Stan Lee is probably the biggest name in comics. The genius co-creator behind the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor and the X-Men (to name but a few), Stan Lee is synonymous with Marvel, comics and all things superhero. His work has made him a household name – an impressive feat for a comic book creator – and he’s even hosted his own TV series: Stan Lee’s Superhumans.
He’s also part of a Marvel cinematic tradition that stretches back to the 1980s. Lee has had a cameo in almost every live-action Marvel property movie, regardless of which studio is producing the film. Fans love to see the man himself pop up in the films, and there is even a pretty out-there fan theory that postulates that every one of his cameo characters are connected to one another. This week, he spoke to EW about his appearances, jokingly claiming that they are the reason for the success of so many Marvel films in recent years. With dozens of cameos already under his belt, and more on the way (including Deadpool 2, where he hopes to spend a little more time in an adult entertainment venue), Stan Lee is the ultimate Easter Egg of the Marvel universe.
Here, we break down every single one of those cameos, including Marvel/Disney, Sony and Fox films (as well as a couple extra small screen and off-screen moments). Excelsior!
26. 1989 – Trial of the Incredible Hulk
This little-known TV movie is a spin-off to the 1970’s Incredible Hulk series starring Lou Ferrigno. The film featured both the Hulk (Ferrigno) and Daredevil (Rex Smith) as they teamed up to try and take down Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. When David Banner (Bill Bixby), who is living as David Belson, is wrongfully accused of a crime, Daredevil’s alter ego Matt Murdock is assigned to his case. Stan Lee made his first ever live-action cameo in the film, as the jury foreman at the trial in David’s nightmares. In his dream, David Hulks out, tearing the courtroom to pieces as Stan and the other jurors flee in terror.
25. 2000 – X-Men
The film often credited with sparking the current superhero movie renaissance, X-Men brought together the classic members of the mutant team to battle Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his followers. Magneto, ever of the opinion that mutants are superior to the rest of mankind, wishes to use a machine to force mutation on the citizens of New York. Early in the film, Senator Kelly (Bruce Davidson) is used to test the mutating machine, and his new “powers” allow him to escape Magneto, fleeing into the ocean. Stan Lee appears when Kelly emerges from the water, shocking beachgoers. Lee, meanwhile, is hanging out at a hot dog stand on the beach as Kelly strides past.
24. 2002 – Spider Man
The first of many Spider-Man movies, this celebrated origin story pits Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), against the father of his closest friend. Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe) is putting together a prototype weapon-suit and super-soldier serum for the government, but when he decides to start human trials on himself rather than lose funding, the process drives him mad, turning him into the Green Goblin. When Spider-Man and the Green Goblin face off for the first time, Stan Lee can be spotted in the panicked crowds below. He even has a heroic moment of his own, as he scoops up a little girl and pulls her to safety.
23. 2003 – Daredevil
One of the most hated superhero movies of the last few years, this 2003 misfire stars future-Batman Ben Affleck as the blind, super powered lawyer, Matt Murdock. Another origin story, Daredevil involved flashbacks where we learned that Matt wasn’t always blind. He lost his sight as a child in a chemical spill after learning that his father had become an enforcer for a local mobster. Stan Lee’s cameo was in one of these flashbacks, as a man reading a newspaper on the street. Already blind and in possession of heightened alternate senses, a young Matt prevented Lee from distractedly stepping off the curb and into the path of an oncoming truck.
22. 2003 – Hulk
This film marked the first time that Stan Lee got a speaking role in a Marvel cameo. Despite the fact that many fans disliked this adaptation, and star Eric Bana was replaced as the titular character immediately afterwards, it contains one of the best moments for the Marvel legend. Lee’s wasn’t the only cameo in this adaptation of Bruce Banner’s story, however.
Here, he plays a security guard alongside Lou Ferrigno – an incredible nod to both the classic Hulk TV series, as well as Stan Lee’s first cameo in Trial of the Incredible Hulk, where the duo last worked together. His first line? “Security oughta be beefed up a lot more in a place like this.”
21. 2004 – Spider Man 2
Spider-Man’s second outing sees Peter Parker (played again by Maguire) up against Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), a nuclear scientist working on fusion reactor with a harness of robotic tentacle arms. In a lab accident, the reactor destabilizes, and despite Spider-Man’s best efforts, explodes. Doc Ock’s wife is killed in the explosion and the arms are welded to his spine permanently, tragedies that the villain chooses to blame on Spider-Man. As the two battle it out later in the film, Stan Lee once again appears below the carnage as part of a crowd fleeing the war zone. Again, he saves someone, this time a woman who would have otherwise been hit by falling debris. He’s got a great sense of timing.
