The Marvel Cinematic Universe Timeline

| June 26, 2015

I was listening to the new episode of The Marvel Cinematic Universe Podcast yesterday and the topic of the MCU chronology came up.  It’s interesting to examine as Marvel so far has consistently maintained ambiguity concerning when certain chapters of their universe take place in relation to others.  Below is the order as I see it.  For now we’ll exclude my fan theory that Game of Thrones takes place inside the MCU and is just that universe’s dark ages.

First, we have Captain America: The First Avenger, which takes place mostly in the 1940s and is easily the earliest in the timeline excluding flashbacks in both Thor films.  After that is the “Agent Carter” short film (or “one shot”), which ends with Peggy Carter being recruited by Howard Stark to help run S.H.I.E.L.D.  The Agent Carter television series follows the short and sees Peggy unable to move past the SSR yet because Stark is in the midst of being accused of treason.  The early days of S.H.I.E.L.D. will hopefully be seen in the upcoming season 2 of the series.

The next chapter of the universe is a double feature of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, despite The Incredible Hulk coming out in 2008, between the two films.  In the end of Iron Man 2, we can see a news story about the Hulk fighting off General Ross’s (William Hurt) forces as seen in The Incredible Hulk.  Also, at the end of Hulk Stark meets with General Ross about “putting a team together.”  We find out later in another one shot that Coulson purposely sent Stark in as a consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D. to annoy Ross into not letting Emil Blonsky/The Abomination join the avengers.  Stark wasn’t considered a consultant until the end of Iron Man 2.  The real problem with this section of the timeline is where to put Thor, which seems to take place at the same time as both Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk.  For me, it comes down to effectively tracking Coulson’s storyline through these three movies.  In Iron Man 2 he’s sent to New Mexico to recover Thor’s hammer, and then presumably meets with Agent Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) in “The Consultant” to concoct the plan of using Stark to keep Blansky behind bars.  So, the order I go with is: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer,” Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and “The Consultant.”  Following that is The Avengers which unites the heroes and creates events that will be important for each of them when they split back up.

After the battle of New York in The Avengers, it becomes easier to firmly state the order of the films in the series.  The Marvel one-shot “Item 47” takes place in the aftermath of the battle of New York, with Iron Man 3 taking place months later, after Tony Stark has built almost 40 new generations of his armor.  Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier must take place in that order because all three cross over with the events of the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC.  Knowing where in the timeline these movies fall can be crucial if you’re interested in watching all of the events in chronological order.  Iron Man 3 and the one-shot “All Hail The King” take place before the first episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., Thor: The Dark World takes place after episode 7 of the series, and Winter Solider takes place after episode 16.  The latter has huge ramifications for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and defines their first season’s climax.

The next film released was Guardians of the Galaxy, and time may reveal where exactly it falls in the overall chronology, but for now it seems to fit right in here.  I believe the movie does establish what year Peter Quill was abducted from Earth and how much time passed between then and us catching up with him as an adult, and that that jump in time corresponds with the film’s 2014 release.  It’s also unclear where the first season of Daredevil falls in the chronology.  All we know for sure is that it takes place after Avengers because of several references to the battle of New York, and the Avengers themselves.  I’m going to put it here in the timeline between Guradians and season 2 of S.H.I.E.L.D. because the latter holds together so well and each episode moves into the next so fluidly.  It’s awkward to disrupt that to suddenly watch 13 episodes of Daredevil simply because of the release date.  Again, future installments in the series may establish better when this takes place.

As I said, next is season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which fortunately doesn’t have 3 movie releases to weave around, letting the series emerge as its own entity and stand on its own feet.  There is a tie-in with Avengers: Age of Ultron  between episodes 19 and 20, but it’s not as major of a connection as The Winter Soldier in season 1.

Presumably Ant-Man comes next in the timeline, but it’s really impossible to know for sure until it’s released next month.  In the meantime, this is my best shot at an appropriate order to watch the various films, TV series, and shorts so far making up the MCU.  If you see a problem with my logic, then you should leave a comment.  Until then, here’s the actual list:

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Marvel One Shot:  Agent Carter
  3. Agent Carter: Season 1
  4. Iron Man
  5. Iron Man 2
  6. Marvel One Shot:  A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer
  7. Thor
  8. The Incredible Hulk
  9. Marvel One Shot:  The Consultant
  10. The Avengers
  11. Marvel One Shot:  Item 47
  12. Iron Man 3
  13. Marvel One Shot:  All Hail The King
  14. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1 Episodes 1-7
  15. Thor: The Dark World
  16. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1 Episodes 8-16
  17. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  18. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1 Episodes 17-22
  19. Guardians of the Galaxy
  20. Daredevil: Season 1
  21. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 2 Episodes 1-19
  22. The Avengers:  Age of Ultron
  23. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 2 Episodes 20-22
  24. Ant-Man

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.

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