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The Entire Avengers Timeline Explained

While crossovers between film franchises had existed in various forms before Nick Fury appeared at the end of 2008's "Iron Man" to set up "The Avengers," nothing had ever been attempted at such a scale as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The brainchild of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, it was an extraordinarily risky move that worked better than anyone could've dreamed. There have been numerous instances of heroes meeting each other across the ever-growing MCU, but the "Avengers" films — 2012's "The Avengers," 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron," 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War," and 2019's "Avengers: Endgame" — are the ones that really pushed the crossover concept to new heights, with each installment upping the ante in terms of spectacle and character cameos.

As a result of all these moving parts, and because the "Avengers" films typically build off of and reference previous installments, it can be a daunting task to keep track of the various storylines and characters in each movie. Here's a handy guide to the entire Avengers timeline in the MCU.

Loki arrives on Earth

"The Avengers" opens with Loki, having survived falling into the cosmic abyss in "Thor," making a deal with The Other to lead his unseen master's Chitauri army to conquer Earth. In exchange, the mysterious aliens want Loki to obtain the Tesseract for them. The Other bestows Loki with a scepter containing a powerful gem (later revealed to contain the Mind Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones).

Meanwhile, at a SHIELD research facility on Earth, Dr. Erik Selvig has been studying the Tesseract, which has been showing unexpected signs of increased activity, drawing the concerned attention of SHIELD director Nick Fury. When the Tesseract suddenly produces a portal across space, Loki steps out of it, killing several SHIELD agents and taking over the minds of Selvig and Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) using the scepter. They escape together and leave the facility in ruins, prompting Fury to re-consider a previously discarded idea: the Avengers Initiative.

Some assembly required

Following Loki's arrival, Nick Fury and his remaining inner circle immediately begin the process of gathering the would-be Avengers. After rudely interrupting her interrogation, Agent Phil Coulson sends Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) to find Bruce Banner, who's been hiding in Kolkata, India, after the events of 2008's "The Incredible Hulk." Coulson himself, meanwhile, heads to New York City to recruit Tony Stark, who is in the midst of finishing up Stark Tower. As for Fury, he meets with the recently unfrozen Steve Rogers, who's still getting used to life in the 21st century.

After their arrival on SHIELD's Helicarrier, Banner begins using his expertise in gamma radiation to try and locate the missing Tesseract while Rogers is sent to Stuttgart, Germany, where Loki and his brainwashed team have gone to steal iridium — a rare element which will allow them to stabilize the power of the Tesseract. Rogers, donning his old uniform and becoming Captain America once again, is able to take down Loki (with an assist from Stark, who makes a dramatic entrance as Iron Man) and take him into SHIELD custody. However, the Asgardian demigod Thor intercepts them, flying off with Loki (his adopted brother) and intending to take him back to Asgard. This leads to a fight between Thor and Iron Man that's eventually ended by Captain America. The three heroes form an uneasy alliance to ensure Loki is punished for his crimes and to find the Tesseract — its whereabouts are still unknown.

The Helicarrier is attacked

On the Helicarrier, Loki is confined to a large mechanical cage that was built to contain the Hulk (and to drop him out of the sky if necessary). Meanwhile, as Banner and Stark study Loki's scepter and continue their search for the Tesseract, Rogers becomes annoyed with Stark's paranoia about what SHIELD's real plans might be. While Rogers remains outwardly loyal to the mission, his suspicions are aroused and he sneaks into the Helicarrier's storage areas to look for answers.

Romanoff interrogates Loki herself and appears to have been thoroughly shaken by his monstrosity — until it's revealed that she was simply tricking Loki into admitting that the Hulk is the key to his plan. She alerts the others, but Stark, Banner, Rogers, and Thor are all busy confronting Fury about SHIELD's intentions for the Tesseract (to create weapons to fend off superhuman threats) and arguing with one another.

