For over a decade, Marvel has been playing an intricate game, building a cinematic universe leading up to one thing — Avengers: Endgame.
While the movies have slightly contradicted each other on certain details over the years, overall events eventually fall into place.
This timeline shows how the 21 films before Endgame fit together in “real time” (as best as we can decipher), right down to the flashbacks and end scenes.
**SPOILER WARNING: All Marvel films from the first Iron Man to Captain Marvel**
Captain America: The First Avenger
World War II. Red Skull, the leader of rogue Nazi science division HYDRA, steals the Tesseract (space stone) from an Asgardian shrine in Norway.
After repeated failed attempts to join the US Army, Steve Rogers is chosen for the Strategic Scientific Reserve’s (SSR) super-soldier experiment.
Rogers is successfully injected with the super-soldier serum. He tours the country and army bases as Captain America to boost morale.
SSR’s founding members include inventor Howard Stark and British agent Peggy Carter, who Rogers is in love with.
Rogers infiltrates a HYDRA base behind enemy lines and rescues hundreds of prisoners of war, including his best friend James “Bucky” Barnes.
Barnes falls from a train during a mission to capture HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola. He is presumed dead.
Off-screen: Barnes is taken prisoner by Zola, brainwashed and given a powerful metal arm to become the Winter Soldier.
Rogers leads a successful invasion of HYDRA’s main base and intercepts a weaponised plane heading for the US.
Red Skull is destroyed by the Tesseract.
Off-screen: Red Skull’s shadow is sent to the planet Vormir to guard the soul stone.
The Tesseract burns through the plane and falls into the ocean, later retrieved by Howard Stark.
Rogers crashes the plane into the icy North Atlantic waters while still on board.
“I’m gonna need a rain check on that dance”: Rogers on the radio to Peggy before the crash
Guardians of the Galaxy flashback: Human boy Peter Quill is abducted from Earth by space smugglers known as the Ravagers after the death of his mother.
Dr Wendy Lawson, a Kree defector called Mar-Vell posing as a scientist at SHIELD (formally the SSR), uses the Tesseract to create a light-speed power core.
US Air Force pilot Carol Danvers, unaware of Dr Lawson’s true identity, attempts to destroy the core to stop it falling into the wrong hands. She instead absorbs its power, loses her memory and is abducted by the Kree.
December 16, 1991
Captain America: Civil War flashback: The Winter Soldier, under the control of HYDRA, kills Howard and Maria Stark, parents of Tony Stark.
Danvers, now believing herself to be a Kree warrior, returns to Earth and discovers the truth of her humanity, her powers and the deception by the Kree to control her.
SHIELD agent Nick Fury and Danvers find Dr Lawson’s secret lab orbiting Earth. Inside, they find the Tesseract. Danvers defeats the Kree invasion force led by Ronan the Accuser.
“I’ve been fighting with one arm tied behind my back, but what happens when I’m finally set free?”: Captain Marvel
Goose, a Flerken alien that looks like a cat, scratches Fury’s face, causing him to lose his left eye. Goose eats the Tesseract and later vomits it up on Fury’s desk.
Danvers, now the fully realised Captain Marvel, leaves a pager with Fury to call her in an emergency. She leaves Earth to stop the Kree empire.
Fury starts the Avengers Initiative, named after Danvers’s Air Force nickname.
The Incredible Hulk flashback: Dr Bruce Banner shows his confidence in his formula, which he believes is for radiation resistance, by testing it on himself.
The formula is actually SHIELD’s attempt to replicate Captain America’s super-soldier serum and turns Dr Banner into a powerful green-skinned creature, later known as The Hulk.
The Hulk injures project leader General Thaddeus Ross and Banner’s girlfriend before fleeing.
Genius, billionaire and weapons manufacturer Tony Stark is captured by terrorist group The Ten Rings in Afghanistan and held captive for three months.
Stark creates an implant known as the Arc Reactor to stop shrapnel inflicted during an explosion from reaching his heart. The implant charges a crude iron suit Stark uses to free himself.
Stark returns to the US and remodels his business to no longer sell weapons, angering his business partner (who arranged for the terrorists to kill, not kidnap him).
After defeating his former business partner in his improved Iron Man suit, Stark reveals his superhero persona to the world.
“I am Iron Man”: Tony Stark
Iron Man end scene: Fury approaches Stark about the Avengers Initiative.
