Avengers: Endgame is almost upon us, and it's highly likely that some fans are undergoing a rewatch of the MCU in preparation for what has been teased as the culmination of 11 years of storytelling. It's a momentous occasion, but marathoning 21 films can be a little daunting. Even watching just one a day takes some commitment. Thankfully, you don't really need to rewatch every single movie to get psyched and ready for Endgame.
If you aren't up for a 60 hour marathon, there's a much easier way to bone up on your MCU knowledge before watching Endgame later this month. There are only really nine films to watch to get up to speed. Nine is still a lot of movies, but these films are important to Endgame either because they introduce important characters, set up storylines and themes, or directly lead into Endgame. We don't know what will happen in Endgame, but these are the films to watch before this pop culture phenomenon.
What better place to start than at the very beginning? While Iron Man doesn't tease anything about Mad Titans, Infinity Stones, or any sort of cosmic adventures, the film is an incredibly important step. It's the foundation of the whole MCU and it introduces the franchise's flagship character, Tony Stark. Stark's journey throughout the MCU has been one of a man slowly learning to become a hero, and we'll likely see the completion of that arc in Endgame as he works with the Avengers to stop Thanos once and for all. Plus, Iron Man teases the scope and ambition of a cinematic universe in a post-credits scene with something called the Avengers Initiative.
After years of buildup and introducing each of the core members in their own films, Marvel's grand experiment finally paid off in The Avengers. The movie went on to break a ton of box office records and change the landscape of how studios create franchises. The film teams up Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye for the first time as they combat an alien invasion. It's no coincidence that these six original members are all alive after Avengers: Infinity War, and they almost certainly have big roles to play in Endgame. However, The Avengers was also our introduction to Thanos and the overarching story that would guide the MCU for the next several years.
Guardians of the Galaxy
This was the film that truly proved Marvel could make almost any comic property a blockbuster sensation. Guardians of the Galaxy made household names out of D-list characters, in part thanks to the unique tone of director James Gunn and his catchy soundtracks. The movie is our first introduction to Rocket Raccoon and Nebula, two characters who are all over the marketing for Endgame. While the team dynamic is the core of the film, it does a lot of legwork for the MCU's future. The movie introduces Nebula and Gamora's complicated family history, explains the backstory of the Infinity Stones, and give the very first look at Josh Brolin as Thanos. The latter wasn't earthshaking, but Marvel had a couple more years to get it right.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron didn't quite live up to the hype, but any Avengers movie is important enough to rewatch. The film is an important step for Tony Stark as his guilt and fear pushes him to create Ultron, who nearly makes humankind extinct. Thanks to some visions from Scarlet Witch, we get brief teases into the future, perhaps the most important of which is the Avengers lying dead while an alien army advances toward Earth. We also get a big info dump on the Infinity Stones and the coming threat of Thanos courtesy of Thor's hot tub visions. Additionally, Age of Ultron sets in motion events that would shatter the Avengers after the destruction of Sokovia.
Captain America: Civil War
The Russo Bros. themselves said that that this was one of the two most important movies to watch before Endgame and it's easy to see why. Captain America: Civil War would have long-lasting consequences for Marvel's superheroes as a feud between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers drives the Avengers apart. The disbandment of the Avengers is the crucial takeaway as it played a key factor in the heroes losing against Thanos. Endgame will almost certainly see Stark and Rogers finally settle their beef, making the moment that the Avengers unite once again all the sweeter. Civil War was also something of field test for how many characters could fit into one movie as it added Ant-Man to the ranks and introduced viewers to two important characters: Black Panther and Spider-Man.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
The big draw of the Ant-Man franchise is that it's a light, low-stakes comedy, so it might be surprising to learn that it's an essential piece to the Endgame puzzle. While nothing in the film's actually plot will likely be important in Endgame, the sequel does further showcase the Quantum Realm, which is heavily rumored to be vital in the upcoming blockbuster. In fact, Ant-Man and the Wasp might have set up the first real tease of time travel in the MCU, which also has a million Endgame rumors. Additionally, Scott Lang is left trapped in the Quantum Realm after the movie, setting up his involvement in Endgame and how he escaped the Decimation.
Thor: Ragnarok is as stand alone as it gets. It takes place in the middle of space, far away from all that Earth drama, but it still ends up leading directly into Avengers: Infinity War. The comedic sequel finds Thor and the remaining Asgardians heading towards Earth, only to be confronted by the massive ship of Thanos. The immediate aftermath of that encounter kicks off Infinity War. Ragnarok is also crucial for both Thor and Bruce Banner, setting up their arcs for the next two movies. Thor loses his entire family and that grief and anger drives him, ultimately leading to his inability to kill Thanos. Meanwhile, this film was the beginning of Banner's three part character arc dealing with the Hulk that will conclude in Endgame.
Avengers: Infinity War
This is a no-brainer. Endgame is a direct sequel to Infinity War, so of course it needs to be on the rewatch list. Pretty much everything in this film is important to Endgame. Infinity War sets up the major conflict of Endgame, which is the Avengers coming together to defeat Thanos and somehow undo the damage he's done to the entire universe. The movie left Tony Stark and Nebula on an alien planet far from Earth, Thanos reveling in his victory, half of the cast annihilated in a fit of cosmic genocide, and the survivors grieving over their loss. Endgame can be considered Part II of the story that Infinity War began, and we'll finally learn how it all concludes later this month.
At the end of Infinity War, Nick Fury sent out a distress signal right before turning to dust. That signal went out to Captain Marvel, the MCU's newest hero. Marvel has been hyping up the appearance of Captain Marvel for years, and she finally made her debut in her stand alone film in March. The film showed the origins of the hero, how she met Fury, and why exactly he turned to her as his last resort. Captain Marvel is the most powerful hero in the MCU, and she might be the only character who can defeat Thanos. Her solo movie certainly makes that argument as she plows through space ships like tissue paper. Captain Marvel officially joins the anti-Thanos team in Endgame, and we'll learn how she stacks up against the Mad Titan.
It's tough to say exactly what films will end up being crucial to Endgame because we know so little about the movie. Maybe The Incredible Hulk will end up being the most important piece of the puzzle after all! But these nine films are the best guess based on what we do know and it just goes to show the work that Marvel put in over this past decade to get us all the way to this epic finale. There's still plenty of time to get that one last marathon done before April 26, so check out these nine films and have a walk down memory lane. If you're feeling brave and want to tackle more than just the list above, check out our Marvel Movies Timeline and watch all the films from beginning to Endgame.
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Matt has lived in New Jersey his entire life, but commutes every day to New York City. He graduated from Rowan University and loves Marvel, Nintendo, and going on long hikes and then greatly wishing he was back indoors. Matt has been covering the entertainment industry for over two years and will fight to his dying breath that Hulk and Black Widow make a good couple.