Just then, a brainwashed Hawkeye and Loki's other soldiers arrive, damaging the Helicarrier and scrambling its crew. An agitated Banner turns into the Hulk against his will and dukes it out with Romanoff and Thor while Captain America and Iron Man focus their efforts on repairing the Helicarrier's blown turbine. They succeed, and Romanoff is able to free Hawkeye from Loki's control, but Hulk ends up thrown from the ship, and Loki traps Thor in the cage and sends him plummeting to earth in a near-fatal fall before killing Agent Coulson and making his escape with the scepter.

Battle of New York

SHIELD and the Avengers have been left in a state of disarray, but Fury motivates the team to come together by reminding them of Agent Coulson's belief in heroes. With Hawkeye recovering from Loki's mind control, the God of Mischief has yet another enemy looking to settle the score with him. Stark deduces that Loki will be enacting his plan from his own Stark Tower and heads straight there, warning Loki that the Avengers won't let him win, no matter the result of the upcoming battle.

With the help of Erik Selvig, Loki opens the portal and welcomes the Chitauri army to begin the invasion of Earth. Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow jump into the fray alongside Iron Man and are soon joined by Thor and, at the last minute, Banner, who willingly turns into the Hulk just in time to take on the first wave of Chitauri soldiers. With Rogers directing their efforts, the newly-formed Avengers begin an epic fight for the future of their planet.

During the battle, Selvig is freed from Loki's control and helps Black Widow close the portal — but not before Iron Man sends a nuke through it, destroying the Chitauri ship and killing the remaining Chitauri soldiers as a result. With the alien army defeated and Loki captured, the Avengers go their separate ways, with Fury promising that they'll return when needed. Meanwhile, the individual behind the invasion is revealed to have a purple face with a distinctive chin...

The Avengers attack Hydra's base

There are four MCU films between the first and second "Avengers" movies, but the most significant change to the status quo during that time is the reveal that HYDRA has remained active since World War II, a sleeper organization within SHIELD. "Avengers: Age of Ultron" opens with the team re-assembled to take down a HYDRA base in Sokovia, where Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and his scientists have been using Loki's scepter to experiment on human beings. The two surviving subjects, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, join the fight, with the super-fast Pietro taking on Hawkeye and causing him to be injured. HYDRA is ultimately bested by the Avengers and Strucker is apprehended, but Wanda, unseen, uses her powers to induce an apocalyptic vision Tony Stark's mind before allowing him to take the scepter and escaping the base with her brother.

Once back at Avengers Tower, the wounded Hawkeye is tended to by Dr. Helen Cho using her synthetic tissue procedure. Meanwhile, Stark and Bruce Banner analyze the scepter and discover that it operates in a manner similar to that of a mind ,but far more advanced. At Stark's urging, they decide to use the scepter as part of an abandoned peacekeeping project known as Ultron, spending the next three days downloading a data schematic of the scepter behind the rest of the team's back. This makes Banner uneasy, but he reluctantly agrees to help Stark, who believes that Ultron will help keep the planet safe.

Ultron is born

While the Avengers have a party to celebrate their recent victory against HYDRA, the Ultron program gains sentience. JARVIS, Tony's artificial intelligence assistant, attempts to guide Ultron through the confusion of his newborn consciousness. However, as Ultron is bombarded with images of violence and war — along with Stark's desire to protect the Earth — he concludes that the only way to create peace is to destroy humanity. JARVIS tries to stop Ultron, but is seemingly taken over by him and destroyed.

As the Avengers have a friendly challenge to see if anyone else is worthy enough to wield Thor's hammer (Thor himself is the only one who sees Steve Rogers budge it slightly), a broken Stark Iron Legion droid, now controlled by Ultron, interrupts their fun and announces his plans for their eradication. Ultron then commands several other Iron Legion droids to attack the Avengers, who manage to beat them in an explosive fight — but not before Ultron escapes with Loki's scepter.

In the aftermath of the battle, the Avengers confront Stark about his decision to create Ultron without consulting them first. Stark admits that his work was designed to end the team by making them obsolete, allowing the peacekeeping program to take over their roles. Meanwhile, Ultron arrives at the old HYDRA base in Sokovia where he begins building an army of duplicate drones. It's also in Sokovia that he recruits the Maximoff twins, who agree to help him due to their grudge against Stark.

