Which MCU movies are essential before seeing ‘Avengers: Infinity War’?

The most common question we’ve been getting since viewing Avengers: Infinity War, and especially since Lauren posted her spoiler-free review, is “Can I watch Infinity War if I haven’t seen [other MCU movie]?”

Now, let’s just get this out of the way first: you can do whatever you want. No one is going to check your credentials before letting you into the theater, and there’s probably enough moment-to-moment entertainment value in Infinity War for you to at least moderately enjoy the movie, even if you’re totally lost on the plot and have no idea who any of these people are. So if you want to see it without brushing up on the rest of the MCU beforehand, we’re definitely not going to stop you.

However, more than any other MCU movie to date, Infinity War makes it clear that its target audience is people who have seen at least most of the other films in its universe, and preferably all of them. But eighteen movies is a pretty big time commitment, especially if you want to see Infinity War before the internet inevitably spoils it for everyone. So while we still think that Infinity War will be most enjoyable for people who have seen every MCU movie that preceded it, below, we break down which films are essential, which ones you can definitely skip, and which ones are recommended, but not vital.

Iron Man: Recommended

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

Iron Man kicked off the entire MCU back in 2008, and while it’s not going to make or break your Infinity War viewing experience, it’s still nice to know how it all began. This is the movie where we meet Tony Stark, find out who he is and what he values, witness the beginning of his character arc, and discover why he decides to become Iron Man (and what that glowing thing is in his chest). Tony has been the cornerstone of the Avengers for years and plays a huge role in Infinity War, so it’s helpful to be firmly grounded in his character before heading to the theater.

The Incredible Hulk: Skip

The Incredible Hulk (2008). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

Not even Marvel seems to care very much that this movie exists, and they soft-rebooted the character of Bruce Banner in The Avengers anyway. You will miss exactly one nod in Infinity War if you haven’t seen this movie, and honestly, you won’t care.

Iron Man 2: Skip

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., left) and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) in Iron Man 2 (2010). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

This is the movie that introduces Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (and recasts the character of James Rhodes, switching him from Terrance Howard to Don Cheadle), but otherwise, none of its plot points are super relevant to Infinity War, and similar to Bruce Banner, both characters get re-introduced in later movies. If you want to skip an Iron Man movie, this is the one to skip.

Thor: Recommended

Loki (Tom Hiddleston, left) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in Thor (2011). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

As is the case with most of the origin story films of Phase One, while it’s nice to be familiar with Thor’s roots heading into Infinity War, it’s not mandatory. You’ll probably be able to suss out what’s going on, even if you never saw how it all began. That said, both of the Thor sequels are pretty important to understanding Infinity War (we’ve even listed Ragnarok as ‘Essential’), and it’ll be hard to fully appreciate the sequels — and the massive amount of character development for both Thor and Loki, which comes into play in Infinity War — without watching this first installment in the franchise.

Captain America: The First Avenger: Highly Recommended

LtR: Falsworth (JJ Feild), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

This is Steve Rogers/Captain America’s introduction to the MCU, and as he’s one of the most important players, it’s helpful to see his origin story and learn what he cares about, as his relationships in this movie become very important later on. But even more than that, this film is the first real appearance of an Infinity Stone in the MCU. The Tesseract plays a large part in Phase One and goes on to be even more important in later movies. However, if you choose to skip this one, you’ll get a refresher on the Tesseract in Avengers.

Infinity Stone: Tesseract/Space Stone

The Avengers: Highly Recommended

LtR: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in Marvel’s The Avengers (2012). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

When Iron Man burst onto the scene in 2008, it changed comic book movies for the better. And while Marvel fans hoped to one day see the Avengers team up and take on bad guys on screen, back then, it seemed impossible. This movie was the first of its kind, an event that was five movies in the making. While you won’t be entirely lost in Infinity War without it, you’ll miss out on some of the foundations of the character relationships, as well as the earliest groundwork for the conflict that ultimately comes to a head in Infinity War.

Iron Man 3: Recommended

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Iron Man 3 (2013). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

Despite Tony Stark being more or less the cornerstone of the entire MCU, of the three characters with completed trilogies (Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man), the Iron Man movies actually have the least bearing on the events of Infinity War. The biggest carryover from Iron Man 3 is Tony’s mental health, and the toll exacted by his role as a superhero and a leader of the Avengers. But while this insight into Tony adds emotional depth to the events unfolding on screen, it’s not absolutely necessary to follow the plot. As long as you understand who Tony Stark is, what he’s capable of, and what he cares about (all of which you can glean from the two Avengers movies, as well as Civil War), you won’t have any trouble following his trajectory in Infinity War. 

Thor: The Dark World: Highly Recommended

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in Thor: The Dark World (2013). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

While most fans would agree that The Dark World is far from the strongest entry in the MCU, it actually lays a lot of groundwork for Infinity War. Not only is it essential to understanding the Thor/Loki relationship, as well as how Thor views his role as the Prince of Asgard (both of which, in turn, are essential to understanding who Thor is as a person by the time Infinity War rolls around), but it includes the introduction of the second Infinity Stone, and delves deeper into what the Stones are capable of.

