Marvel Studios is taking over the world. The studio is releasing three superhero films a year for the foreseeable future, and has become the standard-bearers for comic book entertainment at the movie theater. There are worse things for the movie industry, especially since the average quality of Marvel’s output is fairly high, and every one of their films has something worth remembering.
For many of these movies, the most memorable moment comes during the middle of an action sequence. The studio has been perfecting action moments since Iron Man was first rolled into theaters in 2008. In the years since, audiences have been treated to a number of great action sequences from the Marvel cinematic universe. These sequences stood out for their logical direction, thrilling concepts, and clear sense of style. They’re all fight scenes that are fairly hard to forget.
Here are the 15 Best Action Scenes In Marvel Movies, Ranked.
15. The Ancient One vs. Kaecilius – Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange gives us a sense of what kind of movie it is in its very first moments. It’s here that we get a feel for the magic of this world, and for the visual sensibility the movie will adopt over the course of its run time. The film’s opening sequence also introduces us to Kaecilius, the film’s central villain, and The Ancient One, who will eventually become a mentor to Stephen Strange.
More importantly, the sequence shows us that this is a world of dimensional travel, one where there is more than one universe to do battle in. Almost immediately, we understand that Doctor Strange is going to make the Marvel universe more mystical than it already was. It’s unclear what the implications of that will be moving forward, but The Ancient One’s fight with Kaecilius introduced us to the world of magic, and managed to make it a believable one from the word go.
14. Interdimensional Fight – Thor: The Dark World
The Thor films probably don’t get their fair shake. While both installments have a number of memorable action sequences, perhaps the most memorable is in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. As Thor does battle with Malekith, an evil elf who wants to bring darkness to the universe, they travel through a variety of portals even as they fight with one another.
The use of these portals gives this fight scene an edge, as it turns what initially seemed like a punchy fight between powerful beings into something much more interesting. As Thor and Malekith fight, they bring real world objects with them to different dimensions, including several flying cars. It’s great to see the added danger that this portal travel puts both of them in, and it’s a reminder that Thor’s universe is more overtly mystical than any other central Marvel property.
13. Legion of Suits – Iron Man 3
If you thought one of Tony Stark’s suit was pretty great, Iron Man 3 almost certainly made you quite happy. Although Tony Stark spends most of his time out of the suit in Iron Man 3, the final fight sequence features an army of Iron Man suits that take on the Mandarin’s henchman. The use of these suits is an example of the way many Marvel movies construct action sequences with incredible clarity. At every moment, we see how the suits work together. We get moments with many of the suits individually, even as we understand that they’re all part of a larger team.
The legion of suits also provides us with variety. By Iron Man 3, many of us were familiar with what Tony’s original suit could do, but we were less familiar with all of these new suits, each of which came with some sort of unique ability. Iron Man 3 gives us a triumphant climax, and it reminds us that Tony Stark’s power lies in his brain, not in his suit.
12. Ant-Man Vs. Yellowjacket – Ant-Man
The fun with Ant-Man is that many of its action sequences blend elements of typical superhero fighting with more silly, comedic beats. The climactic fight between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket, which takes place inside of a model train set, is thrilling for sure. But the cutaways we get that make it clear just how small the scale of the fight really is provide a number of giggles for audiences. Seeing how small-scale the fight is reminds us of part of what makes Ant-Man so unique as a superhero.
Whereas the Avengers are often dealing with cataclysmic, world-ending battles, Ant-Man’s battles are small in every sense of the word. Part of the fun of Ant-Man comes from the way it acknowledges the formulas it’s adhering to even as it plays with them, reminding us how silly superhero stories always are.
11. Highway Ambush – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier is the perfect foil for Captain America, and his introduction in the second Captain America film showed us why. The pair are both adept at hand to hand combat, and when they square off, there’s a feeling of propulsive energy that’s unmatched within the Marvel universe. One of the pair’s first fights comes during a highway ambush, when Captain America is forced to fight in civilian garments.