Vision is born

Ultron and the Maximoff twins travel to South Africa to meet with black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue about obtaining the incredibly rare and valuable metal called vibranium. Naturally, they're interrupted by the Avengers, but Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Bruce Banner all fall prey to Wanda's hallucinations. Banner turns into the Hulk and rampages through Johannesburg, eventually being incapacitated by Iron Man in a suit of armor specially designed for just such an occasion. Once again, the Avengers are defeated and Ultron gets away, so Hawkeye takes them to his secret homestead to regroup.

Ultron then heads to Seoul, South Korea to kidnap Dr. Helen Cho and use her work in synthetic tissue to build himself a new body, into which he begins uploading his consciousness. However, the Avengers manage to stop him before he can finish the process — and they get help from the Maximoffs, who have turned against Ultron after learning of his plan to eradicate humanity.

Now that the synthetic humanoid body is in the Avengers' possession, Stark reveals that JARVIS survived Ultron's initial attack and decides to upload him into the body. With a final bolt of lightning courtesy of Thor, Vision is born, and the android agrees to help the Avengers stop Ultron. Vision also reveals that the gem in his forehead — which came from Loki's scepter — is an Infinity Stone, and proves his worth by lifting Thor's hammer.

The Battle of Sokovia

The Avengers, along with Vision and the Maximoff twins, arrive in Sokovia and begin to evacuate its civilians. While there, they discover that Ultron's plan is to use antigravity technology to lift a large chunk of Sokovia into the sky and to drop it like a meteor, causing mankind's extinction à la the dinosaurs.

The rise of the Sokovian land mass interrupts the Avengers' evacuation plans, but they're given a surprise assist when Nick Fury arrives with a Helicarrier — and War Machine. As the evacuation continues, an Ultron drone steals a quinjet and begins firing on the Avengers, killing Pietro in the process. A grieving and vengeful Wanda is distracted long enough for another Ultron drone to deactivate the machine keeping Sokovia in the sky, sending it plummeting to earth, but Iron Man and Thor manage to cause an explosion that turns the land mass into rubble before it hits. In the aftermath, the Hulk disappears, flying away in a cloaked quinjet, while Vision confronts the last remaining drone and rejects Ultron's pessimism of the human race before destroying him.

A new Avengers base is established, as well as a new team featuring Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Vision, War Machine, and Falcon. Tony Stark leaves the Avengers, Clint Barton returns to his family on the homestead, and Thor leaves Earth to find out more about the Infinity Stones. Unbeknownst to any of them, however, Thanos plans to continue his search for the Infinity Stones himself.

Thanos kills Loki and sets sights on Earth

A lot happens in the MCU between the second and third "Avengers" films — the team snaps in half over the Sokovia Accords, new heroes like Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange arrive on the scene, and Asgard is destroyed. In "Avengers: Infinity War," the ship carrying the Asgardian refugees (including Thor, Loki, Heimdall, and the Hulk) is attacked by Thanos and his army. Thor and Heimdall are incapacitated as Loki is forced to relinquish the Tesseract, which contains the Space Stone, to Thanos. Loki's last-ditch effort to kill Thanos fails, and he himself is killed by the Mad Titan before Thor's eyes. However, Heimdall summons just enough magic to teleport the Hulk to Earth before the Asgardian ship is destroyed.

The Hulk lands in Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, reverts to Bruce Banner, and warns Strange that Thanos is coming. Banner also reunites with Tony Stark and reveals Thanos' goal: collecting the six Infinity Stones (one of which is in Strange's possession) and using them to kill half of all living things in the universe. However, their discussion is interrupted by the arrival of Thanos henchmen Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian. Banner finds himself unable to change into the Hulk, but Spider-Man arrives to help in the ensuing battle. He and Iron Man fend off Obsidian, but Ebony Maw absconds with Strange (and the Time Stone) in his ship. Iron Man and Spider-Man manage to sneak aboard and kill Ebony Maw, and Strange suggest returning to Earth to regroup, but Stark persuades them to take the fight to Thanos.

