This week's release of Thor: Love and Thunder will mark the 29th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A sequel to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) with characters from Guardians of the Galaxy also making appearances, the ever-expanding universe of superheroes can be a bewildering superhero series for a newcomer.
So if you’re going to start, start at the beginning.
Here is our guide on how to watch the MCU in chronological order.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' (2011)
A great intro to the MCU, set during the Second World War, it has Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) being recruited as part of the super-soldier experiment, causing – hey presto – the birth of Captain America. We also get our first look at an Infinity Stone, the power-wielding jewels that will escalate in importance.
'Captain Marvel' (2019)
Arriving in the nick of time before Avengers: Infinity War, cosmic hero Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) gets her origin story here – all set in 1995 – as two alien races come to blows. The fun part is seeing Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, a regular from the intelligence agency SHIELD, as his younger self, before he got that distinctive eye-patch.
'Iron Man' (2008)
It all began here. Back in 2008, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was something of a risk. But casting Robert Downey Jr as the snarky Tony Stark, an inventor-billionaire who builds himself a weapon-clad suit, was a masterstroke. An entire generation-defining movie series got off to a splendid start.
'Iron Man 2' (2010)
Downey Jr flexed his muscles further against Mickey Rourke’s whip-cracking Russian baddie, but this is most notable for introducing Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff – aka Black Widow, the ultra-limber spy who will eventually join Iron Man in SHIELD superhero gang The Avengers.
'The Incredible Hulk' (2008)
It took Marvel three goes to get the angry green giant right. This wasn’t it. Following 2003’s Hulk (not part of the MCU), this reboot had Ed Norton take over as Dr Bruce Banner, before Mark Ruffalo later inherited the mantle. It pre-dates The Avengers, though it’s unclear where it sits in the timeline. Iron Man does make a cameo, though.
Set six months before The Avengers, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston first appear as Asgard warrior Thor and his mischief-making, power-grabbing adoptive brother Loki, in a fine effort by Kenneth Branagh, who compared it all to King Lear. Intern Darcy Lewis, later to return in TV spin-off WandaVision, also makes her MCU debut.
'The Avengers' (2012)
Marvel’s so-called Phase One came to a resounding close in Joss Whedon’s titanic superhero flick, as the Avengers assemble against Loki and his alien hoards. Watching Iron Man bicker with Captain America and “Hulk smash” were only two of the highlights of a film that also, properly, introduced Jeremy Renner’s archer Hawkeye after his Thor cameo.
'Iron Man 3' (2013)
Six months on from The Avengers, Iron Man deals with the fallout from those events while coming up against the Mandarin, the leader of a terrorist group known as the Ten Rings. Shane Black directs with his usual wit, though Sir Ben Kingsley’s role – a huge twist in the film – left some fans a bit bemused.
'Thor: Dark World' (2013)
Directed by Games of Thrones’ Alan Taylor, this second outing for Thor – which concludes with half of Greenwich in London being destroyed – was inferior to the first, owing to Christopher Eccleston’s generic villain Malekith. It does introduce Benicio Del Toro’s infinity stones-hoarder, the Collector, though.
'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' (2014)
The first of four essential MCU movies directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Captain America’s second solo outing, digging further into SHIELD, comes two years on from The Avengers’ climactic Battle of New York. Drawing from 1970s-style conspiracy/espionage tales such as Three Days of the Condor, it further expanded Black Widow’s character too.
'Guardians of the Galaxy' (2014)
Director James Gunn’s first entry into the MCU, he arrived with this insouciant tale of intergalactic rogues. Chris Pratt leads the way as Peter Quill – aka Star-Lord – but the show is stolen by Rocket, a talking raccoon, and his pal Groot, a tree of very few words.
'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2' (2017)
A disappointment after the highs of its predecessor, but still a lot of fun – with the Guardians again patrolling the outer reaches of the galaxy. It also expands on the Celestials, the cosmic beings that created the Eternals, with Kurt Russell as Ego.
'Avengers: Age of Ultron' (2015)
As the Avengers team up to fight Ultron, an AI enemy hellbent on destruction, more get recruited, including Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), aka Falcon. Doesn’t hit the highs of Whedon’s earlier movie, though.
Its tortured genesis notwithstanding – director Edgar Wright quit the project, Peyton Reed took over – this is one of the most irreverent MCU entries. Thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is shrunk to insect-size by tech invented by Michael Douglas’ former SHIELD employee Hank Pym, just in time to join the fight in the coming Civil War.
'Captain America: Civil War' (2016)
One of the great comic-book movies, as Iron Man and Cap come to blows and the Avengers’ infighting escalates to epic proportions. This second Russo brothers' MCU effort includes the glorious introduction of Tom Holland as Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man – the third, and certainly the best, actor to play Stan Lee’s web-spinning hero in the 21st century.
