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Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Films: Chronological Order and Phases

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Chronology of the MCU

In this article, each film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will be ranked in chronological order. At the beginning of each entry, we will specify where it falls in terms of release and which phase it belongs to. For example, Captain America: The First Avengers is the fifth film of the MCU and belongs to Phase 1. Now that this has been clarified, here is the chronological order of the MCU films.

Captain America: The First Avengers (5th, Phase 1)

Released in 2011, Captain America: The First Avengers is the fifth film of the MCU and the penultimate film of Phase 1, before it concludes with The Avengers. However, chronologically, it is the first film in the MCU as the action takes place in the 1940s, during World War II. We follow the adventures of Steve Rogers, a young American who wants to enlist in the army but is rejected due to his small stature. Through his determination, he is offered an experiment to inject him with a super-soldier serum to make him stronger. He becomes Captain America and fights against the Nazi regime in Europe, specifically their scientific division, Hydra, led by Red Skull.

Captain Marvel (21st, Phase 3)

Chronologically, Captain Marvel is the second film in the MCU as the story is set in the 1990s. We are introduced to the character of Vers, a member of the Starforce, an elite unit of the Kree Empire engaged in a war against the Skrulls, shape-shifting aliens. In addition to her superhuman powers, Vers has no memories dating back more than six years, causing her numerous nightmares. One day, her unit gets captured after an ambush, and during the interrogation, she unlocks her memories. In her escape, she crash-lands on Earth and meets Nick Fury, an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., who helps her uncover her true identity and why a human is part of an extraterrestrial empire.

Iron Man (1st, Phase 1)

It’s finally time to talk about the film that launched the MCU: Iron Man. Released in 2008, the movie follows the adventures of Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy whose family made a fortune in the arms industry. During a trip to Afghanistan to present a new weapon, he gets captured during an ambush. With shrapnel in his body, he is saved by Dr. Ho Yinsen, who implants an arc reactor near his heart to repel the deadly fragments. While being forced to reproduce his missile, Stark allies with the doctor to build an armor that allows him to defeat his captors and escape. Back in the United States, he decides to push the concept further and becomes Iron Man to fight against the weapons created by his own company.

Iron Man 2 (3rd, Phase 1)

Continuing from the first film, Iron Man 2 depicts Tony Stark’s life now that the world knows he is Iron Man. With his technologically advanced armor, many people want to get their hands on it for power or money. Among them, Ivan Vanko seeks revenge directly against Tony Stark. This time, Stark is not alone as his friend James Rhodes appears for the first time in the War Machine armor. This film also introduces Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, and delves deeper into the world of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Incredible Hulk (2nd, Phase 1)

The second film released in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk introduces us to the character of Bruce Banner, a scientist specializing in gamma radiation. Through exposure to radiation, he can transform into Hulk, a giant green monster with unstoppable destructive power. As he searches for a way to control his transformations away from civilization, General Thunderbolt Ross tries to capture him to develop a serum for creating superhuman soldiers. When Bruce returns to the United States, he must confront the Abomination, a monster wreaking havoc in the heart of New York that only Hulk can defeat.

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Thor (4th, Phase 1)

The first Thor film introduces us to Norse mythology in the MCU. In the kingdom of Asgard, Thor, the god of thunder, is a powerful and arrogant warrior who triggers an ancient war with his reckless actions. This is the final straw for Odin, his father, who banishes him to Earth, stripping him of his powers and forcing him to live among humans. Despite his exile, Thor must battle the forces sent by his brother Loki, who seeks to claim the throne of Asgard while Odin is in seclusion, recovering his power.

The Avengers (6th, Phase 1)

The first Avengers film concludes Phase 1 of the MCU by bringing all the superheroes together in one adventure. When Loki arrives on Earth to seize the Tesseract, a cosmic cube, Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., establishes the Avengers initiative to assemble the world’s greatest heroes. Despite their initial disagreements, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye unite to face the alien threat brought by Loki to Earth.

Iron Man 3 (7th, Phase 2)

To kick off Phase 2, the MCU begins with Iron Man 3. This time, Tony Stark is haunted by the memory of the alien invasion of New York. Traumatized, he is targeted by the Mandarin, the leader of a terrorist organization, who attacks him on all fronts and destroys his personal world. With nothing left, Tony must rely on his genius to protect his loved ones and find those responsible for wanting to kill him. The film concludes the Iron Man trilogy and explores Tony’s question: is it the man who makes the armor, or the armor that makes the man?

Thor: The Dark World (8th, Phase 2)

After the events of the first film and Avengers, Thor has matured and now fights to save Earth and the nine realms of Norse mythology. In this context, an ancient race thought to be extinct returns to spread darkness under the command of Malekith, a bloodthirsty creature. Even Asgard and Odin are powerless against such a threat. In order to oppose this enemy, Thor embarks on a dangerous and personal adventure that takes him across different realms and forces him to seek help from his brother, Loki, who has betrayed him multiple times.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (9th, Phase 2)

Set in the contemporary era after World War II, the second Captain America film finds Steve Rogers working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and struggling to adapt to the modern world. When one of his colleagues is attacked, the superhero becomes embroiled in a network of conspiracies that surpass his understanding. With the help of Black Widow, he attempts to fight this growing conspiracy that threatens the integrity of S.H.I.E.L.D. Along the way, they are joined by Falcon, and Steve must confront his past when he is forced to confront the Winter Soldier, who turns out to be Bucky Barnes, his childhood friend.

Guardians of the Galaxy (10th, Phase 2)

With Guardians of the Galaxy, the MCU explores the cosmic side of the comics. In the first installment of this trilogy, we follow the adventures of Peter Quill, a bounty hunter known as Star-Lord. After stealing an orb coveted by the powerful Ronan, all the mercenaries in the galaxy are after him. But when he discovers the true power of this artifact, he forms an alliance with Rocket Raccoon, a talking raccoon, Groot, a talking tree, Gamora, the deadliest assassin in the universe, and Drax the Destroyer. Together…

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