Through 21 films and over ten years the Marvel Cinematic Universe has provided fans with plenty of awesome moments that have helped redefine the superhero movie genre. From heart wrenching loses to moments of extreme levity and some amazing hero versus villain battles the MCU has upped the ante in almost every way over the years, setting new bars time and time again. Both last year and this year I spent an entire month exploring aspects of the expanded movie universe that have stood out and helped make the franchise so iconic and memorable. Today, for my final list of Marvel Month 2.0, I’m going to go one step farther and explore the moments that made us laugh, cry, and stare in awe. In fact, this list is so big I decided to expand it a little bit and explore not ten, not fifteen, but twenty moments that helped define the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So without further ado, these are my picks for the Top 20 MCU Movie Moments.
For this list I only looked at moments from the MCU’s lineup of 21 films prior to the release of “Avengers: Endgame”. I did not look at anything from the series’ spinoff television and Netflix shows. I chose moments from any of the films that I felt stood out, proved to be important character moments or helped define why we love these movies as much as we do. Some are fun moments of levity, others tragic moments of heartbreak and others seemingly random moments just meant to add some flair to the product. I tried not to focus specifically on battle scenes as I’ve done that before, but extended battle sequences were considered especially ones that have left a lasting impact. Admittedly I did use the term “moment” loosely to describe scenes, single moments or extended sequences within the MCU filmography.
I’ve done a lot of lists over the last two-and-a-quarter years but this was by far one of if not THE hardest for me to narrow down. So, I want to know from you. What is your favorite moment in the MCU? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list. Be sure to check out my review of “Avengers: Endgame” coming this weekend.
20. Luis Tells a Story, “Ant-Man”
“Ant-Man” closed out Phase 2 of the MCU in 2015 and quickly established itself as one of the more comedic entries in the franchise. What else would you expect with a man like Paul Rudd in the lead role. However, it wasn’t the titular hero that stole the show. It was his good friend Luis who provides what has become the film’s most iconic running gag. Luis is played by Michael Peña, himself a very funny actor when given the material, and the character became known for his outrageously long and fast paced recollection of events. Early in “Ant-Man” he explains to Scott Lang how he learned of a new heist opportunity (which would turn out to be a test from Hank Pym). He rattles off events like recollecting a game of telephone at a hyperactive pace barely taking a breath as flashback show characters talking with Luis’ voice and words overdubbing their lip movements. The filmmakers were so confident the joke would land that they included a second Luis story at the end of the first film and revisited the joke in “Ant-Man and The Wasp”. It’s a neat way to throw exposition at the audience while also keeping us amused which is why it’s the most standout aspect of the “Ant-Man” duology.
19. “He’s a Friend from Work”, “Thor: Ragnarok”
While there are many great moments in the “Thor” trilogy, most of them complimenting Thor’s maturing as a king, it’s one of the more brief and simple moments that earns a spot here. In “Thor: Ragnarok”, the third film in the series, Thor finds himself captive as a gladiator on the planet Sakaar. He is challenged to defeat the reigning champion for a chance at freedom and, as it turns out, that champion is the Hulk, Thor’s fellow Avenger who he had a playful rivalry with in past films. After everything he went through to that point, Thor finds himself elated that the champion is a warrior he knows and yells at the top of his lungs in excitement, silencing the confused crowd. Thor explains that the Hulk is “a friend from work” as they are both members of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. This hilarious in-joke stole the show even before the movie was released as it was the closing line of dialogue for the trailer. When we finally saw it on the big screen is was just as amusing, perfectly capturing Thor’s sense of humor even when the odds are against him.
18. Carol Reaches Full Power, “Captain Marvel”
It might be the newest feature in the MCU lineup, but 2019’s “Captain Marvel” has already offered up at least one moment that promises to stand the test of the time. Billed as the most powerful hero in the MCU, we wait for most of the movie to see Carol Danvers test the limits of her abilities until she faces off against the real villains in the finale. Its here that she overpowers a device meant to limit her abilities and releases her full power for the first time. A bright orange glow surrounds her as we finally get to see the full potential of a hero meant to be stronger than any other in the franchise. It’s an exciting moment and one that serves as a turning point for Danvers as she finally feels free and in control of her own destiny. A lot of people have compared Danvers’ “full power” moment to the popular “Dragon Ball” and “Dragon Ball Z” series as Danver’s looks strikingly similar to a Super Saiyan. Only time will tell if “Captain Marvel” manages to establish a lasting legacy as a standout MCU feature but I’m going to bet this moment right here will remain among the most badass and memorable “heroes embrace their full potential” moments in any superhero movie, Marvel or otherwise.