20. 2005 – Fantastic Four
The first outing of Marvel’s First Family saw Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) head into space, gain superpowers, and end up taking on the villainous Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). Not a particularly well-regarded outing, the film is as much about becoming a team despite fame, confusion, and anger at the change in their lives as it is about good vs. evil.
This film marks the first time that Lee played a character from the comics. He appeared as postal worker Willie Lumpkin, a recurring mailman in the Fantastic Four comics. In the movie, Lee/Lumpkin delivers mail to Reed Richards in the lobby of the Baxter Building.
19. 2006 – X-Men: The Last Stand
Stan Lee doesn’t appear in all of the X-Men franchise films. In fact, he has yet to appear in the either of the retconned films (First Class, Days of Future Past) or in the Wolverine solo outings (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine), although he is slated for a very “different” sort of appearance in the upcoming Apocalypse. After his appearance in X-Men, he skipped X2 before re-appearing in the widely-panned third installment, which combined the Dark Phoenix Saga with a highly-underdeveloped cure for mutation storyline. Lee appears as a neighbor working in the garden as Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto visit Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) in her childhood home. Comic legend Chris Claremont, the writer behind celebrated arcs like the Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, makes an appearance as well. Quite the neighborhood Jean grew up in.
18. 2007 -Spider Man 3
Tobey Maguire makes his final appearance in Peter Parker in this overcrowded film that packed a new Green Goblin (James Franco), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace) into one movie. Both of Spidey’s principal love interests, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) also make an appearance in a film that, for a time, killed the franchise. To this day, when films are perceived as having an overabundance of characters or plotlines — the fear many Batman v Superman fans currently are grappling with — they’re often referred to as suffering from “Spider–Man 3 syndrome.”
Stan Lee appears as Peter notices his name up in lights — as a Times Square bulletin declares that Spider Man will be given a key to the city. Once again filling the role of nameless man on the street, Lee walks up as he is staring at the rolling letters and says “I guess one man can make a difference. Nuff said.” Someone get this man an Oscar, already.
17. 2007 – Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
The Fantastic Four are (unfortunately) back in this 2007 sequel, and Reed and Sue are about to get married. In a quasi-wedding-special version of a superhero movie, the team take on the Silver Surfer, played by both Doug Jones (motion capture) and Laurence Fishburne (voice actor), who combined their talents to completely underwhelm as this fan-favorite character. Reed and Sue finally do get married once they’ve vanquished the true enemy — an inexplicably cloud-shaped Galactus — and the film begins and ends with their wedding.
16. 2008 – Iron Man
In 2008, Robert Downey Jr made his big-screen debut as Tony Stark in the opening salvo for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Lee upped his cameo game accordingly. Iron Man’s origin story was phenomenal; from the first suit he created in a cave to his eventual emergence as the heroic Iron Man, it’s a triumph for Marvel. Stan Lee makes his first MCU appearance in style, as he attends a red carpet alongside Stark, who pats him on the shoulder, mistaking the elderly gentlemen for Hugh Hefner. It was an easy mistake to make of course, as Lee was sporting the Playboy founder’s signature look: a pipe/robe combo with two beautiful blondes on his arm. The Marvel legend never looked so good.
15. 2008 – The Incredible Hulk
A soft reboot of the 2003 Hulk origin story, this version stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. Here, the Hulk is created as part of an attempt to create super-soldiers using gamma radiation – a new twist on the classic comic book origin. Banner flees the U.S. as a fugitive of the law, eventually finding work at a soda bottling plant in Brazil while he attempts to get a leash on his transformations. Bruce is eventually tracked down after a drop of his blood accidentally gets into one of the beverages, and gives the man who drinks it gamma sickness. That man? Stan Lee. This is one of the few cameos that he makes that’s actually integral to the plot of the film, rather than being a more random appearance.
14. 2010 – Iron Man 2
The follow up to 2008’s Iron Man, this film finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) a worldwide phenomenon as a result of his revealing of his Iron Man alter-ego. Despite the increased fame, it’s a dark time for Tony. The arc reactor that has been keeping him alive is killing him, and he can’t find a solution. Instead, he spends a lot of time drinking and mourning his impending death. Mixed in amongst the Stark angst and a rival attempting to create his own Iron Man-style suits, Stan Lee gets a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo at the Stark Expo, where he is mistaken for Larry King. It’s actually a pretty uncanny resemblance, as Lee is seen wearing King’s trademark suspenders.
