Marvel Studios has now released 30 movies, 8 shows, 2 specials, and even an animated short film series. So with this massive amount of Marvel Cinematic Universe content, what’s the best way to watch it?
Whether it’s a red brand veteran, someone watching the MCU for the first time, or a Marvel diehard that is welcoming friends and family into this unapologetically invested community, a rewatch is an incredibly daunting task.
Some call the sheer volume of MCU projects a flaw, while others call it the price of success. Regardless, there are 30 movies, eight streaming series, two special presentations, and even a cute run of Baby Groot animated shorts.
For those watching the MCU for the very first time, watch it in order of release. The way Kevin Feige intended.
But when running it back without over 109 hours to spare, here are a few different engaging abbreviations to take in Marvel Studios’ elaborate cinematic universe:
The Arc Reactor Cut
Watch Order: Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame
There are a bunch of different ways to tackle a rewatch. It can focus on a specific character, branch, or even an individual storyline. There is even a Battle of Yavin situation where pre and post-Infinity Saga becomes a benchmark.
For the most fruitful experience of the Infinity Saga without watching every project, there is The Arc Reactor Cut.
Inspired by the Star Wars Machette Cut, this order highlights the overarching story of The Avengers vs Thanos leading up to the climactic moment before using origin stories as flashbacks to add weight to that climax.
The beginning is simple with The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers 2.5 (Captain America: Civil War), and Avengers: Infinity War telling the broad story of the core team in the MCU.
The first round ends with the snap and Thanos watching the sunrise on a grateful universe. At that moment, flashback to Iron Man and every other origin story in The Infinity Saga to add depth to these characters.
After filling in the gaps of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (and more), then comes Avengers: Endgame and the greatest finale in cinematic history.
The Infinity Stones Cut
Watch Order: Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain Marvel, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Loki
Similar to the Arc Reactor Cut, The Infinity Stones Cut is a way to gather all of the information needed for Marvel’s greatest goober, The Infinity Stones, before the climax of Avengers: Endgame.
The characters weaving in and out of different projects and finding subtle ways to connect with one another is the continuity that makes the MCU special. While that makes for a great story, it is the six elemental crystals that make up the universe that provides the plot to The Infinity Saga.
The star of the show is of course the Space Stone aka The Tesseract. Appearing in Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain Marvel, and The Avengers, The Tesseract dominates the beginning of this cut. The Reality Stone (Ether), The Power Stone, The Mind Stone, and The Time Stone all receive spotlight in individual projects in Thor: Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Doctor Strange respectively.
This cut allows the viewer to follow The Infinity Stones leading up to Infinity War and Endgame where they are the reason for the season and the jewelry of Thanos’s favorite accessory, The Infinity Gauntlet.
For extra credit, one can even watch the first episode of Loki that shows while the Infinity Stones are vital to MCU-616, that is not the case across the multiverse.
The Iron Man Cut
Watch Order: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home
The next option is to focus on the journies of solo characters, and, of course, it starts with the godfather of the MCU, Robert Downey Jr.’s (RDJ) Tony Stark.
Starting at the beginning with Iron Man, through every Avengers movie, and every non-post-credit appearance along the way. This is for anyone who misses Tony and wants to relive the charisma and charm that built the MCU.
The obvious ending to this cut is with Tony’s last sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame but it is worth including the epilogue that is Spider-Man: Far From Home. While RDJ does not appear in the movie, his presence is felt throughout as Peter, Happy, and the MCU faithful cope with the loss of Tony Stark.
The Spider-Man Cut
Watch Order: Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man: No Way Home
A list of character-focused rewatch-orders cannot be written without including the superhero that moves the needle more than any other, Peter Parker aka Spider-Man.
Tom Holland’s wall-crawling career has been nothing short of poetic and it begins with one of the greatest title cards in MCU history: “QUEENS” in Captain America: Civil War.
Continuing through the Infinity Saga and beyond with one of the greatest achievements in the genre Spider-Man: No Way Home. For many, Holland is the best Peter Parker ever put on the big screen, and this cut is a beautiful collection of coming-of-age quips and THWIPS that tell a defacto six-part origin story.
The Scarlet Witch Cut
Watch Order: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff flew under the radar in The Infinity Saga before becoming THE most important player in Phase 4.
Debuting in Avengers: Age of Ultron as a villain, Wanda’s character arc is one of the best in the MCU. Big plays and emotional moments throughout Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame set up the first series on the list with WandaVision.
After her Disney+ bump from side character to superstar, a post-credit scene in the WandaVision finale hints at her full heel-turn in Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse of Madness.
Winner of The Direct 2022 Villain of the Year, The Scarlet Witch journey is one worth watching.
The Wong Cut
Watch Order: Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law
Phil Coulson walked so Wong could run as the most prominent supporting character in the MCU.
Debuting as a true sidekick in Doctor Strange, Wong has shined in limited minutes in some of the biggest projects including Infinity War and Endgame. Marvel Studios took notice and made sure he was a major piece in The Multiverse Saga.
Already appearing in four Phase 4 projects, Wong may just be getting started after cameo(ish) appearances in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and She-Hulk: Attorney At Law.
The Wong-CU is in full effect and while fans are on top of the world watching the reigning Sorcerer Supreme… Phil Coulson’s blueprint is on the table for a potential Wong death bringing everyone together.
