MCU Phase 1 in Order Chronologically and by Release Date

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in the middle of it’s fifteen-year anniversary. It has been a wonder to see how the franchise has grown from a small independent operation into one of the biggest blockbuster franchises of all time (in part due to the early acquisition by the Walt Disney Company). With a big, sprawling universe filled with various heroes, villains, and plot threads spanning the vast cosmos to alternate realities and fourth wall breaks, it is hard to believe this franchise was ever just a couple of movies and an idea.


Before the big sprawling events of The Infinity Saga united the various MCU Phases, there was only the road to The Avengers, which is now dubbed Phase 1. The plan was simple — create solo movies for various heroes and finally unite them in one massive team-up film. It was not a guaranteed hit, but it was a gamble that paid off.

While it has been so culturally omnipresent, it might still be hard to imagine how the various films fit together. Some might be coming into the franchise new, either now deciding to see what the hype is about or being born after the initial film’s release. Here is Phase 1 of the MCU in chronological order, or if you prefer to watch by order of release, just click here.

Update November 1, 2023: With the upcoming release of The Marvels, this article has been updated with the proper timeline information following the release of the book, The Marvel Cinematic Universe: An Official Timeline.


MCU Phase 1 Movies in Chronological Order

Captain America: The First Avenger

captain america

Captain America

Release Date
July 22, 2011

Director
Joe Johnston

Cast
Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
124

Main Genre
Action

Genres
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Studio
Paramount Pictures, Marvel Studios

Writers
Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby

Tagline
When patriots become heroes

Franchise
Marvel

Captain America: The First Avenger was the last solo film released before The Avengers, although the original plan was for it to be the MCU’s first release. While the film is bookended by an opening prologue and epilogue that takes place in the modern day, the majority of the film takes place during World War 2. It is the MCU film primarily set the furthest in the past (although other films would establish key events taking place before World War 2).

Captain America, Peggy Carter, Bucky Barnes, Red Skull, and Arnim Zola are all introduced in this film and will become significant players in the MCU moving forward, on both the big and small screen. The movie also picks up on a single line from Iron Man about how Tony Stark’s father worked on the Manhattan Project and incorporated Howard Stark into the movie.

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Iron Man

iron man

Iron Man

Release Date
April 30, 2008

Director
Jon Favreau

Cast
Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
126

Main Genre
Action

Genres
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Writers
Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Stan Lee, Don Heck

Tagline
Heroes aren’t born. They’re built.

The film that started it all, Iron Man sees Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark suit up as the armored Avenger after being taken captive in Afghanistan (an update from his comic book origin where he was injured in Vietnam). Iron Man takes place in the spring of 2008, the same time the movie opened in theaters.

Related: MCU: Every Disney+ Series in Phase 4, Ranked

Iron Man sets the tone and style for the MCU moving forward. Breezy, clever, and an all-around crowd-pleaser, it also is the first indication of a larger universe, with the appearance of Phil Coulson, who will be the glue that connects many of the Phase 1 movies. It also is the first reference to S.H.I.E.L.D. and contains a moment which changed Hollywood movies forever — the film’s final moment of Nick Fury meeting Tony Stark and letting him know he is part of a larger universe.

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Iron Man 2

iron man 2

Iron Man 2

Release Date
April 28, 2010

Director
Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh

Cast
Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
125

Main Genre
Action

Genres
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Studio
Paramount Pictures, Marvel Studios

Writers
Justin Theroux, Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby

Tagline
Experience it in IMAX for a limited time.

Franchise
Marvel

While The Incredible Hulk was released between Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Iron Man 2 immediately follows its predecessor. While the film says it takes place six months after the first film, the recent novel, The Marvel Cinematic Universe: An Official Timeline, says that Iron Man 2 and the two following MCU films take place two years later in 2010. In the time since revealing himself as Iron Man, the world has stabilized for a period of peace, but that will not last as more superpowered individuals enter the picture. The movie further establishes more about Nick Fury, Tony Stark’s father, Howard, and his connection to S.H.I.E.L.D. allows Rhodey to suit up as War Machine and, most importantly, introduced Black Widow into the MCU.

