What to watch/rewatch before Infinity War

Marvel’s Avenger’s Infinity War is a big film with a lot of characters and lots of assumptions about continuity. So what previous films do you need to see for the film to work? There are some very obvious films in the Marvel sequence you don’t need to see (the 2008 Hulk movie, probably Ant-Man, the second Thor film) but what’s the minimum?

Here’s what I’d suggest at various levels of how much spare time you have to spend watching people thump each other and make quips.

  1. Thor: Ragnarok – Thor is a key player and Infinity War starts up directly after the end of Ragnarok. The tones of the films are quite different but the emotional impact and one major storyline follow directly from the last Thor film.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 – The first Guardian’s film introduces the team but also has the most screen time for Thanos and a plot about infinity stones.
  3. Captain America: Civil War – This is a tricky one as it gives the key background for where the Earth-based heroes are up to but it also requires some understanding of previous events from other films.

If you’ve seen those three, plus assorted others, then you are probably sufficiently caught up.

Expanding that roster a little:

  1. Black Panther – Mainly because it is a fun film but also because it introduces the supporting characters for Wakanda.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – mainly for continuity as well as the added character development for Gamora and Nebula as well as adding Mantis to the team. Also, it is another fun film.
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron – The first problem. There are worse films in Marvel’s universe but this one is long and rambles. Unfortunately, if you are looking for something like a complete story arc, this one is important. The film adds Scarlet Witch and The Vision as characters. It also foreshadows Thanos and the infinity stones – motivating Tony Stark. Thor’s vision sends him off on a quest that is picked up in Ragnarok and also The Hulk also flies off into space, which is also resolved in Ragnarok. The film also sets up the conflict for Civil War.

But…if you watch Avengers: Age of Ultron then you’ll need even MORE backstory! Where will it all end? Here’s a possible longer set of films that watched in order make a story sequence without including ALL the MCU films.

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger – not the first MCU film but it’s WW2 setting make it a good starting point. Corny but it works by evoking the golden age of comic books and radio serials.
  2. Iron Man 1 – effectively the first MCU film.
  3. Thor 1 – of the Marvel films this is the most conventionally a superhero film. Adds the cosmic element to the overall franchise.
  4. *Iron Man 2 – a weaker film but it adds more of SHIELD, Nick Fury and Black Widow.
  5. The Avengers – Joss Whedon’s fun ensemble film brings the core characters together and adds Thanos as the secret big bad.
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 – Who was that purple guy in the last film? Guardians will tell you who and introduce the Infinity Stones.
  7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The franchise was originally centred on Iron Man mainly because of Robert Downey Jr’s charismatic acting. The second Captain America film is both a taut thriller but also puts the Captain as the central character of the ongoing storyline.
  8. *Doctor Strange – He’s briefly name-checked in Winter Soldier and it is not obvious where this film fits in with the timing of the others. However, he’s a key character in Infinity War and he doesn’t cameo anywhere else except briefly in Ragnarok.
  9. The Avengers: Age of Ultron – not the first misstep from Marvel or the worst film but perhaps the most disappointing but maybe I need to rewatch it.
  10. *Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – not entirely essential but a nice break from Ultron.
  11. Captain America: Civil War – everybody is unhappy except Spiderman who manages to escape the clutches of a different film contract.
  12. *Black Panther – having been introduced in Civil War, this is a good point to meet his friends, family and morally-ambiguous cousin Killmonger.
  13. Thor: Ragnarok – catch up with Thor, Loki and enjoy a disco-themed deconstruction of the issues of colonisation in popular culture.
  14. Avengers: Infinity War.

Not included: Iron Man 3, Ant-Man, Spiderman: Homecoming, Thor: The Darkworld, Hulk (2008). Films with an asterisk are more easily skipped without missing plot elements of the overall story arc.

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17 thoughts on “What to watch/rewatch before Infinity War

  1. I think you’ve about nailed the same things I would consider essential versus ignorable.

    I liked the suggestion that they should have a 5 minute recap as a short film before infinity War, summing up the events of the prior movies… as narrated by Ant Man’s best buddy. The only problem with this is that it would make Ant-Man useful viewing instead of a mostly-skippable story.

