The Marvel Cinematic Universe began when I was eleven years old. I don’t necessarily have many fond memories of their films when I was younger but as I’ve grown older, I’ve found a newly discovered love for the franchise. As I’ve studied filmmaking more and more, I find what Marvel Studios does with their connected franchise to be rather impressive. It’s easy to say that Marvel follows a real simple formula and they won’t ever break that formula because it makes them money. While that’s true, I think a lot of what the Marvel franchise does as far as filmmaking goes, is really unnoticed. It’s easy to toss them into the category of “popcorn films” but Marvel is the only one who has achieved cinematic greatness through their own cinematic universe.
Their films look, sound, and feel huge. They achieve this massive scale that just about everyone has tried to replicate and have failed. Their films aren’t just garbage either. They are able to mix a slew of different emotions and characters into each film. For over a decade they have given us a copious amount of characters that I have either fallen in love with or hated. Marvel clearly gets a lot of flack and they deserve it. They aren’t flawless filmmakers but they are creating something that is going to stand the test of time. Marvel films have satisfied me on two separate fronts, creating a glorious spectacle that is always a pleasure to look at and also creating characters that even though despite them being superheroes, they still possess human traits.
So with that said, after a decade of films and wonderous moments, it is now time for me to reveal to you all, my (highly subjective) top ten favorite moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And of course, spoilers ahead.
10. “Dormammu, I’ve Come To Bargain” (“Doctor Strange”)
I know Scott Derickson gets a lot of criticism on Twitter and has made some sour films in the past but the guy really came through and delivered with “Doctor Strange.” It had a really healthy balance of drama and comedy like most Marvel films, but “Doctor Strange” offered up something that we hadn’t yet seen in the MCU: A dreamlike world. “Doctor Strange” takes a vastly different approach to its visual style than many of the other MCU films. Buildings are twisting and turning, Doctor Strange himself grows six hands, and there’s a lot of teleportation. Doctor Strange pokes fun at these magical elements but also warns us of the dangers involved. Even though teleportation is impossible and being able to manipulate the flow of time is completely out of this world, “Doctor Strange” still offers up some danger involved with these ideas.
One piece of advice that is offered to Strange during his training is to never get caught in a time loop. But as we all know, rules are meant to be broken. In a last-ditch effort to save the world and defeat Kaecellius, Strange transports himself to an unknown dimension, where an evil being by the name of Dormammu, has given Kaecellius the abilities to level the entire planet. Strange knows he is no match for the might of Dormammu, so he instead offers a wager. Knowing Dormammu won’t accept a wager either and will simply just kill Strange, he traps the two of them in an endless time loop, forcing Dormammu to kill him time and time again until he will become restless and give in to Strange’s request. Not only is it hilarious to see the number of ridiculous ways that Dormammu kills Strange, but the scene offers up an ultimate payoff to something that has been hinted at the entire film.
Strange knows that he shouldn’t create an endless time loop and he knows he shouldn’t try to reason with Dormammu. But, he does it anyway. Strange may now be a master of the mystical arts but he is just as human as we are. He makes mistakes. It’s something that grounds the MCU in reality, even though it literally takes place in a fictional dimension where a being of magical energy lives.
9. The Final Showdown (“Thor: Ragnarok”)
I am not the biggest fan of “Thor: Ragnarok.” It has some great moments here and there but overall it fumbles a lot for me. It can’t find a pacing it wants to stay at and can’t find that healthy balance between seriousness and comedy. But it does have a moment that stands above all its other great moments. Where Taika Waititi’s visual approach breaks through the mold of the usual Marvel look and some downright brilliant editing and sound choices are made: The final showdown.
The fight between Thor and Hela, the fight between Hulk and Fenrir, the fight between the two separate armies. It all crescendos into this one epic moment that we have been waiting for the whole film. The visuals are downright stunning from the momentum each shot seems to have, to the color schemes, it’s simply gorgeous to stare at. It’s also a pure joy to listen to. The sound design of the lightning emitting from Thor, the clashing of metal and bodies, the roar of the ocean underneath the entirety of the battle. But the thing that sends shivers down my spine, the thing that gets me so psyched that I have to jump out of my seat and start running around my house?
AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH, AH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH AH! WE COME FROM THE LAND OF THE ICE AND SNOW WHERE THE MIDNIGHT SUN AND THE HOT SPRING BLOW!
That needle drop of Led Zepplin’s “The Immigration Song” is so flawless placed, it almost saves the entirety of the movie for me. This is a Marvel moment that doesn’t necessarily offer up anything other than bone-chilling goosebumps. It is an epic moment, it feels massive, and once that guitar riff hits, I become the happiest human being on the face of the planet.
