Sam and Bucky return to action in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We look back on their entire MCU journey in every movie they appeared in.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will give Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) the spotlight after their long history as supporting characters to Captain America (Chris Evans) in the Marvel Studios Cinematic Universe. The bickering heroes have appeared in eight total MCU movies (seven for Winter Soldier and six for Falcon) and, in their last appearance, they helped save the universe in Avengers: Endgame.
Bucky – full name Sgt. James Buchanan Barnes – is the lifelong friend of Steve Rogers and their history goes back to their Brooklyn childhood growing up in the 1930s. Barnes enlisted in the U.S. Army’s 107th Infantry to fight in World War II, something the physically stunted Rogers also desperately wanted. Of course, Steve was selected for Project Rebirth and the Super Soldier Serum transformed him into a physical marvel, turning him into Captain America. Cap saved Bucky from Hydra during WWII and, along with the Howling Commandos, they did serious damage to the Red Skull’s (Hugo Weaving) Nazi forces before Bucky was lost during a train mission and presumed dead. But Sgt. Barnes was retrieved by Hydra; he was experimented on, mind-wiped, and remade into a superhuman assassin called the Winter Soldier. Placed in cryo suspension after each mission, the Winter Soldier spent decades killing for Hydra, including Howard (John Slattery) and Maria Stark (Hope Davis) on December 2, 1981. Bucky and Steve would eventually be reunited in the 21st century, first as enemies and finally, as the best friends they’ve been for a century.
Sam Wilson became Steve Rogers’ other best friend when they met by chance in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Wilson was a U.S. Air Force pararescue airman who served two tours in Afghanistan before he left the service in when his wingman, Riley, was killed in action. Later in the film, Steve and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) turned to Sam for help when they learned Hydra completed a takeover of SHIELD. Wilson joined Rogers and Romanoff to battle the Winter Soldier and then bring down Hydra’s Project Insight Helicarriers, with Sam taking to the skies wearing the EXO-7 Falcon wingsuit to provide air support to Captain America. Sam remained at Steve’s side afterward; they went on the hunt for the Winter Soldier after they learned his true identity is Bucky Barnes, and Wilson joined the Avengers as the Falcon at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ever loyal, Sam joined Steve in refusing to sign the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War, which turned them both into international fugitives and placed them in conflict with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his team of heroes. Falcon stuck by Cap’s side into Avengers: Infinity War where they fought the Black Order in the Battle of Wakanda. Both Wilson and Barnes were among the billions who Thanos (Josh Brolin) dusted with his Infinity Gauntlet Snap.
Sam and Bucky were never as tight with each other as they each have been with Steve Rogers, the one person they have in common. After Avengers: Endgame, Sam and Bucky helped Steve time travel to return the Infinity Stones to their proper places in the timeline, and they both witnessed Rogers re-emerge as an old man, having lived a full and happy life with his eternal love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Steve gave Sam Captain America’s shield, but the future of the Falcon and the Winter Soldier remains an open question that will finally be answered in their Disney+ series. Here is every appearance Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson made in the MCU before fans reunite with them in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) (Bucky)
Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers’ first MCU appearance is in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, which is primarily set between 1943-1945. Bucky was the strapping young Army Sergeant looking out for his best friend Steve; he got Rogers a double date and took him to the Stark Expo before he shipped off to war. Bucky didn’t see Steve again until after he and the 107th infantry were held as prisoners of war by Hydra, where Barnes was subjected to experiments. Now known as Captain America, Steve rescued Bucky and brought the 107th back safely.
Sgt. Barnes joined up with Captain America and the Howling Commandos to take on Hydra all over Europe. In 1945, the American soldiers attacked a Hydra train with the intent of capturing Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), but Barnes was lost during the mission. Bucky fell from the train into the Danube River and was presumed killed in action. Unbeknownst to Rogers, Hydra and the Soviets retrieved Barnes and turned him into the first subject of the Winter Soldier program. Bucky’s physiology was enhanced to superhuman levels and his left arm was amputated and replaced with a cybernetic one. The Winter Soldier was brainwashed, mind-wiped, and returned to a cryogenic stasis after each mission for the next 70 years.
