by Edward Baillargeon
One of the most highly anticipated films of the year, Avengers: Endgame, is about to hit theaters very soon. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are hyped to see the epic conclusion of what Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige titles The Infinity Saga. However, there are some people who are not as much of a die-hard fan, but still want to see it anyways. At the current state of the MCU, it now feels like a chore to recap everything that has happened so far with 21 films and counting in the franchise. The amount of homework someone would have to do is comparable to Thanos’ power becoming more tedious and intimidating to catch up with the franchise. So for this list, I wanted to give several people an idea that if they want to have a decent knowledge of the Marvel Universe to understand Avengers: Endgame, but they don’t feel like seeing all 21 films. I’m going to be narrowing the work down to a reasonable amount so you are prepared with which movies are the most important in the overarching narrative. These are the Marvel Cinematic Universe films you HAVE to watch before you see Avengers: Endgame.
- Iron Man (2008)
Kicking off the list is the film that started it all, Iron Man. Back when it first came out in 2008, no one expected how much of a hit it would be, and the massive impact that it had in the superhero genre, even if it came out the same year as The Dark Knight. After being kidnapped by a powerful terrorist organization, brilliant industrialist Tony Stark narrowly escapes using an iron suit he crafted from scrap metal and spare parts. Upon returning home, he devotes all of his time and resources to perfecting the Iron Man suit, and using it to fight evil, sometimes in the places where he least expects it. Iron Man is a great start in the MCU with fun action sequences, great direction from Jon Favreau and a perfectly casted lead performance from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Of all the movies in Phase 1 prior to The Avengers, this one is one of the few you actually need to watch. If you are a fan of Iron Man, you can watch Iron Man 2 and 3 if you want, but those are not required before Endgame. It’s quite amazing to look back that the Marvel Universe all started with Robert Downey Jr. and a metal suit.
2.Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
One of the most underrated films in the franchise is a great origin story to one of the series’ best heroes. Steve Rogers, a weak, sickly young man eager to fight is repeatedly rejected from the war-until a seemingly “crazy” scientist recruits him in a new experiment to turn the tides. He is transformed into the super soldier the world needs, but no one believes it. He is used as an empty face for propaganda until his comrades, including hid best and only friend, are captured by the Red Skull, a Nazi general who wants to use the Tesseract for evil. “Captain America” breaks into Red Skull’s HQ with the help of Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, and Captain America saves everyone. And everyone begins to realize what Captain America can really do. Captain America: The First Avenger gives solid introduction to Steve Rogers and his transformation into Captain America. The movie does give a decent lead-in into The Avengers and is one that is necessary to watch with Steve’s relationships with characters like Peggy Carter and Bucky Barnes. With some great action sequences set in World War II and solid performances, Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun and exciting superhero story.
3. The Avengers (2012)
Of course this one is important because when it was released in 2012, everyone’s expectations were blown away that this many characters can come together for one movie. While I have established that you have to see Iron Man and Captain America, where films like The Incredible Hulk and Thor are not as important as this one establishes them just fine, plus with the former having Edward Norton play Bruce Banner/Hulk and then being replaced by Mark Ruffalo in every succeeding film will add unnecessary confusion. Nick Fury is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., an international peacekeeping agency. The agency is a who’s who of superheroes, with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow. When global security is threatened by Loki and his cohorts, Nick Fury and his team will need all their powers to save the world from disaster which is formed by Loki and his team. After several films of buildup, The Avengers made it worth it. With its already established characters, the movie does a great job at building the team’s chemistry to play off of one another in some pretty funny interactions. This is also one of the few earlier Marvel movies that actually has a good villain with Thor’s brother Loki, wonderfully played by Tom Hiddleston, as most Marvel movies at the time had villains that ranged from not that great to serviceable but forgettable. With exciting action and fun characters, The Avengers is an assembly for a fun time.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
My personal favorite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the rare second film in the MCU that surpasses its predecessor. Steve Rogers is coming to grips with living in modern America after being frozen in ice for 50 years. The origins of a new threat against SHIELD, the Winter Soldier are unknown, but the threat from HYDRA is. After it compromises Nick Fury and Black Widow, leaving them betrayed and left for dead, and their SHIELD status revoked, marking them as traitors to the organization. Now racing against time with little resources available at his disposal, Captain America launches an investigation into SHIELD’s origins. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best movies Marvel Studios has crafted to date. While taking a more serious tone than other Marvel films, it makes the film feel more like an intense political spy thriller than your goofy average superhero movie, with intense practical action sequences and building suspense. How the film develops the characters, notably Cap himself, will play a very important role in future films, so this one is pretty important. A great script, cool action and fantastic direction from Anthony & Joe Russo make Captain America: The Winter Soldier a true hero in the Marvel Universe.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Writer/director James Gunn’s sci-fi comedy broke new ground for the MCU by going a bit weirder in the cosmic ends of the universe, and even made weird character concepts like a talking racoon and tree really work. Kidnapped by aliens when he was young, Peter Quill now travels the galaxy salvaging anything of value for resale. When he comes across a silver orb however, he gets more than he’s bargained for. The orb is highly desired many but by none so powerful as Ronan. When Ronan finally acquires it, it’s left to Peter and his newfound friends Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket to stop him. After the more serious Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy is a refreshing change of pace as it has more emphasis on the humor than other Marvel films. Like in the Avengers, the Guardians build a great chemistry leading to plenty of laughs, notably from Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, and Bradley Cooper as Peter Quill, Drax, and Rocket respectively. This helps to establish the team and their future importance in the overarching story. There is an important scene in the film where the Guardians meet with The Collector, played by Benicio del Toro, as he gives the viewers an introduction to the important MacGuffins known as the six Infinity Stones, since one of the stones, the Power Stone, is an important part of the film’s plot. And if you enjoyed this one, I highly recommend also watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 if you want to see more of them and plus I think its another Marvel sequel that surpasses the first. With a clever script and a fun soundtrack full of 80’s rock hits, Guardians of the Galaxy will have you hooked on a feeling.
6. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
One of the more divisive and not as well liked films in the MCU still has some important character introductions and plot points, plus seeing every Avengers movie is required before another one. After a successful raid on a HYDRA base, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create an artificial intelligence called Ultron, a peacekeeping protocol designed to help the Avengers protect the world from their enemies. But things go wrong when Ultron sees the human race as a threat and sets out to destroy it along with the Avengers. Now the Avengers must reassemble to stop Ultron from causing mass destruction. Of all the films on the list, Avengers: Age of Ultron is the most of a chore to get through. By no means is it a bad film, but it just falls short of its peers. There are too many plots and characters throughout the film to keep track of to just set up future movies instead of focusing on being a movie that can stand well on its own. There some great moments like some more great interactions with the cast and decent action sequences. While Avengers: Age of Ultron is a little overblown, it still is a decent film to continue forward in your MCU journey.
7. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Civil War, or as some like to call Avengers 2.5, has some of the most pivotal turning points in the current state of the Marvel Universe as it starts in Phase 3. With many people fearing the actions of super heroes, the government decides to push for the Hero Registration Act, a law that limits a hero’s actions. This results in a division in The Avengers. Iron Man stands with this Act, claiming that their actions must be kept in check otherwise cities will continue to be destroyed, but Captain America feels that saving the world is daring enough and that they cannot rely on the government to protect the world. This escalates into an all-out war between Team Iron Man and Team Captain America while a new villain emerges. Captain America: Civil War manages to both be a great Captain America movie and a great Avengers movie, even if Thor and Hulk are absent from this picture. The film establishes the new divide between Iron Man and Captain America and their different views on the act as they both make solid arguments. The movie establishes several new characters and integrates them into the story very well with the introductions of Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Ant-Man. Civil War even has one of, if not, my favorite action sequences in the MCU in the form of the airport showdown between the two teams in a well-choreographed battle. I do also recommend Ant-Man, Black Panther, and Spider-Man: Homecoming if you enjoyed those characters, and they are even some of my favorite films in the MCU, they don’t have as high of a priority. With an epic showdown and some great introductions make Captain America: Civil War a great turning point for the Marvel Universe.
8. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
What is easily the best Thor film by a long shot also happens to have some importance for where his character ends up before Infinity War. Thor’s world is about to explode. His devious brother, Loki, has taken over Asgard, the powerful Hela has emerged to steal the throne for herself and Thor is imprisoned on the other side of the universe. To escape captivity and save his home from imminent destruction, Thor must first win a deadly alien contest by defeating his former ally and fellow Avenger – The Incredible Hulk. Thor: Ragnarok is the one film of his that you really have to see, and not just because it is the most fun of the trilogy. Ragnarok is also the funniest Marvel film to date with so many hysterical jokes thrown at you every minute that you’ll be rolling in the aisles. Director Taika Waititi gives the film a unique style and trims all of the fat of the last two films by cutting out some of the blander characters like his love interest Jane Foster and destroying his hammer and cutting his hair. This would be the turning point where Thor has became a fan favorite character in the last couple of years. In the earlier Marvel films, he was a long haired boring pretty prince man, but Ragnarok gave him more of a character and sense of humor brought to life by Chris Hemsworth’s comedic talents. And where the movie ends leads perfectly into the next film I’ll be discussing. With loads of fun and great jokes, Thor: Ragnarok is one of the most fun times you will have at a Marvel movie.
9. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Of course this one is a no-brainer because Endgame is a direct sequel to this film. As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos. A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment, the fate of Earth and existence has never been more uncertain. Avengers: Infinity War pulls you in right from the start of its two and a half hour runtime and never lets go until the devastating cliffhanger ending. The Russo brothers direct this film with intense and fully-loaded action sequences, hilarious jokes, and emotionally devastating moments that will be sure to make you cry. And bringing everything together is the main villain of the film, Thanos, wonderfully portrayed by Josh Brolin, as this is more his movie than it is about the Avengers as he goes around the universe trying to get all of the Infinity Stones, combined with some amazing visual effects & motion capture work. With stellar performances, intense action, and filled with emotion, Avengers: Infinity War is going to lead you into the Endgame.
10. Captain Marvel (2019)
The most recent film that is still playing in theaters has some importance as Captain Marvel will be playing an important role in Avengers: Endgame. After crashing an experimental aircraft, Air Force pilot Carol Danvers is discovered by the Kree and trained as a member of the elite Starforce Military under the command of her mentor Yon-Rogg. Six years later, after escaping to Earth while under attack by the Skrulls, Danvers begins to discover there’s more to her past. With help from S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, they set out to unravel the truth. Captain Marvel is another fun entry even if it isn’t as exceptional as its peers. Brie Larson does a great job as Carol Danvers as she discovers who she really is and has a great chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. And speaking of Nick Fury, the de-aging effects they used on Samuel L. Jackson do look like how he did back in the 1990’s, but it’s not just Jackson who was digitally de-aged as Clark Gregg was modified to look like a younger Agent Coulson. Another standout character in the film is Goose the cat, Carol’s cat that hangs out around Air Force headquarters as Nick Fury falls in love with him, despite Sam Jackson not being a fan of cats and Larson being allergic, who has a hilarious surprise twist in the film. This movie will give you a good idea about Captain Marvel’s origins and who she is before you see more of her in Avengers: Endgame. And those are the 10 films that you have to see before Avengers: Endgame. For those of you who decide to take on this task, I wish you the best of luck catching up, because you’re in the endgame now.