The Entire MCU Timeline Explained
With more than 35 films and TV shows spread out over more than a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest franchise in the pop culture landscape — and it doesn't seem like it's going to be stopping any time soon. The massive scope of this cinematic world has allowed Marvel Studios to create a sprawling, interconnected universe built on a shared continuity, and with recent movies and TV series introducing a multiverse on top of the shared universe, things will just keep getting more complicated — and fun.
For the most part, the events of the films happen in the same order as the movies themselves, but there are a few exceptions. If you want a good look at when everything happened in the MCU, read on. We'll be examining the multiple movies, short films, Netflix series, Disney+ shows, and more to offer you a complete timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the beginning: cosmic genesis
If you really want to know where things started in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you have to go all the way back to before the Big Bang. No, really.
Before the beginning of the universe, before even the creation of the "six singularities" that caused the universe to explode into existence, there were the Celestials. Beings of infinite cosmic power, the Celestials — led by Arishem the Judge — created the original planets, stars, and lifeforms of the infant universe following the Big Bang.
Realizing they need help to expand the universe and create more life, the first Celestials seed planets with embryonic Celestials. These new gods would be born once sentient life on each planet rose to a critical juncture, allowing for the Emergence of a new Celestial and resulting in the destruction of that world. To assist in this process, the Celestials genetically engineered Deviant monsters to wipe out the apex predators of each world, encouraging sentient life to develop and multiply.
Unfortunately, the Celestials miscalculated. The Deviants did their job so well they started hunting down and killing all lifeforms, preventing Emergences. To keep them in check, the Celestials created the Eternals, synthetic lifeforms sent to different worlds across the cosmos to kill the Deviants and protect the planet's lifeforms. Regarded as gods and superheroes by the populace, the Celestials are unknowingly preparing the planets for their destruction. Following each Emergence, the Eternals memories are wiped so they could be reused on different worlds.
Meanwhile, other interesting things are happening throughout the universe. The "six singularities" that created the cosmos became the Infinity Stones — objects that controlled fundamental forces like time, space, and reality itself. They were then scattered across the universe, popping up here and there and awaiting the eventual arrival of a giant golden oven mitt that would be used to murder half the universe.
That, of course, was billions of years ago, but it's not the only thing to happen in those long eons. Millions of years before we get to the present-day MCU, Ego the Living Planet comes into existence, gains cosmic awareness, and seeds "thousands of worlds" with his essence in an attempt to create another Celestial being like himself.
A long, long time ago: the age of myth
As far as the heroes and villains of Earth are concerned, the MCU doesn't start with Tony Stark getting kidnapped in 2008, Carol Danvers being taken to Hala in the '90s, or even with Steve Rogers volunteering for the Super Soldier program in the '40s. The actual beginning happened in 5000 BC when ten immortal Eternals — Sersi, Ikaris, Ajak, Kingo, Sprite, Phastos, Makkari, Thena, Druig, and Gilgamesh — arrived on Earth to take out the Deviants on our planet.
For thousands of years, the Eternals protected emerging humankind, largely through epic super battles with giant monsters. By 1521, the Eternals finally manage to defeat all the Deviants on Earth — or so they think. Lacking any real direction now that their main reason for coming to the planet is gone, they scatter and get jobs as teachers, Bollywood film stars, and South American cult leaders.
Since the Celestials have instructed the Eternals not to interfere in humanity unless Deviants were involved, other god-like beings get the chance to descend onto Earth and have their time to shine. These include the Asgardians, vastly powerful alien beings who visit our planet many times and give rise to Norse mythology. Still, the most exciting stuff those guys were up to happens off-world in the realm of Asgard.
This mythological time scale begins millennia ago, as we find out in "Thor: The Dark World," when Malekith the Accursed lays siege to Asgard and is fought off by Bor, the father of Odin. Bor vanquishes Malekith, which turns out to be a temporary solution.
While we don't know exactly when it happens, the next chronological event that we see from our characters is Odin's conquest of the Nine Realms alongside his first child, Hela, Goddess of Death. During this era, the magic warhammer Mjolnir is forged in the heart of a dying star, and used by Hela. Thanks to her bloodthirsty ruthlessness and ambition, Odin turns against her, and in the battle that follows, Hela slaughters the Valkyrior. The sole surviving Valkyrie flees from Asgard, spending the next few thousand years drunk and depressed. Eventually, she winds up on Sakaar, a cosmic garbage dump that an immortal being called the Grandmaster builds into an interstellar gladiatorial arena. Hela is then imprisoned in another dimension by Odin, who (literally) covers up all traces of her existence.
Sometime after that (but still far enough back that people were writing about it in the 13th century), Odin and Frigga have a son, Thor. Shortly thereafter, Odin defeats the frost giant Laufey and adopts his son, Loki, as his own. Not too long after this, during their youth, Loki turns into a snake because he knows Thor loves snakes, and then tries to stab him.
Millions of years ago, vibranium and the Kree came to Earth
Also millions of years before the present day, a meteorite made of the super-metal vibranium strikes Earth in Africa, drastically affecting the surrounding area. Much, much later, this area becomes the country of Wakanda when a "warrior shaman" receives a vision from the goddess Bast and founds a dynasty of kings known as the Black Panthers. The Wakandans become secretive and isolationist, remaining unconquered throughout history and using vibranium to create fantastic technology, away from the eyes of the outside world.
Over 5,000 years before the present day, a faction of the militaristic alien race called the Kree arrives on Earth and conducts experiments on humans, creating the early Inhumans. One of these Inhumans, known as "Hive," drives the Kree from the Earth and establishes a cult of personality that regards him as a god. After being banished, his followers work to restore him while destabilizing Earth society. Over time, this society becomes the terrorist organization HYDRA.
