You’ve just finished the three-hour finale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now what? Well, fortunately, there are more Marvel movies to come, but they’ll mostly be and/or feel like prequels and spinoffs. Avengers: Endgame was literally the end game for a lot of this franchise. Perhaps you’ll want to go back and re-watch the 22 episodes of this series all over again. Maybe you’ll just want to revisit the handful of MCU installments that are heavily linked to the plot of Endgame (stay tuned). Or, wouldn’t you like to check out some non-MCU films that might have influenced or are otherwise relevant to what you’ve just seen?
This week’s list of Movies to Watch After… was difficult to compile. For one, Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo for once needed to be tight-lipped about the stuff that inspired them here, to avoid spoiling anything. For another, the filmmakers were clearly influenced mostly by TV shows, whether sitcoms or their own work on the small screen or favorite series finales — Marvel head Kevin Feige has mentioned the one from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Personally, I was reminded of Lost, though more so of the Season 4 cliffhanger and the whole of Season 5’s idea of getting the band back together and going back to the island.
In the future, after spoilers don’t matter, we’re sure to hear more about old movies that sparked decisions for the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. For now, here are some recommendations of movies, many of them as underrated or under-seen as Endgame is popular and prominent in the mainstream:
Captive State (2019)
While Endgame wasn’t screened for critics until very close to release, to avoid plot point leaks, Captive State skipped advance press screenings because Focus Features likely expected negative reviews. The movie did wind up with a low score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it also disappointed non-professional moviegoers and bombed at the box office. But it’s hardly a bad movie, just maybe not what critics or audiences were expecting. It’s also rather heavy-handed and overserious in the political text and subtext of its plot, enough to turn off a lot of people from even giving it a chance.
Sort of like Endgame, Captive State is a post-invasion sci-fi movie. Before the primary narrative begins, an alien threat has arrived on Earth and wiped out much of the planet’s population. While most of the survivors have accepted defeat and the need to just move on with life under the new circumstances, a team of rebels has organized an underground resistance against their new overlords to at least take back their world if not reverse what’s been done. Compared to Endgame, it’s definitely a smaller movie, but it’s also very much a sci-fi equivalent to ’70s conspiracy and spy thrillers, and I bet the Russos, who modeled their first MCU movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, off such ’70s classics as Three Days of the Condor, appreciate it.
The Wolverine (2013)
Here’s something a little more popular but still surprisingly not a huge hit. For as popular as Wolverine is, and has been the most consistently portrayed through the X-Men franchise, and has been shoehorned into almost every installment at least in cameo form, his solo efforts have been among the lowest grossing. In fact, The Wolverine had the worst domestic debut and sold the fewest amount of tickets in North America (it performed a little better overseas). Yet it’s one of the best of the X-Men movies. Well, for the first two acts, anyway. When it’s good, it’s very good.
The reason it’s on this list is that The Wolverine is the movie you want to watch if you wish there were more Ronin scenes in Endgame. Ronin scenes? Ronin is the bad haircut ninja version of Hawkeye when he goes vigilante post-snap. There should have been at least another sequence or a longer one showing how hardened he’d become, to match how merciless he claimed to be at Vormir. We don’t get enough of that distinction on screen, we’re just told. Not that The Wolverine is that much more violent, but we see more of Logan’s kills while he’s in Japan also fighting Yakuza gangsters, including one who just happens to be played by Hiroyuki Sanada, who deserves much better than his tiny role as a Yakuza killed by Ronin/Hawkeye in Endgame.
The Avengers (2012), Thor: The Dark World (2013), and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
You’ve already been instructed to watch the whole of the MCU franchise, all 21 previous movies, prior to watching Endgame, but even if you’ve done that, unless maybe you sat through a marathon of all 22 installments in succession recently, you’re going to have a desire to go back and watch them all again. But there are three installments in particular that you’re likely really itching to revisit. Or see for the first time, given that one of my Endgame companions shockingly revealed afterward that he’d never seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Too bad for him, he didn’t get to appreciate the elevator scene callback.