13. 2011 – Thor
Our introduction to the Norse God of Thunder, Thor begins as the titular character is exiled from Asgard and separated from his legendary hammer, Mjolnir. Both Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the hammer end up on Earth, and the film chronicles his attempts to once again become worthy of his legendary weapon. Toward the beginning of the film, Mjolnir is discovered by civilians in the New Mexico desert, and a crowd quickly gathers. The people realize that the hammer won’t budge, and something of a festival atmosphere is created as various people come to try to pry it loose, Excalibur-style. One of the people making the attempt is a trucker (listed as Stan the Man in the credits). Lee fails horribly in his attempt to move the hammer with the help of his truck, as the entire back end of his pickup is ripped off. Don’t worry, Stan, you’ll always be worthy in our eyes.
12. 2011 – Captain America: The First Avenger
The origin story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is set primarily in the 1940s, during the events of World War II. Rogers is a scrawny guy who desperately wants to join the army, but his diminutive size and array of illnesses continuously result in him being deemed unfit for service. His salvation comes in the form of a secret serum, created to turn ordinary men into super-soldiers — a familiar storytelling trope amongst superhero stories.
Steve is transformed into the first super soldier, but even then, he isn’t allowed on the front lines at first. Lee appears here as a general in full dress uniform. He’s a guest at an event to honor Captain America after he is finally able to help the war effort as more than a performer, but Cap doesn’t show up! As an aid comes out from behind the curtain to explain, Lee mistakes him for the real thing, remarking, “I thought he’d be taller.”
11. 2012 – The Avengers
Marvel’s first ensemble film brought together Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans) and a new Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) along with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – two heroes yet to have a solo outing. The team is formed to take on Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is unwittingly doing the grunt work for the Mad Titan, Thanos. In a dramatic final battle, much of New York City is destroyed (although the Avengers do manage to save the day). Stan Lee appears yet again as a man-on-the-street in a news report, with the hilarious quip, “Superheroes? In New York? Gimme a break!.” He also appeared in a deleted scene where he implores Steve Rogers to get the number of a waitress, which you can check out here.
10. 2012 – The Amazing Spider-Man
Just a few short years removed from his last adventure, Spider-Man gets a reboot in this new origin story starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. This time, he takes on the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), a scientist whose medical research into tissue regeneration goes horribly wrong, turning him into a giant humanoid Lizard. The two duke it out several times in a range of locations, one of which is Peter Parker’s school (after Lizard discovers his true identity).
In a particularly hilarious, light-hearted cameo, Stan Lee appears as the school librarian, blissfully listening to classical music. His headphones drown out the sounds of the battle entirely, leaving Lee the librarian completely oblivious to the danger around him. Lizard nearly brains him with a thrown table, but of course, Spidey is able to snatch it with his webbing just in the nick of time. There was never a chance that Marvel would allow one of their founding fathers to perish on screen, although the same could not be said for Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, and pretty much anyone else Garfield’s Peter Parker loved.
9. 2013 – Iron Man 3
Iron Man is back for a third solo adventure, and this time, he’s up against his comic book archnemesis, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). The nefarious villain spearheads an attack on our hero at his home, destroying his mansion and nearly taking out both Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Tony ends up in rural Tennessee, where he is stranded as his suit lacks the power to take him home. Believed dead, he does some sneaking around the local watering hole in order to investigate a recent explosion in the area, dressed as a cowboy in an attempt to disguise his true identity. During this scene, we see him sneak into a news van that is covering a local beauty pageant, where Stan Lee plays a very enthusiastic judge of the bikini round. This is the only Iron Man cameo where Stark and Stan Lee are not technically in the same room.
8. 2013 – Thor: The Dark World
Following the events of Thor and The Avengers, we are reunited with the Norse God (Hemsworth), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) as they attempt to save the world, and more specifically, Jane, when she is possessed by the Aether. Dr Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) makes a return appearance as well, although he has been institutionalized after being possessed by the Tesseract during Avengers.
When we first meet him in the mental ward, he is presenting his Convergence theory to the fellow inmates, none of whom seem particularly interested. Stan Lee is also in the ward as a patient, and he’s shown to be the only one who seems to actually be listening to Selvig’s ravings — but only because his shoe is being used as part of the demonstration.
7. 2014 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Cap is back and working for S.H.I.E.L.D. in this solo sequel to The First Avenger. A game-changer for the MCU, The Winter Soldier reveals that the government-run organization has been infiltrated by Hydra from its earliest inception, and Captain America (along with Black Widow) must reveal and put a stop to Hydra’s evil plans before it’s too late.
With his new suit apparently being track by the bad guys at S.H.I.E.L.D., the Captain decides to steal his old uniform from an exhibit at the Smithsonian because, “if you are going to fight a war, you need a uniform.” Stan Lee makes his appearance as the security guard who discovers the theft (his second cameo as a security guard), and realizes that he is “so fired.”