Moving to just about a thousand years before the present day, the warlord Xu Wenwu makes a fantastic discovery of his own when he comes across 10 otherworldly rings that grant him immortality and the strength of a god. Using the rings to establish his Ten Rings criminal organization, Wenwu conquers kingdoms and topples governments, amassing an incredible power structure that influences the direction of the world.
Over in Eastern Europe, the demonic entity Chthon writes The Darkhold, an ancient book of dark spells, on a castle at the top of Mount Wungadore. The original text is then copied onto a more portable book that falls into the hands of several dark magic users, including the witch Morgan le Fay.
Life during wartime: the 1940s
Believe it or not, there's not a whole lot that happens between the unification of Wakanda, the rise of Wenwu, and the 20th century. According to "WandaVision," in 1693 the witch Agatha Harkness escapes being burned at the stake by her mother and a bunch of other witches who aren't happy with her practice of dark magic. She drains their life energies and gets her hands on the Darkhold before disappearing to get into all sorts of trouble before she pops up again in the present day.
Jumping ahead to 1942, a Nazi officer known as Johann Schmidt experiments on himself with an early version of Dr. Abraham Erskine's Super Soldier Serum, gaining both a physically perfect body and a decidedly redder complexion. Now calling himself the Red Skull, he takes charge of a splinter group called Hydra. With the discovery of one of the Infinity Stones (in the form of the Tesseract), he creates a technologically advanced army of his own.
That same year, Steve Rogers volunteers for the Strategic Scientific Reserve's attempt at creating a super-soldier using a technique created by Dr. Abraham Erskine. The project works, giving Steve the body of a hunky Chris Evans. After the experiment, Erskine is assassinated, and his research is lost. Rather than risking their only super-soldier by sending him to fight in the war, the SSR gives Steve the codename Captain America and uses him primarily as a spokesman to sell war bonds in USO shows set to an extremely catchy song.
Eventually, Steve goes AWOL to rescue his best friend Bucky Barnes, and becomes an active soldier in the war, leading a strike team called the Howling Commandos. On one of their missions, Bucky loses an arm and falls from a train. Steve believes him to be dead, but he's actually taken into custody by the Soviet Army and brainwashed into becoming a super-assassin, codenamed Winter Soldier.
After attempting to use the Tesseract, the Red Skull is sucked into a wormhole, becoming the second person in "Captain America: The First Avenger" to survive an apparent death. In reality, he winds up on the distant planet Vormir, serving as a sort of spectral guardian for the Soul Stone. As for Steve, he crashes a bomber jet into the arctic to keep Hydra from destroying New York. He is also presumed dead, but survives, frozen in suspended animation for the next 66 years. Jeez, doesn't anyone who dies in this movie actually die?
The Silver Age: the mid-20th century
While things are pretty quiet for the MCU between 1945 and 1995, there are a few notable exceptions. Peggy Carter continues to work for the SSR, first in New York in 1946, and then in Los Angeles alongside Howard Stark in 1947. Around this same time, the Soviet Union produces the first graduates of its brutal Red Room facility, where orphaned girls are trained as spies and assassins in a program codenamed Black Widow.
In the 1950s, Korean War veteran Isaiah Bradley and several other African American soldiers are unknowingly subjected to a new version of the Super Soldier Serum. Isaiah gains superhuman abilities and is sent on secret missions, including one where he battles a still-brainwashed Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier) and learns his identity. Isaiah subsequently goes AWOL to save his fellow soldiers from a POW camp. In the aftermath, all the soldiers except Isaiah die from the serum's side effects. Isaiah is imprisoned for thirty years so CIA and HYDRA scientists can experiment on him and try to replicate the serum in his blood. Eventually, a nurse takes pity on Isaiah and has him declared dead, allowing Isaiah to return to Baltimore, Maryland and live with his family.
Sometime after this — presumably around '48 or '49 — Steve Rogers travels back in time from 2023 to reunite with Peggy. She continues to work in military intelligence for the next few decades with Stark, whose defense contracts turn Stark Industries into the world's leading arms manufacturer. By 1970, both of them are working out of SSR Headquarters at Camp Lehigh, along with a few other notable figures. Arnim Zola, who worked with the Red Skull back in the '40s, is stationed here, and although his body dies in the '70s, his brain is transferred into a computer databank that continues Hydra's infiltration of the government. Also, Hank Pym is working here, assisted by Bill Foster in his experiments with the size-changing "Pym Particles" that will allow him and his wife Janet Van Dyne to become the original Ant-Man and Wasp.
Recent history: the late 20th century
Between the '70s and the '90s, several small but key events happen throughout the MCU. In 1974, Howard Stark launches the Stark Expo, displaying the City of the Future, powered by a clean-energy ARC reactor that's about the size of a house. For some reason, he also hides the structure of a new element in the arrangement of the buildings, which is the kind of science it pays to not think too hard about.
In 1980, Ego comes to Earth, winning the heart of Meredith Quill. Nine months later, their son Peter Quill is born. In '87, Janet Van Dyne is lost in the Quantum Realm after she and Hank Pym — as the original Ant-Man and Wasp — attempt to stop a rogue Soviet missile targeting the United States. In 1988, Meredith Quill dies from brain cancer (intentionally caused by Ego), leaving her son a mixtape of classic rock favorites. Peter is then abducted by a band of outer-space outlaws called the Ravagers. Their leader, Yondu, then raises Quill as a son, albeit very abusively. In 1989, Pym resigns from the SSR (now renamed as the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) after finding out that they intended to use his Pym Particles to create weapons.
Also that year, Air Force Captain Carol Danvers, who uses the callsign "Avenger" during her flights, volunteers for a test flight of a lightspeed engine created by scientist Wendy Lawson. Lawson turns out to be one of the Kree, a militaristic alien race constantly at war with the shapeshifting Skrulls, and her engine is powered by the Tesseract. When they're shot down, Carol's body is overloaded with the Tesseract's energy, giving her incredible powers and also wiping her memory. A Kree soldier named Yon-Rogg abducts her and takes her back to the Kree homeworld of Hala, where she is made to believe that she's actually a Kree named Vers, fighting alongside them as a member of the Kree Starforce.
