The Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned into one of the biggest tent pole franchises of cinema, period. What started as an almost ludicrous plan for a shared universe of characters has not only turned into one of the most profitable cinematic endeavors of all-time, but it’s established a model that other studios have painfully tried to emulate to little avail. It’s truly special what the MCU has been able to put together over the past decade and it looks like the universe has no plans of slowing down over the next decade either.
Part of what makes the MCU so successful is their unabashed love towards their characters and how it appears that they genuinely listen to and care about what the fans have to say. This approach has been ever-present with the MCU films, but a new philosophy that’s become increasingly dominant is how the films like to keep as much as possible under lock and key. Marvel films love their surprises, especially when it comes to cameo appearances. Usually, these cameos are a reason to celebrate as they feature a beloved character, but there are occasions where cameos flop or don’t meet their potential. Accordingly, here are 9 Cameos That Hurt The MCU (And 21 That Stole The Show)!
30 Stole The Show: Community Actors In Winter Soldier And Civil War
At this point, it’s well known that the Russo brothers are no strangers to inserting Easter eggs to their previous works within their Marvel films. These nods to fans have varied in scale through the year, but one of the most satisfying benefits has been the Russos’ inclusion of many of their former Community cast in minor roles.
Danny Pudi shows up in Winter Soldier and Jim Rash plays a very Dean-like role in Civil War. These cameos go just far enough without being too much, but it’s just nice to see that the Russos still have lots of time for their Community crew and that no love has been lost.
29 Stole The Show: “Suit Lady” In Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot of fun with how it can buck expectations towards the typical Spider-Man stories that viewers have gotten comfortable with. One of the biggest changes here is that Iron Man is a crucial part of Spider-Man’s story and he acts as a mentor figure for the budding superhero. Iron Man places his stamp on Spider-Man by making him a special suit, complete with its own helpful A.I. system.
Peter Parker’s clumsy relationship with the voice in his suit is a great element to the film, but what’s even more fun is that Jennifer Connelly provides the voice of “Suit Lady,” which gives it even more impact.
28 Stole The Show: Dr. Yinsen In Iron Man And Iron Man 3
Favreau’s Iron Man started on the right foot by featuring niche characters in supporting roles. For instance, when the organization, the Ten Rings, imprisons Stark, he becomes allies with a prisoner, Dr. Yinsen. Yinsen (Shaun Toub) ultimately sacrifices himself to help Stark escape, but the doctor speaks to an encounter they had at a party years before.
Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 brilliantly recreates this scene during its flashback to Killian’s backstory. Killian was at the same party that Stark and Yinsen were at and it gets to play with history in a fun way. Yinsen’s first appearance is fun, but the callback is the icing on the cake here.
27 Hurt: Jack McGee And Jim Wilson In The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk gets a lot of derision as the outlier in the MCU, but it has such a glowing love for all things Hulk that it deserves a little more credit. In an especially deep cut, the film features some classic characters during the Hulk’s campus battle against Thunderbolt Ross. Two individuals who film this encounter are Jack McGee and Jim Wilson.
McGee was an investigative reporter from The Incredible Hulk television series who was determined on breaking the Hulk’s story. Wilson on the other hand actually spends a brief span of time as the Hulk’s sidekick. These are both fun cameos, but it could have done so much more with these characters.
26 Stole The Show: Ed Brubaker In Captain America: Winter Soldier
Meta cameos can sometimes be a lot of fun, but they also run the risk of stealing focus and weakening the particular scene. That’s why it can often be a safer bet to do these kinds of cameos with influential writers and artists who aren’t necessarily recognizable to the general public.
Captain America: Winter Soldier pulls off such a move when it depicts the mind-control that Bucky endures to get turned into the Winter Soldier. The doctor that administers this to Bucky is Brubaker, who’s the writer of the Captain America comics arc where Bucky is turned into the Winter Soldier. Life imitating art here.
25 Stole The Show: J. Michael Straczynski And Walt Simonson In Thor
When Kenneth Branagh adapted Thor, he decided to honor many of the people that were important influences to the comic series at key points in time. Both of these cameos are by Thor writers and they’re pretty much a writer’s dream.
Straczynski plays a truck driver that initially discovers Mjolnir and unsuccessfully tries to pull it from the ground, while Simonson is one of the dinner guests at Asgard. Straczynski is responsible for moving the location of Asgard to Oklahoma and Simonson wrote during the ‘80s run of the series and was a major influence on Ragnarok’s look. Both authors’ major contributions got to be honored.
