MCU Phases Explained: Marvel’s Phase 1 to Phase 4 DETAILED
What’s the deal with MCU phases? Why is MCU organized in phases? And what comes after MCU’s phase 4? Here’s everything you need to know…
The Marvel universe kicked off in earnest in 2008. But since then the franchise has grown massively – there are now 87 films and TV shows in the MCU timeline with more coming in 2023 and beyond. Marvel is a big deal, a global brand, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In 2022/23 alone, there’s a slew of new MCU films and TV shows coming.
But in order to understand how this multifaceted franchise works, you first need to understand how it was developed, appreciate that ALL of the films and shows contained inside the MCU are linked in some way, and then – if you’ve got the time – watch them all in the correct order to appreciate the correct flow of thousands of hours of storytelling.
And to do this, you need to first understand the different “phases” inside the MCU. As of 2022, there are currently four phases in the MCU in which all the current films and TV shows reside. These phases are essentially broken up over three or four years and represent a segment of the larger, grand narrative of the MCU proper.
Marvel Phases: A Brief History…
But here’s the thing: while the overarching story of the MCU is linear, meaning it follows a straight line with respect to the story arc and the events that take place in it, the films and TV shows are not released in order, so even if you watched every film and show as soon as it came out, you’re not experiencing the MCU in the proper order.
For instance, Iron Man was the first MCU film to get released in 2008. But the first actual film in the MCU timeline is Captain America: The First Avenger, followed by Agent Carter, and then the subsequent Agent Carter TV series.
Confused? People used to think watching Star Wars in the correct order was tricky. The MCU timeline makes Star Wars look like child’s play by comparison. But all of the MCU films and TV shows fit inside what Marvel likes to call Phases – and so far we have four distinct phases in the MCU. Let’s explore them all now in more detail.
MCU Phase 1 – 2008 to 2012
The first phase of the MCU focuses on Iron Man, Black Widow, SHIED boss Nick Fury, Thor, his evil brother, Loki, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Hawkeye, and, of course, Bruce Banner (who becomes the Hulk).
This phase sets the scene for the creation of The Avengers with its principal characters introduced either fully or in part across phase one’s six films, which are as follows:
- Iron Man
- The Incredible Hulk
- Iron Man 2
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- The Avengers
MCU Phase 2 – 2013 to 2015
During this phase, we’re introduced to a bunch of new characters like Ant-Man, Guardians of The Galaxy, and Thanos. At this point, both Ant-Man and The Guardians are still doing their own thing, they’re not yet part of The Avengers.
During phase 2, we see the MCU develop plenty of additional storylines, including that of Bucky – Captain America’s brainwashed childhood friend, some Dark Elves who cause Thor some headaches, and we get to meet Ultron, an AI cyber consciousness hell-bent on destroying the world. Phase 2, once again, features six movies in total and they are as follows:
- Iron Man 3
- Thor: The Dark World
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
MCU Phase 3 – 2016 to 2019
By the time Phase 3 started, Marvel was already a huge franchise, generating billions for its owners (Disney). At this point, MCU was getting more asses on cinema seats than any other film franchise in history, so the producers came up with something truly epic for Phase 3.
During phase 3, we got TWO Avengers films, the middle one, and the conclusion, we meet the new Spiderman, Doctor Strange shows up and makes his mark, and we’re also treated to Captain Marvel’s arrival, as well as the destruction of HALF of all life on earth, the death of several KEY characters, Black Panther, and Ant Man’s story arc goes into overdrive.
To date, Marvel’s Phase 3 has been its most ambitious and impressive. Unlike phase one and phase two, phase three featured 11 films released over the course of three years – quite a schedule. Here are all the films that feature in Marvel’s Phase 3:
- Captain America: Civil War
- Doctor Strange
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Black Panther
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Ant-Man and the Wasp
- Captain Marvel
- Avengers: Endgame
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
MCU Phase 4 – 2021 – ????
Phase 3 was Marvel’s most epic phase to date, but Phase 4 is now shaping up to be very entertaining too with its focus on developing the back stories of certain characters, introducing a plethora of new characters and villains, and tree fact that we now have Blade as an official part of the MCU universe.
Hawkeye got his own TV show which, to the surprise of everyone, was actually pretty good. The Guardians will return in the third installment of James Gunn’s trilogy, and there are a bunch of additional TV shows and Disney and/or Netflix exclusive shows like Moon Knight, The Marvels, Ms. Marvel, Loki, and She-Hulk.
And that’s just the stuff we know about. Phase 4 concludes this year, or early next year, with Marvel’s Phase 5 set to kick off in 2023.