Meanwhile, in space ...
While all of this is happening on Earth, things continue to develop in space. Thanos, an incredibly powerful alien from the planet Titan who's obsessed with balance, begins to seek out the Infinity Stones. Along the way, he lays waste to half of the population of entire planets, occasionally taking young survivors and training them as soldiers.
Assuming that most of the more humanoid characters are the same age as the people portraying them, then his two most notable adoptions happen in the late '80s or early '90s. Gamora is taken in as a young girl after Thanos kills half of the population of her home planet. Throughout her childhood, Thanos pits her against her adopted sister, Nebula. Every time they spar, Gamora wins, and Thanos systematically replaces pieces of Nebula's body with cybernetic parts in order to make her a more efficient killer. This creates a lot of resentment in Nebula, not only against Thanos but also toward Gamora, which will greatly affect their later relationship.
Only '90s kids will remember the Kree-Skrull War: 1990s
In 1991, the Soviet government sends the Winter Soldier to assassinate Howard and Maria Stark. This will have massive ramifications later on, but the immediate effect is that their brilliant slacker son, Tony Stark, is left in charge of Stark Industries, along with Obadiah Stane as CEO. They continue to manufacture weapons using Tony's increasingly deadly designs, selling them to all sides of virtually every global conflict, with Obadiah in particular making a profit from secret arms deals with terrorist groups.
In 1992, King T'Chaka of Wakanda goes to Oakland, California, to investigate arms deals involving stolen vibranium. The culprit is his brother, N'Jobu, who is killed in the altercation. N'Jobu's son, Erik, is a witness to the whole thing and grows up craving revenge.
Meanwhile, Russian super-soldier Alexei Shostakov and Black Widow weapons designer Melina Vostokoff go deep undercover in Ohio, posing as an all-American family with their "daughters" — 7-year-old Natasha Romanoff and 3-year-old Yelena Belova. While Alexi and Melina work to steal a SHIELD (actually HYDRA) project on unlocking free will, Natasha and Yelena experience some semblance of a normal childhood even if their family photos are all shot on the same day and their Christmas gifts don't contain anything.
By 1995, however, the mission is complete, and the family flees to Cuba. However, once they arrive they are split apart and Natasha and Yelena return to the Red Room, where they continue their Black Widow training/torture sessions.
Also in 1995, Carol Danvers — still without her memories of Earth — returns to her home planet after escaping from the Skrulls. She teams up with SHIELD Agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson to stop the Skrulls from invading Earth, only to learn that they're not actually the bad guys. Instead, it's the Kree that are the problem, with Yon-Rogg and Ronan the Accuser en route in search of the Infinity Stones that will end their war of conquest once and for all.
Carol, taking the name Captain Marvel, fights them off and saves a bunch of Skrull refugees. In the process, an alien cat scratches Nick Fury's left eye, blinding it and causing him to sport a fashionable eyepatch for the rest of the franchise. Before she journeys back into space to aid the Skrulls, Carol gives Fury a pager that can summon her in case of a dire emergency. Inspired by Carol and her original callsign, Fury lays the groundwork for the Avengers Initiative, a program designed to create a team of super-powered heroes to deal with large-scale threats like alien invasions.
Births of new heroes and new villains: the late '90s
In 1996, Xu Wenwu — having used his Ten Rings organization to secretly conquer or influence practically everything on Earth — turns his attention to the mystical realm of Ta Lo. After finding a magical forest near the village entrance, he meets and falls in love with the village guardian, Ying Li. The two marry and have two children — Shang-Chi and Xialing. For a time, Wenwu reforms, but when his wife is murdered by his rivals, he recreates the Ten Rings and trains his son Shang-Chi to be a living weapon.
Around this same time in Chicago, Illinois, young Marc Spector and his little brother, Randall, are exploring a cave when it suddenly floods, drowning Randall. Marc's mother Wendy blames him for the accident and a traumatized Marc manifests the alternate personality of "Steven Grant" to help him cope with his mother's verbal and physical abuse.
In 1999, Tony Stark meets bio-engineers Maya Hansen and Aldrich Killian at a conference in Bern, Switzerland. He's very rude to Aldrich, who remembers that as a sore point for about 14 years. Throughout all this, Hydra continues its secret infiltration of SHIELD and all levels of the United States government. The same year, 10-year-old twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are watching American sitcoms during an air raid in Sokovia when a Stark Industries mortar shell hits their building, killing their parents. The trauma activates Wanda's dormant "hex" powers and she's able to keep a second shell from exploding for two days while the twins lay trapped under the rubble.
The Marvel Age of Cinema: 2008
All that brings us to 2008 and "Iron Man," the movie that launched the MCU. Almost everything from here on plays out in chronological order, in the years that the movies were actually released. Almost.
In 2008, Tony Stark is demonstrating his newest weapons in the Middle East when he's kidnapped by a terrorist organization called the Ten Rings, in what will eventually be revealed as a plot by Stane to get Tony out of the picture. While he's imprisoned, the terrorists force him and another captive, Dr. Ho Yinsen (who was also at that fateful 1999 convention in Bern, not that Tony noticed), to make weapons for them. Instead, Tony is able to recreate a miniaturized version of his father's ARC reactor, using it to stabilize a piece of shrapnel that's lodged near his heart. The reactor also powers the Iron Man, a suit of weaponized armor built from scrap, which allows Tony to escape after Yinsen's death.
He returns to America, eats a cheeseburger, refines his design, and wipes out the Ten Rings (the ones in the Middle East, at least) in a brutally effective display of the Iron Man's weapons. He also defeats Stane, who attempts to kill Tony and create his own massive suit of powered armor. Tony then publicly reveals his identity as Iron Man, causing Nick Fury to approach him about the Avengers initiative.
