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I'm interested to see Captain America: Civil War, but I haven't been keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe very well. I've seen the first Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America films, half of the first Avengers when it was running on television, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

From what I've read, I gather that Age of Ultron and The Winter Soldier are pretty important background for Civil War. What about the others—Iron Man 2 and 3, Ant Man, Thor 2? Will I understand Civil War if I haven't seen them?

  • I think the more important question, is how have you been able to escape so many of the Marvel movies thus far, yet still be interested in seeing Civil War? It's a continuation of the Captain America story, who is an Avenger, who has conflict with Iron Man. That's 7 movies to capture everything. But if you just watch Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, that's probably 90% of what's important. – dasMetzger May 11 '16 at 14:58
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    @dasMetzger It's not that I escaped, rather I was deprived by life circumstances, which have changed. I did enjoy the first Iron Man and Captain America, and the story of Civil War sounded interesting, and Spider Man caught my attention, so I thought I would catch up with the MCU. – Torisuda May 11 '16 at 16:34
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    All of them... ;) – Jasper May 12 '16 at 12:40
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    @Jasper All in good time... – Torisuda May 12 '16 at 14:35
  • This topic title should be edited somehow to sound less like a pure opinion question. – TylerH May 12 '16 at 14:37
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The Bare Minimum

  • Captain America: The First Avenger - introduces Steve Rogers and other important characters specifically relevant to his storyline.
  • The Avengers - introduces the team dynamic, the first meeting of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the first real collateral damage by the Avengers which is referenced in Civil War
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier - introduces The Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson, Brock Rumlow
  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Introduces Wanda, the Vision, more collateral damage by the Avengers which is referenced heavily in Civil War

Helpful, Not Necessary

  • Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3 - These help explain some of Tony's arc and issues
  • Thor - introduces Thor and Loki who figure heavily into The Avengers.
  • Ant-Man - introduces Scott Lang, who appears in Civil War, but who is not essential to the plot. This movie explains Scott's abilities, and a scene from this movie is directly referenced in Civil War, but is non-essential to the plot.

Not at all necessary

  • Thor: The Dark World - Has no direct effect on any of the Captain America movies.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy - No Guardians appear in any of the Captain America movies.
  • The Incredible Hulk - A soft reboot of the Hulk storyline within the MCU. Bruce Banner is only mentioned in passing in Civil War. Additionally, General Thunderbolt Ross initially appears here, but has an referenced backstory unimportant to Civil War.
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    I would also add that despite the fact that Ant-Man was great (by that I mean the movie but the character too I guess), the character is played as "the guy nobody knows", so going into the Civil War movie without having seen it leaves you at no loss. Technically, you could put that one in the "Not at all necessary" column, just by virtue of the fact that anything you need to know about him is obtained just from the name "Ant-Man." That, and the surprises he offers to the story are probably more impressive if you don't have his backstory. – Kingrames May 11 '16 at 11:55
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    I'd argue that Iron Man (at least the first one, really all three) are somewhere between "Helpful" and "Necessary". His motivations for everything he does in Civil War are hugely influenced by his origin story as well as his relationship with various people, including Pepper and his parents. – Paul L May 11 '16 at 14:17
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    I think you could get by without Captain America: The First Avenger just because the movie itself doesn't really impact anything regarding the current Avengers team. If you have time, watch it. But honestly the bare minimum you'd need is Winter Soldier and the two Avengers team flicks, in that order. – dasMetzger May 11 '16 at 14:53
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    TFA is about setting up cap's arc of being a tool of the government to becoming an independently thinking hero as well as helping establish the relationship with bucky. If you guys disagree with me feel free to post your own answers. – phantom42 May 11 '16 at 15:02
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    At first I read "TFA" as "The Force Awakens" and was confused. – Torisuda May 11 '16 at 16:37
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You should see at least the following:

  • Iron Man 2008
  • Captain America: The First Avenger 2011
  • Marvel's The Avengers aka Assemble 2012 (you may wish to precede this by Thor 2011)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier 2014
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015

There will be brief references in Civil War to Bruce Banner (Hulk), but you will not need to see his origin story to understand Civil War or the films above.

