My teen daughter helped me create this Personal Guide to Watching Marvel Movies for Newbies to help other parents my age understand the craze around this franchise – and even to share with her teen friends who aren’t fans yet.
Please don’t take this as a be-all and end-all. There are much more geeky websites written by grown men complete with spoilers and references back to the original comics.
This is for parents who want to understand the intricacies of the story — and so we can share why we think it’s so fun to watch together as a family.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this post:
- Why we love Marvel movies.
- What does MCU stand for?
- Who are the Avengers (original and new)?
- Who are the Guardians of the Galaxy (original and new)?
- What are the Infinity Stones?
- What actors will Gen X parents recognize?
- What order should you watch the Marvel movies in?
- In order of release (complete with our short descriptions of why the movies are relevant) – because this is the way we originally watched them.
- Best order to watch Marvel movies – in our personal opinion as Gen X mother and Gen Z daughter fans.
- In chronological order – because the events happening in the movies are being told on timeline and some movies are running simultaneous to events in other movies. But this order makes the least sense to us.
- Watch ENDGAME last if at all possible.
If you’ve never seen any of the movies – don’t binge watch them.
Just drip them out on your Friday family movie nights over the years and get caught up in the stories. Give them a little time to sink in. Pro tip: Checking Marvel movies out from the library is a good way to see them for free.
My daughter is such a fan that she created a 100 days project for herself creating artwork with a quote for each day leading up to the release of Avengers: Endgame.
Enjoy her quotes and artwork appearing throughout this post!
Why do we love watching Marvel movies?
Surprisingly, our number 1 reason is because they are FUNNY! Especially once you get to know the characters and inside jokes.
As writers, we’re amazed how the stories are connected and if you are paying attention you’ll find that over 20 movies created over a 10+ year period have carefully placed storylines that can sometimes stand alone while also diving deep into character development while carrying an entire plotline over time.
We enjoy watching for Stan Lee cameos. He’s in every movie. There is an amazing documentary available on Amazon Prime and other places called Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle that made comic book superheroes much more meaningful to me when I realized the intertwining with American history. We highly recommend watching it to get the significance of comic book culture.
We just love the little clip past the end credits. We highly recommend that you KEEP WATCHING through and past THE END CREDITS. No, it’s not necessary to the movie – but it’s entertaining! And since not everyone watches these parts you feel like you are getting in on a little secret.
The cute guys. I mean, c’mon. Thor? Captain America?
The music! The orchestral music is awesome, as you’d expect. But the movies have become known for their 70s and 90s genre picks. The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack is super popular and it’s basically soft rock from my parent’s radio station as a child. Captain Marvel is more grunge with 90s favorites you’ll definitely recognize.
Finally, these movies are just plain smart. They make you think. They are modern mythology and you can bring lots of the lessons explored out into the real world for parallels and discussion.
What age can kids start watching the Marvel Movies?
They are all rated PG-13 and some are quite violent, but much of the blood and death is hidden from view although you know it’s happening. As a parent, I find some scenes in the Guardians series to be particularly gruesome and glorifying violence.
I think I let my kids start watching some of the tamer versions when they were about 11 or 12. Common Sense Media has a guide to Marvel movies and Guardians of the Galaxy movies. You know what you allow for you and your kids and you might just want to preview?
What does MCU stand for?
Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s important for some to distinguish between the comic book worlds (Marvel Universe or Marvel Comics) and the universe created in the movies – which doesn’t always match up.
So MCU will be used to describe JUST the movies.
Who are the original Avengers?
- Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.)
- Captain America (Chris Evans)
- Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)
- Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson)
- Hulk (Mark Ruffalo in all movies except the 1st where Edward Norton first starred in the role)
- Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
Who are the “new” Avengers?
- Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)
- Spider-Man (Tom Holland)
- Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)
- Falcon (Anthony Mackie)
- Vision (Paul Bettany)
- Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)
- War Machine/Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle)
- Doctor Strange – sort of (Benedict Cumberbatch)
- Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes – sort of (Sebastian Stan)
Who are the original Guardians of the Galaxy?
- Star Lord / Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)
- Gamora (Zoe Saldana)
- Rocket (Bradley Cooper)
- Groot (Vin Diesel)
- Drax (Dave Bautista)
Who are the “new” Guardians of the Galaxy?