Around the same time as Tony's capture, Dr. Bruce Banner — whose seven Ph.D. degrees apparently include physics and biological engineering — is working on recreating the Super Soldier program. Instead of Erskine's "Vita Rays," he uses Gamma radiation, testing it on himself and turning himself into a rampaging, green, monstrous Hulk whenever he gets angry. After the Hulk inadvertently injures Banner's girlfriend, Betty Ross, he attempts to go underground, but returns to America in search of a cure for his condition. He winds up dealing with a scientist named Samuel Sterns, who wants to recreate the Hulk, and a soldier called Emil Blonsky, who turns himself into a similarly hulking monster called the Abomination.
Also, around this time, SHIELD agent Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, is tasked with finding and eliminating Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. Barton tracks down Natasha to her safehouse in Budapest but feels Natasha wants out of the Red Room and lets her live. SHIELD decides to let Natasha defect to their side — but requires her to kill her overseer General Dreykov first. Natasha and Clint rig a five-story building with bombs and lure the Red Room's mastermind into the kill zone — but Dreykov's young daughter Antonia also gets caught in the explosion. While disturbed by the additional red in her ledger, Natasha nevertheless begins working for SHIELD.
Phase One: 2009 to 2011
Six months after revealing his identity publicly, Tony Stark is called to testify before Congress, because they are justifiably concerned about a private citizen building a suit of armor that can vaporize a tank. To create their own version, they turn to rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer. After Tony's friend, Colonel James Rhodes, delivers a prototype Iron Man suit, Hammer and Russian scientist Ivan Vanko reverse-engineer them into an army (and navy, and air force, and marine corps) of drones. Stark also gets a new personal assistant, who is revealed to be SHIELD agent and Red Room defector Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. Stark and Rhodes, in a militarized armor codenamed War Machine, defeat Vanko and Hammer.
Over at the Ten Rings compound, a now 14-year-old Shang-Chi has become the Master of Kung Fu, having been taught every possible way to kill a man over the last seven years. Assigned to assassinate the man responsible for his mother's murder, Shang-Chi completes his mission but is badly traumatized. Unwilling to return to his father, Shang-Chi cleverly adopts the name Shaun and starts going to high school in San Francisco. There he meets his best friend Katy, a skilled driver.
Meanwhile, a now-adult Marc Spector leaves home to join the United States Marine Corps but gets discharged because of his DID. With few options, Marc becomes a mercenary and works for his former commanding officer Raul Bushman. In addition to doing some jobs for the CIA, Marc is ordered by Bushman to execute some archeologists at an Egyptian dig site. Instead, Marc tries to save the scientists, but gets shot. Dying, Spector is approached by the Egyptian God of the Moon Khonshu who offers to save Spector if he will become his avatar and punish evildoers on Earth. Seeing himself as little more than a killer thanks to his childhood abuse, Spector agrees and is transformed into the supernatural vigilante Moon Knight.
While all this is happening on Earth, there's other stuff going on in the Golden Realm of Asgard. Loki tricks Thor into antagonizing the Frost Giants of Jotunheim against Odin's orders. As a consequence, Odin exiles Thor to Earth and enchants his hammer, Mjolnir, so that only someone worthy of Thor's power can lift it. It lands in New Mexico, where Agent Coulson discovers it, and after a bunch of hicks try to yank it out of the ground with pickup trucks, SHIELD constructs a temporary facility around it. Thor eventually proves himself worthy, regains his hammer, and stops Loki from staging a coup in Asgard.
In 2011, a team of Russian oil drillers discovers the crashed Hydra plane in the arctic and alerts SHIELD. Captain America is thawed out and revived, and after realizing that he's in the 21st century, he joins up with Nick Fury's Avengers Initiative. It turns out he was just in time!
Assembly: 2012 to 2013
In 2012, Loki, last seen adrift in space after his failed coup in Asgard, is enlisted by Thanos to recover the Tesseract from Earth (his recent brief visit being seen by the Mad Titan as relevant employment experience). In exchange, Thanos gives him control of the Chitauri, a massive army of hive-minded destroyers, which would allow Loki to lay waste to the planet. Loki, apparently being in One Of His Moods that day, agrees. He lets himself be captured by SHIELD, incites a riot, and stabs poor Phil Coulson in the back (don't worry, he gets better) — which provides the superheroes with a reason to come together.
The result is the Battle of New York, in which the Avengers — Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, and Hawkeye — are gathered for the first time as a team. The good guys win after Loki is smashed against the ground five or six times, but the battle is not without its consequences.
Unlike in the real world, where it's pretty nice these days, the MCU's version of Hell's Kitchen takes a lot of damage and winds up being a center of corruption and graft as it's rebuilt. This injustice leads blind lawyer Matt Murdock to take on the identity of Daredevil to fight against criminal kingpin Wilson Fisk, and eventually team up with other super-powered "street-level" crimefighters — Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and kinda-sorta the Punisher — on Netflix. The reconstruction is mostly handled by the newly formed Department of Damage Control, who take over the lucrative contract and leave construction foreman Adrian Toomes embittered — and in possession of advanced alien technology.
After the Battle of New York
While the Battle of New York comes with its fair share of trauma, it also leaves some people inspired. After seeing Clint Barton unknowingly saving her life while battling aliens with a bow and arrow, 10-year-old Kate Bishop decides to take up archery and learn martial arts in an attempt to protect her family against future threats. She turns out to be a gifted, if extremely reckless, prodigy who often damages public property with her trick shots.
Loki's scepter falls into the hands of Hydra scientists who try to create their own superhumans by exposing volunteers to the energies of the Mind Stone within the staff. Two of these volunteers are a now-adult Wanda and Pietro Maximoff who gain psionic abilities and superhuman speed. The Mind Stone also enhances Wanda's Chaos Magic abilities, turning her into the Scarlet Witch.
