With 12 movies and counting, Marvel has had plenty of time to craft some killer fight scenes. Calling all the way back to Tony Stark’s awesome escape in Iron Man (2008), the eternally expanding universe has become a resident expert in superhuman standoffs, whether they be of galactic or grounded origin. Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America each have their distinct strengths as a fighter, and as such, the action scenes that pepper every solo film are wildly different from one another. Luckily, the eye candy spectacle offered up between Hulk’s uncontrolled bashing and Cap’s calculated fist fights have provided viewers with a smorgasbord of variety heading into the larger ensemble projects.
Naturally, the main event has been the two Avengers films, where viewers get to see the gang get together and subsequently take down villainy on a massive scale. Melding hammers, shields, and rocket boosters into a symphony of spectacle, it’s an experience that'll only get better in next month’s Captain America: Civil War and the mack-daddy matchups of 2018-19’s Avengers: Infinity War (Part 1 & 2). Until then, we assemble the greatest fights seen so far.
Here are Screen Rant’s 15 Best Action Scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Granted, they play out on television, but Netflix’s stable of superhero star power is still part of the Marvel timeline. As such, they’ve both had fights that are just too damn good to pass up. Leading off with Jessica Jones, the moody Marvel heroine (Krysten Ritter), most would point to the bar room brawl between her and strapping enforcer Luke Cage (Mike Colter) in the episode "AKA Crush Syndrome." Filtered through a gritty realism, Jones and Cage take down an entire establishment of goons with ease, making good on the show’s reputation as the salty little sister of MCU standards. She may be a lady, but she certainly doesn’t throw down like one.
Daredevil continues this hardened view on superheroes who take their justice brutal, with highlight fights proving so frequent that selecting a single example is nearly impossible. Over Matt Murdock’s two seasons, fans have been treated to one stunning display after another, treading so far into neo-noir bleakness that sometimes it's tough to pinpoint a moral compass. If forced at gunpoint to decide upon a set piece, the hallway fight from the episode, "Cut Man." Though it wears it's Oldboy (2003) influence on it's sleeve, the sequence plays out in such poetic ugliness that it was immediately lauded as the greatest fight in TV history. That’s not even getting into his tussles with Kingpin or The Punisher, or even season two's take on the idea of extended fight sequences.
As mixed as the overall movie may have been, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk was still worth watching, if only for the brutal final battle. No really, this thing is brutal. Allowed by General Ross (William Hurt) to transform into his green alter ego, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) confronts the freakish Abomination (Tim Roth), who has injected himself with a super soldier serum gone wrong. Played out on the streets of New York City, Hulk vs. Abomination wastes no time netting the prize for most destructive solo fight. Makes sense, given the Hulk’s stature, but this anticipation is still shattered in the wake of smashed cars, smashed buildings, and smashed everything. Hulk just smashes.
That he eventually strangles Abomination with the world’s biggest bike chain is awesome in a myriad of different ways. Being able to see two, for lack of a better word, hulk-sized creatures going at it was cool enough, let alone the fact that director Louis Leterrier comes through with a fanboy fulfillment of savagery that stands out in the MCU. Mark Ruffalo’s take on the jolly green giant has yet to earn these vicious stripes (though who doesn't love to watch that "Puny God" bit from the first Avengers over and over?), but there’s still hope he does so in Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War or even that rumored Planet Hulk movie.
Ah, Iron Man 3. It's status in the Marvel canon is unparalleled in being divisive, earning praise and hatred for an abundance of different reasons, depending on who’s asking. Hopefully, however, fans can set their differences aside and at least enjoy this nifty little piece from the 2013 sequel. Escaping the lair of The Mandarin (let’s not even go there), Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is forced to take on a security squad with only scarce pieces of his Iron Man suit in use — making for a clever and quirky getaway.
Stark’s signature wit, honed in through physical movement, is a delightful callback to the rough and tumble learning curve of the first film, while the one glove/one boot gimmick plays out as both practical and playfully fresh to the franchise. In stripping Stark of his full Iron Man capabilities, writer/director Shane Black provides the character with his most comedic scuffle to date, aided by some firearms and a guard with hilariously good common sense.
