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Guardians of the Galaxy: How to watch all the Marvel Studios cosmic superteam's movies (and more) in chronological and release order

Want to get started on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Guardians of the Galaxy saga? Here’s how to do it.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Studios

Get ready to blast off into the cosmos. If you’re reading this article, then that probably means you’re getting ready to watch the Guardians of the Galaxy films. If it’s your first time, then consider yourself lucky, because you’re about to experience a fun cosmic adventure from Marvel Studios. The Guardians of the Galaxy film series mixes superhero action with fun space opera. The result is one of the most enjoyable franchises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And bonus: it's all available on Disney+.

However, in a franchise as big as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s understandable if you have some questions. Maybe you’re wondering where the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special fits in, or which MCU movies the Guardians guest star in. Not to worry, Popverse has you covered. Follow this handy guide, and you’ll be soaring through space with the Guardians of the Galaxy in no time!

How to watch Guardians of the Galaxy in release order

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 poster

Get ready to meet Star-Lord, Gamora, Groot, Rocket, Drax, Nebula, Mantis, and all their cosmic pals! If you’re ready to start the Guardian of the Galaxy franchise, and want to watch in release order, here is how you would do it.

Please note that this list only covers the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and the characters guest appearances in other MCU projects. If you’re looking for a complete timeline of the MCU films, we have a guide to How to watch the MCU.

The episodes of What If…? take place in alternate timelines within the MCU multiverse. In other words, while those episodes are a part of the MCU and involve Guardians characters, they are different versions of the characters than the ones that you will see in the mainstream Guardians films. Think of it like the multiverse variants in films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. What happens in those episodes of What If…? has no effect on the characters and subplots of the Guardians films.

Thor: The Dark World (2012) contains a mid-credits scene directed by James Gunn which sets the stage for the first Guardians of the Galaxy film. The scene features the Collector, a character who would be a minor antagonist in the Guardians franchise. Because the Collector’s appearance is so brief, and because no other Guardians characters appear, we have left Thor: The Dark World off our watch order.

How to watch Guardians of the Galaxy in chronological order

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

The beautiful thing about the Guardians films is that their release order is mostly the same as their chronological order. You’ll notice that the following list is almost identical to the release order list, with a few exceptions. If you prefer to watch the Guardians of the Galaxy films in chronological order, here is how you would do it.

Main MCU timeline Alternate timeline

Characters and concepts from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise are featured in two episodes of What If…?, an animated series streaming on Disney+. The concept of What If…? explores alternate timelines within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In other words, these episodes are fun, and you should watch them, but they don’t fit in with the mainstream MCU timeline.

  • What If…? episode 2: What If…T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?
  • What If…? episode 9: What If…the Watcher Broke His Oath?

Are the Disney+ I Am Groot shorts canon to the MCU?

I Am Groot promo image

In 2022 Marvel Studios Animation released I Am Groot on Disney+. The series consists of five shorts focusing on the misadventures of Baby Groot. Due to the comedic nature of the shorts, and the fact that they’re animated, some viewers might wonder if they’re set in their own universe. According to Marvel Studios producer Brad WInderbaum, the I Am Groot shorts are all canon to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Winderbaum went on to explain that the first I Am Groot short takes place between Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The rest of the shorts take place during the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, between the defeat of Ego and before Groot is seen as a teenager in the mid-credits scene. We’ve noted this placement in our chronological watch order. Oddly enough, James Gunn has stated that he isn't sure if the series is canon. Due to the conflicting accounts, Popverse is treating I Am Groot as canon for the purposes of this list, and will update this article if anything changes.

Is Guardians of the Galaxy on any streaming service?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

If you want to watch the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, you have plenty of options available. In addition to being able to purchase physical copies from Amazon or your local store, the Guardians films are also available to purchase digitally on multiple platforms. You can buy or rent a digital copy of the Guardians of the Galaxy films on Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes or Vudu.

However, if you’re subscribed to Disney+, then you’re all set. All of the movies listed in our watch order are available to stream on Disney+. If you are subscribed, then there is no need to pay any extra money for rental or purchase. As of this writing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is not available on any digital platforms and can only be seen in theaters. However, you should be able to find it on Disney+ once its theatrical run has concluded.

