While previous generations grew up with film franchises like Star Wars and Jurassic Park shaping pop culture, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has undeniably defined the standards of a successful movie franchise in our time.
The MCU is the highest grossing movie franchise to date, according to Mental Floss. The explosion of popular response to the action-packed, witty movies ensured the franchise continues capitalizing on the opportunities to make money. The release of their 22nd movie, “Avengers: Endgame,” on April 26, rounding out the end of the third phase of Marvel movies.
With 21 predecessors, preparing for “Avengers: Endgame” isn’t an easy feat. Here are nine Marvel movies to watch to understand the plot of the overall story if you haven’t yet caught the final “Avengers” film.
1. ‘Iron Man’
The first movie in the “Avengers” storyline was released in 2008. The story of “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” (and narcissist) Tony Stark kicks off the idea of well-developed hero characters who have their own set of worries, strengths and weaknesses.
The entitled inventor, played by Robert Downey Jr., finds himself in a fight for his life and engages in a plan to outwit his enemies. The resulting invention leads to exciting new challenges and questions of moral responsibilities.
The story of an Asgardian god cast to Earth has hilarious elements of fantastical characters superimposed on an everyday background. Thor, the god of thunder, is played by Chris Hemsworth. Thor also runs into some key players in the organization which will eventually commission the Avengers Initiative.
While the storyline of this movie isn’t overtly necessary to the greater plot of the “Avengers” movies, it does introduce several key characters as well as certain dimensions of why the franchise is referred to as a “universe.” Understanding the expansive reach of subsequent movies would be extremely difficult without watching this film.
3. ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’
Since this movie came out three years after “Iron Man,” it would be only natural to question how Captain America was the first avenger. The simple answer: “Captain America: The First Avenger” is set in the 1940s during World War II. This movie acts as a prequel to the universe before “Iron Man,” “Thor” and other introductory, single-hero movies.
Tony Stark’s father even has an important role in the film. The movie is about a young man who is essentially a foil to Tony Stark. Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, has a pervading sense of right and wrong but no ability to act on his moral righteousness. When given the opportunity to become Captain America, Rogers seizes the chance to make his mark on the world.
4. ‘The Avengers’
“The Avengers” was released in 2012 and works on a massive scale to bring together six characters who are heroes in their own right to fight a battle bigger than themselves.
The movie was a box office hit, grossing $1.519 billion worldwide. The story is filled with the witty banter Marvel’s known for, as well as an increase in the scope of battles of grandeur. Seeing these previously-established characters come together and learn to work as a team (albeit shakily at first) lends the movie a larger-than-life quality.
Because if one superhero isn’t exciting enough, all you need to do is multiply them by six and bring in some aliens.
5. ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
This movie released in 2014 operates within the same universe but is almost completely devoid of connections to the original Avenger characters. As always happens, their worlds will eventually collide, but the first installment introduces fresh characters. The tone of this movie is certainly more light-hearted and humorous, and the outlandish characters feel carefree in comparison to the original Avengers who spend most of Phase II causing issues and begrudging each other their past mistakes.
6. ‘Captain America: Civil War’
If “The Avengers” introduced a note of feel-good camaraderie, “Captain America: Civil War,” released in 2016 does the exact opposite. The team is torn apart when Steve Rogers and Tony Stark find themselves in opposition while trying to do what they believe is right.
Friendships are torn asunder when characters have to align behind whoever holds their ideological position. Many key characters are also introduced in this film, such as Black Panther and Spider-Man, and Ant-Man is introduced as a team player for the first time. While this movie is effectively devoid of villains, since it’s hero versus hero, there’s still plenty of conflict to go around.
7. ‘Thor: Ragnarok’
This movie is a major rebrand for the god of thunder. The story finds Thor cast to the other side of the universe, where he’s trying to get home to save his planet, Asgard, and deal with some major family issues.
Filled with self-aware humor, “Thor: Ragnarok” never misses a beat to bring a laugh to the audience. The plot would be almost unimportant in the midst of belly-laughing if it wasn’t so game-changing for the course of the MCU.
8. ‘Avengers: Infinity War’
The epitome of a game-changer, “Avengers: Infinity War” turns the MCU on its head. A battle filled with every character imaginable is fought on a galactic scale.
With a dastardly villain set to enact an unthinkable plan, the battles rage on many fronts, jumping from planet to planet while every one of the Avengers works to best the seemingly all-powerful Thanos.
9. ‘Captain Marvel’
The last movie to be released before “Avengers: Endgame,” “Captain Marvel” is the story of an unearthly and unexpected hero.
Set in the ’90s, the film is filled with humor and camaraderie between the main character played by Brie Larson and Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson. The movie sets up the origins of the Avengers idea, while also preparing the audience for interactions between new and old characters in the new “Avengers: Endgame” movie.