The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going strong for nearly 11 years now, changing the world of comic book films for ever. Phases 1 and 2 are now over, but there is still plenty of Marvel magic on its way as Phase 3 winds down to the release of Avengers: Endgame and Phase 4 begins with the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home in July.
With a film franchise that's been going on for 11 years, has pumped out 20 films, and doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon, it means there's an awful lot to get through. and a lot of information to keep tabs on. Very few people can keep all that in their heads, so to help you out here is our in-depth guide to the films, short films, TV programmes, and comics that make up the MCU. We'll be updating this periodically as well, so make sure to check back a couple of times a year to make sure your knowledge is up to date, so make sure to hit that bookmark button.
This post originally went up in March 2016 before the beginning of Phase 3, updating in April 2017 to mark the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and again last year just before Infinity War hit cinemas. Now with Endgame almost here it's time for another, covering everything from Iron Man to Captain Marvel.
That means full spoilers for the films and TV shows that have already been released - up to and including Captain Marvel. Don't worry, about unreleased films, though. You'll find no spoilers for Endgame or Far From Home here.
This year's update is a little bit different than previous years, simply because the sheer volume of information was putting a strain on our system. With that in mind we've split everything up across multiple pages. Thankfully they're all easy to navigate, using our handy navigation bar.
What the MCU Is
The MCU, or Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the name given to the shared universe of films developed by Marvel Studios. Starting with 2008's Iron Man and taking us up to the present day with the impending release of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. All MCU films are solely developed by Marvel Studios, with the exception of both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man Far From Home, which sees Marvel and Sony collaborating for their own mutual benefit.
What the MCU does not include are films made by other studios with zero creative input by Marvel Studios. That includes Fox's X-Men franchise and Spider-Man films that don't feature Tom Holland. That also includes recent releases like Venom and Into The Spider-Verse, which Sony produced independently.
How the MCU came to be
When you think about it, it's shocking that it took until 2012 to get Marvel's super-team together on film. Live action superhero crossovers never really kicked off in the preceding decades, despite a number of attempts by Marvel to get a number of their characters onto the small screen.
In the past, the film rights to Marvel films were sold off to other film studios for them to develop with only a small amount of input from Marvel itself. Good examples of such films include 2002's Spider-Man and the X-Men franchise. You could argue that it was 1998's Blade that proved the time was right for a concerted big screen effort to realise the comic book universe on film, but it wasn't until 2005 that the company actively started working towards creating its own films starring characters they owned the film rights to. Doing so meant they could keep creative control of characters, and potentially make more money than a typical licensing deal. Thus Marvel Studios was founded to make that vision of in-house films a reality.
It was around that time that Kevin Feige, current head of Marvel Studios and then studio second-in-command, realised that Marvel still owned the film rights to core members of The Avengers. He envisioned a shared film universe, similar to that of the comics, that would see the production of individual character films that would come together in an Avengers crossover film. Marvel then secured a total of $525 million dollars of funding from Merrill Lynch in order to make Feige's idea happen.
Then studio head Avi Arad wasn't convinced that this plan would be successful, eventually resigning from his position in 2006. Looks like he came out a bit worse for wear on that one. Feige took over as head of Marvel Studios in 2007, and the following year saw the release of Marvel's first independently produced film: Iron Man. The rest, true believers, is history.