Infinity Stone: Aether/Reality Stone

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Highly Recommended

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

The Captain America movies make up one of the strongest threads in the MCU, and with the Russo brothers at the helm for Infinity War, it’s not surprising that they have such a strong impact on the overall storyline. The Winter Soldier introduces Sam Wilson/Falcon, as well as develops the strong friendship between Steve and Natasha that’s important for their characters going forward. You also get a lot more information about Bucky Barnes and how his history with Steve will affect things in ways no one predicted.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Essential

LtR: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Drax (Dave Bautista) in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the least essential of the ‘Essential’-rated films on this list, but it’s still important enough for us to edge it up past ‘Highly Recommended’ (plus, we’ve rated Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 as ‘Essential,’ and you’ll have a pretty tough time following that one without watching this one first). This is the film that launches the cosmic side of the MCU and provides the first up close and personal look at Thanos, revealing some of his backstory and what exactly he is capable of. Not only does this movie bounce around the galaxy quite a bit, showing you how vast it really is, but it also reveals that Thanos is hunting down the Infinity Stones one by one.

Infinity Stone: Power Stone

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Highly Recommended

LtR: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

While Age of Ultron was a bit of a letdown as a followup to The Avengers, the events within it have had massive repercussions that are still being strongly felt throughout the MCU. This film leads directly into the events of Captain America: Civil War, which in turn provides quite a bit of the setup for Infinity War. It also introduces us to the characters of Scarlet Witch and Vision, both of whom are central characters in Infinity War, and it adds another Infinity Stone to the mix. The only reason we’re not bumping this one up to ‘Essential’ is because most of its major developments are revisited in Civil War, but we still strongly advise squeezing this one in if you can.

Infinity Stone: Mind Stone

Ant-Man: Skip

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in Ant-Man (2015). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

While this movie is a lot more fun than we expected, it’s not vital to understanding anything in Infinity War. If you’re curious about Ant-Man but don’t want to sit through an entire movie about him, Civil War serves as a decent introduction to Scott and what the suit can do. However, you’ll definitely want to make time to watch this one before Ant-Man and the Wasp hits theaters in July, plus there’s a good chance that it will be essential to the as-yet untitled Avengers 4.

Captain America: Civil War: Essential

LtR: Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

Civil War represents a paradigm shift for the entire MCU. It not only fundamentally changes the relationships between nearly all of the characters, but it also redefines how the world thinks about superheroes in general. The events of this film set the stage for the vast majority of the Earth-bound characters heading into Infinity War, and also introduce us to Spider-Man and Black Panther, both of whom are major players from this point on.

Doctor Strange: Essential

The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Doctor Strange (2016). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

While Guardians introduced us to the cosmic side of the MCU, this movie reveals the mystic side. Doctor Strange is one of the heaviest hitters in the MCU when it comes to sheer power, and he just so happens to wield an Infinity Stone. His powers will seem a bit out there when he shows up in Infinity War unless you have an understanding of how he came to have them and how they work. Additionally, while Doctor Strange is one of the biggest players in Infinity War and is definitely one of the good guys, he has a different set of priorities than the other heroes fighting alongside him, and watching his solo film will help you understand why.

Infinity Stone: Eye of Agamotto/Time Stone

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2: Essential

LtR: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

While Civil War was the game-changer for most of the characters on Earth, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 serves a similar function for the ones in space. In this film, we learn much more about Thanos, his mission, and his relationships with his daughters. It also deepens the relationships between all of the Guardians, several of which are hugely relevant to the events of Infinity War, and introduces us to the character of Mantis.

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Recommended

Ned (Jacob Batalon, left) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

No one was begging for a new Spider-Man movie after the rather disappointing outing that was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but then fate handed us Tom Holland. You get your first look at Peter Parker as Spidey in Civil War, but Homecoming dives into his interactions with Tony Stark, how he handles his powers, and who his friends are. You’ll miss a few small nods here and there in Infinity War if you choose to skip this one, but overall you won’t lose too much.

Thor: Ragnarok: Essential

LtR: Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

When Ragnarok hit theaters, director Taika Waititi said in interviews that more than any other movie, this one would set the stage for Infinity War. And he wasn’t kidding. Infinity War picks up immediately where Ragnarok left off, expecting you to know everything that Thor and Hulk have been up to since they both left Earth the end of Age of Ultron, and a huge part of Thor’s Infinity War storyline is a direct offshoot of the events of Ragnarok. If you’ve missed the most recent films and only have time for one before heading to the theater, this is the one to watch.

Black Panther: Highly Recommended

Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in Black Panther (2018). Photo credit: Marvel Studios

We suppose you don’t have to watch Black Panther before Infinity War, but seriously, you should. While the character of T’Challa is introduced in Civil War and most of the secondary characters don’t make an appearance in Infinity War (although the best ones do), Wakanda is one of the major settings of Infinity War, and you can’t fully appreciate the significance of that without first seeing Black Panther. While this film doesn’t introduce an Infinity Stone and its plot doesn’t directly influence anything in Infinity WarBlack Panther adds an amazing amount of depth and texture to the MCU, and you’ll appreciate Infinity War more for having seen it. Plus, Black Panther is almost universally considered to be one of the strongest entries in the entire MCU canon (some would argue the strongest), so it’s time well spent.

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