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The ultimate Marvel Cinematic Universe guide

Updated Feb 23rd, 2023 9:30PM EST
Marvel Cinematic Universe
Image: Budrul Chukrut / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

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You have to have lived under a rock if you aren’t aware of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But having heard of it and understanding what it’s all about are two different things. Have you heard about it for years and still don’t know why people are so excited about it? If you’re someone who hasn’t seen any of the movies, you are definitely in the minority. But it’s never too late to learn more about them. Maybe you are wondering what has happened to the film industry that these movies seem to do better than almost anything else. In a time where people can see so much on streaming, the MCU brings people to the big screen, seemingly always. It’s because they have recognizable characters who are superheroes and have storylines that bring them together.

If you’re not buying that explanation. then maybe you need to try and understand more about the situation. There are many characters, storylines, movies, TV shows, and more that have been turned into content based on characters mostly created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Not sure what all of this means for your understanding of it all? Then this is a post you need to check out. We’ve taken a deep dive into all things MCU and laid out what you need to know and some stuff you (probably) don’t need to know.

Understanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one thing

There is so much going on that it can be hard to understand all that takes place, especially now with the multiverse (sorry for maybe a spoiler!). Keeping track of it all is a whole different ballgame (or endgame? sorry for maybe more spoilers!). We’re here to help you do both. We’ll take a look at some of the most pressing questions fans have about the movies and TV shows. That way, everyone can enjoy those superhero stories a little more.

How should you start in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Marvel Movies Thor
Actor Chris Hemsworth plays Thor in Marvel’s first Thor movie. Image source: Marvel Studios

Before you even think about the movies, you should think about taking a look at the comics. You’ll be able to see where your favorite superheroes came from and how they ended up where they are now through many different storylines and characters taking up the superhero mantles. If you didn’t know, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been chosen by mostly following certain comic book storylines that connect Marvel superheroes. But there are so many other stories that involve your favorites. So, if you find yourself really interested in Marvel, you should check out the comics.

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in Iron Man (2009). Image source: Marvel Studios

For the next section, there may be some spoilers that you’ll see. But we promise not to give away too much information to those who haven’t seen the films. For those who have, this may be information that you know, but bear with us. If you are wondering why you hear the word “Avengers” so much when people talk about the MCU, it’s because of Nick Fury‘s (Samuel L. Jackson) “Avengers Initiative.” That’s something that you find out about in the first MCU movie, Iron Man.

From there, you see the building of the Avengers, an intergalactic team of superheroes that grows with each movie. A lot of the most popular superheroes are members of the Avengers. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are some of the original ones that you meet over the course of the films. More superheroes join as the storylines progress.

As the phases of the MCU have progressed, some characters have been replaced. Other actors and characters have taken up the roles and superhero titles, as you may have seen in comics. Plus, Disney Plus TV series are heavily involved, and you get more storylines fleshed out with more in-depth looks at some of the characters that haven’t been focused too much on in films. Also, there will be a second round of Avengers soon.

What’s the difference between Avengers and Justice League?

Justice League
A shot from Justice League (2017). Image source: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Avengers come from Marvel comics, and Justice League is based on characters from DC comics. The Avengers consists of the superheroes we mentioned above mostly. Justice League includes Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). If you want to watch more from those superheroes, you can follow the DC Extended Universe. There are 12 films in the DCEU officially so far. They are:

  • Man of Steel
  • Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • Suicide Squad
  • Wonder Woman
  • Justice League
  • Aquaman
  • Shazam!
  • Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
  • Wonder Woman 1984
  • Zack Snyder’s Justice League
  • The Suicide Squad
  • Black Adam

Upcoming DCEU films include The Flash, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Blue Beetle, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Changes have come since James Gunn and Peter Safran took over the film and TV series branches of DC Entertainment. We know Henry Cavill won’t be Superman anymore and that they don’t have any immediate follow-ups for Black Adam to appear, and they canceled a third Wonder Woman film. But, before they took over, at the 94th Academy Awards, Zack Snyder’s Justice League won the “Most Cheer-worthy Moment.”

What was the story in Marvel’s The Avengers?

Without getting too in-depth, basically, the Avengers are brought together by Nick Fury to help save the world. As you would expect since this is a superhero story, there is someone trying to use powers to take over the world and a gang of superheroes has to get together to try and stop them. It’s what makes superhero stories great. It’s usually the most exciting type of story. In the film Marvel’s The Avengershere is the synopsis that Marvel Studios released.

When an unexpected enemy emerges that threatens global safety and security, Nick Fury, Director of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. Spanning the globe, a daring recruitment effort begins.

While this may seem like the beginning of the team, the pieces were in place before this film.

What are the phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in Black Widow. Image source: Marvel Studios

As we stated in our guide on how to watch them based on storyline rather than how they were chronologically released, the movies in the MCU jump back and forth in time a bunch. Some of them take place around the same time and follow each other. But others have parts that take place years before other movies ever happened. We saw that with Black Widow coming out after a massive delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Widow was set before multiple movies that came out before it. The same is true with Captain Marvel, which came out in 2019 but took place in 1995. We got to see the backstories for both Black Widow and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).

The entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has been laid out in phases. The President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, helps oversee the planning and orchestrating of the films and TV shows that are included in the MCU. The Phases helped establish general overarching stories that fit during certain time periods in the MCU timeline.

Which films are a part of which phases?

You’re able to watch all of the movies that have come out for Marvel, plus all of the TV shows, with a Disney Plus subscription. Here is where we stand so far for the Phases of the MCU timeline and what we have to look forward to in the future.

MCU Phase 1

  • Iron Man (May 2008)
  • The Incredible Hulk (June 2008)
  • Iron Man 2 (May 2010)
  • Thor (May 2011)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (July 2011)
  • Avengers Assemble (May 2012)

MCU Phase 2

  • Iron Man 3 (May 2013)
  • Thor: The Dark World (November 2013)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier  (April 2014)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (August 2014)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 2015)
  • Ant-Man (July 2015)

MCU Phase 3

  • Captain America: Civil War (May 2016)
  • Doctor Strange (November 2016)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 2017)
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 2017)
  • Thor: Ragnarok (November 2017)
  • Black Panther (February 2018)
  • Avengers: Infinity War (April 2018)
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 2018)
  • Captain Marvel (March 2019)
  • Avengers: Endgame (April 2019)
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 2019)

MCU Phase 4

  • Wandavision (TV series) (January 2021)
  • The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (TV series) (March 2021)
  • Loki (TV series) (June 2021)
  • Black Widow (July 2021)
  • What If…? Season 1 (August 2021)
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (September 2021)
  • Eternals (November 2021)
  • Hawkeye (TV series) (November 2021)
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (December 2021)
  • Moon Knight (March 30, 2022)
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6, 2022)
  • Ms. Marvel (TV series) (June 8, 2022)
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (July 8, 2022)
  • I Am Groot (TV series) (August 10, 2022)
  • She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (TV Series) August 17, 2022)
  • Werewolf By Night (October 7, 2022)
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (November 11, 2022)
  • The Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special (holidays 2022)

MCU Phase 5

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (February 17, 2023)
  • What If…? season 2 (TBD)
  • Secret Invasion (TV Series) (Spring 2023)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (May 5, 2023)
  • Echo (TV Series) (TBD)
  • Loki Season 2 (TV Series) (Summer 2023)
  • The Marvels (November 10, 2023)
  • Ironheart (TV Series) (TBD)
  • Agatha: Coven of Chaos (TV Series) (Winter 2024)
  • Daredevil: Born Again (TV Series) (Spring 2024)
  • Captain America: New World Order (May 3, 2024)
  • Thunderbolts (July 26, 2024)
  • Blade (September 6, 2024)

MCU Phase 6

  • Deadpool 3 (November 8, 2024)
  • Fantastic Four (February 14, 2025)
  • Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (May 2, 2025)
  • Avengers: Secret Wars (May 1, 2026)

More future projects

  • X-Men ’97 (2023)
  • Madame Web (February 16, 2024)
  • El Muerto (2024)
  • Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-verse (March 29, 2024)
  • Armor Wars (now a movie, not a series) (TBD)
  • Spider-Man: Freshman Year (TBD)
  • Marvel Zombies (TBD)
  • Shang-Chi sequel (TBD)
  • Wonder Man (TBD)
  • Untitled Wakanda Series (TBD)
  • Nova (TBD)
  • Vision Quest (TBD)

Marvel Phases 5 and 6

It was revealed at Comic-Con 2022 what the layout is for the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 5. But we also found out about Phase 6 in the process, as well. We found out Black Panther: Wakanda Forever would be the final film of Phase 4 and Phase 5 would start with Ant-Man 3. As you see above, we’ve listed all that we know so far from Feige, including a new Captain America film, the antihero film Thunderbolts, as well as when the new Fantastic Four and Avengers movies are coming. Things have slowed down recently, as DIsney and Marvel are trying to decide the proper rollout strategy. 

Read our extensive look at the upcoming Marvel shows and movies

Is Avengers: Endgame the last Avengers movie?

A still from Avengers: Endgame. Image source: Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame was notably the last film on the list above that had the word “Avengers” in it until two new films were revealed at Comic-Con 2022. There are projects that include the Avengers, original and newer members that we’ve seen since Endgame, but now we see a fuller view of the landscape going forward. As most people know, there are bound to be different Avengers than the ones in the original films. We’ve started to see some of the newer characters in recent MCU TV shows and films that could take up bigger roles going forward. There are multiple timelines and universes that characters can coexist in, as we’ve seen from Loki, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and Spider-Man: No Way Home

Has the Marvel Avengers series ended?

There are Avengers films in each of the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We are currently in the beginning of the fifth phase and we are going to have to wait until Phase 6 for new Avengers films, as was announced at Comic-Con 2022.

NOTE: More information below is filled with spoilers. We take a look at some much-asked questions by fans when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Why was Captain Marvel barely in Avengers: Endgame?