The Avengers meet the Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians of the Galaxy haven't really interacted with the rest of the MCU in their two prior movies, but when they answer a distress signal in "Infinity War," they find only the remnants of the Asgardian ship — and Thor, who tells them of Thanos' quest. Rocket Raccoon and Groot agree to escort Thor to the planet Nidavellir so that he can get a new weapon made (Mjolnir was destroyed by Hela in "Thor: Ragnarok"), while Star-Lord leads Drax, Mantis, and Gamora to Knowhere, the location of the Reality Stone.

However, when Star-Lord's team arrives at Knowhere, they're met by Thanos, who has arrived first and taken the Reality Stone. Thanos quickly incapacitates Mantis and Drax and leaves with Gamora, his adopted daughter. The two estranged family members have a tense conversation, with Thanos revealing that his goal is to establish perfect balance in the universe. He then takes her to Vormir to obtain the Soul Stone, which Thanos can only acquire if he sacrifices something he loves: Gamora herself.

Meanwhile, Strange, Stark, and Spider-Man land Ebony Maw's ship on Titan, Thanos' homeworld, where they encounter Star-Lord, Drax, and Mantis, as well as Thanos' other adopted daughter, Nebula. The two teams form an uneasy alliance and plan a sneak attack for when Thanos arrives. However, when Strange looks into the millions of possible future outcomes of the upcoming battle, he learns that there is only one in which they win.

The Battle of Wakanda

Back on Earth, Wanda Maximoff and Vision are spending some romantic time together when they're ambushed by two more of Thanos' Black Order — Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive — who are hunting the Mind Stone in Vision's head. However, the two Avengers are assisted by Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow, and manage to send Thanos' underlings into retreat. Unfortunately, Vision is severely damaged in the fight, and Captain America's group of outlaws heads to the Avengers Compound, where they reunite with their old teammates, Bruce Banner and War Machine. Together, they decide to take Vision to the advanced African nation of Wakanda, as their technology may be enough to save him.

Once in Wakanda, Steve Rogers has his own personal reunion with old friend Bucky Barnes, who was being kept in Wakanda to rehabilitate his mind. They all meet with Black Panther's scientist sister, Shuri, who assures them that it's possible to remove the Mind Stone from Vision's head, but that it will require some time.

Their time frame, however, is drastically cut short when Proxima Midnight and Cull Obsidian arrive with a massive army and stage a large-scale attack on Wakanda. The Avengers are ready, and they have the help of the Black Panther, the Dora Milaje, the Wakandan Royal Guard, the Border Tribe, M'Baku's Jabari Tribe, and a still Hulk-less Banner wearing Stark's "Hulkbuster" armor, but Thanos' forces eventually begin to overpower them, pushing closer to Vision and the Mind Stone.

The Battle of Titan

When Thanos returns to Titan, he's met by Doctor Strange; Thanos explains to the sorcerer that Titan's collapse was the result of overpopulation, and that when he suggested killing half its population at random, he was called a madman and ostracized. And yet, that's the fate he still has in store for the universe, which he believes will be saved via loss of half its inhabitants. Once Thanos' work is done, he states, he will rest and smile upon a universe that can finally thrive.

Strange, along with the combined forces of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, attack Thanos and manage to restrain his limbs, allowing Mantis to mentally weaken him long enough to pry the Infinity Gauntlet from his hand. Just when they're about to achieve their goal, however, Star-Lord realizes that Thanos has killed Gamora, with whom Star-Lord had been romantically involved. Grief-stricken and enraged, he attacks Thanos, disrupting the group's hold on him and giving Thanos the upper hand in the battle.

