Updated: Jan 2, 2019
Whether you've spent $200 on MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) tickets or you want to join the cultural moment, you'll want to have the background films down before you watch Infinity War this May. Some moviegoers are bold enough to binge the entire franchise before the Avengers finally face Thanos. Binging six or seven Star Wars films to prepare for the latest film is one thing, but eighteen superhero movies? In one sitting?...nah.
So, to save you the trouble, I've compiled a list of the 10 MCU movies that actually matter. Consider anything not included in this list as filler.
1. Iron Man
The first fact about the MCU is that it's divided into phases. In each phase, typically, a group of solo superhero films builds toward a larger crossover adventure. Phase One refers to the Avengers' (Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, among others) solo and their ensemble films. 2008's Iron Man was the first Phase One film. It introduced us to one of the series' most popular heroes: Tony Stark. Tony Stark begins the film as a billionaire weapons developer, but once he's kidnapped by terrorists and forced to create a super-suit, he escapes to become the world's first public superhero. This film's worth checking out before Infinity War because it tells the origin story of one of the two pillars of the franchise. Plus, Robert Downey Jr.'s performance is zany, but remarkable.
Ignore the Iron Man sequels.
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
This film's faded into the background since its release, but it's essential for understanding the MCU, which has largely centered on Tony Stark's Iron Man and Steve Rogers' Captain America. In this titular film, Chris Evans imbues "Capt" with strength, sensibility and justice as he fights Red Skull and the Nazis during World War II. The romance between Capt and Peggy Carter alone would earn the film a spot on this list.
3. The Avengers
The culmination of Phase One, The Avengers saw heroes from five previous films come together to save New York from an alien invasion. Of course, they have to overcome their differences with each other first, but the film never gets boring.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The second thing to know about the MCU is that the Captain America trilogy is gold. It's by far the best series in the saga because the creators buck the conventional formula of the MCU. That fact was made clear by the Russo Brothers' direction in this sequel. The Winter Soldier follows Capt and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) as their allegiance to the US government is tested by its methods. Check this out for jaw-dropping action sequences and surprises.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
The Guardians of the Galaxy stands as one of the funniest films in recent memory, and certainly one of the funniest in the MCU. It's a well-written, psychedelic feature that follows a group of rogue heroes saving the galaxy. Along with its fantastic visual effects, the film successfully integrated a soundtrack of 70s and 80s rock. The film is almost completely unconnected to previous films and joins Star Wars in the canon of memorable space westerns.
6. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Truthfully, I will never rewatch this film; it never matched the hype of the trailers or the quality of The Avengers. But it's requisite viewing because it brings the band back together while introducing new characters like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.
7. Captain America: Civil War
Follow the golden rule - if "Captain America" is in the title, you watch it.
But seriously, the Russo Brothers (from The Winter Soldier) return to write and direct this crossover film. In this installment, the UN becomes frustrated over the global nature of the Avengers' missions and tries to regulate their activities. Iron Man agrees, Capt does not; the other heroes pick sides. It culminates in the two sides engaging in an epic CIVIL WAR.
8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
On the heels of two Spider-Man franchises, Marvel introduced teenage Peter Parker to the MCU for the first time. It was only possible by two movie studios forming their own superhero team: the (temporary) alliance between Disney and Sony Studios. They created one of the best MCU features simply by bringing diversity to the franchise. Most of the Avengers are young men, but this film breaks the trend of a teenage boy struggling with high school, responsibility and girls.
9. Thor: Ragnarok
Admittedly, I think this film was overrated, but enjoyable. But most critics disagree with me, and crowned it the best Marvel film yet. Still, the plot is exciting: The Hulk and an exiled Thor must battle their way through a gladiator contest in order to save Thor's homeworld from the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett).
10. Black Panther
I haven't seen this film, but I know in my bones that it'll be mind-blowing. I mean, have you seen the cast list? Angela Bassett? Michael B. Jordan? Lupita Nyong'o? And it's directed by Ryan Coogler (writer and director of Creed!)
Despite its length, the MCU is an engaging serial. Through strong visual effects, humor and interesting characters, the MCU crowns its film as 'big events.' There's a special magic to seeing one of these films with a huge crowd on opening weekend, one that can't be replicated if you miss it. You want to be a part of that. And with only 3 movies per month, you'll be caught up and part of the Infinity War magic this May.