The recent trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the perfect indicator Marvel might be losing the casual viewer. X-Men cameos, big mummy creatures, minotaurs, timey-wimey-ness and the robots from 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron are just some of the trailer's features. The uninitiated, take notes.
Let's hope Marvel isn't expecting everyone going into the latest film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be 100% up to date with all 27 movies and 11 TV shows (not including the ABC Marvel series). If you've dropped the ball in keeping up to date with Marvel's "Phase Four" films and Disney Plus TV series, refer to this handy guide for all the titles in order of release.
Why is that the perfect watch order? I've been informed by CNET's Marvel experts that it doesn't matter what order you watch Phase Four in. Phase Four has already reshuffled its releases (Loki and What If...? were originally scheduled to come out after Doctor Strange 2) and, thanks to Phase Four's exploration of multiple universes, it isn't necessary to watch everything in chronological (not release) order. That might just end up being more confusing.
The Disney Plus series follows Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), aka Scarlet Witch, and Vision (Paul Bettany) in the suburban town of Westview. Thanks to the combination of dark magic, Kathryn Hahn and Wanda's love of sitcoms, idyllic life turns upside down. WandaVision directly sets up Doctor Strange 2, so it's good that the series is at the top of this watch list.
2. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
I'll cut you a little slack if you choose to skip this one. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a buddy action Disney Plus series, pairs The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and -- checks notes -- the Winter Solder (Sebastian Stan) in a plot to stop a terrorist organization known as -- checks notes -- the Flag Smashers. Actually, I'll cut you a lot of slack if you choose to skip this one.
Put this on the high priority list. The Disney Plus series starring Tom Hiddleston as the god of mischief or, as he otherwise loves to be known, "Thor's adopted brother," will go to some lengths to explain the multiverse. It's also got a smashing original score.
4. Black Widow
The Black Widow movie digging into Natasha Romanoff's (Scarlet Johansson) past doesn't have much bearing on the multiverse-related events of Phase Four. Don't skip it, though. Watch for Florence Pugh's scene-stealing performance as assassin Yelena Belova, aka the unofficial cousin of Killing Eve's Villanelle.
5. What If...?
I never once doubted Marvel knew what it was doing with the What If...? Disney Plus series. Never doubted where the question mark and ellipses should go. Never doubted that it's an animation or its connection to the rest of the MCU. Each episode of What If...? helps explore the idea of the multiverse, with the best episode (No. 4) introducing evil Doctor Strange.
6. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
A martial arts superhero film? Shang-Chi might not have much bearing on the multiverse, but the first third involves plenty of cool martial arts themes before delving into more fantastical elements. It also introduces a wonderful new hero in Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) to the Avengers.
One of Marvel's most divisive movies hit Disney Plus in January, so there's no excuse not to give it a watch. Not because you're already paying for Disney Plus, but to see what all the fuss is about. On second thoughts, it likely won't help you understand Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, so you have permission to skip.
Hawkeye brought Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) to the small screen and introduced young archer Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld). For all intents and purposes, it's a Christmas TV series, filled with multiple buddy partnerships (look out for a character from Black Widow), loudly dressed thugs who don't understand the concept of not drawing attention to their activities and a dog named Pizza Dog. It's not essential viewing, but all of those elements sound good, don't they?
9. Spider-Man: No Way Home
No Way Home can thank Loki (and Sony's 2018 hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) for getting people used to the idea of the multiverse. No Way Home is a must-watch, though be warned, it might also involve some homework viewing of previous Spider-Man films.
In short, the essential titles to watch before Doctor Strange 2 are Loki, WandaVision and Spider-Man: No Way Home, in any order. There are plenty more Marvel films to watch, so if you're willing to dive into the other three phases, head here.