After the plan to remove the gauntlet fails, Thanos easily resists the Avengers' and Guardians' assault on him and stabs Iron Man with a piece of his own suit. In an uncharacteristic move, Doctor Strange agrees to give Thanos the Time Stone in return for Stark's life. With five Infinity Stones in his possession, Thanos teleports away to obtain the sixth and final Infinity Stone on Earth.

The Snap

Thor appears in Wakanda with his new weapon, Stormbreaker, along with Groot and Rocket, and helps the Avengers and Wakandan armies even the score with the Black Order. But before they can celebrate, Thanos himself arrives in Wakanda. The Avengers are joined by Okoye, T'Challa, and Groot to protect the Vision and the Mind Stone at all costs, but Thanos, is too powerful for them and easily shrugs off their attacks.

Before Thanos can retrieve the Mind Stone from Vision's head, Scarlet Witch destroys it, killing him in the process, much to her sorrow. However, Thanos uses the Time Stone to reverse her actions and rip the Mind Stone from Vision's head himself, forcing Scarlet Witch to watch the death of her lover twice. As Thanos is about to snap his fingers, Stormbreaker slams into his chest — a fatal blow from Thor, who had sworn to avenge his brother, Loki. Unfortunately, as Thanos tells Thor, he should have aimed for the head. The Mad Titan snaps his fingers, bringing his plan to fruition, and teleports away.

In Wakanda, Titan, and all across the universe, half of all living things turn to dust. Before Doctor Strange disappears, he tells Stark that this was the only way.

Thanos sits down in his rustic home on an unnamed planet and smiles. Meanwhile, on Earth, Nick Fury and Maria Hill witness the devastation caused by the Snap. Hill disintegrates, but just before Fury joins her, he sends out a mysterious signal.

The Avengers kill Thanos

"Avengers: Endgame" opens with Clint Barton, who had retired from the Avengers to live with his family on their farm, watching his family turn to dust after the Snap. Meanwhile, Tony Stark and Nebula, the only two surviving heroes from the battle on Titan, are floating adrift in space with no chance of rescue. That is, until Captain Marvel — the MCU's latest hero, introduced via her own film only a month earlier — stumbles upon them, having responded to Fury's call.

On Earth, as the surviving Avengers and Guardians search for the missing Thanos, Captain Marvel shows up with Nebula and Stark, who reunites with Pepper Potts and his fellow Avengers. Sometime later, Stark blames their defeat on Steve Rogers, then passes out, still weak from spending so much time floating in space.

Nebula believes she knows where Thanos may have gone and joins Captain America, Captain Marvel, Thor, Black Widow, Bruce Banner, War Machine, and Rocket Raccoon as they travel to a distant planet and find Thanos alone, living a simple life. The team manage to restrain him and Thor chops off the hand with the Infinity Gauntlet on it. However, they discover that it no longer holds the Infinity Stones themselves. Thanos reveals that he used their power to destroy them, erasing any chance of someone reversing his plan. Enraged, Thor decapitates the Mad Titan, but the Avengers' victory is hollow.

Five years later

Five years after the Snap, Earth's Mightiest Heroes, as well as the rest of the surviving population, are still struggling with their new way of life. The remnants of the Avengers have continued carrying out missions, and Steve Rogers is leading a support group for survivors. James Rhodes informs Natasha Romanoff of the recent massacre of a cartel in Mexico that he believes was carried out by Barton, who has gone on a rampage since his family was killed by Thanos.

But no one is more shocked at the state of things than Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, who was trapped in the Quantum Realm during the Snap as seen at the end of "Ant-Man and the Wasp". After returning from the Quantum Realm after what, to him, seemed like mere hours, Lang discovers a completely different world than the one he left. He also discovers that he's been presumed dead and rushes home to reunite with his daughter, now five years older.

Lang goes to Avengers Compound and tells them about his experience in the Quantum Realm and its time-bending properties, which he believes they can exploit to go back in time and fix the damage caused by Thanos. The team sets out to recruit the help of their former Avengers: Thor, whose depression has left him washed up and out of shape in Norway; Clint Barton, who's killing criminals as Ronin; and Tony Stark, who's living a quiet life with Pepper Potts and their daughter, Morgan.

