Note: While this article discusses events of Spider-Man: Homecoming, it is only referencing events in the first 10-15 minutes of that film.

I’ve been a pretty diehard fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since its inception with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk back in 2008. As a diehard fan, one of the things that I’ve always tried to have a grip on is the continuity between the films. Recently, however, my nerdy obsession has been hitting a bit of a snag: the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline has some bizarre errors in it now. Sure, some fans have pointed out how a trophy in Doctor Strange has the wrong year, or how Stan Lee’s cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. doesn’t quite make sense. But these are relatively minor errors that can be ignored. These are props, little winks to the audience, but not big stuff.

What I’m concerned about are title cards and dialogue, specifically a line by Vision in Captain America: Civil War and a title card in Spider-Man: Homecoming. But before we can discuss this, we all need to come to an agreement on what the timeline was prior to these films.

To do this is relatively simple. Disregard the TV shows, disregard the dates that might appear on news programs or promotional websites, and look at what is stated within the films themselves. The reason I ignore the graphics presented in the films is that they can be wildly inconsistent with one another, and there are more important clues within the stories themselves. For example, many people place Iron Man in the year of its release because of a specific scene featuring the television program Mad Money, just after Stark has decided that his company will no longer manufacture weapons.

There in the top right corner, you can see the date clearly listed as May 4, 2008. However, later in the film when Pepper stumbles upon Obadiah’s secret project, you can see that a revision to his armor plans is dated 05/02/08.

This doesn’t make sense at all. How can Obadiah be on a revision to his armor prior to him even getting the idea (remember, he doesn’t learn about Tony’s invention until after Tony has his conference).

So we do want to take the dates provided by these types of graphics with a grain of salt. They appear for only a few brief seconds (sometimes even less) and are thus more prone to errors and being retconned by later films.

The first time we ever actually get a date presented as factual within the films is in Iron Man 3, where the film opens explicitly on December 31, 1999 before jumping to the present day. Throughout the film, multiple characters refer to the events of December 31, 1999 as being thirteen years ago, placing the events of Iron Man 3 in December of 2012. This makes a bit of logical sense – Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD due to the earlier events in The Avengers. While we don’t actually have a specific date for when that film takes place, it seems to fall nicely into place as occurring near or around its release date of May 4, 2012.

From there, the events of the earlier films (disregarding the period piece of Captain America: The First Avenger) is fairly simple. In The Avengers, Nick Fury remarks, “Last year, Earth had a visitor from another planet who had a grudge match that leveled a small town,” clearly referencing the events of Thor. And we know that Thor and Iron Man 2 overlap because Agent Coulson leaves Tony Stark to head to New Mexico due to the crash landing of Thor’s hammer. We also know thanks to the news monitors during Iron Man 2 that Hulk’s rampage on a college campus happens during this time as well, setting The Incredible Hulk at about the same time. Finally, we know all this happens around May of whatever year because that’s when the Monaco Grand Prix (which features in Iron Man 2) takes place (assuming, of course, that the Monaco Grand Prix takes place at the same time in the MCU that it does in the real world).

So far our timeline looks something like this:

  • 2011 (Summer)Iron Man 2ThorThe Incredible Hulk
  • 2012 (Summer)The Avengers
  • 2012 (December): Iron Man 3

But here’s the kicker, and where I think Marvel has begun their error. If the above timeline is correct, then Iron Man (which ends six months prior to the beginning of Iron Man 2 according to the sequel) takes place in 2010 at the earliest. This is a change, but it hadn’t been an issue until recently.

Following Iron Man 3, Marvel began adopting the policy that the films would take place at about the same time as their release date, and this worked pretty well in terms of the way the characters had grown. For example, Black Widow and Captain America seem to have a strong working relationship in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which makes sense if they’ve been working together within S.H.I.E.L.D. for nearly two years after the events of The AvengersAvengers: Age of Ultron starts with the team working in perfect unison – something to be expected of a team that’s been taking down HYDRA bases for almost a year.

Even Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 got all of its title cards right, matching up perfectly to the idea that both it and its predecessor take place just a few months apart in 2014.

And so the timeline should look like this.

  • 2010Iron Man
  • 2011 (summer)Iron Man 2ThorThe Incredible Hulk
  • 2012 (Summer)The Avengers
  • 2012 (December)Iron Man 3
  • 2013 (Fall/Winter)Thor: The Dark World
  • 2014 (Spring)Captain: America The Winter Soldier
  • 2014 (undetermined)Guardians of the GalaxyGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • 2015 (Spring)Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • 2015 (Summer)Ant-Man

Going off of this pattern, one would assume Captain America: Civil War would take place around its release date in May of 2016. However, Vision explicitly states in that film, “In the eight years since Mr. Stark announced himself as Iron Man, the number of known enhanced persons has grown exponentially…” There are a couple ways this statement could be correct:

  1. Vision is simply rounding up (though why you’d round to eight from six, I’ll never know).
  2. The Avengers (and thus other Phase 1 films) take place earlier in the timeline. I’m not a fan of this theory, as Iron Man 3 seems to take place close to the aftermath of The Avengers, not years after the fact, but it remains a possibility.
  3. Captain America: Civil War takes place in the future.

