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The 27 greatest Marvel movie moments

These are the moments that make us shout, "Assemble!"

A long time ago, there was an idea: To bring together a group of remarkable Marvel Comics superheroes together for the same movie. What has happened since is nothing short of dreams coming true for the most die-hard Marvel fans in existence.

Since the release of Iron Man in 2008, the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe has evolved to encompass several movies, a dozen television shows, and so much more. Demarcated by “phases,” the MCU is built on long-term storytelling, with audiences investing in characters whose movies are always looking ahead to the future. For better or worse, the MCU is predicated on the only guarantee in life besides taxes: That there will always be tomorrow.

With several movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s due time to recognize some of the greatest moments ever in the film franchise. To be clear, we’re only looking at theatrically released films, a specific format the MCU was first made for, long before it expanded into realms like TV and Disney+ streaming.

From crowning moments of pure awesome to moving moments that tugged at the heartstrings, here are some of the greatest Marvel movie moments.

(Marvel Studios)
Rocket Loses Lyla (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, from writer/director James Gunn, Rocket’s harrowing origins are revealed. Being a science experiment of the villainous High Evolutionary (played by a thunderous Chukwudi Iwuji), Rocket had a tight-knit group of similarly intelligent talking critters, among them Lyla, an otter. But as his flashbacks reveal, Rocket’s failed attempt to break them out goes south after the High Evolutionary kills Lyla in front of him. As Rocket lets out a feral cry of heartbreak (props to Bradley Cooper for an incredible voiceover performance), the cold-blooded High Evolutionary mocks him in a way that comes across as though Rocket has inconvenienced his Tuesday. It’s a shattering moment that explains so much of Rocket’s abrasive personality and rugged exterior, being his armor to protect him from ever feeling as lost and hurt as he was once before.

(Marvel Studios)
Mayhem in Monaco (Iron Man 2)

Iron Man 2 came very early in the MCU, being only the third movie released in the franchise and when the MCU was not yet synonymous with world-ending stakes and seismic set pieces that shake the Earth. This is most apparent in Tony’s first encounter with Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), set at the Monaco Grand Prix, for a rousing action scene that still has the feeling of real-world physics that make the carnage actually feel dangerous. The scene feels most alive when Tony busts out his “portable” alternate armor, which permanently sets Tony’s habit to always iterate his artillery. Simply put, you don’t get the nano machinery of his Avengers: Endgame armor without Tony first figuring how to pack it all in a suitcase.

(Marvel Studios)
Red in Her Ledger (The Avengers)

It’s hard to fathom it now, but The Avengers is only the second-ever appearance of Natasha Romanov, a.k.a. Black Widow, famously played by Scarlett Johansson. But the movie affords Natasha plenty more development than she had in her first appearance in Iron Man 2. In a most memorable exchange with Loki, the master spy lays bare all her anxieties — including the guilt she feels over her violent past as an assassin — as a ploy to get Loki to give up his big scheme (to unleash the Hulk). It’s no small feat to outsmart a literal trickster god, but Natasha did it with style. Honestly, she outsmarted all of us here.

(Marvel Studios)
The Bus Fight (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings)

In a universe full of hammer-wielding thunder gods and super soldiers, a character like Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) needs to stand out in a big way. So how else can director Destin Daniel Cretton introduce fans to the so-called “Master of Kung Fu” but have him show off his elite skills in a dynamic environment? The first time Shang-Chi unleashes his fists of fury happens early in the movie, when Shang-Chi (under the guise of “Shaun”) rides the San Francisco metro and is cornered by underlings of the Ten Rings who threaten him and his best friend (Awkwafina). To watch this now iconic scene, which pays homage to martial arts movie titans like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, is to watch the birth of a brand new Marvel legend.

