Nick Fury: “There was an idea…”
Tony Stark: “To bring together a group of remarkable people…”
Vision: “To see if we could become something more…”
Thor: “So that when they need us, we could fight the battles…”
Black Widow: “That they never could.” – Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War is a true marvel. Eighteen movies over a decade have brought the Marvel Universe to life in a way that sounded impossible ten years ago. Infinity War combines dozens of award winning actors portraying The Avenger’s last stand against Thanos, the Mad Titan.
Even if you’ve been watching since Robert Downey Jr. built his first Iron Man suit, keeping all the plot points straight is hard. Whether you’re a long time fan or just curious why some kiddie superhero flick is getting so much Oscar-level talent, we humbly submit a cheat sheet of the essential MCU movies to see before Infinity War.
Two quick reminders: The X-Men film series, the Fantastic Four movies, and every Spider-Man movie other than Spider-Man: Homecoming are not in the MCU canon. The films we think you should see are listed in release order.
#9. Iron Man
Main Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges
Shadowy Figure: “‘I am Iron Man.” You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
Tony Stark: “Who the hell are you?”
Shadowy Figure: “Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.” – Iron Man (2008)
Plot Synopsis: A terrorist organization kidnaps billionaire industrialist Tony Stark and forces him to create weapons. He creates a powered armor suit and escapes. He then refines the armor, calls it Iron Man, and sets out to destroy the group that kidnapped him. But some threats strike closer to home…
Why this movie: Iron Man was the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film salvaged RDJ’s career and turned Iron Man into a household name, blew up superhero schtick like secret identities, and popularized post-credits scenes. By modern standards it’s nothing special. But in 2008, it was the start of an era.
Main Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Odin: “I now take from you your power! In the name of my father and his father before, I, Odin Allfather, CAST YOU OUT! [banishes Thor to Earth and casts a spell] Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” – Thor (2011)
Plot Synopsis: Thor, the Norse god of thunder, starts a war with the Frost Giants and is banished to Earth for his crime. He meets a team of scientists and tries to find his enchanted hammer, Mjolnir, so he can return home. Meanwhile, Thor’s brother Loki discovers there is more to his past than he knows…
Why this movie: Thor introduced magic and Norse mythology to the MCU. It delivered the MCU’s first great villain in the form of Loki and set the stage for The Avengers. There’s even a cameo by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and the return of Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson.
#7. The Avengers
Starring: Downey, Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson
Loki: “The Chitauri are coming. Nothing will change that. What have I to fear?”
Tony: “The Avengers. [Loki looks confused] It’s what we call ourselves, sorta like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type thing.”
Loki: “Yes, I’ve met them.”
Tony: “Yeah. Takes us a while to get any traction. But let’s do a head count here. Your brother, the demigod; a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breathtaking anger management issues and two master assassins. And you, big fella, you’ve managed to piss off…every single one of them.” – The Avengers (2012)
Plot Synopsis: Loki appears on Earth as the vanguard of an alien invasion. He brainwashes Hawkeye and several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, causing Nick Fury to activate the Avengers Initiative. Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, and Thor must unite and stop Loki’s invasion.
Why this movie: The Avengers proved that a shared cinematic universe could work. 5 blockbuster movies led to a crossover that delivered everything the studios promised and more. And it only got bigger from there. Viewers also get their first look at Infinity War’s Big Bad; Thanos.
Learn More: Sue gave Avengers 4 stars in her review and wrote, “Great performances combine with a smart, clever script and amazing special effects to give us quite the spectacle.” And even back then we were cautioning people to watch prequels.
#6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Starring: Evans, Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan
Nick Fury: “After New York, I convinced the World Security Council we needed a quantum surge in threat analysis. For once we’re way ahead of the curve.”
Steve Rogers: “By holding a gun at everyone on Earth and calling it protection.”
Nick Fury: “You know, I read those SSR files. Greatest generation? You guys did some nasty stuff.”
Steve Rogers: “Yeah, we compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so the people could be free. [points at a fleet of Helicarriers] This isn’t freedom, this is fear.” – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Plot Synopsis: Captain America struggles to cope in a world where time has passed him by. To make matters worse, he has to deal with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ruthless espionage, the return of a super-powered assassin, and a revelation that changed the MCU forever.
Why this movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes a detour from superheroics into a morally gray spy thriller genre. Viewers begin seeing major consequences resulting from previous movies. The fallout from this movie was severe enough to provide several seasons of plotlines for T.V.’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
#5. Guardians of the Galaxy
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel
Rocket: “What are you? Some saint, all of a sudden? What has the galaxy ever done for you? Why would you wanna save it?!”
Star-Lord: “Because I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!” – Guardians of the Galaxy
Plot Synopsis: An intergalactic outlaw called Star-Lord discovers a powerful relic. Others attempt to steal the artifact, including the infamous assassin Gamora, the vengeful brute Drax, and bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon and Groot. This rag-tag group learns to work together to keep the relic away from Ronan the Accuser and his dreaded master, Thanos.
