As the 11-year, 22-movie run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga comes to an almost-close with Avengers: Endgame, hardcore MCU fans are feeling nostalgic... and less devoted fans who nonetheless want to be part of the year's biggest event might be feeling overwhelmed. With almost two dozen movies to choose from and a pre-Endgame total runtime of almost two days if you don’t have to eat, drink, sleep, or fulfill any other basic human functions, there’s a lot to sort through.
**SPOILER WARNING: This story contains mild spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.**
Because we know not everyone has had the time to watch every movie in the MCU (and others might simply need a basic refresher), we’ve outlined every movie you’ll need to have seen to understand what’s going on in Endgame. Some of these movies are more vital than others, and, obviously because we’re dealing with so many characters across so many years, some of these stories might interest you more than others. We're not here to judge.
Below, you’ll find a list of 12 (give or take a few) movies that’ll help you better understand Avengers: Endgame. Let us point out again that there are mild spoilers ahead, though we’ve tried to be as vague as possible while still letting you know why certain movies are important.
Before we begin, though, we’re going to point out the general importance of all the origin story movies, especially Iron Man (2008), the movie that launched this universe into existence. It’s importance and Iron Man’s place in the MCU cannot be overstated.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Avengers: Endgame is equal parts a wrap-up to the Infinity Saga and a direct sequel to Avengers: Infinity War. To understand anything that’s going on in Endgame — the stakes, the emotions, the basic storyline — you have to know where it all started.
What’s Thanos’ deal? Why is this person where they are are the start of Endgame? Why is everyone so sad? All will be answered — and even more questions will be raised.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
And to understand Infinity War? You need Captain America: Civil War, the movie that split the Avengers in half and pitted Tony Stark against Steve Rogers. As the defacto leaders of the group and the two most likely to stand firm on opposing sides, Tony and Steve’s tenuous relationship completely devolves here, delving into an all-out war with consequences that have changed the MCU ever since.
Plus, you get a little bit more context for the other Avengers, as well; Civil War is less a Captain America-centric movie and more an Avengers ensemble flick.
The Avengers (2012)
Speaking of Avengers ensemble flicks, there’s no more ensemble-y Avengers flick out there than the original Avengers ensemble flick, 2012’s The Avengers, the movie that brought Earth’s Mightiest Heroes together for the first time.
The Avengers movie itself plays a large part in Endgame, so this is a good one just for general questions about “what the hell is going on?” It’s also fantastic in helping you understand how the original Avengers who are so heavily featured in Endgame — Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Bruce Banner/The Hulk, and Hawkeye — came together for the very first time. This is kind of the base of everything.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Endgame includes some big moments for Thor, but to understand where he is in Endgame, it’s important to know where he came from. Thor: Ragnarok reinvented the Asgardian god of thunder, leaning into the comedy to which Chris Hemsworth is so well-suited and making post-Ragnarok Thor different from any time you’ll see him in the pre-Ragnarok MCU.
Other than the character’s reinvention, though, Ragnarok is necessary because it marks the introduction of several important characters to Endgame, namely Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and a couple of other special characters, and it provides an explanation as to why the Asgardians are on Earth.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Not only is The Winter Soldier the Russo Brothers’ first foray into the MCU, it’s also vital to understanding some of the most important relationships in Endgame. It marks the beginning of Steve Rogers’ true integration into the 21st century as well as his close friendship with Natasha. In addition, Bucky Barnes’ Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) enters the fold, as well as Sam Wilson’s Falcon (Anthony Mackie), one of the most staunchly good, stable characters in the MCU and one you will instantly fall in love with. “On your left.”
Ant-Man (2015) OR Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
This one’s up to you, really. Both Ant-Man and its sequel, Ant-Man and The Wasp, are delightful romps that offer up much of the same information. Scott Lang’s Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne’s The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), who’s got a much more active role in the sequel, are important to the MCU in that they introduce Pym Particles and the Quantum Realm to the mix.
For a baseline explainer on these two things, look to Ant-Man, and for more context on Scott’s relationship with Hope and more in-depth information about the Quantum Realm, check out Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Nebula (Karen Gillan) is vitally important to Endgame, though it’s doubtful anyone thought that would be the case when audiences first met her in the Guardians franchise. The first Guardians introduces Nebula’s initial role as Thanos’ loyal daughter and her fall from grace. Plus, it’s nice to know where Rocket is coming from and keep an eye on Gamora’s journey.
Also, Power Stone.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)
Vol. 2 brings us even more Nebula and even more character growth from the other Guardians. Really, that’s it. The second installment in the Guardians series is relatively inconsequential, other than you needing to know Nebula’s emotional journey, which, again, turned out to be surprisingly important.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Considering the relatively low critical regard for The Dark World, it plays a surprisingly large part in Endgame. Granted, it is the Thor movie in which an Infinity Stone (the Reality Stone, aka the Aether) pops up, so maybe it’s not all that surprising. To understand a lot of what’s going on with Thor in Endgame, you need The Dark World to get you there.
BONUS: Doctor Strange (2016)
Why is [spoiler] here? What’s all this magic gobbledygook about? What’s the deal with the “Sorcerer Supreme”? All these questions — and even more you don’t even necessarily want the answer to — can be found in Doctor Strange. Not vital to the overall story, but nice to have for flavor.
BONUS: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
It’s nice to know where Captain America started out, yes, but The First Avenger is mainly to give you some context about Steve’s state of mind, the regrets he holds on to, and the people he left behind.
BONUS: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
To help you understand what’s up with Clint Barton’s family, though you could straight-up just watch this clip, too.
Plus, the scene in which the Avengers all get drunk at a party and take turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer is… important. You could get the point of it and how it connects to Endgame from other Thor stories, but this is the most in-your-face explanation.