It’s nearly 15 years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched. Tony Stark first donned his Iron Man armor in 2008, and lit the touch-paper on the MCU, kicking off a movie phenomenon that has grossed billions at the box office, and made it to 28 movies and counting…
First the facts. Those 28 films are four Avengers flicks, three Iron Man, three Captain America, three Spider-Man, three Thor, two Guardians of the Galaxy, two Ant-Man, two Doctor Strange, one Hulk, one Captain Marvel, one Black Panther, one Black Widow, one Shang-Chi, and one Eternals.
Then there’s the money. With more than $26 billion grossed at the global box office, the MCU is the biggest franchise in movie history. Avengers: Endgame is the top earner with $2.8 billion, was briefly the most successful movie of all-time, and remains the biggest superhero movie EVER. While at the other end of the scale, The Incredible Hulk is the poorest performer, making just $264 million. But the big fella quickly bounced back. As we’ll explain.
So without further ado, here they are; every Marvel movie in the MCU – from Phase 1 to Phase 4 – presented in order of release.
MCU PHASE 1
Iron Man (2008)
Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige is the mastermind behind the MCU, but it also began with director Jon Favreau, and star Robert Downey Jr. The former set the style and tone for what was to come, grounding the movies in reality, and filling them with humor. While casting Downey as Tony Stark/Iron Man was a stroke of genius, the actor elevating the material throughout his tenure.
The resulting film’s set-up was stronger than its pay-off however. Early scenes of Stark’s billionaire weapons dealer being kidnapped, imprisoned in Afghanistan, and building a makeshift suit to escape are gripping. But the climactic face-off with business rival Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger is an almighty anti-climax. The film was a smash however, with the MCU off to a strong start. And via a post-credit scene, the “Avengers Initiative” was set in motion.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The second Hulk film feels like an outlier. Ang Lee had already made a pre-MCU movie about the Green Goliath in the shape of 2003’s Hulk, but while it made money, Lee’s wild visual and narrative swings weren’t well received. So 2008’s Incredible Hulk was something of a reboot.
Louis Leterrier assumed directing duties, while Edward Norton replaced Eric Banner as the lead. But this version felt a little too safe, while Hulk himself looked worse, particularly when squaring off with Tim Roth’s Abomination. Indeed, their big fight was so stuffed with computer-generated effects that at times it looked less like a movie and more like a cartoon.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 should’ve been a slam-dunk. Jon Favreau was back in the director’s chair, Downey Jr. had effortlessly settled into the role, Scarlett Johansson was added to the mix as Black Widow, and recent Oscar-winner Mickey Rourke played the film’s villain Ivano Vanko, aka Whiplash.
But rather than bring gravitas to the project, Rourke was a laughable bad guy, while the film lacked the focus of its predecessor, with the action underwhelming, and story and character all over the place. Iron Man 2 nevertheless made more than the first film, while the post-credit sting featured a hammer being found at the bottom of a crater in New Mexico…
Kenneth Branagh was the director tasked with bringing Mighty Thor to life onscreen. Shakespeare’s favorite helmer initially seemed like a strange choice, but made more sense when it became clear that film would combine Norse Myth with Greek Tragedy. And a bunch of Gods fighting, obvs.
Australian oak tree Chris Hemsworth played the title character, while Brit Tom Hiddleston auditioned for Thor but ultimately landed the role of brother Loki. Which was a good thing, as the rivalry between those siblings became the source of Thor’s best scenes, landing in a way that the fish-out-of water stuff did not.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
With Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Black Widow introduced, it was time to add the final piece of The Avengers puzzle in the shape of Captain America. Chris Evans was perfectly cast as Steve Rogers, while Sebastian Stan became his buddy Bucky Barnes.
Set during WWII, the film found pipsqueak Steve breaking out in muscles and powers thanks to the army’s super-soldier programme. Together with his Howling Commandos, Cap goes after Hydra – a terrorist group hell-bent on world domination – as well as their leader Red Skull. The film ends with Steve crashing into the Arctic Ocean, then being thawed out in the present for a very special mission…
The Avengers (2012)
It was all leading up to this. Phase 1 was a game of chess, with Kevin Feige and various writers and directors moving pieces around their celluloid board so that five films could climax here, and six superheroes could become The Avengers.
The Macguffin was The Tesseract, an all-powerful Infinity Stone that bounced around the MCU until Loki got his hands on it. The God of Mischief then duly opened a wormhole in space that allowed space monsters the Chitauri to enter. And only the combined powers of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” was enough to repel that global threat.
Audiences had never seen anything like it, and duly showed up in vast numbers, with the The Avengers grossing more than $1.5 billion at the box office, and becoming – at that time – the third most successful film in history.
