The big day is nearly here: Scarlett Johansson’s first solo film as her Marvel character Natasha Romanoff hits theaters in just over a week. Black Widow has been delayed for a year, thanks to the COVID pandemic, but even still, Marvel fans have been waiting to see a Natasha film for a long time. After making her debut in 2010’s Iron Man 2, she became a founding member of the Avengers in the MCU’s first big crossover film. She’s since appeared in five more movies (not including a cameo in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok).
But if you’re a new MCU fan, or you just want to brush up on her story, here are the films that you need to see before catching Black Widow, which opens in theaters July 9 (you can also watch it on Disney+ for an extra fee).
Iron Man 2 (2010): In this film, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark learned that the arc reactor in his Iron Man armor (developed in 2008’s Iron Man), which keeps him alive, is now slowly poisoning him. He appoints Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts as the new CEO of Stark Industries and he hires Scarlett Johansson’s “Natalie Rushman” to be his personal assistant. When she kicks Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan’s ass, we realize that she’s probably not who she says she is. Later in the film, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., reveals that “Rushman” is actually Agent Natasha Romanoff.
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012): Marvel’s previous movies had acknowledged the existence of the other characters in the universe, but this was the first true “crossover” film… and it worked spectacularly well, setting the stage for a connected universe of movies. Here, we see Natasha is still working as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and we see the beginning of her relationship with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk. We also learn that she has some history with Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye. Further, we realize that while she lacks the incredible powers or amazing gear of Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor, she’s incredibly smart, even outwitting the film’s villain, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): Here, Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) and Natasha are teammates and equals. In Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, Romanoff is working for the government as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and as an Avenger. But now, she and Rogers, as well as Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (aka the Falcon) go rogue and are on the run for most of the film… and this is where Romanoff is most comfortable. In the film, we learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by Hydra, and by the end of the movie, the spy organization has been destroyed.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015): S.H.I.E.L.D. is gone, but the Avengers are still together, as we see during the opening segment’s mission in Sokovia. We see that Natasha has the ability to get the Hulk to calm down enough to turn back into Banner; later, we learn that they’ve been in a relationship. We also get a bit more of a look into Natasha’s past: first when she gets zapped by Elizabeth Olson’s Wanda Maximoff and we see a bit of her training in the “Red Room” in Russia. Later in the film, she tells Banner, “In the Red Room, where I was trained, where I was raised, they have a graduation ceremony. They sterilize you. It’s efficient. One less thing to worry about. The one thing that might matter more than a mission. It makes everything easier. Even killing.” The villain in Black Widow, the Taskmaster, runs the Red Room. Anyway: by the end of Age Of Ultron, there’s a new Avengers lineup: Rogers and Romanoff are the leaders and the rest of the team includes Wanda, Sam Wilson, Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes (aka War Machine), and Paul Bettany’s Vision.
Captain America: Civil War (2016): After disastrous events in the MCU centered around superhero activity, the United Nations decides that they want to regulate the Avengers. Tony Stark agrees; Steve Rogers doesn’t. James Rhodes, the Vision, Wanda and Natasha Romanoff side with Stark… at least, at first. Romanoff changes her mind during the film’s major battle scene, where she blasted Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, allowing Rogers and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes to escape Stark’s Avengers. Afterward, Stark says, “It must be hard to shake the double agent thing: it sticks in the DNA?” He notes that T’Challa informed William Hurt’s “Thunderbolt” Ross of Romanoff’s actions. “They’re coming for you,” he warns.
Black Widow picks up after the events of Civil War. Johansson’s Romanoff, of course, also appears in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Johannson has indicated that this will be her last time playing the character.