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What to watch before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: What to watch before
(Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to be Marvel’s first Disney Plus show, but it didn't go that way. That honor instead went to WandaVision, an utter delight, which bowed first, after pandemic-induced delays led to a switch in the streaming schedule. So, now, Falcon and the Winter Soldier is only just premiering this week, and not in August 2020 as originally planned

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier looks much more like the MCU movies than WandaVision, which was a cross between sitcom homage and grief drama. The trailers and TV spots all play up the action scenes featuring Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), as well as the humorous banter between the … grudging allies? Reluctant companions? What do you call the friend of your friend who is neither your enemy nor your pal?

Sam and Bucky have a long history in the MCU, dating back to 2011’s Captain America, but they’ve both played supporting parts to their much more famous mutual friend. One or the other has appeared in eight MCU movies (though, sometimes for just one scene) and usually (though, not always) alongside Steve Rogers. 

Here is the list of movies you may want to watch before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Captain America with Bucky Barnes

(Image credit: Marvel)

Streaming on Disney Plus
Not only does the first Captain America movie introduce the titular superhero, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), it also establishes his deep, close friendship with James Buchanan Barnes, nicknamed Bucky.

The First Avenger sees Bucky go off to fight in World War II, only to wind up captured by Hydra. The newly powered-up Steve, agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and engineer Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) rescue Bucky and other imprisoned soldiers. Later, they form a troop to attack Hydra bases, but Bucky falls off a train to his death … or does he?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Captain America Winter Soldier

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

Streaming on Disney Plus
Time to meet both the Falcon and the Winter Soldier. At the end of The First Avenger, Steve had woken up after 70 years in the frozen waters of the Arctic. He then teamed up with the other Avengers to win the Battle of New York. Now, two years later, Steve is working for S.H.I.E.L.D. in D.C.. There, he befriends Sam Wilson, an Air Force veteran who later reveals he’s testing the EXO-7 Falcon military flight suit. 

After an assassin called the Winter Soldier takes out S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, Steve uncovers a Hydra conspiracy within the organization and goes on the run. During an ambush, he recognizes the Winter Soldier is actually his old friend, Bucky, who was brainwashed and experimented on by Hydra. Steve refuses to fight him and falls into the river, but Bucky ends up saving him before disappearing. In a post-credits scene, Bucky visits his own memorial at the Smithsonian Institute.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Avengers Age of Ultron

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

Streaming on Disney Plus
At an Avengers party, we saw Steve and Sam briefly discuss the ongoing work on their “missing persons case,” referring to Bucky. So, they’re still out there looking for him, though Bucky clearly does not want to be found.

Ant-Man

Before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Ant-Man with Sam Wilson as Falcon

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

Streaming on Disney Plus
Sam is now a full-fledged Avenger, after being trained by Steve at the end of Age of Ultron. He meets Scott Lang aka Ant Man (Paul Rudd) when the latter breaks into Avengers headquarters to steal a device needed for a heist. The two fight, but Ant-Man manages to prevail. Sam is embarrassed but intrigued, so he decides to keep tabs on this new super-powered player.

Captain America: Civil War

Before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Captain America Civil War

(Image credit: Marvel)

Streaming on Disney Plus
OK, if you only watch one of the movies on the list before The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, this is it. First, the opening scene shows a brainwashed Bucky being unfrozen in 1991 to execute a mission for Hydra, stealing super-soldier serum. In the present day, the UN is set to ratify the Sokovia Accords, which places restrictions on the Avengers. Iron Man is for the accords; Captain America is against them. 

But just as the law is about to pass, a bomber resembling Bucky kills T’Chaka, the king of Wakanda. When the king’s son, T’Challa/Black Panther, vows to get revenge, Steve and Sam set out to find and protect Bucky with the help of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). Bucky tells them that Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is planning to unleash the rest of the super soldiers onto the world. 

Cap and Falcon decide to go rogue to track down Zemo and recruit Clint Barnes/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Ant-Man to join them. But Iron Man attempts to arrest them all with his team composed of Natasha, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). They duke it out at an airport, until Natasha lets Cap and Bucky escape. 

They’re followed by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who learns that Bucky killed his parents in that 1991 incident. Enraged, he fights both Cap and Bucky to a standoff. Steve breaks Sam and the others out of prison, then takes Bucky to Wakanda to get un-brainwashed.

Black Panther

Before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Black Panther with Bucky Barnes

(Image credit: Marvel)

Streaming on Disney Plus
In the end credits scene, Bucky wakes up inside a tent to the sight of Wakandan children staring at him. He only has one arm, since his robotic one was destroyed by Iron Man. The children call him “White Wolf.” He emerges to greet Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s sister. She tells him there’s “much more” for him to learn. 

Bucky is also referenced earlier in the movie, when Shuri talks about “another broken white boy for them to fix.”

Avengers: Infinity War

Before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Avengers: Infinity War

(Image credit: Marvel)

Streaming on Disney Plus
Still on the run from the authorities, Captain America and Falcon rescue Vision and Wanda from Thanos’ henchmen. Along with Natasha, they return to Avengers headquarters and reunite with Bruce Banner/The Hulk. The entire group decides to make a stand against Thanos in Wakanda. There, they reunite with Bucky, who is given a new robotic arm by T’Challa to use in the fight.

As we know, the Avengers lose that fight and Thanos snaps his fingers. Sam and Bucky turn to dust in the Blip.

Avengers: Endgame

Before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Avengers Endgame with Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes

(Image credit: Marvel)

Streaming on Disney Plus
After five years of missing their friends, the remaining Avengers execute a time-traveling heist of the Infinity Stones and the Hulk uses them to un-snap everyone back. Captain America and Iron Man are stuck in a back-and-forth battle with Thanos when Steve hears, “On your left.” It’s Sam! A portal opens and Falcon flies out. Bucky also emerges, alongside Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and a host of other blipped heroes. 

After the battle, everyone mourns Tony Stark at his funeral. Then, Cap prepares to return the Infinity Stones on one last time-traveling jaunt. Sam and Bucky wish him luck. But when Bucky notices an old man sitting nearby. It’s Steve, who decided to remain in the past with his love, Peggy. Old Steve bestows his shield to Sam in a gesture indicating he should be the new Captain America, but Sam doesn't seem like he's ready for the responsibility

Kelly Woo

Kelly covers streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.