In case you haven’t seen the movies, or you forgot, or you simply didn’t understand, here’s a quick guide to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in order without going through all the previous films.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) can be rather confusing for newcomers and casual viewers, and with the sheer amount of films out there, it's hard (and daunting) to get into the epic superhero saga. After all, the MCU is a carefully crafted web in which each film plays a unique and far-reaching role, so missing just one could lead to gaps in your understanding of this convoluted fictional world. So, for those intending to watch the next Marvel film without watching (or re-watching) the previous ones, or for those who simply are having a hard time getting into or understanding the films, we got a brief summary of the most important points in each movie to make things a little easier for you.
It's a long guide, but do take note of the order if you only want to watch the films, or read the bullet-points to get a hang of the key elements of the plot that will come back in future films. Obviously, this guide is filled with spoilers!
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Fictional year: 1942
- Steve Rogers was a frail and skinny kid deemed unfit to serve in the military during WWII.
- He is chosen for an experiment to become the world’s first super-soldier due to his moral sense.
- He becomes Captain America and fights Hydra, a Nazi rogue science division.
- Hydra finds the Tesseract, a mysterious artifact that gives them unprecedented technology.
- Captain America teams up with his childhood friend Sergeant James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes.
- During a mission, Bucky falls from a cliff and is presumed dead.
- At the end, Captain America and his elite unit manage to stop Hydra with the help of Howard Stark (Tony’s father) and British agent Peggy Carter (one of the founders of the espionage agency called S.H.I.E.L.D.)
- Captain America is forced to crash-land a plane carrying the Tesseract in the North Pole. He ends up frozen in ice.
- Howard Stark finds the Tesseract, while unsuccessfully looking for Rogers.
Iron Man (2008)
Fictional year: 2008
- Tony Stark is one of the world’s most famous billionaires and an engineering super-genius. He inherited his father’s business empire, Stark Industries—built on military contracts for the design and development of high-tech weapons.
- During a sales pitch in the Middle East, Stark is hurt before being kidnapped by a paramilitary group and gets shrapnel in his blood-stream.
- They force Tony to build weapons. Instead, he builds a micro “arc-reactor” (a technology that provides an almost endless supply of energy) to keep the shrapnel away from his heart.
- He also builds a rough bullet-proof suit to escape from his captors.
- Back in the US, he chooses to close down his company’s weapons division, build a state-of-art suit based on his original rough version, and dedicate his life to protecting the world.
- At the end, Tony Stark tells the whole world he is Iron Man after he fights one of his father’s best friends, who tried to take the suit away from Stark. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents assist Stark in the final encounter.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Fictional year: 2008
- Dr. Bruce Banner is a scientist working on gamma radiation research,. During an experiment, he experiences a laboratory accident and develops an alter ego known as The Hulk.
- The Hulk appears every time Banner gets angry or is in danger, and his very first incident involves destroying the lab and hurting General Thaddeus E. Ross (who was supervising the experiment) and his daughter, Elizabeth “Betty” Ross (Banner’s romantic interest).
- Bruce Banner escapes, but General Ross embarks on a relentless pursuit across the world, as Banner looks for a cure to his condition.
- At the end, Ross inadvertently creates an “Abomination” trying to replicate Hulk’s powers. The Hulk helps defeat The Abomination, after which Ross stops chasing Banner. Betty and Banner part ways indefinitely, and Banner, having failed to find a cure, goes back into hiding.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Fictional year: 2010
- Tony Stark is under government pressure to hand in his suit to the United States Military. His best friend, Colonel James Rupert “Rhodey” Rhodes, looks out for him, while trying to persuade him to do so.
- Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., sends spy Natasha Romanoff (also known as Black Widow) to work with Stark.
- Rhodey manages to “confiscate” a suit from Tony and becomes a superhero on his own right, called War Machine.
