Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The MCU Flicks You Need To Watch To Prepare For Black Widow

Black Widow has had the bumpiest ride to its release date of any MCU film ever. Hands down. Period. No questions asked. Originally slated to hit the theaters in May 2020 — which was already a full year and change after the last MCU movie had come out — the coronavirus predictably pushed back the film's release date. And then it did so again, and again, and again. By the fall of 2020, the movie was over a year delayed, making fans increasingly restless as they waited for their first taste of Marvel glory in what felt like an eternity.

Along with the fact that it's the tantalizing end to a seriously intense MCU drought, Black Widow has also generated a ton of buzz all on its own. From its promising, down-to-earth, Winter Soldier-esque vibes to its juicy backstory, potential cameos, and an intriguing villain, to boot, Natasha Romanoff's first individual MCU outing looks to be about as awesome as it gets.

With time to kill and a ton of content surrounding the events of Nat's first solo film, we decided to sit down and chart out the superspy's journey through the MCU thus far. Though she hasn't been a headlining character, the Daughter of Ivan has managed to pop up eight different times already, creating a fantastic character arc in the process.

Bringing Nat's story together

One of the most alluring elements of the Black Widow film is the fact that it's set to take place in the past, between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. That means Nat's film is going to fill in a huge gap in her personal story — to which we say, "It's about time." No one else has been so intimately involved in the MCU without a chance for some good old exposition about where they came from and how they became the hero that we know and love.

Sure, there were little hints here and there, like her Red Room flashback in Age of Ultron, the fact that she wants to wipe the red from her ledger, and her comically alluded to professional backstory with Clint Barton. And don't forget the bundle of apparently discomforting info regarding her own past misdeeds that was leaked by none other than Nat herself at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Nevertheless, from day one, the missing ingredient in Nat's story was a focused, full-length feature to pull all of these hidden secrets and loose ends together into one comprehensive narrative.

The long road to Black Widow

With all of this in mind, we've gone ahead and fleshed out a list of the most important MCU films to watch in preparation for Black Widow – that is, of course, if you're not already planning on binging the entire Infinity Saga, as any good hard-core Marvelite would, right before watching Nat's titular film anyway. Even if you do choose to go the binging route, it'll still be helpful to go through the following list so that you know the movies where you should really sit up and pay close attention.

The goal here is to chronologically run through the parts of the MCU timeline that directly impact Nat's character arc. This way, when it finally comes time to watch Black Widow, all of the pieces of Nat's existing storyline will be fresh in mind and ready to puzzle together into one grand narrative. So, without further ado, here are the ten MCU flicks on the "required viewing list" before you watch Black Widow.

The Incredible Hulk

In order to properly trace the journey to Black Widow, you have to start by going all the way to the second MCU film ever made: The Incredible Hulk. Why? For a couple of reasons, actually. First of all, Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner have already had a bit of a fling, and even though it fizzled, it's interesting to revisit the genesis of another Avenger who is so near and dear to Natasha's heart.

Of course, tracing the history of every one of Nat's fellow Avengers isn't the goal here, and Banner's genesis isn't a good enough reason all on its own. The other, more thunderous reason to start your marathon with The Incredible Hulk involves the fact that the promotional material for the film has shown none other than Secretary of State Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross getting tangled up with Nat's solo story, as well. The fact that he'll be involved in the events of the movie to the degree that he even warrants a brief cameo in the trailer seems to imply that we may get a bit more of his own story as well.

Why does that matter? Because in the voluminous printed source material, Thunderbolt Ross is directly connected to the entity known as Red Hulk. He also puts in time as the leader of the Thunderbolts. Both of these comic book storylines provide distinct possibilities for the MCU's Phase 4 future and beyond, making a quick brushup on Ross' MCU debut a must.

Iron Man 2

The first time Nat ever steps foot in the MCU is during Iron Man 2. She appears as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent posing under the cover of notary Natalie Rushman. While in this persona, she catches Tony Stark's eye, teaches Happy Hogan the meaning of boxing, and generally spends time helping Nick Fury gauge Stark's potential for the Avengers Initiative.

