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Avengers: Infinity War is finally heading to theaters, and since the film basically kicks off the grand finale of the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that fans who have rewatched the previous 18 installments religiously will get the most out of Anthony and Joe Russo’s latest superheroic epic. Of course, with the film’s release upon us, not all moviegoers will be able to spend 36 hours watching every single film Marvel Studios has released since 2008.

So, if you’re one of those looking for a shorter route to the battle against Thanos, we’ve narrowed down the must-watch chapters of the MCU to just five entries. Since Infinity War is an Avengers film through and through, we’re focusing mostly on the team dynamic at play as well as the background information and direct lead-up to Thanos’ arrival on Earth.

The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers (2012) - Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr.

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Sure, you’re missing out on the individual introductions of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk if you jump straight to this film. But seeing as the ensemble is key to Infinity War, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers does an admirable job providing the Cliff’s Notes version of what you need to know about each of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In addition, the Battle of New York is an essential part of Thanos’ efforts to emerge victorious, as he is famously revealed as the Big Bad in the mid-credits scene. This is the film that first established Thanos as a threat, after all, and that history very much comes into play in Infinity War.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy

James Gunn’s film is the first time viewers see Thanos since his brief Avengers appearance, but more than that, Guardians of the Galaxy provides the backstory for Gamora and Nebula, two of Thanos’ children. Those two — and the Guardians in general — play very important roles in Infinity War. So, without at least basic knowledge of who the Guardians are and their beef with Thanos, you’ll be missing out on much of the emotional impact when Star-Lord and company join the fight. If you have time, try to squeeze in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 as the sixth film you watch, since it develops Gamora’s key relationships with both Star-Lord and Nebula.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

As the sequel to Whedon’s original Avengers, Age of Ultron is an easy one to include on our list. Providing follow-up on the Tesseract and Loki’s staff, the film marks the first time the Avengers learn about the Infinity Stones. Moreover, it also introduces key figures like Vision and Scarlet Witch and even features Thanos’ second mid-credits appearance, this time directly leading into his quest to complete the Infinity Gauntlet himself. Age of Ultron‘s central plot may feel disconnected from that of Infinity War, but it does a lot of work developing the character relationships and plot points that become integral to Infinity War.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War

Its title may say Captain America, but Civil War still plays basically like Avengers 3. Without this film in your memory banks, you’ll be completely lost at the state the various Avengers are in by the time Infinity War rolls around. The Sokovia Accords and the resulting division of Iron Man and Captain America might seem inconsequential against Thanos’ intergalactic threat, but the Russos’ second Marvel Studios feature — following Captain America: The Winter Soldier — is a true stage-setter for the status quo of the MCU. Furthermore, it introduces Black Panther and Spider-Man into the fold, both of whom have major roles in Infinity War.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

thor ragnarok

At face value, the revelation of Thor’s sister, Hela, and the titular Asgardian apocalypse don’t have much to do with Thanos or Infinity War, but Thor: Ragnarok remains the missing chapter of the Avengers saga in other ways. Taika Waititi’s film acts very much as a counterpart to Captain America: Civil War, revealing what Thor and Hulk have been up to following Avengers: Age of Ultron. In fact, both characters’ arcs — Thor is particularly prominent in Infinity War — are smoothly carried over into the new Avengers film, and Ragnarok‘s finale even leads directly into its opening sequence. So definitely fire this one up before you head to the theater.

How much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have you had the chance to revisit prior to Avengers: Infinity War? Let us know how you’ve prepared for Thanos’ arrival below!

Robert Yaniz Jr.
Robert Yaniz Jr. has been a professional writer since 2003 and a student of pop culture long before that. If he had a nickel for each hour he spent gazing up at a screen in a darkened theater, he would be far too busy swimming around his Scrooge McDuck-style vault to write anything for the Internet. As it stands, you can find his musings on the entertainment world at or chat movies with him directly on Twitter @crookedtable.