6. 2014 – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Andrew Garfield’s second outing as the teenage web-slinger begins with him in costume above New York City. An action-packed sequence shows just how far Spidey has come, as he stops a gang of criminals from stealing a truckload of plutonium, and saves the life of Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) while he’s at it. All in a day’s work for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!
This particular day also happens to be Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey’s (Emma Stone) graduation ceremony, and Peter only just makes it back from his super-heroics in time for her valedictorian speech. Stan Lee makes his appearance in the crowd at the graduation ceremony, where he mentions that he “thinks he knows that guy” when Parker appears. You sure do, Stan.
5. 2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy
In Marvel’s first true galactic adventure, discounting the Thor films, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) battle it out on the beautiful planet of Xandar. The three sides (Rocket and Groot being a team, obviously) are all after the mysterious Orb, an artifact originally stolen by Star-Lord, who intends to sell the item to the highest bidder. This showdown leads to their collective imprisonment, which eventually forces the team together.
4. 2014 – Big Hero 6
Not everyone was aware of the fact that this Disney animation is also based on a Marvel comic of the same name. Although the film is vastly different from the source material, it’s still a Marvel movie, so Stan Lee gets his trademark cameo. This time, however, it’s in the post credits scene, rather than the film itself. As Fred’s (TJ Miller) super rich, absentee father, he appears in a portrait at their mansion during the main action of the film. His real cameo in the post credits happens as Fred is talking to the portrait, lamenting the distance between him and his father. He accidentally presses on the painting, and it swings open to reveal a hidden room filled with superhero costumes. An animated Lee appears in the doorway, hugs his son, and tells him that they have a lot to talk about.
3. 2015 – Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Avengers come together again to take on Ultron (James Spader), introduce a range of new Avengers team members (like the Vision and Scarlet Witch, played by Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively), and build toward the close of Marvel’s Phase Two. Age of Ultron opens with a high-octane action sequence as the Avengers raid a Hydra outpost. After the success of their mission, the team kicks back with a party at Avengers Tower, formerly known as Stark Tower.
Here, Lee appears as a war veteran wanting to share a drink with Thor and Steve Rogers. When he sees Thor pouring a special liquor, he wants some too, even though Thor explains it’s made for Asgardians and is therefore too strong for mortal men. Lee brushes him off and demands a sampling, to which Thor shrugs and obliges. The scene then cuts to an absolutely obliterated Lee being carried away while slurring his catchphrase, “Excelsior!”
2. 2015 – Ant Man
The final entry in Marvel’s Phase 2, Ant-Man was a complete change of pace from the large-scale intensity of Age of Ultron. Introducing a new character in a solo film for the first time in years, Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang/Ant-Man. In a side plot, reformed cat burglar Lang is listening to his friend Luis (played by the scene-stealing Michael Pena) tell a story in his inimitable style, laying out why the crime he has planned is foolproof. The story twists and turns in comedically unnecessary ways, and at one point, Luis’s friend is seen in a bar checking out a girl, and commenting to the bartender how “crazy stupid fine” she is. The bartender, played of course by Lee, agrees with him.
1. 2016 – Deadpool
The latest offering from Fox, Deadpool is smashing box office records despite it’s hard-R rating. Starring Ryan Reynolds as the Merc with a Mouth, the film jumps between real time and flashbacks in order to weave together Deadpool’s current mission and his origin story. In flashback, we see his life as a mercenary, and his meeting with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) in the bar where the local mercs spend their down time. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Wade leaves Vanessa to take part in the weapons project that makes him the superpowered anti-hero he was always meant to be. After breaking free of the project, which was essentially an endless series of tortures, Wade searches out his long-lost love at a strip club, her place of employment. Stan Lee is then revealed in what he’s since described as his favorite cameo to date — as the strip club DJ. Fingers crossed he can spend a bit more time in the establishment in the upcoming sequel.
Bonus – Non-Film Cameos
Stan Lee has also appeared in a few small screen and off-screen cameos over the years. He is part of the Amazing Spider-Man ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, a 3D ride centering on the web-slinger. He also makes brief appearances during some of Marvel’s TV series. In Netflix’s Daredevil, his picture hangs on the wall of the local police station, where he appears to be a cop. In Marvel’s Agent Carter, he’s glimpsed receiving a shoe shine next to Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). He also appeared in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a passenger on a train who speaks to Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). The man is everywhere nowadays.
93 year old Stan Lee has really upped his cameo game in recent years, appearing in more than half a dozen films in the last few years alone. Here’s hoping the Marvel legend’s filmography continues to expand in the years to come. What’s your Stan Lee favorite cameo? LEt us know in the comments below!