The endgame of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 3 is in sight, but the timeline of the MCU is more confusing than ever. In fact, contrary to what Marvel themselves say, Phase 3 has been the most out-of-order run of movies yet.
The studio has successfully evolved the Marvel style of movies, with Phase 3 has delivered some of the MCU's most highly-regarded films. And, to do so, they've treated the MCU's own official timeline a little flexibly. Watching the MCU films in order of release used to be a relatively linear exercise (the World War II-set Captain America: The First Avenger notwithstanding), but Phase 3 has really jumbled the continuity, with release order and timeline order almost completely different (creating some problems in the process).
By summer of 2019 when Avengers 4 has released, it might be more advantageous for fans to watch the films of Phase 3 in chronological order rather than in order of release. Here's how Marvel Phase 3 should be watched in terms of when they are set in the MCU's timeline:
This Page: MCU Phase 3 In Timeline Order
MCU Phase 3 In Timeline Order
The ordering of Phase 3 is variable on future releases, but based on everything we know, here's how it breaks down.
Captain Marvel: The film starring Brie Larson as the first solo Marvel female superhero to headline her own movie is set in the 1990s, explaining why the MCU at large has not heard from Carol Danvers so far. Captain Marvel finally joins the action in 'the present' in Avengers 4, but her solo film will be the ninth Phase 3 film released.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is the third Phase 3 film, but it's actually set just a few months after the events of the first Guardians (set in 2014), which technically places it between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. This primarily allowed the development of Baby Groot, and leads to a four-year jump for their appearance in Avengers: Infinity War. The shift didn't matter too much due to the sub-franchise's cosmic leanings, although Ego's attack on Earth did create a weird plot leap.
It's unclear quite when Doctor Strange - the second Phase 3 release - is set in the timeline. Stephen Strange was mentioned in The Winter Soldier, although it's unclear if that's a Sorcerer reference - the events of his movie seemingly contradict that. More problematic, it's not clear how much time passes in the film.but who knows when exactly it's set in the timeline? before the primary events of Phase 3 begin is best for sanity's sake - and means the mid-credits scene synchs up with Thor: Ragnarok years in the future.
Captain America: Civil War kicked Phase 3 off and is relatively straightforward - it's set a year after Avengers: Age of Ultron in-universe, so is presumably one of only a handful of films in the run actually set around its release date. There's some confusion over the year - Vision that cites it's been "eight years since Mr. Stark revealed himself as Iron Man" when in-universe it's less, although that may be reality-bleed (the film was released eight years after Iron Man.
Directly following Civil War is Black Panther, the sixth Phase 3 film and most recent release. It takes place roughly a week after T'Challa's revealed himself to the world - though the flashbacks within the film occur in 1992 - charting the early days of his rule (just don't question how Civil War's ending matches up).
Happening a little after is Spider-Man: Homecoming. It begins with Peter Parker's POV of being part of Civil War, but the main story begins 2 months later, which also sets it after Black Panther - meaning three movies released over two years apart are all set in the same period. This is also where the problems really began to arose: Homecoming begins with a flashback to the aftermath of the first Avengers movie "8 years ago", contradicting Vision's earlier line and expectations (The Avengers was assumed to be just four years prior).
When Ant-Man & the Wasp - in reality, the eighth Phase 3 film - will be set is unclear, but based on the plot synopsis and trailer, it seems to also takes place in the aftermath of Civil War. How exactly this works will be revealed in July, but for now the fact Scott is under house arrest makes it seem safe this is set before Infinity War.
Thor: Ragnarok gets a bit of a pass timeline-wise - due to it being in totally new and separate realms, it could have feasibly been set anywhere. That said, we know Bruce Banner has been Hulk for two years, putting it at least that long after Age of Ultron and thus after the Civil War quartet. As the arrival of Thanos' ship in the post-credits scene suggests, Radnarok is brushing very close to Infinity War.
Finally, everything seems to be leading to Avengers: Infinity War, the seventh Phase 3 film, which - barring a major shock - will be followed by "end the MCU as we know it" Avengers 4. Avengers 4 is expected to involve time travel, however, so who knows how it will actually fit in.
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019