Marvel Studios is a bit like the little engine that could, if the little engine that could eventually turned into an unstoppable force of nature capable of obliterating anything and everything in its path. It’s hard to believe that just nine years ago the studio had sold off the movie rights to its most famous characters (Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four, to name a few) before deciding, “screw that, we’re making our own movies” and throwing virtually every character they had left into a shared universe. Fast forward to 2017 and not only is the MCU the most successful franchise of all time, but Kevin Feige is rumored to be the last living descendant of King Midas because everything he touches apparently turns to gold.
Marvel has taken a rather simple formula (know what your audience wants; give it to them; repeat) and basically turned it into a science, delivering moment after moment of pure, unadulterated awesomeness. Over the course of fourteen films, the studio has tugged at our heart strings, left us roaring with laughter, and all but forced us to stand up and cheer time and time again. With 2017 set to be Marvel’s biggest year to date, it seemed only fitting that we take a trip down memory lane and re-visit the moments that took our breath away.
Here are the 15 Greatest MCU Moments So Far.
15. Tony Stark Reveals He Is Iron Man (Iron Man)
Some franchises need a few films to figure out their identity. The Fast and the Furious franchise, for example, didn’t truly embrace the over-the-top, balls-to-the-wall, physics-defying insanity that’s dominated its most recent entries until Fast Five. Heck, the DC Extended Universe has already introduced more than a dozen main characters in three films and we still have no idea if the franchise will sink or swim. Marvel, by comparison, is the Kool-Aid man of franchises. It crashed through the proverbial wall back and declared “Oh yeah!” with 2008’s Iron Man.
Robert Downey Jr. is simply perfect as Tony Stark in what is still one of Marvel’s best films to date. The jokes are funny, the action breath-taking, the main character likable (arrogant, but likable), and Tony’s arc (character, not reactor) over the course of the film is well-written and believable. The best moment comes at the end of the film when Tony defies all expectations and boldly declares, “I am Iron Man!” before the press roars with questions and the credits roll. It was the quintessential Tony Stark moment and the perfect way to kick off the MCU.
14. That Hero Shot (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
You know the one we’re talking about. But in case you don’t, let’s re-cap. Avengers: Age of Ultron kicks off with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes storming a compound to retrieve Loki’s scepter from Baron von Strucker and Hydra. (For the full story of how the scepter went from Black Widow’s hands at the end of The Avengers to von Strucker’s in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, check out Avengers: Age of Ultron Prelude – This Scepter’d Isle, the comic released a few months before Age of Ultron.)
The film opens with a long shot of the titular heroes basically being awesome. Thor and Iron Man fly around, taking down Hydra henchmen left and right, Hawkeye and Black Widow drive an off-road vehicle, shooting arrows and kicking dudes in the face, Captain America drives a motorcycle and bounces his shield off of Hydra henchmen like it’s a rubber ball, and Hulk, well, runs and punches people like the monster he is. Then all six heroes cross over the enemy’s barricade at once in a shot so glorious your eyes just might pop out of your head from all the magnificence passing through them. It only lasts two seconds, but is definitely worth a re-watch, and then another, and another.
13. Dormammu’s Time Loop (Doctor Strange)
“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.” Those five words, spoken by Doctor Strange near the end of his debut film, will be etched into the minds of MCU fans for many years to come. After failing to protect Earth’s three sanctums, Doctor Strange watches as the Dark Dimension engulfs the planet. Seeing no other options, Strange enters the Dark Dimension to bargain with good old flaming head (whose head, oddly enough, isn’t flaming).
Dormammu is having none of this, however, and quickly kills Strange who immediately returns to bargain once more. A confused Dormammu asks if this is some sort of illusion and Doctor Strange explains that it is not. Instead, the two of them are stuck in a time loop and will be forever unless they reach an agreement of some sort. What ensues is a montage of Dormammu killing Strange in a series of unique, often hilarious ways, while Strange says again and again, in every inflection imaginable, that he is there to bargain. This continues until an agitated Dormammu pleads to be set free. It’s an awesome scene that introduces both Dormammu and the Dark Dimension to the MCU while showing off Doctor Strange’s impressive intellect, and is certainly one of the most memorable we’ve seen so far.