The Incredible Hulk
Late May 2011
SHIELD tracks Dr Banner to Brazil after a drop of his blood falls into a drinks-making machine, giving a customer gamma radiation poisoning. Banner evades capture by turning into the Hulk.
A special forces soldier, impressed by the Hulk’s power, lets General Ross inject him with the super-soldier serum. The soldier also injects himself with Banner’s blood, turning him into The Abomination.
The Hulk, still present despite Banner’s efforts to cure himself, defeats the Abomination and flees again but is now seen as an ally by SHIELD.
Iron Man 2
Late May 2011
SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff, the former Russian spy also known as Black Widow, is assigned to watch over Stark and Pepper Potts, chief executive of Stark Industries and Tony’s girlfriend.
Stark discovers a new element to charge the implant in his chest.
Stark’s best friend, Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, takes an Iron Man suit prototype for the US Air Force, which upgrades it and rebrands it War Machine.
Rhodey and Stark defeat a Russian physicist trying to destroy Stark’s reputation.
Incredible Hulk end scene: Stark approaches a crestfallen General Ross: “What if I told you we’re putting a team together”.
The Consultant (short film): It is revealed Stark was used to as a patsy to deter Ross having the Abomination recruited to the Avengers Initiative.
Iron Man 2 end scene: SHIELD agent Phil Coulson reports a large hammer has been found in a crater in New Mexico.
Captain America: The First Avenger closing scene: Steve Rogers wakes up to find he has been frozen for 65 years.
Early June 2011
Thor, son of Asgardian king Odin, is stripped of his godly powers and banished to Earth with his now defunct hammer, Mjolnir.
“Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy shall posses the power of Thor”: Odin.
Loki, Thor’s trickster brother, discovers he is adopted. Odin falls into a coma. Acting as king, Loki sends a metal creature to kill Thor.
Thor, with the help of astrophysicists Jane Foster and Dr Erik Selvig, learns humility and regains his powers to defeat the creature and return to Asgard.
Loki and Thor fight on Asgard, resulting in the breakage of the Bifrost — a bridge to the other realms. Loki falls from the Bifrost into space.
Iron Man 2 end scene: Dr Selvig goes to work for SHIELD to examine the Tesseract. Loki is seen using mind control on Selvig.
Loki uses his sceptre to brainwash Selvig and SHIELD agent Clint Barton, also known as Hawkeye. Together they steal the Tesseract from SHIELD.
Fury recruits Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner to find the Tesseract.
Thor helps take Loki into custody, but he escapes and kills Agent Coulson — uniting the team as the Avengers. Romanoff frees Barton from Loki’s control.
Selvig uses the Tesseract to open a wormhole above New York that allows alien army the Chitauri to invade.
Off-screen: The invasion was orchestrated by warlord Thanos, who entrusted Loki with the sceptre and the Chitauri in exchange for the Tesseract and the destruction of Earth.
Rogers, Barton, Thor and Banner (now the Hulk) fight the Chitauri army. Stark diverts a nuclear missile into the wormhole as Romanoff uses Loki’s sceptre to close it.
“The Avengers. It’s what we call ourselves, sort of like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type of thing”: Tony Stark
Thor returns to Asgard with Loki and the Tesseract. The Avengers go their separate ways.
Iron Man 3
Stark, battling PTSD from the New York attack, has his home destroyed and loyal friend, Happy Hogan, injured by a terrorist group led by the Mandarin.
The Mandarin, a front for disgruntled scientist Aldrich Killian, kidnaps Pepper Potts and subjects her to a dangerous experiment.
Stark with the help of Rhodey defeat Killian’s mercenaries. Pepper uses powers given to her in the experiment to kill Killian.
Stark undergoes surgery to remove the shrapnel from his chest, leaving him without the need for the implant.
Thor: The Dark World
Jane Foster is teleported from Earth to a planet where she is infected by the Aether — the liquid form of the reality stone. Thor takes her to Asgard for help.
Dark Elf Malekith and his army attack Asgard to get the Aether. Thor’s mother dies to save Jane.
Thor helps Loki escape and travels with him and Jane to a barren planet, luring Malekith away from Asgard. Malekith pulls the Aether from Jane.
Loki seemingly sacrifices himself to save Jane and his brother.
Thor and Jane return to Earth and defeat Malekith. Thor chooses to stay on Earth to be with Jane — not knowing Loki is alive and impersonating Odin on Asgard.
