Prepare for “Avengers: Endgame”: Every Marvel movie, ranked and explained

More than two decades in the making.
More than two decades in the making.
Image: Marvel
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The culmination of 18 Marvel films and dozens more characters and plot lines spanning a decade, Avengers: Endgame is a massive, global event. It has already made $120 million in ticket pre-sales and is on track have one of the biggest opening weekends ever.

If you’re one of the millions of people who will see the superhero film when it comes out Friday (April 26), you may need a refresher on all of the films that led up to this moment. There are a lot of them, and only a few are really worth watching before you go see Endgame.

To help you figure out which previous Marvel films are worth your time, as well as the ones you should specifically revisit (or watch for the first time) ahead of Endgame, Quartz has ranked and explained all 18 Marvel movies, from 2008’s Iron Man to last month’s Captain Marvel. (This is an update of the list we published a year ago, ahead of Avengers: Infinity War. There are some spoilers, but really only for those entirely new to the Marvel universe.)

Endgame follows the remaining Avengers as they figure out how to move forward after the events of Infinity War, in which the intergalactic tyrant Thanos acquired all the “Infinity Stones” and destroyed half of all life in the universe—including Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and, crucially, Groot.

The films are ranked from worst to best based on my opinion (with input from my Quartz colleagues), but I also included Rotten Tomatoes ratings and blurbs about how relevant each film’s plots are to Endgame. Many of these films are eminently skippable, but the top 10 are certainly worth watching for anyone who likes superhero movies.

21. Iron Man 2  (2008)

iron man 2
Image: Paramount Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 73%
  • Heroes: Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow
  • Villain: Ivan Vanko (“Whiplash”)
  • Quick synopsis: Ironman Tony Stark’s health is deteriorating due to the arc reactor in his chest. Russian Scientist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) builds his own advanced weapons to seek revenge on Stark, whom he blames for his father’s death.
  • See it if… for some reason you’re dying to see a shirtless Mickey Rourke swinging electric whips on a race track.
  • Skip it if… you’d prefer to avoid the silliest and most uninspired entry in the Marvel film universe.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNot in the slightest.

20. The Incredible Hulk  (2008)

the incredible hulk
Image: Universal Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 67%
  • Heroes: Hulk
  • Villain: Thunderbolt Ross, Emil Blonsky (Abomination)
  • Quick synopsis: After an experiment gone awry, Dr. Bruce Banner (Ed Norton, in his only Marvel appearance before Mark Ruffalo was recast as Banner) transforms into “the Hulk” and goes on the run from the US military, which seeks to weaponize him.
  • See it if… you want to see two Hulks fight each other.
  • Skip it if… you’re not interested in Hulk’s banal origin story.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNo, except for slightly filling in Banner’s individual story arc.

19. Avengers: Age of Ultron  (2015)

avengers age of ultron
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 75%
  • Heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Quicksilver, War Machine, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon
  • Villain: Ultron
  • Quick synopsis: The Avengers re-team to take on Ultron, a seemingly omnipotent artificial intelligence unwittingly empowered by Tony Stark.
  • See it if… you want some extra background on the Infinity Stones and are intrigued by the idea of floating fictional cities.
  • Skip it if… you’re tired of the corny and overstuffed superhero movies that have become the genre’s norm
  • Does it factor into EndgameNot really, although Vision is powered by the “Mind” Infinity Stone.

18. Thor: The Dark World  (2013)

thor the dark world
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 66%
  • Heroes: Thor, Loki
  • Villain: Malekith
  • Quick synopsis: Thor and his brother Loki try to stop an ancient enemy—the “Dark Elf” Malekith—from returning after thousands of years to unleash a weapon that could destroy the universe.
  • See it if… you get a kick out of lots of brotherly repartee and the thought of Christopher Eccleston looking like the child of the Keebler Elf and a Klingon.
  • Skip it if… heavy, relentless CGI annoys you.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNo, apart from another mid-credits scene that explains the weapon Malekith sought (the “Aether”) is actually one of the Infinity Stones.

17. Ant-Man  (2015)

Image for article titled Prepare for “Avengers: Endgame”: Every Marvel movie, ranked and explained
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 82%
  • Heroes: Ant-Man
  • Villain: Darren Cross (“Yellowjacket”)
  • Quick synopsis: A serial thief (Paul Rudd) is enlisted by scientist Hank Pym to use a shrinking technology in order to prevent a former protégé from using it himself for nefarious purposes.
  • See it if… you like Paul Rudd, heist films, and insects.
  • Skip it if… you don’t like any of those things.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNope.