The Winter Soldier’s legend grew after each assassination over the decades and he became a ghost story within the intelligence community. Winter Soldier’s most infamous kill was Howard and Maria Stark in 1981 and, in 2009, Natasha Romanoff encountered the Hydra assassin while protecting a nuclear scientist. Black Widow failed her mission but, despite being shot through the abdomen by the Winter Soldier, Romanoff lived to tell the tale.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is where Cap, Bucky, and Falcon’s paths all intersected; Cap’s friendship with Falcon was forged while Rogers also dedicated himself to saving Bucky. Steve Rogers met Sam Wilson while running in Washington, D.C. Wilson was an ex-soldier working with the Department of Veterans Affairs helping other vets cope with PTSD. Captain America then encountered the Winter Soldier after the assassin failed to kill Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who faked his death anyway in order to go underground and throw Hydra off his scent. After Rogers and Natasha Romanoff discovered Hydra’s plan to take over SHIELD and launch the Project Insight Helicarriers to murder thousands of their enemies, the two Avengers turned to Wilson for help. Sam, in turn, donned the EXO-7 winged suit he flew in Afghanistan and joined their fight.
Steve, Natasha, and Sam all fought the Winter Soldier and Rogers learned the fearsome assassin was actually an amnesiac Bucky, which made Steve decide he had to save his oldest friend. The heroes then reunited with Fury to begin their final assault on the Triskelion to stop Project Insight. While Fury and Romanoff exposed Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) as the leader of Hydra, Rogers and Wilson took out the Hydra-controlled SHIELD Helicarriers while Captain America fought the Winter Soldier, who, in turn, saved Steve from drowning after the Helicarrier they fought on crashed into the Potomac. Bucky then vanished. After Rogers recovered in the hospital, he and Sam decided to pursue Bucky in order to save him, using Hydra files Romanoff procured to track Barnes’ whereabouts.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015) (Sam)
Avengers: Age of Ultron is set a year after Captain America: The Winter Soldier but Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson hadn’t made much progress in locating Bucky Barnes. In the meantime, Captain America returned to the Avengers to lead Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to shut down the remaining Hydra bases, with their final victory happening in Sokovia where they routed Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) out of his last stronghold. Afterward, the Avengers threw a party that Sam attended along with many other veterans. Wilson admitted that he was happy “chasing cold leads” on their “missing person’s case.” “Avenging is your world,” Sam told Steve. “Your world is crazy.”
By the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, however, the Avengers experienced a huge turnover with over half of the original members leaving the team. Captain America and Black Widow remained to head up a group of New Avengers, and Rogers recruited Wilson to be part of his crazy world, at last. Sam officially became an Avenger as the Falcon, joining Captain America, Black Widow, Vision (Paul Bettany), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and War Machine (Don Cheadle).
Ant-Man (2015) (Sam)
A few months later, the Falcon was a newly-minted Avenger who had a fateful encounter with another newcomer to the superhero game, Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Lang was sent by his mentor and the previous Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), to steal a device belonging to Howard Stark that was stored in an “old storage facility in Upstate New York.” Pym didn’t know that this location had been converted into the high-security Avengers compound.
Ant-Man proceeded with his heist anyway and encountered the Falcon. After they introduced themselves, Falcon and Ant-Man went on to fight, testing Scott’s shrinking powers against Sam’s flight and combat skills. Ant-Man managed to steal what he came for and he bested Falcon by shrinking into his suit and tearing out circuits that disabled Falcon’s wings. After Lang escaped, an embarrassed Wilson told his security team that it was very important to him Captain America doesn’t find out about this. However, Falcon remembered Ant-Man (who he calls “Tic-Tac”) and Sam recruited Scott Lang to join Team Cap a year later in Captain America: Civil War.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
After a two-year break, Captain America: Civil War properly continued the story of Captain America and the Falcon tracking the Winter Soldier. Wilson, who now had a drone he named Redwing, was part of the Avengers mission in Lagos that resulted in Wanda Maximoff accidentally killing innocent bystanders, which prompted the United Nations to draft the Sokovia Accords to make the Avengers accountable. Meanwhile, Bucky Barnes was in hiding in Romania when he learned that the Winter Soldier was framed for the bombing of the UN ratification of the Sokovia Accords in Berlin, which was actually orchestrated by Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl).