- Together, Iron Man, War Machine, and Black Widow defeat Whiplash, a rogue Russian scientist by the name of Ivan Vanko, who developed his own super-suit.
Fictional year: 2011
- On a distant planet, Thor Odinson enjoys life as a spoiled prince under the rule of his father, Odin. At Thor’s side, we find his ever-jealous and mischievous brother, Loki.
- Odin rules the realm of Asgard, a technological haven that watches over nine other “realms” and is inhabited by beings that live for thousands of years.
- Loki tricks his brother into committing treason, and Odin banishes Thor to Earth, stripping him of his powers.
- Odin places a spell on Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, so that it could only be used by someone worthy. Whoever can lift the hammer shall posses Thor's powers.
- While looking for a way back to Asgard, Thor falls in love with a human, Dr. Jane Foster, who along with Professor Erik Selvig (an astrophysicist and Jane's mentor), helps him in his quest. We also get a glimpse of Agent Clint Barton, who we’ll later know as Hawkeye.
- At the end, Thor sacrifices himself to save a town from a giant robot sent by Loki. He thus becomes worthy and returns to Asgard to confront him.
- It is revealed Loki is not Asgardian at all, but comes from the race of Ice Giants who were ancient enemies of Odin. (Nonetheless, Loki seems to only want his adoptive father’s love and Thor’s respect.)
- When his goals are frustrated, he disappears after the destruction of Asgard’s pathway across the cosmos, the Bifrost (controlled by all-seeing Heimdall.)
The Avengers (2012)
Fictional year: 2012
- On Earth, Professor Selvig is studying the Tesseract under S.H.I.E.L.D.’s project.
- Loki returns, using The Tesseract as a pathway. With a powerful staff given to him by a super-villain known as Thanos, Loki mind-controls Selvig and Agent Barton.
- Out of desperation, Nick Fury activates “The Avengers Initiative,” asking all the superheroes from the previous films to form a team to fight the seemingly invincible Loki.
- Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, and The Hulk join forces with the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Thor joins the team shortly after in pursuit of Loki. Since the Bifrost had been destroyed, Odin used “Dark Magic” to send him to Earth.
- During a fight, Black Widow manages to break Loki’s mind control over Hawkeye, who then joins The Avengers.
- With the help of Selvig, Loki opens a pathway from New York City to let Thanos’ army in, so that they can conquer Earth.
- The Avengers fight the alien army and Loki. Eventually they succeed, as Iron Man takes an atomic bomb through the pathway to destroy the mother-ship. Tony Stark barely makes it back.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Fictional year: 2013
- Tony Stark deals with PTSD following the battle of New York.
- He builds an army of Iron Suits and commits to his relationship with Pepper Potts, his longtime assistant, romantic interest, and current CEO of Stark Industries.
- With the help of War Machine (renamed Iron Patriot for PR reasons), he fights and defeats an evil scientist whom he angered years before and who had been terrorizing the world.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Fictional year: 2013
- With the help of the Tesseract, Asgard manages to rebuild the Bifrost, and Thor is busy bringing order back to the nine realms.
- Loki is imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeons for his crimes.
- Back on Earth, Dr. Jane Foster is researching some rare cosmic anomalies and ends up on another planet, where she touches a strange substance called “the Aether”.
- This awakens an ancient Dark Elf who seeks the Aether to bring darkness to the universe. He then chases Jane.
- Thor, upon learning of this from Heimdall, travels to Earth to bring Jane back to Asgard.
- Thor seeks Loki’s help to fight the Dark Elves and protect Jane. Loki is seemingly killed during a battle.
- In the end, Thor defeats the Dark Elves and sends the Aether, which turns out to be powered by an Infinity Stone, to an alien being called The Collector for safekeeping.
- It is revealed that Loki survived and is impersonating Odin back at Asgard.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Fictional year: 2014
- Captain America works for S.H.I.E.L.D. while trying to adjust to contemporary society.
