Warning: This post contains spoilers for all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
Captain Marvel chases after the Tesseract, the Guardians of the Galaxy steal an orb, Thor tries to capture Aether. These magical objects may seem like MacGuffins, or simply plot devices that are meant to keep the Marvel Cinematic Universe moving forward. But in fact, these objects are Infinity Stones: a group of gems that grant their owner great power.
Thanos, an evil, purple alien, used that power to destroy half the universe in Avengers: Infinity War. Now, in the Infinity War sequel, Avengers: Endgame, it’s up to Marvel’s heroes to reverse that damage, possibly by traveling through time and acquiring and destroying all the Infinity Stones themselves before Thanos can get his hands on them.
The complex Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline makes it easy to forget the Infinity Stone names, let alone their powers and where you might have seen them before. After all, there are 21 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And most of the Infinity Stones have multiple names.
But we’ve got you covered. Here are answers to all of your questions about the Infinity Stones, and what role they’ll play in upcoming Marvel movies like Avengers: Endgame.
So what’s an Infinity Stone, again?
Infinity Stones are really powerful gems that, when united, can be used to destroy people, planets, solar systems—you name it.
How many Infinity Stones are there?
There are six Infinity Stones: The Space Stone (blue), the Reality Stone (red), the Power Stone (purple), the Mind Stone (yellow), the Time Stone (green) and the Soul Stone (orange).
Where did the Infinity Stones come from?
As Benicio Del Toro’s The Collector explains in Guardians of the Galaxy, six singularities existed before the creation of the Universe. The Big Bang transformed those entities into six separate Infinity Stones.
Where have I seen the Infinity Stones before?
So glad you asked. This can get confusing because many of these stones have two different names. Here’s a rundown of all the Infinity Stone names and what movies they’ve popped up in.
The Space Stone (The Tesseract)
The Space Stone gives the user power over space. Anyone holding the Space Stone can create a portal from one part of the universe to another. In the Marvel films, the Space Stone is hidden inside a blue cube called the Tesseract.
The evil organization HYDRA used the Tesseract to power their weapons during World War II in Captain America: The First Avenger, but the Tesseract fell out of a plane being piloted by Captain America at the end of that movie. We find out the government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. recovered the Tesseract from the plane during the end credits of Thor.
In Captain Marvel, which is set in the 1990s, a Kree scientist named Mar-Vell (Annette Bening) harnesses the power of the Tesseract to create an engine that can power ships to travel at light speed. Before Mar-Vell is killed by her own people, she hides the Tesseract on a ship in space. Carol Danvers (a.k.a. Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson) recovers the Tesseract, and her feline sidekick Goose (who is actually an alien called a Flerken) carries it to the office of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the first Avengers movie, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) steals the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. and uses it to open a portal to space. An alien army streams through the portal to invade Earth. At the end of the movie, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes the Tesseract to his home planet of Asgard for safe keeping.
In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor realizes he must destroy Asgard to defeat the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett). As he and a cohort of sidekicks fight Hela, a supposedly reformed Loki sneaks down to the treasure room where the Tesseract (and therefore the Space Stone) is kept. We never see him grab the stone, but that dude just cannot resist creating chaos. He probably pocketed it. In the post-credit scenes for Thor: Ragnarok, we find out that someone attacked Thor’s getaway ship. In Infinity War, Thanos kills Loki and takes the Space Stone.
The Mind Stone (Loki’s scepter)
The Mind Stone allows the user to control the minds of others. We first see it as a blue orb in Loki’s scepter in 2012’s The Avengers. Whenever Loki touches someone with the scepter, he can control what they do. Thanos gives the Mind Stone to Loki, which places a lot of faith in Loki, a hilarious but not particularly accomplished villain. Weird decision, Thanos.
The Avengers recover Loki’s scepter at the beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) use the Mind Stone to create Ultron (James Spader), an artificially intelligent peace-keeping program. Apparently, those two have not read Frankenstein because they’re super surprised when Ultron turns on them.
