We’re all excited to see Avengers: Infinity War, the culmination of the ten-year-old Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But some of us haven’t seen all the films, or are dragging along a significant other to the theater who doesn’t know Iron Man from Captain America.
The dilemma? There are 18 MCU films and so little time to see them all before Avengers: Infinity War premieres. So which films do we need to watch before seeing Avengers: Infinity War? After all, not all the MCU films are relevant to the coming epic film.
Listed below in alphabetical order are ten MCU films to see before Avengers: Infinity War that are essential for understanding the film-spanning saga. Keep in mind that not all the films are the best in quality but have important ties to the Infinity War saga. Some spoilers follow.
The Avengers (2012):
It makes sense to see the very first Avengers film. The superhero team gathers together for the first time to combat Loki, who threatened the world. The Avengers has the first appearance of the Mind Stone, one of the Infinity Stones, which was used by Loki. It also prominently features the Tesseract, aka the Space Stone, also used by Loki to transport invading alien armies to Earth.
More importantly, the post-credits scene of The Avengers introduces us to Thanos, the looming threat throughout the MCU from that point on. Overall, the first Avengers film takes the first steps to set up Phase Two and Three of the MCU, which culminates with Avengers: Infinity War.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015):
The sequel to The Avengers was somewhat disappointing with one of its flaws being its shoehorned tie-ins to the Infinity War saga. Two of the Avengers (Thor and Iron Man) have prophetic visions about the Infinity Stones and Earth being imperiled.
This leads to Thor leaving the team (and Earth) to learn more about the Stones while Iron Man becomes even more obsessed with protecting the world. His actions from that point are responsible for creating the film’s villain, Ultron, and the newest Avenger, Vision, one of the major characters in the third Avengers film. The Mind Stone, which was in Loki’s staff from The Avengers, is later imbedded into Vision.
Black Panther (2018):
No Infinity Stones are seen or mentioned in the recent box-office phenomenon, but Black Panther properly introduces audiences to the wondrous African kingdom of Wakanda, a major setting in Avengers: Infinity War. As we have seen in the trailers for the film, it appears that the climax takes place in Wakanda as our heroes take a last stand against Thanos and his forces.
Black Panther also introduces us to major players in Avengers: Infinity War, namely Shuri and Okoye. Shuri with her technical prowess and Okoye being a mighty warrior have been shown in the trailers to being essential to the film’s story.
Captain America: Civil War (2016):
As with Black Panther, the third Captain America film does not feature the Infinity Stones, but is very important to the Infinity War saga. Chiefly, it sets up the characters’ situations for Avengers: Infinity War. The Avengers break apart due to the events in Captain America: Civil War, which leaves the team(s) weakened and Earth vulnerable.
The third Captain America film (sometimes described as Avengers 2.5 with all the appearances of the Avengers) also introduces two important characters in the MCU and the Infinity War saga, Black Panther and Spider-Man. These new breakout heroes could also be seen as the ones to carry the torch for new versions of the Avengers after the dust settles in Avengers: Infinity War.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011):
The first solo film of the MCU’s most popular superhero not only introduces the star-spangled Avenger, but the first Infinity Stone onscreen: the Space Stone, which is inside the cubical Tesseract. Technically, the Tesseract was first seen briefly in a post-credit scene in Thor, but here the object is fully fleshed out.
It was used by the Red Skull to wreck havoc in Europe during World War II. In the first appearance of an Infinity Stone, it was also the first time that these stones were weaponized. Its true power was barely tapped in Captain America: The First Avenger as its full potential was shown in The Avengers.
Doctor Strange (2016):
The mystical and metaphysical side of the MCU was first shown in Doctor Strange. This will probably be heavily exploited in Avengers: Infinity War and next year’s Avengers film.
The Sorcerer Supreme is introduced in his solo outing and as seen in the promos, Doctor Strange is a major player in Avengers: Infinity War. This film also introduces the Time Stone, which is embedded in Doctor Strange’s mystical relic, the Eye of Agamotto.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014):
The first Thor film introduced the cosmic side of the MCU, but Guardians of the Galaxy fully explored its nooks and crannies. As one of the major heroes in Avengers: Infinity War, the Guardians of the Galaxy’s appearance represent the epic crossover element for the third Avengers film.
Aside from introducing the loony Guardians of the Galaxy, this film showcased the Power Stone, an especially destructive Infinity Stone that was wielded by Ronan, a former lackey of Thanos, who makes his first full onscreen appearance here. The film gets bonus points for explaining what the Infinity Stones are, which makes it one of the most important MCU films to watch before Avengers: Infinity War.
Iron Man (2008):
It’s the very first film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Needless to say, it introduces us to Iron Man, one of, if not the, core characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Not only that, the film perfectly set up the important elements of the MCU without hitting us over the head. These include S.H.I.E.L.D., and subtle Marvel references, including Captain America. Also, Iron Man set the template for the endings of MCU films. A post-credits scene that expanded its world by mentioning the Avengers. Iron Man works as a standalone film and a test model on how to build cinematic universes.
Thor: The Dark World (2013):
Arguably the weakest MCU film to date, the second Thor film is still important to the Infinity War saga. The film features the Reality Stone in the form of the Aether, a red, smoke-like substance that inhabits the body of Jane Foster, Thor’s girlfriend.
The Aether itself is explained as another destructive force that imperils the universe and is coveted by the film’s villain, Malekith the Dark Elf. If you want, skip ahead to the first post-credits scene, which sets up Guardians of the Galaxy and advances the Infinity War saga.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017):
It was a tossup between this and the first Thor film, but Thor: Ragnarok edges out Thor in that it has more immediate ties to Avengers: Infinity War. For instance, the Infinity Gauntlet briefly seen in Thor is exposed as a fake, while the Tesseract is shown.
Most importantly, Thor: Ragnarok lines up core characters in the third Avengers film, Thor, Loki and the Hulk, to the events that occur in the 19th MCU film. In fact, in the first post-credits scene, Thor and his Asgardian refugees encounter Thanos, which is a chilling portent for what happens in Avengers: Infinity War.
Later on, these films can be watched for their more tenuous connections to the Infinity War saga. Ant-Man (2015) introduces the concept of quantum realms and other dimensions; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) heavily features the cosmic MCU while exploring the character of Nebula, Thanos’ daughter, who resolves to confront him; Thor (2011) marks the first MCU appearance of alien entities and the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The other remaining MCU films (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, and Spider-Man: Homecoming are not necessary to watch since they don’t have anything to do with the Infinity War saga, but provide insights into the main superheroes featured in the third Avengers film.
Finally, if you only have time to watch just the bare essentials go with Guardians of the Galaxy (the Infinity Stones are explained), Captain America: Civil War (features the most recent developments of the Avengers) and if possible The Avengers (sets up the Infinity War saga and introduces the team and Thanos).
Lewis T. Grove