'Black Widow' (2021)
Taking place directly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, this origin story for Romanoff also introduces her "sister", Yelena (Florence Pugh), also trained in the so-called Red Room. To stay spoiler-free, avoid the post-credits sequence, though, until you’ve watched Avengers: Endgame.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Set post-Civil War, Jon Watts’ effort goes all The Breakfast Club, with Peter Parker hanging out at Midtown School of Science and Technology with his pals, including love-interest MJ (Zendaya). Michael Keaton pops in as the bad guy, Adrian Toomes, with an axe to grind against Stark Industries.
'Doctor Strange' (2016)
This intro for Benedict Cumberbatch’s mystic, time-bending neurosurgeon came under fire for Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One, a Tibetan character from the comics refashioned as Celtic. But no question, this is the MCU’s most trippy movie yet and a vital primer for Avengers: Infinity War.
'Black Panther' (2018)
Never mind its place in the MCU, Blank Panther was a genuine cultural moment, when Marvel unveiled the fictional African nation of Wakanda and Chadwick Boseman in the title role. The first superhero movie to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, this fired imaginations in its positive, passionate representation of black culture.
'Thor: Ragnarok' (2017)
The best Thor movie yet, thanks to the arrival of Kiwi director Taika Waititi, who imported his off-kilter humour perfectly into the MCU. With Thor fighting against Cate Blanchett’s Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death, it also brings in Loki and Hulk for a hugely enjoyable space romp.
'Ant-Man and the Wasp' (2018)
Be careful here. The post-credits scene ties into the finale of Infinity War, so maybe hold off on watching until you’ve seen IW. But timewise, this quantum realm-hopping adventure begins two years on from Scott Lang’s initial involvement with the Avengers in Civil War, with him now under house arrest.
'Avengers: Infinity War' (2018)
The pinnacle of the series and everything the MCU was building towards, as the Avengers confront alien megalomaniac Thanos, now in possession of the Infinity Stones and with a major grudge against the universe. Filled with genuine jaw-dropping moments, this was comic book fare on a Shakespearean level.
'Avengers: Endgame' (2019)
Now officially the biggest-grossing movie of all time, this conclusion to the MCU’s Infinity saga storyline is another epic, spanning five years. Dealing with the theme of sacrifice for the greater good, it might just be the most emotional Marvel movie yet. Be warned: not everyone makes it out alive.
'Spider-Man: Far from Home' (2019)
Eight months after Endgame, Spidey takes a European holiday with his classmates and comes up against the Elementals and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. Watts’ sequel neatly touches on the Americans-abroad trope in a breezy and much-needed pick-me-up after the apocalyptic events of before.
Five years on from events in Infinity War and eights months after Endgame, Eternals comes late in the MCU ordering. But – just to confuse you – there are some flashbacks to ancient Aztec, Babylon and so on, as the world’s oldest superheroes are introduced in their battle against the alien Deviants.
'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' (2021)
Director Destin Daniel Cretton says his effort takes place in the “present day” so that makes it the most up-to-date entry in the series. Starring Simu Liu as the titular trained assassin, who left behind a life of killing, it reacquaints us with the Ten Rings in a more satisfying way than Iron Man 3 managed.
'Spider-Man: No Way Home' (2021)
Picking up directly after Far From Home, this mind-bending multiverse movie sees Holland’s Spider-Man faces friends and foes from parallel universes in a film that feels like a joyous slice of fan service. Spinning a wild web, it feels like a movie that will send the MCU in an entirely new and bold direction.
'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' (2022)
The film takes place after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home and sees Doctor Strange continue his research on the Time Stone. However, when Strange casts a forbidden spell, he accidentally opens the doorway to the multiverse, and unleashes evil. Faced with old enemies and new foes, he is be forced to break the very seams of reality in order to save it.
'Thor: Love and Thunder' (2022)
A combination of drama, comedy, familiar faces, nostalgia and heart-warming moments the superhero franchise has become known for, Waititi returns with his signature humorous touch in this sequel to Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
Thor reunites with Dr Jane Foster, who broke up with him "eight years, seven months and six days, give or take" ago, putting this timeline to between 2023 and 2025 and after Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
In the film, Christian Bale's supervillain Gorr the God Butcher has sworn to avenge himself on all gods, using a fearsome weapon called the Necrosword. Thor teams up with Jane, who now wields his mighty hammer, transforming into the Mighty Thor.
A fun ride from beginning to end, and possibly Hemsworth's last outing as Thor, this one is all about growing up, getting older and finding the one you love.
— A version of this story was first published on November 3, 2021