Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War asks a lot of its audience. You have to have seen the previous 18 movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and for one scene it helps to have seen another unrelated movie. Now, I ask of you a much smaller task: see the eight movies listed below, including that one non-MCU title seemingly required for Infinity War‘s appreciation. Some are cheesy, some are underrated, some are masterpieces.
Warning: this list of movies to watch after Avengers: Infinity War involves some spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War. As well as spoilers for a few of the older recommended titles, each of which is still worth seeing even if you know the ending.
Invasion U.S.A. (1952)
The world is threatened by a major superpower in this Cold War sci-fi thriller, and just when you think all hope is lost that our heroes will come out on top in the end. Well, they all die. Or so we think. It was all just an illusion, a hypnotic premonition created as a warning that World War III could really happen and that it would be devastating and impossible to win. All we can do is drink and be merry, for tomorrow we all die. Also, make love if you can until the commies come and kill your partner and you just give up and jump out the window.
Invasion U.S.A. is one of those cheap ’50s B movies that has an epic story but details most of it during exposition scenes without much action. There are some great bombing sequences, though, thanks to the repurposing of clips from other movies plus actual wartime stock footage. Most fans of the movie today discovered it via Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it was actually a huge box office hit when released, one of the highest-grossing efforts not produced by one of the major studios and likely one of the most profitable of any production that decade.
Its relevance to Infinity War is mostly that fake out ending. Marvel’s daunting epic “concludes” with a downer ending with Thanos having wiped out half the population of the universe. Or has he? Okay, he technically has turned all those people into dust, but you can be sure that everything will be reversed. After all, a few of the main characters we see die have sequels in development. But we won’t find out for sure until Avengers 4 whether Thanos’s Rapture is just an equivalent of a hypnotic suggestion, caused by the reality stone, or just something needing a reversal of events courtesy of the time stone. Either way, as is stated in Invasion U.S.A., we need a wizard (or other super-powered person) in charge if we want to defeat our enemies.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
An enormous ensemble races to find a treasure in this madcap classic that can be viewed as a crossover of great comedy all-stars. Not only does the main cast feature the likes of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and Phil Silvers, but It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World slips in cameos from Buster Keaton, Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges, and so many more. Meanwhile, you’ve got Spencer Tracy as the outlier character, a police detective who seems to be interested in taking all the others down but is actually interested in the same thing they are.
Infinity War can be criticized for featuring too many characters, depending on how well you think all the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy and additional supporting players are juggled. But a movie like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World shows that giant ensembles are manageable in a brilliant fashion. Provided you have a talent like Stanley Kramer at the helm and can hold the audience for three hours. Without a doubt, the Oscar-nominated editing team of Frederic Knudtson, Robert C. Jones, Gene Fowler Jr., were true superheroes.
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Another large, star-studded ensemble populates this war epic scripted by William Goldman and directed by Richard Attenborough. The cast includes MCU actors Anthony Hopkins and Robert Redford, as well as Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Laurence Olivier, Gene Hackman, Maximilian Schell, Elliott Gould, James Caan, and Liv Ullman. And it’s another movie where the good guys lose. This time for real. A Bridge Too Far depicts the failed World War II mission known as Operation Market Garden, which involved the Allies seizing many bridges in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, as the title suggests, we went after one bridge too many.
As with It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Infinity War, the ensemble of A Bridge Too Far is broken up into several groups, all of them on a path toward the same goal. Here it’s groups of British, American, Polish soldiers aiming to converge at the titular structure. “Everybody dies,” in the “war game,” as Hackman’s character says, though here most of the main cast does make it out alive, even as the Allies lose the battle. That’s the miracle of the movies considering Market Gardens saw more Allied casualties than D-Day.
If you’re going into a movie like Infinity War, you’ve likely been following the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last 10 years and 18 previous features. And the shorthands of the movie’s plot expect you to be familiar with them all. But you wouldn’t know that you also should have seen other past blockbusters. Really, when do you have time for any other movies besides the onslaught of MCU installments anyway? But thanks to the movie geek characterization of Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, you need to get certain references he makes.
Just as Parker invoked part of The Empire Strikes Back for an idea during the big airport battle in Captain America: Civil War, this time he brings up Aliens (another sequel that ramped up the action) for a suggestion of how to deal with Thanos’s minion Ebony Maw by creating a hull breach in his ship and jettisoning him out into space. In the Avengers movie, the moment is handled quickly and messily, and it’s kind of annoying the way it makes us think so consciously about another movie to get the bit but also doesn’t give us much time to stop thinking about that other great movie to reengage with the movie at hand and appreciate what happened.
2 Days in the Valley (1996)
Once again, directors Joe and Anthony Russo looked to movies of the past to inform the tone of their own latest effort. Speaking to journalists on the set of Infinity War, Anthony revealed:
“We were inspired by ’90s crime films when we were working on the script. So it’s got an energy to it, a bit of a smash and grab energy. The movies that we looked at: ‘Two Days in the Valley’ and ‘Out of Sight.’ We always look to movies for an inspiration for the energy that we’re looking for, or a narrative construct that we want to be inspired by, and those two films in particular (were).”