24 Hurt: Kate Mara In Iron Man 2
Kate Mara is an accomplished actress that many people wanted to see portray a superhero, which she did in the woeful Fantastic Four reboot as Sue Storm. Clearly, Mara has the pedigree for such a role, yet, she’s relegated to such a minor role in Iron Man 2 that’s really just confusing.
Mara plays a US marshal that delivers a subpoena to Stark to make sure he’ll appear in court, but she goes through some rather crafty means to accomplish her goal. Mara is a welcome presence here, but it’s really a waste of her talents.
23 Stole The Show: Lou Ferrigno And Bill Bixby In The Incredible Hulk
Back before there was a fancy, polished Marvel Cinematic Universe to bring beloved superheroes to life, there were still a few characters that experienced memorable runs on television. Lou Ferrigno was the first live-action Hulk and The Incredible Hulk pays tribute to him when he shows up as a security guard that Banner bribes with pizza.
What’s almost more impressive is that the film also finds a way to feature Bill Bixby, the Hulk actor from the 1970s who had unfortunately past away. In one segment, Banner flips through channels and briefly stops on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, which features Bixby.
22 Stole The Show: Howard The Duck In Guardians Of The Galaxy
In a weird, bizarre way, George Lucas technically holds the honor for the first Marvel movie with his cult classic, Howard the Duck. The character has gained traction in recent years through subversive comics, but he’s never been a character that exactly screams the need for a big screen adaptation. It’s for this reason that it’s so exciting that madman James Gunn actually brings Howard the Duck to life in a post-credits scene.
Howard the Duck’s appearance is pitch perfect and Seth Green even provides the character’s voice, but it’s unclear if the character will ever resurface in the MCU.
21 Hurt: Doc Samson In The Incredible Hulk
Ty Burrell has had an extremely successful television career, which makes him exactly the sort of person that would fit within the MCU. Early on, the MCU makes use of Burrell as Doc Samson in The Incredible Hulk. Both the appearance of Burrell and Samson are meant to be cute nods for fans, but that almost makes their inclusion hurt more.
Doc Samson (Leonard Samson in the comics) is a psychotherapist who also gets exposed to gamma radiation and becomes extremely Hulk-like, both in strength and appearance. Clearly, the films don’t go in this direction, but how fun would Burrell be as a fellow Hulk sidekick for Ruffalo?
20 Stole The Show: Scorpion (Mac Gargan) In Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming does some masterful work at how it stays ahead of its audience and manages to keep them guessing due to what it doesn’t know about its characters. For many fans, it was exciting to see Michael Mando of Better Call Saul and Orphan Black fame show up as one of Adrian Toomes’ fellow criminal lackeys, but matters take an interesting turn during the final act.
Both Toomes and Gargan get incarcerated and the pieces begin to click in. Suddenly, it’s clear that Mando’s character is really Gargan, who goes on to become the Scorpion in the comics. Furthermore, the end of the film positions both Toomes and Gargan for a Sinister Six reappearance!
19 Stole The Show: Falcon In Ant-Man
Ant-Man attempts to go against the grain as far as the standard MCU formula goes. The films go for a smaller story (both figuratively and literally) and it’s an angle that fits the more comedic style of his character. The first Ant-Man occupies an interesting territory because it begins in a place where Scott Lang is more or less a criminal and he’s using the Ant-Man suit for unscrupulous means. It’s this behavior that puts Lang on a collision course with The Avengers.
Ant-Man sees a lower-level Avengers member, Falcon, stop by to deal with him and it makes for one of the more exciting set pieces of the movie.
18 Stole The Show: Android Human Torch In Captain America
Due to Captain America: The First Avenger’s World War II-set story, it had the opportunity to feature Marvel characters from a past generation that would be long gone in the current MCU timeline. The film takes advantage of that luxury, but it also features some niche references to the heroes of yesteryear.
Back in the day, Captain America was apart of a team known as The Invaders, and one of its members was the Android Human Torch, who gets a particular shout-out at the Stark Expo. The Android Human Torch getup is proudly on display at the exhibition, although only astute viewers will know what it means.
17 Hurt: DJ AM In Iron Man 2
It’s no secret that Tony Stark has a lot of money and that he knows how to throw a wild party. Stark’s opulence is perhaps most on display during Iron Man 2, where there’s a particular extravagant Tony Stark shindig. One of the touches to this party is that DJ AM, Adam Goldstein, is Stark’s personal party DJ. It’s a fun touch to Stark’s wealth, but it’s also a little confusing and draws more attention to Tony’s music taste than anything.
Goldstein also provides a track to the movie’s soundtrack and the film is even dedicated in his memory, so he has a much bigger impression on the movie than this cameo alone.
