Hello all, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! Marvel Studios, as I’m sure many of us know, is one of the foremost juggernaut motion picture studios in cinematic history, with a record-breaking run of interconnected films all passing as fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and (in their most recent victory), occupancy of the box office throne, with Avengers: Endgame sitting comfortably as the #1 worldwide earner of all time. With Spider-Man: Far From Home releasing on 4K and Blu-Ray today (marking the true exit of the Infinity Saga from movie theaters), as well as an abundance of other Marvel flicks on 4K for the first time, I thought today would be a good day to sit back and reflect on the moments that made us all cheer, cry, laugh, and applaud during the course of this 23-film journey (no, I’m not including TV stuff). Here are my picks for the Top 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe moments! (Well, Infinity Saga moments, anyway). Needless to say, SPOILER ALERT. THERE ARE MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
10. Tony Makes the Sacrifice Play – Avengers: Endgame
The fact that this moment is so low on this list does nothing to diminish its significance, nor its impact. Endgame has any number of great moments (and we’ll get to some of the others in a bit), but this was where Steve’s line from the original Avengers film about Tony not being the guy to make the sacrifice play came to fruition, and it’s by far the most emotional character death in the entire series. Tears streamed from the faces of every audience member who witnessed Tony Stark, the man who started all of this, snap his fingers in defiance of Thanos and his army (personally, I bawled for about 10 solid minutes), only for that action to fry well over half of his body, killing any remaining life functions he had in his iron suit. The funeral that follows is one the most cathartic yet saddest the movies have ever given us as we see how greatly he’s impacted every major played in this series, and it’s a very fond farewell as we watch Tony’s original arc reactor float across the water. In the funeral words of the Night’s Watch, “we shall never see his like again.”
9. Bargaining – Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange, though certainly a good movie, did not live up to all the potential it had to offer (although I expect the sequel to up the ante significantly where that’s concerned). At the end of the day, other films simply have more exciting, creative, and poignant stories to tell where this film feels more like an Iron Man Lite in its execution. There is one scene, though, which stands apart from not just this movie, but the rest of the MCU, as being perhaps the single most sheerly creative climax in the entire Infinity Saga. As Hong Kong is ravaged by the forces of darkness, Dr. Strange faces Dormammu, saying he’s come to bargain; what he hasn’t revealed is that he’s messed around with the Eye of Agamotto (aka the Time Stone) so that each time he dies, he’s simply brought back to the same moment, asking to bargain again, a time loop that will play on and on, endlessly, unless Dormammu grants him what he wishes. It’s a wonderfully clever and inventive sequence where other films might settle for simply a large climactic fight, and it showcases just how smart Marvel can be when they want to get really out of the box.
8. Yondu’s Sacrifice/Funeral – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
Tony’s death and funeral may have been more emotional overall, but losing Yondu at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 marked a significant turning point for the MCU; this, believe it or not, was the first time we lost a major character on a permanent scale. Up to this point, the Marvel “Fake Death” Universe had only ever teased about losing major characters; either they popped back up later in the series or later in the same movies they were purported to have died in, but something about the way the score swells and the camera focuses in on Yondu’s freezing face makes his sacrifice at the end of a moving tale of fatherhood feel all too real, and this was also the first (and so far only) MCU film to end on a melancholy and somewhat sad note, as a sad song plays over Yondu’s ravager funeral, and we see Rocket shed a single tear for the fallen honorary Guardian.
7. Mark II Suit Reveal/First Flight – Iron Man
Many may be tempted to put the reveal of the Mark I in this spot as Tony burst out the cave in which he was kept, and Iron Man was born, and I can’t fault anyone who does, as I almost did the same. For me, however, as exciting as that moment is, it’s only barely topped by seeing the Mark II for the first time, a crisp silver suit Tony designed in his own garage, as the music swells, and we get to see him take his first real flight (escaping the cave doesn’t count as a flight; he crashed like 2 seconds later), discovering an icing problem that comes in quite handy during the film’s finale. It’s an exhilarating moment, and one that’s only made better by Downey’s near-perfect performance in that movie.
