As fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) know, superhero films are much more than action scenes, men in tights and badass one-liners. If done well, they create a connection between the viewers, leave them inspired, evoke emotion and maybe even enact change. Through his written comics to the renowned onscreen adaptions of his tales of heroism, Stan Lee always did just that.
From the start of MCU in 2008 with Iron Man to its latest release Ant-Man and the Wasp, Lee’s onscreen-adapted works never fall short on heart and plenty of laughs. Given that the films have racked up quite the cast list, including Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and newer editions like Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, Lee had become a bit of a big-screen star himself. No matter how heavy the rest of the film had been or how hopeless the heroes seemed, Lee’s reoccurring cameos always ensured comic relief. The unrivaled comic writer’s pop-up appearances in Marvel films have become a Where’s Waldo-esque trademark of Marvel releases that audiences eagerly await at each film’s debut.
With the recent news of Lee’s death at 95, Marvel fanatics around the world are mourning the creator of some of the most praised superhero characters to date. The Black Panther writer reportedly had already filmed his cameo for Marvel’s next two releases Captain Marvel and Avengers 4.
In addition to being referred to as both Hugh Heffner and Larry King by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), here’s a look at some of Lee’s most memorable cameos in past Marvel films.
Four years prior to the formation of the Avengers, viewers were introduced to the god of thunder, aka Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Director Kenneth Branagh’s film adaption shows the powerful Asgardian who reeks of overconfidence and self-pride as he tries to wage war against the Frost Giants, despite his father’s (King Odin played by Anthony Hopkins) wishes. Enraged by his son’s foolishness, Odin casts Thor out of Asgard to live amongst humans on Earth.
Thor’s violent fall to Earth embeds his godly hammer into the ground. A group of men crowd the site and attempt to break the hammer’s unyielding grip, creating a modern-day Sword in the Stone-type scene. Of course, none of the mortal men were worthy.
Lee’s cameo comes with his own innovative attempt to pull the hammer from the dirt by attaching it to the back of his truck. As expected, Thor’s mighty hammer defeats the man-made pickup and Lee’s rear bumper comes flying off the vehicle.
Thor was one of Lee’s most successful comic book characters and was even named one of the best 100 comics of all time. The movie-adaption was a smash-hit as well and the character’s popularity only progressed as MCU did.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)
Marvel has given viewers the run around with Spider-Man’s character. The 2012 Marc Webb-directed The Amazing Spider-Man was the second film adaption of the story of the boy with “spidey senses” and the franchise has since reworked Spider-Man for the third time.
Given that many fans prefer Spider-Man Homecoming to The Amazing Spider-Man, Lee’s cameo in the 2012 movie is of his bests. Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), finds a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his absent father. Parker sets out to learn more of where he came from and the parents he hardly ever knew. He finds himself at Oscorp with his father’s old business partner Dr. Connors. Connors (Rhys Ifans), a genetic biologist, researches the ability of reptiles to regrow missing limbs, in hopes to partially regenerate his own arm. After a test on himself, Connors turns into a violent lizard.
When the lizard makes an appearance at Parker’s high school, the wall-crawler quickly puts on his iconic red and blue suit and the pair ignite an action-packed fight scene. When they make it to the library, Lee poses as an oblivious librarian jamming out to classical music, unaware of the ruckus behind him. Parker even shoots a web to grab a desk that just barely misses Lee’s head.
Spider-Man is one of Lee’s most popular and commercially successful characters and is considered Marvel’s company mascot.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
In the 2015 Joss Whedon-directed film Avengers: Age of Ultron the Marvel heroes, plus a few new additions, have learned to use their modified skills to collaborate much more smoothly than in the past. The opening of the film shows Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor combining Cap’s shield with Thor’s hammer to create a force field ricochet effect that the pair did accidentally in the first Avengers film.
While Ultron is attacking Stark’s artificial intelligence assistant J.A.R.V.I.S, S.H.E.I.L.D agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and the rest of the Avengers are having a victory party upstairs. Lee acts a military vet who discusses liquor with Cap’ and Thor. Cap being an enhanced superhuman and Thor being a literal god, the pair down some of the strongest alcohol in the galaxy from Asgard. Lee confidently presses than he can handle the drink but is later seen being carried away as he drunkenly exclaims his catchphrase, “Excelsior!”
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Captain America’s third film Civil War is among Marvel’s most highly praised films of all time. Alongside the original Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Hulk, Black Widow, etc.) come the second phase Avengers, including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
Political involvement in the Avenger’s actions toward terrorism and even global crises, causes a split between Iron Man and Captain America — resulting in a division between the Avengers. Iron Man supports the government created Hero Registration Act that requires the heroes only respond to threats when called upon by the U.S. government. Captain America opposes, feeling that they can not rely on the government to save the world in the way that they have saying “We try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody, but you don’t give up.”
This disagreement escalates to a full-fledged war between Team Iron Man (Iron Man, Black Panther, Vision, Black Widow, War Machine and Spider-Man) and Team Captain America (Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Falcon, Scarlett Witch, Hawkeye and Ant-Man), while a new villain manifests.
Most of the film and right up to the end where Captain America sends Iron Man a heartfelt message about their disagreement and wishing things were different, is uncomfortably tense. *Insert Stan Lee* In one of the final scenes of Civil War, Lee makes another one of his famous cameos as a FedEx driver who brings a package to Stark, asking “Are you Tony Stank?” — providing a much-needed comic relief and creating one of Lee’s most memorable cameos.
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
Lee’s character Black Panther was the first comic book character of African descent. He is largely credited today with giving African-Americans representation in the world of superheroes, and the film adaption only heightened the targeted cultural showcase.
Ryan Coogler’s directed Black Panther included African-styled music, as well as original songs from rapper Kendrick Lamar. It also had a predominantly black cast, starring Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan.
With heavy themes of racial oppression and an opening that centered around the death of King T’Chaka (John Kani) in Civil War, Black Panther was a film of high intensity and emotion. King T’Chala (Boseman) takes over as both king of Wakanda as well as the Black Panther and attempts to hunt down notorious Marvel villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis).
Wakanda’s military general (Okoye played by Danai Gurira) informs King T’Chala and the council that Klaue had appeared on their radar, selling a misidentified Wakandan artifact to a buyer in South Korea. Okoye, Nakia (Nyong’o) and T’Chala travel to South Korea to bring Klaue back to Wakanda.
T’Chala finds that the buyer of the Wakandan artifact is CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and tells him that he intends to take Klaue with him. The pair gamble as they argue about the famed smuggler. T’Chala walks away leaving his earnings behind and Lee sneaks up beside Ross telling him that he’ll hang on to T’Chala’s winnings for “safe keeping.”
With the news of the death of Lee being fairly new, it is not clear at this time what the MCU plans to do to replace Lee’s cameos. Or if they even will. Rumors have circulated about Ryan Reynolds’ character Deadpool, taking over the cameos, filling future Marvel films with little bursts of comedic improprieties. Given that this could be entertaining, one thing is certain, no one will ever do it quite like Stan Lee.