Marvel Phases Explained: Everything You Need to Know About MCU Phases 1 Through 7

By Matt Roembke Posted:
Avengers movie posters, Marvel Studios logo

From the origins of Phase One to the future of Phase Seven, here is a full explanation of each Phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Before the MCU, comic book movie franchises were compact and lacked the interconnectivity that Marvel Studios has become known for over the past 16 years.

Since then, studios like Warner Bros. and Sony have looked to replicate the magic of the Marvel superhero universe, but none have reached the heights.

As the most successful franchise in box office history, the MCU has been a wild ride for fans, but it all began with a man in a cave... with a box of scraps.

Phase One (2008 - 2012)

Black Widow, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and the Hulk in The Avengers
Marvel Studios

“We’re Putting Together a Team”

The execution, payoff, and reception of Phase One in the MCU became the gold standard in Hollywood for 15 years to come. Four origin movies and a sequel led to a crossover blockbuster that became the third highest-grossing movie of all time. Beginning with Iron Man and ending with The Avengers, this phase is bookended with two of the most important and beloved comic book movies ever made.

The story begins with Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark redefining how audiences view a comic book hero on the silver screen. Slowly the roster grows with the Chrises (Hemsworth and Evans) becoming household names as Thor and Captain America respectively. Throw in a Bruce Banner origin and a handful of SHIELD cameos and there lies the recipe for The Avengers in 2012. And the rest was history. 

The connected universe became the biggest trend in film on the back of these six years. The tone, style, humor, and heart debuted in Iron Man became the "Marvel Formula" that kept the lights on in movie theaters through the 2010s. And while the majority of Phase One movies perpetually find themselves in the bottom third of MCU rankings, no one can deny the impact this six-year run had on the comic book movie franchise and Hollywood as a whole. 

Phase Two (2013 - 2015)

Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Thor, Vision, and Iron Man in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Marvel Studios

"Fine... I'll Do It Myself"

Phase One caught lightning in a bottle and Phase Two was all about capitalizing on that success. The four sequels in this phase (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age of Ultron) vary from a perennial top 10 MCU movie (Winter Soldier) to what become one of the more maligned movies in the franchise (Dark World). But the premium theme of Phase Two is "World Building". 

Each Phase Two sequel deals with the fallout of the events of The Avengers. Shows that Kevin Feige & co. were not only able to bring all of these individual franchises together, but they were also able to keep them going through the crossover. On top of that, Marvel Studios added some new players to the roster. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 is the Iron Man of Phase Two. The James Gunn space opera evolved the Marvel Formula to new heights proving that the MCU can turn anyone into a household name. Throw in Ant-Man in 2015 and fans became bought into any and everything the red brand was making moving forward.

Along with all of the great character work done in Phase Two, it is also the establishment of the greatest McGuffins in movie history, the Infinity Stones. Some elements are introduced and/or teased in Phase One but by the end of Phase Two fans know where this saga is going. 

All roads lead to Thanos and he is finally getting off the bench heading into Phase Three. 

Phase Three (2016 - 2019)

Bucky, Black Widow, War Machine, Captain America, Hulk, Okoye, Falcon, Black Panther, and the Wakandans in the Avengers: Infinity War trailer
Marvel Studios

"I Am Inevitable"

It feels like Marvel Studios knew if it committed to the world-building enough in Phase Two that it would be able to let loose in Phase 3. Not only does Marvel Studios double the amount movies from previous phases, but four new heroes get the title treatment in their own movies. And unlike the rest of the Infinity Saga, weak entries are very hard to find in Phase Three. 

Opening with what many affectionately call "Avengers 2.5" Captain America: Civil War caught the eye of anyone who wasn't paying attention. From there, you have six straight entries that are seen in the top half of most MCU rankings to this day. It felt like the brand could not miss. 

It was already a comic book movie miracle that this universe existed, but no one could have imagined that Marvel Studios could not only stick the landing but do it with two of the best superhero movies ever made. Avengers Infinity War and Endgame is a two-part masterclass on how to work with a connected universe. Every hero got their moment, virtually every thread was satisfyingly tied together, and on top of all that the future was teed up for the future of the MCU. 

The Infinity Saga is the greatest achievement in the history of movie-making. Love it or hate it, the success and impact of the MCU through three phases cannot be denied. "Superhero Fatigue" is a big buzzword these days when a bad comic book movie is released. The reality of it is, more often than not, those bad comic book movies are from other studios trying to replicate the magic of The Infinity Saga. 

