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MCU: How to enjoy the Marvel Studios movies as a non-fan

New to the MCU? Not the biggest Marvel fan? We get it! Here's how anyone can enjoy the MCU.

In a screencap from the film Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man holds Captain America’s shield during his first appearance in his full costume in the MCU.
Image credit: Marvel Studios

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most popular franchises in movie history. The franchise changed the way the world looks at comic book movies, and helped shape a new era of superhero films. Almost every movie has been a box-office hit, and thanks to the Disney+ shows (and its archive of all the movies), it’s now easier than ever to fall in deep with your favorite Marvel characters.

But what if you’re brand new to the MCU? What if you’re like me – you grew up only reading DC, and almost every aspect of your comic book world is colored with Batman? The MCU is large and vast and can be intimidating – especially if you’re not exactly a comic book reader or a Marvel fan.

The MCU currently has 32 feature-length films, as well as over 12 different live-action and animated shows that tie into the franchise. There are also movies that came out prior to the start of MCU which are now being tied into the larger picture in different ways. Going into this franchise is daunting – and at times I’ve had trouble finding enjoyment in a universe that seems to only want to focus on the most hardcore fans and not everyone else.

If you’re new or not an existing comic fan, the MCU is still enjoyable and fun, even if you won’t necessarily understand every little nod and call out. The MCU is broken up into phases, starting with Phase One. Currently, we are at the tail end of Phase Four, with the next phase on the horizon. The movies can be found on most streaming services, with the bulk of them readily available on Disney+. So, how do you get started? Do you need to watch every movie and Disney+ show to follow along? The easiest way to enjoy and dive into the MCU is to just watch the movies, which can be immersive and fun without being overwhelming.

Focus on the movies

Cropped image from Avengers
Image credit: Marvel Studios

This will be a controversial take, but stick to the movies. While this ultimately gets harder with each passing movie, it makes the viewing process easier. With all of the movies and Disney+ shows combined, it would take the average person over 60 hours to watch everything available. That’s not to say it can’t be done – in fact, it can be fun! But for someone who isn’t entirely invested, stick with the movies. If you follow the MCU phases, it also helps break each story arc down into easier-to-digest bites.

Stick to the release order

Iron Man 3 still
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Many movies and television shows today have both a chronological order and a release date order. The MCU is no exception. Now that the MCU has been around for over 10 years it’s easy to put things in chronological order. While watching the movies and shows in chronological order does show you how everything happened leading up to The Big Event, the release order tells a better story and keeps the mystery and suspense in place. From a viewer standpoint, it’s exciting when you’re connecting the dots from one film to the next – it keeps you involved.

Here's our guide to the MCU chronological and release date order.

Watch them in phase sets

Phase One

The Avengers
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Iron Man (2008) is where the MCU starts. Robert Downey Jr. as the titular hero is nothing short of perfect, and this origin movie would become a blueprint for subsequent origin movies in the MCU. So for Phase One, it is the following:

Those are the first six movies in Phase One and tell a mostly complete story. If you decide to not move on after finishing these six, that’s alright. You would have a good working foundation for the characters, which could lead you to start reading their respective comics.

Phase Two

Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Image credit: Marvel Studios

If you’re looking to go further, Phase Two is pretty easy to get through as well. This phase includes:

This phase takes us a step deeper into the MCU. These movies branch out into new heroes and teams you may have never heard of. They also strengthen the characters we all know from the first phase. If you get to Ant-Man, you’re likely along for the long haul.

Phase Two is also when the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes place. If you plan on including this in your viewing, begin the show after Iron Man 3.

Phase Three

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Phase Three is the longest of the phases as it includes 11 films:

Phase Three neatly ties up character storylines from Phase One. By now there are a new set of main characters taking the helm, so if you are looking to only follow storylines from Phase One characters, you could omit Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel. I would recommend watching those movies anyway as they do tie into Avengers: Endgame– and from a personal standpoint, Black Panther is one of the best superhero movies put to film.

With the introduction of Spider-Man in the MCU, my interest was piqued. I’ve seen every Spider-Man movie in theaters since the first Sam Raimi film, so for myself, I wanted to keep up with tradition. Plus, with Marvel now using the character in their universe, a whole new world of possibilities opened up. The Spider-Man movies can be enjoyed as a single movie series, despite the MCU cameos in the new Tom Holland movies. More on that later.

Phase Four

Thor: Love and Thunder
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Phase Four is akin to the second book in a series. This is also the beginning of the Multiverse Saga, meaning heroes from other timelines and worlds are now being introduced. This phase also now includes the Disney+ shows, which do add to the overall movie-watching experience. The movies included in this phase are:

As for the Disney+ shows, you could omit them entirely. The downside to that is you may be slightly lost in subsequent Phase Four and Five movies, as some will rely heavily on the events and certain characters from the following shows. If watching the Disney+ shows does interest you, here is a quick guide:

  • WandaVision (watch before Multiverse of Madness)
  • The Falcon and Winter Soldier (watch before Captain America: New World Order)
  • Loki (watch before Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantimania)
  • What If…? (watch before Multiverse of Madness)
  • Hawkeye
  • Moon Knight
  • Ms. Marvel (watch before The Marvels)
  • She-Hulk: Attorney at Law

There were also a few Disney+ specials, which are separate from the shows:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
  • Werewolf by Night

All of these shows will be tied into the movie universe at one point, hence why I noted when they should be watched. Personally, I have not watched all of the Disney+ shows, as I want to wait until it is necessary to watch them so I won’t forget anything important.

Phase Five

The Marvels
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Phase Five is the newest MCU phase. This phase will eventually include 6 films, and starts with Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. Marvel is keeping a tight lid on details pertaining to this phase, but right now the movies included are:

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
  • The Marvels
  • Captain America: Brave New World
  • Thunderbolts
  • Blade
  • We do know some of what’s to come in Phase Six, which is scheduled to begin in 2024:

    • Deadpool 3
    • Fantastic Four
    • Avengers: The Kang Dynasty
    • Avengers: Secret Wars

    As stated before, the Spider-Man films, beginning with the Sam Raimi trilogy, can all be enjoyed as their own universe. While some MCU characters appear in the Marvel/Sony Spider-Man films, and Spider-Man is involved in several MCU movies starting in Phase Three, Spider-Man still acts as its own stand-alone series.

    While this guide is not absolute, this could help any newcomers to the ever-expanding MCU. Of course, every fan is unique and different, so what might work for some will not work for others – and that’s ok! Good luck and happy watching!

    For a complete and comprehensive guide, read our how to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe article.

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Lauren Sisselman avatar
Lauren Sisselman: Lauren Sisselman comes with years of prior experience, beginning with The Overstreet Price Guide before jumping into the online space with Bleeding Cool. They have written for local, Maryland-based tourism magazines and websites, and they have contributed their knowledge to a number of other books including The Art of Betty and Veronica, and Mine! from ComiXology. Lauren enjoys writing about their love of wrestling, old anime, pinball, and of course, old comic books.
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