Just in time for graduation season, Marvel is releasing its capstone project. Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of 11 years of moviemaking that, for good or for ill, transformed Hollywood. A decade ago, the idea that a series could release three or four films a year and keep drawing in audiences all the way up to the 22nd installment might have seemed ludicrous, and yet somehow, here we are.
As we get ready to celebrate the end of this particular era of Marvel, it’s tempting to wonder exactly how many of these films you need to have seen to “get” the latest one. That’s where we come in! As we did for Infinity War, here’s a guide to the Marvel movies you need to see before Avengers: Endgame.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Well, yes. If you’re going to watch the conclusion to a massive cliffhanger, it is generally helpful to have seen the movie that explains why everyone’s hanging on that cliff. This is the kind of sophisticated pop-culture analysis that keeps dedicated readers coming back to Vulture every single day.
The Avengers (2012)
Without spoiling too much, the Infinity Stones remain the premier MacGuffins in the MCU. The original team-up is the first time the gang got together to collect a colorful rock, and you’d be well served to catch up on all their old hijinks. Plus, revisiting these fresh-faced Obama-era superheroes provides an illuminating contrast with their paralyzed, grief-stricken incarnations in Endgame.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Endgame flips the script on MCU history at a few points, and appropriately, it’s this screwy space comedy that serves as the basis for most of the meta gags. Guardians also introduced the messed-up dynamic between mauve Malthusian Thanos and his adopted daughters Nebula and Gamora, which gets a lot of screen time in Endgame.
Captain America (2011)
There are a ton of nods to Cap’s past in Endgame, and while you can pick up the basics from the other films — small guy, science experiment, WWII, frozen in ice — I highly suggest you watch his origin story to get the whole picture.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Endgame is more focused on looking backward than on setting up the next stage of the MCU, but it’s clear that Brie Larson’s hero is going to occupy a prominent place going forward. Last month’s origin story will give you a sense of exactly who she is. Watching it will also go a small way toward explaining one of Endgame’s most inexplicable personal-style decisions.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
There’s a lot of science stuff in Endgame that doesn’t make too much sense even if you’ve seen every Marvel movie, but it makes slightly more sense if you’ve seen last summer’s caper heist. Like Infinity War, it, too, ends in a cliffhanger that Endgame resolves.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
At one point in Endgame’s second act, two characters from Winter Soldier show up and the audience chuckles: Ho, ho, ho, it’s these guys again. If you want to chuckle, too, you gotta see Winter Soldier. There are also a few plot points you won’t quite get unless you know the secret history of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is basically what this sequel is all about.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ultron introduced a location and set of characters that get prominent placement in Endgame’s opening, and they help explain why one character undergoes such a bold transformation. It also marks the seeds of the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, who are occasionally at loggerheads in the new film.
For Those Who Want to Be Thorough
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Thor’s mommy issues come to the forefront in Endgame’s second act, and to understand those issues, it helps to have seen this little-loved sequel. However, I myself have not seen it, and I followed along fine.
Doctor Strange (2016)
The good doctor may have turned to dust at the end of Infinity War, but there are still plenty of masters of the magic arts wandering around, and they pop up a few times in Endgame. I imagine their whole deal is pretty hard to understand if you haven’t watched this origin story, one of the lesser-grossing installments in the MCU. So see it — you might even enjoy it!
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Wait, why does that nice young lady from Creed suddenly have a British accent? And is that one alien from New Zealand? This movie will explain it all, and also reveal why the Asgardians are no longer living on Asgard.
Iron-Man 3 (2013)
Near the end of the movie, the camera grazes past a whole bunch of MCU characters, most of whom are helpfully lumped together in groups. However, there is one character who is all alone, and I would venture that a solid 83 percent of post-Endgame bathroom-line conversation will be about who the heck that person was. This movie will answer that question.