6. Thor Arrives in Wakanda – Avengers: Infinity War
Infinity War was a movie event like no other; finally we would get to see our heroes fight the Titan that was promised at the end of the first Avengers film, and we’d get to see how large and looming of a threat he truly would be. The movie boasts a whole host of great moments, but one of the two that made everyone stand up and cheer was when Thor, after taking the full force of a star directly through the chest and living thanks to Groot’s arm sacrifice, arrives in Wakanda with Rocket and Groot as the Avengers theme blasts through the speakers in its original form for the first time since 2012. The visceral satisfaction of watching Thor finally get back to Earth via Stormbreaker, catching it in his hand as the Avengers attempt to re-assemble once more, is all kinds of awesome, only matched by two other moments when that same theme plays…but for that, we’ll have to go down the rest of the list.
5. Cap Wields Mjolnir – Avengers: Endgame
It was teased way back in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron that Steve Rogers might actually be worthy of wielding Thor’s unwieldable hammer, as he was the only one at the afterparty to make it budge even by the slightest margin before it stuck in place. Many people (including myself) suspected, by way of paying attention to his arms’ muscle patterns in those moments, that he actually almost did lift the hammer, and could have, but chose not to out of respect for Thor and how precious the object was to him. It was never confirmed whether that specifically was the case, but regardless, the moment came in Endgame when Thanos is about to push Stormbreaker into Thor’s chest, and as Mjolnir lifts out of the ground (smiting Thanos as it passes by), it shifts direction, and lands in the hand of Captain America. I don’t have to give anyone who saw Endgame in theaters during its first two weeks any scale as to how the audience felt about this moment; each of us erupted in blissful awe, and Cap 1v1-ing Thanos in the immediate aftermath remains one of the most satisfying moments in the entire movie. It’s not the most satisfying though; that goes to…
4. “Avengers, Assemble”/Portals – Avengers: Endgame
(Sorry for the small image; I couldn’t get a larger picture to save as a jpg file.) My girlfriend can attest to this: the third act of Endgame was a complete roller coaster for me the first time around, for any variety of reasons, but one of them was how I had somehow forgotten that a little while earlier in the film, the Hulk had snapped his fingers with his own Iron Man-made gauntlet in order to restore life to the universe that had been previously wiped out of existence by Thanos. And speaking of Thanos, he’d not only brought the entire Black Order with him from 2014, he now had his entire army from Infinity War, PLUS at least 13 of those mega-snake-monster things that were so difficult to take out in the original Avengers movie (something our heroes hadn’t dealt with since then), and an entire spaceship full of massive firepower and backups to spare. Oh, and by this point, he had left Cap standing alone, facing his army with nothing but his will to carry on and a half-broken shield (this makes for the best single shot in the movie, by the way). So as the music dropped, Cap heard on his coms “Cap, it’s Sam, can you hear me? On your left,” and everyone (but especially me) freaked out. What followed was a wonderous flurry of undusted heroes, each coming through their own portals from wherever they had been snapped away, with the Wakandan army chanting “Yibambe!” in unison; it was such a euphoric moment that I nearly chanted it with them, but the most satisfying moment in perhaps the entire Infinity Saga was yet to come. As everyone appeared to defeat Thanos once and for all (including Pepper in her Rescue armor for the first time), the music swelled, the war cries rang out, the armies lined up, and just when the music was cued up perfectly, we saw Mjolnir fly back into Cap’s hand, and heard him say for the first time what we’d been waiting to hear him say since 2012: “Avengers!...Assemble.” I audibly yelped from excitement hearing that, and I’m sure many others cheered for it as well. The armies then roared as the Avengers theme played, charging Thanos with everything they had, and what followed was a glorious battle (maybe the best Marvel’s ever done, satisfaction-wise) that tied up or closed out almost every loose thread in the whole MCU, an astounding feat that’s sure to impress for eons to come.
3. The Snap – Avengers: Infinity War
One thing I noticed about the Russo Brothers post-Infinity War was that they always left the MCU fundamentally different than when they entered it, and nowhere is a better example of that boldness than in the ending to what was the biggest comic book movie of all time. As Thor buries Stormbreaker in Thanos’ chest after a long and arduous battle in Wakanda leads to Thanos acquiring the time stone and reversing time to steal the mind-stone out of Vision’s head, Thanos tells him “you should have gone for the head,” snapping his fingers, and wiping out half of all life in the universe in the process. What makes this moment so significant, though, isn’t even that our heroes lost big time, but that they lost in such personal ways. As the camera follows each dusted person, the foreground of each shot depicts their personal connection to each of the original six Avengers, as well as the remaining survivors. If you know storytelling well enough, it’s not one of the more shocking or even most satisfying moments in the MCU per se, but it is the one that makes the most sense, and gives us the largest stakes for Endgame to play with later on. The Russos accomplish a unique thing with each MCU movie they’ve created in that if there were no more films after them, the foundations for the audience view of those stories is drastically shifted. In Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by HYDRA. In Civil War, the Avengers as we know them are torn in half. And in Infinity War, the heroes lose to a threat they couldn’t have hoped to match. In retrospect, this seems like the perfect place to take the story, but at the time, it was still pretty gutsy, and the fact that everyone on every social media platform was so viscerally shaken by this moment is a testament to its power and prowess.
2. Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Iron Man
It may have ended up as a tiny stinger at the end of the first Iron Man, but this moment in which Nick Fury breaks into Tony Stark’s house to talk to him about what’s known as the “Avenger initiative” carried more impact in a few short seconds than most entire films. After already sitting through a pretty awesome comic book movie many of us thought might end up sucking, Samuel L. Jackson walks up to the screen with an eyepatch, and utters words comic book fans could have only dreamed of hearing up to that point. It was this that prompted the internet and everyone familiar with it to freak out online that we’d be getting an Avengers movie somewhere down the line, a definitive one with a team of heroes facing down a grave threat to Earth and Nick Fury backing the project. As small of a moment as it is, this harbinger of things to come created a massive splash for audiences who stayed through to Iron Man’s mid-credits, and I’m doubly sure that anyone who missed it beforehand went back to see the film again just for that one short scene. There’s not as much to say about it as other moments in the MCU due to its shortness, but simply put, if The Avengers is the rightful birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is where that idea was conceived (at least, in terms of movies – the actual idea was probably thought up years earlier).
1. Avengers, Assembled/360 Shot – The Avengers
There’s a YouTube video series called Really That Good in which film critic Bob Chipman sets out to explore (and hopefully answer “yes” to) the question of whether certain movies the general public regards as indisputable classics are classics because they were products of their time and thus perfect for that time, or because they are, well, really that good. In one more rare circumstance covering a more recent release back in 2015, he set his sights of Marvel’s The Avengers (which I’ll link to here), and around the 30:44 mark, he gets into what the entire purpose of that movie is about right up to the moment that 360 shot happens (he also does some great work for Escapist Magazine and has other RTG episodes that are pretty stellar). The purpose, as it happens, is making that shot (and everything it represents), well, happen. This is the moment that changed comic book movies, studio marketing strategies, shared universe concepts, and 21st century blockbuster filmmaking forever and always. Everything prior to this moment revolves around it, and everything after is only trying to emulate the exact magic that took place when it occurred for the first time in theaters. Seriously, how many studios tried and failed (and how many subsequently course-corrected) to build their own cinematic universes off the backs of Marvel’s grand success? This is the moment that the Avengers assembled for the first time ever, and the MCU became a household acronym for anyone who had Google within a 2-foot radius of their living rooms. Everything about this moment, this shot, the theme as it plays, the characters as they come together, and the thematic and storytelling significance of it is, without a doubt, 100% perfect. This is the moment the MCU had to get right to survive, and not only did they get it right, they got it perfect, birthing a whole new kind of action blockbuster, one that we still see studios attempting to emulate the success of to this very day. In fact, it was such a successful, perfect moment, they used it again for Endgame, 6 years later (and it wasn’t a re-creation either; they literally just copy and pasted the same shot into the film). This shot is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it remains the primary reason why the project has continued to unprecedented success.
And those are my Top 10 moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! What are your Top 10 moments in the MCU? Any that I missed? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading, and keep it right here at The Friendly Film Fan for movie reviews, rankings, news, and more!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Honorable Mentions (Chronological Order):
Mark I Reveal – Iron Man
Steve Takes Down the Flagpole, Propaganda Montage, Final Line – Captain America: The First Avenger
Mandarin Twist – Iron Man 3
Elevator Fight, Highway Fight – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Black Panther/Spidey Introductions, Airport Fight, Third Act Twist, Final Fight – Captain America: Civil War
Immigrant Song/Bridge Fight – Thor: Ragnarok
Killmonger Challenges for the Throne – Black Panther
The Avengers Meet the Guardians, Red Skull is Back – Avengers: Infinity War
Final Battle – Avengers: Endgame
J.K. Simmons is back as J. Jonah Jameson/Spidey’s Identity Revealed – Spider-Man: Far From Home
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.