Essential viewing before Avengers: Endgame

April 27, 2019

This year, two cinematic chapters are coming to a close. We recently got a glimpse of what to expect when the curtain closes on the Skywalker storyline of “Star Wars” in December, but prior to that, we will see the conclusion of what has essentially been a 22-film story arc, give or take a few narrative detours, with “Avengers: Endgame.”

Starting in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched its first wave of films with “Iron Man” and released five others that led up to “The Avengers.” After that film, the series had two more “phases” of films, all which vary in degrees of necessity for viewing to get the most out of “Endgame.”

Sure, you could wade through 59 hours and 7 minutes of the films if you want to be all completist about it, but do you really want to sit through “The Incredible Hulk” again? So, if you are planning to get the most out of what is certainly going to be one of 2019’s biggest films, here is a guide that will give you a little refresher:

IRON MAN (2008): Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) and his alter ego kicked off the franchise and have been at the heart of the series, and it’s his voice that leads the “Endgame” trailer. His relationships with gal Friday Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) and Captain America (played by Chris Evans) are the emotional core of the series. 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011): Chronologically, this would be where to start, but in terms of when the films were released, this is fine to screen after “Iron Man,” especially since there is mention of Stark’s father, who created the serum that gave Cap his super abilities. The film is also important for its introduction of the Infinity Stones, referred to as The Tesseract. Additionally, Cap has a rather large part in “Endgame,” so reacquainting yourself with his backstory couldn’t hurt.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014): The first film that leaves the planet, and the first to give us insight on the Avengers’ chief nemesis, Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin). “Guardians” provides history on the all-important Infinity Stones and their role that has led to “Endgame’s” main plot device. 

MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS (2012): You can bypass the rather slow origins of both Hulk and Thor by watching this, as the group assembles to battle bad guy/good guy Loki, who is holding The Tesseract. This film’s final battle in New York launches the main narrative among future films that they operate together better as a team. Bonus: you get a first glimpse (albeit one that is a tad rough) of Thanos. 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014): Captain America slowly moves from a soldier for SHIELD to someone working outside the agency that begins the rift between the Avengers team. 

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015): This is perhaps the one film in the group that is the least palatable to endure, but essential for fully understanding the drive of “Endgame.” In it, Stark becomes obsessed with protecting everyone with artificial intelligence that, surprise, turns evil. The division between Stark and Captain America widens, and the team disbands. There is much more explanation of the Infinity Stones and the ease with which they can be collected by Thanos for galactic domination. All that said, it’s still a slog to sit through.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016): Still the best of all the MCU films, it also serves to bring the group together, including the first appearances of Black Panther and Spider-Man ... before they are torn apart by Tony and Cap’s ongoing feud. They need to reunite and work together if they want to stand a chance against Thanos in “Endgame,” so witnessing their breakup should be essential. 

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018): This one is a good palate cleanser, as it’s much lighter in tone than the previous films. It also deals with the direct fallout from “Civil War” and we learn more about the Quantum Realm. It may seem minor, but having seen it could pay off for appreciating the action of “Endgame.”

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018): Since “Endgame” was filmed back-to-back with “Infinity,” and since this film left many of our heroes rather ... um ... obsolete, it’s kind of necessary to make sense of anything within the last film.

Obviously, this list does not include personal favorites (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “Black Panther”) and is cobbled together only to help you budget your time wisely if you want to get the biggest payoff from what we hope “Endgame” will offer. And if you are feeling especially bold and wish to plow through the entire series prior to entering the last installment, here is the entire franchise laid out in chronological order (not by release date) so that you can fully gather as much info as possible (please do not attempt them in one sitting, or if you do, have a handy pair of Avengers diapers nearby!)

The MCU in chronological order:

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Captain Marvel
  3. Iron Man
  4. Iron Man 2
  5. The Incredible Hulk
  6. Thor
  7. Avengers
  8. Iron Man 3
  9. Thor: The Dark World
  10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  14. Ant-Man
  15. Captain America: Civil War
  16. Black Panther
  17. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  18. Doctor Strange
  19. Thor: Ragnarok
  20. Avengers: Infinity War
  21. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. Email him at

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