2020 was the first year in a decade without a new view into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it doesn’t look like we’ll have to go that long without visiting the MCU any time soon. Wandavision — the first MCU show on Disney+ — just wrapped up, and on March 19, Falcon And The Winter Soldier will kick off its six-episode season on the streaming network.
If you’re not a Marvel obsessive but you want to watch the series without feeling lost, here are the films that you should watch in advance. And they’re all on Disney+! Some spoilers follow, so if you don’t want to trip over any of them, we’ll say this: just watch the first three Captain America movies in order, followed by Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame and you’ll be solid.
Some spoilers follow. You were warned!
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): While Chris Evans’ Steve (Captain America) Rogers won’t appear in Falcon And The Winter Soldier (at least, we don’t think he will), his presence will obviously be felt. But this film also introduces Sebastian Stan’s James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. The film takes place during World War II, and both Steve and Bucky end up being “men out of time” in subsequent Cap and Avengers films.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): By this point, Rogers had been living in the present for a while. He was one of the founding members of the world’s mightiest heroes in 2012’s The Avengers, and one of the interesting things about that movie is that none of the Avengers really seemed to be friends. But as The Winter Soldier starts, he meets the guy who would become one of his best pals and closest allies: Anthony Mackie’s Sam (The Falcon) Wilson. They first meet in the opening moments of the film, as they’re running laps around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Sam is a normal guy, although a very fit one (and one with a suit that allows him to fly, but we find out about that later). Steve, on the other hand, has super-human strength and speed (which we learned about in The First Avenger). He keeps passing Sam, saying “On your left!” each time. This was the beginning of their long friendship and partnership. Sam is shown, early on, to be an empathetic guy: he’s a retired soldier who works at Veteran’s Affairs, running support groups for former soldiers. Sam later tells Steve that he, too, lost a wingman. Later in the film, we learn that Bucky is still alive, but now he’s a bad guy. Steve, Sam and Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha (The Black Widow) Romanoff team up to uncover a conspiracy at S.H.I.E.L.D. and to save Bucky. They aren’t successful in the later. The Winter Soldier is also where we first meet Emily VanCamp’s Agent 13, later revealed to be Sharon Carter, niece of Peggy Carter, the love of Steve Rogers’ life; we’ll see her again in the next Cap movie, as well as in Falcon And The Winter Soldier.
Captain America: Civil War (2016): One of the best MCU movies, which is even more amazing when you realize that it somehow didn’t crumble under the weight of all of the different plot lines: it was partially a Captain America movie, partially an Avengers movie (and by now, Sam was a fellow Avenger) and a Cap movie. Plus, it launched the Black Panther and (rebooted) Spider-Man franchises. This is where we see the beginnings of tensions between Sam and Bucky. This is also where we meet the villain, Daniel Brühl’s Baron Helmut Zemo, who returns in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018): Sam, Natasha and Steve have been living in Europe, exiled since Cap bust his teammates out of prison at the end of Civil War. They return to America and then travel to Wakanda where they’re reunited with Bucky for a huge battle. There isn’t a ton of character development for Sam or Bucky in the film, but you’d be lost without having seen it, and it leads right into the next film…
Avengers: Endgame (2019): At the beginning of the film, which takes place five years after Infinity War, we see Sam’s influence on Steve, as Cap now runs a support group for survivors of Thanos’s snap. In the film’s final act, Sam and Bucky, along with half of the Marvel Universe, return (Sam tells cap, “On your left!”). So this is the second time that Bucky has “lost” time and woken up years later, but Bucky wasn’t connected to many people other than Steve Rogers in the present day. The Falcon And The Winter Soldier might explore how Bucky deals with his very unique situation: this is a guy who spent the formative years of his life in the 1930s and 1940s, was revived in the 2010s, only to go into hiding/hibernation in Wakanda… to then wake up to fight a battle and then lose five more years of his life. He can’t possibly have much connection to our world, and probably doesn’t have many friends or even contacts.) Meanwhile, we don’t know much about Sam’s life and we don’t know what he missed in the five years after “The Thanos Snap.” Like Monica Rambeau in Wandavision, he might be reckoning with what happened during that time. Endgame concluded with an older Steve Rogers handing his shield to Sam (and if you watch it again, Bucky seems like he’s not surprised by this turn of events). We’re guessing that Falcon And The Winter Soldier takes place shortly after that (Wandavision took place about five weeks after the final scene).
If you have time: Ant-Man (2015): Here, we meet Paul Rudd’s Scott (Ant-Man) Lang, who raids the Avengers complex, while Sam Wilson is on-duty. Sam, Steve and Bucky are in the post credits scene, which explains how Ant-Man ends up in Civil War.