In 2013, Tony Stark in particular is overwhelmed by the concept of his universe suddenly expanding to include gods, aliens, and other unknowable cosmic forces. He deals with post-traumatic stress, which unfortunately coincides with the return of Aldrich Killian. Killian has been experimenting with Maya Hansen's regenerative "Extremis" treatment, which has the unfortunate tendency to cause its subjects to explode.
To cover his operations, Killian appropriates Wenwu's Ten Rings and creates a fictional terrorist based on Wenwu called the Mandarin, hiring an actor named Trevor Slattery to play him in threatening videos. The plot is uncovered and stopped by Tony and Rhodey. In the aftermath, Killian is killed by Pepper Potts and Slattery gets sent to federal prison where he's later abducted by the real Ten Rings for impersonating Wenwu. Although Wenwu is intent on killing this strange man who named himself after a chicken dish, he has a change of heart after seeing how good Slattery is at performing Shakespeare and decides to make him his jester.
Around this time, Phil Coulson resurfaces and begins recruiting some additional members into his own agents of SHIELD. They have their own adventures, including many involving the Inhumans and Ghost Rider, but like the good secret agents they are, a lot of this flies beneath the radar of most major MCU events.
Oh, also, Malekith comes back and Thor fights him, and Loki becomes the latest in a long line of presumed deaths that actually aren't. He stashes Odin in a retirement home in New York and then takes his identity, ruling over Asgard and putting on critically acclaimed plays.
Phase Two and its aftermath: 2014 to 2016
In 2014, Hydra's decades-long plot to infiltrate and take over America is finally discovered by Captain America and Black Widow, who also learn that the Winter Soldier is a brainwashed Bucky Barnes. While Cap fights to restore his best friend's memories, the Hydra plot is exposed, and in the aftermath, SHIELD collapses, leaving the Avengers without the oversight and support of the larger organization.
That power vacuum leads directly to Tony Stark and Bruce Banner attempting to create an artificial intelligence that would help protect the world. Unfortunately, they goof that plan up big time, instead creating a genocidal robot named Ultron who winds up destroying an entire country, Sokovia. In the process, the Hulk hijacks a Quinjet and blasts off to space, landing on Sakaar, but not before Tony and Banner use the Mind Stone to transform Tony's onboard AI, J.A.R.V.I.S., into a much more heroic AI called the Vision. Also, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, two definitely-not-mutants, join the team. Quicksilver immediately dies, partly from bullets but mostly because Disney and Fox were having a problem sussing out film rights. The destruction of Sokovia also kills the family of Helmut Zemo, who then dedicates his life to revenge.
While all that's going on, Peter Quill is out in space on a job to steal a valuable orb, which — unbeknownst to him — contains an Infinity Stone. That puts him in the sights of both Ronan the Accuser, who's been looking for another Infinity Stone since 1995, and Thanos, who sends Gamora after him. Quill and Gamora wind up running across Drax (a very literal warrior whose family was killed by Thanos), Rocket (a space raccoon who was painfully experimented on and given cybernetic enhancements), and Groot (a tree). After being imprisoned together, the five of them stage a jailbreak, defeat Ronan in a dance-off, recover the Power Stone with the help of the real power (friendship), and turn it over to the Nova Corps, a bunch of space cops on the planet Xandar. Shortly thereafter, Thanos attacks Xandar and recovers it for himself.
Disassembled: 2015 to 2017
In 2015, an electrical engineer named Scott Lang gets out of prison and stumbles onto Hank Pym's old size-changing equipment. Under the guidance of Pym and his daughter Hope, Lang becomes the second Ant-Man, and helps to keep the Pym Particles from falling in the hands of an evil arms dealer. More importantly, it's likely somewhere around this time that a kid named Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, tries to capitalize on his powers by becoming famous as Spider-Man, and fails to stop a robber that later murders his Uncle Ben. None of this is covered in the MCU, but you might've seen five other movies about it.
The following year sees Helmut Zemo's plan to destroy the Avengers reach its fruition. As the world responds to the destruction of Sokovia by trying to install new governmental oversight over the Avengers, Zemo furthers the a wedge between Captain America and Iron Man by revealing that Bucky was the one who killed Tony Stark's parents. He also frames Bucky for the assassination of King T'Chaka of Wakanda, leading the king's son T'Challa to take over leadership of the country — not to mention the identity (and powers) of the Black Panther. The end result of all of this is that the Avengers break up, the ones loyal to Cap go underground, and T'Challa refuses to give Zemo the death he desires.
Fleeing the U.S. after the rest of Cap's team is imprisoned, Natasha Romanoff spends some time in Norway watching James Bond films. Unfortunately, her vacation is cut short when she's attacked by Taskmaster, an assassin who can mimic any fighting style. Later, she discovers Taskmaster is the brainwashed daughter of all still-alive General Dreykov, who has restarted a crueler version of the Red Room that brainwashes new Black Widows and robs them of free will.
One of those Black Widows turns out to be Natasha's sister Yelena. Freed of her programming by another Widow, Yelena sends the brainwashing antidote to Natasha, drawing her into the fight. Together, Yelena and Natasha work to reunite with their former "parents," Alexi and Melina and really kill Dreykov this time. Although the dysfunctional deep cover family has more than its share of issues, they manage to pull together and take down the Red Room. In the end, Yelena gets to work liberating Black Widows around the world while Natasha goes to break her other family, the Avengers, out of jail.
While all this is going on, Dr. Stephen Strange, who lost the fine motor control in hands after a car accident, seeks out the Ancient One and, after her death, becomes a Master of the Mystic Arts. He stops an invasion by Dormammu, a demonic force from the Dark Dimension, by using the Time Stone to die over and over again until the cosmic villain gets annoyed enough to leave the Earth alone. Meanwhile, the Guardians of the Galaxy encounter and subsequently kill Ego before he can manipulate Peter Quill into aiding his conquest of the entire galaxy.
