Avengers: Endgame is an impressive finale for the first season of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. …Okay, it’s not really a TV show, but producer Kevin Feige has done a remarkable job of combining the comic-book model of a shared universe of superheroes with the show-runner model of a television show to create a series of interconnected movies. What’s especially impressive is not only that he’s kept it up for 22 movies over eleven years, but that everyone who’s tried to copy it so far has failed (The Mummy, The Amazing Spider-Man, the DC Extended Universe).
Endgame both finished out this chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and set up the next batch of shows and movies. To that end, Endgame manages to include references of one kind or another to every single previous MCU film. Seriously, it’s stunning.
Let’s take them one by one, shall we?
SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME LIE BELOW HERE! EVERYTHING WRITTEN AFTER THIS PARAGRAPH ASSUMES THAT YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE OR DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE SPOILED FOR IT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED…
Iron Man (2008)
- Introduced Tony Stark, James Rhodes, Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, and Nick Fury.
- This first movie is referenced in the very last frame of Endgame, as the closing shot of the Marvel Studios logo after the credits end is the sound of Tony Stark forging the Iron Man armor in Afghanistan.
- Endgame concludes the arc for Tony that started in this movie, as he moved from self-centered asshole to hero, an arc that continued through his two sequels, all four Avengers movies, a Captain America movie, and a Spider-Man movie.
- From Kehcalb in the comments: Tony’s love of cheeseburgers in this movie is called back to in Endgame when Morgan informs Happy that she also loves cheeseburgers, and Happy sadly yet lovingly promises Morgan all the cheeseburgers she ever wants.
- From ChristopherLBennett (and many others) in the comments: Tony’s final pre-credits line in this movie are also his last words before snapping his fingers in Endgame: “I am Iron Man.”
- From goldenkingofuruk in the comments: Tony’s funeral wreath includes his original ARC reactor from this film, complete with the inscription Pepper put on its case: “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart.”
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
- Introduced Bruce Banner and Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.
- Endgame also concludes Bruce Banner’s conflicted arc. He spends The Incredible Hulk trying to be Banner and being the Hulk as little as possible. In Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, he’s trying only to be “the other guy” when needed. In Ragnarok, he’s the Hulk for years without Banner, then he refuses to come out after Thanos kicked his ass in Infinity War. Finally, the two are reconciled in Endgame, with Banner and the Hulk finally merged.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
- Introduced Natasha Romanoff and Howard Stark.
- This movie established that Howard Stark co-founded S.H.I.E.L.D., and his role as a muckitymuck for that intelligence organization is seen in Time Heist 1970.
- Tony’s rather embittered relationship with his father is also first seen in this movie, and Time Heist 1970 gives Tony a chance to have the reconciliation with his father that he never got by bonding with Howard over fatherhood in the period leading up to Tony’s own impending birth. Because time travel.
- Introduced Thor, Loki, Frigga, Jane Foster, Jasper Sitwell, and Clint Barton.
- At the top of the movie, Odin is telling Thor and Loki about the time the Asgardians defended the people of Earth who worshiped them from the Frost Giants. Those people were in the town of Tønsburg, Norway, where Thor and Valkyrie set up New Asgard.
- In this movie, Odin puts an enchantment on Mjolnir to ensure that only someone worthy may wield it. This plays out twice in Endgame—once when Thor is relieved to discover that he is still worthy to wield it during Time Heist 2013, and again during the climactic battle when someone else wields it for the first time.
- Introduced Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter, Arnim Zola (not seen in Endgame but mentioned), and the Red Skull.
- Established the Tesseract, a.k.a. the space stone.
- Throughout Endgame we see Cap carrying the locket with Peggy Carter’s picture that he started carrying in this movie. In particular, that locket plays a major role in the Cap-on-Cap fight during Time Heist 2012.
- Speaking of the Cap-on-Cap fight, 2012 Cap says, “I can do this all day” to 2019 Cap, which is the line Steve Rogers was established as saying every time bullies beat him up in this movie.
- When Cap and Bucky say goodbye before Cap goes into the time machine to return the infinity stones and Mjolnir, their exchange matches the one from this movie when Bucky goes off to join the Army. (“Don’t do anything stupid.” “You’re taking the stupid with you.”)
- As established in Infinity War, Red Skull was not killed at the end of this movie, but transported to Vormir, where he’s the gatekeeper for the soul stone. We see him again, confronting Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff, and you gotta wonder how it went when Cap went to Vormir to return the soul stone. (One of the movie’s flaws is that that rather major scene is left off-camera.)
- Zola in this film is captured by the Allies and turned into an asset by Colonel Phillips. In Endgame, Howard Stark is seen asking after Zola at Camp Lehigh.
- The village where the Red Skull finds the Tesseract is also Tønsburg, where Thor and Valkyrie set up New Asgard in Endgame.
- Introduced Thanos and Maria Hill.
- Established Loki’s scepter, a.k.a. the mind stone.