(Marvel Studios)
The After Party (Avengers: Age of Ultron)

Superheroes: They’re just like us, and that includes their super chill afterparties. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, written and directed by Joss Whedon, the Avengers host a soirée at the top floor of Avengers Tower with VIP guests. But when all is done, the Avengers get together and crack open a few cold ones, leading to a playful challenge over who among them can lift Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. (See Thor’s face when Steve steps up to plate.) Until Ultron walks through the door, this hang sesh shows the secret appeal of Marvel’s movies: How these inhuman gods are more like ourselves than they seem. Such togetherness among cinematic superheroes was a revolutionary concept when Age of Ultron opened in 2015, and for all its faults, few can say they wouldn’t want to be on that couch, sipping beer and munching on Chinese takeout with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

(Marvel Studios)
Ego’s True Purpose (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)

As much fun the Guardians of the Galaxy movies offer, they’re also teeming with darkness rooted in personal traumas involving neglect and abuse. This includes the revelation in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that Star-Lord’s biological father Ego, played by Kurt Russell, was a vain philanderer whose only goal was to spread his seed and spawn a descendant. While Star-Lord’s true nature as a half-human, half-Celestial may sound cool on paper, it’s Ego’s casually cruel reveal that he gave Peter’s mother the cancer that killed her that made this Celestial god no better than a deadbeat. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expansive, but this jaw-dropping and bone-chilling reveal proves there are still scumbags everywhere.

(Marvel Studios)
A Walk in the Ancestral Plane (Black Panther)

Black Panther is one of the more spiritual films in the MCU, being a film reverent to heritage, traditions, and ancestors. All of these elements come to the forefront in one of the most picturesque moments in the MCU, when T’Challa visits the Ancestral Plane. Set in a beautiful African Savannah brought to life with lush purple skies, T’Challa consults with his late father, T’Chaka (John Kani) about what it means to be a king. When T’Chaka commands his son to “Stand up,” Ludwig Goransson’s score punctuates the moment with sudden triumph; T’Challa stands not because he’s told to, but because he must. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and T’Challa is warned as much before his kingdom is threatened by his own blood.

(Marvel Studios)
“I Can Do This All Day” (Captain America: The First Avenger/Captain America: Civil War)

Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) stood up for the little guy even before he had the Super Soldier Serum. In Captain America: The First Avenger, he said out loud he didn’t like bullies; when he actually stood face-to-face with one, he stayed true to his word and planted his feet like a tree and refused to budge, telling some bozo outside a movie theater: “I can do this all day.” Decades later, he says the same thing to Tony Stark, a formerly close friend and Avengers compatriot who becomes a bitter opponent after truths and lies between themselves blur. “I can do this all day” is an all-time great line, not only because of how flexible it is in everyday use, but because it illuminates Captain America’s own best trait: His resilience. May we all find inspiration from Cap when we’re challenged by forces bigger than us.

(Marvel Studios)
Submitting to the Red Room (Black Widow)

In one of the most haunting title introductions to any Marvel movie, Cate Shortland’s Black Widow is provocative in the stolen innocence of child trafficking – and how it is the wellspring for the Red Room, the spy program that trains Natasha to become Black Widow. With a hopeless atmosphere set to a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (sung by Malia J), hysterical girls wake up in crates and are taken away by armed men whose flashlights disorient the senses. Interspersed are grainy home video footage of Natasha and her sister Yelena, as well as Cold War-esque imagery of worldwide chaos sowed by the Red Room’s graduates. Coming from a billion-dollar studio whose movies spawn toys and theme park rides, this bleak title sequence is surreal and hard to forget, in how it channels a terrible black market industry that happens in the darkest corners of our real world.

(Marvel Studios)
Scarlet Witch Kills the Illuminati (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness)

You have to hand it to Sam Raimi, a horror director whose bloodletting can sometimes feel like a practical joke. In the Doctor Strange sequel, the Master of the Mystic Arts – still played by Benedict Cumberbatch – is introduced to the Illuminati, a de facto Avengers group for the alternate Earth-838. While fans lost their minds seeing members of the Illuminati include Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, reprising his X-Men film series role) and Mr. Fantastic (played by John Krasinski in a wild cameo), it was a heck of a thing when Scarlet Witch busts down the door and brutally kills them all just minutes later. That Wanda cleverly finds ways to kill them all using their own abilities is not only impressive, but downright terrifying in her calculating evil.

