The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has expanded far beyond almost anyone’s expectations. Marvel releases multiple films and TV shows every year, most of which tie into several overarching narratives. However, not every story is connected, even in a web as complex as the MCU’s.
Catching up with the MCU’s sprawling plot requires a significant amount of time. So, fans who aren’t completionists will want to skip the movies and series that don’t substantially advance the universe’s story. Not every “filler” series or movie is bad, but the studio designed many of them to stand independently, at least compared to films like Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame. With so many hours of video to review, fans might want to ignore some of these less impactful MCU entries.
Updated on September 28th, 2023, by Mayra Garcia: Following the premiere of Secret Invasion, the MCU encompasses 32 films, 23 shows, and two special presentations. However, not all of these are must-watch projects. In fact, these aren’t all necessary to understand the overall narrative. This list has been updated to include more recent projects that are among the movies and TV series viewers can skip.
16 The Incredible Hulk
The MCU’s Hulk was strongest in his film debut — The Incredible Hulk — but the movie’s story wasn’t particularly notable. The Incredible Hulk depicted Bruce Banner on the run from General Thunderbolt Ross. This adventure introduced significant Marvel characters, like the Abomination. However, when these characters reappeared in later MCU installments, they differed from their iterations in this movie.
Most of the basic information The Incredible Hulk introduces is relatively straightforward. Even though it was one of the MCU’s earliest installments — following on Iron Man’s heels in 2008 — little carries over from the movie going forward. Mark Ruffalo even replaced Edward Norton as the titular character in later projects. Moreover, the Hulk himself has never had another standalone movie and his only solo film is among the MCU movies to skip.
15 Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 introduces some exciting developments in Tony Stark’s life, but very few have significantly impacted the rest of the MCU. The movie presented a false version of one of Iron Man’s most iconic foes, The Mandarin, who destroyed Stark’s home. It also introduced a child who felt like a potential heir to Stark’s genius. Although, of all these plot points, only the fake Mandarin made a substantial appearance in later MCU entries, re-emerging as a hapless ally in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Iron Man 3 is about Tony learning to live with the trauma he experienced in the Battle of New York. Still, he doesn’t overcome these struggles by the end of this film. The fact he’s still grappling with the same issues at the end of the Infinity Saga takes away much of Iron Man 3‘s relevance. At the movie’s end, Tony Stark temporarily retires, but Thanos brings him back into action with hardly a nod to how he supposedly stepped off the heroic stage. Iron Man 3 has plenty of fans but is hardly required viewing to understand the rest of the MCU.
14 Spider-Man: Homecoming
While technically a Sony project tied into the MCU, Spider-Man: Homecoming was the Webslinger’s first standalone film in Marvel’s current cinematic continuity, after his earlier introduction in Captain America: Civil War. The movie presents a unique look into the high school hero’s life, acting as a character study for this iteration of Peter Parker. However, the movie’s final face-off with the Vulture doesn’t change the MCU’s larger picture.
Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t tie into the MCU on the same levels its sequels do. Similarly, even Spidey allies like MJ were more developed when its first sequel, Far from Home, came out. It’s an entertaining movie with Spider-Man’s spirit in its heart, but viewers looking for links to the MCU’s central narrative can skip it.
13 Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 deals primarily with the return of Star-Lord’s father, Ego. The team learns about his evil plans to consume Star-Lord, ultimately slaying Ego before he can threaten the entire universe. There are a few notable events in the film that impact later MCU entries, like Mantis’ introduction to the team and the incredibly sad fate of Star-Lord’s adoptive father, Yondu.
Although Yondu’s death in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is emotionally touching. However, despite altering the entire Guardians franchise, it doesn’t impact the MCU’s grand designs. Plus, Avengers: Infinity War recaps Yondu and Ego’s deaths, so fans can get the gist of what happened without watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
12 Black Widow
Black Widow was the only MCU film released after its titular character died in the main timeline. The movie details Natasha Romanoff’s journey to gather her former superspy family and free the Widows from the Red Room’s mind control. By the movie’s end, Natasha puts her demons to rest, and her sister, Yelena, steps forward as her successor. Still, Black Widow has had more impact on the Hawkeye series than any other MCU property.
Black Widow is part of the MCU’s Phase Four, but it takes place at the beginning of Phase Three, just after Captain America: Civil War. Because audiences already know Natasha’s fate, the movie’s stakes feel less significant than they would otherwise. While Yelena was a clear breakout star and will return in the upcoming Thunderbolts, Marvel will surely give her a sufficient reintroduction when necessary.
Hawkeye is the smallest-scale MCU-Disney+ series yet, focusing primarily on the partnership between Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. They spend the Christmas season evading Kingpin’s forces while Hawkeye trains Kate as his successor. It’s a fun side venture that introduces high-tech trick arrows to Hawkeye’s repertoire, but it primarily exists in a separate little corner of the MCU.
Hawkeye features guest cameos from major characters like Yelena Belova’s new Black Widow and Kingpin. The show also introduces Echo and the Tracksuit Mafia to the MCU, paving the way for future appearances by all. Still, aside from Echo’s official MCU debut, the series does little to develop characters in a way that will affect them in future MCU installments.
10 Moon Knight
Moon Knight is about Marc Spector and his alters, working in service of the moon god Khonshu to battle a mythological threat to humanity. While well-received, the show has little to no substantial connection to the rest of the MCU.
Moon Knight’s main characters are exclusive to the series and haven’t appeared in any other films or shows. So, for fans content to watch supernatural superheroes and ignore the lack of links to the rest of the MCU, Marc Spector’s adventures are enjoyable and easy to watch. However, viewers looking for the interconnectedness the MCU is known for will be disappointed.