Thor has always been the kind of hero who destroyed first and asked later. Aside from Hulk, he’s the most savage (and overtly powerful) member of the team, so it only make sense that his solo outings reflect such a barbaric attention to detail. And nowhere is this more prevalent than in 2011’s Thor, which has the Asgardian prince assembling his crew of badasses to take on the Frost Giants. The infamously icy destroyers invaded Odin’s kingdom, a big no-no in the world of outer space politics. As a result, Thor, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and The Warriors Three (Joshua Dallas, Ray Stevenson, and Tadanobu Asano) venture to Jotunheim for some old fashioned and unsanctioned revenge.
This battle is everything that’s awesome about the Thor films. Spotty as they may be in extracurricular character development, they deliver CGI-fueled bashfests that make good on the potential of the comic books. The brutality is also worth noting, and the final slam of Thor’s hammer subsequently annihilates the entire bunch of evil Frostys as if it were nothing. Say what you will about his acting in other projects, but Chris Hemsworth sells that sucker like it was second nature.
Clocking in at just under four minutes, this pocket sequence is the shortest entry on the list. But whatever's lost on the length side of things is more than made up for with a compact untwirling of close quarters intensity. Cap (Chris Evans) quietly boards a S.H.I.E.L.D elevator before agency jerkbag Brock Rumlow (now known as Crossbones)and company hop aboard. Tension and numbers continue to rise as the elevator descends, coming to a head when electric rods are thrown Cap’s way and unleash an anthill of jet black adrenaline.
Of course, after a few seconds to get his bearings, the super soldier decimates each and every soul in the glass box without a second’s hesitation. It's staggering really, the amount of men taken out through well placed elbows, fists, and a particularly gnarly toss that puts Crossbones’ lights out in a heartbeat. Top all this off with a shield flip that makes Cap look like an utter badass, and this dynamite decimation signified great things to come for the rest of The Winter Soldier.
Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) have always shared a kinship. One a playboy billionaire, the other a doomed geek, but both unified through a brilliance that occasionally gets them in trouble. Ultron notwithstanding, Banner clearly has other fish to fry when he goes bye-bye and the big guy arrives, causing the savvy Stark to create a combat device just in case. Nicknamed ‘Veronica,’ this sweet hunk of Iron Man metal exists solely to chin check The Hulk if ever he got out of line in a populated area. Unfortunately for citizens, and fortunately for fans, this exact situation presents itself in the second act of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In one of the MCU’s most unlikely faceoffs, Iron Man and The Hulk pit their best stuff in a brawl that wastes no time destroying a large portion of a Wakandan city — something we can't imagine Black Panther was too happy about. Chatterboxing his way through the fight, Stark’s sardonic spitfire hilariously clashes with Hulk’s animalism, and the wry self-commentary while pummeling through a skyscraper makes for one hell of a mid-act break. The Hulkbuster armor may not have been so lucky, but this titanic fist fight holds up as a classic Marvel moment.
Guardians of the Galaxy really enjoys it's eccentricity. From soundtrack and sense of humor to tone and split-end action, this surprise hit caught like wildfire, with fans frothing at the mouth over its originality. And while the finale found itself dabbling a little too close to cliched aerial battle, it was the midpoint prison break that truly captured the now famous Guardians spirit. Weaving an orchestra of oddity, director James Gunn pulls together a ten minute spectacle that starts off slow, looks around, and catapults into a world where raccoons use automatic weapons and Groots say “Groot” a lot.
Led by the bumbling competence of Star Lord (Chris Pratt), this merry band of pranksters find time to toss off sight gags, hilarious wordplay, and off-the-wall action before somehow proving successful in their escape. Each character gets terrific content to work with, and the resulting density of excitement leaves this thing breathlessly fluid to experience. Action-packed and self-mocking, it's yet another reason why Guardians of the Galaxy is adored across the board, and why we cannot wait for chapter two.