In principle, you would not need to understand Thor's origin story for Civil War. However, it has an indirect significance because The Avengers is mandatory material and Thor's conflict with Loki in Thor is important for fully understanding the first Avengers film. Still, if one is pressed for time, Thor can be safely omitted. You should just be aware when starting The Avengers that Loki really, really hates Thor.

Ant-Man is a supporting character in Civil War, but his origin story is not essential to the film.

The important thing is understanding the characters of Steve Rogers (Captain America), Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier), and Tony Stark (Iron Man), as well as understanding the formation of the Avengers and the crises they faced in the battles of New York and Sokovia. The sequence of films above will adequately prepare you for this.

As @DaaaahWhoosh points out, Iron Man 3 offers some insight into the current state of Tony Stark, especially after the Battle of New York, and a brief reference is made by Civil War to the events of this film when Tony reveals the current status of his relationship with Pepper Potts. However, if you have a time crunch, you can skip this one, too.

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I'm personally more of a fan of the DCEU, but I do enjoy the MCU films. That said, of the 13 MCU films to date, only about half are essential (meaning that they contribute to a coherent, linear story). The MCU is essentially the stories of Iron Man and Captain America and how they gradually interconnect into the Avengers films. So here are the ones that are the connective tissue that hold the narrative together:

  1. Iron Man
  2. Iron Man 2
  3. Captain America
  4. The Avengers
  5. The Winter Soldier
  6. Age of Ultron
  7. Civil War

Iron Man starts everything off, establishing Tony Stark, alluding to Howard Stark, and introducing SHIELD.

Iron Man 2 establishes the greater Marvel Universe by giving us a proper introduction to Nick Fury as well as Black Widow and War Machine. It also hints at the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. It also gives us our first real look at Howard Stark in a newsreel intro.

Captain America gives a proper introduction to the title character, lays the foundation for how SHIELD was created, introduces HYDRA, and gives us more background information on Howard Stark. It also introduces Peggy Carter, one of the founders (with Howard Stark) of SHIELD. Bucky is also introduced (which eventually leads to Winter Soldier).

The Avengers brings everything together: Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and SHIELD, and gives us a proper introduction to the Hulk, Thor, and Hawkeye. Loki is also introduced. It's not necessary to have seen the Thor and Hulk solo films as they don't really add any information that is relevant to the ongoing narrative.

The Winter Soldier gives us more background on Nick Fury, SHIELD, and HYDRA. It also further develops Black Widow. Crossbones is introduced. SHIELD falls, and HYDRA's overarching plan is revealed. Falcon is introduced as is Winter Soldier. Peggy Carter is shown at the end of her life.

Age of Ultron builds off of the fall of SHIELD, introduces Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and also introduces Vision. Sokovia and Wakanda are also introduced. Falcon and War Machine join the Avengers.

Civil War builds off of the stories in Avengers, Winter Soldier, and Age of Ultron (the events in each triggered the Sokovia Accords). Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Black Panther are all formally introduced. Wakanda is fleshed out more. Crossbones attacks. More background is given on Howard Stark. All of the interconnecting threads tying together Tony Stark and Steve Rogers finally come together (and clash). Peggy Carter dies.

Thor 2, Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man don't really add anything to this central narrative and can be ignored, although the first scene of Ant-Man set in SHIELD headquarters in 1989 with Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, and Hank Pym is pretty cool. Ant-Man's origin is otherwise as unnecessary to the narrative as Black Panther's and Spider-Man's were for their introductions.

Based on all of this, I'm guessing that the only other essential MCU films to come will be the next two Avengers films (Infinity War and the as yet untitled Avengers 4). That would give a total of nine necessary films in the MCU.

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