Since the announcement of The Multiverse Saga at San Diego Comic-Con 2022, Phase 4 movies and shows have been under a microscope. Fans want to know which projects are most important to the overall story leading to Avengers 5 & 6.
This is the price of showing fans what elite payoff looks like in Avengers: Endgame. As a result, the Marvel faithful's expectation for connectivity between projects is at an all-time high.
With Phase 4 being a true rebuild for the MCU, there are specific elements like the introduction of new characters that make early-saga movies and shows important to the through-line.
There is also the establishment of new concepts and factions, changes made to the already-established MCU roster, and setups for future projects outside of the title IP. Bonus points if there is a setup for Avengers: Kang Dynasty and/or Avengers: Secret Wars.
Here is a list of every Phase 4 project so far, ranked by how important they are to the buildup and eventual climax of Marvel Studios' Multiverse Saga storyline.
NOTE: Every movie and show on this list is important. If your favorite Phase 4 entry is lower on the list, it just means it stands alone, which many consider a major positive for an MCU project.
13. Moon Knight
Moon Knight is easily the most stand-alone project in the MCU in recent history. The first new character to be introduced on Disney+ came with virtually zero ties to previous Marvel Studios projects.
It obviously puts an incredible actor in character on the board with Oscar Isaac's Steven Grant/Marc Spector/Jake Lockley/Moon Knight. This is along with Layla El-Faouly and Konshu, but this series mostly stays in its own pocket.
Outside of speculation for Moon Knight to eventually show up in Blade, the future of this character is Moon Knight Season 2.
12. Thor: Love and Thunder
The first character in the MCU to receive the fourth installment of their franchise deserves some independence from the perceived "overall narrative" of the MCU. Thor: Love and Thunder is what it says it is, "another classic Thor adventure."
This is not to say there isn't plenty of world-building happening here. The introduction of characters like Zeus, Hercules, Eternity, and Love will surely impact the future. Since most of those characters got their spotlight in the final 20 minutes, it is unknown how important they are to the big picture.
Mjolnir is back, Jane Foster is gone, and Thor will return, most likely in Thor 5 (title prediction: War of the Gods).
11. Black Widow
Black Widow is a movie that ideally would have been released in 2016. While it is very much a victory lap for one of the most iconic figures in the MCU, Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff, it is also the introduction of one of the best rookies of the Phase 4 class, Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova.
Of the mantle passing fans have experienced in the past two years, Natasha to Yelena is the only one that took place in theaters. The Black Widow franchise is in great hands, and there is an elite-level prospect for Thunderbolts in Yelena.
Red Guardian, Taskmaster, and the rest of the Widows are also in play, but this movie is mainly saying goodbye to a legend in the MCU.
The name of the game on this list is Multiverse and new characters. While Eternals brings the most to the table for the latter, introducing the MCU's newest super team groups them together more as one than 10.
By fleshing out Celestials, introducing future big players like Starfox and Dane Whitman, and even setting up Blade, this movie has plenty of world-building.
However, most of this setup seems more like a step toward more supplemental projects and not as much Avengers 5 & 6. But keep an eye on big humanoid space beings in the MCU moving forward.
9. What If...?
What If...? may tell all nine of its animated anthology tales in other worlds, but its ties to the Multiverse manage to bump it up the list. The series prominently features the timeline concepts established by Loki - themes that will inevitably be looked back on as the saga continues.
There's also the Captain Carter-sized elephant in the room to discuss. Despite existing in another universe, the MCU appears determined to only further Hayley Atwell's heroic role going forward with her appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and potentially even a live-action movie down the road.
The individual stories of What If...? may not tie closely to the ongoing MCU plot for now, but these characters could come further into play with Multiversal events like Avengers: Secret Wars.
8. The Falcon & The Winter Soldier
This is the point of the list where every project brings major pieces to the table for the future of the MCU. It now comes down to which move or show makes the big impact plays. Introducing a new Captain America? Big play!
Sam Wilson's rise to star-spangled stardom in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is guaranteed to make a difference moving forward. This is not to mention John Walker's potential role in Thunderbolts.
Throw in Valentina Allegra de Fontaine's debut and Sharon Carter's infamous heel-turn into the Power Broker and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier makes an underrated mark on Phase 4.
When it comes to introducing new characters to the MCU roster, few can rival the universal love for Hailee Steinfeld's Kate Bishop. She is the 2021 Co-Rookie of the Year for The Direct and has one of the brightest MCU futures around.