12. Captain America Refuses To fight (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one hell of a movie. It boasts stellar fight choreography, a compelling villain in Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, and introduces the badass that is the Winter Soldier. (There’s also Black Widow’s ridiculous face-altering technology that appeared in one scene and hasn’t shown up since, but we’ll let that slide.) At the film’s core, however, is Steve’s relationship with Bucky, which leads to one of the MCU’s greatest moments during the film’s climax.
After swapping the computer chips on the final helicarrier and saving the day, Captain America throws down his shield, refusing to fight his former friend. The Winter Soldier says, “You’re my mission” and proceeds to pound Captain America’s face with his metal arm. Before Bucky can deliver the kill shot Steve says, “then finish it, ’cause I’m with you to the end of the line,” echoing a ling Bucky had said to him decades earlier. The look of recognition on Sebastian Stan’s face combined with the incredible the score as Captain America falls into the water below is absolutely chilling. This would also be a pivotal scene in the set up to last year’s Captain America: Civil War.
11. The Guardians Of The Galaxy Stand in a circle (Guardians of the Galaxy)
When it was first announced, Guardians of the Galaxy seemed destined to be the MCU’s first flop. Based on a little known group of heroes that included a raccoon and a tree, there was no way the film would resonate with audiences and critics. And then it did. Then it out-grossed Captain America: The Winter Soldier on its way to becoming the third biggest film of 2014 and one of the best-reviewed MCU films to date. Needless to say, it was a hit.
The film is filled with great moments, but one of the best comes after Star-Lord gives an impassioned speech asking the rest of the guardians to risk their lives to stop Ronan from destroying Xandar. One by one Gamora, Drax, and Groot rise, pledging their allegiance to Quill and the cause. Then Rocket does the same and says, “Now I’m standing, y’all happy? We’re all standing up now,” before adding “Bunch of jackasses standing in a circle.” The line is perfect, adding some humor to an otherwise dramatic scene in a film that masterfully balances the two.
10. Thor proves he’s worthy (Thor)
Before he was one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Thor was one of Asgard’s Biggest Jerks. (In his defense, though, who wouldn’t be a little cocky if they looked like Chris Hemsworth?) He was, in Odin’s words, “a vain, greedy, cruel boy” full of “arrogance and stupidity”, and so he was banished from Asgard by the All-Father and sent to Earth. 2011’s Thor tells the story of the God of Thunder learning the error of his ways and proving he is worthy of his powers.
The moment of redemption comes toward the end of the film when Loki sends the Destroyer to kill Thor on Earth. Lady Sif and the warriors three try to, well, destroy the Destroyer but ultimately fail and so Thor sacrifices himself to save the others. He tells Loki to take his life “and end this” so Loki, the kind soul that he is, obliges and has the Destroyer give Thor a back-handed smack. Thor dies from the blow before Mjolnir soars from its resting place and into his outreached hand as the music crescendoes and the son of Odin, having proved he is worthy, regains his powers. It is one of the greater moments of not only the film, but of the MCU as a whole, and worth a re-watch.
9. Spider-Man finally arrives (Captain America: Civil War)
When Marvel’s phase one first began to take shape, there was a certain bittersweet feel to it. Yes, we were literally watching a shared universe come to life before our very eyes and would soon see some of our favorite heroes interacting on the silver screen in a way we had never seen before, but we were greedy, damn it. We wanted all of Marvel’s heroes in the MCU, not just some of them. Specifically, we wanted Peter Parker on screen with the rest of the Avengers. (Of course, we would’ve taken the X-Men and Fantastic Four too, but Parker was the priority.)
For years it seemed like a pipe dream. Then Sony bungled The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and we heard whispers of a potential deal between the two studios. Then came the announcement that a deal had been reached, and before we knew it, Spider-Man was in Captain America: Civil War, and it was glorious. Marvel wrote the character to perfection, and his first, in-costume appearance (swinging into the scene while simultaneously webbing up Captain America and swiping his shield) was awesome. It was a pipe dream come true and has all of us hyped for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
8. Hulk versus hulkbuster (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Think back to the first time you watched the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Or, better yet, go watch it now and come back.) The ominous music that accompanied Ultron’s voice-over followed by the delightfully creepy rendition of Pinocchio’s “I’ve got no strings” gave the trailer an air of melancholy that no other MCU film had displayed. And though this didn’t reflect the true tone of the film, it heightened the world’s anticipation nonetheless.
