With a film franchise that spans a mind-boggling 18 films, it can be a tall order to actually get up to speed ahead of a tentpole release like Avengers: Infinity War before its April 27 premiere. So, in case you don't have two full days and nights free for a binge session, we've narrowed it down to five essential films that should get you up to speed just in time for Thanos to start wrecking everything.
It all started with Iron Man taking flight in 2008, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come a long way since then. More than seven different heroes have had their own solo films (and sequels) over the past decade, not to mention a couple of Avengers get-togethers and some Guardians of the Galaxy team-ups in their own corner of the cosmic sphere.
But who actually has time to watch them all to get primed for arguably the biggest superhero movie ever conceived? Not everyone. Sadly. So if you're just looking for a refresher, or wanting to get caught up on the highlights you’ve missed along the way to join in on the fun when Infinity War opens, here's the greatest hits list you can knock out on a lazy Saturday. A kinda long, lazy Saturday, but still — it's a lot more digestible than downing 18 movies in a single sitting.
If time is of the essence, here's where we'd recommend starting, in order:
The Avengers (2012)
Starting off with The Avengers does skip some fantastic solo flicks like Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) — but it still serves as a great crash course on the core heroes who make up the first "official" Avengers team. Sure, you won't get the added satisfaction of following all the in-jokes, but The Avengers still sets the stage and shows you what can happen when all these heroes get together on the big screen. It's also a great introduction to the character Loki, even though it's technically not his first appearance in the MCU.
Put simply: The Avengers was the culmination of the first phase of the MCU and is a must-watch. The fact that we're recommending it as a jumping-on point is a testament to just how far this film series has gone since then.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The big bad in Infinity War, Thanos, hails from the cosmic corner of the MCU — and the first Guardians film is a near-perfect introduction to that world and a whole new crew of space heroes. It introduces some other space-bound players and even helps lay down some ground rules for the all-important Infinity Stones. Plus Guardians works as a solid standalone since the story is entirely separated from events on Earth, and it helps establish characters like Star-Lord, Gamora, Groot and Rocket Raccoon ahead of their eventual arrival on Earth. Marvel has basically been building two separate worlds between the mainline Earth-based stories and Guardians, and this is the movie to get you up to speed on that side of the universe.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Few films have changed the fabric of the MCU like Civil War, which is the reason we're recommending it instead of something more mainline like Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Civil War features almost as many heroes as an Avengers flick and pits Earth's Mightiest Heroes against each other. The Avengers roster remained largely unchanged up to this point, but Civil War sends an entire team of heroes off the grid and introduces a potential new team of Avengers to hold the line. It stands to reason everyone will come together to face off with Thanos, but Civil War moves a whole lot of pieces around the chessboard.
Plus, it'll give you some great insight into the character dynamics (and infighting) you're likely to witness early on in Infinity War. Not every Avengers-heavy film ends up as happily as the team's first time onscreen together, and no film is more representative of that reality than Civil War.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
One of Marvel Studios' most acclaimed films to date, Ragnarok is basically a buddy comedy that sends Thor and Hulk off for their own adventure in a far-flung part of the galaxy. Though those events are largely standalone, the story does set Thor, Hulk, and a whole lot of other players on a path that looks to pay off significantly in Infinity War. Ragnarok also features quite a bit of character growth for Thor and his supporting players, which will likely be significant in Infinity War. The early trailers for Infinity War show Thor running into the Guardians, and Ragnarok fills in the gaps for exactly what he's doing out in the wild reaches of space, where he's going, and what he might know when Thanos starts wrecking cities.
Black Panther (2018)
Marvel's latest solo flick has turned into the studio's biggest film to date, and along with being a fantastic film, it also does some heavy-lifting to reshape the face of the MCU before Infinity War. The film brings a highly advanced new nation into the mix, and as the early trailers for Infinity War make clear, Black Panther's homeland of Wakanda will play a key role in trying to push back against Thanos' attack. The world of Infinity War is one where Wakanda is sliding into the spotlight and putting it on a global stage that easily rivals that of the United States, and Black Panther breaks down how all that went down — the fact that it also features Michael B. Jordan as one of the MCU's greatest villains to date is just icing on the cake.