Iron Man 2 also takes place in a time period called “Nick Fury’s Big Week” which has the events of Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk all happening at the same time. Iron Man 2 takes place first, as Coulson leaves in the middle of Iron Man 2 to deal with events during Thor while the campus attack during The Incredible Hulk is on the news at the end of the movie.

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Thor

thor

thor

Release Date
April 21, 2011

Director
Kenneth Branagh

Cast
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
114

Main Genre
Superhero

Genres
Superhero, Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Writers
Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich, Stan Lee

Tagline
The god of thunder.

Thor was a big shift for the MCU, introducing cosmic aliens and teasing magical elements that will become more fleshed out in later phases. Thor not only introduces the title hero but also Loki, who will become one of the key villains of the MCU and unite the various heroes in The Avengers. It also introduces important supporting players like Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, and Darcy Lewis, who will pop up throughout the franchise. It also features a quick cameo by Hawkeye.

Regarding Thor‘s specific place in the timeline, the animated series What If…? established that Thor attempting to retrieve his hammer from the S.H.I.E.L.D. base happened before The Hulk’s fight on a college campus. At the time, many thought the Hulk reacting to a thing of thunder in his movie was a hint at Thor, yet that seems more like a coincidence. It is also worth noting that the film’s prologue features a battle between Odin and the Forst Giants in Tønsberg in the year 965, which will be the future site of where the Red Skull finds the Tesseract and where the Asgardians will set up New Asgard.

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The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

Release Date
June 12, 2008

Director
Louis Leterrier

Cast
Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
114

Main Genre
Action

Genres
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Studio
Universal Pictures, Marvel Studios

Writers
Zak Penn

Tagline
You’ll like him when he’s angry.

Franchise
Marvel

The last entry in “Fury’s Big Week,” The Incredible Hulk, actually starts earlier than Thor but encompasses so much time that the majority of its action takes place later The movie establishes that Bruce Banner’s origin as the Hulk in the MCU took place five years before the events of this film, meaning Bruce Banner has been on the run since 2005. The Hulk was a result of trying to recreate the super soldier that made Captain America, making the film a great bookend before The Avengers. The college campus battle and the fight with Abomination in New York are close together and happen following Iron Man 2 and Thor. While the films after the credit scene were retconned later, Tony Stark’s arrival was the first major indication to audiences that these movies were connected.

Related: The Incredible Hulk: How the MCU’s Black Sheep Became an Important Part of Its Future

While at first, The Incredible Hulk was often the overlooked film in the franchise given that Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk in the MCU, in recent years, the film has become foundational in setting up many new projects. William Hurt reprised his role as Thunderbolt Ross in Captain America: Civil War and Black Widow before his passing, and now Harrison Ford will take over the role. Tim Roth returned as Abomination first as a cameo in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and then as a full supporting player in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Finally, Samuel Sterns teased that transformation into The Leader will finally get paid off in Captain America: Brave New World.

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The Avengers

Marvel's The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers

Release Date
April 25, 2012

Director
Joss Whedon

Cast
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
142

Main Genre
Superhero

Genres
Superhero, Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Writers
Zak Penn, Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Tagline
May 4th in 3D, Real D, and IMAX 3D.

The Avengers was the film Phase 1 of the MCU was building to. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury were all featured in previous films and are now brought together to fight Loki and an invading alien army, and little do they know that Thanos is the real mastermind behind this whole attack.

The Avengers is the moment where the MCU truly changes. By this point, it has been a fairly recognizable version of the audience’s everyday world, but The Avengers marks a turning point where a new age of heroes has begun. While the world knew about Iron Man, following the Battle of New York heroes like Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and even the Hulk became major celebrities in the universe. Phase 1 ended with the experiment working, connecting these various heroes and franchises together into one cohesive whole. The next phase would deal with the fallout of that.

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MCU Phase 1 Movies in Order of Release

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