MCU PHASE 2
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Shane Black – the writer responsible for the likes of Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight – was given the Mandarin storyline by Marvel; a challenge considering the character had been something of a racist stereotype in the past. Black’s solution – together with co-writer Drew Pearce – was to make the Mandarin a terrorist symbol rather than an actual man, and to have him played by Ben Kinglsey.
The resulting film divided fans, but remains one of the MCU’s greatest achievements. Iron Man 3 feels like a standalone story about Tony’s personal demons, yet the action is spectacular, most notably during a climactic set-piece that sees scores of Iron Man suits soaring through the sky as Stark desperately tries to save his love, Pepper Potts.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
One of the very best Marvel movies was followed by a low-point in the franchise. Thor: The Dark world is muddled, ugly, boring, and has a very loose grip on London geography. Meanwhile the normally excellent Christopher Eccleston acts like he doesn’t want to be there as the villainous Malekith.
The only fun to be had – again – is in watching sibling enemies Thor and Loki team up to fight the Dark Elf threat. But otherwise, the MCU still hadn’t figured out how to use Thor – something that would mercifully change in Phase 3.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
There are times when the MCU has been accused of too rigorously sticking to a specific formula. So at this point the studio tried to mix things up by edging into genres beyond straightforward action and sci-fi. The Winter Soldier was therefore a superhero movie crossed with the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s.
The story finds Cap becoming a fugitive, going on the run with Black Widow and new airborne buddy Falcon, and facing off against old friend Bucky, who has now been re-programmed as an assassin called The Winter Soldier. The film also features the biggest twist in the MCU, with the goodies of S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed to be controlled by the baddies of Hydra. That surprise – combined with some of the most brutal action in any of the Marvel movies – makes Winter Soldier the best of the Captain America flicks.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy was another slight genre shift, with the focus on comedy over brave heroics. So while the poster proclaimed “from the studio that brought you The Avengers,” the team in question was very much the anti-Avengers, featuring a tree-like humanoid, a talking racoon, and a bloke called Peter who prefers to be known as Star-Lord.
Writer-director James Gunn sends up superhero movies throughout, while at the same time crafting a pretty great one. The setting is space, which separates Guardians from previous Earth-bound entries. And in-keeping with the film’s light tone, rather than ending with city-wide destruction, Guardians of the Galaxy climaxes in a dance-off.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
After two hits, Avengers: Age of Ultron was something of a miss, artistically at least. Writer-director Joss Whedon had Earth’s Mightiest at his disposal, as well as a super-powered, megalomaniacal robot villain, and one of the biggest budgets in movie history. But he couldn’t pull the whole thing together into either a cohesive or engaging story.
Fans were also annoyed that the film introduced super-powered twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (following their brief cameo at the end of Winter Soldier), only to kill the latter off before the end of the movie. And as previously stated, it also felt like we were done with films ending with cities being razed to the ground at this point. Though such quibbles didn’t stop the movie making $1.4 billion at the box office.
Comedy and space worked for the Guardians of the Galaxy, so for Ant-Man, the MCU tried comedy and heists. Paul Rudd was a surprise choice for the title character, whose everyday alter-ego is Scott Lang. But Rudd soon developed the famed Marvel six-pack, and quickly made the role his own.
A thief with a heart of gold, Lang stumbles on a special suit during a burglary, and soon finds himself the size of an ant, as the title suggests. Oh yeah, and he can also now talk to ants. The most ridiculous film in the MCU, Ant-Man climaxes with an action scene atop a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. But it was successful enough that a sequel followed, and a third is currently in production.
MCU PHASE 3
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
We said Winter Soldier was the best Captain America movie, but Civil War isn’t far behind. The conflict in question is fought between the Avengers who side with Iron Man, and those who trust in Cap. While the disagreement concerns how much oversight government should have over the super-powered.
When arguing doesn’t solve the issue, both sides meet on an airport run-way and have an almighty dust-up that rivals anything yet seen in the MCU. Though it ends with the two leaders going toe-to-toe, as Tony and Steve beat the proverbial out of each other in heartbreaking fashion. While the action is both moving and spectacular, Civil War is probably best remembered for introducing two new characters to the MCU: Black Panther and Spider-Man. But more on them later.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Eight years into Marvel movies, and it was time for the MCU to get freaky. Steven Strange is an arrogant neurosurgeon who crashes his car, and injures his hands so badly that he can never operate again. The accident sends Strange on a journey of self-discovery that becomes metaphysical and existential, and ends with Steve becoming the all-powerful Doctor Strange.
