The aim of this work is to better understand fluid displacement mechanisms at the pore scale in relation to capillary-filling rules. Using specifically designed micro-models we investigate the role of pore body shape on fluid displacement during drainage and imbibition via quasi-static and spontaneous experiments at ambient conditions. The experimental results are directly compared to lattice Boltzmann (LB) simulations. The critical pore-filling pressures for the quasi-static experiments agree well with those predicted by the Young–Laplace equation and follow the expected filling events. However, the spontaneous imbibition experimental results differ from those predicted by the Young–Laplace equation; instead of entering the narrowest available downstream throat the wetting phase enters an adjacent throat first. Thus, pore geometry plays a vital role as it becomes the main deciding factor in the displacement pathways. Current pore network models used to predict displacement at the field scale may need to be revised as they currently use the filling rules proposed by Lenormand et al. (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 135, 1983, pp. 337–353). Energy balance arguments are particularly insightful in understanding the aspects affecting capillary-filling rules. Moreover, simulation results on spontaneous imbibition, in excellent agreement with theoretical predictions, reveal that the capillary number itself is not sufficient to characterise the two phase flow. The Ohnesorge number, which gives the relative importance of viscous forces over inertial and capillary forces, is required to fully describe the fluid flow, along with the viscosity ratio.