Phase Four (2021 - 2022)

Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man, Tom Holland's Spider-Man, Anthony Mackie's Captain America, Ikaris, Loki, Scarlet Witch, Avengers key art, Marvel Studios logo
Marvel Studios

"The Universe Is Expanding"

Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, marked by the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic, embarked on an ambitious journey to continue redefining the superhero genre. Introducing new heroes and narratives while exploring the multiverse, this phase faced the monumental task of moving beyond the Infinity Saga. Despite production delays and shifts in content consumption, Marvel's evolution into this new era aimed to captivate audiences with fresh stories, all while grappling with the legacy of its past.

The first ever Marvel Disney+ series WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and Loki opened up a new medium in 2021. Leaving audiences on the hook week after week, participating in a unique level of online engagement every week after the "Please Stand By" concluded each WandaVision episode.

In the film division, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings shone as a beacon of success, introducing a new hero who captivated audiences in a familiar but fresh way. On the flip side, Eternals, despite its ambition, struggled to recapture the ensemble magic, becoming a polarizing addition with its attempt to introduce an entirely new team and lore. These films represented the trials of expanding the MCU's vast universe, showcasing that Marvel Studios still had their fastball, but needed some time to adjust to new ideas and characters. 

Meanwhile, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever continued the legacy of established franchises. No Way Home became a cultural phenomenon, navigating complex character rights to weave together narratives across the Spider-Man filmography. Wakanda Forever faced the daunting task of honoring Chadwick Boseman's legacy, delivering a powerful narrative that resonated globally. Both films underscored Marvel's storytelling prowess and its ability to address real-world issues through the superhero lens.

Phase Four showed that Marvel Studios was not afraid to continue pushing the envelope and take on major expectations. It also showed that the relentless success of Phase Three has set expectations potentially higher than what Marvel Studios is always able to deliver. These expectations were felt from the top down as the former leadership of Disney seemed to have pushed Marvel Studios to capitalize on the historic success of The Infinity Saga by getting out as much content as possible, whatever it takes. 

This harmed the franchise on a variety of levels. The saturation of the universe caused fatigue from general audiences. Volume became a bigger priority than individual products themselves, leading to a higher rate of quantity over quality than the MCU had ever seen. And there was a lack of continuity between projects that left audiences chasing the dragon that was Phase Three, which was a constant build to Avengers: Infinity War.

This phase represents a bold step forward, embracing new heroes, exploring the multiverse, and redefining the fan experience, all while honoring the legacy that has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe a cornerstone of modern cinema. Now that the old guard has returned, quality has taken the lead over quality on the future seemed as bright as ever... until it wasn't. 

Phase Five (2023 - 2025)

Loki, Wolverine, Matt Murdock, Yelena Belova, Marvel Studios logo
Marvel Studios

“Your Little Cinematic Universe Is About To Change, Forever!”

Phase  Five is the Phase that is currently running, but it has already had a lasting impact on the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Much like Phase Four, the primary source of contention for Phase Five took place behind the scenes. 

Jonathan Majors had one of the greatest debut performances in the history of the MCU in Loki Season One. Marvel Studios had put the majority of their chips in the basket of one of the fastest-rising stars in Hollywood as Majors' Kang the Conqueror was being set up to be the next Thanos. Until the infamous off-screen saga of Jonathan Majors' domestic violence charges effectively put an end to his time on the MCU roster. 

Fortunately, the same IP that brought Majors into the fold also set up a new path for the Multiverse with the finale to Loki Season Two. While it is not perfect, Tom Hiddleston's God of Stories has reset the expectations of the multiverse and now the sandbox has been virtually reset in the middle of the saga.

Not ideal, but just like in sports, winning cures all. Unfortunately for the red brand, three out of five of their 2023 live-action entries were critical failures saving for the booming success of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Loki Season 2. Both Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania and Secret Invasion are being panned by critics and fans alike despite being touted as keystone MCU entries. This forced the leadership at Marvel Studios to publically re-evaluate their strategy and make it known to fans that they would be focusing on making the best story, not the most story.

This is often the type of statement from a studio that is said to save face with no real action taken beyond that. But Marvel Studios has put their money where its mouth is. The most anticipated projects on deck for the MCU (Daredevil: Born Again, Blade, and Captain America 4) were all delayed while they went into a rebuild. This tells audiences that while these projects would be high-floor attempts from Marvel Studios, they were not going to put them out until they fit the gold standard.  