The fight is thrilling because of all of the moving parts involved. Because of the natural motion of the highway, this fight scene never loses momentum, and is thrilling from the word go. What’s more, the scene feels like a genuine ambush; we truly had no idea it was coming, and neither did our heroes. They’re forced to improvise, and it actually leads to a suspenseful sequence that feels logically choreographed. None of this action is a gimmick, and that makes every beat of the fight all the more thrilling, even without considering how strong an adversary the Winter Soldier proves to be.
10. Chase Through the Mirror Dimension – Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange got a lot of credit for its trippy visuals when the film was first released, and much of that credit was deserved. The film certainly owed a lot to the visuals of films like Inception, but it manages to create its own style. That fresh visual style is capitalized on fully during Doctor Strange’s chase through the mirror dimension as he fights Kaecilius for the first time.
While it may not make a ton of sense for Strange to capture Kaecilius after only a minimal amount of training, the scene itself proves thrilling for the way it adds to our understanding of what the world of Doctor Strange entails. Things aren’t so straightforward here, but they’re not confusing either. Instead, the visuals give us an understanding of the fluidity of time and space, and an understanding of the way spirits can be separated from the bodies they inhabit.
9. Yondu’s Prison Break – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Yondu gets quite a bit of focus in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and it all pays off beautifully during his escape sequence, when we see him unleash his directional arrow. After Yondu is betrayed by his crew and thrown in a cell with Rocket, he conducts an escape with help from a fairly confused Baby Groot, who can’t manage to grab Yondu’s fin.
Once Yondu does have his helmet in hand, Guardians 2 constructs one of the most impressive sequences in the Marvel universe as Yondu moves his flying arrow through all of his former allies. While the scene is almost brutally violent, this violence is undercut somewhat by the gentle melodies coming over the soundtrack. It proves to be one of the odder pairings in the Marvel universe, but it fits the scene perfectly. Watching crewmembers get decimated by a flying arrow to the sounds of a beautiful crooner is exactly what the Guardians franchise has always been good at.
8. Black Widow Hallway Fight – Iron Man 2
These days, it’s universally acknowledged that Black Widow is a stone-cold killer. After all, she’s managed to keep up with a slew of super-powered heroes for more than half a decade, and it doesn’t seem like she’ll be slowing down anytime soon. While there isn’t a ton to love in Iron Man 2, Black Widow’s presence is one element worthy of praise. Her infiltration of Vanko’s headquarters, and the rapid dispatching of his guards is easily the film’s best fight sequence.
The action is directed with high levels of coherence, and it plays as an introduction to the incredible lethality of Black Widow. She’s more than capable of carrying her weight in a fight. The sequence doesn’t really feature any superpowers at all. In fact, it’s remarkable for how grounded it is in the logic of actual combat. Black Widow may be an extraordinarily well-trained fighter, but that’s all she is, and that makes the fight all the more thrilling.
7. Captain America and The Winter Soldier Vs. Iron Man – Captain America: Civil War
The fracturing of the Avengers was literalized in this battle from Civil War, which forced Captain America to choose between his oldest friend and a new one he had picked up along the way. The scene is compelling as an action sequence, but it’s unique because of the emotional undercurrent that propels it along. As we see Tony’s suit try to compensate for the raw power of Captain America and the Winter Soldier, we also begin to understand that this is a fight that neither side will come out of unscarred.
The fight feels like it comes with real stakes, and it’s also remarkable for the emotion behind it. Most fights in the Marvel universe have some element of fun inside of them. In this film, though, the fight feels more depressing than anything else. We care for all of the people involved, and we understand that no matter who wins, someone we love will lose. The scene represents a fracturing of the Avengers, and it’s a crucial moment in the Marvel canon moving forward.
6. Tony Stark’s Escape – Iron Man
When Tony Stark is kidnapped by terrorists and forced to build weapons, he instead spends his time creating a primitive version of his Iron Man suit. When he finally unveils the suit, it leads to one of the very best action scenes in the entire Marvel universe. What makes this particular scene so remarkable is how dirty and gritty it is. Stark’s suit is very basic, and while it’s effective, it doesn’t have the same polish that it would eventually take on in later films.
