The Essential Infinity Saga

Image: Marvel/Disney (I found this online — if someone made it and wants credit, let me know)

Maybe you just want to catch up on a cultural moment. Perhaps you want to watch these new Disney+ shows everyone is going on about and you know they’re continuations of a 10 year movie saga so you can’t just jump in. Either way, you don’t have time for the full run of 22 movies.

The Essential Infinity Saga cuts that number of movies nearly in half, providing a more manageable experience for the time-conscious fan. The criteria for inclusion in the Essential Saga is simple: the movie has to serve the main narrative of the Infinity Saga, which is the story of the Avengers and the threat posed by Thanos and the Infinity Stones.

If you want to watch all three Disney+ shows (WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki) the full Essential Saga is for you. If you just want to watch one of them, I scale the Saga down into even smaller runs per series later in the article.

The Essential Infinity Saga can be broken down into four thematically related trilogies. The viewing order of certain movies has been changed to allow for these thematic groupings.

Trilogy 1:
Iron Man
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger

This trilogy starts the Saga in a very grounded way and sets up its Earthbound aspects. SHIELD and the Starks are throughlines, with introductions for Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, and Captain America (along with Bucky). The First Avenger introduces the concept of actual superpowers, while keeping those powers grounded in human “science”, and it also reveals the first hint of the cosmic aspects of the Saga. Iron Man contains the only essential post-credits scene in this trilogy.

Trilogy 2:
Thor
Avengers
Guardians of the Galaxy

This trilogy establishes the cosmic aspects of the Saga hinted at in the first trilogy. Thor grounds those cosmic aspects in an Earthbound story that introduces Thor and the concept of alien races, while maintaining a connection to the first trilogy through SHIELD and the introduction of Hawkeye. Avengers blends the Earthbound and the cosmic by bringing an alien army to Earth. It establishes the Avengers as a team and introduces Hulk. It contains the only essential post-credits scene in this trilogy with the first glimpse of Thanos. Guardians of the Galaxy focuses almost exclusively on the cosmic aspects of the Saga, spending only ten minutes on Earth at the very beginning of the film. It introduces the Guardians, expands on the variety of alien races and cultures throughout the galaxy, introduces the Infinity Stones, and furthers Thanos’ story.

Trilogy 3:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War

This trilogy returns to Earth and upends the status quo established in the first trilogy and Avengers. Winter Soldier features Black Widow, introduces Falcon, and reintroduces Bucky. It brings down SHIELD and sets up Age of Ultron, which introduces Vision and Scarlet Witch, gives the Avengers their first hint of the Infinity Stones, and lays the groundwork for the breakup of the Avengers. Civil War shows that breakup, while also serving as an introduction for Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Black Panther. All three movies in this trilogy have essential post-credits scenes.

Trilogy 4:
Thor: Ragnarok
Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Endgame

This trilogy is equal parts Earthbound and cosmic and serves as the climax of the Saga. Ragnarok resolves Thor’s and Hulk’s open threads from Age of Ultron, sets up new arcs for both to continue through Infinity War & Endgame, and serves as an introduction for Dr. Strange. Infinity War and Endgame resolve the Saga. Ragnarok and Infinity War both have essential post-credits scenes.

Important Movies

These movies, while not essential to the Saga, provide backstory for important characters and expand on important concepts. Those characters and concepts do get enough of an introduction or explanation in the Essential Saga, but these movies are valuable to an Essential Saga viewer looking for a deeper dive into the relevant plot-points, characters, and concepts of the Saga. The Essential Saga viewer can pick and choose which of these movies to watch depending on which characters and concepts interest them the most.

Ant-Man introduces the Quantum Realm, which is important to Endgame. Ant-Man & the Wasp features the Quantum Realm and the post-credits scene sets up Scott’s appearance in Endgame. Black Panther introduces Wakanda and the Wakandans, who play a large role in Infinity War and is also relevant to Falcon and the Winter Soldier given Bucky’s connection to Wakanda.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 introduces Mantis and expands Nebula’s character arc and her relationship to Gamora, which are important parts of Infinity War and Endgame. Spider-Man: Homecoming develops the relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker, which is important to Tony’s arc through Infinity War and Endgame.

Relevant Movies

These movies have some relevance to the Saga, but only tangentially. Some of these movies have greater relevance to the Disney+ shows than they do to the Saga itself.

Dr. Strange establishes the rules and foundations of magic and reveals an Infinity Stone. It also introduces the Ancient One, who is part of Endgame. Thor: The Dark World is revisited during Endgame as well and also reveals an Infinity Stone. Though both of these movies reveal Infinity Stones, it is only at the very end of each movie, making the reveals less important than they could have been.

Dr. Strange is relevant to WandaVision as it introduces magic and The Dark World is relevant to Loki as it is part of his character arc.

Iron Man 3 and Captain Marvel are the least important to the overall Infinity Saga. Captain Marvel is introduced well enough in the Infinity War post-credits scene and in Endgame to serve her limited role in the Saga and Tony’s arc in Iron Man 3 is referenced sufficiently in other movies. However, both movies deepen character arcs, provide backstory, and are fun to watch.

Captain Marvel is very relevant to WandaVision, however, as it introduces Maria and Monica Rambeau.

An Irrelevant Movie

The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, is completely unnecessary. Hulk’s relevant narrative happens entirely in the Essential Saga and he’s introduced well enough in Avengers. Plus, Mark Ruffalo is way better than Edward Norton.

It might have some relevance to the upcoming She-Hulk show on Disney+, but we’ll see.

Breakdowns for the Disney+ Shows

As stated above, if you want to watch all three shows, just watch the four trilogies of the Essential Saga (with an extra movie or two thrown in). To just watch one show, you can break it down to the following:

WandaVision

Iron Man
Avengers
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War
Dr. Strange
Avengers: Infinity War
Captain Marvel
Avengers: Endgame

Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Captain America: The First Avenger
Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War
Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Endgame

Loki

Thor
Avengers
Thor: The Dark World
Thor: Ragnarok
Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Endgame

And there you have it.

Obviously, you can also just watch everything. The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are almost all great, and even the ones that aren’t great are still pretty good. But if you want to catch up fast, these lists should help you do it.

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