Along with that, 2024 consists of only one theatrical release from Marvel Studios, Deadpool & Wolverine. This should be a signal that Bob Igor, Kevin Feige, and the brains at Marvel Studios understand that it needs to right the wrongs of Phase Four and focus on the best story possible. 

Deadpool & Wolverine is set up to be the most important post-Endgame movie in MCU history. It has the high floor being carried over from the Deadpool franchise of FOX-Men past. It has the multiversal qualities to clear up loose ends and set a new course towards a satisfying end to The Multiverse Saga. And most importantly, Deadpool is one of only two characters in the MCU that can look right into the camera and address any ambiguous connectivity issues audiences may have. 

Phase Six (2025 - TBD)

Captain America, Star-Lord, Nick Fury, Pedro Pascal as Mr. Fantastic, Kang, Iron Man, Beast, Wolverine, Deadpool, Rocket, Marvel Studios logo
Marvel Studios

Phase Six of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will assumingly be the culmination of the Multiverse Saga. Naturally, it will begin with one of the biggest entries in the MCU post-Endgame, The Fantastic Four. For over a year, the biggest conversation of the Comic Book Movie universe was the casting for the MCU’s attempt at Marvel’s first family. Now that Pedro Pascal, Vanessa Kirby, Joseph Quinn, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach are set to lead the film, full steam ahead. 

Another throwback entry into the MCU will be Marhershalla Ali’s Blade. This is a movie that has been through hell and back in pre-production but was completely rebuilt when Marvel Studios took their “quality over quantity” mantra back. The biggest issue with this movie is arguably that it was announced over five years before this final vision was realized. But it is tough not to announce that one of the biggest actors in Hollywood was playing such an iconic character. Who can blame them? Marvel Studios was coming off 4 years of not missing. 

These two projects are signs of the times as they are both projects that were not legally allowed to be in the MCU when Tony Stark built that suit in the cave. This is a huge sign of Disney and Marvel Studios getting their top-tier properties back after selling their film rights off to stay afloat in the late '90s/early 2000s. There is plenty of speculation that this phase will begin the alternate universe storylines of the MCU as they head into their Avengers return. 

Avengers 5 and Avengers: Secret Wars are on the schedule. The Jonathan Majors controversy has made these projects as unpredictable as anything else on this list. While the pivot away from The Kang Dynasty may leave fans wondering if there is a plan in place, recent entries in the MCU seem to be paving a path. See Phase 5 and the details for Deadpool & Wolverine for ideas of where The Multiverse Saga is heading. 

Phase Seven (TBD)

Avengers: Endgame cast, James McAvoy's Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender's Magneto, Mystique, Wolverine, Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier, Ian McKellen's Magneto, Marvel Studios logo
Marvel Studios
  • X-Men Movie (TBD)

Will Marvel Studios be able to put together an ending for The Multiverse Saga. That is the big question. The second biggest question? What is next?

Well for anyone who has been paying attention to Disney+, the future is very present and the future is the past. The Days of Future Past. Yeah... it is time for Mutants to take center stage. 

Nothing is official but all signs point toward the Multiverse Saga saying goodbye to the Fox era of the X-Men and Phase 7 rebuilding one of the biggest comic book IPs of all time under the Marvel Studios banner. 

This will be fans' first chance to see a true Marvel Universe brought to life on the big screen with Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and every other red brand name fully accessible. 

Marvel Studios has officially hired its first writer for their X-Men movie, that being the Hunger Games Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes scribe Michael Lesslie. Upon Lesslie's hiring, it was stated that the X-Men movie is still in early development with no actors officially attached to the project as of May 2024.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the largest and most successful tapestry of stories ever assembled on the big screen. Phases Four and Five have had extreme highs and sustained lows, which could be cause for concern from the Marvel faithful. 

But if you read between the lines, nature is healing. Marvel Studios is not only taking their time on the most important upcoming MCU projects, but they are rebuilding anything that does not fit the standard. They are not only slowing down the output of movies and shows. They are taking an entire calendar year to focus on one Avengers-level project and two low-stakes/high-reward Disney+ series. 

Deadpool & Wolverine is the cornerstone of what the Multiverse Saga will be. Until then, anything and everything is possible in the best and worst ways. July cannot come soon enough. 

- About The Author: Matt Roembke