Watch Order: Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, Moon Knight, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Ms. Marvel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Werewolf By Night
At the center of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is The Avengers. The original six (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow) and the New Avengers introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron (Falcon, War Machine, Vision, and Scarlett Witch) have become the very DNA of the film series.
One of the special sauces of the MCU though is the ability to work outside of the franchise IP with side characters that, until Avengers: Endgame, worked independently and starred in their own movies and shows.
The Side-Character Cut highlights those characters in their own movies, giving the audience a look at the MCU outside of The Avengers. Immersion is the key and a big part of that for Marvel Studios is giving as many perspectives as possible to this world they have created, something this rewatch order demonstrates in spades.
The Cosmic Cut
Watch Order: Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love & Thunder, Loki, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Captain Marvel, Eternals
A third option for rewatching is to approach the expansive catalog of the MCU by branch. Starting with The Cosmic Branch Cut.
Starting with Phase One’s Thor, this is the most easily defined branch of the MCU as it deals with characters and stories that work outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. The Thor franchise (+ Loki), Guardians Franchise, Captain Marvel, and Eternals.
This cut is not in release order as each franchise is able to tell a mostly-complete story in a back-to-back fashion. The omission of Avengers films is up for debate but if immersion into the “universe” of it all is the goal, this is the cut.
The Multiverse Cut
Watch Order: Doctor Strange, Loki, What If…?, WandaVision, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
This is the rewatch order that is most important to the future of the MCU. The Infinity Saga has come and gone and The Multiverse Saga is in full swing.
The Multiverse Cut begins with the first introduction to the “Multiverse” concept in Doctor Strange. That lays the groundwork for Phase Four’s exploration of the Multiverse in Loki and What If..? on Disney+.
Once fans are familiar with the MCU version of this storytelling tool, WandaVision, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and of course Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness push the ball down the field.
No cut has more room to grow than The Multiverse Cut as this might just become the essential viewing ahead of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars.
MCU Multiverse… history has its eyes on you.
The Political Cut
Watch Order: Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law
More difficult to define, The Political Cut tells the story of how the existence of superheroes impacts the world on an everyday level.
Beginning in Iron Man 2, Tony Stark’s announcement that he is Iron Man has an immediate impact on how governments, civilians, and enemies across the world react to the idea of superheroes.
This lays the groundwork for what may be the best subplot told in The Infinity Saga between Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age Of Ultron leading into the false summit of Captain America: Civil War.
The fallout of this storyline (along with the events of Infinity War and Endgame) is highlighted in both The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and She-Hulk.
Outside of Captain America: The First Avenger, this is a pseudo-Steve Rodgers Cut as well, as Captain America is at the center of every political decision made in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Holiday Cut
Watch Order: Iron Man 3, Hawkeye, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
It is the fourth Thursday in November. The Cowboys game just finished and aluminum foil is being thrown onto every Thanksgiving dish on site. After polishing off that second piece of Pumpkin Pie, the bells of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” start to ring out across the world. It is officially the Christmas season.
What better way to celebrate the holidays than with a three-part mini-marathon of Marvel Studios’ best Christmas movies and shows?
Here things are kicked off with Iron Man 3. From there, take a dive into Christmas in New York with Hawkeye Season One. Finally, jingling all the way in with one of the newest Holiday movies on nearly everyone’s rotation, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.
The Direct Cut
Watch Order: Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Black Widow, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, WandaVision, Loki, What If..?, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Eternals, Werewolf by Night, Thor: Love & Thunder, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, Ms. Marvel
To reiterate, if it is the first time taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe ride, then it is ALWAYS best to watch it in order of release.
But for those going back for their first full rewatch, an interesting viewing experience is The Direct Cut. A variant order of all 40 Marvel Studios movies, shows, and specials.
This order is mostly in line with the Disney+ official timeline. There are a handful of tweaks that either group certain projects together or separate other to enhance the smaller stories being told across the MCU, all while keeping the chronological integrity of the entire story.
Here are some of the biggest changes to the official timeline order and why they are made.
- Doctor Strange moves up before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 to have every Infinity Stone introduced before The Collector’s exploration of the history behind them (whilst introducing The Power Stone).
- Avengers: Age of Ultron moves up a couple of spots and Captain America: Civil War down a few spots solely to enhance Civil War’s opening scene.
- The New Avengers debuted in the Age of Ultron post-credit scene and then shown working like a well-oiled machine just two movies later. This gap adds weight to the idea this team has been training off-screen.
- Ant-Man and The Wasp moves ahead of Thor: Ragnarok to perfectly blend together the post-credit scene of Ragnarok with the opening scene of Avengers: Infinity War.
- WandaVision, Loki, What If…?, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are grouped together for a 5-part arc of Phase 4 Multiverse projects.
- Falcon and the Winter Soldier goes from being one of the first projects post-Infinity Saga to the bottom of this order to bridge together the two Wakanda-related projects of Phase 4.
The Universe Has Expanded
There are many ways to watch the nearly 110 hours of Marvel Studios content released in the last 14 years. The common complaint of not wanting to have to watch that many hours just to enjoy Avengers: Endgame is a valid one for general audiences.
Hopefully, there is something here for anyone who wants to dive back into the MCU with new and unique perspectives.