Given the continual expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it can be difficult to stay up-to-date on every single project, try as we might to catch up on weekly Disney+ series and the latest theatrical releases. This is especially true with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which is the follow-up to several Marvel projects.
The MCU officially entered its Phase Four with the January 2021 premiere of the meta “WandaVision” Disney+ series and kicked off the new Phase’s theatrical era with the long-awaited “Black Widow,” which was released that summer in theaters and on Disney+. And now, another title is set to spur fandom excitement with the arrival of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the sure-to-be chaotic (and if reviews are to be believed, horror-adjacent) follow-up to the 2016 magical action-adventure starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.
But before you eagerly head to theaters, there are several must-watch MCU entries you should get acquainted with first to ensure you’re in the know about any potential references and sequential events — particularly with the mind-bending multiversal concerns presented in “Doctor Strange 2.”
So, without further ado, here’s your viewing shortlist of shows and films — in chronological order — to stream in preparation:
“Agent Carter” (2015-2016)
This unfortunately short-lived ABC series gives depth to an oft-overlooked character in the MCU: the highly skilled Strategic Scientific Reserve agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, reprising her role from “Captain America: The First Avenger”), who would go on to become one of the founding members of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and, of course, Steve Rogers’ one true love). Set in 1946, the two-season action-packed show takes place immediately following the events of the aforementioned film, where Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is considered a treasonous criminal and Carter is desk-bound to menial secretarial duties. It’s a hoot.
“Doctor Strange” (2016)
For obvious reasons, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” would be quite a confusing romp without this necessary origin story. In 2016’s film, Cumberbatch establishes himself as the talented yet hubristic neurosurgeon Stephen Strange. After a devastating automobile accident, he frantically chases down any and all potential cures to his now-tremulous fingers, seeking help from medical experts and shamans. What he encounters instead — portals to other dimensions, time-bending stones and world-threatening grudges — humbles his ego and opens his eyes to life beyond the mortal realm.
“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
The two-part saga featuring the Avengers facing off against their greatest threat — the universe-plundering Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) — begins in “Avengers: Infinity War.” It’s the beginning of the end of an era for Marvel, as every installment in the MCU had been leading up to this fight. While “Infinity War” sees many of our favorite heroes banding together to stop evil, Doctor Strange stands out as a mighty force against the Mad Titan, holding his own as a now-established sorcerer confident in his powers. It’s Strange who sets the Avengers’ endgame in motion. Hey, speaking of the Avengers’ endgame…
“Avengers: Endgame” (2019)
“Avengers: Endgame” was a phenomenon in the summer of 2019, shattering box office records to become the second highest grossing movie of all time. The hotly anticipated conclusion to the Infinity Saga sees the Avengers — with diminished numbers — dusting off a crushing defeat to restore reality (and half of Earth’s population) and finally put an end to Thanos’ chaos. Doctor Strange is integral to the group’s bittersweet victory, as his “one chance” scene went on to quickly overwhelm the internet with memes and fan theories galore.
“What If…?” (2021)
More specifically, viewers looking to familiarize themselves with the lore “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” draws on should watch (at the very least) the first and fourth episode of this animated multiversal series, “What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” and “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” As confirmed by the film’s poster, a variant of Carter as the heroic avenger is sure to make an appearance. Furthermore, there’ll be a version of Sinister Strange, as first explored in “What If…?” And if you have time, it might not be the worst idea in the world to watch the rest of the inventively animated series.
The Emmy-winning series, featuring Elizabeth Olsen’s critically acclaimed return as the Scarlet Witch, takes place after the events of “Endgame,” as Wanda avoids confronting the loss of Vision (Paul Bettany). The series, which deftly pays homage to iconic sitcoms of eras past, meditates on the nature of grief, incorporating elements of Wanda’s backstory and looking forward to the evolution of her moral complexity. Premiering several months before “What If…?,” it’s also the first MCU installment to hint at the multiversal madness yet to come, which is interesting because at one point it was set to debut after “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021)
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has a huge problem: Following the events of “Far From Home,” which saw him unmasked by the fraudulent wannabe hero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), he has not had a moment’s peace, being dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1” by his beloved New York City. Seeking the help of mentor Doctor Strange, he wishes to reverse everyone’s knowledge of his true identity — except for his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya). Oh, and his bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon). Did he mention his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)? The botched spell produces a reality-threatening rip in the fabric of existence, opening a floodgate through the multiverse and reintroducing Spider-Man’s most iconic villains (and other Spider-Men) into the fold. If there’s only one MCU project you have time to watch prior to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” make it this one.
BONUS: “Captain Marvel” (2019)
These entries are recommended viewing for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and can provide extra color to your understanding of the all-encompassing film. Given all of the multiversal probabilities in the movie, it’s possible that we will see a variant of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) — as several women have assumed the Captain Marvel title, including Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her daughter Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), who we saw become positively super-heroic during the events of “WandaVision.” Watching the alien warrior’s origin story is thus a nice refresher and could lead to an upper hand while watching “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
BONUS: Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” series
Additionally, it’s been pretty much confirmed that Professor Charles Xavier (first originated by the iconic Patrick Stewart and later portrayed in his earlier years by James McAvoy) will appear in the movie. As a result, you may want to do some viewing of the Bryan Singer-helmed “X-Men” series, which includes “X-Men” (2000), “X2: X-Men United” (2003), “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) and “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016). There’s also “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009) and “X-Men: First Class” (2011), which the filmmaker produced but didn’t direct.