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Earlier this week, more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe assembled in one place when the Netflix series featuring Marvel characters like Daredevil and Jessica Jones made their way to Disney+ (along with some new parental controls). The shows, along with Marvel's ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., can now be viewed alongside all the other MCU movies and series except for the Sony-owned Spider-Man movies and The Incredible Hulk due to a legal technicality.
But, are these newly added shows actually part of the MCU?
When they were originally airing, fans went nuts wondering if Daredevil and Co. would ever show up in a theatrical MCU film and wondering if these Marvel series actually had any bearing on the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now that they’re streaming on Disney+ — and now that Charlie Cox’s Daredevil and Vincent D'Onofrio’s Kingpin have appeared in official Marvel Studios releases — it’s got people wondering just how canon the Netflix shows are.
The short answer: Regardless of whether or not they technically are canon, the show really don’t matter. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher are functionally not canon in the MCU. Unless something changes.
To explain the root of all this, we need to go back in time to 2013, when Disney announced that it would be making live-action series featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. The plan was for the shows to stream on Netflix before culminating in an Avengers-like team-up miniseries called The Defenders. Those series, while promoted as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, were not created by Marvel Studios, the movie production studio headed by Kevin Feige. Instead, they were created by Marvel Television, a related but different studio headed by Jeph Loeb.
Whereas new Marvel shows like Hawkeye and WandaVision are created by Marvel Studios and feature talent from the movies, the Netflix shows — and series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hulu's Runaways, and Freeform’s Cloak and Dagger — were Marvel Television productions. Marvel Television did not have the same resources as Marvel Studios, any they certainly didn’t have the same pull. (They also lacked the input and oversight from Feige, and he and Loeb reportedly had a way-less-than-friendly fondness for each other.)
For Marvel Studios, the movies were the big deal, and TV was a side project. In other words, while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s entire first season was kind of hamstrung by the imminent reveal in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that S.H.I.E.L.D. was a HYDRA front, the movies didn’t need to worry about following TV canon at all.
There was no expectation that a potential moviegoer would need to have watched TV to understand a plot point in a movie, until Marvel Studios started directly making shows for Disney+.
What this functionally meant is that none of the Netflix shows had any — any — bearing on the larger MCU continuity. The Defenders was all about taking down a secret immortal ninja group called The Hand that seemingly ran New York City from the shadows, but Iron Man and all his big-screen friends never worried about them or even acknowledged their presence. Agent Coulson dies in The Avengers but comes back to life in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but everybody in the movies treats him as if he's still dead.
You can watch all the product created by Marvel Studios without having seen a single thing created by Marvel Television, and not be missing out or surprised by anything. The only possible exception is the appearance of James D'Arcy as Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis, in Avengers: Endgame. D'Arcy’s Jarvis is the only character to debut in a Marvel TV show and then make a movie appearance, though it’s basically a mere cameo.
Perhaps surprisingly, this works the other way around, too.
The Netflix shows, maybe because the creators didn’t have carte blanche when it came to using actors or assets from the movies, only vaguely allude to the events of the movies. The Battle of New York gets a couple of passing mentions in The Defenders and in the series that lead up to it. And there are oblique references to other superheroes, but the Netflix shows basically stand alone. (S.H.I.E.L.D. has more connections to the movies, but it’s still kind of its own thing.)
Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and the rest of the formerly Netflix shows may technically be canon, but since there’s little-to-no practical evidence of this connection, they might as well not be. (Interestingly, Disney+ does not put the Netflix shows into its “Marvel Cinematic Universe” collection, instead putting them in a category called “The Defenders Saga.”
It’s maybe best not to read too much into what this could mean for their canon nature though, as the more mature content of the Netflix shows could be the reason why they’re not lumped in with the relatively more family-friendly MCU.)
However, Daredevil and Kingpin are not officially part of the MCU, thanks to their appearances in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Hawkeye, respectively. What does this mean?
It’s unclear, to be honest. While D'Onofrio said he believes he’s playing the same character in Hawkeye as he was in Daredevil, there’s no real evidence (nor word from Kevin Feige or some other knowledgeable source) that the events of the earlier series happened in the MCU. It could just be that Daredevil and Kingpin are part of the MCU and Disney simply cast the established actors again. Matt Murdock’s blind brick-catching skills in No Way Home might be a little confusing to somebody who didn’t watch any of Daredevil’s three seasons, but there are less confusing, context-free Easter eggs in Marvel movies all the time. Similarly, Hawkeye’s Kingpin works as just “a big bad dude” without having to know whether or not Vanessa exists.
Once more, we’re in the same basic place. Until a new Marvel movie or show explicitly references the events of the Netflix series that makes them required viewing for understanding what’s next, or until Marvel greenlights Season 4 of Daredevil or something, the canon nature of the shows is essentially irrelevant.
Who knows — maybe they're canon in the sense that they take place in the multiverse but not the core MCU timeline. We're playing Calvinball here.
Bottom line: You can watch or skip the Netflix shows and not miss anything in terms of canon. Should you watch, though, you’ll get some of the coolest fight scenes in any superhero series in Daredevil. (Can probably pass on Iron Fist, though.)