The highlight of the trailer comes about halfway through when Hulk and Iron Man’s Hulkbuster suit square off. This was it. The Hulk and Hulkbuster were going to duke it out in an epic confrontation, and the movie didn’t disappoint. The two beat the hell out of each other for four minutes as Iron Man pulls out all the stops to try and neutralize the big, green, punching machine. The fight is equal parts exhilarating and funny and still ranks as one of the best one-on-one battles we’ve seen thus far.
7. Thanos smiles (The Avengers)
As Marvel Studios approached the end of Phase One, it found itself in quite the predicament. Simply put, where could they go from there? After all, in hindsight, Phase One made perfect sense. Introduce the characters in their own standalone films, and then bring them together in the epic crossover event that was 2012’s The Avengers. But what happens after the heroes unite on screen and take down the Chitauri on their own? Who else could possibly challenge them?
The answer would come in the film’s mid-credits sequence where we return to space to see the Other telling some unseen figure that the humans are unruly and therefore cannot be ruled. The figure rises and the Other lowers his head and proclaims, “to challenge them is to court death”, to which the figure turns, revealing himself as Thanos, and smiles. This is where you go after uniting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for the first time. You give them a foe who literally rises to the claim that they cannot be ruled and smiles at the concept of courting death. Thanos’ debut gave the Avengers a worthy adversary and let fans know the MCU was just getting started.
6. Groot’s sacrifice (Guardians of the Galaxy)
As stated above, Guardians of the Galaxy does a brilliant job of balancing its dramatic and comedic moments. While the stakes couldn’t be much higher (Ronan is trying to destroy a freaking planet), the titular heroes seemingly always have a quip or two at the ready. There are a few scenes, however, that take things a bit more seriously. When Ronan destroys the Nova Corps blockade, for example, and, of course, Groot’s sacrifice.
After the guardians fail to take out Ronan with the Hadron Enforcer, Rocket crashes his ship into the Dark Aster and sends it on a crash course toward Xandar. With the guardians facing certain death, Groot extends his branches to create a protective cocoon around his teammates. Rocket tells Groot he’ll die when the ship crashes and asks, “why are you doing this?” Then, with Tyler Bates’ beautiful score in the background (the music throughout the entire film is simply magical), Groot brushes a tear from his friends eye and says, “We…are…Groot,” and just about everyone watching bursts into tears. In a universe where people come back from the dead all the time, this time the hero did not, and the scene is all the more powerful for it. (Yes, Baby Groot does grow at the end of the film, but surely he’s Groot’s offspring and not an actual reincarnation, right?)
5. The Airport battle (Captain America: Civil War)
All right, this one may be a bit of a cheat (after all, what kind of moment lasts seventeen minutes), but we’re willing to make an exception in the case of Captain America: Civil War’s airport battle because it’s just that good. Widely considered one of the greatest action scenes not only of the MCU, but ever, the airport battle is filled with so many incredible moments that we simply couldn’t fit them all here…but we’ll try anyway.
There’s Spider-Man’s in-costume debut and the amazing shot of him holding Captain America’s shield, Scarlet Witch tossing people around like their softballs, Cap’s face-off with Spider-Man, Hawkeye shooting Ant-Man on one of his arrows and the latter poking around in Iron Man’s suit, Giant Man’s debut, Spider-Man swinging on the back of War Machine, and Paul Rudd’s hilarious “something just flew in me.” The scene has all of the best elements of the MCU on display, but drops a few pegs on our list due to the lack of stakes. Still, it’s awesome.
4. hulk versus loki (The Avengers)
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is one of the best characters the MCU has introduced so far. The former Mr. Taylor Swift put on a decent performance in Thor before absolutely stealing the show in The Avengers. Hiddleston simply oozes charisma and seems to have been born to play the infamous trickster, turning Loki from a flat-out villain (the dude straight up murderers people in every film he’s in) into a fan favorite who many feel deserves his own movie.