- All of Time Heist 2012 takes place over the course of the latter portion of this film. We get footage of the team assembling in front of Grand Central Terminal from this film, and then see the aftermath of Loki’s capture.
- Avengers was the first movie where we saw that Thanos was gathering the infinity stones (though they hadn’t been called that on camera yet), as he sent Loki after the Tesseract. That he was Loki’s ultimate master was revealed in the mid-credits scene of this movie, which started us on a run with Thanos in the background in Guardians of the Galaxy and Age of Ultron, before he finally kicks it into high gear in Infinity War and Endgame.
- Several Chitauri vessels are among Thanos’s forces in the climactic fight in Endgame, which are of the same type and design as the ones in this film.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
- Introduced Harley Keener (he shows up at Tony’s funeral in the latest film).
- Tony’s post-Battle of New York PTSD starts in this movie, and warps his character all the way through to his rant at the Avengers at the top of Endgame.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
- Established the aether, a.k.a. the reality stone.
- All of Time Heist 2013 takes place during the middle part of this film, shortly after Thor brings Jane Foster to Asgard, and shortly before Malekith and Kurse kill Frigga.
- This movie actually introduced the very concept of the infinity stones, retroactively linking the aether to the Tesseract and Loki’s scepter.
- From twels in the comments: Loki changes shape to that of Captain America in this movie to mock Thor, and he does so again in Endgame as Loki’s being taken into custody during Time Heist 2012.
- Introduced Sam Wilson, Alexander Pierce, Brock Rumlow, and Wanda Maximoff.
- This movie established that Hydra had several moles within S.H.I.E.L.D., including Secretary Pierce and Agents Rumlow and Sitwell, all of whom are in Endgame. Cap uses his knowledge of Rumlow and Sitwell’s secret allegiance to get the scepter from them.
- Pierce also appears in Endgame, attempting to take custody of the Tesseract. It winds up with Loki, who absconds with it, thus creating a new timeline. One assumes that in the original timeline, Thor got all godly in his face and refused to turn it over, which is why it wound up back in Asgard at the end of Avengers.
- That scene where Cap takes the scepter from Rumlow and Sitwell also is blocked and shot similarly to the elevator fight in this movie. Several of the same S.H.I.E.L.D. agents/Hydra loyalists from this movie are used again in the elevator in Endgame.
- Just before Dr. Strange brings all the heroes to the fight in Endgame, Sam calls out, “On your left!” just before the portal opens on Cap’s left, a callback to how Sam and Cap met in this movie, and also what Cap said when he woke up from his coma at the end of this movie.
- From grenadier in the comments: This movie established directly that Peggy Carter was one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D., and we see her in Endgame in her role as director during Time Heist 1970.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
- Introduced Nebula, Rocket, Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, and Groot.
- From ChristopherLBennett in the comments: Also introduced Howard the Duck, briefly seen in the final battle in Endgame.
- From snowcrash in the comments: Also introduced Kraglin, briefly seen in the final battle in Endgame.
- Established the orb, a.k.a. the power stone.
- All of Time Heist 2014 takes place during this film.
- Rhodey and Nebula observe Quill approaching the power stone while dancing to “Come and Get Your Love,” as we saw over the opening credits in this movie. However, since Rhodey and Nebula can’t hear the music, they just see him dancing. Rhodey observes to Nebula, “So—he’s an idiot.”
- 2014 Nebula becomes aware of 2019 Nebula, and so Thanos changes his MO to take a more active role than he did in this movie.
- The Thanos that the Avengers fight in the climax of Endgame is the Thanos from this movie.
- The Gamora that is with Thanos for the final battle is the Gamora from this movie. She has not yet met Quill, Drax, Groot, or Rocket and she disappears at the end of Endgame, her current whereabouts unknown (and likely a plot point for Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3).
- The Nebula that is with Thanos in this movie is killed by her future counterpart, thus confusing time-travel enthusiasts everywhere.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
- Introduced Laura Barton and the Barton family, F.R.I.D.A.Y., the Vision (who isn’t actually seen in Endgame, but his sacrifice at the end of Infinity War is discussed), and Dr. List (who also isn’t seen in Endgame, but is mentioned).
- When Tony returns to Earth at the beginning of Endgame, he rants to the other Avengers in general and Cap in particular that he wanted to put a suit of armor around the Earth, a notion he first expressed in this movie (which led to the creation of Ultron).
- We get the first hint in this movie that Cap might be worthy to wield Mjolnir, as he budges it slightly when everyone else can’t move it at all, and Thor looks concerned.
- Endgame explicitly reveals how Hydra had Loki’s scepter at the top of this film, as known Hydra moles Rumlow and Sitwell are given care of it after the Battle of New York ends, and Sitwell specifically mentions contacting Dr. List, who is the one playing with the scepter and using it to give Wanda and Pietro their powers in this movie.