As Stark takes down the terrorists that are trying to keep him from escaping, we see what his technology can really do, and also understand what he’s going to use it for from now on. It may not be the largest fight Marvel’s ever given us in terms of scale, but it works so well because of what it says about Tony, and because it feels like one of the more plausible scenarios we ever see in a Marvel film.
5. The Prison Break – Guardians of the Galaxy
The Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t really get together until they all met in jail. That’s a fairly fitting beginning for the motley crew, which is made of criminals who didn’t really fit in anywhere else. The setup also leads to the film’s very best action sequence, which depicts the first time the crew teams up in order to break out of the prison they’ve all been stored in.
As they begin working together, we get to see how each of them functions as a member of the Guardians. Rocket provides the brains for the operation, while the rest of the team offers a variety of different support mechanisms. Like most scenes in Guardians, it’s also punctured by a good deal of humor. After all, the whole plan gets kickstarted early because Groot decides to perform his task a little early.
4. Hulk Vs. Hulk-Buster – Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Incredible Hulk is hard to stop. That can be good, especially when he’s working with the good guys. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not what he’s doing. Part of what makes the Hulk so frustrating is that his power is only tempered by recklessness. It’s this recklessness that often destroys cities, and leads the Hulk to attack whatever he’s near, regardless of whether it deserves to be attacked or not.
Hulk-Buster exists to stop Hulk from destroying things he shouldn’t. It’s a suit that Tony Stark dreamed up alongside Bruce Banner, and it’s one that’s used to marvelous effect in Avengers: Age of Ultron. When Hulk loses control, Tony is forced to employ the suit, which doesn’t completely contain the Hulk, but certainly helps. It’s one of the few times we’ve seen the Hulk meet a genuinely interesting challenger, and this fight also gives us a sense of how dangerous the uncontrollable green monster may really be.
3. The Battle for New York – The Avengers
The Battle for New York in The Avengers is among the more coherent battles inside of the MCU. As the team unites for the first time to take on the Chitauri, we see how they can work together, and how this can make them better as a team than any of them could be individually. While it’s true that they’re essentially battling a horde of faceless enemies, each of the Avengers gets a moment to shine, and the film shows us how each of their individual tasks plays into the larger fight.
It’s no surprise that several of the scenes on this list come from Joss Whedon, who has long been able to mix character beats with action, and has become a prevalent force in nerd culture as a result. The climax of The Avengers gives us a perfect combination of character and action, and manages to keep the whole thing logical even as it sprawls around the city of New York. We never lose sight of any of our heroes, and that’s remarkable in and of itself.
2. The Elevator Fight – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Russo brothers first introduced themselves to Marvel fans with 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and boy, did they make a splash. The film is widely regarded as one of the best within the Marvel canon, and that’s at least in part because of the pair’s ability to direct thrilling action sequences. One such action sequence comes when Captain America finds himself trapped in an elevator with members of S.H.I.E.L.D. who have been instructed to bring him in.
The sequence feels like something of a Hong Kong action flick, as the Captain takes on each of the agents inside of a crowded elevator, and manages to take each of them down in one way or another. The sequence is remarkable not just for its ideas, but also for its execution. We never lose sight of the logic of the fight, even as we understand that it takes place in a claustrophobic elevator. The scene carefully builds tension before erupting in violence, and never loses track of its characters.
1. The Airport Battle – Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War had the task of pitting our many heroes against one another, and all of that comes to a head in the battle at the Airport. It’s here that we see all of the various Avengers, and several newly introduced characters, go toe-to-toe with one another. Spider-Man takes on Captain America, Hawkeye takes on Black Widow, and so on. It’s an exciting fight because of the many combinations it gives us, but it’s also thrilling because of the way it’s juggles so many different characters.
The thing about a fight involving this many characters is that it could easily devolve into complete anarchy. We could lose sight of individual pieces in the midst of this mob of battles, but the Russo brothers make sure that we never do. At the same time, the battle doesn’t feel too orderly. It’s not as if these characters pair off and never interact with the rest of the group again. Instead, Civil War strikes a balance that feels authentically chaotic without becoming genuinely confusing.
What’s your favorite battle in the MCU? Let us know in the comments!
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