- It is revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been thoroughly infiltrated by members of Hydra, who have a plan to bring about world peace through genocide and domination.
- Nick Fury is ambushed and almost killed, and Captain America must avoid Hydra agents in pursuit with the help of Black Widow. Especially dangerous for them is an assassin known as “The Winter Soldier”.
- It is soon revealed that The Winter Soldier is actually Steve Roger’s best friend Bucky, whose mind is being controlled by Hydra. Captain America and Black Widow join forces, and take shelter with a new friend called Sam Wilson (later known as Falcon), who has a high-tech winged suit.
- Captain America confronts Bucky and tries to break his hypnosis.
- In the end, Captain America, Falcon, Black Widow and Nick Fury kill Hydra’s leader, dismantle S.H.I.E.L.D., and leak all its classified information to help catch the remainder of Hydra’s double agents.
- Bucky saves Captain America from drowning.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Fictional year: 2014
- Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, is a charismatic scavenger who is trying to emancipate from the crew of pirates that took him from Earth and raised him.
- Quill finds a small orb which many people in the universe are willing to pay—or kill—for.
- Super-villain Thanos (through a criminal and terrorist named Ronan) sends his favorite adoptive daughter, Gamora, to find the orb.
- Gamora’s jealous sister, Nebula, tries to prove herself to Thanos and assists Ronan in chasing the orb as well.
- Two bounty hunters, a modified raccoon by the name of Rocket and his companion, a tree-like being called Groot, intercept Quill. Gamora joins them and they all fight on the streets of an alien planet called Xandar.
- Xandar police capture and imprison them for disturbing the peace. In prison, they meet Drax, an muscular alien with a score to settle with Ronan and Thanos.
- Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax join forces and together escape from prison.
- They take the orb to The Collector, who reveals it contains an Infinity Stone. After an accident they leave The Collector’s place and go back to Xandar.
- In the end, the unlikely team manages to use the stone to defeat Ronan, but not before Groot sacrifices himself. Rocket saves a sapling which later becomes “Baby Groot”. The team becomes known as The Guardians of the Galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Fictional year: 2014
- Quill explores his past and meets his father, Ego, who turns out to be a god-like Celestial being who manipulates matter and aims to take over the universe.
- Ego is served by an alien called Mantis, who has the capacity to feel other people’s emotions. She joins the Guardians of The Galaxy.
- The pirates who raised Quill, led by Yondu, meet the Guardians and assist them.
- Together, the Guardians and Yondu defeat Ego, as Quill discovers he possesses Celestial powers.
- Yondu sacrifices himself to save Quill.
- Gamora and Nebula reconcile, and they both now want to kill Thanos.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Fictional year: 2015
- The Avengers are back together, and they join forces to shut down the remainder Hydra operations and find Loki’s staff (which he used in the first Avengers film).
- They find the staff at the facility where the Maximoff twins were being held. The twins, Pietro and Wanda, are the only people who survived hydra’s experiments to create supersoldiers.
- Pietro, known as Quicksilver, has the ability to move at great speed, and Wanda , a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, is a powerful sorceress who can manipulate reality and the mind of her victims.
- Tony Stark and Bruce Banner use Loki’s staff, which contains an infinity stone, to create an artificial intelligence called Ultron with the goal of protecting the Earth from further alien attacks.
- Ultron goes rogue and seeks to destroy humanity. He recruits the Maximoff twins and begins assembling an army.
- The Avengers build an artificial body containing the mind of Jarvis (Stark’s original artificial intelligence and faithful assistant) and merged with the Mind Stone. The new being is known as Vision.
- The Maximoff twins discover Ultron’s plans and join the Avengers to fight him.
- Ultron’s wants to lifting a whole city (Sekovia) up to the atmosphere and drop it down to create an extinction-level event. The Avengers manage to stop the extinction, but Sekovia is destroyed.
