Warning: This story contains major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.
Avengers: Endgame isn't just the grand finale to the past 11 years of Marvel Studios films — it's also a celebration of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The time-travel heist that comprises most of the film quite literally goes back to previous MCU movies, allowing you to see iconic moments from new perspectives as Cap and crew try to acquire the Infinity Stones. Plus, there are tons of callbacks and cameos that even the most die-hard MCU fans may have missed. If you're suffering from Endgame withdrawal or just want to dive deeper into the film's biggest references, here are the key Marvel movies you need to rewatch.
After the heartbreaking ending to Endgame, the only way to pay your respects to Tony Stark is by rewatching the original Iron Man. The 2008 origin story got the Marvel movie franchise on the right footing and remains one of the best superhero movies to date. Iron Man shows how Tony Stark evolved from a cocky business magnate to a complex leader of superheroes and even introduces us to Pepper, who plays a larger role in Endgame than in previous Avengers movies. Not to mention, Stark's final words in Endgame are a callback to a key scene in the first film, and the first memorable moment in the franchise.
Iron Man kicked off the Marvel franchise with an exhilarating plot, wherein Stark is captured by prisoners in the Middle East. That's right, the first enemies in this franchise weren't supervillains, but terrorists. Stark, a genius engineer, crafts an arc reactor that would later become the heart of his superhero suit and the savior of many beloved characters over the last decade. If you can stomach it, Iron Man serves as a beautiful ode to our fallen hero. - Phillip Tracy
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America's arc comes to a pretty definitive ending in Avengers: Endgame. The team leader finally gets his hard-won happy ending, thanks to a judicious application of time travel. Yes, Cap decides to settle down in the past along with his S.H.I.E.L.D.-pioneering sweetheart, Peggy Carter, which means that it's worth revisiting Captain America: The First Avenger to see how their relationship began. (You can also rewatch the Agent Carter TV series, but it's a lot of investment for not much return.)
Refreshing your memory of Cap and Peggy's relationship is the primary reason to rewatch The First Avenger, but not the only one. The Red Skull makes a cameo in Endgame as the guardian of the Soul Stone, and while it's not quite as memorable (or as shocking) as his appearance in Infinity War, it's still worth knowing where the villain-turned-guardian is coming from. There's also a small appearance from Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), who shows up again in Endgame, albeit in John Slattery form. - Marshall Honorof
There are so many reasons to rewatch The Avengers. For one thing, it's a really good film, chock-full of action and story. Joss Whedon, for all his faults, understands team dynamics and witty banter in a way that no other Marvel director has even approached. But if you've finished watching Endgame, The Avengers is especially worth rewatching, since a big chunk of the plot hearkens back to the MCU's very first team-up film.
If you've seen Endgame, you know the drill: The Avengers split into three different teams and revisit important events from the past. The most pivotal of these locations is 2012 NYC, mere minutes after the Chitauri attack. If you need a refresher on Loki's scepter, the Tesseract and a much, much angrier take on the Hulk, the first Avengers film is worth two and a half hours of your time. (Remember, too, that the post-credits scene is where we got our first-ever peek at the MCU's take on Thanos.) - Marshall Honorof
Iron Man 3
While Endgame is too big to focus on any one character's arc in particular, Iron Man is probably the closest thing the movie has to a single protagonist. In particular, Tony's relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) takes center stage. From Pepper's daughter, Morgan, to her surprise excursion in the Rescue armor, this is easily the most important role in a Marvel film since Iron Man 3.
But if you don't remember, Iron Man 3 is when Pepper started coming into her own as a character. In addition to fleshing out her romantic relationship with Tony, Iron Man 3 also saw Pepper taking superpowers for a test run — and she didn't do too badly, considering that she ultimately used them to defeat the film's main villain.