End scene: Already in possession of The Tesseract, the Asgardians give the soul stone to The Collector on the mining colony Nowhere to avoid having two infinity stones in the same place.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Steve Rogers, now working with SHIELD, befriends former pararescue airman Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon.
Fury fakes his own death after a failed assassination attempt by the Winter Soldier.
“Last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye”: Fury
Romanoff and Rogers discover a secret bunker where the computerised memory of scientist Arnim Zola reveals HYDRA has infiltrated SHIELD.
The Winter Soldier attacks Rogers, Romanoff and Wilson, revealing himself to be the brainwashed Bucky Barnes.
Rogers, Romanoff and Wilson bring down a HYDRA plot to decimate high-threat targets, dismantling SHIELD in the process.
Despite being brainwashed to kill him, Barnes saves Rogers in the battle.
Rogers: You’re my friend!
Barnes: And you’re my mission.
Rogers: Then finish it. Because I’m with you to the end of the line.
Barnes is later seen at a Captain America exhibit looking at the memorial for Bucky Barnes.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Kree extremist Ronan the Accuser agrees to obtain an orb for Thanos in exchange for Thanos destroying Xandar, capital of the Nova Empire. Thanos sends his adopted daughters Gamora and Nebula to assist.
Meanwhile, Peter Quill, having defected from smuggling group the Ravagers steals the orb from the planet Morag — not knowing it contains the power stone.
Gamora tries to steal the orb from Quill but is interrupted by bounty hunters Rocket, a genetically enhanced racoon, and Groot, a sentient tree.
“I am Groot”: Groot
All four are imprisoned and meet Drax, who wants revenge against Ronan for killing his family. Together they escape jail and learn from The Collector that the orb contains an infinity stone.
“These stones, it seems, can only be brandished by beings of extraordinary strength. These carriers can use the stone to mow down entire civilizations like wheat in a field”: The Collector
Ronan steals the orb and defies Thanos, instead taking the stone for himself in order to destroy Xandar. Nebula gives her allegiance to Ronan.
The Guardians, Ravagers and the intergalactic police force Nova Corps stop Ronan from destroying Xandar.
Quill and the Guardians use the stone to kill Ronan. The Guardians give the stone to Xandar’s government, who reveal Quill is only half-human.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The Guardians take Nebula into their custody in exchange for working for The Sovereign, a race of people genetically engineered for perfection. The Sovereign pursue the Guardians after learning Rocket has stolen from them.
Quill’s father Ego, a living planet, saves the Guardians and takes Quill, Gamora and Drax back to his home. There they meet Mantis, an empath who has the ability to make Ego sleep.
Rocket and Groot are ambushed by the Ravagers, who mutiny against leader Yondu so they can follow Nebula. Yondu, Rocket and Groot escape to find the other Guardians.
Discovering Ego’s plan to take over the universe, the Guardians defeat him. Yondu sacrifices himself to save Quill.
“He may have been your father, boy. But he wasn’t your daddy”: Yondu to Quill
Nebula, having somewhat reconciled with Gamora, leaves while vowing to kill Thanos.
End scene: The Sovereign make a special birthing pod to create “Adam” — likely the superhuman Adam Warlock.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff receive superpowers in a HYDRA experiment using Loki’s sceptre, which contains the mind stone. The sceptre is retrieved by the Avengers during a raid.
Romanoff, who finds a way to calm the Hulk, starts a romantic relationship with Banner.
Stark uses the sceptre to create an artificial intelligence program to protect the Earth called Ultron but instead it attacks the Avengers and plans to wipe out all human life.
Thor has a premonition of the infinity stones and the gauntlet.
Ultron tries to make a synthetic body for himself but it is stolen by the Avengers. Stark uploads his AI system JARVIS into the body. It is brought to life with the mind stone and Thor’s lightning, creating Vision.
Ultron raises the city of Sokovia with the intent of bringing it crashing down to trigger a mass extinction. Wanda and Pietro give their allegiance to the Avengers, who stop Ultron’s plan. Pietro dies saving Clint Barton.
The Hulk disappears on the Avengers’ jet. Rogers and Romanoff start training the new Avengers — Wanda, Wilson, Rhodey and Vision.
End scene: Thanos is seen with the Infinity Gauntlet: “Fine, I’ll do it myself”.
Expert thief Scott Lang is chosen by scientist Hank Pym to replace him as the Ant-Man, a superhero whose suit gives him the ability to shrink down to the size of an ant as well as grow gigantic.
As Ant-Man, Lang fights Wilson while attempting to steal a piece of equipment from Avengers HQ.