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  2. No, you’re trying to downplay the Avengers movies as a whole, but Infinity War, Part 1 is the third act of the Avengers movies — it continues the plot line of the first two. So the movies that will help you out to watch beforehand are:

    The Avengers
    Avengers: Age of Ultron
    Captain America: Civil War (also known as Avengers 2.5)
    Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1
    Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2
    Thor: Ragnorak

    That’s all you need to watch to be able to follow it. If you have time, you can watch Black Panther, but it’s not absolutely necessary. You can also watch Dr. Strange to get the full dope on the guy with the plan, but it’s not essential.

    All the other ones — the earlier Thors, the first two Cap movies, the Iron Man movies, Spider-Man: Home-coming, Ant-Man, Hulk movies, etc. are peripheral. They are certainly enjoyable and help deepen appreciation for Infinity War, Part 1, especially many of the jokes, but they are side comics series that cross-over into the Avengers series. Infinity Wars, Part 1 is basically a cross-over of Avengers and Guardians, with a side of recent Thor, which is really just an extension of the Avengers series.

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      1. And also from events in the first Thor movie, etc. but those events are sufficiently referenced in the first two Avengers movies so that you don’t need to see them. (Granted, I think people will get the most enjoyment from having seen all of them except maybe the not great early Hulk movie attempts and Ant-Man because it’s only slightly connected, but we’re talking about the basics.)

        So if you didn’t see the first Captain America and you don’t know the comics, you won’t get who Red Skull is exactly, but you will know about the current situation with the Avengers and Captain America from watching the first two Avengers movies and the sneaky Avengers movie, Captain America:Civil War. Civil War sufficiently introduces Wakanda and T’Challa’s people, so you can follow it in Infinity War, even if you don’t know all the Wakanda characters. And Doctor Strange’s cameo in Thor:Ragnorak sufficiently introduces Doctor Strange so you can follow Doctor Strange in Infinity War. Civil War also sufficiently introduces you to Spider-Man’s character, so you don’t need Home-coming.

        The Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume I introduces you to Thanos and the Infinity Stones as “advanced technology,” so you don’t again absolutely need to have seen Doctor Strange. He tells you that he has the time stone and it manipulates time, you see him manipulate time, etc. so while it is one of the extended roster to see, you don’t need it. You could almost kick Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume II off the necessary list, except that movie explains Gamora and Nebula’s repaired relationship, Groot being a sullen teenager, Starlord and Gamora’s romantic relationship, who Mantis is, and various bits about the Guardians that are kind of essential to understanding them in Infinity Wars.

        They’ve essentially structured the movies like comic book series, with the big cross-over in the middle. And when comics do a big cross-over, you are faced with either spending a small fortune to get all the issues of the different series to follow the one cross-over storyline, or trying to find the minimum number of issues you have to get besides the main series/team (Avengers) so you can sufficiently follow it. So both Avengers, last Cap (which was really an Avengers movie), last Thor, and the two Guardians movies are the bare minimum to be able to understand the plot of Infinity Wars, aided by the helpful quick summaries of events and artifacts the characters actually give the audience in Infinity Wars, which I found really funny, especially Starlord and Thor comparing notes. You can then layer on Black Panther and Doctor Strange to have a somewhat wider circle of understanding, if you want.

        The rest are a delightful way to get the full experience and fill in all the little, less essential holes, if you haven’t seen them before and want to spend the time. (The two earlier Captain America movies would probably then be first on that list.) Except the first two Hulk movies, which have been honored by the Marvelverse (including bringing Hurt’s character back in,) but don’t really count as part of it and aren’t going to help you out with all the Marvelverse movies’ details and the Thanos storyline. (Plus the first one is a mess and the second one is enh.)

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      2. I really think Winter Soldier is more important than you’re implying for some of the sea change in the Avengers between the first movies. Having the entire agency which originally tried to assemble the Avengers turn bad, while irrelevant to the Infinity War, makes Age of Ultron, and especially Civil War, both make a fraction more *sense*. Otherwise, the line from A to B has a big pit in the middle of “What the characters think and do what now?”

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      3. Civil War sufficiently establishes who Bucky is and he’s a minor player in Infinity War, Part 1, so you don’t need Winter Soldier for Infinity War basic understanding. Ultimately, to get all of the aspects of the characters and their development, you would need to watch all of the movies except the first two Hulk movies that were not constructed as part of the multiverse, just ret-conned. But to simply be able to follow Infinity War, Part 1 with sufficient info as to who main characters are and what’s going on with Thanos and the Infinity War, you only need the six directly linked movies: The Avengers movies, Civil War because it was really an Avengers movie, the Guardians movie and Thor 3: Ragnorak.