16 Stole The Show: Nathan Fillion In Guardians Of The Galaxy
James Gunn isn’t done awarding cameos to beloved friends and family, and someone who’s formed a strong relationship with the writer/director over the years is actor Nathan Fillion. Fillion’s comedic sensibilities would fit in perfectly with the tone of The Guardians of the Galaxy and although there were persistent murmurs that Fillion may show up as Wonder Man, none of that came to pass.
On the other hand, Gunn manages to sneak Fillion into the film as one of the fellow alien prisoners that serves time with the Guardians. Fillion provides the voice for the hulking blue alien and firmly makes his mark.
15 Stole The Show: Martinex And Mainframe In Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 goes a little bonkers with both its number of post-credit scenes and how many supporting Marvel characters it manages to sneak under the radar. To Gunn’s credit, it’s a lot harder to spot cameos in his films due to the wealth of aliens that occupy them.
For instance, Michael Rosenbaum portrays Martinex of the Ravagers, but you’d never know it due to his spiky appearance. The same is true with Miley Cyrus, who steps in as Mainframe, but it’s almost impossible to tell. Gunn knows how to have fun with these cameos, but maybe they’ll even come back into play later down the road!
14 Hurt: Amadeus Cho In The Incredible Hulk
This is a little bit of a stretch because it depends on information from the novelization of The Incredible Hulk film, but it certainly holds up. In the movie, Bruce Banner bribes his way into the science lab with the help of some pizza and it's apparently Amadeus Cho who lets him in. This is perhaps a cute nod to the beginning of Banner and Cho's friendship as Cho eventually becomes partners with the Hulk in the comics. In fact, the recent Totally Awesome Hulk series made Cho the new Hulk!
On top of this, Amadeus' mother, Dr. Helen Cho, briefly appears in Age of Ultron, who Ultron forces to help him.
13 Stole The Show: Tony Stark In The Incredible Hulk
Once again, The Incredible Hulk film gets a lot of flak, but it’s full of pleasant surprises. One of the biggest ways in which The Incredible Hulk shows that it isn’t playing around and that this film is a piece of something bigger is that awesome Rob shows up as Iron Man in the final scene.
Stark consoles a defeated Thunderbolt Ross over the events of the film and what lies ahead, but Stark assures him that they’re setting up a team to deal with this very problem. It’s one of the first hints of the actual Avengers coming together and it is glorious.
12 Stole The Show: Bruce Banner In Iron Man 3
Perhaps almost as if to return the favor of Tony Stark’s appearance in The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner shows up at the end of Iron Man 3 and kind of plays a crucial role in the whole story. Iron Man 3 sets up that Tony is telling this entire story to some unseen listener. While it’s presumed to be the audience, it turns out that Bruce Banner is actually listening to Stark’s story.
It’s a great gag to see that Banner struggles to find interest in Stark’s tale of this movie, but it also implies that these Avengers just hang out in their spare time, which is a nice idea.
11 Hurt: Olivia Munn In Iron Man 2
Much like in the case of Kate Mara, the disappointment with Olivia Munn’s cameo in Iron Man 2 has nothing to do with her performance and everything to do with how she’s used. Audiences new that Munn was going to be in the film in some capacity and due to the secrecy around her character, rumors started that she could be playing someone like Scarlet Witch or Wasp.
When people actually saw the film, they realized that Munn merely plays a TV reporter that’s doing a story on Tony Stark’s event. It’s perhaps a fun nod to Munn’s G4 days, but it’s not what fans were expecting.
10 Stole The Show: Peter Parker In Iron Man 2
It’s sometimes unclear when things were always planned or if creators are just getting inspired by popular fan theories, but the result is usually the audience getting what they want. There’s a moment in Iron Man 2 where Justin Hammer’s drones are on the rampage and misidentify a child wearing an Iron Man costume mask as a threat. The child exhibits the resilience of a real hero and before the drone eliminates its “target,” Iron Man jumps into action and rescues the youngster.
Debate started that this boy was actually a young Peter Parker, which Tom Holland has gone on to confirm. Looks like Iron Man’s always been looking out for him.
9 Stole The Show: Hawkeye In Thor
Hawkeye has always been the odd man out in the Avengers. The character has never been given his own solo film and he doesn’t even make an appearance in Infinity War. Many fans were a little confused to see that Hawkeye was just a part of the team in The Avengers, but the character actually makes his debut in Thor, of all places.
There’s a segment where a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility gets raided and Hawkeye is the sniper on detail to handle the threat. It’s actually a rather smart way to bring the character into the mix, but it’s easy to forget that it happened.