Eventually, she reveals her identity alongside Nick Fury in the diner scene. Once the climactic ending of the film arrives, she single-handedly — okay, with a tiny bit of help from Happy — infiltrates Hammer Industries headquarters and then remotely helps Stark and Rhodey take down Whiplash. It's technically the second installment of Tony Stark's franchise, but Natasha Romanoff has her fingerprints all over Iron Man 2. Even though she doesn't necessarily soak up a ton of screen time, her steady presence throughout the story all but makes it her own as she helps the desperate and outmaneuvered Stark overcome both his own inner demons and his personal enemies ... and then ultimately save the day.

The Avengers

The next movie on the list is one that Nat gets to genuinely claim as her own as much as anyone else — or at least as much as the five other original members of her superhero team. We're talking, of course, about The Avengers. The first major crossover flick of the MCU, The Avengers takes place shortly after Nat's MCU debut, and it showcases a much more involved heroine.

Rather than simply being tasked to follow another superhero, this time Black Widow helps to assemble the Avengers and then goes right ahead and joins them in their first major challenge. She recruits Bruce Banner, weasels information out of Loki, helps Clint Barton recover from his mind control experience, and ultimately takes up arms in the Battle of New York. In spite of the fact that she isn't an enhanced individual, lacks alien powers, and doesn't wield a suit of armor, Black Widow has a major impact on the outcome of the battle as she works to control the chaos and ultimately closes the Infinity-Stone-powered portal. The Avengers serves as the cinematic moment that Nat steps out of her ancillary role and takes up her mantle as a major MCU character going forward.

Captain America: Winter Soldier

Once Nat joins the Avengers, it doesn't take long before she gets tangled in the action again, this time crossing over into Steve Rogers' franchise in the process — and yes, this means we've come to Captain America: Winter Soldier. Not only does Romanoff play a major part in Cap's second titular film, but the movie is also likely the closest thing to match her own solo flick as far as presentation and style are concerned. Muted tones, fantastically choreographed fight scenes, sinister plots, and a politically charged storyline all mix together to deliver a smorgasbord of down-to-earth heroics that allow Black Widow to shine once again.

The movie starts with Steve Rogers and Nat working together as S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives. However, as the Hydra connections within the government agency slowly reveal themselves, the pair of Avengers end up turning on their compromised employers. While this puts them in a tight spot for a bit, they recruit Sam Wilson, and then, with the Falcon by their side, they proceed to take down the entire operation. In the process, Nat once again shows her mettle in a street fight with the enhanced Bucky Barnes before she makes one of the greatest personal sacrifices in her entire story arc: revealing her dark past to the world as she dumps all of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra's secrets online. Once again, while she isn't the main character, Nat does her best to steal the show throughout the film, making it a must-watch on the list.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The next time Nat pops up in the MCU timeline is when she joins up with the Avengers team once again in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the second Avengers film, we see a version of Romanoff that is increasingly comfortable in her new position as a bona fide superhero. She also puts down more and more roots with her new "family" of supers.

For example, it's revealed that she's "Auntie Nat" to Clint Barton's family, and her fellow superspy is even planning on naming his incubating child after her. Nat's relationship with Bruce Banner also gets a decent amount of screen time, as she's shown calming down the Hulk and falling for his alter ego. We also learn an important bit of Nat's dark past in the form of a flashback to her Red Room training — a training that is going to play a central role in the Black Widow movie. When you also toss in her contribution in the fight to, you know, actually take down Ultron, this undervalued Avengers installment ends up being one of the most important in Natasha Romanoff's entire MCU career.

Captain America: Civil War

After Age of Ultron, Nat continues her franchise crashing habits by getting swept up into the events of Captain America: Civil War. While her role in the third and final Steve Rogers solo film isn't particularly significant — and no wonder, with so many heroes sharing the screen time — the movie still ends up being one of the most important ones to watch before you settle in to give Black Widow a gander. Why? Because it is most likely the film that feeds into Nat's own solo movie.

As Nat does her level best to maneuver through the tricky politics of the Sokovia Accords, she initially finds herself supporting the government-backed team Stark. However, by the end of the scrape at the airport in Germany, she switches sides, helping Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes escape in the Quinjet.

