Yeah, there’s yet another superhero movie in the news, but Avgengers: Endgame isn’t just any superhero movie. It’s the climax to the story that began all the way back in 2008 when Iron Man hit theaters. That’s not marketing hype, either. Avengers: Endgame really does wrap up almost every dangling plot thread in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or the MCU, as the kids call it), and contains references to all 21 films that came before it.
If you’re a die-hard Marvel fan, you’ve seen all of those movies. You’re set. Enjoy Endgame. It’s great. On the other hand, if you’re a casual observer, new to the MCU, or just need to refresh your memory on what happened, this list is for you. These are the movies that you need to watch to get the most out of Avengers: Endgame. You’ll still have questions, and you won’t be able to identify every character who pops up, but you should be able to follow the film’s plot and emotional arcs just fine.
I tried to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, but knowing that some movies are more important than others is already kind of a spoiler, so if you want a virgin-pure Endgame experience keep that in mind.
The ones that you have to watch to understand who’s who, what’s what, and why everyone is fighting over the world’s ugliest fashion accessory.
Iron Man (2008) — technically, you could probably get away without watching Iron Man, but it’s the movie that launched the whole MCU and defined its style and its tone. If you’re going to enjoy the end of the story, you should start at the beginning. I mean, you like symmetry, don’t you?
Captain America: The First Avenger(2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) — Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Loki debut before this, but Avengers offers a slightly different take on each of them that quickly became the standard, and the movie does such a good job re-introducing everyone that you won’t miss anything.
Thor: The Dark World (2013) — One of my least favorite Marvel movies, but it plays a surprisingly big role in Avengers: Endgame. I’m sorry.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier(2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) — Another one I’m not too fond of, but it introduces a few important characters and ideas and sets up Civil War, and Civil War is dope.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Avengers: Endgame (2019) — Duh.
The “how did we get here?” tier. These films aren’t crucial to the overall narrative, but they help put the pieces in place for Infinity War and Endgame and include some side characters who get a fair amount of screentime.
Lots of these movies are good and worth watching, but overall, they don’t really affect Avengers: Endgame‘s plot. Most of the major characters that they introduce get re-introduced elsewhere, and the ones that don’t aren’t very important to Endgame‘s, um, endgame.
The Incredible Hulk(2008) — Remember when Edward Norton played Bruce Banner? Yeah, me neither.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 3 (2013) — There’s a neat cameo near Endgame‘s conclusion that you’ll miss if you don’t see this, but I saw Iron Man 3 and I missed it anyway, so, eh.