- Mantis (Pom Klementieff)
- Nebula (Karen Gillan)
What are the Infinity Stones?
So these Infinity Stones are a key plot-driver to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. My kids gave me a whole primer on the stones before we watched Infinity Wars and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie more knowing what they are.
- Space Stone – blue
- Power Stone – purple
- Time Stone – green
- Reality Stone – red
- Mind Stone – yellow
- Soul Stone – orange
Since they are such a major plot driver, any online description or discussion of these stones now that Endgame has been released is going to contain spoilers! Marvel does have a “Complete History of the Infinity Stones” blog post series about each stone and how they appeared in the original comics.
For now, just know they exist and pay attention to them in the movies. We’ve tried to include where they appear in the movies in our movie descriptions below.
Only magic from infinity stones can destroy infinity stones.
Gen X Actors You’ll Recognize While Watching Marvel Movies
- Bradley Cooper – you’ll just hear his voice as Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies
- Robert Downey Jr. – before he was Iron Man, he was in so many 80s movies!
- Samuel L. Jackson – best known for Pulp Fiction and Capital One commercials
- Robert Redford – more my parent’s generation but still a favorite actor of Gen X
- Paul Bettany – British actor maybe best recognized for his role in A Knight’s Tale (2001) with Heath Ledger. He’s married to Jennifer Connelly and they starred together in A Beautiful Mind (2001).
- Jennifer Connelly – the young actress from Labyrinth (1986) with David Bowie who went on to lots more featured roles in the 80s and 90s.
- Gywneth Paltrow – she has celebrity status now, but I remember her from movies like Emma (1996) and one of my all-time favorites Sliding Doors (1998).
- Jon Favreau – started out writing Swingers (1996) and a starring role with Vince Vaughn and now plays Executive Producer on these Marvel movies. He’s also super memorable in The Replacements (2000) as the loveable linebacker that “gets the ball.” Did you know he directed Elf??? Such a talented guy!
- Paul Rudd – Gen Xers know him as more of a comedian from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) with Will Farrell and The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) with Steve Carrell. I also loved his role as the stepdad in Night at the Museum (2006) and as the husband in This Is 40 (2012).
- Evangeline Lilly – from LOST tv show fame
- Michael Douglas – again, more of my parent’s generation when he started on The Streets of San Francisco tv show. But notable for Romancing the Stone (1984) for me.
- Garry Shandling (cameo) – he had his own show when I was a kid and kind of hung with the Jerry Seinfield crowd
- Kurt Russell – from Disney movies when I was in elementary school to high school movies when I was working at my local video store like Overboard (1987) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986) to college cult status movies like Tombstone (1993).
- Marisa Tomei – a favorite since My Cousin Vinny (1992) and Untamed Heart (1993), but in so many movies since then.
- Cate Blanchett – I first took notice of Cate Blanchett in The Lord of the Rings (2001) and since then she’s achieved celebrity status with recognizable roles in movies like Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (2008) and Oceans 8 (2018).
- Michelle Pfieffer – Ladyhawke (1985) was a big movie in our house in the 1980s! And Michelle Pfieffer’s character was a big reason for that popularity.
- Jeff Goldblum – Again from my time working at the video store in high school, he first came on the scene for me in a little known film called Into the Night (1985) with Michelle Pfieffer. Then, he became really well-known after The Fly (1986) – so gross! Now everyone knows him as Malcolm from the original Jurassic Park (1993).
- Josh Brolin – did you realize he was Brandon in The Goonies (1985) and played a stint on The Young Riders (1989) tv show? And he’s James Brolin’s son, too. James Brolin is married to Barbra Streisand so that makes him her stepson.
- Jude Law – I remember my husband reading Cold Mountain first and then I read it. He came on the movie scene for us in the 2003 film adaptation of the book, even though we had seen him in Gattaca (1997). Since then, The Holiday (2006) and Sherlock Holmes (2009) are his really popular roles.
- Sean Gunn – Kirk from Gilmore Girls (2001-2007)! He was a favorite character of ours from the television series and now he’s in the Guardian movies and brother to James Gunn.
- Laurence Fishburne – is maybe the definition of Gen X with in his black leather trench coat as Morpheus in The Matrix (1999).
- Ben Kingsley – is a multi-award-winning actor especially known for his role as Ghandi (1982), but you’ve seen him in other popular movies, as well.