8. Quicksilver’s Death (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”)
One of the biggest complaints I hear a lot about Marvel is that they are too afraid to kill off their characters. While yes, they haven’t killed off any major characters, they still have tossed plenty of strong supporting characters into the fire. They have moments where characters are killed and it incites some sort of inspiration among the other characters (Something to…avenge? Perhaps?). Just because the characters that are killed off are on a smaller scale, doesn’t mean they aren’t important deaths. One death that seems to get overlooked immensely is Quicksilver’s.
Pietro Maximoff or Quicksilver, is introduced to us in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Pietro and his twin sister Wanda or Scarlet Witch, were volunteers for a genetic enhancement program ran by one of Hydra’s biggest thugs. The Maximoff twins simply want to rid the world of the Avengers at the beginning of the film. They think the Avengers do more bad than good and with the help of Ultron, they begin to tear the Avengers apart. After discovering Ultron’s murderous plans are on a more global scale, the Maximoff’s actually set out to help the Avengers. During the final battle atop a floating section of a major city, Hawkeye is in the process of rescuing a woman’s son. While rescuing the son, Ultron piloting a helicopter attempts to rain gunfire down on both Hawkeye and the child. In the blink of an eye Quicksilver is able to grab hold of a car and place it in front of Hawkeye and the boy, saving both of their lives. Once the smoke clears and Hawkeye looks behind him, Quicksilver is standing there with countless bullet holes in his body. Quicksilver then passes with one final statement, “You didn’t see that coming?”
The first thing to note on Quicksilver’s death is the use of the joke. Hawkeye and Quicksilver have been having altercations with one another since the first ten minutes of the film. Every time one of them does something surprising to the other they say with a very smug look on their face, “You didn’t see that coming?” The death does not hit us with such an emotional gut punch at first but once the joke is paid off in this rather tense moment, we begin to feel. Not only for Quicksilver but for Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch. Marvel introduces what seems to be a key character and then kills him IN THE SAME MOVIE!! That’s pretty ballsy if you ask me. But the scene works so well because of that. We are lead to believe that he is going to be apart of the new wave Avengers lineup. Then they quickly flip the tables on us, kill him off and immediately send a cosmic wave of emotions across the other characters, especially his twin sister. The cut immediately following Quicksilver hitting the ground shows Scarlet Witch crying and screaming into the sky. She then falls to her knees and obliterates all of the robots flying in around her. That shot of her crying and screaming is heartbreaking. It’s such an underrated scene and it holds so much emotion.
7. Captain America Is Revealed (“Captain America: The First Avenger”)
We all know that Captain America can do no wrong. His heart is made of solid gold and the man will always do what is right no matter what. Now while we all know Captain America as the mega buff and insanely handsome Chris Evans, he begins his solo film as a short and scrawny patriot. Despite being declined into the U.S. Army countless times, his persistence is admirable. He keeps lying on his applications and will do whatever it takes to be apart of the soldiers on the front lines in World War 2. Steve Rogers is finally accepted into the Army to be put in competition to become the first super soldier. The government will simply enhance his physical self and make him stronger and faster than Rogers could have ever imagined.
Rogers comes out on top of the competition and is chosen for the super soldier program. The entire first act builds up to the moment of revealing the true Captain America. Rogers is escorted to a facility and placed in a machine built by Howard Stark. Rogers steps into the machine and prepares to step out a whole new man. Before he undergoes the procedure he is told to not give up his morals, to not let his new look change who he is inside.
We obviously know that he doesn’t, but the first gaze upon the real Captain America is a mind-blowing one. It’s like the first time we see Superman in the entire get up, that famous hero shot that we hear about all of the time in cinema. When those pod doors open and Steve Rogers is standing there, it’s like witnessing a myth come to life before your eyes. That feeling of seeing an idol or someone you look up to stand right there in front of you. That is the feeling that came over me when we saw Captain America for the first time. A true, just, and hearty hero with only one thing on his mind: protect the people at any and all costs. Its true heroism, the kind of heroism you expect all of your heroes to have but then are disappointed when they don’t. Captain America, has that heroism.
6. The Battle For New York (“The Avengers”)
The first Avengers film was a monumental cinematic event. Nothing like it had ever been done before and nobody thought it would succeed. But boy did it ever. Breaking box office record’s left and right, “The Avengers” was the culmination of everything Marvel had done up to that point. “The Avengers” film does a great job at building up a climax, an old-fashioned climax. They create so much tension between all of the members of the team until they all come to the realization that the only way they can best Loki is to work together.