Five very different homecomings: 2017 to 2018
In the absence of the Avengers, Tony Stark begins to mentor Peter Parker. As Spider-Man, Peter tries to deal with the — wait for it — evil arms dealer known as the Vulture, who turns out to be his homecoming date's dad. The Vulture is defeated, arrested, and sent to prison, but not before he and several of Peter's classmates figure out Spider-Man's real identity. Also, Tony Stark finally proposes to Pepper Potts.
Lest you think Peter is the only superpowered teenager in the MCU, over in New Orleans teenagers Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson acquire powers of light and darkness and become the vigilantes Cloak and Dagger. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, privileged teenager Alex Wilder and his friends learn their parents are all supervillains who control a powerful criminal organization called the Pride. The kids go on the run, learn many of them have superpowers or connections to advanced technology, and even run afoul of dangerous artifacts like the Darkhold. Sadly, it looks like Peter won't be meeting any of these young heroes as their worlds are only slightly connected to the MCU.
Meanwhile, Marc Spector marries Layla El-Faouly, the daughter of one of the archeologists he failed to save the night he became Moon Knight. The two go on many adventures together, but when Spector learns Khonshu may use Layla as his new avatar, he sends divorce papers to her, hoping to create some distance between them and keep her safe.
In Asgard, Thor returns from two years of looking for Infinity Stones in various realms to discover Loki's deception. When they find the real Odin, he's at the end of his life, and his death allows Hela to escape her millennia of imprisonment. She destroys Mjolnir, blasts the two brothers into space, and takes over Asgard. Thor winds up on Sakaar, where he recruits Hulk and Valkyrie for a mission to overthrow Hela, which goes about as well as it can for a plan that ends with the complete destruction of Asgard via fire giant.
In Wakanda, T'Challa's rule is challenged by his cousin Erik, who teams up with evil arms dealer Ulysses Klaue — there are a lot of evil arms dealers in these movies — and then betrays him in order to gain favor with Wakandans who know Klaue as a vibranium smuggler. After being presumed dead, T'Challa returns and, aided by Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri, regains control of his country.
The Infinity War(s): 2018 to 2023
After six years of waiting around, Thanos decides to personally seek out the Infinity Stones, and the results are devastating. He kills Loki and nearly obliterates the last surviving Asgardians, and an attack on Earth leads to things getting so desperate that the whole Avengers crew (except Hawkeye and Ant-Man, who are under house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords) need to get back together to sort it out. They don't do so well. Despite fighting on two fronts, with one small team in space and a massive force on Earth, Thanos gathers the stones, snaps his fingers, and kills half the life forms in the universe, dissolving them into dust. Before he dissolves, Nick Fury uses the space-pager to alert Captain Marvel that Earth needs her help.
A month later, Captain Marvel and the surviving Avengers track Thanos down in space, only to find out that he's destroyed the stones and, with them, any chance of bringing back the dead half of the universe. Thor beheads Thanos, and the Avengers return home.
Unfortunately, Ant-Man misses all of these events due to his involvement in a relatively self-contained heist movie. Alongside the new Wasp, Hope van Dyne, Ant-Man explores the Quantum Realm in order to save original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, all while dealing with repeated attacks from a mysterious super-powered being known as Ghost. At the moment that Thanos's snap happens, Lang is exploring the Quantum Realm, and upon Hank Pym and both van Dyne women turning to dust, Lang becomes trapped within. While he's there, five years go by, during which the heroes deal with the horrific trauma in various, mostly unhealthy ways (e.g. "fat Thor"). Notably, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts have a daughter named Morgan, Banner merges his brain with the Hulk, while Thor and Valkyrie found New Asgard in Norway.
The Infinity War(s) continue: time heist
Hawkeye loses his entire family in the snap, causing him to go rogue, adapting a new hairstyle and anti-hero identity as the merciless Ronin, who hunts down and ruthlessly kills criminals around the world. One of these criminals is William Lopez, the father of fighting prodigy Maya. After seeing her dad die, Maya swears vengeance on Ronin, not knowing that her dad's boss — Kingpin — wanted William dead.
After Ant-Man returns from the Quantum Realm (where, for him, only a few hours have passed), the heroes realize that the solution to the problem is, of course, time travel. With the help of Iron Man and the now-smart Hulk, the heroes travel back to various key points in the timeline (including 1970, 2012, and 2014) to gather up the Infinity Stones of those eras, along with Mjolnir, circa 2013. They also inadvertently bring the Thanos of 2014 forward to 2023, along with all of his minions. Fortunately, the Hulk uses a rebuilt Infinity Gauntlet to wish everyone back to life, and virtually every hero in the entire MCU takes Thanos on at once. The final blows are dealt both by and to Iron Man, who dies on the battlefield.
After gathering for a funeral, Steve Rogers hops into the timestream to return everything to where it should be, returning after living a full life with Peggy Carter in an alternate past to bequeath his shield to Sam Wilson, naming him the new Captain America.
Meanwhile, outside of all known time and space ...
Outside of the mainstream MCU, the version of Loki that the Avengers freed from an alternate 2012 in "Avengers: Endgame" ends up in the Gobi Desert, where he immediately begins fulfilling his "glorious purpose" by trying to conquer the world, again. Instead, he gets picked up by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a time police force tasked with hunting down rogue variants like Loki and destroying alternate timelines before they can branch out too far from their "sacred timeline."
Loki gets paired with Moebius, a sympathetic TVA agent, who recruits the trickster god into the agency to help find their latest target — another Loki variant. This variant turns out to be a female version of Loki called Sylvie, who restarts the multiverse, allowing a bunch of rogue timelines to emerge from history. Loki teams up with Sylvie and discovers the TVA is made up of variants forcibly recruited into the organization to prune rogue timelines and prevent really evil versions of the TVA's mysterious leader from destroying everything. While offered a chance to let this deception persist, Sylvie instead murders the mastermind, letting the multiverse run wild.