- From Darren Brown in the comments: The fearful vision Tony gets from Wanda in this film includes some things that happen in Endgame: the Chitauri attacking, Cap’s shield shattered, and Natasha dead.
- Introduced Scott Lang, Cassie Lang, Hope van Dyne, Henry Pym, and Janet van Dyne.
- The Quantum Realm, established in this movie, is what saves the day in Endgame, as they use it to enact their Time Heists.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Introduced T’Challa, Peter Parker, and May Parker.
- Cap and Tony’s rift, which drives the plot of this movie, is still an undercurrent in Endgame, as they squabble, with Tony throwing Cap’s refusing to sign the Sokovia Accords in his face during his epic rant.
- Said rift is finally healed over the course of Endgame, with the two of them becoming best buds once again.
- Cap at one point in Endgame calls out to Spider-Man, “Hey Queens,” referring to their brief outer-boroughs bonding moment in this movie.
Doctor Strange (2016)
- Introduced the Ancient One, Stephen Strange, and Wong.
- Established the Eye of Agamotto, a.k.a. the time stone.
- During Time Heist 2012, Banner visits what he knows as Dr. Strange’s sanctum sanctorum in Greenwich Village, and instead meets the Ancient One.
- It’s established that the Ancient One knows full well in 2012 that Strange will soon become her disciple and successor as Sorcerer Supreme.
- In Endgame, the Ancient One pulls the same shove-the-astral-form-out-of-the-body trick on the Hulk that she did on Strange in this movie.
- Introduced Mantis.
- From snowcrash in the comments: Also introduced Stakar Ogord, Aleta Ogord, Martinex, and Charlie-27, the Ravagers team who appears in the final battle in Endgame.
- Nebula’s conversion from villain to sorta-kinda hero starts in this film, as she turns away from Thanos and toward Gamora. In Endgame, she tries to convince 2014 Gamora and her own 2014 counterpart that this conversion is real, but only the former believes her.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
- Introduced Ned.
- At one point in this movie, Peter tries to hug Tony, and Tony brushes him off, saying he doesn’t hug people. In Endgame, Tony hugs Peter when he gets him back.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
- Introduced Valkyrie.
- From WinespringBrother in the comments: Also introduced Korg and Miek.
- Banner tries to get Thor out of his funk in Endgame by reminding him how Thor helped Banner when he was at his low ebb on the Grandmaster’s arena world in this movie.
Black Panther (2018)
- Introduced Okoye, Shuri, Ramonda, and M’Baku, not to mention the big-ass Wakandan military that fights in the climaxes of both Infinity War and Endgame.
- Okoye is one of the people holding the post-snap world together, functioning as an Avenger.
- T’Challa, Okoye, and Shuri are the first ones through Dr. Strange’s first portal that brings the heroes to the big-ass battle against Thanos at the end.
Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018)
- Introduced X-Con Security, and their van, which plays an important role in the climax.
- This movie established that Pym and the van Dynes were dusted by Thanos’s snap while Lang was in the Quantum Realm.
- Lang returns from the Quantum Realm in Endgame five years later, with only five subjective hours having passed for him, which gives him the idea for the Time Heists.
Captain Marvel (2019)
- Introduced Carol Danvers.
- This movie established Danvers’s friendship with Fury, which is called back to by Danvers’s pained look when she sees that Fury is among those dusted at the end of Infinity War.
- The mid-credits scene of this movie shows Danvers’s arrival on Earth after being summoned by the pager she gave Fury earlier in the movie, and her first meeting with the Avengers, who apparently immediately send her to find Tony and Nebula and bring them home.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
- Established the soul stone.
- While there’s no point in listing every callback, since it’s pretty much the whole movie, I want to mention one: Before the final battle in Wakanda, T’Challa chanted, “Yibambe!” and his troops responded, “YIBAMBE!” which happens again in Endgame, and gives me goosebumps every damn time.
- One more: this movie established that Lang and Barton both took house arrest to be with their families after Civil War. We see Lang serving that out in Ant-Man & The Wasp, and the top of Endgame is Barton at his home with his wife and kids, wearing an ankle bracelet.
Bonus: Agent Carter (2015-2016 TV series)
- Introduced Edwin Jarvis as Howard Stark’s valet/chauffeur.
- Screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley created Agent Carter, and were among the executive producers of the show, so bringing in James D’Arcy for a cameo during Time Heist 1970 was not surprising, and a nice nod to what is Marvel’s best TV show (if not its highest-rated).
Any callbacks I missed? Post them in the comments!
Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about pop culture for Tor.com since 2011. Currently, he writes the weekly “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch,” which looks back at every live-action movie based on a superhero comic book. (He’ll get to Endgame some time in October, based on the current schedule.) He’s also a novelist of some 25 years’ standing, with his output in 2019 including the novels A Furnace Sealed, Mermaid Precinct, and Alien: Isolation, as well as stories in the anthologies Thrilling Adventure Yarns, Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gals and Gizmos, Unearthed, Footprints in the Stars, and Release the Virgins!