The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one wild and winding timeline. It sports dozens of movies, plus a few TV shows, split across multiple “phases.” It’s been more than a decade in the making. But, with the release of Avengers: Endgame, this seemingly endless chapter in Hollywood history is finally coming to a close. There will certainly be more Marvel Cinematic Universe movies going forward. But this is the first big finale to the series’ so far.
That’s why we went ahead and created this breakdown of the Marvel timeline. Below you’ll find a complete list of every movie in the MCU — along with a short synopsis and notable events. Have you never seen a Marvel movie, but want to join in on the fun? Did you just see a couple, and don’t have the patience to watch everything? Maybe you just want a refresher. Whatever the reason, our guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies should help. Let’s dig right in!
Note: This entire article is nothing but spoilers from here on out. Read it at your own risk!
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Iron Man (2008)
Synopsis: Tony Stark, billionaire asshole and weapons designer, gives up his life of arms dealing in favor of saving the world when he’s nearly fatally injured by terrorists. He builds a suit of powered armor, takes the name Iron Man, and thwarts his power-hungry business rival.
- The first movie in the MCU!
- Stark publicly reveals his “secret” identity to the world, becoming a celebrity superhero.
- SHIELD agent Nick Fury appears to tell Stark about “The Avengers Initiative.”
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Synopsis: Your typical Hulk story. Bruce Banner is a scientist who, thanks to an accident involving gamma radiation, transforms into the massively destructive “Hulk” whenever he gets mad. Banner evades the U.S. military (led by General “Thunderbolt” Ross) while searching for a cure. The film ends with him defeating Abomination — a gamma-infused soldier gone rogue.
- Largely considered the least essential MCU film…
- Stark asks Ross about bringing the Hulk into the Avengers, solidifying the MCU as an interconnected series.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Synopsis: A somewhat convoluted follow-up to the original film, with multiple villains and new characters. Tony Stark, believing his Iron Man tech is killing him, becomes increasingly reckless and alienates his friends. Super-villain Ivan Vanko takes this opportunity to attack — using modified Stark technology. Meanwhile, Tony’s business rival Justin Hammer builds a new line of knockoff Iron Man suits for the U.S. government.
James Rhodes (Tony’s best friend) becomes War Machine (the mascot, state-sponsored Iron Man). Together the two heroes take down Vanko and expose Hammer as a fraud. Meanwhile, Stark’s new assistant is revealed to be a spy from SHIELD: Natasha Romanoff.
- War Machine appears.
- Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, debuts in the MCU.
- Thor’s hammer Mjolnir appears for the first time in an post-credits scene.
Synopsis: Thor, the prince of a pseudo-magical alien race called Asgardians, is an arrogant dick. His father Odin exiles the prince to Earth — while also enchanting Thor’s ultra-powerful hammer, Mjolnir, so that only someone truly worthy can wield it — as punishment. Thor falls in love with a human woman, learns humility, and does battle with his trickster brother Loki.
- Thor and the Asgardians — the first “cosmic” characters to appear in the MCU — are introduced.
- Loki reveals himself as the main villain of “Phase One.”
- We get our first glimpse of the Tesseract, a super-powerful artifact, in a post-credits scene.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Synopsis: Predominantly set during WWII, the strong of heart (but weak of body) Steve Rogers wants to fight Nazis. He becomes the first and only recipient of a “super-soldier serum.” It enhances his physical abilities to peak human condition. He uses this newfound strength (and a nearly indestructible shield) as Captain America to battle the Red Skull — a Nazi scientist using the Tesseract for world domination. Rogers saves the day, but becomes frozen in ice and doesn’t thaw out until the modern day.
- Earth’s chronologically first superhero is revealed.
- Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s best friend, apparently dies in battle.
- We see the power of the Tesseract for the first time.
- Steve Rogers awakens in the modern world.
