MCU Avengers Assemble: A Timeline of the Universe

Illustration by Maliheh Rahrovan

With 20 movies already released and another three scheduled for this year, Marvel has truly created a universe. If you are gearing up for the final piece to an 11-year puzzle, then you've come to the right place.

There are so many characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which can make it seem overwhelming. Therefore, focusing on a three step break down can provide a brief explanation of the past movies and help you understand how each character fits into the bigger picture. 

In summary, phase one introduces viewers to a lot of characters through their origin stories. Phase two is about broadening the characters' personal stories while also introducing new players to the game. Finally, looking at phase three, viewers see a lot more team-ups between characters, leading to the ultimate team up in the upcoming film "Avengers: Endgame."

You could watch the movies by their release date, but watching them based on the Marvel timeline gives you a smoother transitions between movies. With so much information to keep track of, going in chronological order makes everything easier for the watcher to digest. So therefore, here is a break down of the MCU's three phases in their chronological order. 

Phase One

Phase one of the MCU starts with the first solo film, which is set in the mid 1940s: “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011).

This leads to the recently released “Captain Marvel” (2019). It is an origin story set in 1995 and the first time we get to meet Captain Marvel.

Following that is “Iron Man” (2008) and “Iron Man 2” (2010), which take place in 2010 and 2011. Iron Man is a beloved character by Marvel fans and is the most frequently appearing Avenger, being in eight out of the total 20 films.

This leads to “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) which takes place in 2011 and is arguably one of the most forgettable Marvel films. This is because of a casting change from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo. The casting change came before the filming of "The Avengers" (2012) in which Mark Ruffalo took on the role of the Hulk. There was a controversy as to whether Marvel didn't think Norton fit well with the rest of the cast, or if Norton decided to leave on his own. 

We are then introduced to Thor in his self-titled solo film "Thor" (2011) in which takes place in the same time as its release date. In this, we meet the God of thunder for the first time.

These all pave a path to “The Avengers” which also takes place in the same time as its release date. It is the first time we see the major characters — Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and Thor — join together to save New York with the help of Black Widow and Hawkeye. 

Phase Two

Phase two of Marvel’s vision was all about the sequels while also introducing some new players to the game. 

Starting off phase two is “Iron Man 3” (2013) which takes place in the same year as “The Avengers.” It is also the final solo film Iron Man has. 

Continuing on is “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) which took place in 2013 as well and deals with Thor’s family and relationships.

Next in the timeline is “Captain America: Winter Soldier” (2014) which also takes place in 2014 and brings up surprises from Captain's past that make the film darker than most.

This then takes us to “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) which, like the previous two, takes place in the same period as its release date. It introduces us to a new gang of misfits travelling the galaxy. Surprisingly enough “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017) is also set in 2014 and we continue to learn more about these characters — Peter Quill, Groot, Rocket, Gamora and Drax — even though they have no connection yet to the original Avengers.

This brings us to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) which yet again takes place in the same time period as its release date. It brings all of the main characters back together to face the new threat of Ultron.

Last in this phase is “Ant-Man” (2015) which takes place the same year as the Ultron battle and is our first introduction to Paul Rudd’s character.

Phase Three

Starting off phase three is the revamp of the Spider-Man franchise with “Spider-Man Homecoming” (2017) which takes place in 2016, but doesn’t fit well in the timeline. The reason for this anachronism is that, in the movie it is said to take place 8 years after “The Avengers,” which would put it at 2020. However, for the movie “Spider-Man Homecoming,” that doesn’t make sense as it would put the first time we meet Spider-Man long after the events of "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Endgame", both of which he appears in. 

“Captain America: Civil War” (2016) is next and takes place in 2016 as well. We see the characters taking different positions, leading to the breakup of the Avengers as we know it. 

After this is “Doctor Strange” (2016) which takes place in 2016 and 2017, and introduces fans to yet another new character which is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Following is “Black Panther” (2018), one of the highest grossing movies in the MCU and also the first Marvel film to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars in 2019.

Next up is “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) which again takes place in the same time period as its release date. This movie shows more of a comedic side to Thor and follows his adventures in space with the Hulk.

“Ant-Man and The Wasp” (2018) are next and this film takes place in the same time frame as "Thor: Ragnarok" and is the sequel to “Ant-Man.” 

This then brings us to the most anticipated movie of them all: “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) which again takes place in the same period as its release date. This story brought every Marvel character together to fight off the one enemy they all had in common: Thanos. Thanos is probably one of the most developed villains or anti-heroes as he was mentioned all the way back in "The Avengers.” 

What now?

Even with all of these movies, there are still more to be released this year, and whether "Avengers: Endgame" will fit in after the events of “Avengers: Infinity War” is still up in the air.

After “Avengers: Endgame” is released, Iron Man, Captain American and Thor have questionable futures since their characters might be coming to an end. Marvel’s cinematic universe is always expanding and they have so many characters to keep aligned. Although some stories may be coming to an end, the future still looks bright for Marvel, and fans are excited to see what is to come.