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What to watch before you see Thor: Love and Thunder

Chris Hemsworth (as Thor) stands with the Stormbreaker axe, while Christian Bale (as Gorr), Tessa Thompson (as Valkyrie) and Taika Waititi (as Korg) are in the background in a poster for Thor: Love and Thunder
(Image credit: Marvel Studios via Twitter)

Getting ready for Thor: Love and Thunder is akin to preparing your ride to battle. You kinda know what to expect, but director Taika Waititi truly loves to surprise us. 

It's also incredibly easy to over-prepare, since Disney Plus makes it almost too-easy to watch all of the Marvel movies in order (save for the Tom Holland-led Spider-Man trilogy and The Incredible Hulk which we ignore because it stars Edward Norton and not Mark Ruffalo). 

But you don't have the 90-plus hours you'd need to stream every Marvel movie (and don't even start thinking about the MCU Disney Plus shows). Also, many if not most of the 34 films don't have Asgard's favorite son in them. 

Fortunately, we at Tom's Guide gathered our MCU nerd brain-trust together and put together the essential list of Marvel movies to watch before Thor 4 smashes into theaters. We've also got an extra credit section to help provide ancillary information that probably won't play a huge role, but could still help you better understand the context of these characters.

What to watch before Thor: Love and Thunder to be caught up

Thor (2011)

Chris Hemsworth as Thor, in Thor

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

While we first saw Mjolnir at the end of Iron Man 2, you never see Thor (Chris Hemsworth) until his first titular film. A story of familial strife, it introduces other characters who we'll see in Thor: Love and Thunder. 

Banished to Earth for his arrogance and irresponsibility, Thor finds help in the form of three humans who had their eyes on the skies he fell from: hard-working astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and the snarky assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings).

The first Thor film is mostly about setting up the world of Asgard and its citizens, and introducing the broken brotherhood of Thor and Loki. It's not even Hemsworth's best performance, as it took a while for the actor to truly make the character work. But if you're going to watch Thor: Love and Thunder, it's best to start at the beginning of the star's MCU story.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 77%
Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes
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Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Natalie Portman as Jane Foster kiss

(Image credit: Disney Plus/Marvel Studios)

Thor's second solo film features the last (until now) appearance of Jane Foster. After this very poorly received film, it was assumed that Portman was done with Marvel movies. In an interview, Portman spoke of being "done" with the role. And, if we're honest, we wouldn't have blamed her for it. Portman's role in this film isn't great, as Foster is the vessel for something called the Aether, which has terrible side effects on her ability to live. 

In a macro-sense, The Dark World is about the war between the Asgardians and the Dark Elfs, and none of that is particularly compelling either. But since this is Foster's last appearance, and she plays a huge part in this movie, it's probably huge for contextualizing some of her backstory. Unless, of course, Waititi frames Foster's return around something new that he finds interesting, and ditching any reference to the second Thor movie.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 66%
Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes
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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

(L to R) Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon, Zoe Saldaña as Gamora and Vin Diesel as Groot in a ship cockpit in Guardians of the Galaxy

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor's current intergalactic ride, will be helping him find his way for at least the start of Thor: Love and Thunder. This film shows how Star-Lord Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), met up with Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and Gamora (Zoe Saldaña). 

Of course, the Guardians crew changes a bit by Love & Thunder, but this sets up the relationships at play between Thor's new friends. You might be able to pick up all of these details from Infinity War, but this is also just one of the best MCU movies, period.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 92%
Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes
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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Chris Hemsworth as Thor, imprisoned on Sakaar, in Thor: Ragnarok

(Image credit: Marvel)

Asgard is in danger. At first, Thor is told that the prophesied extinction-level event known as Ragnarök is coming for his homeland. After he thinks he solves that problem, he learns that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is on the verge of death. And then it turns out the end is still coming, as Odin's first born child Hela (Cate Blanchett) wants to destroy Asgard as revenge for her imprisonment.