What order should I watch Marvel films in?
This is a trick question because there are tons of ways to watch them.
- In order of release
- Best order to watch – in our personal opinion as mother and daughter
- Chronological timeline (not really recommended). If you are interested in this order, you can look up the many online posts and graphics on this topic!
However, if you can AT ALL help it — WATCH ENDGAME LAST!
Marvel Movies in order of release date
- Iron Man (2008) – origin story of Iron Man, a.k.a. billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark. You’ll meet Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and even Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in one of the end scenes. J.A.R.V.I.S. is also introduced – most people will identify this as the robot voice and former butler (Jarvis) to Stark’s dad – interacting with Iron Man. But it stands for Just a Rather Very Intelligent System.
- Incredible Hulk (2008) – origin story of The Hulk in the MCU at least, a.k.a. Bruce Banner. This movie is somewhat optional. You’ll see one of the characters from this movie in Captain America: Civil War but it’s a bit part (a general from Hulk shows up as Secretary of State later). Ed Norton is playing this version of Hulk with Jennifer Connelly being the love interest. In later films, Mark Ruffalo takes over and, personally, we like his version of Hulk better.
- Iron Man 2 (2010) – this one is more character development and action. Nick Fury and Black Widow/Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) are notable characters. Rhodey also shows up again and kind of becomes known as War Machine after this movie.
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – origin story of Captain America, a.k.a., Steve Rogers. This one is a favorite because of the 1940s time setting and some really likable characters get introduced. Agent Carter (Haley Atwell) is a strong female character and it’s important to meet Bucky who we know as Steve’s best – and only – friend growing up. The Tessaract shows up in this movie and comes back later in The Avengers.
- Thor (2011) – origin story of Thor, the God of Thunder. It starts in Asgard and Jotunheim and moves on to a small town in New Mexico. Notable characters include Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) the guardian of the Bifrost. Marvel fans will throw around this word “Bifrost” to the puzzlement of those new to the movies. Let’s see if we can explain . . . the Bifrost is something you can’t see or touch, but it’s like a bridge that can connect worlds and transport people between them. This is important. In the spectrum of Marvel films, it’s a good movie – but not a favorite. Characters introduced: Hawkeye a.k.a. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) who becomes important in later films.
- The Avengers (2012) – You see everyone come together in this one from all the origin stories which is pretty cool. Nick Fury and Agent Coulson come back in, plus Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is introduced as a top agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) supporting Fury and Coulson. Most of the movie is the dynamics of the characters meeting each other and how they interact. It’s less of an action movie than future Avengers. The Tesseract is back! This is also the first time you see a glimpse of Thanos when he’s talking to Loki.
- Iron Man 3 (2013) – Strangely Christmas-themed because it probably came out during the holidays. More character development between Iron Man and Rhodey. Introduced to “The Mandarin” and Aldrich villains. Even more character development with Tony Stark and Pepper.
- Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Even more funny than the last Thor. Natalie Portman appears in this movie more. Introduced to the Reality Stone which will come back in the Infinity War — and we meet the Dark Elves. Darcy has an intern “the intern’s intern” who we like and think is funny.
- Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) – Bucky is back! This is the first movie out of all the movies that’s directed by the Russo brothers who directed Infinity War and Endgame. This movie has the feel of a 70s thriller. You meet Falcon (Sam Wilson) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff comes back. Robert Redford is in this one!
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Awesome soundtrack for parents of teens. We’re introduced to the whole Guardians of the Galaxy team led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt from Parks & Recreation fame – and later Jurassic Park). Look for the Power Stone in this one. Comedic and more crude than typical Marvel humor. Kirk is in this one (for any of the Gilmore Girls fans). Origin story of this team. Ronan the Accuser is the bad guy doing Thanos’ bidding.
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – You’ll see the Mind Stone (it’s the Tesseract – Loki changes it into the Mind Stone way back in original Avengers) used in this one. You get introduced to Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Ultron is a mix of J.A.R.V.I.S. and the Mind Stone that Stark and Banner accidentally created. As a result of the events in this movie, the Sokovia Accords are created which spurs action down the line. Vision (Paul Bethany) is made with the Mind Stone.