The Avengers (2012)
Synopsis: Loki returns to Earth. He mind controls most of SHIELD and uses the Tesseract to open a wormhole above New York City, allowing an alien race to invade the planet. The Avengers — a superhero team comprised of Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and SHIELD Agent Hawkeye — band together to stop him and the invasion.
- Loki is captured and brought back to Asgard.
- A post-credits scene reveals that Loki’s plan was actually orchestrated by an alien warlord. This is Thanos, the true main villain of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- The Avengers formally unite.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Synopsis: Tony Stark is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after the events of The Avengers. His relationship with business partner and significant other, Pepper Potts, is deteriorating. He copes by manically constructing Iron Man suits and invites an elusive terrorist called “The Mandarin” to attack him at his home.
Stark is badly beaten, but eventually reveals The Mandarin’s true identity — along with his plot to take control of the U.S. government with a genetic engineering program called Extremis. Tony fails to kill The Mandarin — a scientist named Aldrich Killian that he slighted when he was still a playboy arms dealer — but Potts ends the fight with new powers derived from Extremis.
- As far as the overall story of the MCU goes, Iron Man 3 doesn’t have much impact.
- We get to see Tony and Pepper’s romance develop a bit.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Synopsis: An army of evil alien “Dark Elves” debut in this uncharacteristically grim Marvel movie. Thor and Loki team up to stop them, but their mother dies in the process. Loki also seemingly sacrifices himself, but is revealed to still be alive — and impersonating Odin — at the end of the movie.
- Widely considered one of the worst MCU movies…
- The Dark Elves’ super-weapon, referred to as “the Aether” for most of the movie, is revealed to actually be something called an Infinity Stone.
- We learn the Tesseract is also an Infinity Stone.
- We meet an alien aristocrat called the Collector, who plans to collect all six Stones.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Synopsis: Two years after The Avengers, Captain America is working as an agent of the spy organization SHIELD. Together with Black Widow and Nick Fury, he discovers that SHIELD (and thus most of the U.S. military industrial complex) was actually founded by remnants of the Red Skull’s Nazi organization in Captain America: The First Avenger.
The evil organization unleashes a cyborg assassin, The Winter Soldier, while planning to kill a “problematic” percentage of the world population via drone warfare. But Rogers, Fury, and Romanoff team up with a new hero called Falcon to stop the genocide and tear down SHIELD.
- The Winter Soldier is revealed to be Bucky Barnes — Rogers’s WWII buddy who was brainwashed and cryogenically frozen since the 1940s.
- SHIELD is dismantled.
- Nick Fury fakes his own death.
- Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch appear for the first time in a post-credits scene.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Synopsis: A young boy visits his mother on her deathbed in the 1980s — just before he’s abducted by aliens. Decades later, he has adapted to life in the cosmos by becoming a small-time space pirate that goes by Star-Lord. He later meets a massive tree creature (Groot), a talking raccoon (Rocket), an adoptive daughter of Thanos (Gamora), and a warrior called Drax the Destroyer. Together, they stop a fanatical alien called Ronan the Accuser from using an Infinity Stone to destroy civilization. The group is pardoned for all its various crimes and becomes the Guardians of the Galaxy.
- We see our third Infinity Stone in the MCU (the Power Stone).
- Ronan and his forces are Kree, a major alien race in Marvel mythology.
- Thanos is a major player in a film’s plot for the first time.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Synopsis: Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create an artificial intelligence called “Ultron” to defend Earth from super-powered threats. Unfortunately, Ultron becomes sentient and determines he must exterminate humanity to protect the planet. Ultron beats back the Avengers by recruiting the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver: twins with supernatural powers whose parents were killed by Stark weapons. The pair turns on Ultron, however, when they discover his full plan.
The pair joins the Avengers; the Avengers stop Ultron from building a new body powered by an Infinity Stone; the new body becomes yet another Avenger — an android called The Vision. The heroes band together and kill Ultron once and for all. Although Quicksilver also dies in the process.
- Scarlet Witch, Vision, and War Machine join the Avengers.
- The fourth Infinity Stone is revealed (and placed in Vision’s head).