After some bickering, the Avengers eventually use the Mind Stone to create another android, Vision (Paul Bettany). The stone gives Vision a lot of powers, including super-strength, the ability to fly and the power to phase through walls and people like a ghost. Curiously, it does not give him the ability to control minds.
The Mind Stone resides in Vision’s forehead, and the Avengers vow to protect the superhero. But when Thanos’ army overtakes Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) destroys the stone, killing Vision in the process. Thanos (who has already acquired the Time Stone at this point), simply reverses time, kills Vision and takes the stone for himself.
The Reality Stone (Aether)
The Reality Stone grants the user power to manipulate matter. In Thor: The Dark World the villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) wants to use this red liquid stuff called Aether to turn matter into dark matter because he’s evil…and do you really need a better reason? It turns out that the Aether is a manifestation of the Reality Stone.
At the end of the movie, two Asgardians give the Reality Stone to The Collector because apparently they can’t keep the Space Stone and Reality Stone in the same room in Asgard. This seems to be a huge mistake: As soon as they leave the Collector says, “One down, five to go” in a super evil voice.
It’s unclear whether the Collector gave up the stone immediately to Thanos or whether Thanos killed Del Toro’s character: When the Guardians of the Galaxy arrive to take the Reality Stone from the Collector, Thanos reveals that he has beaten them to their goal. He then takes Gamora hostage.
The Power Stone
The Power Stone bestows upon its holder a lot of energy—the sort of energy that you could use to destroy an entire planet. Star Lord (Chris Pratt) accidentally discovers the stone in Guardians of the Galaxy. Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) steals it from him and threatens to wipe out an entire race.
But here’s the tricky thing about Infinity Stones: You can’t hold them in your hand for long without dying. (More on that later.) Peter steals the stone back from Ronan and almost dies when holding it. (All the Guardians join hands, and together they can manage its power. Hooray for teamwork!)
The Guardians—you may start to notice a theme here—give it to Nova Corps, the space police, for safekeeping. The officers in Nova Corps are pretty bad at their jobs. And sure enough, by the opening scenes of Infinity War, Thanos has already acquired the Power Stone offscreen. Thor later explains that Thanos decimated the planet of Xandar and took it for himself.
The Time Stone (Eye of Agomoto)
The Time Stone grants its owner the power to re-wind or fast-forward time. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) discovers it in the Eye of Agomoto pendant in the library of Kamar-Taj, where he trains in the mystic arts in Doctor Strange. He uses the stone at the end of the film to trap the villain Dormammu in a time loop so that Dormammu can’t destroy the Earth.
Wisely, Doctor Strange doesn’t hand over the stone to a sketchy junk collector or a hapless policeman and decides to watch over it himself. He returns the Stone to Kamar-Taj, where he currently resides, at the end of the movie.
Doctor Strange wears the Time Stone throughout Infinity War and even tells Iron Man that if he has to choose between giving up the stone and saving the lives of the Avengers, he’ll prioritize the stone. Later, he uses the power of the Time Stone to look into the many possible futures at the end of the Infinity War. He gleans that he will have to give up the stone to Thanos in order for the Avengers to eventually defeat the Mad Titan. He does so and disintegrates when Thanos snaps his fingers.
The Soul Stone
In Infinity War, Thanos travels with Gamora to the planet Vormir, where the Soul Stone is kept. There they encounter Red Skull, the villain from the first Captain America movie, who has been doomed to guard but not use the Soul Stone after trying to handle the Space Stone himself. Red Skull tells Thanos that he needs to sacrifice something he loves to attain the gem, and Thanos kills Gamora.
It’s unclear what the Soul Stone’s powers are in the film universe. In the comics, the gem allows the holder to capture and control others’ souls. It also creates a separate universe where the person who wields it can trip souls. It’s possible that the people who turned to dust at the end of Infinity War may simply reside in this alternate universe created by the stone.