(Marvel Studios)
The Umbrellas of Aladna (The Marvels)

There’s a period of five years where Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, got up to all sorts of wild adventures in space. With The Marvels, fans finally learned of at least one thing that happened: She got married!

While Carol was betrothed to the alien Prince Yan (Park Seo-joon), in a ceremonial capacity, that doesn’t stop the movie’s introduction of the planet Aladna from being a total blast. A musical planet where its people can only communicate in song, Aladna is where any and all expectations of superhero action movies go to die and end up in heaven.

(Marvel Studios)
“There Is No God, That’s Why I Stepped In” (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)

The High Evolutionary is a mean SOB of a movie villain, his cold-blooded ruthlessness only outmatched by his own ego. Late into James Gunn’s third Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Chukwudi Iwuji cements the High Evolutionary’s complete outlook over his place in the universe with a single line delivered with gale force ferocity: “There is no God, that’s why I stepped in.” That the High Evolutionary doesn’t yell this in the face of our heroes but his own subjects tells us the one and only thing we need to know about the High Evolutionary: Even his quest to improve his species’ dominance is all part of his own self-aggrandizing.

(Marvel Studios)
The Elevator Fight (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

The best thing about the now-iconic elevator fight in Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn’t just its clean craftsmanship that makes a close-quarters fight so visually comprehensible. Nor is it the impressive build-up of suspense, as Steve Rogers feels something askew by the nervous sweat of the men surrounding him. Nor is it the fact that physics still feels like it matters, that even a Super Soldier still struggles to overpower a bunch of burly men and that his fall several flights down and through a glass roof feels painful and heavy with weight. It’s all of the above, being a compulsively rewatchable scene in a compulsively rewatchable movie.

(Marvel Studios)
The Battle of Wakanda (Avengers: Infinity War)

While the climax of Avengers: Endgame is better remembered as an all-time moment in the MCU, the Battle of Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War has its own merits for consideration alongside it. Not only is it the first time all the different Marvel factions fight together, but Alan Silvestri’s symphonic composition – simply titled “Charge!” – has pronounced notes of uncertainty than his more assured-in-victory “Portals” piece from Endgame. The result is a beautiful, breathtaking few minutes that feel more like a classic war movie (aliens and lasers aside) than a superhero blockbuster.

(Marvel Studios)
Meeting Liz’s Dad (Spider-Man: Homecoming)

The worst thing a teenage superhero can find out is that his girlfriend’s dad is also his archenemy. Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming brilliantly seizes on its premise of merging comic book superheroism into the crazier, more complicated world of high school through its big reveal that the Vulture (Michael Keaton) is also the father of Peter’s crush, Liz (Laura Harrier). In the movie, Peter wants nothing more than to just be Spider-Man. But are the privileges of being a hero too great if it comes at the cost of ruining his would-be girlfriend’s life? While Spider-Man: Homecoming could have just left things at the door, Keaton ends up stealing the whole movie when he, in chilling fashion, threatens Peter in the guise of a dad just wanting to “talk” to his daughter’s new boyfriend. Worst. Homecoming. Ever.

(Marvel Studios)
Divided They Fall (Captain America: Civil War)

While the superhero-versus-superhero conflict of Captain America: Civil War isn’t on the same scale as it was in the comics, the battle between heroes is a hell of a sight to behold in the Russo Brothers’ 2016 blockbuster. While Thor and Hulk are MIA, the battle still includes Marvel heroes few expected when the film was announced two years earlier, like Ant-Man, Vision, and Spider-Man. (Chadwick Boseman was announced to portray Black Panther when Civil War was first unveiled by Kevin Feige.) That the airport set piece happens organically in the plot is also impressive, proof that Marvel was and arguably still isn’t careless in its storytelling.