17. The Dance Off to Save the Galaxy, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
The “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies still stand as some of the more obscure adaptations in the MCU canon but we’re glad we have them. The films were not only vital to the larger plan for Marvel but also serve as some of the most amusing entries in the cinematic universe. One moment that continues to stand out from the first film is how the Guardians defeat their enemy Ronan the Accuser. It’s one of the most bizarre and random moments in the entire franchise as the Guardians cause Ronan’s ship to crash on Xandar but they still need to figure a way to relinquish the Kree warrior of the Power Infinity Stone. To do so Rocket Raccoon needs time to fix up a machine to destroy Ronan’s war hammer, so Peter Quill, aka, Starlord, distracts their enemy by dancing. Quill’s actions have Ronan, and onlookers, stunned at how ridiculous he looks until Quill admits he’s simply trying to keep Ronan’s attention until a blast from Rocket’s weapon destroys the hammer and allows the Guardians to grab the Power Stone and save the galaxy. Love it or hate it, this odd moment is among the more creative ways any Marvel hero has defeated a villain and it has come to be known as “the dance off to save the galaxy”.
16. “I’m Mary Poppins Ya’ll”, “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2”
Keeping with the “Guardian’s” movies, in the first film Yondu served as a secondary antagonist of sorts to the heroes. As Peter Quill’s surrogate father, the blue-skinned Ravager has an interesting bond with Starlord that continues into the second film where we get a bit more of his back story. We learn that he has been smuggling potential celestial children to Ego and that he decided not to send Quill after having a change of heart. Yondu eventually joins the Guardians in their final fight against Ego where we get a moment that has lived on as perhaps the most amusing moment in both “Guardians” movies and one that has become meme and t-shirt fodder ever since. As Star Lord and Yondu descend to join the rest of the guardians for a cool 360 shot in the heart of Ego’s planet, Star Lord comments that Yondu looks like Mary Poppins to which Yondu respond “is he cool?”. Star Lord says Mary Poppins is indeed cool leading Yondu to declare himself Mary Poppins with pride. It’s a hilarious moment that underscores the bond between Quill and Yondu while also allowing us to laugh as Yondu’s ignorance of the reference. It’s also a fun in-joke as “Mary Poppins” is a Disney owned property, the same company that owns Marvel.
15. The Dad Talk, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
The MCU has long had a “villain problem” where the bad guys have been forgettable, bland and uninteresting. While we had a few standouts in the earlier years like Iron Monger, Red Skull and, of course, Loki, fans finally started to believe that maybe Marvel found their footing with 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and The Vulture aka Adrian Toomes, played by Michael Keaton. While there was a lot that made this baddy memorable it was this moment that truly solidified him as one of the MCU’s greats. After Peter Parker discovers that the Vulture is the father of his date to the homecoming dance Toomes drives the two high schoolers to the event and puts the pieces together that Parker is Spider-Man who has interfered with his plans numerous times. Before Parker follows his date out of the vehicle Toomes gives him the “dad talk” providing an intimidating and threatening monologue telling Parker to stay out of his way or her will kill him. It’s a badass moment that perfectly balances the Vulture’s villainy, humanity and style and despite having decent competition is arguably the most memorable scene from Spidey’s MCU solo debut.