With subject matter that dark, Feige turned to horror writer C. Robert Cargill and director Scott Derrickson – who had just had a hit with Sinister – and they crafted the scariest, trippiest film in the series thus far. That said, they never quite got a handle on the film’s villain, with Dormammu from the Dark Dimension failing to pack much of a punch.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
The Marvel movies are often about family – losing a family, finding a family – indeed, what are the Avengers if not a highly dysfunctional family? And for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn decided that it was time for Peter Quill to investigate his own background, and search for his mysterious father.
In a perfect piece of casting, his dad is played by Kurt Russell, and seems to be the coolest dude in the galaxy. But he’s called Ego, which should set alarm bells ringing. And he ends up being a deadbeat who also functions as the film’s villain. It’s a fun switcheroo, at the end of a fun sequel. But Vol. 2 is really about the relationship between Peter and his own guardian, Yondu, and the way that plays out doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Audiences loved Tom Holland’s cameo as Spider-Man in Civil War, so it was time to get to know his Peter Parker in the MCU’s first standalone Spidey movie, Homecoming. The title referred to the character returning to the Marvel fold, and the fact that Peter is in high school, and dealing with the trials and tribulations of those teenage years.
Pete’s still a superhero however, and he isn’t left to do the world-saving stuff alone, with Tony Stark taking Parker under his armored wing, and becoming something of a father figure. Re-enforcing that family theme. The film also features comic-book royalty in the villain role, with Batman himself – Michael Keaton – playing the nefarious Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And it was third time lucky for the Thor movies. Though the success of Ragnarok was less down to good fortune, and more due to New Zealand-born writer-director Taika Waititi. The Kiwi’s off-kilter humor created magic in What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and helped make this the funniest of the Marvel movies.
Loosely adapted from the Planet Hulk comic, Ragnarok finds Thor stranded on a garbage planet, where he’s entered as a gladiator in the deadly Contest of Champions. There he has to fight his old friend Hulk, but the dynamic duo ultimately team-up, the film turning into a buddy picture that follows their hilarious, action-packed, and very colorful efforts to get home.
Black Panther (2018)
The first MCU movie to be headlined by an African-American superhero quickly became a box office phenomenon, and the ninth-biggest film in history. Which begs the question: why didn’t Marvel do this sooner?
Chadwick Boseman brought strength, nobility, and cool to T’Challa, who becomes Black Panther following the death of his father in Civil War. While Michael B. Jordan was captivating as villain Killmonger, whose motivation makes more sense than most in the Marvel movies. The film introduced the world to the glory of Wakanda, and introduced Marvel fans to the wonders of Afrofuturism.
Tragically, Boseman passed away after Black Panther was released, but over the course of just two movies, he left an inedible mark on the MCU.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The Avengers was the biggest event in the MCU. Then that was overshadowed by Civil War. But those barn-stormers were all working towards the one-two punch of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Everything was set in motion by Titan Thanos, whose wish to bring balance to the universe saw him hunt down the Infinity Gauntlet, and collect the Infinity Stones, all so he could snap his fingers and make half of all life disappear.
It’s a heavy concept, and with the fate of the universe at stake, everyone has to step up. Meaning The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy team with pretty much everyone they’ve met and fought up to this point. But in spite of the might of this all-powerful superhero army, the Infinity War doesn’t work out as planned. And in one of the great cliffhangers in celluloid history, the movie ends with Thanos snapping his fingers, and rendering 50% of life to dust, including Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Stranger, and even poor Groot.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Following on from the epic events of Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a smaller story, both metaphorically and literally. Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang, while Evangeline Lily co-headlines as Hope van Dyne, aka Wasp.
The story concerns stopping a mysterious masked woman from stealing Pym tech, alongside efforts to rescue Hope’s mother – played by Michelle Pfeiffer – from the Quantum Realm. Which means there isn’t much in the way of plot. But while this is a minor entry in the MCU, Ant-Man and the Wasp is nevertheless an enjoyable one.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Ant-Man and the Wasp was half top-lined by a woman, but just a few months later, the MCU went all the way, with Captain Marvel getting a solo movie. Brie Larson plays the title character – aka Air Force pilot Carol Danvers – with the film largely set in 1995, thereby avoiding dealing with that pesky Snap business.
Plot finds Danvers becoming embroiled in a war between a pair of alien races: the Skrulls and the Kree. And because everything is interconnected in the MCU, Guardians villain Ronan the Accuser – who died in Vol. 1 – is very much alive here to do some more Accusing. The film ends with a fully-powered Captain Marvel responding to a page from Nick Fury, bringing her story up-to-date, and setting the stage for the big finale…
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
This is it. The biggest movie in the MCU. The highest grossing superhero movie of all time. And the end of The Avengers era – for now. The movie itself didn’t disappoint either. Proceedings kick off in understated fashion, our heroes still defeated, and the world still reeling from The Snap. But soon Scott Lang figures out time-travel, and a caper through some of the previous movies ensues.
