With three simple words, Spider-Man: Homecoming blew up the timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By stating that the events of the film take place “eight years later” – referencing the climactic battle of the first Avengers film – a wrench was thrown into the works for many fans who had been carefully tracking the chronological order of the Marvel movies. And if there’s one thing that dedicated fan bases have demonstrated a love of debating, it’s timelines!
Constructing the Marvel movie timeline is not as simple as placing the films in the order in which they came out in theaters. Some movies are set far in the past, like Captain America: The First Avenger, whereas the events of other movies like Iron Man 2 and Thor are meant to happen nearly simultaneously. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released three years after its prequel but is meant to take place only a few months later. On top of all that, there are characters like Bucky Barnes who've been alive for almost a century but were only awake for a fraction of that time. In other words, things have quickly become convoluted, which can be a major problem for those fans who like their fictional universes kept in order.
So, what year does each Marvel movie take place in? Read on to get a detailed look at the franchise's messy timeline and learn what the studio is doing (or plans to do) to rectify the situation.
MCU Timeline: 2008-2010
Real-World Release: May 2, 2008
Iron Man was released in 2008, and at the time, audiences had no reason to assume that the film wasn't meant to take place in 2008. The events of Iron Man include nine months of captivity for Tony Stark, so that could mean that the “I am Iron Man” moment occurs in 2009, but no specific dates are ever mentioned.
Later films would go on to complicate this film's place in the timeline, potentially moving it as far as 2010.
MCU Timeline: 2008-2012 (sometime between Iron Man and The Avengers)
Real-World Release: June 13, 2008
The Incredible Hulk takes place sometime between Iron Man and Avengers, as evidenced by Tony Stark’s appearance in the post-credits scene. Again, for audiences, there was no real reason to assume the film took place anytime other than its real-world release date of 2008, but future film releases would further complicate the picture.
MCU Timeline: 2008-2011 (six months after Iron Man)
Real-World Release: May 7, 2010
Iron Man 2 was released in 2010, but its events are said to take place just six months after Iron Man. The post-credits scene in this movie showed that it occurred concurrently with Thor, as evidenced by a cameo appearance from Mjolnir.
MCU Timeline: 2008-2011 (roughly, the same time as Iron Man 2)
Real-World Release: May 2, 2011
The events of Thor include a prologue that takes place over centuries, but the main plot takes place at essentially the same time as Iron Man 2¸ with the two films linked by a post-credits scene.
Loki’s disappearance at the end of the film means that The Avengers takes place at least a year after Thor’s conclusion.