At this time, there are exactly 19 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ant Man & The Wasp is coming soon (to make an even 20) but that tale will probably be a self-contained story: a palette cleanser after the lingering after-effects of mighty number 19, the Avengers Infinity War.
You probably already know Infinity War is the culmination of 10 years of cinematic storytelling, with a cast of literally dozens of named characters. To catch up to this point, one would have to sit through several days of non-stop movie-going… starting with Iron Man 1, the film that kickstarted it all. A lot of fans converged in New York City for 31 hours of Marvel goodness, and I hope they brought their Peetimes. (Note: the NYC screening only played 12 films for their marathon, so you’ll have to do the math yourself for a grand pre-Infinity War hours-long total of all 18.)
But, what if you don’t have time for a full re-watch before IW leaves the theaters? Or — Ragnarok forbid! — maybe you’re kind of an MCU newb. (Clue: if you don’t know what MCU stands for, you might be a rookie.)
RunPee is here to help. If you had to, you could get by with a five-film preview and be more or less up to speed. Here are those five, plus a few extra honorary mentions if you have some extra time/inclination. This slim five movie line-up means you’ll miss a few important origin stories, but for the ones I skip, things can be summed up in one or two lines. You’ll see.
Five Must-See Films, with No Spoilers:
- Iron Man 1 – Iron Man started it all and changed how we saw superhero films. It’s easy to forget how amazing this was when it first hit the screens. Understanding the complex character of Tony Stark is so important to understanding the series, and it’s hard to adequately explain why. Cap is simple — he’s a super soldier and a natural leader. Thor is simple — he’s the Norse God of Thunder. Hulk…is Hulk (I assume you know about the Hulk). But you have to walk a while with Stark to see his importance to the entire universe, and why so much of IW centers on him. If you have to skip any of these five films though, this is the one to overlook.
- Avengers 1 – You don’t really need the origin stories of Cap, Hulk, or Thor to understand Infinity War. Avengers 1 preps things so nicely for the original set of superheroes, and lays the groundwork for EVERYTHING ELSE to come. Do not miss.
- Captain America: Civil War – If you skip this one, you may as well not bother with Infinity War. This ensemble piece covers several new origin stories, brings together a huge cast in preparation for an upcoming even larger cast, and paves the way towards understanding what happened to “break-up” the original team. MUST SEE.
- Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1 – Another film that you cannot skip. A lot of IW is devoted to the Guardians. If you don’t know who these beings are, IW won’t hit the emotional beats it sustains for everyone else. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
- Thor 3: Ragnarok – This film most immediately leads into Infinity War. As in, it ends literally moments before IW begins. Thor 3 brings a lot of disparate story points together, explains why Thor is so broken when we see him next, continues the storylines of both Loki and The Hulk, and sets the stage for everything to come. If you miss this one, a major part of the IW resolution just won’t make sense. And also, like GotG, this one is super fun.
Six Honorary Mentions (If you have the time), and what you need to know if you skip them (with spoilers to get you caught up — be warned):
- Avengers 2: Age of Ultron – The second Avengers ensemble piece explains who The Vision and Scarlet Witch are. What you need to know: The Vision is an artificial intelligence being with an infinity stone implanted in his forehead, created by Ultron (and Stark, and Banner – it’s complicated, but not important). Scarlet Witch is infused with the same powers of the stone. All this is referenced in both Captain America: Civil War, and in Infinity War itself, so missing the Ultron bit won’t hurt you.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Bucky was Cap’s best friend in the World War II days, he’s been injected with super soldier serum (just like Cap), has a Vibranium arm (instead of a shield), and was brainwashed into being a bad guy (unlike Cap). This information is more or less re-tread in Civil War, so you’ll be okay without this one. Skippable for our purposes.
- Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 – This is a direct continuation of the first GotG film, with a few character additions — Baby Groot replaces Original Groot (which we see at the end of Volume 1), Mantis is a new Guardian (and has the power to make you sleep or wake up)…and Star Lord kills his father (for very good reasons). Oh, and Nebula comes to terms with her sister Gamora. It’s all about ‘family’. Now you’re good to go. Of the six movies listed here, this one has the most plot points you’d appreciate knowing for IW.
- Dr. Strange – All you REALLY need to know is that Strange is a Wizard and wears the Time Stone. Infinity War does a great job rehashing those two points in the first few scenes. Bonus: there’s also a brief but fun Strange introduction in Thor: Ragnarok. So, yeah, unless you are a huge Cumberbatch fan, you can safely skip this to prep for IW.
- Spiderman: Homecoming – I hated leaving this affable and fun entry off the main list, but since we get a very nice introduction to Spidey in Civil War, you can safely pass on his stand-alone film.
- Black Panther – Like Spiderman above, leaving out the story of Wakanda kind of hurts. The thing is: Civil War does a fantastic job introducing T’Challa’s Black Panther and the idea of the Vibranium-tech-based nation itself, and why the Winter Soldier can be found there. Cool as this movie is, you’ll be fine without it. You’ll understand why a large portion of IW occurs in Wakanda, because a main character tells you outright.
Keep in mind, I’m not listing which movies are the best in the MCU, nor saying that the rest are unimportant or uninteresting in their own right. This is just to get you to a place you can potentially watch Infinity War and not be totally, hopelessly lost. Have fun, and let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments. Movie-watching is subjective. Which five would you say are crucial?
Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)