- Bruce Banner leaves Earth in self-exile.
- Ultron, a creation of the Avengers, nearly destroys Earth, encouraging various governments to crack down on unregulated superhero activity.
- Dr. Helen Cho appears and helps found a new Avengers headquarters. She hasn’t played a major role in subsequent movies, but she is the mother of Amadeus Cho: a major character in Marvel’s Hulk comics.
- Thanos reveals he has the Infinity Gauntlet (which is meant to house the six Infinity Stones).
Synopsis: Scott Lang is a divorced, small-time crook. Unable to pay his child support, he agrees to burgle a house, but only manages to steal the Ant-Man suit (which imbues its wearer with super strength and shrinking abilities). Its owner is a former cold warrior named Hank Pym, who let Scott steal the suit as a test of his thieving abilities. Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne then use Scott to steal a new, prototype Ant-Man suit from an amoral businessman.
- A post-credits scene reveals that Falcon and Captain America have captured Bucky Barnes.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Synopsis: The heroes of the MCU take opposing sides in an ongoing debate about superhero registration. Iron Man, racked with guilt over creating Ultron, wants heroes to work under government oversight. Captain America, who trusts his own judgment and fears what regulation might mean for his brainwashed friend Bucky, opposes it. And the friends are further manipulated into fighting by a super-villain behind the scenes. So-called “civil war” breaks out, with Iron Man’s side ultimately emerging victorious. Although the secret villain, Baron Zemo, is also apprehended.
- The MCU versions of Black Panther and Spider-Man debut!
- Ant-Man is introduced to the Avengers and reveals he can now use his suit to grow, as well as shrink.
- The Winter Soldier goes into hiding in Wakanda (home country of the Black Panther).
- War Machine is badly injured and loses the use of his legs.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Synopsis: Dr. Stephen Strange, an arrogant surgeon who only takes patients he finds interesting, loses the use of his hands in an accident. Desperate for a cure, he turns to the occult. After learning the basics, he uses time manipulating magic to defeat a demon, and becomes the supernatural defender of Earth.
- Doctor Strange gains his power to control time via the fifth Infinity Stone (appropriately titled the Time Stone).
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Synopsis: The Guardians go out in search of Star-Lord’s biological father — who we only know is an ancient and powerful alien. This turns out to be Ego: a living planet looking to expand its consciousness to multiple worlds across the universe. However, it comes out that Ego killed Star-Lord’s mother (along with countless half-siblings over the centuries) in the process. So the team takes him down — but not before losing Yondu, the alien that abducted Star-Lord and became his adoptive father all those years ago.
- We see a whole lot more of the Marvel galaxy.
- Gamora reconciles with her sister (and fellow daughter of Thanos), Nebula.
- A proto-Guardians of the Galaxy team, called the Ravagers in the MCU, reunites after Yondu’s sacrifice.
- An alien race called the Sovereign reveals it’s gestating a being called Adam Warlock. Adam is mean to one day destroy the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Synopsis: After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man is a full-fledged superhero with a suit designed by Tony Stark. But he’s relegated to dealing with minor, unfulfilling crimes. That changes when he runs into the Vulture — a high-tech black marketeer that weaponizes discarded superhero and villain equipment. Stark and Spider-Man develop more of a father-son relationship, and the Vulture is eventually arrested.
- The Vulture learns Spider-Man’s true identity as Peter Parker, but refuses to reveal it.
- We get a brief hint that Scorpion (a minor Spider-Man villain) has his sights set on Spidey.
- Spider-Man faces his first actual super-villain.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Synopsis: A much more comedic departure for Thor, after the nastier The Dark World. Thor and Loki discover they have a secret older sister, Hela, who helped Odin conquer the galaxy thousands of years ago. Hela conquers Asgard and slaughters many of Thor’s allies. The brothers are also exiled to an oligarchic junk planet. There they unite with the Hulk (who has become a star gladiator in the planet’s Colosseum) and a new hero called Valkyrie. The group defeats Hela by destroying Asgard with her still on it, leaving the surviving Asgardians adrift and homeless in space.