I used to believe option 3, as I thought it fit well with what Marvel was planning. Namely that they want to keep Spider-Man in high school for a bit. That only works if the timeline gap between Spider-Man: Homecoming and its sequel is condensed from the real-world production time. Setting Captain America: Civil War in the future (specifically in 2018, eight years after “I am Iron Man”) also conveniently helps the prop flub in Doctor Strange as Stephen Strange can now be injured in 2016 and return as sorcerer in late 2018. So our hypothetical timeline would look something like this:

  • 2010Iron Man
  • 2011: Iron Man 2, Thor, The Incredible Hulk
  • 2012 (Summer)The Avengers
  • 2012 (December)Iron Man 3
  • 2013 (Fall/Winter)Thor: The Dark World
  • 2014 (undetermined): Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • 2016* (Spring)Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • 2017*Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man
  • 2018 (Summer): Captain America: Civil War
  • 2018 (Fall): Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • 2018 (Winter) Doctor Strange
  • 2019 (hypothetical): Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers 4, with Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 taking place Peter’s Junior year in High School after all these films (Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal have explicitly stated that the Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel opens minutes after Avengers 4)

(*moved ahead on the timeline as Captain America: Civil War seems to take place fairly close to Avengers: Age of Ultron, maybe only a year apart, and the same for that film and Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

It isn’t perfect, but that’s the rough timeline that we seem to be dealing with.

But then Spider-Man: Homecoming makes a mistake, and it’s not even a line of dialogue this time, it’s title cards (minor spoilers from the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie from here on out).

The film opens in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of New York in The Avengers. Stark tower is still a mess, that chitauri whale-ship that Hulk and Thor tag-teamed is still in Grand Central Station, and Adrian Toomes and his company are contracted to remove it. The film then flashes to the modern day with a title card stating “8 Years Later. ” Which would put us in 2020. However, even if you want to go back and say that maybe there is a larger gap between The Avengers and Iron Man 3 than previously thought, Homecoming then flashes a title card showing that two months have passed since Spider-Man’s involvement in Civil War (and the film is clearly set as the school year begins immediately following that film).

The “8 years” title card should either state 4 years (from Civil War‘s 2016 release to The Avengers, set in 2012) if we’re assuming Vision made a mistake in Civil War, or 6 years (if Civil War was set in the future 2018) if he didn’t. There’s no way for both eight year references can be correct, as they’re referring to different events that take place only a year and a half apart (Tony announcing in 2010 and The Avengers in summer 2012). If Homecoming‘s 8 years is accurate, and it takes place in the even further future of 2020, then Vision’s statement in Civil War makes even less sense.

The big questions, of course, are: does this affects anything beyond my obsession, and is it possible to make the timeline work?

Not exactly. Once again, avoiding spoilers, there’s definitely evidence involving a child’s drawing in Spider-Man: Homecoming that would point to an eight year gap between The Avengers and Homecoming. And there would need to be about a nine year gap to make the kid in Iron Man 2 a young Peter Parker.

So how do we make the timeline work?

We look at where the timeline is flexible. While both Vision and Spider-Man: Homecoming both state 8 years have passed since crucial events, a poster on Reddit posited that they may both be rounding (in opposite directions) and came up with a timeline that actually works pretty well, which I’ve posted below (and added my own notes):

  • 2008Iron Man (with the “I am Iron Man” scene taking place in either late October or Early November).
  • 2009Iron Man 2ThorThe Incredible Hulk (for those curious about the order of these films, The Incredible Hulk starts before Iron Man 2 and ends after it (pay attention to the “days until Stark Expo” graphics in Iron Man 2 and cross-reference them with “Days without incident” in The Incredible Hulk), while Thor begins and ends during the scenes making up Iron Man 2′s third act and finale.
    • 2010The Avengers 
    • 2012 (December)Iron Man 3
    • 2013Thor: The Dark World
    • 2014Captain America: The Winter SoldierGuardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
    • 2015 Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man (for the sake of maintaining Falcon’s line in Civil War, let’s say that he and Cap really begin looking for Bucky as the hunt for rogue HYDRA bases is winding down between Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron)
    • 2016Doctor Strange – technically, this could take place a bit later or over a longer period of time as it isn’t really tied down, with the exception of Avengers Tower existing. (Also, for the record, it isn’t a flub that Stephen Strange is name-dropped by Jasper Sitwell in Winter Soldier as being on HYDRA’s list. The list included “potential” threats, and a surgeon of Strange’s renown would have significant political influence, Sorcerer Supreme or not).
    • 2017 (July): Captain America: Civil War –  this would make it a little over 8 and a half years after Tony Stark announced himself as Iron Man
    • 2017 (September)Spider-Man: Homecoming – Depending on how early you push it into 2010, you can maybe squeeze 7.5 years to round up to get 8 years after The Avengers.

    This would theoretically give Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther some breathing room before Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4 roll out. I’m not exactly fond of it for a couple reasons (the main one being that I think that Iron Man 3 and The Avengers should be closer together, but also it means that Cap’s been unfrozen for ~4 years in Winter Soldier and he still hasn’t seen Star Wars), but ultimately it does work out. I do think, though, that this highlights that Marvel may not be quite as concerned with continuity on a micro-level as some fans might hope. *cough*me*cough*

    We’ll ultimately find out in a few years when Spider-Man: Prom Night or whatever they decide to call the sequel to Homecoming arrives and Peter enters his junior year. Until then, I’ll have to keep wondering, “When the F^%$ is this happening?”