What is the best rewatch order for the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Phase 1? Avengers: Endgame is due out in April, bringing an end to the MCU’s first three phases. Needless to say, ahead of the film’s release many viewers have decided this is the perfect opportunity to rewatch all the previous Marvel movies that go before it.
The sheer number of films – 20 at present, with Captain Marvel due just seven weeks before Avengers: Endgame – makes that a tall order as is; it’s already too late to watch one MCU movie a week. However, schedule concerns come after you’ve figured out what order to watch the non-chronological movies.
Some people choose to stick with release order, which makes sense; you can see themes and ideas develop as Marvel becomes increasingly sure-footed and confident of its direction. Others prefer to put together a timeline, and watch events in (roughly) the order things are supposed to have happened in-universe. However, that causes real problems when it comes to rewatching MCU Phase 1.
MCU Phase 1 Is Out Of Order
Although they’re all building towards The Avengers, the MCU’s Phase 1 movies are told out of order, and the official timeline is rather tricky. Captain America: The First Avenger is a period piece set during World War II, which naturally means it’s the first Marvel movie to check out in any chronological-order rewatch. But then The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor are all happening at roughly the same time; news footage of the Hulk’s rampage appears when Tony Stark visits S.H.I.E.L.D., while Phil Coulson leaves Malibu for New Mexico because an enchanted hammer has dropped from the sky. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to work out the exact sequence of events, not least because of a number of contradictory references suggest these three films could be set anytime between 2009 and 2011.
It fell to Eric Pearson and Christopher Yost to tighten up the official MCU timeline in 2012, in preparation for the release of The Avengers. Both were members of Marvel Studios‘ in-house Writers Program, working on scripts for the films and one-shots, and they were tasked with writing a tie-in comic book miniseries that would draw the various threads together. This was Fury’s Big Week, a story that focused on three S.H.I.E.L.D. agents – Fury, Coulson, and Black Widow – and explained how they wound up rushing from one crisis to the next. The plot was signed off by Kevin Feige and Jeremy Latcham, allowing Marvel to market this as “the real deal” in terms of continuity.
Using Fury’s Big Week as a guide, it’s possible to put together a far more comprehensive chronological viewing order of Phase 1. Of course, because three of the films are happening at the same time, the comic jumps between the various scenes; at one point Black Widow is helping Stark deal with Justin Hammer and Whiplash before being sent to Culver University to monitor Bruce Banner. It’s unwise to chop and change between the different films, so the best approach is to put the movies in the order their third acts happened in-universe.
How To Watch MCU Phase 1
In light of Fury’s Big Week, this is probably the best fit for a chronological viewing order of the MCU’s Phase 1:
- Captain America: The First Avenger – The film is primarily set in the 1940s, but S.H.I.E.L.D. recover Steve Rogers’ body shortly before The Avengers.
- Iron Man – The beginning of the modern MCU, Iron Man ends with Tony Stark publicly outing himself as a superhero.
- Iron Man 2 – The first film to wrap up, Iron Man 2 ends at the mid-point of both The Incredible Hulk and Thor.
- Thor – Coulson’s story heads out to New Mexico for his encounter with a certain God of Thunder. According to Fury’s Big Week, this is the next crisis to be successfully resolved.
- The Incredible Hulk – The Battle of Harlem is the final part of Fury’s Big Week, and the comic adds additional details to the end of The Incredible Hulk; Black Widow is sent straight from Stark Industries to monitor Banner, and arrests Samuel Sterns while the Hulk is fighting the Abomination. That’s why he’s never been seen since in the MCU; he was bagged and tagged by S.H.I.E.L.D..
- The Avengers – The stories come together and the timeline is clear (for now).
If you’re wanting to watch the MCU in chronological order, this is probably the best fit; it makes sense in terms of the overall story, with the third acts of Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk wrapping up in-sequence and setting up The Avengers. It’s certainly very different to the release order, though.