Joe and Anthony Russo's upcoming The Avengers: Infinity War is an unprecedented blockbuster event. As described by the filmmakers, the film is a culmination of all the movies that have preceded it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- and as a result, the people who will get the most out of it will probably be those most familiar with that history. This may be troubling news to hear for audiences existing only on the fringes of fanhood, but it's in anticipation of that trepidation that we've put together this handy guide.
We've seen 18 Marvel Studio films released in the last 10 years, and below and across the next few pages we've covered them all -- providing a brief description of what each film is all about, they key who are characters introduced, and what happens. Read through, and learn everything you need to know before The Avengers: Infinity War!
Iron Man (2008)
When history tells the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the tale will always begin with the introduction of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Jon Favreau's Iron Man. An engineering prodigy and genius who follows in his father's footsteps to run the world's biggest weapons manufacturer, Tony is first presented as a careless playboy only interested in making money. That all changes, however, when he is kidnapped by a deadly terrorist organization demanding his technology. With the help of a fellow hostage, Ho Yinsin (Shaun Toub), he uses his ingenuity to design a suit of armor to escape... but it's an experience that winds up haunting him.
Tony finds himself unable to live with the idea of his inventions harming innocent lives, and upon returning home he not only shuts down weapons manufacturing at his company, but begins to advance and improve the armor he invented. With the backing of his best friend, Air Force Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard), and his trusty assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), he successfully roots out the man responsible for his kidnapping -- his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) -- and changes the world forever when he announces that he is actually a superhero: the Iron Man. Of course, as he would learn from S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in a post-credits scene, this was just his first step into a larger world.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe story to follow Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), a scientist who has spent years on the run in South America thanks to an experiment gone wrong. Following extreme exposure to gamma radiation, whenever his pulse raises to a high enough level he undergoes a transformation into a huge, green monster that is totally out of his control. Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), the father of Bruce's former girlfriend, Betty (Liv Tyler), wants nothing in the world more than to see him captured -- and figures the only way to actually do it is to create a monster of his own.
When Bruce believes there may be a cure for the Hulk, collaborating with a colleague named Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), he starts to make his way back home -- but all the while finds himself pursued by Ross' enhanced soldier, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). The situation becomes much worse when Blonsky, who has become obsessed with Bruce's monster, convinces Sterns to turn him into an Abomination, but it ultimately proves to be an important test for Bruce. While he still can't fully control the Hulk, he discovers he can "aim" it, and becomes a hero when he stops Abomination from tearing Harlem apart.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Picking up shortly after the events of the first film, Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2 finds Tony Stark as the most famous man on the planet, but simultaneously dealing with some huge issues. He is in a fight with the government about privatizing world peace; his relationship with Pepper Potts is constantly stressed; he unknowingly hires a spy named Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) to be his new assistant; the palladium power source he is using for his suit is slowly poisoning him; and there is a new villain on the scene named Ivan Vanko a.k.a. Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) who has managed to recreate his special arc reactor technology.
The whole experience leads Tony to hit rock bottom -- influencing James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to steal an Iron Man suit and become War Machine -- but it's an experience he bounces back from quickly. The "discovery" of a new element (which happens to be Vibranium) proves to be a positive substitute for palladium and stops the self-poisoning; he begins to repair and respect the personal relationships in his life; and despite Whiplash becoming a serious threat thanks to a partnership with Tony's business rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), he is eventually able to fight and defeat him with the help of his comrades.