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So you’ve been watching Marvel movies for Thor’s sculpted torso and Black Widow’s killer moves, but the recent Avengers: Infinity War can leave one feeling quite behind. No need to worry, we’ve got you covered with the Ultimate fangirl’s guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU as it’s known. This guide not only serves as a holistic view of a beloved franchise, it is also a guide for those just getting into Marvel or superheroes.

Wait, there is an entire superhero universe?

Why yes, in fact there is more than one. The MCU is the space in which all the Marvel films exist. In 2013, upon the release of Marvel’s Agents of Shield, this space expanded to include not only films, but also television series.

To get really technical, the MCU is set on Earth-199999, which is the designated number for the MCU – a shared fictional space across all superhero films and television series produced by Marvel Studios. The version of earth is very similar to our own, with many of the same countries, personalities and historic events (for example, WWII plays a big role in Captain America). It also has a few differences such as super-advanced technology, interference of non-human races, and more.

So where does Superman fit into all this?

Superman, Batman and the fierce Wonder Woman is actually part of the DC Universe. The fight between DC fans and Marvel fans have been raging for years. There are a few fundamental differences between the two universes; the first of which is location. While the Marvel Universe’s earth resemble ours closely, the DC universe fights for and in fictional cities like Gotham, Metropolis and Central City.

Heroes on the DC side normally view their powers as a gift, while on the Marvel side these powers are more likely to be viewed as a curse and the heroes are often burdened by their power. A hero’s origin story is critical to its evolution and in the DC Universe, heroes are often born with their superpowers, while on the Marvel side the powers are often the result of a freak occurrence.

Superhero banter has become synonymous with the Marvel franchise and these movies tend to lean more towards humour and good-natured mockery. The DC films have a darker edge and tend to be more gritty and moody.

Will there ever be a crossover? In the late 70’s and early 80’s the DC and Marvel comics crossed over into a shared version of earth, resulting in a Superman versus Spiderman battle. If that will ever be carried over into the cinematic universe is anyone’s guess.

Isn’t Deadpool a Marvel character as well?

Now, this is more than just a question of who fits into the MCU and who doesn’t. In 2009, Disney acquired the Marvel franchise for a reported 4 billion USD. The X-Men franchise (also a Marvel product) at that stage did not form part of the acquisition and is owned by 20th Century Fox.

Deadpool is associated with the X-Men Universe, which up to now existed all on its own and is also a Fox production. Fantastic Four is another Marvel series influenced by the same 20th Century Fox disjunction. Disney started the process of acquiring both these franchises during late 2017 and hopefully that’ll mean the combination of these universes in the near future.

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Wow okay, that is a lot to take in, where do I start?

This is, of course, the million dollar question. As with the Star Wars franchise (also a Disney product), fans have different theories as to how the universe needs to be approached. We trolled the internet (and the Reddit threads) to give you the best two ways to get absorbed by the MCU.

Release Date

Arguably the most popular way of viewing, this is the way the audience were introduced to the MCU, its heroes and villains. It all started back in 2008 with the release of the very first Iron Man. This is also seen as the inception of Phase 1. Currently, there are three phases in the MCU and the end of each of these phases are marked by the release of an Avengers movie.

Phase 1

Iron Man (2008)
The introduction of the charismatic Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), set to some awesome AC / DC tunes.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Die-hard fans consider this film to be skippable, but if you have no idea who The Hulk (Edward Norton) is or where he came from, it is still a good idea to give it a watch.

Iron Man 2 (2010)
Billionaire, philanthropist Tony Stark faces pressure to share his technology and weapons with the military.

Thor (2011)
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is banished to earth as his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), gets up to no good in Asgard during Thor’s absence.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is turned into a super soldier during WWII, and leads the fight against the Nazi-backed HYDRA organization

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits superheroes to defeat the unprecedented threat to Earth. The heroes include; Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

Phase 2
Iron Man 3 (2013)
After saving New York from destruction, Tony Stark struggles to separate himself from the suit and this affects all his relationships amid a threat from the villian, Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).

Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Thor, and fellow Asgardians face off against the Dark Elves who want to destroy the NIne Realms – including Earth.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
While struggling to adjust to modern times, Steve Rogers together with Black Widow, exposes an ever-widening conspiracy.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his band of misfits travel the universe after he steals an orb that poses a cosmic threat.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The Avengers reassemble as the fate of the Earth once again hangs in the balance. This time they battle Ultron (James Spader), a technological terror hell-bent on human extinction.

Ant-Man (2015)
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) becomes Ant-Man. He is trained by Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and armed with a suit that allows him to shrink in size, possess superhuman strength and control an army of ants.

Phase 3
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Moral accountability leads to political interference in the workings of the Avengers and this divides the team.

Doctor Strange (2016)
Dr. Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life is altered after a near-death accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails, he turns to a mysterious enclave.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Peter Quill and his team of guardians are tasked by a powerful alien race to protect precious batteries. One of the guardians steals the batteries and the team needs to escape.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
After his run-in with The Avengers, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) tries to return to his normal daily routine. He puts his powers to the test when the evil Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
On the other side of the universe, Thor finds himself in a deadly contest that pits him against The Hulk. This quest leads him to face Hela, who is hell-bent on trying to destroy Asgard.

Black Panther (2018)
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda after the death of his father. He is quickly drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The Avengers Team battles their most powerful enemy yet, the mighty Thanos (Josh Brolin). He is on a mission to collect all six Infinity Stones to change the fate of the universe forever.


This is perhaps the best option for a re-watch. Plotting the films in chronological order will provide you with an entire new view on the franchise. Starting with the Captain America: The First Avenger and all of the events leading up to Avengers: Infinity War, will definitely give you a holistic view of the MCU.

With this viewing strategy, it will be much better to also incorporate the different Marvel series for unique insight into the total MCU, turning this into what could be the Ultimate binge weekend(s).

Captain America: The First Avenger
Agent Carter (seasons one and two)
Iron Man
Iron Man 2
The Incredible Hulk
Marvel’s The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 1 — 7)
Thor: The Dark World
Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 8 — 16)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 17 — 22)
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Daredevil (season one)*

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Agents of Shield (season two: episodes 1 — 19)
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Agents of Shield (season two: episodes 20 — 22)
Jessica Jones (season one)*
Daredevil (season two)*
Agents of Shield (season three: episodes 1 — 19)
Captain America: Civil War
Agents of Shield (season three: episodes 20 — 22)
Luke Cage (season one)*

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Doctor Strange
Agents of Shield (season four: episodes 1 — 8)
Agents of Shield: Slingshot (web series)
Agents of Shield (season four: episodes 9 — 22)
Iron Fist (season one)*
The Defenders (season one)*
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Inhumans (season one)
The Punisher (season one)*
Runaways (season one)
Black Panther
Jessica Jones (season two)*

Agents of Shield (season five, episodes 1 — 19)
Cloak and Dagger (season one)
Luke Cage (season two)*
Thor: Ragnarok
Avengers: Infinity War
Agents of Shield (season five, episodes 20 – 22)

*These series are all available on Netflix

Still confused? Give this video a try – warning: spoilers ahead!


Free State-girl, living in Stellenbosch. Love to explore small towns, read in Afrikaans and everything pop-culture. My favourite yoga move is 'The Pigeon' and one day I'd like to own my own vintage cinema.

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