The Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to change forever in 12 days, give or take a day or two depending on where you live. April 26th will bring the worldwide release of Avengers: Endgame and the end to what Marvel has dubbed as The Infinity Saga. What started with Iron Man in 2008 now spans 22 movies (including Endgame) and has brought more than 20 superheroes and dozens of supporting characters to the big screen.
With that in mind, I recently had a conversation with someone who wants to see Endgame but has also only seen Black Panther, Infinity War, and both Guardians of the Galaxy. They asked me what other films should they watch. I, of course, said all of them, but they asked for what I thought was most important to the story. So, I thought about, fought with myself, languished over the picks, and decided on ten absolute must watch films to “get” the Infinity Saga. This is NOT a “best of” list. There are great movies not here, but that’s because their events are either not important to the main story or are explained well enough in other films. There are also some movies people may think aren’t great on the list, but that’s due to their importance to the road to Endgame. I will also be giving this list in what I think is the best viewing order. Spoilers for the entire MCU are ahead! Let’s get to it!
Captain America: The First Avenger
Let’s kick things off right. This movie introduces us to the very core idea of Superheroes, sets the tone of the MCU, and gives us our first look at an Infinity Stone (Space Stone). Chris Evans does an amazing job as Steve Rogers/Captain America, the very embodiment of purity and dedication to duty, and this introduction is a must to understand how and why he is who he is by Infinity War. We also get introduced to the idea of government agencies working with smart civilians and heroes, which of course is a precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D. We even get introduced to the Stark family! Yes, the villain leaves us with something to be desired, mostly a better take on Red Skull, but what happens to the Red Skull is key to a very important scene in Infinity War. Cap’s belief in duty and his willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good will likely (hopefully) come into play in 12 short days.
This movie is why we have an MCU, but it is also incredibly important for the Infinity Saga. Tony Stark’s experience in this first movie informs many of his choices through other films. This film doesn’t do a lot to set up the other films, besides actually introducing S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury, but it is so important to understand Stark. His journey and experiences in captivity set everything into motion.
What, no Thor? Nope! We don’t need it as we get a great introduction to Thor and Loki in this movie. We learn everything we need to know about S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, and Black Widow too, which is why Iron Man 2 isn’t on the list. This is film also brings us a good starting point for The Hulk character. This film gives us two Infinity Stones, Mind and Space, and the post-credits scene gives us our first look at the Mad Titan himself, Thanos. This film also gives us our first taste at the rift between Cap and Tony. So much is explained and so much more is set in motion with this film.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Guardians played a really important part in Infinity War and some of them will be key to the story of Endgame so it is only fitting that we get introduced to them the way they were meant to be. In addition to being our introduction to Star-Lord, Drax, Groot, Gamora, and Rocket this film introduces the Power Stone and gives us the first on-screen words from Thanos. We also learn about Gamora’s relationship with her adoptive father, Thanos, and that is one of the most important things going into Infinity War.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
This is the first film on my list that I wish I didn’t have to put on here, but it is so important to the Infinity Saga. I don’t hate this film unlike some people (looking at you Jammer), but even I can admit that it isn’t as good as the first film. It tells us that Loki’s staff from the first Avengers film houses the Mind Stone, introduces the Scarlet Witch, gives us the birth of Vision, and clearly shows the fractures within the team. I also believe that our introduction to Hawkeye’s family will become very important in understanding his character in Endgame. This movie touches on the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. which is something we miss out on by not including Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s also the first appearance of Rhodey in the War Machine armor in my list. We got to skip out on the two actor conundrum of Banner/Hulk, but there’s no escaping the issue with Rhodey. I will admit that missing out on the Rhodes and Stark interactions in Iron Man 2 sucks, but the next film gets the point across.
Captain America: Civil War
I know you’re upset that I didn’t put Captain America: The Winter Soldier on this list, but this movie explains almost everything we need to know about Bucky as well as giving us a real introduction to Sam Wilson/The Falcon. It establishes Spider-Man and acts as an incredibly abbreviated introduction to Ant-Man/Scott Lang too. The most important elements to this movie though are the breakup of the Avengers, the reasoning behind it, and the character development for Cap and Stark. It’s not enough that Stark hates Bucky for killing his mom and dad, but the fact that Captain America knew and hid it shows something about Steve Rogers we’ve never seen before… gray area. This movie is all character and team development, which is very important to understand where our heroes are in Infinity War and will inform a big part of Endgame as Tony and Steve haven’t seen each other since the end of this film and didn’t meet in the last Avengers movie.
This is the 7th film in my list and only the 3rd solo character film, that should tell you something about the importance of Doctor Strange, both the movie and the character. This movie brings the mystical side of the MCU to the forefront. It also introduces time manipulation, which is theorized to play a heavy part in Endgame. It’s through the use of an Infinity Stone (Time Stone) that time is manipulated, and Stephen Strange’s natural knack for the mystic arts is a must know thing going into the last two Avengers films. There’s no way to even understand Inifinity War without this movie, let alone Endgame. The villain is lacking, but hey… Thanos is Coming…
Thor has had the best character arc of the entire MCU if you ask me. Not that his story is the best or most important, but his changes from Thor to Infinity War are the most well defined. You can see the influence of humans and The Avengers on him through each film, and this film is no different. At the end of Age of Ultron Thor and Hulk are split from The Avengers and did not take part in Civil War, and it’s this movie that tells us why. Hulk’s relationship with Banner is greatly expanded on in this film, which is very important for Infinity War, and I think this relationship will lead to a new version of hulk in Endgame. Thor also suffers great loss in this movie which ties directly into his motivations in these last two Avengers films. Plus, it’s such a fun movie!
The Avengers: Infinity War
There is no Endgame without Infinity War. Everything from the last eight films has been leading us here and to the next film of course. This movie gives us everything we need to know about Thanos, establishes where the characters are prior to Endgame, and lets us in on the fact that Doctor Strange saw only one way to defeat Thanos. This film ends with 50% of all life in the universe dusted and our heroes in mourning. This movie delivers the final two stones, Reality and Soul, as well. I know the Reality Stone is mentioned waaaay back in Thor: The Dark World, but this movie does more than enough to explain it without that film.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
This is the second film I put on the list that I wish I could have substituted, but I think the Quantum Realm stuff will be incredibly important to Endgame. This film also acts as a way to get to know Scott Lang better since we skip out on the first film. This movie establishes that the Quantum Realm functions differently than the normal reality, that there’s energies at play that can be harnassed, and time warps exist within it. We also have the theory that Scott Lang is moving through time in the Endgame trailers which we need to see the end of this film for that to make sense.
I would have loved to put other movies on here, but if we’re limited to 10 movies to inform the Infinity Saga, then these are it. Each one feeds either key story or character developments and leads us to Infinity War which leads us to Endgame. I am not certain how important Captain Marvel will be to the story of the final Avengers film, but she has to explain herself and her whereabouts to The Avengers, so I believe we’ll get enough of an explanation within Endgame. If I could add two more they would be Thor and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think it would be nice to get a more personal introduction to Thor and Loki and I think Captain America’s character arc is enhanced by seeing the events in his second movie, but the characters and events are explained enough with the movies I have listed.
What do you think of this list? Would you make any changes? Let us know in the comments below!