In the process of trying to stop her, Thor crashes onto the garbage planet Sakaar, where the whimsical Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) forces him to become a gladiator. Here, Thor meets the frustrated Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and reunites with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

We love Thor: Ragnarok because we love the other new friend Thor makes in the film: Korg. This kind and polite being, composed of rocks, is voiced by Taika Waititi, the director of Thor: Ragnarok. The New Zealand filmmaker is generally credited with restoring enthusiasm to the Thor character, considering how Ragnarok is beloved and followed the reviled Thor: Dark World.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 93%
Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes
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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Young Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

People never ask "how" Gamora is, but fewer people even tried to understand "what" Star-Lord is. And Guardians 2 shows us that he's no mere mortal man, as his dear ol' dad is Ego (Kurt Russell), a god-like Celestial. And he's not really a good person, either. This Ego trip introduces Guardians crew member Mantis (Pom Klementieff). 

An important chapter for Quill and Gamora, whose bond is soon torn asunder, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is good, but not as great as the first. 

Rotten Tomatoes score: 85%
Running time: 2 hours 17 minutes
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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Avengers: Infinity War

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

You might be a bit surprised that this is the first Avengers movie I'm listing. Yes, Thor appeared in the previous Avengers movies, but this is the first of them where Thor's life is truly affected in ways you need to see. Avengers saw him scrap with Loki, Age of Ultron saw him take a vision quest of sorts, but it's only here in the third mainline Avengers film that our Asgardian hero really gets his life torn asunder.

And that's all about the big purple jelly bean of a baddie: Thanos. The Mad Titan finally takes the stage in Avengers: Infinity War to break everyone's lives apart in his quest to decimate populations. Along the way, Thor meets the Guardians of The Galaxy, and instantly forms a bond with (most of) them by being a more natural leader than Peter Quill is. Some of the Guardians join Thor on his quest for a new weapon, where we get one of the best MCU cameos ever. This is also where we see tragedy befell Gamora, though she'll be back … kinda.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 85%
Running time: 2 hours, 29 minutes
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Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Chris Hemsworth as Thor, holding Mjolnir, in Avengers: Endgame

(Image credit: Marvel Studios/Marvel.com)

Thor went through a lot in Endgame. His anger over the loss of half of humanity manifested in his short-sighted decision for how to handle Thanos. Then, five years pass, and his anger turns to grief, manifested in weight gain that makes him the target for every wiseass in the MCU and social media. 

It's only a reunion with his mother Frigga that can help Thor remember who he is, and break himself free of his beer and Xbox Live diet. We also get a fair bit of the Guardians of the Galaxy in Endgame, but the next big story beat that matters for Thor: Love and Thunder is the ownership of the Asgardian throne, which he doesn't believe he's right for.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 94%
Running time: 3 hours, 5 minutes
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What to watch before Thor: Love and Thunder for extra credit

Chris Hemsworth, as Thor, is one of the Avengers eating Shwarma in The Avengers

(Image credit: Disney Plus/Marvel Studios)

There are four other titles you could watch, but they're not really as important. Think of this as a sort of cheat sheet.

The Avengers (2012) put Thor in a prominent position, as it was his brother Loki who is the worst thing to happen to New York City in the last two decades outside of Rudolph Giuliani. You'll see the two bicker and fight, and watch Thor become a member of the first super-family of the MCU. But this, as mentioned above, is not his movie.

Thor actually provides the best part of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), one of the worst Marvel movies ever. While most of the movie is plodding drek, including Thor having to leave for a vision quest, the scene where everyone tries to lift Mjolnir is excellent humor. In terms of Thor, this is a highly skippable MCU movie.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Loki

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Then, we have two MCU Disney Plus shows: WandaVision (2021) brings Jane Foster's assistant Darcy Lewis back into conversation. Then, Loki (2021) could have been in the above list, but it exists in a sort of isolated universe at the moment. Sure, it will give you more of Thor's brother, but this won't likely play a role in Thor: Ragnarok, because nobody in that movie should know about what's gone on in that show. Sif (Jaimie Alexander), a fellow Asgardian appears in Loki, but her role doesn't exactly explain more of her character that we don't get in other Marvel movies.

Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.