14. Coulson’s “Death”, “Marvel’s The Avengers”
While we know now that Coulson survived his encounter with Loki in “The Avengers” to become the central character of the “Agents of Shield” television show, his “death” was no less impactful on the big screen. We all knew someone had to die in the first team up film of the MCU in 2012 in order to provide the cliché motivating moment for the heroes (something Nick Fury actually calls attention to) as well as up the stakes for the franchise as a whole by showing it’s not just villains who are vulnerable. Phil Coulson, Nick Fury’s right-hand man and the agent who helped unite the Avengers, was the unlucky candidate chosen for the ax. While helping fend off Loki during the God of Mischief’s escape attempt, he is stabbed through the chest and perishes giving the Avengers their first true loss as heroes. Even in death Coulson maintained a sense of humor, using his final breaths to fire a weapon at Loki that he had always wanted to try saying “so that’s what that does”. Even though Marvel revived Coulson for a television series (if you want to know how watch the show, it’s actually pretty good) this remains a significant moment in the MCU by setting the standard for how Marvel would handle heroic deaths in films still to come. Speaking of which…
13. Quicksilver dies, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Something a lot of fans don’t realize is that every “Avengers” movie so far has seen a major good-guy character bite the dust. In “The Avengers” it was Phil Coulson and in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is was Quicksilver. Pietro Maximoff and his sister Wanda are recruited by Ultron early in the film but during the second act they have a change of heart and join the Avengers. Throughout the movie Quicksilver forms a rivalry with Hawkeye, usually spouting “you didn’t see that coming” after one-upping the sharpshooting Avenger. This all comes around in the final act when Hawkeye tries to save a child from a barrage of bullets being fired by Ultron. Quicksilver thinks and moves fast, blocking Hawkeye and the child with a car but taking the bullets himself. He says his catchphrase one final time before dying, speaking to both Hawkeye and the audience that they probably didn’t see his death coming. It’s as heart-wrenching today as it was when “Age of Ultron” first hit theaters. By this point Marvel had also become known for fake-out deaths but they showed their willingness to make big sacrifices when Quicksilver became the first Avenger and second superhero character to die in the MCU.
12. “I Could Do This All Day”, “Captain America: The First Avenger”
Captain America has long been Marvel’s interpretation of what it takes to be, well, an American. He stands his ground, is uncompromising in his core beliefs but is still willing to evolve for the betterment of mankind. He’s also someone who is unafraid to stand up to a challenge. Few scenes exemplify this more than this moment. The scrawny Steve Rogers is at a movie theater where a heckler is yelling at the screen to skip the war propaganda. Rogers is the only one to tell him to be quiet leading to him getting his butt kicked by the heckler in an alleyway. It’s here that Rogers spouts one of his most iconic movie lines, “I can do this all day”, which perfectly exemplifies his character and his willingness to take the pain and punishment for what he believes in. This moment is so memorable and significant to the character that he repeats it later on when faced with the Red Skull and it’s referenced in “Civil War” when he is facing his friend Tony Stark in battle. However, this time it has more weight with Cap telling a friend that he will not budge on his morals. While Captain America has been the source of a lot of great quotes and moments this one scene tells us everything we need to know about the First Avenger.
11. Vision Lifts Thor’s Hammer, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
While I did consider the roundtable where all of the Avengers try to lift Thor’s hammer, only one character succeeds and man is it a great scene. At first the group hammer-lifting competition in “Age of Ultron” seems like a nice moment of relaxation for the heroes after a big win. However, it’s called back to later after Vision is born and the Avengers are unsure if he can be trusted. After telling the team that they have to work together to win, Vision nonchalantly picks up Thor’s hammer and hands it over. This is not only a completely hilarious callback to the previous scene and a strike at Thor’s ego, but it’s undeniable proof to the Avengers that Vision can be trusted as only those “worthy” can lift the hammer and even Captain America could only barely make it budge. It’s clear that Vision doesn’t understand how special he is because just before lifting Mjolnir he admits to the Avengers he doesn’t know what he can do to earn their trust. Lifting a hammer that can only be wielded by those deemed worthy by the Gods is a start. This is one of those scenes that at first is hilarious but upon revisiting it you realize just how significant Vision lifting the hammer really is.
10. Thanos Revealed, “Marvel’s The Avengers”
This very quick moment is one of only two mid or after credits scene to make this list and for good reason. Marvel worked hard to bring a solid universe to life through five films in Phase One and satisfied in a big way with the first team up film “The Avengers”. It was a cool experience seeing all of these heroes come together to fight Loki, but in the moment it was hard for fans to understand where this extended universe concept was really headed. Enter a mysterious, purple-skinned, smirking alien in the mid-credits scene that many recognized as Thanos, the Mad Titan. This moment changed everything and put into focus where Marvel was going with the MCU. Anyone familiar with the Titan or who simply Googled him after seeing “The Avengers” quickly realized that this was just the beginning with even more dangerous and potentially destructive forces on the horizon for our heroes. A lot of credit scenes have hinted at the future of the MCU over the years, but this is most definitely one of the biggest and most enticing teasers of them all and one that, even today, still feels epic since we now know what it foreshadows. There is one that tops it thought and I’ll get to that in a bit.
