Black Widow Timeline Explained

Marvel’s Black Widow plays with the MCU timeline and finally gives Natasha the closure she always deserved.

Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow and Avengers: Endgame
Photo: Marvel Studios / Disney

This article contains Black Widow spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review here.

Who is Natasha Romanoff? It’s a question Marvel Studios coyly teased for years and then… failed to answer as a full decade and the entire “Infinity Saga” passed us by. Yes, the long overdue Black Widow movie is finally reaching theaters this weekend, but Nat was killed off years ago in the sacred timeline of Marvel Cinematic Universe canon.

Nevertheless, we are happy that the character and Scarlett Johansson received some much deserved closure, and in a film which fills in many of the blindspots in the Black Widow mythos, not least of which includes what she got up to between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

With her narrative being seemingly closed for good, it’s time to unpack the oft-obscured life story of Natasha and consider whether she at last balanced out all that red in her ledger.

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  • The child who would become Natasha Romanoff is born in Stalingrad to a mother who is forced to give her over to the Soviet government. Despite the mother’s best efforts, she is unable to free Nat from the system. (Fury’s Big Week, Black Widow)


  • After years of indoctrination and training in the Widow program, which is run out of Soviet Col. Dreykov’s Red Room, eight-year-old Natasha is selected alongside three-year-old Yelena to be part of KGB agents Alexei Shostakov (the Red Guardian) and Melina Vostokoff’s cover story. The quartet of sleeper agents move to Ohio, posing as an all-American family while gathering American state secrets. (Black Widow)


  • Alexi and Melina succeed in obtaining critical information and escape U.S. soil. Eleven-year-old Natasha and six-year-old Yelena, who’ve become increasingly Americanized and attached to the family identities they assumed, are traumatized. (Black Widow)


  • Natasha completes her Widow training and graduates from the Red Room, which includes a “ceremony” where she is asked to execute a man bound to a chair. She is then sterilized on an operating table. Dreykov believes robbing “widows” of the chance to have children makes them more ruthless killers. (Avengers: Age of Ultron)

2002 – 2007

  • Natasha is involved in multiple mysterious and apparently bloody Widow operations, which include incidents of murder in São Paulo and a separate “hospital fire” atrocity she is still haunted by. (The Avengers)

2007 – 2008

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  • Clint Barton recruits Natasha into the West’s international SHIELD organization. Part of her defection comes at the price of assassinating Dreykov in Budapest. However, it is merely Dreykov’s young daughter Antonia who feels the fire of Nat’s explosives. (The Avengers, Black Widow)


  • Natasha has her first run in with the Winter Soldier when she attempts to extract a defecting nuclear engineer out of Iran. A brainwashed Bucky Barnes steals her prize by running her car off a cliff in Ukraine and then shooting a bullet through Nat’s stomach and into her asset—killing him instantly. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
  • Around this time, Natasha becomes an unofficial member of Clint Barton’s secret family, who live on an idyllic farmhouse. She’s known there as Auntie Nat. (Avengers: Age of Ultron)


  • Natasha infiltrates Stark Industries under the alias of Natalie Rushman, working as a legal assistant who moonlights as a model in order to catch Tony Stark’s lascivious eye. (Iron Man 2)
  • Natalie becomes Tony’s assistant but is actually spying on him for SHIELD, which has come to realize Tony’s arc reactor—which saved his life in Afghanistan—is now poisoning him. Nat eventually reveals she’s a SHIELD agent and helps prevent an assassination attempt on Stark’s life by rival forces. (Iron Man 2)


  • Nat abandons her infiltration of the Russian underworld to recruit Bruce Banner to SHIELD after Loki arrives on Earth, brainwashing Clint Barton and planning world domination. She later successfully interrogates and manipulates the supposed God of Mischief. (The Avengers)
  • Natasha becomes one of the founding members of the Avengers after saving the world from an alien invasion alongside Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk in the Battle of New York. (The Avengers)