(Marvel Studios)
Unleashing the Hulkbuster (Avengers: Age of Ultron)

In one of the most ground-shaking action scenes ever in the MCU, the brawny Hulk goes one-on-one with the titanic Hulkbuster. Invented by both Tony Stark and Bruce Banner as a safety measure against the unpredictable Hulk, it was eventually deployed in Age of Ultron after Wanda, under orders of Ultron (voiced by James Spader) casts a spell over Hulk who unleashes destruction on an unsuspecting Johannesburg. When Tony “calls in Veronica,” it’s a nod to the Archie Comics and the fact that Bruce’s ex in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk was named Betty (Liv Tyler). While Marvel movies are known for going big, this fight in particular is a super heavyweight match for the ages.

(Marvel Studios)
“Have I Not Given Everything?” (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever)

When Chadwick Boseman died in 2020, it was a loss felt around the world. The filmmakers of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, including writer/director Ryan Coogler, had no choice but to move forward without T’Challa, and crafted a film that directly addressed a vacated position of power. For the time being, dominion over Wakanda rested on Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda, who is still visibly mourning the death of her son when she gets word that her daughter Shuri (Letita Wright) has now been kidnapped by a strange foreign kingdom of a seafaring species, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta). Having lost her husband in Captain America: Civil War, her son, and now her daughter, Ramonda delivers a stirring, powerful speech about the fallacy of political power and its inability to actually protect one’s family. When Ramonda cries, “Have I not given everything?” it practically guaranteed her an Oscar nomination.

(Marvel Studios)
Showdown in the Zen Garden (Iron Man 2)

In this climax piece actually storyboarded by the legendary Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Samurai Jack), Tony and Rhodey team up as Iron Man and War Machine in a fist-pumping finale of fireworks. What makes the scene remarkable in hindsight is how un-MCU it now feels; after a buildup of taiko drums, there’s no music at all, which allows the clanking metal and rapid-fire bullets to sing on their own. Falling pink sakura leaves adds a touch of natural beauty in an otherwise masculine and artificial moment. (Remember: we’re watching heavily armored men fire lasers and bullets on synthetic soldiers.) Dialogue is minimal, meaning no one is ruining the moment with sarcastic quips. Iron Man 2 is arguably the last time Marvel movies felt more like traditional action movies than capital-M Marvel movies, and boy did they go out with a bang.

(Marvel Studios)
“There Was an Idea…” (The Avengers)

Why should mankind form a team like the Avengers in the first place? In a stirring and solemn speech delivered by Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. boils down the purpose of the Avengers to its core: To fight the battles humanity can’t fight themselves. While Fury admits the idea is “old fashioned” — and it’s true, Marvel’s Avengers comics have been in circulation for over 50 years and counting after all — Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, being a lively escapist blockbuster that changed popcorn movies forever, proved that old fashioned heroics never goes out of style.

(Marvel Studios)
Birth of the Super Soldier (Captain America: The First Avenger)

In this superhero origin unlike any other, puny Steve Rogers is injected with the experimental Super Soldier serum to serve on the frontlines against the Axis. Importantly, the creator of the serum, Dr. Abraham Erskrine (Stanley Tucci) wanted the perfect soldier from the get-go – not in body, but in their heart. And so, the sequence in which Steve is selected and becomes an augmented soldier of cutting-edge science is a fine piece of sci-fi filmmaking, a throwback to the Golden Age of comics when a demand for unquestionable heroism collided with the thrill of discovery. While the scene that follows is fun and ingenious (watch Steve experiment with shield-based arms when he improvises using a taxi door), it’s Erskrine’s reminder that Steve’s heart is still his most important muscle that characterizes Cap for all throughout the MCU.

(Marvel Studios)
“Dance Off, Bro!” (Guardians of the Galaxy)

In summer 2014, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy took moviegoers by surprise. After Groot’s moving sacrifice to protect his fellow Guardians when they crashed down to Xandar, the smoke clears to the soothing sounds of “O-o-h Child” by The Five Stairsteps. (“Ooh, child, things are gonna get easier…”) As Ronan (Lee Pace) makes his big speech to cement his victory, he’s interrupted by Star-Lord, who… challenges him to a dance-off. (Ronan is just as confused as anyone.) While Star-Lord is simply providing a distraction for the other Guardians to make him lose the Power Stone, aka an Infinity Stone, Chris Pratt’s goofy moves to thwart a supervillain’s grand plan has become exactly the kind of comedy relief mischief that audiences now expect from Marvel’s movies. Even now Guardians of the Galaxy is an emotional thrill ride, where its ups and downs and left and right turns are abrupt but complementary to each other, forming a complete whole experience.