9. “I’ve Come to Bargain”, “Doctor Strange”
“Doctor Strange” is one of the better standalone origin movies in the MCU and its most iconic moment is the creative showdown between the main villain Dormammu and the titular sorcerer. With the Time Infinity Stone in his possession, Doctor Strange realizes that the only way to stop Dormammu is to give him an ultimatum. He travels to the Dark Dimension and uses the Time Stone to create a loop where Dormammu kills Strange over and over again. Each time the loop restarts Strange simple tells Dormammu that he has “come to bargain” and agrees to break the loop is Dormammu leaves and never returns. It’s a fun way for a hero to defeat the villain and it was so popular that it spawned merchandise quoting the line. “I’ve come to bargain” has become somewhat of a minor catchphrase associated with the “Doctor Strange” movie since its release and seems to have become a significant part of Strange’s character as well as he also bargained with Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” to keep Tony Stark alive in exchange for the Time Stone, something we’re sure is all part of the Endgame that Strange had in mind.
8. Killmonger’s Dying Monologue, “Black Panther”
Despite the MCU’s poor track record with villains, Eric Killmonger from “Black Panther” quickly became one of the most praised in the entire franchise thanks in large part to an awesome performance by Michael B. Jordan. Like Thanos, Killmonger is a villain many looked at and thought “you know, maybe he’s got a point” which made him relatable and gave him more development than most comic book baddies. His final monologue though is what stands out the most. After battling his cousin T’Challa for the throne of Wakanda and being stabbed in the chest, Killmonger says he doesn’t want to be healed and go to prison. He’d rather die in peace watching the sunset of Wakanda that his father promised he’d see and that when he dies he wants to be buried in the ocean with the slaves who also believed death was better than bondage. It’s a heavy statement that drives home the undertones and racial themes of “Black Panther” especially since it’s the slavery and racial prejudice of the world that inspired Killmonger to perform his crimes. This monologue is among the greatest in the MCU and caps off one of the franchises most critically praised and highest profiting films perfectly.
7. Groot’s Sacrifice, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
Back in 2014 it was unthinkable that a major hero character would die in the MCU. In fact, it became a running joke with a fake out death for Nick Fury in “The Winter Soldier” and Agent Coulson being revived in the television spinoff “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” While we had others like Frigga in “Thor: The Dark World” they were mostly side characters. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was the first time a superpowered main hero died in the line of duty and it was the perfect character to leave an emotional punch. In the final act the Guardians are facing off with Ronan the Accuser aboard his ship and a series of events leads it to crash on the surface of Xandar. Groot decides to sacrifice himself, growing a barrier around his friends to protect them from the crash telling them “we are Groot”, the first time he says anything other than “I am Groot”. While some thought this was another fake out death it has been confirmed that Groot did, indeed, die in the crash and the sapling that spawns from his ashes is his son. It’s incredible that fans were so affected by this loss after knowing the character for less than two hours especially since he doesn’t say much of anything decipherable. Yet this one moment showed not only his humanity and appreciation for his friends but also promised viewers that heroes were very vulnerable in the MCU.
6. Hulk Smashes Loki, “Marvel’s The Avengers”
What’s a final battle without a little bit of levity, right? While the war against the Chitauri is indeed the main conflict of “The Avengers” the primary villain is Thor’s brother Loki who commands the aliens with a staff we later discover contains the Mind Infinity Stone. The most amusing and memorable scene involving Loki is when he faces off against the Hulk. Challenging the green giant, Loki puts his ego on full display commenting on his superiority before the Hulk makes quick work of the Asgardian by grabbing his leg and smashing him into the floor over and over again putting a comical end to Loki’s showboating. Before the scenes shifts, we see Loki with the wind knocked out of him and clearly in pain which, when you think about it, is a perfect representation of just how vulnerable Loki is without the assistance of others to fight his battles. This moment was so hilarious and popular that it’s called back to in “Thor: Ragnarok” when Loki’s brother Thor gets pummeled in the same way by the Hulk leading Loki to cheer that now his brother knows how it feels to get his royal behind handed to him by the green Avenger.
5. “I am Iron Man”, “Iron Man”
As the first film in the MCU “Iron Man” contains numerous memorable moments that helped set the stage for what was still to come over the next ten years. The moment that capped off the film’s story though established Tony Stark as a public hero contrary to the normal formula of superheroes keeping their identities secret. In a press conference after the battle with Iron Monger Tony is to use an alibi presented by S.H.I.E.L.D. and looked like it would follow the Silver Age comics by presenting Iron Man as more of a bodyguard to Stark. However instead Stark publicly announces that he is Iron Man causing the reporters, and the audience, to gasp as now the world is aware of Tony’s secret life. This moment makes clear that the MCU isn’t going to be a typical superhero universe where the heroes hide behind the mask. As the series expanded we saw Thor, Captain America, and even Bruce Banner become publicly known superheroes. Most of all though, by making Tony Stark’s identity public it gave him a sense of responsibility and guilt for everything he does in the suit which has remained throughout his time in the MCU.