- Pietro is killed in the battle, and Vision ultimately destroys Ultron. The Hulk flies away and disappears in a ship, leaving Black Widow (with whom Banner had developed a relationship) behind.
Fictional year: 2015
- Scott Lang is an engineer and well-meaning burglar who got arrested for exposing his previous company’s schemes.
- Upon his release from prison he has a hard time finding a job and has a daughter to think of. His ex-wife and her cop boyfriend currently have full custody.
- Lang tries to do a burglar job to make some money so he can get closer to his daughter. He breaks into a mansion to steal a safe owned by Hank Pym, a scientist and former S.H.I.E.L.D. advisor. All that Lang finds in the safe is a suit.
- The suit allows its user to shrink into the size of an ant while gaining massive strength. Years before, Pym used it together with his wife to fight crime. They were known as Ant-Man and The Wasp, respectively.
- It is revealed Pym arranged the break-in and wants to recruit Scott to take the mantle of Ant-Man. Hank’s daughter Hope is not happy about the plan initially.
- Pym’s wife had disappeared during a mission when she shrunk to the size of a subatomic particle, so Hank had been reluctant to let Hope use the suit.
- Together with Lang’s friends, Ant-Man, Hope and Hank stop a mad scientist from reproducing and reusing Hank’s shrinking technology. To do so, Scott has to shrink to subatomic size, but manages to come back with one of Hank’s gadgets.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Fictional year: 2016
- Due to the events in Sekovia and New York, The Avengers are requested to sign “The Sekovia Accords”, which puts them under the UN’s jurisdiction and discretion.
- The Avengers get divided into two factions: those who want to sign the accords (Iron Man, Black Widow, War Machine, Vision) and those who don’t (Captain America, Falcon, Hawkeye and Wanda).
- Iron Man leads one faction, Captain America leads the other.
- During the signing of the accords, an explosion kills many innocent people, including the king of an African country called Wakanda. There is evidence that the attack was perpetrated by the Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes (Captain America’s best friend).
- The dead king’s son, T’Challa, swears revenge and as the legendary Black Panther pursues Bucky. He joins Iron Man’s side of the conflict.
- Captain America tries to protect his friend, believing he was framed, and becomes a fugitive in the process. With the Winter Soldier, he recruits the help of Falcon, Ant-Man, Hawkeye and Wanda.
- Tony recruits a young boy called Peter Parker, who had recently acquired super-powers to become Spiderman. The two factions fight each other.
- It is revealed that while under mind control, the Bucky killed Iron Man’s parents.
- Even though they discover Bucky was framed to tear the Avengers apart by a man who lost his family in Sekovia, Captain America stays away and takes Bucky to Wakanda.
- All the superheroes who helped Captain America are imprisoned.
Spider Man: Homecoming (2017)
Fictional year: 2016
- Peter Parker is excited for the opportunity to become an official member of the Avengers.
- He must prove himself and keep helping fight small-scale crimes around New York City with a hight-tech spider-suit provided by Tony Stark.
- He comes across a black market operation led by The Vulture, focused on stealing and selling alien technology.
- Spiderman shuts down the operation and is offered a position on The Avengers and an upgraded suit. He declines the offer, wanting to remain a "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.”
Black Panther (2018)
Fictional year: 2016
- Wakanda is a technologically advanced country rich for its large deposits of “vibranuim”, the strongest metal on the planet (from which Captain American’s shield, the Winter Soldier’s arm, and Black Panther’s suit are made).
- So far, Wakanda’s riches have remain a secret out of fear others will want to take advantage of their technology.
- Wakanda’s new king, T’Challa, also inherited the mantle of the Black Panther from his father, becoming the protector of his country. All the Black Panthers in history have acquired super-human strength by drinking roots embedded with vibranium.
- In the end, after fighting a usurper, T’Challa decides to reveal Wakanda’s secret to assist in humanitarian efforts across the world.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Fictional year: 2016-2017
- Stephen Strange is an arrogant world-renowned surgeon who gets into a car accident.