(Marvel Studios)
Five Years Later (Avengers: Endgame)

A year after audiences were rendered speechless from the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the opening few minutes of Avengers: Endgame conjure a feeling of aimless panic. While the Avengers regroup and chase down Thanos on another planet, they’re already acting out of a sense of defeat. They can do what they want including killing Thanos (and indeed they do). But even when they accomplish their mission, nothing is satisfying. The people are still gone. The only way forward, they realize, is to keep on keeping on. And so the quiet and sullen long stretch from the time immediately following Thanos’ death until they activate the time machine is an underrated part of the MCU, where the most intriguing parts of living in a universe of superheroes isn’t how they save the day, but how they continue on after they’ve lost.

(Marvel Studios)
A Friend From Work (Thor: Ragnarok)

In Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, Hulk/Bruce Banner and Thor reunite after over two years in the strangest of places: On Sakaar, in the Contest of Champions overseen by the charismatic and flamboyant Grandmaster. But while Thor is clearly happy to see an old friend of his – not just because they’re buds, but because it means Thor doesn’t have to play the Grandmaster’s silly games – Hulk is not, for whatever reason. In a blind rage, Hulk dukes it out with Thor, resulting in a gnarly fight scene that unofficially decides who, in fact, is the “Strongest Avenger.”

(Marvel Studios)
The Blip (Avengers: Infinity War)

It was the cliffhanger ending no one saw coming. When Thanos used the Infinity Stones to “snap” half the universe away, beloved heroes vanish into dust, creating an apocalypse few summer blockbusters dare to attempt. Even for those who knew that another Avengers film was set to arrive a year later, that doesn’t stop the ending of Avengers: Infinity War from feeling dire. There’s just no words to describe the feeling of seeing characters that audiences love just vanish, without any real guarantee to see them again. While it’s hard to fathom, the ending of Infinity War was a serious gamble, in which Marvel banked on its audience’s interest to sustain itself over the next year. It could have gone so, so wrong, but it’s only now that we know there was only one way it could have ever ended.

(Marvel Studios)
“I Am Iron Man” (Iron Man/Avengers: Endgame)

The genius of Tony Stark’s last line, both in his first solo movie and in Avengers: Endgame, is how it's so truly authentic to his character. Being a grade-A narcissist who relishes attention, there is simply nothing else and nothing better Stark could have said at the end of 2008’s Iron Man even when it was in his best interest to stay quiet. Years later, when face to face with Thanos – another equally vain individual who is so distracted by his momentary seizure of ultimate power – Tony Stark not only quotes himself (again, narcissist), but uses it to give Thanos one last punch in the guy before snapping him away. Thanos may claim to be an inevitability in a cold, cruel universe, but Tony Stark is Iron Man, and he’ll find a way to outsmart the inevitable.

(Marvel Studios)
Assembled (The Avengers/Avengers: Endgame)

When all is said and done, the grand experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be seen as an undeniable success. While plans were only loosely sketched out from the start at best, Marvel’s intentions were always to have as many of its comic book superhero characters team up for at least one, maybe two movies. In both The Avengers, released in 2012, and Avengers: Endgame released in 2019, that dream was fully realized in two different shots that feel impossible to describe to old school comic book fans. With The Avengers, the climax kicks off with an incredible revolving shot that sees the original Avengers roster stand together in New York to take on an alien army together. In Avengers: Endgame, the scale of that first image is increased tenfold, with not only a thousand extra characters from different worlds but also more heroes like Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and so many more. No matter what else happens in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it will always come down to these two moments, and more like them. It’s having all the best toys in the toy box standing together. What more could moviegoers want?

(Marvel Studios)

These are the moments that make us shout, "Assemble!"