The official 'Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings' poster
Watch These Marvel Movies Before Seeing Shang-Chi

Consider this your refresher on all the ways the new film ties into the MCU.

by Ani Bundel
Marvel Studios

With the premiere of Black Widow, Marvel’s Phase 4 took off in earnest after a 15-month delay due to the 2020 coronavirus shutdowns of theaters. The new era of Marvel Cinematic Universe storytelling is now five titles deep, with WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and What If... also part of the new phase. But those titles told stories about characters fans already knew. With Marvel’s latest release, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, viewers will meet the first new superhero since Captain Marvel in 2019. But which Marvel movies should fans watch before Shang-Chi to be ready for the new arrival?

Although Shang-Chi will be the first time moviegoers will meet the Asian American superhero (and the first MCU film to star a primarily Asian cast), the character was initially introduced to comic readers back in 1973 and starred under his own banner for a decade before being retired. Like Iron Fist, who debuted a year later, Marvel created the character to take advantage of the kung fu craze of the 1970s. (Shang-Chi even wound up working with Iron Fist and Luke Cage as part of the Heroes For Hire superhero team-up.)

But like Iron Fist, the character’s biography from the comics is pretty problematic. In adapting him for the big screen, director Destin Daniel Cretton rewrote much of Shang-Chi’s backstory and reconfigured it for a new era.

On the one hand, that means fans who want to get to know Shang-Chi before the film don’t have a lot to go on when it comes to comics. But there is quite a bit in the MCU’s first three phases that help introduce this new character. Let’s run down the titles to watch ahead of the new film.


Iron Man

Like the original Iron Man, Shang-Chi seeks to take a superhero not well recognized by the public and make him a household name in a hit film. But that’s not why fans should watch the MCU’s original 2008 hit before the new movie.

Viewers may have forgotten Iron Man initially kicked off when Tony Stark was kidnapped in Afghanistan by the terrorist organization known as the Ten Rings. It’s while being held prisoner by the organization that he built the initial Iron Man suit.

At the time of the movie’s release, the Ten Rings represented an Al-Qaeda stand-in, but it now means the Ten Rings have been part of the Iron Man story since the beginning. It’s also part of what the new film will pull from in reimagining the organization as part of Shang-Chi’s origin tale.


The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk is the unloved stepchild of the MCU. Made in conjunction with Universal Pictures, it’s one of the only MCU films not on Disney+ and one of the very few to be regarded as a failure. (Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner was even recast with Mark Ruffalo for 2012’s The Avengers.)

But the MCU is working to repatriate the film's supporting cast back into the fold. The first stop will be Shang-Chi. The film’s final trailer revealed a guest star fans weren’t expecting: The Abomination. The monstrous character is the alter-ego of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), and the main villain of the Hulk film, who hasn’t been featured since the 2008 flop. How the film will employ Blonsky remains to be seen, but since he’ll also eventually show up in Disney+’s She-Hulk, now is the time to get reacquainted.


Iron Man 3

With the Ten Rings already a major bad guy in Iron Man’s story, the franchise decided to go whole-hog in the third and final installment of the trilogy and bring the group’s fabled leader, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), to be Tony Stark’s nemesis. Except, as fans know, it was a fake-out. The “Mandarin” in Iron Man 3 was actually a failed British actor named Trevor, an illusion to hide the real bad guys in the American government.

But it turns out there is a Mandarin out there, and he is the head of the Ten Rings. Shang-Chi will introduce the real deal, played by the legendary Tony Leung. But as fans have learned recently, Kingsley’s Trevor will also make an appearance in the new film, bringing the in-joke from Iron Man full circle.


Marvel One-Shot: All Hail The King

Most of this watchlist is comprised of feature films, but there is at least one short piece fans can view pretty quickly. It’s what’s known as Marvel One-Shot. These short, three-to-five minute scenes were released as part of the DVD/Blu-Ray bonus features during the MCU’s Phase 2.

All Hail The King was included on the Thor: The Dark World home release and acts as a bridge post-Iron Man 3 to what Trevor’s been doing since his capture by Tony Stark, living the celebrity life in prison. At least, until the Ten Rings get ahold of him to bring before the real Mandarin.


Doctor Strange

Shang-Chi’s cast is the first primarily Asian superhero film in Marvel history, starring (among others) Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung. All of them are playing newcomer characters in the franchise. But it also stars at least one Asian actor Marvel fans already know: Benedict Wong, who plays Wong, the sidekick from Doctor Strange.

But refreshing one’s memory on Wong’s story isn’t the only reason to check out the 2016 film. Doctor Strange was also a turning point in the MCU. The uproar over Asian roles being cast with white actors (for example, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One) made it clear this practice was no longer acceptable, even when it was meant to sidestep outdated racial stereotypes. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has said point-blank that the lessons taken from the Doctor Strange movie influenced Marvel’s approach to Shang-Chi, and it’s worth it to watch this movie and see how far the MCU has come.


Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame

As with any Phase 4 entry, the death of Tony Stark, the passing of Steve Rogers, and the five-year blip from the 2018 snap to the 2023 return are all major recent historical events in Shang-Chi. With the Ten Rings coming to the fore now that Iron Man is gone, these final Avengers installments are once again part of the required viewing syllabus.

That said, unlike Black Widow and November’s Eternals, Shang-Chi was not originally meant to follow the events of Endgame quite so closely. (The original schedule put its first release slot several months after both Spider-Man: No Way Home and Eternals were supposed to arrive.) That means by the time the events of Shang-Chi happen, the blip was supposed to be firmly in the rearview mirror, so there aren’t expected to be as many references to this event as one might otherwise expect.

The majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are streaming on Disney+, as are the Marvel One-Shots. The Incredible Hulk is streaming as a rental on Amazon.