- Ant-Man (2015) – Super funny origin story. Paul Rudd plays a reluctant hero and his comedic training comes in handy for the entertainment value. He’s like Robin Hood. My daughter thinks the heroine in this movie is strong, but “annoying.” Michael Douglas shows up in this one. We love Luis and his storytelling. Awesome training sequence. Falcon has a cameo. We like the bad guy in this one. It can be seen as a stand-alone, since you don’t really need to see the other Marvels to “get” this movie.
- Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Everything goes to H-E-you-know-what. The Avengers split down the middle with Captain America leading one faction and Tony Stark leading the other. Cap wants the Avengers to be able to help whoever they want whenever they want. Tony thinks they need to be kept in check by the UN to avoid civilian casualties. This is affectionately known as the “chase Bucky movie.”
- Doctor Strange (2016) – This could also be a stand alone movie. It’s an origin story. You will recognize Benedict Cumberbatch from the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes. The Time Stone is introduced. Slow on the action and way more character development. However, it’s really important to watch for understanding of future movies.
- Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume II (2017) – Peter Quill’s father appears. Nebula, Kraglin and Mantis join the team.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – Origin story. We just love Tom Holland and the character traits of young Spider-Man. Tony Stark mentors this “kid.” You see Peter Parker’s home video from Civil War. This could also be a stand alone (although there are references from prior movies that would be enjoyable to know). Peter finds a “father figure” with Tony Stark. As a GenX parent who has seen a lot of the other Spider-Man movies – this version and how it fits into the bigger story is my favorite. Happy from Iron Man movies plays a role in this one.
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Funny!!! New Zealand Director Taika Waititi plays the voice of the “rock guy” Korg and director. Hela (Cate Blanchett) shows up as a villain and Loki is back. Sibling hilariousness ensues. Thor fights Hulk (worth watching the whole movie for this). Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) introduced and she’s set up as a strong female character. Setting shifts from Asgard to Sakaar and back to Asgard.
- Black Panther (2018) – Answers the question: Who should be in charge of Wakanda and what should we do with our resources (vibranium)? We loved all the strong female characters especially Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira). Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) is played by Watson from the BBC Sherlock Holmes. Big battle scenes punctuated with funny jokes. This is definitely a tragic story. Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) comes up with some good points and makes him one of the best good/bad guys. Look at the cast list and there are a lot of cute guys in this one.
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – This is where Guardians joins Avengers – new and old! It’s a busy movie with lots of hopping between characters and settings. Multiple stories building all at once. It’s fun to see it all come together. Soul Stone comes in to play. Thanos (Josh Brolin) seeks out all of the Infinity Stones (Space, Power, Time, Mind, Reality, Soul).
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) – Continuation of Ant-Man after Civil War. End scene refers back to Infinity War and bridges the gap to End Game.
- Captain Marvel (2019) – Her origin story. First female superhero Marvel Movie (Wonder Woman is DC). It’s one of the last movies, but in chronological time is happening right after Captain America. Captain America (1940s)–> Captain Marvel (1990s) –> Iron Man (early 2000s). You see Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. back story. Cool 90s music. We see a small cameo by Ronan the Accuser from Guardians, as a link back to Thanos.
- Avengers: Endgame (2019) – (NO SPOILERS) If at all possible, watch this movie LAST! It’s like skipping to the last chapter of the book if you watch it first. The book will still be good, but knowing the ending takes away some of the suspense and surprise factor. Plus, the only way to get all the jokes and references in this movie is to watch all the movies that come before.
Marvel Movies Coming After Endgame
- Spider-Man Far from Home (2019)
- Black Widow
- Doctor Strange 2
- Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume III
Best order to watch Marvel Movies
In our humble personal opinion, this is the order we’d recommend to friends:
- Iron Man
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Iron Man 2
- The Avengers
- Thor: The Dark World
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Doctor Strange
- Thor: Ragnorak
- Captain America: Civil War
- Spiderman: Homecoming
- Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume II
- Black Panther
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Iron Man 3
- Ant-Man & The Wasp
- Captain Marvel
- Avengers Endgame
Phew! That’s 3000+ words to explain the 20+ movies and a whole cinematic universe! Please go ahead and send us your questions and we’ll try to answer to the best of our ability or link you up to a good resource.
Thanks for following along and can’t wait to geek out about this stuff with you in the future when you move past Newbie!