They make one final stand against Loki and his army right in the center of New York. It is such an exciting scene for several reasons. One is we’ve never seen anything on display like this before. All of these heroes that I have grown to love are now fighting side by side doing their absolute best to kick some alien ass. They don’t always succeed but by god, they’re going to do their best. “You can be damn sure we’re gonna avenge it,” Tony says to Loki while buying some time to get back to the main fight at hand. That one line offers up everything that the scene has been building up towards. But the thing that makes this climax so different than any other climax is that human element I keep coming back to.
The Avengers are all superhuman in some way, some of them are even gods. But even when the stakes get insanely high, they struggle to keep up. They are basically playing catch up the entire fight. They never once really have the upper hand in the battle and it becomes overwhelming at times. The Marvel universe constantly reminds me that even the heroes that I am looking up to have flaws and are not always perfect. There is something weirdly comforting I find about that mentality.
5. Erik Killmonger Bests T’Challa For The Throne (“Black Panther”)
Rarely do we ever root for the villains in cinema. The villains are always usually these larger than life characters with plans to wipe out entire species. But a villain that was much more complex and dynamic than any other in the MCU is Erik Killmonger in Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther.” Killmonger clearly had a sinister agenda at hand but I certainly felt for him. His motives weren’t so black and white like other Marvel villains, he had a purpose. A true purpose that ran deep, so deep that he spent his entire life chasing that revenge. After T’Challa’s father murdered Killmonger’s father for betrayal against Wakanda, T’Challa’s father left Killmonger behind. Instead of taking Killmonger to Wakanda to raise him and give him the royal life like his bloodline proved he deserved, he left him alone and hopeless.
Killmonger has been waiting his entire life for one opportunity to get his chance at the throne of Wakanda. Once Killmonger makes his way into the hidden civilization he calls upon tradition and challenges T’Challa to a duel. While the two battle, Killmonger professes his frustrations not only with T’Challa but Wakanda as a whole. His frustration runs cold and he is relentless. Once the power is stripped from T’Challa it is clear he stands no chance against Killmonger.
This element is so powerful because we are kind of rooting for Killmonger over T’Challa. Killmonger was dealt an incredibly terrible hand and was betrayed by his own flesh and blood. This would send anyone into a relentless hunt for the thing they have been robbed of their entire life. For once in the MCU I wasn’t 100% on the heroes side. The tables have turned and I’ve seen a different side of the spectrum. It’s a brutal awakening in the film and it is so effective. Killmonger is a ruthless, no holds barred villain, with one hell of an agenda that makes complete and total sense. Killmonger is a villain I respect and the kind of character that most cinema villains should strive to be.
4. “Come on Spider-Man” (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”)
The character of Peter Parker has been revised so many different times that it’s become kind of difficult to connect with him on an emotional level. In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Tom Holland is an excellent choice for the character of Parker but when his film came out it was difficult for me to get excited. I’d seen so many different people play Peter Parker that I wasn’t sure if I could get behind another new face. But there’s a moment in his solo film that struck a rather strong cord with me. A moment that still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it, something that completely changed my mind and solidified Tom Holland as the definitive Peter Parker.
After a confrontation with the main villain of the film, Parker is left trapped beneath several stone pillars. At this point in the film, everything has been taken from Parker. Tony Stark took away his suit, he abandoned prom, he thought he had Vulture cornered and was prepared to take him down. Everything Parker has been trying to do has been swept from underneath him and now he is alone.
He lies there, underneath this stone pillars with no one around but himself. No Tony Stark to call upon, no special Tony Stark “spidey” suit, just himself. Parker sits there and cries for help hoping that someone can hear him but it’s clear that he will have to figure a way out of this one. Then the voice of Stark echoes in his head, “If you’re nothing without the suit, you shouldn’t have it.” Parker realizes that he is all he needs. No fancy gadgets or suit, he just simply needs himself. He is Spider-Man, THE Spider-Man. Realizing the strength and the confidence he has within himself, he brings all of it to the surface to lift the pillars and escape. A touching moment of self-realization and willpower, from the most unlikely hero of them all.
3. The Airport Fight (“Captain America: Civil War”)
I publicly revealed in our “Avengers” podcast review that “Captain America: Civil War” is my favorite MCU film. My reasons why will be saved for another day but “Civil War” offers the most drama, tension, and emotion than any other MCU film. This list could be ten moments all from “Civil War.” That’s how much I enjoy it. There is a series of events in “Civil War” that is both epic in scale and incredibly tense emotionally: The airport fight.