Time heist

After luring back Stark, tracking down Barton, and dragging Thor into action — and securing the help of Bruce Banner, now permanently combined with his Hulk persona — the reconstituted Avengers manage to construct a time machine using Scott Lang's quantum technology, with the intent of going back in time to retrieve the Infinity Stones before Thanos gets hold of them and use them to bring back everyone who was killed by the Snap, a quest that takes them across the length and breadth of MCU history.

Hulk, Captain America, Ant-Man, and Iron Man go to the Battle of New York in 2012. Hulk convinces the Ancient One to give up the Time Stone and Cap retrieves the Mind Stone from HYDRA agents parading as SHIELD agents, but Iron Man and Ant-Man's attempts to get the Space Stone go awry (resulting in Loki's escape). Desperate, Captain America and Iron Man time travel again, retrieving the Space Stone from 1970.

Meanwhile, Rocket and Thor go to Asgard in 2013 to obtain the Reality Stone while Nebula and War Machine go to Morag in 2014 to get the Power Stone. While these missions are successful, Nebula's cybernetics sync up with those of the 2014 Nebula, alerting that era's Thanos of the Avengers' mission and allowing him to track their signal. And on Vormir, Barton and Romanoff argue over who should sacrifice themselves to get the Soul Stone, with Natasha ultimately committing the selfless act and leaving Barton alone with the Stone.

Final battle with Thanos

Once all of the Avengers — save the widely-mourned Black Widow — return to their proper time with the six Infinity Stones, they're placed in a gauntlet crafted by Tony Stark. Hulk points out that he's the only one who could possibly survive the act of using it, as his body is resistant to the radiation emitted from the Stones. And so, he puts the gauntlet on, snaps his fingers, and brings back everyone who was disintegrated by Thanos.

However, at that moment, 2014 Thanos and his forces arrive at the Avengers Compound and rain fire on it, destroy it completely. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America face off against Thanos, but he takes them down with ease. Captain America proves worthy to wield Mjolnir and gets in a few good licks against the Mad Titan, but is nonetheless defeated. Despite a victorious Thanos directing his army to fetch the Infinity Stones and ravage the planet, the battered Avengers refuse to give up.

Luckily, help arrives with their restored friends, including Doctor Strange and other sorcerers, Black Panther and the Wakandan armies, Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and more. A massive battle ensues as the Avengers fight to keep their gauntlet and the Infinity Stones away from Thanos. Captain Marvel arrives on the scene and does considerable damage to Thanos' warships, but despite the combined might of the Avengers, Thanos is still able to get a hold of the gauntlet and snap his fingers once again...

Tony Stark's sacrifice

...and nothing happens.

Iron Man, after previously tussling with Thanos, had stolen the Infinity Stones with nanotechnology and embedded them into his armor. He makes one final declaration — "I am Iron Man" — as the Infinity Stones' immense power courses through his body, then snaps his fingers. In moments, Thanos' army disintegrates into dust all around him, and it isn't long before Thanos himself joins them, no longer inevitable. But even the Hulk was barely able to survive the Infinity Stones, and they're too much for Tony Stark, who dies with Pepper Potts and Peter Parker by his side, leaving the Avengers victorious, but at great cost.

After Stark's funeral, Thor abdicates his position of leader of New Asgard and gives it to his Asgardian comrade, Valkyrie, then joins the Guardians of the Galaxy as they leave Earth. Steve Rogers uses the time machine to return the Infinity Stones to their original timelines, as directed by the Ancient One, but doesn't immediately return as he should have. Looking around to see what's gone wrong, Sam Wilson spots an elderly man who is revealed to be Rogers. The time travel technology allowed the history-displaced Captain America to finally return to his own time, reuniting with old flame Peggy Carter and spending the rest of his life with her, opting to get back to the future the old-fashioned way. Rogers then gives Sam his shield, implying that he wants him to take over as the next Captain America.