“Thor: Love and Thunder” is nearly upon us.
The fourth solo Thor movie with star Chris Hemsworth, “Thor: Love and Thunder,” explores our favorite God of Thunder has he deals with the murderous threat of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) and the more emotional upheaval of his long-lost love Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) return – as the Mighty Thor. (Yes, she also wields the hammer. She is worthy!) Part romantic comedy, part high-octane space odyssey, part mythological quest, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is a lot. And it is awesome.
And while “Thor: Love and Thunder” is more removed from the mainline Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity, there are still a handful of projects that you should see before going into the latest MCU extravaganza. (If “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” felt like having to do homework, then this is the Marvel movie for you.)
Here’s our handy guide on what to watch before “Thor: Love and Thunder.” And don’t worry, we’ll keep things spoiler-free beyond what’s already been shared in the trailers.
The inaugural “Thor” adventure, floridly directed by Kenneth Branagh, established the world of Asgard, a land that combines grand, “Lord of the Rings”-style fantasy and more grounded science fiction. The first movie also lays the groundwork for the central power struggle between Thor and his slippery half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), something that resonates in future chapters of the saga. And, crucially, the first “Thor” introduces us to Jane Foster (Portman), the brilliant astrophysicist who falls in love with Thor when he is cast out of his kingdom and powerlessly marooned on Earth. (Kat Dennings is her feisty colleague and BFF; Stellan Skarsgård is their mentor, scientist Erik Selvig.) The first film works best when it’s a wacky fish-out-of-water comedy and the chemistry between Portman and Hemsworth adds some much-needed emotional heft.
“Thor: The Dark World” (2013)
Arguably among worst Marvel Studios entries, “Thor: The Dark World” is turgid and self-serious and only really succeeds when it casts off both inclinations (like when Thor interacts awkwardly with modern day London). Strangely, “Thor: The Dark World” has become an essential MCU text, thanks to its importance to the plot of “Avengers: Endgame” (more on that in a minute) and for it being the last true on-camera appearance of Portman as Jane, who this time is infected with one of the Infinity Stones (remember those?) and must be whisked away to Asgard for a cure. Yes, you should watch this one. But you could also be folding laundry or completing a crossword puzzle at the same time.
“Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)
This is probably the most essential movie to watch before “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Not only was it also co-written and directed by Taika Waititi, but it shares the same sensibilities, introduces characters like rock man Korg (Waititi), wormy Miek and one of Asgard’s most ferocious warriors, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Together, they all find themselves on the wayward planet of Sakaar, where the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is a gladiatorial champion and the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) lords over it all. (Valkyrie, Korg and Miek all show up in the new movie.) “Thor: Love and Thunder” is in many ways a direct sequel to “Thor: Ragnarok,” even though several other movies have taken place between them. It’s also one of the very best, most enjoyable Marvel Studios releases.
“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
While Thor appeared in both “Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” he was more of a utility player, used for occasional comedic effect and for kicking bad guy ass, so we’re including those in the “optional” category. It was only in the later “Avengers” movies that more of Thor’s personality was allowed to shine through. “Avengers: Infinity War” picks up directly after “Thor: Ragnarok,” with the remaining Asgardians’ spaceship boarded by Thanos (Josh Brolin). And, as you can imagine, things don’t go particularly well after that. This installment is necessary viewing due to its emphasis on Thor’s personal journey, his interaction with the Guardians of the Galaxy, led by Chris Pratt’s Star Lord (who returns for “Thor: Love and Thunder”) and, quite frankly, because of its body count (Loki and Idris Elba’s Heimdell both bite it before the title card appears). Unlike many of the main MCU characters, who would have major screen time in one of the climactic “Avengers” movies or the other, Thor is a major part of both. Which brings us to…
“Avengers: Endgame” (2019)
In “Avengers: Endgame,” Thor is out of shape and dealing with his failure to stop Thanos from snapping away half of the galaxy. At the beginning of “Thor: Love and Thunder,” he’s still reeling from this emotional fallout, lost in the universe even after embarking on a go-for-broke time travel mission (which saw him returning, inexplicably, to the events of “Thor: The Dark World”). “Endgame” is also notable because, at the end of the movie, Thor partners up with the Guardians of the Galaxy and it reintroduces Portman to the MCU. (She appears in archival footage but provided some new vocal material.)
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
This isn’t totally necessary, especially considering how ubiquitous the characters have become in the years since the first movie (they star in their very own – separate! – attractions at Disney’s California Adventure and EPCOT at Walt Disney World). But the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” is still a total blast and if you need a refresher about the characters, who appear in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” this is a good place to start. Time to get hooked on a feeling – again.
“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” (2017)
Again, if you want to spend some more time with the Guardians of the Galaxy before embarking on “Thor: Love and Thunder,” why not watch the sequel? “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” might be even more fun than the original film – more visually adventurous, cuter (thanks to Baby Groot), with a greater emphasis on the characters (particularly Star Lord and his relationship with his megalomaniac father Ego played by Kurt Russell). This was also the installment that introduced Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to the group.
“What If … Thor Were An Only Child?” (2021)
This is a trifle, but a beautifully animated one. “What If … Thor Were an Only Child?” is an episode of “What If?” that does exactly what the title suggests. Instead of a noble son of Asgard, Thor (voiced by Hemsworth) becomes a spoiled man-baby who mounts never-ending parties and is generally a nuisance. Portman returned to voice Jane Foster, alongside Waititi, Goldblum, Dennings and Karen Gillen from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” If you’ve got 32 extra minutes and want to make sure you’ve watched every Thor-related story prior to “Thor: Love and Thunder,” definitely give this episode a whirl. The show is really great and this is episode is a ton of fun.
Bonus: “WandaVision” (2021)
Dennings showed up as Darcy in “WandaVision,” playing a scientist tasked with studying what was going on inside of Westview, New Jersey, after Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) took over the entire town. This might be a tenuous connection to “Thor: Love and Thunder.” But … what if it’s not?
Bonus: “Loki” (2021)
“Thor: Love and Thunder” is the first Thor-focused movie not to co-star Loki. So if you’re missing that rascally God of Mischief, now’s the time to rewatch the first season of his Disney+ series, in which Loki was recruited by the Time Variance Authority to stop a diabolical threat to the multiverse. Inventively staged and full of colorful characters, “Loki” doesn’t have any direct connection to “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but it’s still one of the best Marvel Studios streaming shows.
Bonus: “Cocktail” (1988)
This is a deep cut, but in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Thor and Valkyrie commandeer a flying Viking longship for their extraterrestrial mission. Previously, the longship was being used as a tourist attraction and while they rip out the safety seats and other theme park-ish ephemera, they do leave up the neon sign that says “Cocktails & Dreams,” a reference to the 1988 Tom Cruise drama based on Heywood Gould’s novel of the same name. As if you needed another reason to revisit the movie that unleashed the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” on an unsuspecting public.