It’s that time of year again. It’s time for me to add stress and pressure to my life by trying to wrap all daily obligations around a now TWENTY-ONE FILM movie marathon before seeing the twenty-second entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame. Last year I said the MCU was getting too large for this. I can’t marathon their entire catalogue three times a year with each new entry. But I also admitted I’d have to do this at least once more because Avengers: Endgame is the closing chapter of the MCU’s first generation. If I marathoned it all for Avengers: Infinity War, then I had to for Avengers: Endgame. I figured I’d discuss my preferred viewing order now too. Why is it the best? Um, well it’s the one I’ve chosen for myself and why wouldn’t I pick what I like best for myself? Do you agree, dear reader? Well, there’s only one way to find out…read on and let’s get our Mighty Marvel Movie Marathon on together!
I should start by saying my overwhelming preference for watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe is release order. I know there is a chronological order but, the way my brain works, that seems just too darn stressful. Like, I can see myself starting Captain America: The First Avenger but not watching the final scene when Steve wakes up until right before The Avengers and then watching the first part of Ant-Man, the part set in the 1980’s, between Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain Marvel and just forcing myself to do alllll sorts of jumping around to nail the chronology as close as possible. That’s way too much work to be fun. Plus, I like seeing the universe grow as I saw it grow the first time around. There was so much excitement with each new chapter! BUT I knew I’d switch up the release order a little for this marathon because I can’t imagine watching Avengers: Infinity War and then Ant-Man and The Wasp and then Captain Marvel before seeing Avengers: Endgame when Endgame follows Infinity War directly. So after MUCH mental and emotional deliberation, this is the order I’ve settled on.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The Avengers (2012)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: Winter Solider (2014)
Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)
Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Thor: Ragnarök (2017)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Okay, so, why did I make the tweaks I did? Well, the ending made sense. Thor: Ragnarök feeds right into the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War which leads right into the beginning of Avengers: Endgame. So that triple-feature made perfect sense. But this move left me with the question of where to place Captain Marvel. The more I thought about it, I realized this is the perfect story to begin any journey through the MCU. I know Captain America: The First Avenger is set (mostly) in the 1940s, but I think the tale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe should begin with Carol Danvers. It fits. It feels narratively organic and sets up a nice frame for the entire story.
If you think about it, Captain America was a superhuman, yes, but he was presumed dead following his plane crash during the war. Hank Pym worked with his Pym Particles during the ‘80s and did some covert spy stuff with Janet, but it wasn’t the beginning of the Age of Marvels or the Age of Superheroes in-universe. No, this begins with Carol Danvers and the Kree and Skrulls. Watching Captain Marvel first shows us Nick Fury and Phil Coulson at the beginning of their careers. It shows us S.H.I.E.L.D. in a transitional stage too. This is the story that leads Fury to realize there’s more out there and sets him on the path of becoming the man who would recruit Tony Stark at the end of Iron Man. AND watching Captain Marvel right before you watch Iron Man makes Iron Man so much more exciting!
At the end of the film, as Tony is getting ready to deliver the “Iron Man is my bodyguard” speech at the press conference, he questions the story. Coulson tells him, “This isn’t my first rodeo.” And we know what he’s talking about! He’s been dealing with and covering this stuff up since the ‘90s! Then, in Iron Man’s bonus scene, Nick Fury arrives and tells Tony, “You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become a part of a bigger universe – you just don’t know it yet…I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.” We now know Fury’s talking about Carol and the wider world she revealed to him years before. Also, starting with Captain Marvel bookends the whole Mighty Marvel Movie Marathon with Carol Danvers, Earth’s Mightiest Hero. In the comics, she’s more powerful than even Thor or the Hulk and I like looking at the MCU in this way – the journey begins with Captain Marvel and then she returns when we need her most. Also, it frames the story in a cosmic way too. The Age of Marvels begins as cosmic forces first come to Earth. Then we see Tony fight arms dealers, Cap take on corrupt government agencies, etc. and so on until, ultimately, our heroes will be called into the wider cosmos once more. I like the feel of framing it this way, the balance.