It's clear from the start that The Avengers didn’t particularly like one another, with power and ambivalence seemingly doled out in equal measure. Thor, pretentious and temperamental, is (literally) worlds away from the egotistical Iron Man, who finds solace in his smarmy intellect. Throw in Captain America as the world’s most self-righteous soldier, and the results were bound to be explosively macho by default. Such is the brilliance of this swift forest fight, which has the core three bumping heads while a doting Loki watches on in amusement.
It's tough to tell who the biggest baby is, really. Tony immediately goes in on Thor’s garb of choice, triggering a toss that plants the pride of Asgard right in Stark’s stomach. Iron Man blasts back before Cap shows up and attempts to play peacemaker — a move that doesn’t gel too well with the frazzled space prince. Hammer meets shield for the first time, and the wow factor of vibranium’s strength comes to full fruition. Egos are finally set aside when the smoke clears, but the thrill of seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes duke it out was well worth the detour.
The paranoia that pesters The Winter Soldier makes it stand out in the MCU chronology, swaying perception to the point where no one could be trusted. As such, the surprise attack upon S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes completely out of nowhere in the film’s first half, raising the stakes for a villain who had yet to show his face. Buried in between a bevy of patrol cars, Director Fury finds himself the victim of a battering ram and a heinous intent that proves as swift as it is unexpected. To the Colonel’s credit, he whips out some impressive gadgets and intuition that fans had yet to see onscreen.
Filmmaking duo Joe & Anthony Russo make Fury’s only full action sequence (to date) a doozy encounter of grime and grinding metal. Busted up and bleeding, the eye-patched commander almost gets away with it too, until The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) shows up and rains explosives on Nick’s nitty gritty parade. Burrowing beneath the city’s sewer systems to escape, it highlighted the fact that things would never be the same. If S.H.I.E.L.D’s director could be openly ambushed in public, there were clearly government issues that needed to be dealt with.
Poor Thor has never been mistaken for having the best MCU presence, with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki consistently stealing the show. But quality issues aside, all flaws with the 2013 follow-up The Dark World were redeemed with a wondrously clever final act. Tussling with the evil Malekith through a myriad of different dimensions, Chris Hemsworth’s bearded hero takes the viewer to places unseen even in the coolest of Avengers escapades. The Asgardian ass-kicker also integrates a Nine Realm thread-count that leaves just enough room for comedic relief and human intervention to have their time to shine (hello again, Kat Dennings).
Aided by an abundance of top-notch CGI, the gnarly Thor vs. Malekith match-up jumps between Earth’s crumbling cities and outer space in the blink of an eye, made all the more astounding by director Alan Taylor’s pristine editing. By the time Thor safeguards the entire universe and sweet talks his beloved Jane (Natalie Portman), viewers have more than forgiven The Dark World for taking Loki (temporarily) out of action.
Thor and Hulk throwing down has always been a highlight of the comic books. From Thor #112 to the awesomeness of The Incredible Hulk #255, the bristling strength of both make for a daunting combination. And, as one to answer the prayers of fanboys worldwide, writer/director Joss Whedon brought these two powerhouses together for an action-tastic tussle in 2012’s The Avengers. Brought on by the manipulative methods of slimy sibling Loki, the squad is split apart mid-flight, triggering Bruce Banner to hulk out thousands of feet up in the air. With engines failing and team members struggling to make repairs, Thor is forced to take on the big guy all by his lonesome.
The results, as anticipated, are freaking excellent. Pound-for-pound the Hulk’s best foe since Abomination, Thor’s deity wielding powers come in handy when taking punches that wouldn’t be fun for anyone else in the universe (just ask Puny God, Loki). There’s also a righteous geek-out moment where Hulk attempts to lift the Asgardian hammer to no avail, flipping the script and opening a window for Thor to land a few nice ones. Sure, it's a draw, but every viewer in the audience comes out a winner on this one.
