The wait is finally over this weekend as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow come together under the supervision of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Nick Fury to battle Loki and fight for the Earth in The Avengers. Joss Whedon's ultimate superhero smackdown not only lives up to the hype, it is arguably the best comic-book adaptation ever. You'll be surprised at how well the stories of the six heroes mesh together, so read on to find out what to pay particular attention to when you're watching the individual Avengers movies on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD.
Iron Man: The Avengers buildup began in 2008 with this origin story about how billionaire playboy-philanthropist-genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) came to have an arc reactor embedded in his chest and fly around in a metallic suit as Iron Man. We first meet Stark's assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in this movie, and Pepper is the only "girlfriend" to return in The Avengers. In the post-credits scene, Samuel L. Jackson first appears as Nick Fury, who visits Stark to tell him that he "isn't the only superhero in the world" and about the "Avengers Initiative."
The Incredible Hulk: The second Avengers movie gives the origin story of Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), who survived a lethal dose of gamma radiation that transforms him into the titular raging green giant when he gets angry. William Hurt plays General Ross, who is approached in a short scene before the credits by Tony Stark and told that a "team" is being formed. Dr. Banner retreats to a remote jungle location to deal with his anger-management issues, which is where Black Widow finds him in The Avengers. Due to a breakdown in negotiations, Mark Ruffalo takes over for Norton as Banner in The Avengers.
Iron Man 2: Iron Man is the only Avenger to date to have a sequel, but more are in the works. In 2010's Iron Man 2, Pepper Potts is promoted to CEO of Stark Industries and the romance between her and Stark is realized at last. Nick Fury returns with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)—our first look at the most lethal lady in The Avengers. In the post-credits scene, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) reports the discovery of a large hammer at the bottom of a crater in New Mexico.
Thor: In Kenneth Branagh's 2011 origin story about Asgard prince Thor (Chris Hemsworth), we get to see just how the Nordic god came to lose his hammer—the Mjolnir—in that New Mexico crater mentioned in Iron Man 2 and about his strained relationship with his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is the primary villain in The Avengers. Agent Coulson is seen at the crater site and we get our first glimpse of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. In the post-credits scene, scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) is taken to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility where Nick Fury opens a briefcase and shows him a mysterious object of untold power. This sequence, directed by Joss Whedon, leads directly into the beginning of The Avengers.
Captain America: The First Avenger: Like the title suggests, this is the origin story of how puny Steve Rogers came to be injected with serum to become the super soldier Captain America during World War II. It is in this movie where we learn about the power cube known as the tesseract, which is integral to Loki's planned dominion over the Earth in The Avengers. Cap is frozen for nearly 70 years and awakens in modern times, where Nick Fury tells him about a mission with worldwide ramifications in a post-credits scene that is included in and expanded upon in The Avengers.