16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2  (2017)

guardians of the galaxy vol. 2
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 83%
  • Heroes: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Baby Groot
  • Villain: Ego
  • Quick synopsis: Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, reconnects with his mysteriously estranged father.
  • See it if… you loved the first Guardians of the Galaxy and want more of the same.
  • Skip it if… you didn’t love the first Guardians of the Galaxy, because this is more of the same.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNot really, though Guardians member Gamora and her sister, Nebula, are daughters of Endgame villain Thanos.

15. Captain Marvel  (2019)

captain marvel brie larson
Image: Marvel
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 78%
  • Heroes: Carol Danvers, Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson)
  • Villain: Talos
  • Quick synopsis: The origin story of Captain Marvel, who finds herself in the middle of an intergalactic war between alien races. It’s Marvel’s first woman-led superhero film.
  • See it if… you are (correctly) a huge Brie Larson and Ben Mendelsohn fan.
  • Skip it if… you for some reason hate the 1990s.
  • Does it factor into EndgameYes, Danvers will factor heavily into Endgame after Nick Fury seeks her help with an emergency signal at the end of Infinity War.

14. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

ant-man and the wasp
Image: Marvel
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 88%
  • Heroes: Ant-Man, the Wasp
  • Villain: Sonny Burch, Ghost
  • Quick synopsis: Ant-Man helps Hank Pym and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (the Wasp) find his wife, Janet Van Dyne, who has been stuck in the quantum realm since 1987.
  • See it if… like the first Ant-Man movie, you want a relatively low-stakes, humorous reprieve before the overwhelming dread of Endgame.
  • Skip it if… miniature things make you uncomfortable.
  • Does it factor into EndgameOnly if you subscribe to a certain tongue-in-cheek fan theory.

13. Doctor Strange  (2016)

doctor strange
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 89%
  • Heroes: Doctor Strange
  • Villain: Kaecilius
  • Quick synopsis: After a debilitating car accident, renowned neurosurgeon Stephen Strange discovers the magic of alternate dimensions with the help of an ancient sorcerer.
  • See it if… you could use a kooky, mystical change of pace delivered by a great cast (Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, etc.).
  • Skip it if… you have trouble suspending your disbelief.
  • Does it factor into EndgameOne of the Infinity Stones is encased in the “Eye of Agamotto,” a magical tool that allows sorcerers to manipulate time.

12. Iron Man 3  (2013)

iron man 3
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 80%
  • Heroes: Iron Man, War Machine
  • Villain: The Mandarin, Aldrich Killian
  • Quick synopsis: Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after the events of The Avengers (described below), Tony Stark must contend with a new threat who’s both terrorizing the world and also going directly after those close to him.
  • See it if… you want to see the MCU at least attempt to do something different in its exploration of Stark’s mental illness.
  • Skip it if… you’re getting tired of the same quippy Robert Downey Jr. one-liners in service of a messy story.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNo.

11. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

thanos avengers infinity war
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85%
  • Heroes: All of them!
  • Villain: Thanos!
  • Quick synopsis: The Avengers team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop Thanos from accumulating all the Infinity Stones and wiping out half of life in the universe. The stakes…they’re high.
  • See it if… you like vast and intricate superhero stories and want to be well-prepared for Endgame.
  • Skip it if… seeing some of your favorite heroes vanish into thin air Leftovers-style makes you too sad.
  • Does it factor into EndgameWhat do you think?

10. Thor  (2011)

Image for article titled Prepare for “Avengers: Endgame”: Every Marvel movie, ranked and explained
Image: Paramount Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 77%
  • Heroes: Thor, Odin
  • Villain: Loki, Laufey
  • Quick synopsis: Asgardian prince Thor is banished to Earth by his father, Odin, where he battles his brother Loki.
  • See it if… the genuinely thrilling Asgard setting at the beginning and end of the film is enough for you.
  • Skip it if… the tedious middle two-thirds of the film that take place on Earth will ruin the good stuff.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNo—except, once again, one of the Infinity Stones is teased in a post-credits scene.