8 Hurt: Elon Musk In Iron Man 2
Elon Musk has certainly turned into a more controversial figure in recent years, but there’s no denying that there are definite similarities between Tony Stark and Elon Musk. In a fun tribute to the connection between these personalities, Musk shows up in Iron Man 2 as a fellow party guest. The film lets Stark and Musk hobnob for a while and Stark gets in some classic digs at the real-life figure.
Musk’s presence helps ground Stark’s level of wealth to some extent, but it more so just pulls you out of the experience. It’s ultimately a distracting cameo, like if Stark were to share a beer with Obama.
7 Stole The Show: The Original Guardians Of The Galaxy
James Gunn is always on the lookout for ways on how to outdo himself and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 basically hits an excess, for both better and for worse. During the film’s many post-credit sequences, Gunn decides to indulge the storied history of his franchise and feature the original Guardians of the Galaxy in a brief scene.
Since many fans were unfamiliar with the new Guardians before Gunn’s film, the original team is an even bigger mystery to the mainstream. Not only was Gunn able to shed a light on them, but there’s no reason why a spinoff featuring them couldn’t be considered.
6 Stole The Show: Fake Loki In Thor: Ragnarok
Many fans were excited when Taika Waititi could bring his eclectic sense of humor and lighter sensibilities to the third entry in the Thor franchise. Thor: Ragnarok dispelled the gloomy atmosphere that was present in the previous entries and essentially delivered a buddy comedy with Thor and the Hulk.
Waititi’s sense of humor is in strong form here and one of the most satisfying examples of this is a community run Asgardian production that details Thor and Loki’s story. Matt Damon plays the fake Loki in the production and every moment of the wild scene is fantastic.
5 Hurt: Tobias Funke In Infinity War
It’s kind of remarkable that Joe and Anthony Russo have grown to be some of the biggest blockbuster filmmakers in the game when they came from such humble beginnings like Community and Arrested Development. It’s nice to see these two not try to hide that side of their career. In fact, many of their Marvel films feature loving tributes to their past work.
In the case of Infinity War, eagle-eyed viewers can spot a very blue Tobias Funke from Arrested Development holed up with the rest of the Collector’s possessions. While this is great for Arrested Development fans, it’s a little much and can pull you out of the experience.
4 Stole The Show: Captain America In Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World is one of the few Marvel films that gets pushed under the rug. It’s a rather dark, dour installment for the MCU and it’s easy to skip it in rewatches. That being said, the film does feature plenty of strong moments and there’s still a wicked sense of humor in the picture that gets forgotten.
At one point, to both mock and appease Thor, Loki turns into Captain America. Chris Evans’ cameo is delightful because he gets to play Loki’s exaggerated interpretation of the character. It’s actually one of the more playful scenes in the MCU.
3 Stole The Show: Nick Fury In Iron Man
Samuel L. Jackson’s presence may be so solidified in pop culture at this point that it’s easy to take it for granted or forget that it wasn’t always a foregone conclusion. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man made huge strides to not only turn a fringe character like Iron Man into a mainstream success, but it also marked the first steps toward Marvel’s connected Cinematic Universe. That first step came in the form of Nick Fury.
Nick Fury’s appearance to Tony Stark and his pledge that they have work to do is one of the most exciting aspects of the movie and deliciously hints at the future of the franchise.
2 Hurt: The Leader In The Incredible Hulk
One of the most exciting developments from The Incredible Hulk film is that a frequent ally to Banner throughout the film is Samuel Sterns. Fans of the Hulk’s history through the comics know that Sterns eventually turns into one of the Hulk’s most notorious enemies, The Leader.
It’s nothing new for MCU films to introduce characters who will become villains later, but this film actually goes forward with it during its final moments! Sterns becomes infected with gamma radiation and begins to adopt a very Leader-like appearance. What’s frustrating here is that the Leader never returns and there was so much potential there!
1 Stole The Show: Stan Lee In Every Marvel Movie
Some traditions seem like silly ideas and others fall to the wayside after enough time passes, but the fact that every Stan Lee cameo was such a fun appearance that no one got annoyed with is a testament to the power of this man. Every MCU film found a clever place to insert the granddaddy of Marvel. Sometimes, he would be some innocuous pedestrian and at other moments, it looks like he could even be one of the strongest entities in the MCU.
Lee’s cameos were a joyful trademark of the MCU and even though the quality of future films will continue, his absence will surely be felt.
What other MCU cameos stole or hurt their films? Sound off in the comments below!