- He ends up losing the use of his hands because of nerve damage, and travels the world looking for a way to fix them.
- He hears of a case where a man regained the use of his severed spine after being “healed” in a far away mystic temple.
- Once he gets there, he discovers magic to be real and begins training as a sorcerer.
- He discovers a natural aptitude for the “mystic arts”, gains the favor of a magical cape with a will of its own, and learns to use “The Eye of Agamotto”, which contains and Infinity Stone to control time.
- He becomes the guardian of the New York Sanctum, one of the sanctums that protect Earth from supernatural threats.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Fictional year: 2017-2018
- Loki has been impersonating Odin for a while, and Thor realizes it. The two travel to Earth, where Loki left Odin under a spell.
- Odin, free from the spell, tells the brothers about their sister, Hela, the goddess of death, whose power is unparalleled. Odin dies shortly afterward.
- Hela appears and destroys Thor’s hammer. Traveling the Bifrost, both Loki and Thor fall and end up in another planet while Hela arrives in Asgard.
- In the strange planet Thor finds the Hulk, who’s the champion of the slave arena games organized for the entertainment of the planet’s inhabitants.
- The Hulk has not allowed Banner to take charge since he left Earth after the destruction of Sekovia.
- Thor recruits the help of Valkyrie, an female Asgardian warrior who retired after she fought Hela millennia before.
- Back in Asgard, Heimdall mounts a resistance against Hela and helps survivors to elude her.
- With the help of some of the other slaves (including an alien named Korg and his larva-like friend Miek), Loki, Hulk, Valkyrie and Thor escape the planet and manage to get to Asgard.
- Since Hela is too powerful for them, Loki unleashes Ragnarok, the destruction of Asgard, to defeat her. Thor, Valkyrie, Loki, Heimdall, Hulk and a few Asgardian refugees (together with Korg and Miek) escape in a spaceship.
- Loki takes the Tesseract with him from Asgard’s vault.
- The survivors are then intercepted by an unidentified ship, who we later find out belongs to Thanos.
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Fictional year: 2018
- Scott Lang is under house arrest because of his role during the events of Captain America: Civil War.
- Hope and Hank Pym are trying to figure out how to rescue Jane (Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife) from the “quantum realm”. They ask Scott’s help, who’s been to the quantum realm.
- They have to fend off Ava Starr (a.k.a. Ghost), a woman who experienced a lab accident which left her in terrible pain and with the ability to go through walls. Ava is trying to use Hank Pym’s technology to cure herself.
- In the end, they manage to rescue Jane through Scott’s connection with the quantum realm.
- Jane promises to help Ava Starr in finding a cure.
- In the end, Jane, Hank and Hope disintegrate while Scott is in the quantum realm trying to fulfill Jane’s promise.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Fictional year: 2018
- Thanos' spaceship intercepts Thor and the Asgardian survivors. While half of them escape in pods, including Valkyrie, Thanos fights Thor, Loki, Heimdall and Hulk.
- Thanos takes the Tesseract from Loki and removes the Infinity Stone therein. He places it in a special glove that can harness the power of the Stones.
- Loki and Heimdall are killed while Thor is immobilized. Before he dies, Heimdall summons dark magic to send Hulk back to Earth to warn the rest of the Avengers of Thanos' imminent arrival.
- Back on Earth, Tony Stark is summoned before Doctor Strange, both of whom meet Hulk (now transformed back into Bruce Banner.)
- As Banner warns them of the coming danger, Thanos' lieutenants arrive on Earth. After a fight on the streets of New York, one of them, an alien by the name of Ebony Maw who possesses strong telekinetic abilities, kidnaps Doctor Strange (who protects one of the Infinity Stones.)
- During this battle, Hulk refuses to let Banner transform and assist the others.
- Spider Man joins Iron Man in pursuit of Maw to rescue Dr. Strange.
