With Phase 2 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe wrapping up with this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, we decided it was a good time to take a look back at some of the best moments Marvel Studios has brought to the silver screen thusfar. Between now and Age of Ultron’s release, we’ll be counting down several Top 7 lists that celebrate many of the greatest moments from the MCU so far. For reference, this includes every movie released to date (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy), as well as all the straight-to-video Marvel One-Shots (“The Consultant”, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer”, “Item 47”, “Agent Carter”, and “All Hail the King”), and also Marvel’s ongoing foray into television (Agents of SHIELD up to the mid-season break in Season 2, Agent Carter through 4 episodes, and before Daredevil has aired). Finally, this should go without saying, but: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Today’s featured MCU Top 7 focuses on the wonderful art of the cameo–specifically the kind featuring characters from the Cinematic Universe’s narrative continuum. After all, what better way to kick of the celebration than by highlighting some of the best crossover moments? Since we’re talking canonical cameos here, that means only cameos using actual characters–so, for example, Lou Ferrigno appearing in The Incredible Hulk wouldn’t qualify, as cool of a tip of the hat as that is. Let’s get to the list, shall we?
7) Tony Stark in The Incredible Hulk Thefirst character to actually bridge two Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Robert Downey Jr. came fresh off his successful renaissance as Tony Stark straight into the closing scene of Hulk’s only solo MCU movie. As a weapons expert and reformed manufacturer, it makes sense that Stark would have relationships with important figures in the military, such as antagonist General Ross. But while Fury gave us a tease at the end of Iron Man, Stark’s appearance in The Incredible Hulk was the first real evidence that the crossover universe was really happening, and that The Avengers could really come together someday. While in hindsight Tony’s appearance is a comparatively low-effort attempt at a tie-in, it was at the time a watershed moment for Marvel’s entire slate.
6) Bruce Banner in Iron Man 3 ReciprocatingTony’s aforementioned appearance in his own movie, Bruce Banner decided to return the favor for Iron Man’s third solo flick. Iron Man 3 was curiously peppered with some voiceover dialogue from Mr. Stark, and it was easy to forget amidst all the action in the film’s climax that it was never really explained who Tony was talking to. Sticking around after the credits like well-trained pets, Marvel fans were treated to the reveal that Bruce and Tony had continued their friendship after driving off together at the end of The Avengers. The characters exchange a chuckle and some friendly goofy banter, and while the scene didn’t really impact the overall MCU storyline, it was a nice reflection of the aftermath of New York that at least managed to sneak a Dr. Banner appearance into Phase 2 before the other guy smashes into Age of Ultron.
5) Batroc the Leaper in Captain America: The Winter Soldier Georges Batroc is probably not a name familiar to many fans–I didn’t know who he was the first time I saw The Winter Soldier. Batroc is a French mercenary who specializes using a foot-kick-heavy martial arts style know as “savate”. A purple-clad, non-superpowered minor villain that uses a flurry of acrobatic jump kicks to attack doesn’t jump out as a great villain candidate for a major blockbuster, but don’t tell that to Joe and Anthony Russo. Their rendition of Batroc is both true to his comic origins and fits right in with the type of acrobatic physicality on display throughout the second Captain America movie, and his encounter with our star-spangled hero is one of the early high points in a film that is stacked to the brim with great action scenes.
4) Captain America in Thor: The DarkWorld
Surprise! An Asgard-focused movie is the last place you’d expect any of Marvel’s Earthbound Avengers to show up, but luckily they have a Master of Illusion up their sleeve. After two fruitless turns as the big bad, Loki settles into a is-he-or-isn’t-he game of deception with big brother Thor for The Dark World. During one memorable scene where the pair are walking through the halls of Asgard, Loki uses his illusionary powers to magically disguise himself and Thor as other characters, finally landing on a humorous impression of Captain America, played perfectly by Chris Evans. Marvel’s big theme in Phase 2 seemed to be having important characters reflect on the climactic battle in The Avengers, but this interaction was one of the more tangible ripples of these characters’ coming together.
3) Hawkeye in Thor
Before he was an Avenger, Agent Clint Barton was an elite member of SHIELD. We’d gotten glimpses of SHIELD’s operations before via Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, and Natasha Romanoff, but Marvel fans immediately recognized a certain archer at the SHIELD base around Mjolnir’s landing spot in New Mexico. It’s not often an actor of Jeremy Renner’s stature plays a bit part, but Hawkeye’s subtle big screen debut was a great way to introduce the character into the complex fabric of the MCU. Although Coulson stopped Barton short of actually getting any action in Thor, and he was relegated to Team Loki for the majority of The Avengers, Hawkeye looks set to have a breakout Phase 2 debut in Age of Ultron.
2) Thanos in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy I’m cheating a little bit, as Thanos has technically had two cameos in the MCU so far, and fans went absolutely wild for both of them. The first time–smiling toward the camera in the mid-credits scene for The Avengers–was undoubtedly a heralded moment for Marvel Studios. Not only had their dream of bringing together their movie universe finally culminated in the excellent Avengers movie, but they were planting a cosmic-sized flag for the future direction of the series. While that brief snippet may have been the bigger surprise, the Mad Titan’s appearance in Guardians was far more substantial: Thanos was making an active play for an Infinity Stone and brushed off the powerful Ronan as a “pouty child,” threatening to bathe the starways with his blood should he fail again. Even a visibly agitated Ronan could do nothing to retort against Thanos’ verbal abuse and the scene closed with Thanos in his iconic pose: leaning back in his chair and grinning like a madman. Perhaps he knows what awaits us in Phase 3’s Infinity War.
1) Nick Fury in Iron Man The original MCU cameo, before there was even officially an MCU! The presence and importance of SHIELD in the MCU tapestry had already been hinted at throughout the film by Agent Phil Coulson, but it was something else entirely seeing the organization’s famed director on-screen. Particularly powerful was that Nick Fury was being played by the great Samuel L. Jackson, whom the Ultimates Universe version of Fury in the comics was famously modeled after. Fury’s mere presence (along with his utterance of the words “Avenger Initiative”) were enough to send movie theaters into a frenzy as fans realized there just might be a chance that Marvel’s great interwoven stories could come to life together on the big screen. As we gear up for the second Avengers movie and already have the full Phase 3 slate announced, I’d say that dream is more alive than we could have possibly imagined back in 2008.