Beyond the roster impact, Hawkeye sets up two upcoming Disney+ series in Echo and Daredevil: Born Again. Don't forget whichever project sees Kate Bishop and Clint Barton next.
This show's biggest impact on the MCU was the free agent addition of the Marvel Netflix team. Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk breaks the barrier between what was once the most highly debated cannon disputes of all time.
6. Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel could have ranked as low as number 10 and as high as number three on this list. While it is the best look to date on what a fan of the Avengers looks like in-universe, there is not much reliance on past-MCU lore.
Introducing superstar Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan is an instant bump, especially with her upcoming role in The Marvels. Ms. Marvel will be a difference maker on this roster for years to come.
What puts it above the Disney+ series behind it? An electric guitar theme that pours cereal into the hands of 90's kids everywhere. Kamala Khan's Mutant origin is a pinnacle moment in MCU history and the first taste of what the X-Men could be in Earth-616.
5. Spider-Man: No Way Home
This might be the lowest Spider-Man: No Way Home has ever ranked on an internet list. The spectacle that is No Way Home is more contained than anyone could have imagined, with appearances from Doctor Stange, Wong, and even Matt Murdock.
The concept of Multiverse brings No Way Home into the conversation of Multiverse Saga's importance. While this is not the first time the Multiverse has been this explored in the MCU (see #1), it is the bluntest example of what multiple versions of the same characters can be.
With Avengers: Secret Wars on the horizon, expect plenty of No Way Home vibes coming in the first teaser trailer.
4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
When deciding which projects are most important to the Multiverse Saga, a lot of value is put on movies and shows setting up Avengers: Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. While buzzwords like "Kang" and "Multiverse" come to mind first, the "Avengers" side of this story cannot be forgotten.
No rookie hero in the MCU is more prepared to be a member of the Avengers than Shang-Chi. His origin story resembles those of Phase 1, and the post-credits scene featuring Wong, Carol Danvers, and Bruce Banner seals the deal.
Shang-Chi is going to be a starter for the Avengers roster sooner rather than later, and based on the interest he has from the most veteran players on the team, expect a leading role for the Master of Kung Fu.
There are perks to being first, but there are also heightened expectations. WandaVision brought the MCU back after the drought, introduced the Disney+ tool to the arsenal, and gave fans their first look at where the Multiverse Saga was heading.
By most accounts, it outperformed expectations. It did so while introducing more valuable assets than any project before it. Monica Rambeau and Agatha Harkness already have lead roles booked in Phase 5. Billy and Tommy Maximoff have bright futures as potential Young Avengers. And Vision's transfer into SWORD's White Vision puts a wild card on the board.
All of that, along with Wanda Maximoff's arch from Avenger to Scarlet Witch, has not only given the MCU a hyper-valuable villain to work with in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness but also the potential for Elizabeth Olsen to be the big bad of this entire saga.
2. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Chalk is chalk for a reason, and when a movie has the word "Multiverse" in the title, it will be important to the Multiverse Saga.
The debut of America Chavez, The Illuminati, Clea, Incursions, the greater Multiverse, and the third eye of Doctor Stephen Strange will all be key pieces to the built puzzle.
Secret Wars is the story of universes colliding to create a battle between factions hitherto undreamt of. Multiverse of Madness will, without a doubt, play as essential viewing for Avengers: Secret Wars.
A masterclass of exploration from Marvel Studios. The novelization of Loki Season 1 could be titled A Guide to the Future of the MCU.
Without knowing, fans witnessed a true prequel to the confirmed big bad of the next Avengers movie. Kang alone made this project number one with a bullet.
To take it a step further, Jonathan Majors' MCU debut came with an electric explanation of exactly what is in store for the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Avengers: Kang Dynasty.
It gets run back in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, but Loki is far and away the most important piece to the puzzle so far.
She-Hulk & Wakanda Forever
Looking ahead to the rest of Phase 4, both She-Hulk: Attorney At Law and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever are set to make a big splash on this list.
She-Hulk is leaning into the cameo potential and world-building its concept offers. This gives it as much upside to make an impact as any series on this list outside of Loki.
Black Panther 2 will have a Shang-Chi type role putting a new Black Panther in place for future projects and introducing one of the most legendary Marvel Comics characters of all time, Namor.
The future of the MCU is bright, and despite some chatter about Phase 4 being more disconnected than previous Phases, hopefully, this list provides some relief of connectivity.
It is important to remember that Phase 4 is a rebuilding season for the MCU, and Marvel Studios built this empire on patience, planning, and execution. Expect more of the same moving forward.