        You can then layer on other movies to the extent that you want to do so if you haven’t seen them, and Winter Soldier could be layered on with Black Panther and Doctor Strange as extended most helpful but not absolutely necessary films there. But SHIELD’s betrayal of Cap is explained in Civil War, as is Bucky, and who Falcon is also is sufficiently explained in Civil War. And that betrayal of the agency isn’t particularly relevant to Infinity War, so you don’t need to have sat through that info in Winter Soldier to follow Infinity War. We’re talking bare minimum here. When you get Fury at the end, you don’t need to know about Winter Soldier to follow what happens there, and that’s really the only time SHIELD even comes into play. There is a lot of material about most of these characters in the first two Avengers movies and Civil War, except the Guardians characters, so you need their two movies to follow them. And Thor: Ragnorak because they directly tied that movie into Infinity War as a sort of prologue.

        So that’s the bare minimum because the Avengers series is the center. When it ends with Part 2, the Marvelverse is going to bang around in a lot more different directions, with less crossovers. But all the films together building to the crossover over a decade — it’s truly a pretty historic effort in film-making. Nobody has ever done this before. But for those who are not geek obsessed like we are and don’t want to see all the films, then the short list would be just the films that give very basic info for Infinity War, Part 1.

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  3. There’s a decent argument that you do need to see Doctor Strange in order to understand what the Infinity Stones can actually do in the category of “sufficiently advanced technology”…

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  4. I love the original Captain America, but I think the Avengers works well enough to introduce him as a character that you can roll with it from that point…but this does mandate CA Winter Soldier, so you understand the whole Cap-Bucky relationship.

    Maybe the *least* essential MCU movies to see Infinity War, IMO
    Thor 2
    Iron Man 2
    Ant-Man
    Spiderman Homecoming
    GOTG 2
    Hulk
    Black Panther (which pains me, but I think his appearance in Civil War is enough that you can roll with it and Wakanda into this movie.)

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    1. Captain America: The First Avengers is a lot better than I expected it to be, but it’s not really necessary. Interestingly, it’s the only MCU film my mother refuses to watch – WWII settings don’t make for great entertainment for people who still have memories of the real thing. However, she never had any problems understanding who Cap is and where he comes from, though Bucky required a bit of explanation, when he shows up in The Winter Soldier.

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      1. I tend to advise watching the first Captain America to those who want to see *why people like these movies/characters* if they haven’t been watching along (With the acceptance that a caveat like your mom’s makes sense for particular audiences). I agree it’s nonessential for the current list, which is about those who want to get in on Infinity War in particular.

        Although most of the latter group have watched at least *some* prior MCU movies, usually the earlier or more standalone ones and are mostly borrowing lists like Camestros’s to determine which ones of the ones they missed are the most essential.

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  5. I didn’t see Doctor Strange and had no problem. He has magic and does jazz hands. He can see futures. I might watch it just to see more of Wong; I liked him in A:IW even the little bit he had (I did see Ragnarok). I kinda have the same opinion of him as Peter did.

    Since Ant-Man isn’t in this, it didn’t matter I hadn’t seen his movie either. (It didn’t even matter for Civil War) The Hulk movie that’s supposedly canon but doesn’t have Ruffalo is definitely skippable; the other one isn’t even MCU canon. You don’t really need GotG 2 either.

    I think your basic 3 are fine. You could probably get by reading a really detailed summary of them that has pictures of everyone.

    I would recommend “Black Panther” just because it is awesome, and it leads right into this. Also it is awesome. Awesome.

    The first 2 Cap movies are worth seeing just for themselves — a delightful nostalgia-fest, and a taut political thriller that sets up Cap’s disillusionment and meeting Falcon. But you don’t need to see them before A:IW.

    You can get by with just basic cultural knowledge of Banner/Hulk and friendly neighborhood Spider-Man; seeing the top 3 movies there sets them up for what they do in A:IW. I’d probably watch those 3 in order of release — CW, GotG, Rag.

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  6. I sort of feel like Iron Man 3 is actually a requirement in order to understand Tony’s near crippling anxiety post Avengers and to the point that it’s haunted his actions and even led to motivation behind the creation of Ultron, and a decision he makes in the movie to confront those fears head on despite the decision being a questionable one.

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  7. I managed to get by without having seen Age of Ultron, Civil War or Black Panther. I think I would have been pretty lost if I hadn’t seen Thor: Ragnarok, though.

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