Why are all these stones in some sort of container?
You can’t hold an Infinity Stone for very long without dying. Just look at what happened to Red Skull. That’s why the Time Stone is in a necklace, the Mind Stone in a scepter, the Space Stone in the Tesseract, etc. Thanos needs to wear a special golden glove to hold all the stones.
Yeah, what is the weird glove?
The Infinity Gauntlet. Basically, it’s a fancy golden glove that can hold all the Infinity Stones. When all the stones are united in the Gauntlet, the wearer wields unlimited power.
We first see the Infinity Gauntlet in the treasure room of Asgard in the first Thor. But then we see the glove again in a post-credits scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron. After Ultron fails to destroy the Avengers (and humanity), Thanos enters a place that is decidedly not the Asgardian treasure room, puts on the Infinity Gauntlet and says, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”
Marvel cleared up this confusion about the two Infinity Gauntlets in Thor: Ragnarok when the villain Hela walks through the Asgardian treasury, looks at the Infinity Gauntlet, tosses it aside and declares it “fake.”
Why did Thanos want to destroy half the Universe?
In the comics, Thanos falls in love with Death (or her physical embodiment) and collects the Infinity Stones to destroy universes and impress her. Marvel Studios hinted at this plotline way back in 2012 when a henchman told Thanos to fight the Avengers is to “court death.” Thanos smiles.
But Infinity War’s writers must have changed their mind about the villain’s motivations after they filmed that scene. In Infinity War, Thanos is concerned with the overpopulation of the universe. His solution is to “restore balance” by killing off half of all the living things. “He’s evil” is another acceptable answer.
Why didn’t Thanos just get the Infinity Stones himself before?
Thanos sent Ronan the Accuser and Loki to fetch Infinity Stones and wound up empty handed both times. He seems to be making much quicker progress by just tracking down the darn things himself. So laziness, I guess?
2018, when Infinity War took place, also happened to be an opportune time to attack earth, what with the Avengers team broken up.
Wait, the Avengers broke up?!?
Oh, yeah. If you didn’t catch Captain America: Civil War, you may want to go back and watch it before Endgame. You can stream it on Netflix right now.
Here’s a quick summary: Iron Man and Captain America feud over whether the government should regulate superheroes (Iron Man is for and Cap against). The rest of the Avengers take sides, minus Hulk and Thor who are too busy testing their gladiatorial skills in space. Things end badly, and Iron Man and Cap still aren’t speaking. Their breakup makes Thanos’ job all the easier.
As of Infinity War, Captain America and Iron Man still have not united. Iron Man considered calling Cap when Thanos first landed on earth but got distracted by a mission into space to save Doctor Strange. Now, Iron Man is stuck in space, while Captain Marvel is marshaling the Avengers’ remaining forces on Earth post-snap.
Are the Avengers really dead?
Also note that the superheroes who did survive the culling are all part of the original Avengers team: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. Most likely, this movie will be the last time that the original team fights together. They will try to find a way to undo Thanos’ destruction, probably using the Quantum Realm to time travel.
So is Thanos going to kill one of the Avengers?
Several actors’ contracts are up after this film, including Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow). Evans has been very open about the fact that he’s ready to leave the franchise. Hemsworth and Downey have also hinted they are done, too.
But good news: Johansson will probably survive, since Marvel just hired a writer to draft a Black Widow solo flick. Actors newer to the franchise like Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) are also probably safe.
To its credit, Marvel has just decided to lean into the whole “Cap or Iron Man is probably going to bite it” narrative. Feige has openly said some characters will get to ride off into the sunset, and some will meet a bloody end. It’s just a matter of whether or not that will happen in Avengers: Endgame, which hits theaters April 26.
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does
- Column: The New Antisemitism
- The 13 Best New Books to Read in March
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Eliana Dockterman at email@example.com