This weekend brings AVENGERS: ENDGAME to the box office, the highly anticipated sequel to AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. With 20 films worth of build-up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), there’s quite a bit of history which all builds-up to where we are at this point. If you’re out of the loop and want to get caught up, or just want to re-watch some of the films to help re-familiarize yourself with what occurred, it’s a time-consuming endeavor. You could watch all of the films, but some of them aren’t extremely necessary. Here’s my attempt at indicating just how important each of the films are to getting you ready for ENDGAME.
This is the movie that started it all, and Tony Stark is arguably one of the three most important characters in the Avengers franchise.
The Incredible Hulk
I often just completely disregard this movie when it comes to talking about the MCU, but it’s technically part of the list. Part of the reason is due to Edward Norton portraying Bruce Banner in this film, only to relinquish his role following its release and be replaced in future movies by Mark Ruffalo. Also, the other films where Hulk plays a role actually serve as sufficient context for who Bruce Banner is, and how he has mixed feelings about his “Hulk” side. For someone to have the full context of what’s going on, it’s worth watching, but if you’re just trying for the shortest path to ENDGAME, skip it.
Iron Man 2
This film introduces both Black Widow and War Machine, and helps us know that Tony Stark no longer relies on the arc reactor to live, but two five-minute scenes would be sufficient there to understand what’s going on going forward. Or not, because I think people would understand a second person wearing an Iron Man suit and a female assassin spy working for Nick Fury without sitting through another two-hour movie. I wish the Justin Hammer character were more important going forward, but that’s not a reason to watch this, either.
There is quite a bit of importance to this film, but honestly the way Thor is portrayed in other movies, and his character development there-in, would be sufficient to building a knowledge base upon which to see the other films. I enjoyed my recent viewing far more than I had expected, having not remembered it very fondly, but it’s still only tangentially important.
Captain America: The First Avenger
To understand Captain America, at all, you really have to see this film. It establishes who he is as a person, his values, how he got his powers, what those powers are, and his motivations. Also, it introduces the Tesseract, which is super important in the MCU.
Don’t be surprised when all of the Avenger movies are “must watch”. I’m not saying you would understand what’s going on in Infinity War by watching those alone, but if anything were over 100%, it would be this movie right here.
Iron Man 3
It’s a decent movie with some good character development, but ultimately doesn’t do much in terms of establishing anything for future movies. Whenever I’ve given MCU viewing advice in the past, I always recommend skipping this movie. Not because I disliked IRON MAN 3, which many people did, but because it doesn’t add anything and it’s quite divisive, so there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy it anyway.
Thor: The Dark World
While it’s true that one of the Infinity Stones is introduced in this movie, it’s confusing in how it does so, and ultimately doesn’t add anything significant to the future of the MCU. 2013 was a dim year for Marvel in theaters.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
In addition to not thinking Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 are worth the watch, I really like having watched Winter Soldier directly after the first Avengers film during my recent re-watches. It has huge ramifications on the MCU and is an excellent story as well.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Because Infinity War could essentially be considered a third Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, it’s safe to say that the film which helps define the characters and provides context to their inter-personal relationships is important.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron
While the second Avengers movie is important for its introduction of Vision and one of the Infinity Stones, the real reason that Age Of Ultron is so important is because without it, CIVIL WAR wouldn’t make much sense. And Civil War is a really, really, really important film in the MCU.
I really liked this film, and while it’s good to understand Hank Pym, Scott Lang, Hope van Dyne, and the Ant-Man technology, all you really need to know is that there’s a suit that can make someone small, and then varying degrees of “big” again. And going tooooo small can cause someone to get lost in the quantum realm, but not always. Hank Pym didn’t like it when SHIELD wanted to use his tech, so they don’t get along very well. See? That’s all you’d really need to know, and I don’t feel like I spoiled much of anything.
Captain America: Civil War
Multiple characters of high importance are introduced here, and huge rift occurs which changes the MCU significantly. Some people say this is essentially an Avengers movie, but it does focus primarily on Captain America. Either way, it’s completely essential.
This is the first spot in the timeline where I moved some things around just a little bit. This is a great way to follow-up Civil War, building on its introduction of Peter Parker, and moving Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 until later in the list makes sense based on context. While it’s possible to skip this film and still understand what Spider-man is all about, you would only have a tip-of-the-iceberg understanding of the relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark if you don’t watch Homecoming.
I absolutely wouldn’t want more than just one film in between seeing Civil War and Black Panther. As I rewatch the films during my son’s initial viewings, it’s very clear that the viewing is enhanced by having it fresh in your mind what happened with T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka, in Civil War, and how T’Challa ultimately deals with it. This is a great, great movie, very Shakespearean in many respects, and I would highly recommend seeing it, but the way Infinity War deals with Wakanda makes it less necessary to watch Black Panther if you’re crunched for time.
Nothing is gained by seeing this movie directly after Civil War, and so I would argue that this is the perfect spot in the list to watch it. I enjoy the film more and more each time I watch it, and although I would like to say that it’s a skippable origin story, the fact that it introduces one of the Infinity Stones makes it basically essential, especially because of how it plays into the end of Infinity War.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
It’s not simply the case that I moved this film down because it was important to see Homecoming and Black Panther right after Civil War, I also moved this down the list because I think it’s essential to watch this directly prior to Thor: Ragnarok. Due to the importance of Gamora, Nebula, Star-Lord, Groot, Drax, Rocket AND Mantis, this is a “can’t skip” film. Also potentially for another reason in the post-credits scene, but having not seen ENDGAME yet, I can’t say for sure.
There’s zero doubt in my mind that this is absolutely necessary. Anyone who has seen it understands. The events which occur have more impact on its titular character than either of the first two THOR movies. By far. And if possible, Thor: Ragnarok should be viewed directly before Infinity War.
Avengers Infinity War
This is what all of the predecessor films lead up to, and is essentially Part 1 of a two-part story which ENDGAME completes. It doesn’t get more essential than that.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
I’m sure there’s a way this could be condensed down to 45 minutes which would keep enough content to help explain the aspects of this which apply to ENDGAME, but there are problems of legality there, so I won’t be the one providing it. While it’s not as enjoyable as the first film, it’s not bad, and I’m fairly certain that a huge part of ENDGAME relies on what occurs here. They’ll probably do a sufficient job in ENDGAME of giving a recap, but having not seen it yet, I can’t make that assumption (even though the need to understand the “quantum realm” is based on an assumption).
Given how powerful Carol Danvers is, and having seen her in the trailers to Infinity War, and knowing her history with Nick Fury unfolds in this movie, I’d have to almost insist that this gets included in the watch list. Someone could make a 5 minute summary video which would suffice to cover that information, but seeing as how it’s still in theaters (and, “legality”), just plan on buying a ticket to that if you haven’t seen it already. Or just watch all the trailers they’ve put out for the film.
Disagree with me? I’d love to hear all about it! I’m sure some readers will be upset at my insinuation (or out-right stating) that certain MCU films aren’t as essential as others. If you change my opinion, I’ll make annotated updates accordingly.