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Top seven moments in the MCU (so far)

Listen, it’s the holidays, things are quiet, let’s talk about something non-baseball for a minute

Chris Evans attends the Apple Original Films’ “Ghosted” New York Premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on April 18, 2023 in New York City.
Chris Evans attends the Apple Original Films’ “Ghosted” New York Premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on April 18, 2023 in New York City.
Photo by Cindy Ord/WireImage

Before we dive into the list, I want to make it very clear that I have not yet seen The Marvels and if you post spoilers for it in the comments without using the spoiler tags I will immediately put you on ignore and you’ll never be able to irritate me with your comments again. Of course, spoiler warnings abound for literally everything else in the MCU.

The next thing I want to make clear is that this is the factual, complete, objective list of the seven best MCU moments. You might have another moment you like better than one of these. That’s OK, this is the internet, and there are no laws against being wrong here. Feel free to post your favorite moments from the MCU in the comments below so I can mock you. Just be sure to use the spoiler tags if it’s from The Marvels.

Also, yes, I know the Royals did sign a player this week. I do not have the willpower to break down the signing of a 29-year-old utility player coming off a singularly unimpressive career year to the degree that would justify writing an entire article about that single move. If you really need my take, there will be a Royals Rundown podcast containing it next Thursday morning.

Alright, with all that out of the way, let’s get to the list. First, of course, the honorable mentions.

Honorable mentions

  • “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all” and “He may have been your father, but he wasn’t your daddy!” (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
  • Cap holds a helicopter in place (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
  • Daredevil walk of shame (She-Hulk)
  • Wakanda lines up for battle (Avengers: Infinity War)
  • Guardians go their separate ways (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)
  • Valkyrie readies her weapon (Thor: Ragnarok)
  • Cap wields Thor’s hammer (Avengers: Endgame)
  • “I am Iron Man.” (Iron Man)
  • “Fine. I’ll do it myself.” (Avengers: Age of Ultron)

These are, of course, a lot of great moments. It’s no shade to them that they aren’t the seven best. This part is actually a bit subjective as I already know there are a bunch of other moments you could list here, but I had to stop naming moments eventually. If you have your own additions to the honorable mentions, post those below, too!

I don’t think any of these really need any explanation (with one exception*) and I know I’m going to be writing a ton about the main seven so I don’t want to dwell here too much.

The weakest of these is probably the Iron Man quote, but it really was a moment of confidence from the Tony Stark character that kind of foreshadowed just how big the MCU would become following the success of that film. I remember not even being particularly interested in it when I first heard about it because most comic book movies had just felt a bit off to me prior to its release. After Iron Man I couldn’t wait for whatever the MCU would give me next. Even then, I could never have understood the impact the franchise was going to have on me or on the media landscape as a whole.

Some of you will take issue with my including the Daredevil walk of shame, but it really felt like a moment where the MCU was letting Daredevil be a real character again and indicated that Charlie Cox wasn’t just going to be a cameo machine for those of us wishing for the return of that character. She-Hulk was a solid show with an interesting premise and even if we didn’t get another Daredevil show (which hadn’t yet been announced at the time) at least it seemed like they could really build on it for multiple seasons in a way other MCU shows just seem very unlikely to do. If he were to become a recurring guest, as that scene implied was possible, then at least we’d have that.

*

Avengers Assemble - The Avengers

This was the ultimate culmination of anything any comics fan or even comics-adjacent fan such as myself could have wanted from a movie. A crossover that looked AWESOME with MULTIPLE heroes WORKING TOGETHER. At the time, this whole idea was basically unheard of and even though the other MCU movies had been pretty good up to this point I think there was a lot of fear that this movie would be a disappointment and not really work or be too crowded. Those fears proved unfounded and the MCU exploded to the point that this seemed small in short order.

Guardians defeat High Evolutionary together (“I’m done running”) - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

It was impossible to find a good clip that had all of what I wanted to show from any of these moments, so I chose two clips that show parts of multiple moments that were so good here. Guardians 3 goes hard emotionally, especially at the end, with Star-Lord crying over Rocket’s dying form, followed by his recovery and their celebratory tears, followed by Rocket’s announcement that he’s done running away, followed by the incredible fight in the hallway, followed by Rocket finally taking down and exposing the High Evolutionary for the fraud he is, using his found family of screw-ups and failures.

When the first Guardians movie came out and was a wild success, it seems Disney took that as a sign that they could do whatever they wanted in the MCU and it would meet wide acclaim. They didn’t understand that the reason the film was a success was the excellent writing, directing, and performances involved. As the MCU has continued, they’ve put less and less heart into each film while the Guardians films continued to succeed on the backs of James Gunn, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, and more. Not because the MCU label is a guarantee of success but because none of them ever acted like it was.

All-Chadwick Boseman opening logo - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

It’s hard to undersell just how important Black Panther was to so many people. As a white person, I can’t even begin to tell that story properly. Here are a couple links to black writers telling you more if you really want to try to understand.