While this may lead to the destruction of reality, it makes one cosmic being's life more interesting. The god-like voyeur the Watcher gains a slew of new TV channels when the multiverse returns, where he observes realities where Peggy Carter receives the Super Soldier Serum, Doctor Strange destroys his universe, and Thor becomes a party animal. Ultimately, the Watcher is forced to evolve from observer to doer when a variant Ultron threatens to destroy all sentient life in the multiverse. Assembling his own Guardians of the Multiverse team, the Watcher manipulates events so the alternate realities can continue to coexist.
Sometime after the multiverse was recreated, a young girl named America Chavez develops the ability to travel through alternate realities. Unable to control her power, she accidentally sends her parents to an unknown world before slipping through multiple parallel universes herself. Along the way, she makes friends, usually with variants of Doctor Strange.
Aftermath of the reverse-snap: 2023
In the mainstream MCU, the effects of Hulk's reverse snap are being felt on both a cosmic and street level. People like Yelena Belova and Monica Rambeau snap back to existence, only to discover that five years have passed and their loved ones are now gone. Reestablishing their lives proves difficult since different people live in their homes and billions are still legally dead. While support networks form, entire nations are also forcing out recent immigrants due to the sudden rise in population.
Believing life was better during the Blip when half of all life was gone, some people react to these changes violently. Anarchist Karli Morgenthau forms a terrorist group, the Flag Smashers, to attack governments threatening her One World vision and even augments her team with a new version of the Super Soldier Serum. This puts her in the sights of Sam Wilson, who rejects Steve Rogers' request that he become the new Captain America. After working with Bucky Barnes and seeing how Steve's legacy can be tarnished by unworthy successors like the dangerously unhinged John Walker, Sam takes on the mantle of Captain America, and the Falcon and the Winter Soldier stop the Flag Smashers. Taking advantage of the global chaos and recent super-powered debuts, a mysterious woman named Valentina Allegra de Fontaine begins recruiting enhanced individuals — beginning with Yelena Belova and John Walker — for an unknown project.
Sam also meets an elderly Isaiah Bradley and learns his history. Although Isaiah is skeptical about the idea of a "Black Captain America," Sam arranges for an exhibit of Isaiah's service to be displayed at the Smithsonian so everyone will know about the United States' first African American super soldier.
The sudden rise in sentient life on Earth also jump-starts the Emergence, which threatens to destroy the entire planet when a new Celestial is born. Alerted by the cosmic event and a few remaining Deviants, the Eternals reunite. Where before they have always stood by and allowed planets to be destroyed, a few now have enough love for humanity to try and save the Earth. Sersi draws enough power from her teammates to halt the birth of the Celestial Tiamut, and the Celestial Arishem uses the Eternals' memories to determine if Earth should be spared.
Phase 4 begins
After the reverse-snap, in Europe, Peter Parker attempts to have a vacation free of Spider-Man. Unfortunately, this becomes impossible when Nick Fury (actually the shapeshifting Skrull Talos, who is covering for Fury while he's on vacation in space) recruits Spider-Man to help Mysterio, a man claiming to be from an alternate universe, to save the world from dangerous elemental beings.
Except it's all a lie. Mysterio is just Quentin Beck, a disgruntled ex-Stark employee who uses Peter to get his hands on a pair of Stark tech sunglasses that can control an army of weaponized drones. Spider-Man gets the drop on Mysterio's illusions to keep him from killing thousands of people — but in a final act of spite, Mysterio exposes Peter's secret identity to the world.
Meanwhile, former assassin-turned-car-valet Shang-Chi, currently going by Shaun, learns his father is gunning for him when Ten Rings agents steal the jade pendant his mother left him. Teaming up with his sister, Shang-Chi finally addresses his issues with his father by traveling to Ta Lo and stopping Wenwu from unleashing the soul-sucking monster known as the Dweller-in-Darkness on the world. Before dying to save his son, Wenwu grants Shang-Chi the 10 rings, which begin sending signals out into the universe.
Wanda warps reality and enslaves a town
While all this is going on, one rogue Avenger is unknowingly creating her own brand of chaos in the small town of Westview, New Jersey. Unable to cope with the loss of Vision, who Thanos kills by ripping the Mind Stone out of his head, Wanda Maximoff manifests powerful reality-warping abilities. Drawing from her childhood love of American sitcoms, Wanda warps Westview into an idyllic town where she lives a suburban life with a new version of Vision. She even gives birth to twin boys who quickly mature in a single episode.
To maintain this illusion, Wanda inadvertently mind-controls the real-life citizens of Westview into becoming her personal puppets. Her activities attract the attention of the new intelligence agency SWORD and Agatha Harkness. While Wanda eventually comes to her senses and tries to free Westview, Agatha goads Wanda into a battle. Wanda comes out on top, although she has to sacrifice her happy life with her husband and children. The two boys fade into memory as the illusory town disappears, and though Vision manages to survive the town's destruction, he is essentially factory-reset to a blank White Vision. Embracing her new role as "The Scarlet Witch," Wanda begins studying Agatha's Darkhold and starts dreaming of alternate realities where her sons are still alive.
New homes found, old homes lost: 2024
With his secret identity now exposed, Peter turns to Doctor Strange, hoping the sorcerer can snap his fingers and wish his problems away. Instead, Strange offers to cast a spell to make the world forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man. It seems like an ideal solution — until Peter keeps asking Strange to rewrite the spell, creating multiple fractures in the multiverse and drawing in people who know Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
Soon, Spider-Man villains from different cinematic universes, including Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Lizard, and Electro, begin slipping into the MCU. However, the worst new arrival is the Green Goblin, who murders Peter's Aunt May. Distraught, Peter receives help from an unexpected source — two multiverse Peter Parkers who look a lot like Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire.