With the Winter Soldier now the world’s most wanted man, Steve Rogers went to his aid and he was joined by Sam Wilson. They ended up encountering the Black Panther, who was T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the son of Wakandan King T’Chaka (John Kani), who died in the UN bombing. The UN captured Barnes, but his Hydra programming was reactivated by Zemo reciting his trigger words, which led to him breaking out of custody. Captain America and Falcon, who both refused to sign the Sokovia Accords, found Barnes and formed a group of outlaw heroes with Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang, and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Civil War also introduced Sam and Bucky’s amusing interplay as frenemies. Team Cap battled Team Iron Man in Berlin but Rogers and Barnes escaped while Wilson and others were imprisoned in the maximum-security facility called the Raft.
Captain America and the Winter Soldier battled Iron Man at Hydra’s Siberia Base, where Tony Stark learned that Barnes murdered his parents, Maria and Howard Stark (but he wasn’t responsible for the Berlin bombing). Rogers and Barnes defeated Stark and escaped; later, Captain America broke into the Raft and freed his friends. Rogers brought Bucky to Wakanda, where he was placed back in cryostasis so that Shuri (Letitia Wright) could fully undo Barnes’ brainwashing. In the meantime, Sam stayed by Steve’s side along with Natasha Romanoff and Wanda Maximoff as they continued seeking justice while remaining international fugitives.
Black Panther (2018) (Bucky)
A mentally healed Bucky re-emerged in the post-credits scene of Black Panther. Referred to as the White Wolf by the Wakandans, Bucky lived peacefully in a remote village after Shuri successfully purged him of his Hydra brainwashing.
Avengers Infinity War (2018)
Thanos’ quest for the Infinity Gauntlet changed the fate of the MCU and ended up with the demise of both Falcon and the Winter Soldier among countless others. Sam re-emerged from hiding alongside Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff when they came to the rescue of Wanda Maximoff and Vision, who were attacked by the Black Order in Scotland. The aliens had come for the Mind Stone in Vision’s forehead but the Avengers fought them off before they returned to the Avengers compound in the United States. The Avengers then decided to bring Vision to Wakanda in order for Shuri to safely remove the Mind Stone.
Before Bucky was reunited with Steve in Wakanda, King T’Challa presented Barnes with a new Vibranium cybernetic arm to replace the one Iron Man destroyed in Captain America: Civil War. Both the Falcon and the Winter Soldier were part of the Avengers and the Wakandans’ battle against the Black Order, and the heroes had the fight won until Thanos arrived and killed Vision to take the Mind Stone. Completing the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos was stabbed in the chest by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) but he snapped his fingers and wiped out half of all life in the universe. Sam and Bucky were among those who turned to dust and they remained dead for the next five years.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
In 2023, the Avengers used the Quantum Realm to perform time heists of the Infinity Stones. Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) used the Avengers’ Infinity Gauntlet to snap everyone Thanos killed back to life before the Mad Titan destroyed the Avengers’ second compound with missiles and mounted a full-scale invasion. But Wong (Benedict Wong) magically gathered all of Earth’s resurrected defenders together and teleported them to the battlefield; Falcon and the Winter Soldier were among the legion of heroes who assembled to fight and defeat Thanos. Tony Stark ultimately used the Infinity Gauntlet to snap Thanos and his army out of existence, but it cost Iron Man his life.
After Sam and Bucky attended Tony Stark’s funeral, they helped Steve Rogers used the Quantum Realm to return the Infinity Stones back to their correct places in the timeline. But to Sam’s surprise, Steve re-emerged as an old man; he had decided to return to 1945 and Rogers lived the life with Peggy Carter that was originally denied him. As Bucky looked on, the older Steve Rogers gifted Captain America’s shield to Sam. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will answer the question of what happens next to Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and Captain America’s shield.