This is how you start a sequel. Long gone are the buildups and character-catering that miffed a small minority of Avengers (2012) haters, and in its place stood an opening battle worth its weight in foreign currency. Abroad to locate Loki’s scepter, the crew tears throw a snowbound setting with a style that hadn’t been spotted in the first film. Retooling the single-take mayhem that worked so well in New York, Joss Whedon cleverly integrates the familiar with the new, showing off a teamwork that found The Avengers fluidly fighting as a unit. No egos or bitterness, just a big justice machine wreaking havoc on weakling henchmen.
Whedon also ups the quality through a collection of quips evenly spread throughout the team. Between Iron Man’s jabbering, Captain America’s boy scout antics, and Hulk’s newfound commitment to the collective, this full-throttle fun show can be summed up in a single spectacular slow-motion frame. That’s not even getting into the nifty little trick Cap and Thor learned when hammer meets shield. For peak-era Avengers in action, look no further.
The scene that set the standard, much like everything else in Jon Favreau’s original Iron Man (2008). Having spent weeks in imprisonment while working on a combat suit, Tony Stark finally steps up to the plate and lets it rip upon his captors with reckless abandon. Besides being a nice ode to the original comic book suit, Iron Man’s first appearance is an unforgettable moment, backed by an awkward dismantling of the prison camp that showcases Stark’s combat inexperience. Wielding a pair of flamethrowers with unease, Tony takes down the very weapons he helped create, turning the page on his former life and beginning as a new man. An Iron Man.
It's rough around the edges by 2016 standards, but Favreau does one hell of a job capitalizing on this crucial moment. If Iron Man’s initial appearance didn’t wow the audience into imaginative submission, Marvel’s entire gameplan would have crumbled like a Ten Rings tank. Fortunately, both Favreau and Downey, Jr. bring the goods, and the results are one of the 21st century’s most important action scenes.
Coming in as the third and highest entry from The Winter Soldier, this low-tech tussle has become hallowed ground for Marvel fans. And it's easy to see why — it conveys in three acts a swirling opera of bullets and hand-to-hand battle, complete with car chases and a seriously badass Bucky Barnes beating down on his former buddy with his awesome metal arm. Impressively composed by the Russo brothers, this elongated sequence benefits from top-notch sound design and an editing pace that puts serious mileage between it and the rest of the studio’s superhero scraps. Afforded both the luxury and the hassle of having to stick to practical stuntwork, the cat-and-mouse exchange between Bucky and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) supplies the character with her greatest set piece, while leading up to a tumultuous showdown with Cap.
No guns or explosives in the way, just two guys with a cash to check and the super soldier chops to make it stick. In what stands as the finest Marvel fistfight by a long shot, Captain and The Winter Soldier showcase some truly awesome moves, while the shocking reveal of Bucky’s identity (to Mr. Rogers, anyway) brings things to an impactful close. Civil War has big shoes to fill in the action department, but with what we've seen so far, we could have a new entry on our list in a matter of weeks.
Hell yes. Two-plus hours of buildup and five movies in the making, the finale of The Avengers was everything fans hoped it would be. Given it's standing as one of the most anticipated blockbusters of all time, it only seemed natural to expect something above and beyond. The pressure put upon Joss Whedon was palpable from the moment he signed on to write and direct. Then, just like that, it arrived with the staggering force of a fun-filled freight train — a final act both brilliant and beautifully orchestrated. Whedon maps out every punch, pun, and well-timed pummeling with pinpoint precision, and the possibilities of seeing the Avengers team fighting as one were more than worth the wait.
The one shot everyone talks about will forever be the franchise’s defining moment: a lengthy tracking shot that follows each member of the team mid-combat, from Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow to Cap and Iron Man. Thor being hilariously bodied by The Hulk brings this visual buffet to a close, achieving in one flawless image the wonders of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Whether seeking individual combat or team maneuvers, this battle is the golden standard.
Did we leave off your favorite action sequence? Let us know in the comments section.