point too, being impossible to come any earlier or later thanks to bringing together the original six Avengers for the first time - even if the team was named after Carol Danvers' call-sign. This is also where the Infinity Saga really kicks off with the first appearance of Thanos in the end credits, and the cause of all Tony Stark's behaviour going forward.
Iron Man 3
Considering people are still talking about the Battle of New York and Tony is suffering from anxiety attacks after what he experienced in the previous movie, there's no other place this could go, even if Aldrich Killian seems to think that Thor's arrival on Earth was the real kick-starter for everything.
Thor: The Dark World
There's nothing to say that this takes place before the next movie in this list, but neither is there any reason for it to appear later, so it's pretty safe to say this simply takes place in release order and is set in 2013. I was going to say that it becomes surprisingly important after Endgame, but it is the only appearance of what will become the Reality Stone...
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Again, no reason to say this doesn't take place in the year of release, 2014, but we do get the first mention of Stephen Strange here, well before we actually get to see him on-screen. This was arguably just as impactful as The Avengers, removing SHIELD as the unifying element of the MCU, while also bringing Falcon into the fold and setting up the dominoes leading to wars both civil and infinite.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Explicitly takes place in 2014, so really has to go here. Watching Captain Marvel before this does also mean that this would be the second time we see Ronan and Korath in the MCU, and are well aware of the Kree being utter dicks. It also helps to further flesh out the cosmic side of the MCU, with Thanos getting more screen time and a little backstory for the Infinity Stones too.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The sequel straight away? Yep. Like the first two Iron Man movies, this takes place only around six months after the first and so it's place here is pretty set in stone too. Plus, it also has the added advantage of giving a bit of a larger gap between this movie and Infinity War, allowing the team time to become as comfortable as they are with each other by the time the latter takes place.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The in space with the Guardians allows a little breathing room to allow the Avengers time to raid HYDRA bases as stated at the start of this movie. With nothing to say otherwise, we can say that this movie is set in 2015, when the movie released. Does even more to set up the Infinity Stones, especially with the addition of Vision and Scarlet Witch to the mix and the beginning of the end for Tony Stark.
Starting with a scene set before Captain Marvel, the majority of the movie takes place just after the events of Age of Ultron, as evidenced by Hank Pym's reference to the Avengers dropping cities out of the sky. Yet another major piece of the Endgame puzzle is first set up here with our introduction to the Quantum Realm.
Captain America: Civil War
Stark's creation of Ultron led directly into this movie and the split in the Avengers, which would go on to prove fatal to the universe (well, half of all living things in it) in Infinity War. Black Panther and Spider-Man also get their MCU debuts here, setting up the next two entries in the Infinity Saga.
Taking place very shortly (a week or two at most) after Civil War, this movie is set a couple of years before its year of release and allows for T'Challa to have settled into the role of King of Wakanda before Infinity War. Wakanda sharing its technology at this point was also probably what head Stark down the route of nano-technology for his final suits of armour.
This takes place a little further after Civil War and is more than likely still set in 2016 despite being released in 2017. The years difference since the events of The Avengers that is stated at the start of this movie has been acknowledged as incorrect, so ignore it.
I had originally thought that this movie took place earlier than this, but the line in Avengers: Endgame I mentioned right at the start comes into play here: when the Avengers visit 2012 New York, the Ancient One tells Hulk that he's five years too early for Stephen Strange to be in residence at the Sanctum Sanctorum, placing this movie firmly in 2017.
Pretty removed from the events of the previous five movies, it's only really the mid-credits scene that places this movie here, leading directly into the opening of Infinity War. I think that scene takes place some time after the main movie though, as Infinity War takes place in 2018, yet Bruce finds out he's been Hulk for two years during the main story, which means that this Ragnarok's story took place in 2017 if Age of Ultron was set in 2015.
Avengers: Infinity War
Picking up right where Thor: Ragnarok left off means this has no choice but to come next. Watching Captain Marvel as early as this order puts it also gives the post-credits scene even more hope than it did originally, as we already know just how fricking powerful she is and how much of a boost she could be for a universe that has just hit rock bottom.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
This takes place probably a day or two before the events of Infinity War, which we know thanks to Natasha thinking Scott is still under house arrest in that movie. It's the mid-credit scene that really cements its position, taking place at the exact same time as Infinity War's finale, while also setting up the key to defeating Thanos in Endgame.
More? Okay, a couple of bits as it would take far too long to point out how everything before now led up to this point: watching Captain Marvel so early really lets the audience agree with Rhodey when he asks Carol where she's been for so long; moving Doctor Strange back also means that this is the fourth move in five in which he's appeared - appropriate considering Endgame is effectively his plan working- "we're in the Endgame now" after all; and my favourite thing is that moving Captain America: The First Avenger to the first movie in the Infinity Saga means that Steve and Peggy's romance gets to bookend the whole damn thing.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
A bit of a breather after Endgame, it definitely acts as more of an epilogue to the Infinity Saga rather than setting up the MCU going forward. That is, outside of the post-credits scene with Fury and a welcome return for the Skrulls, Talos and Soren, after their previous appearance all the way back in Captain Marvel.
That's the only order I'll watch them in now, as I think that's the best order for them. Not only because that's technically the order of events in-universe, but because there are lots of unintentional little bonuses. I've mentioned some throughout the course of all that, like Fury's line about Tony not being the world's only superhero considering Cap, the first Ant-Man, the original Wasp and Captain Marvel have all been around, plus Banner might well be the Hulk by this point - although whether he was a 'hero' is up for debate.
But there are other bits and pieces like that across a lot of the movies thanks to shuffling movies around in the order, including making Guardians of the Galaxy even stronger than it already was by giving the antagonists more of a backstory than the little depth they had originally by watching Captain Marvel earlier. Hell, including Agent Carter means that the appearance of James D'Arcy as Jarvis in Endgame is a nice piece of continuity with that series too.
Of course, anyone can watch the movies in whatever order they want, but I think watching in the order listed above doesn't just make sense by putting everything in a linear order, but it actually makes the over-arching Infinity Saga story even stronger by adding in all these little bonuses and making everything feel not just neater, but more connected.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, they used the line of 'it's all connected' to try and link everything together. After Marvel Studios split away from Marvel Entertainment, that was no longer entirely true anymore, and what I've listed above is what I consider the essential parts of this movie universe. In fact, I think I might just start a re-watch to enjoy it all over again...