My New Favourite Marvel Movie Watch Order

At just about any given moment, as certain as death and taxes, someone in the world will decide that it’s time for another Marvel movie watch-through. And even though we are currently in the middle of our longest wait between MCU films since 2010, I’d wager that choice of activity is still outrageously popular thanks to a certain ongoing world event. Even though I did a reasonably comprehensive rewatch-and-ranking in 2018 (and my feelings on each film remain mostly the same), in the middle of last year I too succumbed to the itch thanks to all the lockdown business going on and my sister’s newfound interest in going back over what she’s missed / didn’t remember from the MCU.

However, much like with the Star Wars films for decades now (not to mention a metric ton of TV series), opinions are divided as to the best overall order in which to experience the MCU. Luckily the consensus seems relatively strong that if it is your first time through the movies, the original release order is probably still the best for you. Probably. But if you’ve seen more than half of the movies already, or even just the major Avengers ones? Different story. Google “MCU watch order” and you won’t run out of different options, each backed by its own set of perspectives and rationale. So here I am, adding to that pile with my own two cents – with mere days to go before the first Marvel Studios-branded canon TV show lands on Disney+ and reignites the debate over all the existing TV shows’ place in the experience.

Needless to say some experimentation was involved here; inspired heavily by a daring attempt at re-ordering the films by Studiobinder, a couple more salient points I found on articles I now seem unable to find again, and my own long-held issues with the timeline. Like virtually every musical playlist I’ve ever made, it was tweaked several times on the page; but the order you see here is the one we followed for this watch-through. The whole thing took a little over two weeks, with some days heavier on watch time than others. Even though I wasn’t present in the room for every movie this time, my brother often was for an additional perspective; and by this point I’m quite familiar with each and every MCU movie anyway. Feedback was readily available. The order is based on the chronological framework but packs some significant differences aimed at smoothing out thematic transitions and enhancing big moments.

A point worth mentioning is that this order doesn’t work at all if you’re trying to watch the various older Marvel TV shows like Agents of Shield alongside the movies, but I imagine most people won’t be. In any case I’m pretty chuffed with the results, and would recommend this order to anyone who isn’t going in completely fresh. Without further ado, the order is:

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – SKIP END CREDITS SCENE
  2. Captain Marvel (2019) – SKIP EC SCENES
  3. Iron Man (2008)
  4. Iron Man 2 (2010)
  5. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  6. Thor (2011)
  7. The Avengers (2012)
  8. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 (2017)
  11. Iron Man 3 (2013)
  12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
  14. Ant-Man (2015) – SKIP EC SCENE
  15. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
  16. Black Panther (2018)
  17. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
  18. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) – SKIP EC SCENES
  19. Doctor Strange (2016) – SKIP EC SCENE
  20. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
  21. Avengers: Infinity War (2018), then watch Wasp EC scene, then Cpt Marvel EC scene
  22. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  23. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

I’ve written where I think the end credits scenes should be skipped, either because they are just trailers / scenes ripped straight from other movies or because they spoil future movies in an extremely aggressive way and don’t make a lot of sense out of order. Of course if you’ve already seen all the movies you can just watch them normally if you can’t be bothered hot-swapping Blu-rays or leaving unplayed progress on your Disney+ account, but this skip setup is my personal recommendation – especially if you’re watching alongside a relative newcomer to the MCU (or you are that newcomer, in which case I salute your boldness). Right then – onto the (spoiler-filled) explanation.

I really like opening the watch-through with The First Avenger and Captain Marvel back-to-back. Chronology is cool and all that, but the convenient fact that both of the movies deal with the Tesseract yet neither one of them mentions that the powerful blue cube is an Infinity Stone (especially impressive for the much more recent Captain Marvel) means that the road to Avengers: Endgame starts with its focus in the right place from the very first scene while still keeping some wiggle room for exposition later.

You get a firm idea of the cube’s scary power – foreshadowing the might of the Infinity Stones – and the path of its ownership. You see the noble, idealistic side of the otherwise cold and mysterious Project Pegasus, adding some actual weight to its destruction at the beginning of The Avengers. You are introduced to the Skrulls and then given the maximum amount of time to forget them so the ending of Spider-Man: Far From Home has full impact. You get a similar effect with Captain Marvel herself, and to a lesser extent the Red Skull. Even the Nick Fury stuff with his eye and the Avengers project name feel a little less like awkward ret-cons this way. But above all, you are introduced to Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes and yes, Peggy Carter at the earliest opportunity, essentially allowing them to bookend the saga.

There are a few places in the watch-through where the order of important events doesn’t create a lot of room for flexibility. The next little chunk is one of them. The spiciest options you have with “Iron Man 1 & 2 followed by The Incredible Hulk” is to use Hulk in between the two as a breather, or to skip it entirely as that Studiobinder list suggests. I’m not a fan of either option; as much as I enjoy the snappy banter and manic villains of Iron Man 2, it is not a strong standalone film and works best as a long victory lap for Tony Stark immediately following the first movie. On the other hand The Incredible Hulk still works for me despite the casting change and visuals. It gives viewers a window into Bruce Banner’s journey towards that final act Avengers twist and colours the appearance of General Thunderbolt Ross in Civil War and Infinity War later on. For what it’s worth, my sister reckons it has one of the more believable romances in the MCU, too.