  • Still working for SHIELD, Natasha infiltrates a pirate-commandeered SHIELD vessel to protect/steal precious SHIELD secrets while Captain America naively thinks they’re there to save hostages. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
  • Black Widow goes rogue alongside Cap after an assassination attempt on her mentor, Col. Nick Fury. Fury of course survived and forms an underground operation with Nat and Rogers to root out HYDRA sleeper cells who’ve slowly taken over SHIELD leadership during the past 70 years. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
  • After saving the world from HYDRA’s latest attempt at world domination, Natasha publicly reprimands the American government at a baffling Capitol Hill hearing where she is being questioned by Pentagon brass. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
  • MEANWHILE the Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton from circa 2023—nearly a decade older and sadder—time travel to 2014 in order to undo the damage Thanos caused when he snapped half of life in the universe out of existence with the Infinity Stones. They journey to the planet Vormir where they’re told one will have to die in order to obtain the Soul Stone. Black Widow and Hawkeye fight over who will have the right to sacrifice themselves for the other—Natasha wins and falls to her death, thus ending her tragic timeline in the past. (Avengers: Endgame)


  • Black Widow becomes a full-time Avenger, joining the team as they dismantle the last HYDRA base in Sokovia. They regain Loki’s powerful scepter with an infinity stone inside. (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
  • Black Widow strikes up an intimate and unrequited connection with Bruce Banner. She is the only Avenger able to talk the Hulk down from his rages. The pair consider running off together, but their burgeoning romance is thwarted by the arrival of Ultron—an artificial intelligence that wants to… destroy the world. (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
  • Nat and the Avengers prevent Ultron from killing all organic life on Earth—which involved lifting Sokovia’s capital city into the sky and then dropping it like an asteroid—but in the carnage, Banner/Hulk chooses not to pursue a relationship with Nat, disappearing to parts unknown as she accepts her role as a leader of the growing Avengers roster. (Avengers: Age of Ultron)


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  • Black Widow is part of an Avengers operation in Lagos, Nigeria, which goes horribly wrong when in an attempt to stop terrorist Brock Rumlow from stealing a biological weapon, an entire office floor of civilians is killed. (Captain America: Civil War)
  • Shortly after the Lagos incident, the Sokovia Accords are signed by the UN, requiring Avengers and other superpowered individuals to register themselves under the jurisdiction of the UN Security Council. Natasha at first accepts this as a reasonable path forward. She changes her mind when pro-Accords Avenger Tony Stark comes to blows with the resident skeptic, Steve Rogers, in Berlin. Romanoff helps Rogers escape and then also goes to ground. (Captain America: Civil War)
  • As a rogue agent, Natasha is invited back to Budapest and reunites with her faux-little sister Yelena, who reveals Dreykov is still alive and now is literally controlling the minds of the other young women he’s trained to be widows via mind-altering drugs. (Black Widow)
  • Nat and Yelena decide to track Dreykov down and kill him for real, and do so by freeing their “father” Alexi from Siberia and reconnecting with their “mother” Melina, who is still loyal to the Widow program. Melina nonetheless takes her girls to the Red Room, the hidden air fortress where they were trained as children. Yelena kills Dreykov and Natasha frees all the women under Dreykov’s control, including his daughter who did not actually die in Budapest. (Black Widow)
  • Natasha reconnects with Steve Rogers and helps him free Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang, Sam Wilson, and Clint Barton from the government’s “the Raft” prison vessel. (Captain America: Civil War, Black Widow)


  • As Thanos’ alien forces invade Earth, Rogers, Romanoff, and other renegade Avengers come out of hiding to save the universe. Natasha is reunited with Banner, and all of them converge in an epic battle against the armies of Thanos in Wakanda. (Avengers: Infinity War)
  • After the Avengers fail to stop Thanos from collecting all the Infinity Stones, Nat watches many of her friends turn to dust, along with half the living creatures in existence. (Avengers: Infinity War)
  • Black Widow and the Avengers track Thanos down to an uninhabited planet, only to discover he’s destroyed the Infinity Stones they planned to use to resurrect the universe. Thor decapitates Thanos in a pyrrhic attempt at revenge. (Avengers: Endgame)


  • Natasha has become the top leader of the Avengers, organizing their superheroism throughout the cosmos via intergalactic Zoom sessions with Captain Marvel, Rocket, and others. Yet she and Rogers quietly cling to the hope of reversing Thanos’ victory. (Avengers: Endgame)
  • When Scott Lang returns from the Quantum Realm, revealing he’s inadvertently discovered time travel, Nat and Steve get the original Avengers lineup back together to travel into the past in order to steal the Infinity Stones. Return to the 2014 section to find out how that ended for Black Widow… (Avengers: Endgame)


  • After Natasha traveled to her destiny in the past, Yelena visits her grave in Ohio… and is recruited for a new kind of team. (Black Widow)