What should I watch before Guardians of the Galaxy?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

The great thing about the Guardians of the Galaxy films is that they take place in their own corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Almost all the scenes take place away from Earth, so anything happening in the Iron Man or Captain America films is mostly irrelevant. You can watch and understand the main Guardians of the Galaxy films without seeing any of the other films and still understand everything perfectly.

The only exceptions are Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which you will need to see to understand the situation with Gamora. However, we’ve included those in our initial watchlist seen earlier in the article, so you should be all set. As you watch Avengers: Infinity War, you might be a little lost on some of the relationship dynamics between characters like Captain America and Iron Man. If you want to feel more prepared, you can watch Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and Captain America: Civil War (2016) for better context.

However, don’t get overwhelmed. If your goal is to understand the Guardians and their story, don’t worry about watching any of those other films. They’re fun to watch, but they aren’t essential to understanding the Guardians story in the MCU. You can start with the first Guardians movie without having to watch any other MCU films first.

Where else can I follow the Guardians story in the MCU?

Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude comic

If you want to follow the complete story of the MCU Guardians, you will have to look beyond movies and television. Marvel Comics has released a series of comic book tie-ins which are set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2014 Marvel Comics published a Guardians of the Galaxy comic as their Infinity Comics digital initiative. The comic sets up Gamora’s story before the events of the first film, as the Collector hires her to retrieve the Orb.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Galaxy’s Most Wanted is a prequel focusing on Rocket’s adventures with Groot before they met the rest of the team. Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude is a two-issue limited series focusing on Nebula, Ronan, Thanos, and some of the other characters before the events of the film.

You can skip the two issue limited series Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Prelude, because it’s just a retelling of the events from the first movie. The Guardians are briefly seen in a flashback in Avengers: Infinity War Prelude. The flashback occurs as Wong and Doctor Strange talk about the whereabouts of the Infinity Stones, which references the events of the first Guardians film. Avengers: Endgame Prelude can also be skipped, since it’s just a comic adaptation of Avengers: Infinity War.

Marvel has stated that these tie-ins are official MCU canon, but James Gunn disputed this in a 2017 tweet. When it comes to movie tie-ins, canon is always tricky. Generally speaking, something can be considered canon until it is contradicted by something onscreen. If you want to learn more about the Guardians, feel free to check out these prelude comics. But don’t feel like they’re essential for experiencing the Guardian’s story.

Is Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout canon?

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout!

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout is an indoor drop ride at the Disneyland California Adventure theme park. The ride is more or less a Guardians of the Galaxy reskin of the classic Tower of Terror drop ride. The storyline for the ride involves the Guardians escaping from the clutches of the Collector. The ride features original footage shot by James Gunn with the Guardians cast. All the cast members reprise their roles, with the exception of Groot, who is voiced by Fred Tatasciore instead of Vin Diesel.

Due to Gunn’s involvement and the footage with the Guardians cast members, some have wondered if the ride’s storyline is canon to the MCU. Some clues can be seen in the footage itself. For example, Mantis is a member of the Guardians, which would hypothetically place this after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. However, the character Carina is seen, despite dying in the first Guardians film. In addition, Peter’s Walkman and the Milano are both seen, despite both being destroyed in the second film.

If that isn’t enough evidence, Disney’s Imagineering team and James Gunn have both confirmed that the ride is not canon to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The ride is part of Avengers Campus, a section of the Disney theme park which imagines its own universe that is similar but separate from the MCU.

Is Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind canon?

Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind ride

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is an indoor roller coaster operating at Disney’s Epcot theme park. The storyline for the ride involves the Guardians going up against a Celestial known as Eson. While filming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, James Gunn shot new footage for the ride featuring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista. In addition, Glenn Close reprised her role as Nova Prime Irani Rael.

Despite the new footage from the original actors, and the involvement from James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is not canon to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In a November 2021 tweet, James Gunn stated that the ride took place in its own universe. In other words, if you’re worried about following the Guardians complete story, you don’t need to spend your money on a theme park ticket.

Fit into all of the MCU with our Marvel Studios watch order.

About the Author
Joshua Lapin-Bertone avatar

Joshua Lapin-Bertone

Contributing writer

Joshua is a pop culture writer specializing in comic book media. His work has appeared on the official DC Comics website, the DC Universe subscription service, HBO Max promotional videos, the Batman Universe fansite, and more. In between traveling around the country to cover various comic conventions, Joshua resides in Florida where he binges superhero television and reads obscure comics from yesteryear.

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