Certainly you should also see Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, which even features MCU actors Don Cheadle, Michael Keaton, and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s far and away the better of the two. But it’s so rare that anyone mentions 2 Days in the Valley anymore, we might as well highlight that one of the two. Viewed as a Pulp Fiction rip-off in its time, the ensemble crime film is written and directed by John Herzfeld and features a cast including Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Eric Stoltz, Teri Hatcher, Glenne Headly, a young Charlize Theron, and I believe just one MCU actor, Ultron voice James Spader.
The plot is a convoluted intersecting-lives sort of L.A.-set movie taking place over, that’s right, 48 hours (two days). Thinking about the reason it’s connected to Infinity War, I now wish that between all the heroes bickering through their missions to thwart Thanos that some of them would have just killed each other in surprising, ’90s crime film fashion. Doctor Strange would have loved to decapitate Tony Stark. Thor could have electrocuted Star Lord. Oh well. Here’s more on what was watched and why from the other Russo brother:
“For us it helps when you are dealing with all these different types of characters and all these different tones that have been established in the various films and story lines,. It becomes our organizing principal for tone. In terms of what the world is that we’re creating, what rules are we playing by, how does that filter and every character, no matter where they’re coming from has to intersect with the sort of reality of that tone.
“I think sometimes people have misinterpreted in the past when I’m talking about movies, how we’re using them. Really (it’s) as inspiration for narrative imagery. These movies are so complex you need a unifying peace, or a sense of cohesion, and that cohesion can come from a narrative construct that you can apply all the characters to. It’s hard to find movies with this many characters; you can look at Altman films, which have a tendency to be more veritè. Where we found ‘Two Days in the Valley,’ which really had a narrative thrust to it, and had an energy that we were looking for. Again, just purely something inspires us in the room when we’re working on the script.”
Of course, if you want something more verite, as he says, after the narrative thrust of Infinity War, do check out Robert Atlman’s L.A.-set Short Cuts instead. That features top dog MCU star Robert Downey Jr. Also, Nashville, which has MCU actor Jeff Goldblum.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Another part three with a different director than the person who helmed the first two, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is not as good as the others but is also not that bad. In fact, the more they keep making other Terminator movies, the better this seems within the context of the whole franchise. There are a ton of things to like in this installment, including Nick Stahl’s performance, the crane truck chase, and the way it ends with the bad guys winning. As long as they were going to do another sequel after the Judgment Day-thwarting Terminator 2, they had to just give in and let the machines rise.
There are two ways Avengers 4 can go after Thanos wins at the end of Infinity War. Marvel can be really bold and just own all the death and destruction we’ve seen and have the remaining characters (minus a few that should probably die in the next one) fight to survive and defeat Thanos and live with what’s been done. Or they can go the route of the comics and have everything undone by reversing time with the Infinity Gauntlet. Technically, that’s what the humans have tried to do in the first two Terminator movies. But as Thanos says, “I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.”
Population Boom (2013)
For this week’s obligatory documentary pick, I could have chosen some sort of crossover epic concert film, like say Take This Waltz. But as much as I endorse that Martin Scorsese-helmed music doc classic (especially for its 40th anniversary this week), it’s just not that relevant. Instead, I kept thinking about the issue of overpopulation, given that’s Thanos’s well-intentioned eco-terrorist crusade. There are a ton of docs dealing with population as a problem, but this one actually argues the opposite.
According to Population Boom, which is directed by Werner Boote of Plastic Planet fame and produced by Nikolaus Geyrhalter (director of Our Daily Bread), there’s little reason to think there’s a limit to how many people fit on Earth (or, in Thanos’s case, the whole universe). Boote travels the world, including parts of China, Japan, India, Mexico, and Kenya, observing the most populous cities, and talking to people who believe the more citizens the better, especially democratically. And population control, whether it’s through policies limiting the number of children you can have or intergalactic madmen on a rampage, is the real problem.
Ready Player One (2018)
It’s not common for me to recommend such a recent movie, one still in theaters, but I kept being reminded of Ready Player One while watching Infinity War. Both movies are mashups, the former being much more intensely filled with seemingly other properties. Although it’s not. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s book is just about a world where people are virtually cosplaying as favorite characters. It’s not the actual characters. Iron Giant, Chucky, King Kong, the Battletoads, the T-800, and all the other pop culture icons are not really there.
Sadly, I felt like the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy are not really there in Infinity War either. It’s like a simulation of a battle between the characters and Thanos where each character is reduced to his or her most base personality traits and sense of humor. Maybe it’s just that there were too many characters for any of them to be given enough time to seem like the real deal. Maybe there were too many characters for the screenwriters to give them all anything but shorthand familiar beats. Perhaps they’re all Skrulls impersonating our beloved heroes. Whatever the case, the movie is as entertaining but as soulless as Ready Player One.
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