The See It or Skip It Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One

The Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped last week, and it’s set to be not only one of the biggest films of 2018, but one of the biggest superhero films ever. For the uninitiated, this film is going to bring together every major superhero introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the Avengers to the Guardians of the Galaxy to Spider-Man in order to fight an intergalactic being known as Thanos. The franchise has been building up to this battle ever since Thanos made a post-credit appearance at the end of the first Avengers film in 2012, so this is all a pretty big deal.

But here’s the rub: what if you’ve only watched a few of the Marvel films? Worse yet, what if you’ve never watched any of them at all? How are you going to make sense of all that Infinity War has to offer? I remember talking to a friend at work who decided to watch Captain America: Civil War after having seen only the other two Captain America films. Naturally, she was a bit confused. And it got me thinking: despite overwhelming success of the MCU, it can be hard for the uninitiated to just dive into it when so many of the films ask the audience to call upon events of something that happened five or six films ago. Plus, not everyone has the time or desire to slough through (counts fingers) eighteen films before Infinity War releases.

So I thought I’d make a guide to help prospective viewers, be they lost or new, fast-track the MCU by explaining which films to see and which films to skip. Keep in mind, this list isn’t just based on if the film is good or not (though that’s certainly a factor). It sorts out which films are vital for understanding big crossover events like Infinity War and which films can be skipped while missing only minor events so that the viewer doesn’t have to watch eighteen different films.

To prevent information overload, I’ll start with Phase One, then make posts for the other Phases as we get closer to Infinity War.

Oh, and always remember to watch the credits all the way to the end!

Iron Man

iron man

Synopsis: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), head of Stark Industries, is taken prisoner by a terrorist group who force him to build a weapon for them. Instead, he builds a suit that can blow stuff up very, very well.

Importance to the MCU: This film kicked off the MCU, so obviously it’s pretty important. Tony Stark is an Avenger and makes the most film appearances out of any other character in the MCU. The film also introduces a few important reoccurring characters such as love interest Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), the AI known as J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany), and (briefly) Nick Fury, director of S.H.E.I.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson).

Verdict: See it. It’s a great movie and it’s the first of many, so why wouldn’t you?

The Incredible Hulk


Synopsis: Bruce Banner accidentally exposes himself to gamma radiation and becomes the Hulk. Naturally, the military decides it has to kill him even while Banner seeks a way to cure himself.

Importance to the MCU: Minimal. Most people know the Hulk is and what his schtick is by now, so you’re not going to be lost in futures films. Only one other character apart from Banner appears again in a future film, but he’s not important enough that you have to see this. Plus, Mark Ruffalo ends up replacing Edward Norton in The Avengers anyway. Tony Stark makes a post-credit appearance, but you can look that up on Youtube if you really want to.

Verdict: Skip it. It’s not a bad movie, but unless you really love the Hulk, it’s not necessary.

Iron Man 2

iron man 2

Synopsis: Tony Stark faces several challenges in this sequel including: 1) a decline in health, 2) business rivals, and 3) Mickey Rourke.

Importance to the MCU: Iron Man 2 is not looked upon favorably compared to its predecessor, but it does introduce two other key players in the MCU: Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow and James “Rhodey” Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine (yes, I know he was in the first film, but he was recast, so this is more or less a re-introdcution). That being said, these characters get enough screentime elsewhere that seeing them in this film isn’t essential.

Verdict: If you really love Iron Man or want to see Black Widow’s debut, you can certainly watch this film. Overall, however, it’s a skip.



Synopsis: As punishment for messing with the Frost Giants, Thor, crown prince of Asgard, is sent down to Earth stripped of his godly powers and his hammer. Meanwhile, his brother, Loki, is making plans to take over Asgard.

Importance to the MCU: This is kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Thor is an Avenger and his brother Loki is the main villain of The Avengers, so their relationship is pretty important. Other characters such as Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins) are important as well and the world of Asgard is fun to look at. The plot is so so, however, and not terribly important in leading up to The Avengers.

Verdict: Either or. If you’d like more character background, think you’ll get confused, or you just have heart-eyes for Chris Hemsworth and/or Tom Hiddleston, I say see it. On the other hand, if you’re really eager just to get to The Avengers, I’d say you can skip this film. Both Thor and Loki are introduced in The Avengers in such a way that you get an idea of who they are and what they’re about without seeing this film.

Captain America: The First Avenger


Synopsis: Set in 1942, Steve Rogers is a kid from Brooklyn who wants to go fight in the war. Problem is, he’s got a big heart in a little bitty body. But when he’s selected for a super-soldier experiment, he gets ripped enough to do battle with a group known as Hydra, headed by Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

Importance to the MCU: This is probably the most important solo film in Phase One of the MCU. It sets up an arc for Captain America that extends through future films, all the way up to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and it features the Tesseract, the central McGuffin in The Avengers. It’s also a good movie to boot.

Verdict: See it, no question.

The Avengers


Synopsis: When Loki attempts to take over Earth, a group of heroes must stop him. These heroes are: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.

Importance to the MCU: Considering its the first big crossover event of the MCU and the whole reason every film studio is trying to make some expanded universe nowadays, I’d say the importance of The Avengers is pretty self-explanatory.

Verdict: See it. Duh.

Well, there you have it. Out of the six films in Phase One, only three of them are absolutely essential viewing: Iron ManCaptain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers. The other three are completely up to you. Next, I’ll sort out the Phase Two movies and, after the release of Black Panther, I’ll make a post for Phase Three ahead of the big event that is Infinity War.


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