The goodwill the man has built up with MCU fans made his interaction with Hulk in The Avengers all the more amazing. After being blown out of the sky by Hawkeye, an enraged Loki leaps to his feet and berates the confused Hulk, calling himself a god and saying Hulk is beneath him. Before Loki can continue, Hulk grabs him by the leg and smashes him into the ground over and over again before calling him a “puny god”. As Hulk walks off, the camera cuts back to Loki embedded in the ground as he lets out a long, low whimper. The scene was, is, and will always be hysterical.
3. The Highway Fight (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes its second appearance on our list because the action scenes are just that damn good. If you don’t believe us, watch the behind-the-scenes footage and see the amount of work Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan put into their fight sequences. Their passion is on full display and it shows in the film, particularly in the highway fight sequence.
Yes, this is another small cheat (the last, we promise) but a necessary one because the car chase and the hand-to-hand fight between Captain America and the Winter Soldier both deserve a mention. The scene has it all: the Winer Soldier leaping on the tops of high-speed cars like their stepping stones and slowly stalking Black Widow like the badass that he is, Black Widow showing off her fight skills and some pretty cool tech when she throws that small disc that temporarily disables the Winter Soldier’s arm, and, of course, the final fight sequence between Steve and Bucky. The two duke it out in the best one-on-one fight sequence the MCU has seen so far that is made all the more better by Steve’s expression when he sees the Winter Soldier unmasked. In a word, it’s simply chilling.
2. The Avengers unite (The Avengers)
Let’s go back to 2012. There was almost a full year between the release of Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. In that time, the hype for the superhero team-up reached a fever pitch. This was an event four years, and five films, in the making. It was simply unprecedented and had fans salivating at the idea of seeing their favorite heroes on-screen together for the first time. Then the film, admittedly, started out a bit slow. There was lots to set up in bringing the heroes together, and while we were treated to a few cool moments it wasn’t until the battle of New York that we finally got to see what we were all waiting for.
After Loki opens up the portal and allows the Chitauri to come to Earth, four of our five heroes unite to fight the invading army. Then Bruce Banner shows up on a motorcycle and blows us all away. With the Chitauri’s whale/ship (did those things ever get a name?) in hot pursuit of Iron Man, Captain America tells Banner now might be a good time for him to get angry. Banner responds, “That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry” before transforming into the Hulk and stopping the whale with a single punch. Then Iron Man blows it to smithereens, the score kicks into high gear, and director Joss Whedon treats us to a 360-shot of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes standing united against Loki’s invading forces. It was a magical moment that will certainly live on forever.
1. Nick Fury’s Arrival (Iron Man)
In ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s greatest moments so far, Nick Fury’s arrival was the clear-cut number one, and probably always will be. While it may seem to pale in comparison to many of the moments that we have seen since, its significance cannot be understated. This was the moment that started it all. With shared universes being all the rage nowadays, we sometimes forget that it was a revolutionary concept back in 2008. Introducing characters in a series of loosely-connect films over the course of several years with the hope of some day bringing them together in a crossover event was a bold move, to say the least. But this is the gamble that Marvel took, and it paid off.
The scene lasts only thirty seconds, but it was long enough to change the movie landscape forever. Tony Stark arrives home and briefly speaks with J.A.R.V.I.S. before the system goes offline and Samuel L. Jackson mockingly says, “I am Iron Man,” before asking, “do you think you’re the only superhero in the world?” Then he outright tells Tony that he has become part of a bigger universe and he just doesn’t know it yet. As he steps out of the shadows, he introduces himself as Nick Fury, director of SH.I.E.L.D. and says he wants to talk with Tony about the Avengers Inititative. That was it. That was all we got, but that was all we needed. The seed was planted. The incredible film that was Iron Man would be the foundation for a shared universe unlike anything we had seen before. It was the birth of the MCU, and the greatest moment we have seen so far.
There are plenty of other great Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments. Let us know your favorite in the comments below.