There are three Marvel movies that are brought back for Endgame. The Avengers split up to collect all the Infinity Stones and three of the locations and times provide us with replays of scenes from The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s almost like the heroes of Endgame jump into those movies. Why is the generally disliked Thor 2 among them? Just for a Natalie Portman cameo? Or, maybe it’s because that was the first MCU movie scripted by Markus and McFeely? Probably it just makes sense for the needs of the mission within the movie.
Speaking of lesser movies in the MCU, as far as some fans are concerned, some of you may need to go back and see Iron Man 3 to be reminded of the kid who shows up during the funeral scene in Endgame. And The Incredible Hulk to see more of General Thunderbolt, who also shows up at the end of Endgame. And Doctor Strange for more of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. And Thor: Ragnarok so you know about Valkyrie, Korg, and Miek. And you should watch Captain America: The First Avenger to recall the romantic origins of Steve and Peggy and why they needed to be together. Okay, just watch ’em all.
How to Survive a Plague (2012)
There’s a lot of wishful thinking in Endgame, to the point that it’d be treading into the alternate history genre if it were based in any kind of reality as we know it. Maybe it’s revisionist history for just the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The idea that the Avengers could resurrect billions of people lost to the greatest plague-slash-genocide of all time instead of continuing to mourn and move on is the great fortune of being fantasy characters with science fiction magic up their sleeves. After bringing back those lost from Thanos’ snap, can they go back and save the victims of all the holocausts and those who died from AIDS?
The Oscar-nominated How to Survive a Plague is my documentary pick this week not just because of its contrasting reality in relation to Endgame but also because of its similarities. No, I’m not so much thinking of Tony Stark’s emaciated appearance evoking late-stage AIDS patients so much as how the documentary follows a team of heroes in a comeback story in the wake of a tremendous tragedy. How to Survive a Plague focuses first on the losses of the AIDS epidemic and then tracks the work of Larry Kramer and the organizations ACT UP and TAG in their efforts to influence the FDA to approve drugs that help patients treat and manage, if not cure, HIV. It honors the dead while paying tribute to the saviors of countless others.
The Great Raid (2005)
Before Benjamin Bratt joined the MCU (hah, you forgot about his appearance in Doctor Strange, didn’t you?), he starred in this little war movie directed by John Dahl. Also featuring an ensemble made up of James Franco, Joseph Fiennes, Sam Worthington, Mark Consuelos, and Connie Nielsen, The Great Raid attempts an accurate depiction of the real-life Raid at Cabanatuan, during which US Army Rangers and Alamo Scouts, with help from Filipino guerilla soldiers, went on a rescue mission to liberate hundreds of Allied POWs and civilian prisoners from a Japanese camp.
What makes the Raid at Cabanatuan more relevant to the events of Endgame than any other POW rescue movie is the number of people saved — people who’d pretty much been accepted as goners and were actually due for execution soon, a la the half of all living creatures post-snap following Avengers: Infinity War — plus the way that the mission was considered so important because hundreds of Allied prisoners, who like those at Cabanatuan were among the tens of thousands taken after the Battles of Bataan and Corregidor, were already burned to death in the Palawan massacre a month before.
The Great Raid was not well-received by critics when finally released after a long delay in 2005. I’ll admit, it does at times feel very pre-prestige-television TV movie in its dramatic tone, in a negative way. Franco’s voiceover is a bit much and the score is too heavy throughout. It’s kind of old-fashioned, so it does come across as over the top in its acting and too slow in its progression leading up to the action-packed third act. Some critics also called Endgame too long and too slow up until its spectacular third hour. If you prefer an actual old school war movie version of the same events, albeit somewhat fictionalized, I also recommend the 1945 film Back to Bataan, which stars John Wayne and features actual men rescued from Cabanatuan.