4. Introducing Nick Fur, “Iron Man”
While the final moment of “Iron Man” is memorable and iconic, it’s the post-credits scene that truly amazed the world and set a trend that has since become commonplace in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the surface “Iron Man” seemed like the start of a new standalone franchise, but then filmgoers who chose to stick around were presented with Marvel’s bigger plan as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury made his debut. In this moment he tells Tony Stark that he is not the only one with special powers and introduces “The Avenger Initiative”. This BLEW MY MIND when I saw this movie for the first time, and I know I wasn’t alone. In one quick moment the audience is told point blank that bigger things are on the horizon. It’s a perfectly scripted scene too that speaks to Stark AND the viewers about how they have yet to understand just how big this world is going to be. It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 2008 the idea of a connected cinematic universe was unheard of. The promise of all our favorite heroes coming together was super exciting. Who would join the series? When and how would they get there? What bigger threats lie in the future? Even knowing what we know now this moment still resonates as the official reveal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
3. The Avengers Assemble, “Marvel’s The Avengers”
This moment has pretty much become the quintessential visual of the Avengers team in the MCU. It’s a pretty simple cinematic shot that shows the entire Avengers team ready for battle in the first “Avengers” film. As the Chitauri invasion begins Hulk joins the fight and destroys a Chitauri Leviathan bringing the team together in full to take on the threat. The camera moves around the team showing each Avenger in a cool 360 shot of the Avengers that signals the team is finally fully assembled. The shot was heavily used in marketing and is still today an iconic presentation of the original team that started it all. When you think “Avengers” this is probably the first picture that pops into your head. Sure, it might seem corny and cheesy, but that’s what superhero films are. That’s what comic books are when you think about it. We waited four years to see this team come together and when they finally did it was just as epic as promised. While others films have tried to emulate this moment, such as the group heading into battle at the beginning of “Age of Ultron” or the 360 shot of the Guardians in “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2”, they’re all simply imitations of the original 360 presentation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
2. The Airport Fight, “Captain America: Civil War”
There’s a reason this battle topped my earlier this of hero versus hero fights in the MCU, because it FRIGAIN AWESOME!!!!! Most of “Captain America: Civil War’ leads up to this moment where Team Cap and Team Iron Man face off in a war of heroes and ideals with an airport as their battlefield. Almost every hero in the MCU to that point, and even a few new additions, face off and showcase their individual abilities in an entertaining, well balanced battle filled with one-liners, strategy, and surprises that bring the films titular inter-hero conflict to a head. The airport battle became an instant classic moment in not just the MCU but superhero films in general bringing out the best, and worst, of all of the heroes involved. It’s not only one of the greatest scenes in the MCU, but it’s also one of the greatest comic book battles ever put to film if not the greatest. Who would have thought that with all of the villains that Marvel has implanted into its projects the one fight that would stick out the most would be when their mightiest heroes turned against each other? Maybe the fact that it is an epic war between the good guys is what makes it so much fun and endlessly entertaining.
1. The Snap, “Avengers: Infinity War”
It says a lot about the MCU that after 10-plus years I can make a list of so many moments that stand out from its library of films. However, in 2018 the studio upped the ante giving us probably the most memorable, iconic and jaw-dropping moment in the series’ history…the snap. We spend the entirety of “Avengers: Infinity War’ watching the Mad Titan Thanos collect the Infinity Stones with the intent of snapping his fingers and eliminating half of the universe. In our hearts we knew that the heroes were going to stop him. Besides all superhero films end with the heroes as the winner, right? Not this film. Despite several near-wins buy the Avengers, Thanos succeeded and snaps his fingers. In that one small moment we realized what has happened. Our heroes lost. Over the next few minutes several of our favorite good guys turned to dust, including the emotional loss of Peter Parker and Doctor Strange saying this was all part of the “endgame” to win in the end before he disappears. This culling of half of all life has become known as the decimation and left us, and the heroes, unsure of what comes next. As much as we know “Endgame” will help reverse these events, Thanos’ snap has established itself as THE defining moment of the MCU. It’s the moment the entire franchise has worked towards and it didn’t disappoint.