“I’m Ant-Man. What, you haven’t heard of me? No, you wouldn’t have heard of me”: Lang to Wilson
End scene: Hope van Dyne, Hank’s daughter, is given a similar suit with wings that allows her to become The Wasp.
Captain America: Civil War
Thaddeus Ross, now US Secretary of State, forces the Avengers to sign the Sokovia Accords, which controls their actions.
Stark, Rhodey, Vision and Romanoff agree to sign. Rogers, Wilson and Wanda decline.
“If we can’t accept limitations, we’re no better than the bad guys”: Stark
Peggy Carter dies in her sleep at age 95.
A bomb explodes at a conference to discuss the Accords, killing King T’Chaka of Wakanda. His son T’Challa, the Black Panther, aims to hunt down the suspected perpetrator — Bucky Barnes.
Rogers finds Barnes first but both are captured.
The real bomber, Helmut Zemo, who lost his family in Sokovia, uses the Winter Soldier trigger words to activate Barnes and find out where other HYDRA super soldiers are hidden.
Stark is ordered to bring Barnes and the defecting Avengers into custody.
Spider-Man: Homecoming flashback: Stark recruits 15-year-old Peter Parker.
Six months earlier Parker was bitten by a genetically modified spider, giving him the powers to become Spider-Man.
Rogers and Barnes, with the help of Wilson, Wanda, Barton and Scott Lang, go up against Stark, Rhodey, Parker, Romanoff, Vision and T’Challa at an airport in Berlin.
Romanoff helps Rogers and Barnes escape with T’Challa in pursuit. Vision accidentally shoots down Rhodey, leaving him paralysed.
Wanda, Barton, Wilson and Lang are taken into custody. Stark follows Rogers and Barnes to the HYRA base where Zemo has killed the hibernating super-soldiers.
Stark learns Bucky killed his parents in 1991, causing a massive fight with him and Rogers that almost destroys them both.
Rogers: “Sorry Tony. You know I wouldn’t do this if I had any other choice. But he’s my friend.”
Stark: “So was I.”
T’Challa stops Zemo from taking his own life after learning he was responsible for the bombing.
Rogers breaks the incarcerated Avengers out of prison and leaves a mobile phone with Stark to call him if he is ever needed.
Off-screen: Lang and Barton make plea deals and go under house arrest.
End scene: Barnes goes to Wakanda and into hibernation until they can figure out how to remove the HYDRA brainwashing.
A week after the UN bombing, T’Challa returns to Wakanda where he wins the tribal challenge against the Jabari leader to be crowned king.
His genius sister Shuri equips him with a new Black Panther suit.
T’Challa tracks down and captures arms dealer Ulysses Klaue but he gets away. CIA agent Everett Ross (no relation to state secretary Thaddeus Ross) is critically injured in the escape. T’Challa brings Agent Ross to Wakanda for medical care, making him an ally.
Killmonger, the hidden son of Wakandan Prince N’Jobu (killed by T’Challa’s father), kills Klaue and reveals his identity. He wins the challenge to be king and throws T’Challa’s body off a waterfall.
T’Challa is rescued by the Jabari tribe in exchange for sparing their leader and is healed. He defeats Killmonger in a battle that divides Wakanda.
“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage”: Killmonger
End scene: T’Challa opens its borders and technology to the world. Barnes wakes from hibernation.
Two months after the Avengers fight in Berlin, Peter Parker stops a group of men scavenging alien tech from the New York attack to create super weapons.
Parker turns down Stark’s offer to be an Avenger so he can be the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
“You deserve that, you’re a criminal. Bye Mr Criminal”: Peter Parker
Pepper Potts and Stark get engaged.
2016 – 2017
Talented surgeon Doctor Stephen Strange is seriously injured in a car accident that cripples his hands.
Having exhausted the help of Western medicine, Strange searches for Kamar-Taj in Nepal, which he discovers is a sanctum for sorcerers let by the Ancient One.
Strange masters the mystic arts and learns to bend time using the Eye of Agamotto, which contains the time stone.
A former sorcerer-turned-extremist and his followers destroy the sorcerers’ sanctums and kill the Ancient One in order to release Dormammu from the Dark Dimension.
Strange uses the time stone to trap Dormammu in a loop, forcing him to leave Earth.
“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain!”: Doctor Strange
Thor dreams of Ragnarok — the destruction of Asgard by fire demon Surtur. In order to prevent this, he destroys Surtur and takes his skull crown.
