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I want to catch up on the older movies before going to see Iron Man 3.

Do I need to watch The Avengers (and therefore Thor, too)*?

Or will Iron Man and Iron Man 2 be enough?

* I realize this linked question says that the Iron Man movies are not necessary to understand what's going on in The Avengers, but I wasn't sure if the reverse was true. I am wondering if Iron Man 3 builds off of The Avengers at all.

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up vote 25 down vote accepted

Since part of the Iron Man story will revolve around Tony's mindset after the events in New York with the Chitauri invasion, you do not HAVE to see the Avengers, but you will likely understand a lot better the overall state of how superheroes will have come to be treated both by the general populace and the government. The events in Avengers made it clear that superheroes could be an amazing asset or complete disaster depending on how well or poorly they perform their operations.

Since the Marvel Cinematic universe tends to be built around the relationships between the movies, the more of the connected universe stories you have seen, the better you will be able to relate. This was the rational for the related and overlapping stories in the Cinematic Universe. The goal is to replicated the connected feeling you have when you read comics with overlapping characters and stories.

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Right, Iron Man 3's plot isn't so connected to The Avengers that you'd be unable to understand what's going on, but you're going to miss out on a lot of the why if you haven't seen Avengers first. There's a pretty stark (pun intended) difference between Tony in Iron Man 1/2 and Iron Man 3, so if you did skip the Avengers I kind of think you'd feel compelled to see it just to know what the hell happened to cause that. –  Anthony Grist May 3 '13 at 8:52
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Having now seen Iron Man 3, I can add my opinion. The Avengers adds significant character development for Tony Stark, and world-building to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Skipping it means your knowledge of the characters and world is a step behind. You'll be able to follow along, but there will be a decent amount of wondering what you missed. In addition, the fragments of backstory they reference in Iron Man 3 not only spoil The Avengers, it manages to spoil crucial parts of that storyline. Consider:

  • At the end of Iron Man 2:
    • Tony and Pepper got together.
    • He cured his palladium poisoning.
    • He built the Mark VI armor (the one with the triangular chest hole).
    • He defeated Vanko, the first person to duplicate the miniaturized Arc Reactor tech that is a foundation of the Iron Man technology.
    • The events in Thor and The Incredible Hulk had begun.
  • At the end of Avengers: (I'm avoiding spoiling anything that isn't covered by the trailers)
    • Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye teamed up and fought Loki.
    • Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye all interacted, worked together, and these characters developed as a result.
    • They battled Loki's attack on Earth.

The big ones are the events of Thor, and a good chunk of Avengers. These are things that changed this world, and those changes impact Iron Man 3 in a major way. In addition to the occasional name-drop-style references, these events impacted Tony and Pepper personally. They also affect the in-universe society at large by taking what is essentially our world, and having supernatural elements (i.e. Thor & Loki) impact and change that status quo. Iron Man 3 takes this status quo and fleshes it out, but if you don't know what happened in Thor and Avengers, it is confusing.

I'd say that if you're a fan of the Iron Man films, you owe it to yourself to sit down and watch The Avengers prior to watching Iron Man 3. It is a great film in its own right, and it advances Tony Stark and the Marvel film world in an interesting way that's developed further in Iron Man 3.

And yes, I'll admit that this opens up another can of worms, as the question mentions, since full appreciation of The Avengers is helped by watching Thor. So I guess I am saying you should spend a half-dozen hours watching Marvel movies before going to see Iron Man 3.

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To add on to Thaddeus's answer, I dare say watching The Avengers is higher up on the priority list than Iron Man 1 and 2 as there are much more references to the movie.

The easiest solution is just to watch all three though, as they are all great movies.

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