Together, the Spider-Men concoct some creative cures for their enemies and depower their shared Rogues Gallery. But just as things seem to be looking up, the multiverse begins to fracture as an infinite number of Spider-Man villains begins crossing over. Peter does the responsible thing by asking Strange to make the whole world forget Peter Parker and prevent the villains from coming through. This essentially makes Peter a nonentity in the MCU, cuts him off from his support network of heroes and friends, and sets him up for a brand-new trilogy of solo Spider-Man films.
Oh, and Strange's spell also strands the Vulture in Sony's universe while Sony's Venom briefly pops up in the MCU. Instead of fighting Spider-Man, he spends his entire visit getting drunk in a Mexican bar and accidentally gives birth to a new symbiote whom he unknowingly abandons in the MCU.
However, not all heroes need to be alone for the holidays. After a now 22-year-old Kate Bishop crashes an underground New York auction and steals Clint Barton's former Ronin outfit, she draws a lot of unwanted and potentially lethal attention to herself from the Track Suit Mafia and Kingpin.
Fortunately, Hawkeye is in town with his family to see the embarrassingly catchy "Rogers: The Musical." Initially hoping to retrieve his Ronin suit and keep Kate out of trouble, Clint ends up mentoring Kate as they go up against Maya Lopez, aka Echo, Yelena Belova, and Kingpin. After bonding with Clint over their shared trauma and showing she's really good at shooting people with trick arrows, Kate looks like she'll be taking over the mantle of Hawkeye and joining the MCU's ever-expanding roster of new superheroes.
Wanda and Doctor Strange travel across the multiverse
A now-teenage America Chavez is being pursued by demonic agents that kill a variant Doctor Strange. America and Strange's corpse accidentally slip into the mainstream Marvel universe where our Doctor Strange discovers Wanda Maximoff — now corrupted by the Darkhold — wants to steal America's multiverse-traveling powers so she can live in a world where her twin sons are alive. When Strange and the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj stand in her way, Wanda murders many sorcerers, forcing America and Strange to flee to Earth-838. There, Strange is arrested by this universe's Illuminati, a secret society that includes alternate versions of Baron Mordo, Black Bolt, Captain Carter, Captain Marvel, Professor Charles Xavier, and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four.
Believing Strange to be the real threat to the multiverse (since their Doctor Strange nearly destroyed a universe with his Darkhold), the Illuminati fail to heed Strange's warnings of the Scarlet Witch. This becomes their undoing when Wanda travels to Earth-838 by possessing the body of her alternate self and slaughters the Illuminati. She then banishes Strange to another alternate world where Strange learns his variant is an arrogant jerk who brought about the end of his universe.
Using this world's Darkhold, Strange possesses the body of the dead Doctor Strange variant on his home world and battles Wanda. Fortunately, America is able to get Wanda to see the error of her ways by taking her back to Earth-838 where her sons are horrified by how evil she's become. Filled with remorse, Wanda collapses Darkhold Castle and destroys the Darkhold in all realities before seemingly killing herself.
Sometime later, Strange — now sporting a third eye thanks to his use of the Darkhold — encounters the Dark Dimension's sorceress Clea who tells him he started an incursion in her home reality. Strange and Clea then leap into the Dark Dimension, indicating that as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand, we won't be dealing with just one universe ... but several.
Moon Knight awakens
Across the pond in London, mild-mannered gift shop employee Steven Grant is suffering from regular blackouts and discovers he's an alternate personality of Marc Spector aka Moon Knight. After Marc suffers a breakdown following the death of his mother, Steven takes over their body and gets a job at the National Art Gallery. Despite being mistreated by his co-workers, Steven maintains his positive outlook and tries to live a peaceful life.
This life is thrown into chaos when Arthur Harrow, a former avatar of Khonshu, resurfaces as the new avatar of Ammit, the Egyptian goddess of divine retribution. Hoping to preemptively stop all evil by destroying everyone before they get a chance to perform a wicked act, Harrow and his cult free Ammit and send people to their deaths before their time. To stop him, Steven and Marc team up with Layla and manage to imprison Ammit in Harrow's mortal form. Although Steven manages to broker a deal with Khonshu to release Marc and him from the Moon God's service, he doesn't realize that Marc has a third personality — the homicidal Jake Lockley — who's still killing people for Khonshu.
New heroes rise
Back in the States, the superhero community continues to grow. After a car accident results in Jennifer Walters coming in contact with the gamma-irradiated blood of her cousin, Bruce Banner, she becomes a Hulk herself. Instead of fighting crime through vigilantism, Walters elects to use her new insider perspective to represent super-beings in court as She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Working for the law firm of GLK&H in Los Angeles, She-Hulk handles cases involving the Abomination, Wong, Titania, and more.
In New Jersey, a young Avengers superfan named Kamala Khan finds herself in the midst of a generations-old feud between an organization of Pakistani protectors known as the Order of the Red Daggers and a group of interdimensional invaders known as the Clandestines. Kamala discovers that she is a descendant of the Clandestines and therefore a super-powered mutant hybrid. With the help of her friends, and through a series of trials that allow her to master her newfound powers, Kamala expels the invading Clandestines and saves Earth, in the process settling on the moniker Ms. Marvel.
Meanwhile, after months of adventuring with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor has recovered from the crippling depression that plagued him following his failure to prevent Thanos' snap. He discovers a grisly trail of dead gods across the cosmos that leads him to a series of battles against the terrifying Gorr the God Butcher and his ultra-powerful Necrosword. With the help of King Valkyrie and a mysterious new female Thor — revealed to be Thor's ex-girlfriend, Jane Foster, wielding a now-repaired Mjolnir — Thor is able to defeat Gorr, but not without cost. Foster dies and travels to the Norse afterlife of Valhalla, while Thor's brazen acts and disrespect while chasing Gorr earn him new mortal enemies in the Greek god Zeus and his son, Hercules, who vow revenge on Thor and the rest of Earth's heroes.