There have been 18 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they’ve all been leading up to this. Well, maybe not all of them. Avengers: Infinity War is a crossover superhero epic more than a decade in the making, but not every movie that came before it is as necessary to understanding the current state of the MCU on the eve of Thanos’s invasion.
If you’re a newbie to the MCU (maybe you’re one of the people who saw Black Panther and now wants to see what Shuri’s up to next) here are the five most important movies you should watch in order to be more or less up to speed when the movie comes out on April 27. And, even if you have seen all or most of the films leading up to Infinity War, here are the five you might want to revisit, just to make sure you’re all caught up.
5. The Avengers
The first Avengers movie set a precedent for Infinity War, bringing together Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and Thor from their respective solo movies, and throwing in Hawkeye and Black Widow to boot. Together, this team fends off an alien invasion led by Thor’s brother, Loki. However, it turns out Loki had a powerful financier backing his failed invasion: A big, purple, scary dude named Thanos.
Why you should watch: It’s a good introduction to the Avengers’ founding members, and it sets the stage for their relationship with each other, Thor’s relationship with Loki, and the looming threat of Thanos.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy might still be Marvel’s biggest gamble every (though it’s not like the success of The Avengers was a sure thing). The film is less of a superhero story than it is a sci-fi epic, following the exploits of a cosmic team from the comics who could charitably be called D-list characters. However, thanks to a fun plot, great sense of style, and killer Seventies soundtrack, Guardians was a huge success.
Why you should watch: Guardians is the first MCU movie to really explore the cosmic side of the franchise, which is where Thanos hails from. Thanos even has a cameo in this movie, and two characters who reappear in Infinity War, Gamora and Nebula, are his estranged daughters. Guardians also offers up the MCU’s tidiest explanation of what Infinity Stones are. These six gems are extremely powerful, and drive the plot of more than one MCU movie. In Infinity War, Thanos will strive to collect all six for essentially unlimited power.
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron is actually one of the weaker movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it introduces some characters who will be very important later in the franchise, including Infinity War. One of those characters, Vision, is actually one of those Infinity Stones. The main plot, a rogue AI’s attempt to end humanity, has little to do with Infinity War, but one of the reasons Age of Ultron isn’t especially good is because it keeps pausing to set up the next wave of movies. It’s inelegant, but if you’re watching movies to prepare for Infinity War, might as well watch the one that tried the hardest.
Why you should watch: This film explains a little more about the Infinity Stones and introduces Vision and Scarlett Witch, along with setting up the second iteration of the Avengers. Also, Thor has some sort of vision.
2. Captain America: Civil War
There isn’t an intergalactic threat in Civil War. There’s just a huge difference of opinion and one smart, human villain who knows how to take advantage of it in order to turn heroes against on another. Civil War utterly upends the relationships between the MCU’s greatest heroes, and introduces Spider-Man and Black Panther to the fold. Plus, there’s a very, very good fight scene.
Why you should watch: The Avengers aren’t exactly all on the same page when Infinity War starts. The events of Civil War are why.
1. Black Panther
Black Panther is almost a standalone movie, a rarity for the MCU. Really all you need to know about Black Panther is that the main character, T’Challa, is the king of an advanced African country because his dad died in Civil War. Aside from that, though, Black Panther’s plot is almost entirely contained, focusing on Wakanda. However, although you don’t need to watch other movies to understand Black Panther, you should watch it before Infinity War, since it appears to conclusion of the movie takes place in Wakanda’s borders. Also, Black Panther is an amazing movie.
Why you should watch: This movie will make it very clear why the other Avengers come to Wakanda when the shit hits the fan in Infinity War.
If you’re going to watch a sixth movie, Thor: Ragnarok is probably the one to fire up. The main plot is largely disconnected from the Infinity Stones overarching story, but the movie is a hoot, and it will explain why Thor, the Hulk, and Loki are together on a refugee spaceship at the start of Infinity War.
Avengers: Infinity War opens on April 27.