Not only do we get to see a ton of the main hitters on the screen together again, but we also see them on differing sides. It’s not the working together mentality that we saw in “The Avengers“. It’s an “I’m right and you’re wrong and I’m going to prove I’m right until you believe me” kind of mentality. So much is at stake during this fight. Not only are the two teams looking to prove one another wrong, but they could actually kill one another if they wanted. If the tensions get high enough and someone gets really angry there could be some deaths. Even though there are none in the film, just that constant anxiety of each individuals power to kill someone is terrifying.
Each side of the fight has a dog in the fight and neither side is wrong. They both believe they are right and they both believe that the other is wrong. But as an outsider looking in, neither of them are wrong. The moment that everything gets dropped and I realize just how real this scenario has become, the moment that the stakes are at the absolute highest is right before the two sides collide. Each team of heroes starts running at each other and the rookie on the team, Spider-Man, looks at his fellow comrades and says “Uhh, they’re not stopping.” Then without skipping a single beat, with nothing else on his mind but kicking as much ass as possible, Tony Stark says “Neither are we.” Everyone speeds up their movements and the fight begins. Putting my nervousness through the roof, scared to see what will happen to the heroes that I love.
2. Yondu’s Death (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is probably my second favorite MCU film. Like “Captain America: Civil War,” it offers up some of the best emotional moments that the MCU has ever seen. There are a lot of different dynamics among the group that makes the film work so well. But a character that I didn’t think affected me originally suddenly became one of my favorite characters. Yondu played by Michael Rooker felt like such a basic simple character to me in the first Guardians film. He was a cool character with an awesome ability but he just lacked a little something in my eyes.
But in “Vol. 2,” Yondu becomes a much bigger name. He comes to the rescue in the Guardians fight against Ego and is rather pivotal in the entire fight. After Star-Lord has learned the truth about his father, all of his pride is lost. He couldn’t have that perfect family he’s been chasing ever since he was a kid. Yondu took Star-Lord in as a child and taught him the way of the Ravagers, giving Star-Lord an unusual childhood and an unhealthy view of the world. Originally Star-Lord had thought terribly of Yondu, that he was nothing more than a thief and criminal. But as the two discover through all of the fighting in this film, they love one another. Yondu is the father that Star-Lord has constantly been chasing his entire life and it was right in front of him. “He may have been your father boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.”
My heart shatters into a million pieces in this scene. I’m pretty sure my keyboard is ruined because I just watched the scene while typing this portion and I’m crying like a baby. The scene is so precious and so unexpected that it hits on such a more powerful level because it catches me by surprise. Yondu earned a massive amount of respect from me in the first two acts of this film and by the end of it, he had left me a blubbering mess. The sadness that washes over me is probably pretty close to how Star-Lord feels while he watches Yondu’s death happen. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. It’s perfect.
1. Iron Man vs. Captain American & Bucky Barnes (“Captain America: Civil War”)
While Yondu’s death left me in shambles from sadness, the ending of “Captain America: Civil War” left me with a different kind of feeling. An unsettling feeling that almost makes me sick to my stomach. The reveal of Bucky killing Tony Stark’s parents, the reveal of Cap knowing the entire time. The deceit and the lies, it is the first flaw we see from Cap. The first time that Cap is truly in the wrong. It is a breaking point for the two main players on the Avengers roster.
We see a different side of Iron Man and a defensive side of Cap. Cap is just trying to protect what he believes is right and though Iron Man is trying to seek revenge for personal gain, it is deeply personal. Not personal like his ego personal or the Stark Industries brand personal, but the one thing that Stark is truly lacking; family. The family that Stark is seeking and trying to build with his fellow Avengers is nothing compared to the one he lost so many years ago. And now, this new one is being torn apart by their carelessness. With the man who committed the act, right in front of him, how could he not want revenge?
There are so many great lines of dialogue in this sequence. So many lines that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Lines of dialogue that strike hard and deep. “This isn’t going to change what happened.” “I don’t care, he killed my mom.” “You can’t beat him in hand to hand.” “Analyze his fight patterns.” “Countermeasures ready” “Let’s kick his ass.” “I can do this all day.” “That shield doesn’t belong to you. You don’t deserve it. My father made that shield.” Oh my god! The dialogue is so crisp, clean, and brutal in this scene. It hits with the force of a Captain America punch. This scene tears the two heroes that I have come to love the most apart and that breaks me inside as a fan. But as a lover of films, this scene is downright incredible and perfectly sets the stage for the odds to be stacked against our broken heroes in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
While there are so many other countless Marvel moments to talk about (The car ride scene in “Sider-Man: Homecoming” or the party scene where everyone tries to lift Thor’s hammer in “Age Of Ultron”), and we know there are going to be more in “Avengers: Infinity War” and we would love to hear your favorite moments from the MCU in the comments below!
You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @josh_williams09