Thor returns home to find Loki impersonating Odin. Doctor Strange helps them find the real Odin, who later dies on Earth, releasing his firstborn child Hela the Goddess of Death from her prison.
Hela destroys Thor’s hammer and throws him and Loki from the Bifrost. She returns to Asgard, killing its army.
Thor ends up on the planet Sakaar where he is captured by Scrapper 142, an Asgardian Valkyrie warrior, and made to fight against the Hulk, who has been on the planet for two years.
“We know each other, he’s a friend from work”: Thor about the Hulk
The Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner and escapes with Thor, Valkyrie and Loki to Asgard.
Thor fights Hela, who rips out his eye. Loki throws Surtur’s crown on the Eternal Flame in Odin’s vault, causing him to rise up and destroy Hela and Asgard. While in the vault, Loki takes the Tesseract.
Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, the Hulk and what is left of the Asgardian people flee on refugee ship Statesman.
Ant-Man and The Wasp
Two years after the Avengers fight in Berlin, Scott Lang is coming to the end of his house arrest.
Lang helps Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne free Hank’s wife Janet van Dyne from the quantum realm.
Avengers: Infinity War
Thanos and his henchmen board the Statesman, killing the Asgardians. Loki is strangled by Thanos after attempting to stab him.
Thanos reveals he has destroyed Xandar and has the power stone. He takes the Tesseract, crushing the cubic shell to reveal the space stone.
Heimdall, protector of the Bifrost, summons the bridge to send The Hulk, injured from fighting Thanos, to warn Earth — before being stabbed to death.
A transformed Bruce Banner lands in Doctor Strange’s sanctum in New York.
“Thanos is coming”: Bruce Banner
Strange summons Tony Stark as Thanos’ henchmen land on Earth. Banner is unable to turn back into The Hulk.
After a fight and refusing to give up the time stone, Strange is captured. Iron Man and Spider-Man pursue him into space and free him.
Meanwhile, Thor is picked up by the Guardians of the Galaxy. He, Rocket and Groot travel to a dwarven forge to make a new hammer to defeat Thanos.
Quill, Gamora, Drax and Mantis go to Nowhere to find The Collector, but Thanos gets there first and claims the reality stone.
Thanos kidnaps Gamora who, to stop him from torturing Nebula, shows him the location of the soul stone, which is guarded by Red Skull.
Thanos throws Gamora off a cliff to claim the soul stone.
Stark, Parker and Strange land on the ruins of Thanos’s home world, Titan, where they are confronted by Quill, Drax, Mantis and Nebula, who escaped captivity.
The group attempt to defeat Thanos but fail. Strange gives up the time stone in order to save Stark.
Strange: “I went forward in time to view alternate futures. To see all the possible outcomes of the coming conflict.”
Quill: “How many did you see?”
Strange: “Fourteen million, six hundred and five.”
Stark: “How many did we win?”
Meanwhile, Rogers, Romanoff and Wilson stop more of Thanos’s henchmen from killing Wanda and taking Vision’s mind stone.
The group head to Wakanda in the hope that Shuri can separate Vision from the mind stone.
Bucky Barnes, Black Widow, Captain America, Wakanda general Okoye and Black Panther. (Marvel)
Thanos’s army wages war on Wakanda. Wanda destroys the mind stone as Thanos arrives, killing Vision, but Thanos reverses time and claims it, killing Vision again.
Thor plunges his new hammer into Thanos’s chest but he survives and snaps his fingers.
“You should have gone for the head”: Thanos to Thor
Half of all life in the universe turns to dust. Thanos, the infinity gauntlet and stones in ruin, teleports to a different planet.
On Earth, Bucky, T’Challa, Wilson, Wanda and Groot disappear.
On Titan, Nebula and Stark look on as Parker, Quill, Drax, Mantis and Strange fade away.
“Mr Stark? I don’t feel so good … I don’t want to go”: Peter Parker
End scene: Fury pages Captain Marvel for help as he and Maria Hill disintegrate.
“Oh no. Motherf…”: Nick Fury as he turns to dust
Ant-Man and The Wasp end scene: Lang enters the quantum realm for an experiment. Meanwhile Hank, Hope and Janet disintegrate in the snap, leaving Lang trapped.
Captain Marvel end scene: The surviving Avengers try to track who Fury sent a message to on his pager. As the signal stops, Captain Marvel appears: “Where’s Fury?”
To be continued …