The Timeline

So I spent the better part of an afternoon working on the timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Amazingly, almost everything fits on a relative scale and is pretty easy to figure out, but connecting it to an actual chronological date is a tougher lift. 

More or less, it looks like this, where variable X is the year in which Avengers takes place: 

(X – 1.5) Iron Man 

(X -1) Iron Man 2, Hulk, Thor 

{X-1 to X?} Doctor Strange – before Thor: Ragnarok, possibly before CA:CW?

(X) – Avengers –  Before Christmas 2012

[(2012) Iron Man 3 – after Avengers]

(X+1) Thor: The Dark World – after Avengers, before both CA:WS and GotG

(X+2) CA: Winter Soldier 

[(2014) Guardians of the Galaxy]
[(2014) Guardians of the Galaxy 2] 

(X+4?) Avengers: Age of Ultron – between CA:TWS and Ant-Man

(X+4.5?) Ant-Man – between AoU and CA:CW?

(X+6)  Thor:Ragnarok – 2 years after AoU (Hulk has been Hulk for two years)

(X+???) CA: Civil War (see below)
(X+8) Spider-Man: Homecoming –  3-6 months after CA:CW

(X+8)   Black Panther – after CA:CW


So here’s the thing: 

1) Despite when it came out, Doctor Strange has to take place fairly early on. For one thing, Stephen Strange is mentioned as a person of interest by Jasper Sitwell in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and one arrogant neurosurgeon with nothing else interesting about him probably wouldn’t rise to that level. For another, it defies logic that he could go from wrecking his car to Sorcerer Supreme in a year. My theory: the “powered armor accident” mentioned on speakerphone toward the beginning of the movie is the guy who wrenched himself (but survived!) in the video shown during the Congressional hearing in Iron Man 2.

2) Right now, we have at least a two year window between Ultron and Civil War. There are statements in the movie that make things very confusing – General Ross says “for four years you’ve had no supervision” which suggests four years since Winter Soldier (thus making it X+6), but Vision says “in the eight years since Mr. Stark revealed himself as Iron Man” which makes it X+6.5…but Spider-Man: Homecoming explicitly says it’s eight years since the Battle of New York, thus X+8, meaning that even with the most generous math Civil War can’t be less than X+7.75 or so.
3) The only hard dates we have are Iron Man 3, which takes place ~13 years after Y2K Eve (so Christmas 2012), and both Guardians of the Galaxy movies (which both take place in 2014 at separate times). Iron Man 3 has to happen after Avengers (so Avengers is definitely early 2012 or before), and Guardians of the Galaxy has to happen after Thor: The Dark World because of the Collector connection (so before 2014). 
Here’s my thinking: you can probably finesse Civil War as X+7. Vision is rounding down, Ross is rounding up, and the intro of Homecoming is just skipping ahead a bit. This makes things interesting because there’s at least a two-year and possibly three-year window between Ultron and Civil War, in which Ant-Man is able to do whatever he does but isn’t yet an Avenger and there’s no SHIELD investigating the weirdness in San Francisco (I mean, where would you start). You also need to allow for at least a year between Avengers and Iron Man 3, maybe more, because otherwise when does Tony have time to clandestinely manufacture 35 new suits of ever-increasing complexity? 
So that puts Avengers somewhere around summer 2011. Which means Fury’s Big Week (the meat of Phase 1) happens in 2010, which means Tony himself was first kidnapped and created Iron Man in 2009. If X = 2011, that means that Thor: The Dark World is roughly concurrent with Iron Man 3 and that Winter Soldier happens after Tony has “destroyed” all his suits. Age of Ultron happens in 2015, Civil War sometime in late 2017, and Spider Man: Homecoming and Black Panther in the fall of 2017. Which means we’re right on time for Avengers: Infinity War to take place as it comes out. That also lets Vision’s “eight years” statement work as well as Ross’s “four years without supervision” and kiiiiiiinda lets Homecoming still work if you round up to 8 years.  That was probably a botch on Kevin Feige’s part and should have been 7 years, but what can you do. It also suggests that the Guardians of the Galaxy have been a team for four years now, that the Avengers have only been dispersed for a year or less, and that we’re going to have some serious re-framing to do around Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Now, back to Doctor Strange. They mention the Avengers as a point of comparison when protecting the world from supernatural threats, so the Avengers are known by at least halfway through the picture. I’ll guess that Doctor Strange does start about six months before the Battle of New York and that the battle takes place while he’s in Tibet. Since most of the action is either indoors in the Sanctum Sanctorum, walled away in the Mirror Dimension, or else subject to rewind by the Eye of Agamotto, it’s plausible that it went unnoticed with all the shit that had just gone down in New York. Which means that Stephen Strange is a person of interest in time for SHIELD (and HYDRA) to have him on the radar during Winter Soldier, but also has enough time to really become the Sorcerer Supreme by the time Thor turns up looking for his father. And in between, the only thing that might have drawn his attention would be Sokovia, but there’s no reason he would have known in time to be of assistance and no reason he ever would have contemplated registering under the accords, because by his lights, he’s not a superhero, he’s just the watcher on the wall against mystical threat.
So there you go. I feel a lot better about having solved for X, because I am a gigantic fucking nerd and having an all-everything Marvel team-up movie is something I waited 30 years to see. Two weeks left.

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