Also, as I said above, I know Captain America: The First Avenger is set mostly in the 1940’s but I left it in release order because I think it’s important we meet Iron Man before Captain America. First, the MCU was born with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. It all flowed from him, working because he worked. Second, in one of my very first pieces on this site back in 2016 (“Team Iron Man: A Treatise”) I first made a point I have repeated often. Steve Rogers is the ideal. He is the character we aspire to be. But Tony Stark, in all his human frailty, sins, and mistakes, is the character we are. We see him try to grow and evolve, to become better, even if it doesn’t always go the way he wants it to. We want to be Steve Rogers but we’re all bound by the fallibility of Tony Stark. So I think we need to begin Tony’s story before Steve, to watch him start his journey as a cocky and arrogant genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist before he sees how much he still has to learn before we see the hero who will inspire them all.
I also like leaving Captain America: The First Avenger right before The Avengers because Steve is the missing piece. Without his inspiration, his ideals, his incorruptibility, and his leadership, the Avengers never would have worked. They never could have worked. I like building up to the entry of that character, knowing with him finally in universe, the Avengers will soon assemble around him.
Making Guardians Of The Galaxy and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 a double-feature makes sense too. They’ve always felt like two consecutive chapters in a book to me. I like having them roughly in the middle of the whole thing as well. So, again, we see Carol Danvers journey through the stars, have a lot of Earth-based superheroing, the Guardians remind us of how large the universe really is, and then in Avengers: Infinity War they all take to the stars in their own way. Plus, I like Captain America: Winter Solider leading right into Avengers: Age Of Ultron because we get the Hydra reveal and then jump straight into the Avengers travelling the globe to shut down Hydra cells.
Then Ant-Man introduces us to Scott Lang and we jump right into Captain America: Civil War. After the Avengers are fractured and scattered to the wind at the end of that film, the narrative shifts to focus on the new heroes rising who aren’t tied directly to the Avengers – Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, the Black Panther, Okoye, Shuri, Nakia, Ant-Man, and the Wasp.
Plus, the timeline after Civil War is close, with a lot happening at once. Doctor Strange (while it’s debated) has to happen in 2016 because as they pan his award case in the beginning he has one from 2016. Both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther pick up immediately after Captain America: Civil War, the latter covering the days following, the former stretching a few months. Then in Ant-Man and The Wasp, it’s been two years since Captain America: Civil War. Given all this, I stick to release order.
Perhaps the hardest question was what to do with The Incredible Hulk. It’s a film, admittedly, I only watch in complete marathons like this. I considered leaving it out, with life being as busy as it is right now, but I didn’t feel right doing that. Ultimately I decided to leave it in it’s place, after Iron Man, because even if the MCU at large has forgotten it, it doesn’t change the fact that it was our second-ever journey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just because it’s not my favorite now, doesn’t mean I should take it’s place away. So, with Captain Marvel leading the way for me, The Incredible Hulk becomes #3 instead of #2, but it’s still near the front where it first arrived.
So there you have it! There’s my preferred viewing order for the Marvel Cinematic Universe! If you’re unsure how to watch them all, I humbly hope this helps. If you have a viewing order you like better, well by all means have fun with that. You can feel free to leave it in the comments and I can try it your way sometime (no pressure though, this isn’t homework). Lastly, in years past, I’ve done a movie a day, with no breaks, leading up to the newest entry. But I’ve chosen not to do this this time around. My life is too busy with grading, planning, presenting a paper at a conference in D.C., and regular life obligations and trying to squeeze a movie in every night with no breaks would rob the experience of fun. In fact, I’ve already begun, having watched Captain Marvel and Iron Man again this past week. Regardless of what you watch and how you watch them, here’s hoping we all love Avengers: Endgame and may all our Mighty Marvel Movie Marathons be bright!