Oh, and Iron Man 3 also introduces Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins): a tween who helps Iron Man rebuild his armor — and his life. He's the mystery teenager who shows up at the funeral in Endgame. You're welcome. - Marshall Honorof
Thor: The Dark World
I'm not sure why Marvel wanted to highlight Thor: The Dark World — generally considered one of the weakest entries in the MCU — but it plays a pretty key role in Endgame, so you may as well strap in for a rewatch. In Thor's second outing, the Dark Elves lay siege to Asgard, which ultimately results in the death of Thor's mother. This winds up being an important plot point in Endgame, as does the reality gem embedding itself inside of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
If you're already dreading another run through Thor: The Dark World, it's not all bad. This is the last film with eminently enjoyable sidekicks Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), both of whom are as funny here as ever. You may also have forgotten, but Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd) has a welcome cameo role, and the Ninth Doctor himself, Christopher Eccleston, plays the villainous Malekith. - Marshall Honorof
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
One of Endgame's most hilarious gags is its tribute to the iconic elevator scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While revisiting the events of The Avengers, Cap once again finds himself in an elevator surrounded by “S.H.I.E.L.D." (aka Hydra) agents. But armed with his knowledge of the future, Steve Rogers simply whispers a quick "Hail Hydra" to secure Loki's staff and avoid another elevator brawl. Endgame also serves up a major character moment for Sam Wilson, aka Falcon, so it's worth rewatching The Winter Soldier to see why he's worthy of taking up Cap's shield. - Mike Andronico
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy still holds up as one of the funniest and most heart-filled MCU movies, and it's one of three films directly revisited in Endgame. In this film, Star-Lord, Gamora and crew defeat Ronan the Accuser and secure the Power Stone in Xandar, which is exactly why Endgame's Avengers need to travel back to 2014 to grab it. It's also the first film in which we see Josh Brolin's Thanos up close.
Endgame delivers some great twists on classic Guardians of the Galaxy scenes, such as War Machine knocking out Peter Quill during his iconic opening dance bit. And given the circumstances of Infinity War and Endgame, we have a feeling 2014 Gamora is the one that'll be sticking around for future Marvel films. So you might want to refresh yourself on what the deadly daughter of Thanos was like before she developed a soft spot for Quill, classic rock and Kevin Bacon. - Mike Andronico
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Endgame is packed with references to the second Avengers movie. As soon as he returns to Earth at the beginning of the film, a distraught Tony Stark insists to Steve Rogers that Thanos' wrath could have been avoided if Stark had gotten to build his "suit of armor around the world" — a direct reference to a conversation the two had in Age of Ultron. Also in Age of Ultron, Stark says, "We can bust arms dealers all the live-long day, but … that up there? That's the endgame,” referring to his desire to protect Earth from interstellar threats while also unintentionally teasing the name of the fourth Avengers film.
But perhaps more important is that Cap's big moment during Endgame's finale — when he calls upon and wields Mjolnir — can be traced all the way back to this movie. When all of the Avengers try unsuccessfully to lift Thor's hammer during Ultron's party scene, Cap manages to nudge the weapon just a bit (much to Thor's unease). Was Cap intentionally not lifting the hammer on purpose to not make his buddy look bad, or was the nudge a tease of his growing worthiness? Either way, Cap does indeed eventually lift Mjolnir, and the results are glorious. - Mike Andronico
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Scott Lang is the unwitting hero of Endgame, devising the time-travel plan that saved the universe, thanks to his time spent wandering the quantum realm. This microuniverse is first introduced in the Ant-Man films, and Ant-Man and the Wasp is the movie that really dives deep into how it all works within the MCU. Plus, the post credits to Ant-Man and the Wasp explain why Scott emerges from a strange quantum-tunnel van at the beginning of Endgame. - Mike Andronico
Yes, that's right, now that I finally saw Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel movie I want to see the most is … Avengers: Endgame. This is, primarily, to notice and enjoy all of the things and tidbits that I missed when I was too busy tearing up or ugly-crying through it the first time, as well as all of the lines in that epic final battle that I couldn't hear over the applause in the theater. Lastly, I need to see Endgame to prepare for all of the emotions that Tom Holland will be putting us through in the coming years (including in Spider-Man: Far From Home), as he comes to grips with the death of his mentor, Tony Stark. Oh, and Disney's announced that Endgame will be a streaming exclusive on Disney Plus. — Henry T. Casey