- In Edinburgh, more of Thanos' minions pursue Vision and Wanda in an attempt to steal the Infinity Stone in Vision's forehead. During the battle Vision is hurt, but they are saved by the timely arrival of Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow.
- Captain America, Vision, Wanda, Black Widow and Falcon join War Machine in the Avengers Compound. General Ross expects to arrest them, but War Machine ignores the order. They all decide to head to Wakanda to try and extract Vision's stone without harming him.
- In space, the Guardians of the Galaxy receive a distress signal that leads them to Thor. He tells them they need to travel to a distant planet, Nodavellir, to harness the power of a star and forge a new weapon to replace Mjolnir.
- The Guardians decide to split up: Rocket and Groot go with Thor, while Quill, Drax, Gamora and Mantis travel to the Collector's compound, where Thanos will strike next to gather more Stones.
- The Guardians arrive too late, as Thanos has already obtained another Infinity Stone. He kidnaps Gamora so he can question her about the location of one of the final Stones. He extracts the information from her by torturing Gamora's sister, Nebula, whom he caught while she was trying to assassinate him.
- Gamora and Thanos arrive in Vormir, where Red Skull (the villain from Captain America: The First Avenger) ended up as keeper of the Stone. Red Skull informs Thanos that only by sacrificing what he loves the most he can obtain the Stone, so he reluctantly throws Gamora off a cliff, killing her.
- Iron Man and Spiderman manage to kill Ebony Maw and rescue Dr. Strange. They decide to go to Thanos' home-planet, Titan (where Maw was planning to meet his master) to ambush him.
- Nebula escapes captivity and sends a signal to the Guardians of the Galaxy to meet her at Titan, revealing that's where they can find Thanos.
- On Titan, Quill, Drax and Mantis meet Iron Man, Spiderman and Dr. Strange. They plan to fight Thanos together and take the glove from him.
- Dr. Strange uses the power of his Infinity Stone to see millions of possible futures and finds there's only one where they can win.
- Thanos arrives on Titan and reveals the reason for his plans of killing half the life in the universe: only then could life be sustainable. According to Thanos, life, if left unchecked, will destroy itself.
- After a long fight, Thanos defeats the team and takes the Stone from Dr. Strange.
- Back in Wakanda, Captain America reunites with Bucky, Black Panther and the others (Vision, Wanda, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine and Banner.)
- Banner is using a massive Stark Suit, since Hulk still refuses to transform.
- Thanos' army arrives in Wakanda and nearly overwhelms the Avengers, but Thor, Rocket, and Groot, having forged Thor's new weapon (an axe that can summon the Bifrost, the rainbow pathway that travels across the cosmos), arrive to push back.
- Thanos gets to Earth and, missing only the Stone in Vision's forehead, defeats The Avengers. Wanda destroys Vision's Stone, killing Vision in the process, but Thanos reverses time (using his glove) and manages to restore Vision's Stone.
- With all the Stones in hand, Thanos snaps his fingers, killing half the life in the universe. Several Avengers, Guardians and other characters turn to dust (literally), including Falcon, Black Panther, Spiderman, Bucky, Drax, Quill, Groot, Wanda, Strange, and Nick Fury.
- Thor managed to severely wound Thanos, but couldn't ultimately stop him and Thanos teleports away with a damaged glove.
- Nick Fury manages to send a signal to Captain Marvel before he disintegrated.
Captain Marvel (2019)
This one just came out, so we'll give it a little while before entirely spoiling it for you! Don't miss it at your favorite movie theater.
Phew, that was a lot! We told you it was the ultimate guide! And this is just the films. There's a whole more to the MCU if you also include all the TV Series. But let's leave those aside for now, since you'll still be able to understand pretty much everything without watching them. We hope this guide helps you get ready for Marvel's Avengers: Endgame, coming in April, 2019!
Also, don't miss the latest Avengers trailer!
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