9. Captain America: The First Avenger  (2011)

captain america first avenger
Image: Paramount Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 79%
  • Heroes: Captain America, Peggy Carter, Bucky Barnes
  • Villain: Red Skull
  • Quick synopsis: Brooklyn man Steve Rogers undergoes an experiment that turns him into a super-soldier. Nazi officer Johann Schmidt harnesses the power of a weapon called the Tesseract to cause widespread destruction during World War II.
  • See it if… you want to watch Captain America’s origin story and the closest thing the MCU has come to historical fiction.
  • Skip it if… you don’t have two hours to spare for a story that could (and maybe should) have been told much quicker.
  • Does it factor into EndgameThe Tesseract contains one of the Infinity Stones.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming  (2017)

spider-man homecoming
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 92%
  • Heroes: Spider-Man
  • Villain: Adrian Toomes (“Vulture”)
  • Quick synopsis: High school student Peter Parker tries to balance his superhuman abilities and crime-fighting with just being a regular kid.
  • See it if… you’d like to see the Marvel version of a John Hughes film (it also thankfully forgoes the Spider-Man origin story that’s been depicted on screen so many times already).
  • Skip it if… you are a Hughes purist and reject the notion that a superhero film could be reminiscent of his oeuvre.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNo!

7. Captain America: Civil War  (2016)

captain america civil war
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 91%
  • Heroes: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, War Machine, Falcon, Black Widow, Bucky Barnes, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Man, Ant-Man
  • Villain: Helmut Zemo
  • Quick synopsis: When a new United Nations panel is convened to control the Avengers, the heroes are fractured into two camps: those who agree with the oversight (led by Iron Man), and those skeptical of government control (led by Captain America).
  • See it if… like me, you always wanted to see these superheroes fight each other.
  • Skip it if… seeing Iron Man fight Captain America will make your inner 10-year-old very sad.
  • Does it factor into Endgame? To learn more about the relationships between the Avengers, it’s a vital watch. But from a plot standpoint, there’s not much that heavily factors into Endgame.

6. The Avengers  (2012)

the avengers
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 92%
  • Heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye
  • Villain: Loki
  • Quick synopsis: The Avengers assemble to prevent Thor’s brother, Loki, from taking over Earth.
  • See it if… you want to see the first time all of these heroes have ever appeared together on screen.
  • Skip it if… we’re getting to the point where these are all good movies worth seeing, especially if you need a refresher before Endgame.
  • Does it factor into EndgameQuite a bit—the plot revolves around the Tesseract, and Thanos is introduced to the MCU for the first time in a post-credits scene. Plus, it’s the first time all these cool people join forces.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy  (2014)

guardians of the galaxy
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 91%
  • Heroes: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, Rocket
  • Villain: Ronan
  • Quick synopsis: A misfit gang of creatures band together to stop the villain Ronan from obtaining a powerful orb, stolen by Star-Lord.
  • See it if… you want to watch the most refreshingly irreverent (but still action-packed) installment of the MCU.
  • Skip it if… you hate 1960s and 70s music.
  • Does it factor into EndgameYes—it shows the backstory of the Infinity Stones and colors in some of Thanos’s motivations for his sinister plan.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier  (2014)

the winter soldier
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 89%
  • Heroes: Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon
  • Villain: Winter Soldier
  • Quick synopsis: Captain America attempts to unravel a wide-ranging conspiracy that threatens the existence of S.H.I.E.L.D, the organization that created the Avengers.
  • See it if… you’re into conspiracy spy thrillers.
  • Skip it if… perhaps you don’t like superhero movies that are actually smart?
  • Does it factor into EndgameNot particularly.

3. Iron Man  (2008)

Image for article titled Prepare for “Avengers: Endgame”: Every Marvel movie, ranked and explained
Image: Paramount Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 94%
  • Heroes: Iron Man
  • Villain: Obadiah Stane
  • Quick synopsis: Billionaire playboy Tony Stark builds a special armor suit to help protect the world after he’s kidnapped by terrorists.
  • See it if… you want to see the amusing, deeply exciting movie that started this whole thing a decade ago.
  • Skip it if… I don’t know what to put in this spot anymore.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNegative.

2. Thor: Ragnarok  (2017)

thor ragnarok
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 92%
  • Heroes: Thor, Hulk, Loki, Valkyrie
  • Villain: Hela
  • Quick synopsis: Trapped on the garbage planet Sakaar, Thor links up with Hulk to save Asgard from his long-lost sister, Hela.
  • See it if… the funniest, most purely entertaining Marvel film piques your interest.
  • Skip it if… you hate good things.
  • Does it factor into EndgameOnly insofar as it explains what Thor and Hulk have been up to prior to Infinity War.

1. Black Panther  (2018)

black panther wakanda
Believe the hype.
Image: Disney
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%
  • Heroes: Black Panther
  • Villain: Erik Killmonger
  • Quick synopsis: T’Challa returns home to Wakanda to assume the throne, but is challenged by a mysterious adversary for the right to rule the technologically advanced African kingdom.
  • See it if… you want the richest and most assured filmmaking of the entire Marvel universe.
  • Skip it if… just, don’t.
  • Does it factor into EndgameNot really, but rewatch it anyway.