Why this movie: Guardians was a gamble that proved Marvel could make complete nobodies into household names. It established the cosmic side of the MCU and explains the Infinity Gems, the key Macguffins of Infinity War. Besides, Bradley Cooper plays a heavily armed raccoon and Vin Diesel is a tree that can only say one phrase. Plus the entire soundtrack is classic rock. Can’t go wrong with that.
Learn More: Mrs. Norman Maine gave Guardians a 4 star review. She wrote that Guardians is “a great summer evening popcorn film, hugely entertaining and definitely worth a look.” We’ve also got a bio of the Top 8 Guardians from the first two films.
#4. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Starring: A bigger ensemble than Avengers 1
Hawkeye: [to Wanda] “Doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here, you’re good. I’ll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door…you are an Avenger.” – Avengers: Age of Ultron
Plot Synopsis: Sick of the superheroics, Tony Stark creates an A.I. called Ultron to replace The Avengers. Ultron misinterprets his directives and becomes genocidal. He recruits a pair of super-powered siblings, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch, to hold off the Avengers while he prepares to destroy the world.
Why this movie: The MCU tone noticeably shifts in Age of Ultron. The Avengers start falling apart. Many people see them as threats, and a destructive finale leaves a major black mark on their reputation. Ultron also introduces three new Avengers.
Learn More: This is an important film because The Avengers screw up. But so did director Joss Whedon, and Mrs. Noman Maine’s review took him to task for it. And if you’re interested in The Scarlet Witch’s introduction, I have you covered with her backstory.
#3. Captain America: Civil War
Starring: The Age of Ultron ensemble plus many more. Seriously, lots.
General Ross: “The world owes the Avengers an unpayable debt. You have fought for us, protected us, risked your lives. But while a great many people see you as heroes, there are some who would prefer the word vigilantes.” – Captain America: Civil War
Plot Synopsis: The world has had enough. After years of enormous brawls between super-powered beings, The UN demands any super-powered individual register with the government. Tensions boil over when one of Captain America’s allies is framed for a bombing that kills several diplomats. Cap flouts the law, saves his friend, and helps spark a civil war between the Avengers.
Why this Movie: The Avengers finally crack under the weight of the world’s problems in Civil War. The conflict leads to some of the best onscreen superhero fights ever. The film features the debut of fan favorites Black Panther and Spider-Man.
Learn More: The Avengers fighting amongst themselves is a major moment in book and movie history. Plus breaking up a popular group in any media is always tricky. Check out our Comparative History about the Avengers’ Civil War.
#2. Thor: Ragnarok
Starring: Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum
Hela: “I’m not a queen, or a monster… I’m the goddess of death! What were you the god of, again?” – Thor: Ragnarok
Plot Synopsis: Thor returns to Asgard and finds his father, Odin, missing. He and Loki search for Odin and inadvertently release Hela, the Norse goddess of death. Hela lays siege to Asgard and traps Thor on the planet Sakaar. Forced to fight as a gladiator, Thor plots to save Asgard with help from a long lost Valkyrie and The Incredible Hulk.
Why this Movie: The ending scene of Thor: Ragnarok leads directly into Infinity War. It also starts a redemption arc for Loki, shows the scope of Thor’s power, and combines Norse myths with the classic story by Ibsen, Planet Hulk. Just kidding. we’re sticking with the story that Plato wrote Planet Hulk. Ragnarok also shows that the Avengers shouldn’t bet on divine intervention in Infinity War.
Learn More: Since you know Hulk is an important character, learning more about him than green-rage-monster will help you. Our Hulk backstory has the scoop.
#1. Black Panther
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright
King T’Chaka: [to T’Challa] “You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.” – Black Panther
Plot Synopsis: Newly crowned King T’Challa of Wakanda finds his kingdom threatened on multiple fronts. He must face rival tribe leader M’Baku in ritual combat, hunt down the thief Ulysses Klaue, and battle the terrorist Killmonger. Little does Black Panther know that Killmonger has ties to Wakanda itself…
Why this film: The earliest trailers revealed that part of Infinity War involves a battle in Wakanda with the cast of Black Panther assisting the Avengers. You should learn about its inhabitants. The fact that Black Panther is a good movie with a heavy afrofuturistic influence and a chart topping soundtrack is gravy.
Learn More: Black Panther is Marvel’s highest grossing movie out of the 18 that make up the first three phases of the MCU. We run down the villains of Black Panther and the king himself in two backstories.
Tell us what movies you’ve missed and what you’re planning to see before Infinity War. It’s gonna be a great movie. We think that at least one of the Avengers doesn’t live to movie number twenty.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.