While movies would seem like a straightforward fair, where you would just watch one movie and then watch its sequel, the reality has become a lot more complicated. Starting with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, and even to a degree before then, movie franchises have been utilizing a cinematic universe approach, where multiple movie series tie together to tell a cohesive story while still working as movies on their own.

With some of these universes as massive as they are, a good starting point and watch order isn't always simple to find. I'm here to try and determine to perfect watch order for the best viewing experience, prioritizing story and cohesive flow over chronological order or release order.

Watch Orders

From 2013 to 2020, DC released a series of animated movies centering on the Justice League and the impending threat of Darkseid. While not every film works towards this goal, many of these films feature similar characters and power scales that make them all feel coherent. Minor spoilers for the DCAMU below.

Starting in 2013, DC tapped director Zack Snyder to create an extended universe of films to rival the MCU. Instead of getting tighter as they go on, however, the continuity becomes more and more loose, featuring references to previous films instead of direct connections. Snyder would direct the three main films - Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League - which form a tight trilogy. There is also a connected Wonder Woman duology and a group of films and series based around the Suicide Squad. Minor spoilers for the DCEU.

In 2001, Universal Pictures released The Fast and the Furious, a down-to-earth street racing film directed by Rob Cohen and starring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. As the series went on, it would transform into a high-octane spy/crime action series with wild stunts and even wilder plots. Along the way, it would garner a fantastic spin-off movie and a black sheep child that nevertheless fits into the main story, just not where it was released. So here it is, the complete watch order to the long-running Fast and Furious franchise.

Toho released their first Godzilla film in 9 years with 1984's Return of Godzilla, which ignored the continuity of every previous film except for the first, essentially acting as a reboot and setting the stage for a new set of stories. These seven films, released primarily during the Heisei period of Japan, work well enough as solo films, but combine to tell a larger, grander story about the life and death of Godzilla.

Between 2014 and 2021, Legendary Pictures released a standalone series of Godzilla and King Kong films that culminated with Godzilla vs Kong. These movies ignore all previous Godzilla and King Kong films to create their own self-contained continuity. This watch order focuses on the films and ignores the supplementary material to create a streamlined experience, and is also conveniently in release order. Mild spoilers for the Monsterverse.

Toho released their anti-nuclear war film Godzilla in 1954, starting a long-running franchise. Godzilla has had multiple separate continuites since his introduction, so this watch order will be focused on his films released during the Showa Era of Japan. These films morph from a reflection on nuclear war into a cheesy heroic comedy and feature a loose, largely unimportant continuity. There are also other films released by Toho during this era that could fit into the timeline, but this watch order will focus on the films featuring Godzilla. Minor spoilers for Godzilla films from 1954 to 1975.

Peter Jackson directed a series of six movies based on JRR Tolkien's novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, set in Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings films were made first, released between 2001 and 2003, while The Hobbit films were released between 2012 and 2014. This watch order prioritizes coherence and continuity over release order.

Starting in 2008, Marvel Studios released a series of connected films known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While you could treat these as a set of films, I see them as more like a TV series, where you need to watch the previous episodes if you want to understand the current ones. The most connected and powerful story here is the Infinity Saga, released across 22 films from 2008 to 2019, culminating with Avengers: Endgame. While the MCU continued beyond this point, it is far less connected and story-driven, so this watch order will focus solely on the Infinity Saga. Minor spoilers for the Infinity Saga.

Based on a novel by Pierre Boulle and adapted by Arthur P Jacobs, The Planet of the Apes sees astronaut Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, land on a planet run by intelligent apes. From there, four sequels were filmed, exploring the future and past of the planet. Each film mostly gets a new cast and crew, with only some carryover between films. What this means is that each film is pretty different, but they are tied together by their themes and overarching exploration of the Planet of Apes.

George Lucas created the original Star Wars trilogy in 1977, creating an immensely popular world starring the young Luke Skywalker and the evil Darth Vader. Since then, the original trilogy has been expanded upon by Lucas himself with a prequel trilogy, and by Disney with a sequel trilogy and two stand-alone films. This watch order prioritizes the nine main movies, focusing on the Skywalkers Luke and Anakin and their affects on the universe around them. The more expansive TV shows and comics are left out to streamline the story.

From 2000 to 2020, 20th Century Fox released 13 films based on the X-Men, all connected in an extended universe. However, considering that the universe contains two timelines and a number of spin-offs, it can be hard to figure out what goes where. Fortunately, the films generally contain a streamlined narrative when you look at the details, so everything should make sense, even across timelines. Mild spoilers for Fox's X-Men film franchise.