Then it’s time for the Endgame; an almighty battle between Thanos’s army, and the combined might of The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Wakandans, the Asgardians, the Sorcerers, the Ravagers, and pretty much everyone else who played a part in the MCU along the way. Thanos is defeated, but there are heavy casualties, most notably Tony Stark, the man who kicked it all off back in 2008.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
What with him being dead, there’s less Tony Stark in the Spider-Man sequel, but instead we get Nick Fury pulling mentor duty for the young hero. Fury also recruits a new super-powered individual called Quentin Beck – played by Jake Gyllenhaal – to fight the threat of the Elementals.
But teenage angst is at the forefront of Far From Home, as we find a lovelorn Parker on a school field trip to Europe. Meaning the MCU visits a bunch of new locations, including Venice, Prague, and a climax in London.
Peter soon realizes that Beck – aka Mysterio – isn’t all he seems, simulating those threats using advanced projections he stole from Stark Industries. And Spider-Man ultimately defeats the villain, but at huge personal cost: the world discovering his true identity, and believing he was responsible for the carnage in London.
MCU PHASE 4
Black Widow (2021)
For very specific real-world reasons, a couple of MCU movies were pushed back in the release schedule, meaning audiences were treated to four Marvel films in 2021. The first of which was Black Widow, which gave us Natasha Romanoff’s disturbing back-story, as well as pitting her against sister Yelena, played by Florence Pugh.
The story kicks off with young Natasha and Yelena leaving their sham life in Ohio, and being taken to the Red Room to train as assassins. The sisters are then separated, and end up battling in the present-day, only to team up to both face the fearsome Taskmaster, and bring the Widow programme down.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
There have been lots of firsts in the MCU, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was the first Marvel movie to focus on an Asian hero, while at the same time exploring history and culture from the region. Simu Liu plays “Shaun”, a San Francisco parking attendant with a violent past in which – not unlike the Widows – he was trained to be an assassin.
That past eventually catches up with Shaun – real name Shang-Chi – and he must head home to learn the truth about his childhood and do battle with the Dweller-in-the-Darkness. Shang-Chi does this via some cracking action, and with the help of several beautifully realized creatures from Chinese myth.
Phase 4 introduced a new hero in the shape of Shang-Chi, and a new team via the Eternals. Immortal aliens sent to earth thousands of years ago, the Eternals have remained in hiding, waiting for enemies the Deviants to emerge. Which just happens to occur in the present day. There’s a twist however – there’s always a twist – as it turns out the Eternals are actually here to prepare the planet for the Celestials.
Their real mission was to stop the Deviants killing humans. But following The Blip (formerly The Snap) Earth is now ready. Which means the planet as we know it will be destroyed unless the Eternals kick some Celestial butt. It’s a convoluted plot, and thanks to the film’s slow pace and punishing run-time, Eternals wasn’t particularly well received by either critics or audiences.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
The concept of a multiverse was becoming increasingly prominent in the MCU, and here it burst on screen thanks to Doctor Strange. The result is visitors from alternate dimensions and time-lines entering Peter Parker’s world, leading to one of the greatest crossover events in history.
That’s because Tom Holland’s Peter Parker meets Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker and Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker mid-way through proceedings. They spend some charming time together, but then get to work when villains from all their respective films appear. Meaning the three Spidey’s do battle with Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Rhys Ifans’ Lizard, and Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman.
The story itself was a mess, unfortunately, but the spectacle of all those heroes and villains sharing the screen just about made up for it.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
What’s bigger and better than a multiverse? A “Multiverse of Madness” apparently. At least that’s the thinking in the most recent MCU movie, which finds the super-powered America Chavez able to travel between dimensions. Wanda Maximoff – aka Scarlet Witch – wants that same power for herself (for WandaVision reasons), so what follows is an adventure across space and time that pits Avenger against Avenger.
Unfortunately, the plot is even more convoluted than the previous two Marvel entries, and often seems less like an actual movie, and more like an excuse to throw cameos at the fans. So Patrick Stewart appears as Professor X, John Krasinski drops in as Mr. Fantastic, and Charlize Theron briefly pops up as powerful sorcerer Clea. But Sam Raimi directs the hell out of the movie, and when Multiverse of Madness works, it’s an absolute blast.
Rest assured we’ll be adding to this list as and when Thor: Love and Thunder, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and The Marvels all hit. As well as whatever’s next.
https://www.dexerto.com/tv-movies/marvel-movies-in-order-listing-all-the-mcu-movies-in-order-of-release-1850815/ Marvel movies in order: listing all the MCU movies in order of release