Since you’re reading this on the internet, you probably know that the thirteenth Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie, Captain America: Civil War hits theaters next week. But it’s been eight years since the first one came out, and more than 25 hours of movies have come out since then – not to mention the TV shows. What do you really need to have seen – and seen recently – to get the most out of the Civil War experience? So glad you asked!
Here’s a list of all twelve previous movies in descending order of their importance to the new one. If you plan to watch several of them, you’ll probably enjoy it more if you watch them in the order they came out.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – It should be pretty obvious that, if you’re going to see the third movie about Captain America, you should have seen the second one. Winter Soldier solidly establishes Cap as a 21st-century superhero and Steve Rogers as a character with strong convictions about the version of the USA (and the rest of the world) he would like to be reality. The film also establishes several characters crucial to Civil War.
2. Avengers: Age of Ultron – If you want to really understand the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America – or, more fundamentally, between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers – you need to see this. You’ll also get a really good handle on why a lot of normal people in Civil War think superheroes need some oversight, since nearly everything bad that happens (or almost happens) in this movie is a result of the heroes’ hubris.
3. The Avengers – The first movie with Cap in the modern world, this is where all the heroes meet each other, and also demonstrates just how much capacity for destruction they have while solving a problem that, remarkably, they didn’t create. This is also the first movie that has Black Widow as a major character, after her relatively brief appearance in Iron Man 2.
Useful If You Have the Time
4. Captain America: The First Avenger – Except for the very end, this whole movie takes place during World War II, so as you’d probably guess, it doesn’t have a lot of direct relevance to Civil War. That being said, it’s a really good film, provides Cap’s origin story, and gives the back story to his and Bucky’s relationship, which does have significance for future events.
5. Iron Man – Stark’s origin story and the movie that started the whole MCU, this is definitely not essential, but if you (or someone you know/love whom you would like to take to Civil War but who doesn’t know much about the comics or the movies) it’s definitely where you should start.
6. Ant-Man – Useful for a bit of background on (obviously) Ant-Man, who does appear in Civil War, and to establish how he and Falcon know each other, but it’s definitely not necessary.
7. Iron Man 3 – Gives you some more insight into Tony Stark’s character, and in particular his dangerous overconfidence, but you won’t learn anything you need to know for the new movie. It’s a pretty good film, though, so if you have the time, why not watch it?
8. The Incredible Hulk – Useful to Civil War only in that it gives you background on General Ross, who appears in the new film. Apart from that, since it’s not that great a movie and since Hulk isn’t in the new one, there isn’t a lot of reason to make time to watch it.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy – Such a fun film, but completely detached from Civil War.
10. Thor – Since neither Thor nor any of this film’s other characters even appears in Civil War, save it for some other time.
11. Iron Man 2 – My usual advice to anyone who’s considering watching Iron Man 2 is to do themselves a favor and just watch the first Iron Man again instead. Apart from Don Cheadle, who makes everything he’s in better than it would be without him, there isn’t much interesting about this film that isn’t more interesting in the first one.
12. Thor: The Dark World – By far the worst of the MCU movies, and no more relevant than its predecessor.
So, to re-Cap (sorry), here’s a schedule for what you should watch over the next week to make sure you’re fully prepared when you sit down to watch Captain America: Civil War (essential movies in bold):
- Iron Man
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- The Avengers
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
As for the TV shows, you should watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but really only because it’s a terrific show – it will tie into Civil War in some way, but you won’t enjoy the movie any less if you don’t watch it. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are brilliant shows, and you should watch them (though probably not with your kids), but beyond an oblique reference here and there, they have nothing at all to do with any of the movies. Agent Carter, while not brilliant, is very good and highly watchable, but – aside from the occasional mention of the presumed-dead Cap – it has even less relevance to the movies.
Captain America: Civil War opens May 6, 2016 in the U.S., Canada, and the rest of the world where it hasn’t already opened – in luckier parts of the world, it’s already open now.