9 She-Hulk: Attorney At Law
She-Hulk Attorney at Law is the MCU’s purest sitcom to date, satirizing its own franchise beautifully. It also reimagines forgotten MCU characters like Emil Blonsky and introduces weird and wonderful villains like Leapfrog. However, it plays the professional and personal difficulties of a superpowered lawyer for laughs. By the end of the series, Jennifer accepts her She-Hulk identity but never fully embraces the superhero lifestyle.
She-Hulk’s story is so irrelevant to the MCU that Jen breaks the fourth wall in the finale and changes her own ending. The show shines by developing secondary characters like Wong and Daredevil and showcasing its actors’ comedic chops. Ultimately, though, these attributes are more like enhancements than meaningful developments. As a result, they’re unlikely to affect anything in the MCU’s future.
8 The Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special
Unlike every other MCU film and show, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special has no villains. It’s a silly and breezy 40-minute special about aliens learning the true meaning of Christmas — and abducting Kevin Bacon in the process. Drax, Mantis, Rocket, and Groot are at their comedic best as they try to lift Star-Lord’s spirits, but the film doesn’t affect the MCU’s status quo.
Likewise, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special has little plot and doesn’t feature fan-favorite, Gamora. Given these facts, MCU fans can watch it any time without spoiling anything or simply ignore it if they’re not in the mood.
Inhumans is the MCU’s most derided series, and Marvel essentially dropped it before its first season concluded. The show is now available on Disney+, but even with this accessibility, many fans don’t recommend it, even to other MCU enthusiasts.
One of Inhuman’s leads, Anson Mount, returned as Black Bolt in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, so the show has a tenuous link to the MCU. However, Black Bolt’s presence was little more than a brief cameo, as Scarlet Witch unceremoniously killed him alongside Charles Xavier and Reed Richards. This series is best known for getting its characters wrong and celebrating slave-owning aristocrats. Neither watchable nor significant, Inhumans is easily one of the MCU’s most-skippable entries.
6 Iron Fist
Iron Fist was one of Marvel’s TV series it co-produced with Netflix, including Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and more. While not directly tied to the MCU’s main continuity, there’s always a chance its main character Danny Rand could appear in future MCU projects à la other Marvel-Netflix characters like Daredevil or Kingpin.
Despite this potential, MCU fans should feel comfortable ignoring Iron Fist. Not only is the show unrelated to the larger universe, but it was also the worst critically received show to come from the Marvel-Netflix partnership. Both critics and fans slammed the series for poor acting, writing, and fight choreography.
5 Agent Carter
Agent Carter, the short-lived series that aired on ABC, was generally well-received as a solidly crafted and fun exploration of a beloved side character. Because of timeline constraints, Captain America’s first and forever love, Peggy Carter, was relegated to Cap’s debut movie.
Thus,Agent Carter is an excellent vehicle for fans to spend time with and learn more about her character. The series tracks Peggy’s foray into the world of espionage as she works to clear the name of Howard Stark after he’s accused of treason while grappling with the loss of Steve Rodgers. Despite the show’s quality, little connects it to the rest of the MCU.
Eternals is an epic exploration of the eponymous race of immortal, superpowered beings. Directed by Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao, Eternals takes Marvel fans behind the scenes of this group of ancient aliens who’ve secretly protected Earth throughout time from their longstanding enemies, the Deviants.
Behind Zhao’s expert direction and co-writing, Eternals features some of the MCU’s best cinematography and thought-provoking ideas. Still, Eternals isn’t above reproach and too often verges into melodrama over a character-driven narrative. Likewise, an inexplicable scene linking one of the group’s members to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is rather reprehensible. Adding to these faults is the fact that, at least so far, Eternals isn’t meaningfully tied to the larger MCU.
3 Werewolf By Night
Werewolf by Night is a throwback to the Universal monster movies of the early to mid-1900s and stars Gael García Bernal as the titular lycanthrope. The 50-minute short tells a self-contained story about a meeting of monster hunters who gather to honor their fallen leader and decide who will wield the Blood Gem and become the next head monster hunter.
As a Marvel Studios special presentation, Werewolf by Night shares no continuity with the MCU proper. Despite this lack of continuity, there’s much to recommend about the film, including García Bernal’s performance as a talented monster hunter, famed composer Michael Giacchino’s feature directorial debut, and many pulpy thrills. Still, fans primarily interested in the interconnected MCU can safely skip Werewolf by Night.
2 Secret Invasion
Secret Invasion sees Nick Fury go against a new threat: the Skrulls. As a shapeshifting race, the Skrulls have infiltrated every country in the world, and their leader, Gravik, is ready to turn them into Super Skrulls and take absolute control of Earth. Although Secret Invasion deals with a worldwide invasion, it barely affects the overall MCU.
By the end of the series, Nick Fury manages to stop Gravik together with his allies, and they save all the shapeshifters’ victims. Likely future MCU projects will include references to this event, but all in all, it doesn’t affect its main characters.
1 What If…?
What if…? is an animated anthology series that explores a different hypothetical question in each episode. For example, the show answers queries like, what if T’Challa became Star-Lord? Or, what if a zombie apocalypse infected some of Earth’s mightiest protectors?
Like other anthologies, the quality of each What if…? episode varies widely. Still, fans interested in considering such hypothetical scenarios will find a lot to enjoy. Conversely, the show will likely disappoint those looking for MCU-relevant connections. By its nature, What if…? isn’t required viewing for fans wanting to understand the MCU’s continuity.
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