One thing I can understand, however, is how important Chadwick Boseman was to that role and to MCU fans everywhere in addition to everything he meant to black people. There was, is, and will likely always be some tension around the discussion of whether Marvel should have simply recast the role when Boseman sadly passed due to cancer. That said, the funeral scene that leads off Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a powerful moment both in-universe and metatextually, capped by the Marvel opening logo - which usually shows a variety of characters and moments from throughout the MCU - being solely populated by Boseman’s visage and Black Panther’s words set to the soundtrack of silence.

It was a powerful send-off to someone who had a massive impact on the entire world before leaving us all too soon.

“Dance-off, bro!” - The Guardians of the Galaxy

This scene really embodied the spirit of who the Guardians were and would be for the entirety of their existence. They don’t have the raw power you’ll see from so many other heroes, but someone has to get the job done and they will use whatever unconventional means necessary to get the job done.

It also leads the expected moment of togetherness they experience as they all join hands to prevent Peter from dying after he grabs the infinity stone. It wouldn’t solve all of their problems - as we see in later Guardians entries, this one big moment began to make them all believe they belonged together, but it still didn’t make them like each other or - more importantly - themselves. They continued running from their pasts and screwing up, but coming together like this was the beginning of their healing that would eventually allow them to separate at the end of Guardians 3 knowing that they still had work to do and their family would still be there for them when they returned.

Plus, it was a lot of fun.

God of Thunder - Thor: Ragnarok

This was the climactic moment of what became my favorite of the MCU movies. Thor is on the verge of losing to his sister when he has a vision of his dead father who sarcastically asks him, “Are you the god of hammers?” and then Thor remembers who the heck he is and goes on a spree to the hype-inducing music of The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. It’s all just such an amazing hype moment with the visuals and music syncing together and Thor and his allies finally begin to turn the tide.

Cosmo is a good dog with Kraglin - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

This, my friends, is how you pay off a bit. At the beginning of the film, Kraglin - who is dealing with some of his own issues after the death of his father figure in the previous movie - accuses Cosmo the psychic dog of being a bad dog. She may be hyper-intelligent, but she still has the same desires as any dog and throughout the movie they come back to show these two interacting as she begs him to tell her she’s a good dog. None of those moments are important to the plot, but they add flavor and color to the universe and are part of what makes good stories good. If it ended there, it would have been fine. But it didn’t.

As Kraglin struggles to fight back using the device he inherited from Yondu, Cosmo steps in to defend him but is mocked by the baddy. Kraglin then defends her by announcing that she is a good dog. All told, the beats of this side plot only take a few minutes out of the film, but they add so much that if there was a WAR calculation for film it would easily be an MVP candidate.

Garfield’s Redemption - Spider-Man: No Way Home

This moment is extremely meta to the point that I almost left it off the list entirely. But the truth is, as meta as the moment is, it literally brings me to tears every time I watch it. And the funny thing is, I never even saw Andrew Garfield’s second Amazing Spider-Man movie - I didn’t care for that iteration of the story even though I thought Garfield was fine. I was only aware of the moment from existing online as a person who generally enjoys comic book properties.

This is what took the inclusion of Garfield and Tobey Maguire in this movie from stunt cameo - admittedly, an incredible stunt cameo - to actually continuing to build those characters and tell interesting stories with them years after they’d last donned the suits. Garfield’s Spider-Man wasn’t just here to allow the MCU to flex its monetary and cultural cache or to ping on our nostalgia, he was here to continue his story. I haven’t seen The Flash, but its own multiversal moment seems to have failed spectacularly because it was entirely the former and none of the latter.

Nostalgia is a powerful tool, but it can’t do anything if you just drop it into a movie, you have to actually use it.

Avengers Assemble for the last time - Avengers: Endgame

Hot take: I don’t like Endgame. I think it’s trite and over-bloated and way too far up its own butt. I think it was the beginning of Marvel’s hubris believing that they didn’t have to try very hard anymore. I also think the answer that the heroes come up with - bringing back all of the blipped people more than five years after they’d gone - was shortsighted and will never be fully explored in the current iteration of the MCU which means it will instead hang as a dark cloud over everything that comes after.

This isn’t to say that there was an obvious answer to the problem, other than perhaps setting the movie closer to Infinity War. No matter which choice they made, people were going to lose something precious to them. This is something the MCU has hinted at but never really grappled with.

And that’s before we get into Black Widow fridging herself, Chris Hemsworth wearing a fatsuit (though the arc Thor has in this movie is pretty solid,) or the incredibly cheesy (in a bad way) “girl power” moment.

All that said, everything that the first call of, “Avengers, assemble!” was in the first Avengers movie is echoed, amplified to 11, and forced back into our souls. That first moment was the MCU saying, “We can do comic book team-ups justice!” this moment was, “We can do comic book team-ups like you never even imagined they could be and more!”

The first time was really cool, but - in retrospect - a bit artificial. This one is powerfully emotional, built on every single moment that had happened between that first call and this one. Sure, the ensuing battle was a bit messy. And the MCU has been in something of a downward slope both quality- and profits-wise since this movie was released. The MCU may never again reach these heights. But it still produced this scene, and nothing can take that away.