Captain Marvel Image source: Marvel Studios

If you’ve watched Avengers: Endgame, you’ve seen that Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, is not a focal point of the film. That’s because, as awesome of a superhero as Captain Marvel is, Marvel wanted to highlight the original Avengers in what could have been their final roles. Captain Marvel comes in to help towards the end of the film, but Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors of the film, wanted to pay tribute to the heroes we came to love.

What is Captain Marvel’s role in Avengers: Endgame?

Carol Danvers comes through to rescue Tony Stark at the beginning of the film. She then isn’t seen until the final battle. It was eventually explained that she was working on other worlds to handle what was happening during Thanos’s snap in Avengers: Infinity War. She can travel through time, which is a power that allowed her to help other worlds put their affairs back in order. She came back in time to help the Avengers take down Thanos.

Who is your favorite superhero from the Avengers team?

Avengers: Endgame
Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Image source: Marvel Studios

This is a subjective question. But you’ll be able to pick one based on what your favorite superpowers are. Running down a list of abilities by the superhero.

  • Tony Stark/Iron Man – super strength, flight, artificial intelligence (all through suit)
  • Steve Rogers/Captain America – speed, stamina, acrobat, skilled fighter, Vibranium shield
  • Bruce Banner/Hulk – superhuman strength, long-distance jumping, durability and regeneration, genius intelligence, Hulk smash
  • Clint Barton/Hawkeye – master archer, combat expert, skilled tactician, specialized weapons
  • Thor – summoning Mjolnir (hammer), flight, God of thunder, Stormbreaker and the Bifrost
  • Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow – master fighter, strength and agility, widow’s bite, master hacker

What about all of the other superheroes?

As we know, there are other superheroes who have been a part of the Infinity Saga and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The most popular is Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Spider-Man wasn’t introduced into the MCU until Captain America: Civil War. The Spider-Man storylines in the MCU are different from the earlier Spider-Man films that you may remember that Sony produced (although they come together in an epic way in the MCU).

Spider-Man is typically a huge fan favorite. But Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Guardians of the Galaxy (Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Wong (Benedict Wong), Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Shuri (Letitia Wright), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), and M’Baku (Winston Duke) all have fought on the side of the Avengers.

Other characters who have shown up in Marvel stories over the years have been Moon Knight (Oscar Isaac), She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany), Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), the Eternals cast (Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Gemma Chen, Brian Tyree Henry, and more), Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), amongst many others.

What was Thanos after?

Avengers: Infinity War - Thanos
Screenshot from Avengers: Infinity War: Thanos using the Infinity Gauntlet. Image source: Marvel Studios

Thanos (Josh Brolin) aka the Mad Titan was on an intergalactic quest to collect all of the Infinity Stones in order to save the universe from overpopulation by wiping out half of it. He went across the universe looking for the Infinity Stones to use their powers to achieve his goal. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) were raised as his daughters and he told them about how eliminating half of the population at random without prejudice would help save his planet, Titan, from overpopulation.

He had the Infinity Gauntlet made in order to hold all of the stones. The Infinity Stones are as follows:

  • Time Stone – Grants the ability to control time
  • Space Stone – Grants the ability to travel between places instantaneously
  • Reality Stone – Grants the ability to change reality
  • Mind Stone – Grants the ability to control minds
  • Power Stone – Grants the ability to manipulate energy and unnaturally powerful strength
  • Soul Stone – Grants the ability to control a person’s soul

We first see Thanos in the post-credits scene in the first Avengers film. And he poses a threat throughout the rest of the “Infinity Saga” (Phases 1-3) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What is the future of the MCU?

There are a lot of places where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going, as we are in the throes of the Multiverse Saga currently. There are a lot of times they are going as well. As we’ve shown you above, there are plenty of titles that have already been announced as we are in the middle of beginning of Phase 5. Most recently, Marvel’s Eternals debuted in November of 2021 and Spider-Man: No Way Home came out in December of 2021 and grossed $1.8 billion at the US box office. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness took in $411 million at the US box office. Thor: Love and Thunder took in $343 million domestically. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has taken in $453 million domestically.

With the television shows that have come out, such as WandaVision, Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, What If?…, and Hawkeye, we’ve seen that the multiverse is what the MCU has fully embraced. Embracing that gives you so many more storyline options. Spider-Man: No Way Home dove deep into the multiverse more and that is how the Spider-Man stories and villains of previous films are linked in with other timelines. The same thing goes with the second Doctor Strange before Thor: Love and Thunder.

And, as long as you have a Disney Plus account, there are more television series that are going to be tied directly into all of this, as Moon Knight wrapped up before Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law came out. The main big bad of the current phase is a character named Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). Much of Phases 5 and 6 are going to be directly related to the Multiverse as it will be known as The Multiverse Saga. We saw a variant of Kang the Conqueror in the first season of Loki and in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania in February.

Is Venom in the MCU?

Venom made his first real film appearance in Spider-Man 3 when the character was played by Topher Grace. Not many consider that a great showing for one of the most beloved comic book characters. While that Spider-Man 3 is not an MCU film, Sony Pictures made two standalone Venom films, the self-titled Venom in 2018 and Venom: Let There Be Carnage in 2021. If you know what happens at the end of the sequel, we see Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) show up in the MCU. So there will be more movies to come with him.

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