- Asgard is destroyed.
- Thor becomes king of the Asgardians after Odin seemingly dies.
- Loki finally (more-or-less) turns to the side of good.
- Thanos intercepts the Asgardian refugee ship in a post-credits scene.
Black Panther (2018)
Synopsis: T’Challa, king of an incredibly technologically advanced African country called Wakanda, is also the superhero called Black Panther. He keeps Wakanda’s technology a secret and battles outside threats. However, he cannot defeat an usurper called Erik Killmonger (later revealed to be his cousin). Killmonger takes the throne. He then plans to invade the rest of the world, using Wakandan weapons, in order to free black people born outside of Wakanda from systemic racism and oppression. T’Challa ultimately stops Killmonger, but is inspired to end Wakanda’s isolationism in order to help more people through nonviolent means.
- Wakanda reveals its advanced technology to the world.
- We discover the source of Wakandan power is a metal called “Vibranium” (the same substance Captain America’s shield is made from).
- Bucky Barnes is shown in Wakanda, again, where children now refer to him as “White Wolf.”
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Synopsis: The movie begins with Thanos — along with his murderous “children,” the Black Order — killing 50 percent of the Asgardian refugees from Thor: Ragnarok. He then steals the Space Stone from inside the Tesseract. Finally, he kills Loki after the trickster tries to assassinate him. Hulk escapes to warn the Avengers on Earth that Thanos is coming for the rest of the Infinity Stones.
We discover that Thanos plans to use all six Infinity Stones to become a god. This will allow him to kill half of all life in the universe, and ultimately “save” it from overpopulation. The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy do battle on multiple fronts. However, the super-villain collects the Stones one by one (killing Gamora and The Vision in the process). The film ends with Thanos achieving his goal. Half of all life, including many superheroes, disintegrate before our eyes.
- Thanos wins.
- Nick Fury sends an emergency signal to a previously unknown hero before he, too, disintegrates.
- Doctor Strange uses the Time Stone to determine that this is the only possible timeline where they can beat Thanos.
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Synopsis: Scott, Hope, and Hank search for Janet van Dyne (Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother), who disappeared into a microscopic dimension in the late 80s. They are pursued by a super-powered individual, Ghost, who can phase through solid matter. Ghost needs their help to cure a chronic disease that is killing her. Hope becomes another shrinking superhero, the Wasp, and the group manages to save Janet. The reunited heroes then vow to cure Ghost.
- Hope van Dyne becomes the Wasp (a founding Avenger from in Marvel Comics).
- Bill Foster, aka Black Goliath in the comics, debuts in the MCU.
- Hope, Janet, and Hank disintegrate due to Thanos’s actions in Infinity War.
- Scott is seemingly stranded in the same microscopic realm they rescued Janet from.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Synopsis: This movie mostly takes place in the 1990s. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, is a super-powered warrior for the alien Kree. She battles shape-shifting aliens called Skrulls and eventually winds up on Earth. There she meets a young Nick Fury and discovers she’s actually human, not Kree. The Kree killed Carol’s mentor and erased her memory. They then conscripted her to exterminate the Skrulls (who are actually peaceful and fleeing the warlike Kree).
Captain Marvel finally breaks free from Kree control. She discovers she has even more latent powers — imbued by the Tesseract when her mentor was murdered — than she previously believed. The film ends when Carol saves the Earth, beats back her alien captors, and sets out to cleanse the galaxy of their influence.
- We learn Captain Marvel is the hero Nick Fury contacted at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.
- In a post-credits scene, set during the modern day, Captain Marvel finally returns to Earth — asking the Avengers for Fury’s whereabouts.
- Skrulls, a major Marvel faction, appear in the MCU for the first time.
- We get glimpses of Ronan the Accuser and Kree society prior to the events of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Synopsis: We… don’t know yet! The movie isn’t out.
- Who can say?