The betrayal of team Stark causes Nat to make a run for it, leading to a mostly unknown period of time spent on the lam. The only hints that we get about her activities seem to indicate that she joins with some of her fellow team Cap fugitives and operates against terrorists for a bit in Syria. Apart from that, little is known of her whereabouts for the next couple of years.

Avengers: Infinity War

If you're tight on time before you watch Black Widow, you can probably stop at this point and come back to the movie marathon after you watch Nat's first franchise film. However, if you still have time to kill while you're waiting, you can continue to march right on down the Romanoff timeline by watching Avengers: Infinity War.

In this movie, we meet Nat after her years spent in exile. She first reappears on the scene with her displaced companions when they arrive in Edinburgh, Scotland, to bail Vision and Scarlet Witch out of a tight spot. The lovebirds are being attacked by the Black Order in an attempt to steal Vision's Infinity Stone, and Nat and company jump into the action and save the day.

From there, the superspy joins with the other Earthbound Avengers and heads to Wakanda, where they hope to remove the stone from Vision's head. Nat ends up playing a critical role in the subsequent defense of Wakanda, but even her greatest heroics can't stop Thanos from snapping most of her family away by the end of the film, leaving Romanoff distraught and at her wits' end.

Avengers: Endgame

It doesn't matter if you watch Avengers: Endgame before or after you watch Black Widow. Either way, the movie is a must on the list, as it marks the end of the line for Black Widow's Infinity Saga story. Most of Endgame takes place five years after Thanos' snap, at which point Nat still can't let go of the fact that she and her fellow Avengers failed to stop the Mad Titan. Tortured in her mind, the superspy does everything she can to resurrect the surviving Avengers' collective hope as the crew pursues any chance that they have of undoing the past.

Eventually, this leads Nat to the pallid landscape of Vormir, where she and Hawkeye seek the Soul Stone from Red Skull. Learning that it comes at the price of a life, Nat ultimately overcomes her faithful friend in order to give herself as a sacrifice for the restored universe. The scene is moving, epic, and emotional — particularly when you consider the path that has led her to that moment. While most heroes find their final moments at the end of their stories, the powers that be over at Marvel Studios decided to give us this intimate window into Natasha Romanoff's final moments before we were ever given the full scoop on her dramatic backstory. That said, Endgame is still an easy candidate when it comes to preparing for Black Widow, even if it brings an uncomfortably out-of-place sense of closure along with it.

Captain Marvel

If you get to Endgame and you're still twiddling your thumbs as you wait to watch Black Widow, there are two more tidbits of Nat's MCU history worth tuning in for. First, there's Captain Marvel. More accurately, we're talking about the credits of Carol Danvers' first film. As the credits roll, the wall of names is suddenly interrupted by a mid-credit scene that shows Nick Fury's pager flashing Carol Danvers' symbol.

The camera pans to the Avengers who had survived Thanos' snap, with Nat standing front and center. As the group discusses the ongoing nightmare and the fact that the pager has inexplicably stopped sending a signal, Black Widow turns to find herself facing Danvers, who skips the formal introductions to immediately ask "Where's Fury?" The scene doesn't give us much as far as Nat's storyline goes, but it does fill in yet another crack in Romanoff's cobbled-together storyline. It also provides another close-up glimpse — literally, Nat's face is shown in close-ups at multiple points in the clip — of the ongoing pain that the character feels in the wake of losing her new family.

Thor: Ragnarok

Last — and kind of least — we have Thor: Ragnarok. While the overwhelming bulk of the Odinson's third movie focuses on the God of Thunder, the Hulk also has a substantial role in the proceedings, especially on Sakaar. When Thor meets Hulk in the Grandmaster's arena, the Jade Giant has been on the garbage planet for years, keeping Bruce Banner deeply suppressed inside.

The events that follow Thor and Hulk's reunion both involve Nat and are critical to the development of the film. After an unprecedented period of time with Hulk in control, the only way that Thor is able to help Bruce Banner get back on top is when the pair visit the crashed Quinjet and Sparkles plays back a clip of none other than Nat herself, trying to calm Hulk down. The event is pivotal to the rest of the film, and while it doesn't directly impact her own storyline, it does serve as a pleasant reminder that, along with her indomitable fighting prowess, the Daughter of Ivan does bring a nice feminine touch to an otherwise ridiculously testosterone-ridden roster of heroes.