Some big changes come up next. With Captain America: The First Avenger in the rear-view mirror, Thor leads straight into The Avengers, so the opportunity is wide open to slot in Thor: The Dark World straight afterwards. The result ties a surprisingly neat bow around what used to be a bit of a mess – this was, after all, the point when the MCU went from an expensive experiment to the greatest cinematic success of the last decade, and that success brought about a palpable change in the way Marvel Studios made their movies. This order creates a de facto “villainous Loki trilogy”, which is great because Loki is by far the best part of The Dark World and he ends up in a position that benefits from the longest possible screentime break afterwards. Dr Erik Selvig also has all three of his appearances in a row, making me pretty confident that this is the best way to salvage maximum value from one of the MCU’s weakest movies.

One of the most divisive changes you’ll see jumping from order opinion to order opinion is where exactly to place the Guardians movies. You’ll often see recommendations to watch them back-to-back – which makes sense given they’re set mere months apart. But beyond that it’s a bit of a free-for-all as long as they’re before Infinity War, and ultimately it doesn’t really matter where you put the double feature in the watch order; so why do I insist on putting them in this particular slot?

Well there are a couple of small reasons, like keeping Ronan the Accuser’s villainy as close as possible to his amusing cameo in Captain Marvel (the movies cannot be any earlier because of Thor: The Dark World’s end credits scene, which also means a cool double dose of The Collector). But the main reason is to spread out the Iron Man trilogy as much as possible. This is probably my favourite change in the whole watch order; I’ve always felt the Stark-centric trilogy was over way too quickly otherwise, and Iron Man 3 works pretty much anywhere between The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier anyway. The wacky Extremis stuff also makes for a decent bridge between the full-on technicolor sci-fi of the Guardians films and arguably the most visually grounded film in the entire MCU.

Speaking of that gritty spy thriller wearing the clothes of a Marvel movie, The Winter Soldier has to go in the very next slot, and because we’re out of films that take place before Avengers: Age of Ultron, that has no choice but to go next. Ant-Man is also pretty much locked in place, as it definitely happens after Ultron and obviously sets up a key part of Civil War‘s pivotal airport battle sequence. I wish I could say there was some grand accidental benefit to this whole section, but the only real change from the release order here is the removal of Guardians of the Galaxy as a distraction, meaning an incredibly quick payoff for the end credits teaser of Winter Soldier (and therefore Scarlet Witch’s two most terrifying appearances back-to-back), a slightly stronger impact to that one line Steve Rogers says to Bruce Banner during the party scene, and nothing to interrupt four straight appearances of Falcon. That’s about it.

Things get considerably more interesting right afterwards, because between Civil War and Endgame there are almost no big chronology traps in any movie lacking the word “Avengers” in its title. This means quite a bit of freedom to slide things around, and to move Black Panther all the way up to a much better position as Civil War’s immediate follow-up. T’Challa’s arcs in both films benefit immensely from a direct connection, justifying his relative lack of prominence in his own movie by giving him a meaty prologue that better carries the character’s upturn to a more selfless outlook. It also brings Ulysses Klaue much closer to his Age of Ultron debut and makes Wakanda the big part of the mythos that gets a hype-building wait between appearances, rather than the Black Panther himself. It’s probably my second-favourite part of the rearrangement. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a nice lower-key chaser – after all, Spidey is the other big new MCU character introduced in Civil War and the film’s opening works best if it’s fresh in the mind.

If there is a “biggest surprise” award to come out of this whole experiment, then it has to go to how well Ant-Man and the Wasp works in the very next spot. If you skip the end credits scene there is virtually nothing about the rest of the movie that has to place it anywhere but after Civil War. The best part of the shuffle is the position where the movie isn’t – one of the reasons I think Wasp is among my least favourite Marvel outings is it just did nothing to sustain the hype in its previous position between the final two Avengers films. It’s so much (pardon the pun) smaller in scale than either of them, and so it does well to follow in Homecoming’s footsteps. The extra-tasty bonus? The story’s eventual focus on the Quantum Realm transitions super-well into the psychedelic visual experience of Doctor Strange, and then that sends us off to space with plenty more vibrant colour (not to mention an early cameo from Strange himself) in the form of Thor: Ragnarok. The end credits scene of that movie leads directly into our final three films and a huge dose of mood whiplash.

The finale to this version of the saga ensures that no movie gets between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which I thing is how it should be: no distracting side missions; no flashbacks; just those two post-credits scenes to return to if you’re playing along. Our experimental watch-through took a few weeks and more-or-less fit around our various schedules, but this was the only time where we took an enforced full day’s break between films – it just doesn’t seem right to go straight to Endgame without letting that Infinity War ending hang for a bit. I really do believe that the hype of the galaxy-spanning Thanos double-dose takes on new life as a result of all the little tweaks up to this point, but it’s also worth noting that the de facto “Russo brothers Hulk trilogy” that the big green boy receives starting with Ragnarok is now intact as a straight shot; all four of Doctor Strange’s appearances are also now lined up consecutively.

Spider-Man: Far From Home does not have a flexible place in the order, but the last Marvel movie we got before the Great Delay Pile-Up of 2020 works a bit like Homecoming here – in that it’s a smaller wind-down movie that deals with the fallout of a much bigger one. It does have that killer pair of ending stingers, though; the second of which calls all the way back to Captain Marvel, thus putting a warm and fuzzy bow on everything.

I eagerly look forward to 2021’s deluge of MCU content punching massive holes in the coherence of this watch order. Until then, if you’re game for it and have the time, why not give it a try?

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