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The greatest moments in the MCU

The flexes, the one-liners, the fights, and the tiny choices that made Marvel

Source images: Marvel Studios / Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

The Marvel Cinematic Universe separated itself from the previous decade of superhero movies by focusing on the details. Under the supervision of Marvel Studios, bringing Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor for the big screen wasn’t just an excuse to plug famous actors into a spectacle-filled action premise — channeling the specificity and quirk of 50-plus years of comic history was key. Iron Man might skew closer to X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in terms of blockbuster convention, but the signs that Marvel was doing something different are there.

With the one-two punch of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home wrapping up the “Infinity Saga,” and with a definitive Marvel movie ranking cemented in the annals of history, the Polygon staff took a moment to look at its favorite MCU moments — the scenes, the quotes, and the flourishes that made the mega-franchise shine of the last 11 years.

[Ed. note: this post contains spoilers for all of the MCU through Spider-Man: Far From Home]

Testing the Mark II armor

Seen in: Iron Man

While the entirety of Tony’s escape from the Ten Rings compound is a origin-story triumph, we’re fond of how the original Iron Man finds a way to backtrack and still give our hero a testing-his-powers montage — and using an en vogue “found-footage” style that actually works! —Matt Patches

“I am Iron Man”

Seen in: Iron Man

Reportedly an improvisation from Robert Downey Jr., the line — which still gives us chills! — set the tone for both Iron Man 2 and every Marvel movie after it.

Black Widow’s hallway fight

Seen in: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 had the task of both introducing Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and proving she could hold her own a few movies from now in Avengers when she had to fight alongside her super powered comrades. While most of the movie just relegates her to being the subject of bad jokes, this one sequence of incredible martial arts and acrobatics showed us that Natasha could wallop bad guys even without a billion-dollar weapons suit. —Austen Goslin

The reveal of Thor’s hammer in the crater

Seen in: Iron Man 2

Iron Man’s Nick Fury post-credits scene gets all the love. This is the one that promises a true expansion. The dolly-down reveal of the hammer is evidence that for all the plot stuffed into the end credit moments, the ones that work are all about craft in the end. —MP

Peggy firing several rounds into an unsuspecting Steve Rogers’ new shield

Seen in: Captain America: The First Avenger

That look on Chris Evans face... —MP

Red Skull, revealed

Seen in: Captain America: The First Avenger

Even after the MCU whisked us away to Asgard, the cosmic terrors of the Infinity Stones and the larger universe were never that palpable. The haunting, hellish visage of Red Skull changed that, and his pulpy reveal made the possibilities all the more terrifying. —MP

“I had a date”

Seen in: Captain America: The First Avenger

Poor, Steve. Not only did he wake up in present day and find himself immediately confronted by cosmic threat, but he’ll also never find love! Hopefully he gets what he deserves in a sequel... —MP

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer

Seen in: Captain America: The First Avenger

If you didn’t catch this Marvel One-Shot on the Blu-ray release of Captain America: The First Avenger, you missed out on the best Agent Coulson bit in the entire MCU. The usually mellow member of SHIELD gets to flex his combat skills in this short film, adding an expected layer of complexity to an otherwise straightforward character. It’s one of the most charming pieces filmed in the MCU, and a great example of why Agent Coulson is one of the franchise’s best characters. —Jeff Ramos

Natasha interrogating Loki

Seen in: The Avengers

Natasha is a spy, which means compared to some of her flashier, superpowered colleagues, her line of work is sneakier and more subdued. Sure, she kicks ass, but her full skill set involves a more subtle — and much scarier — touch. We got an earlier glimpse of Nat’s spy skills in action during the opening scenes of The Avengers, but her masterful play of Loki establishes her credit as a cunning manipulator. I want more spy! —Petrana Radulovic

Captain America: “Hulk ... smash.”

Seen in: The Avengers

And Hulk did. —MP

The Shawarma Lunch Initiative

Seen in: The Avengers

A snippet of the domestic, just-hanging-out, everyday Avengers life we crave. Give us more Shawarma Lunch AU, Marvel. —PR

The Mandarin reveal

Seen in: Iron Man 3

Beloved by those who relish in Iron Man 3’s anti-mythology, cursed by anyone waiting for Marvel to behold the classic villain, the truth about Ben Kingsley’s thespian goon is iconic whichever way you look at it.

The bridge scene from Winter Soldier (but set to Britney Spears’ “Toxic”)

Seen in: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

While not being a part of the MCU proper, the idea of adding one of Britney Spears’ classics to MCU fight scenes was one of the best memes to pop up around the franchise of films. We’ve covered how the song amplified many of Marvel’s best action beats, but when the track is laid out over one of The Winter Soldier’s most important action scenes, it adds a layer of menace and tension to the moment. —JR

The elevator scene

Seen in: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Up until this point in the MCU, Steve Rogers is a squeaky-clean soldier who has always followed the rules. That changes when the First Avenger defies the orders of his superiors for the first time in his life. The consequences of that decision slowly dawn on Rogers as he enters and elevator that for some reason is being filled with several of SHIELD’s toughest guys. Concern grows into acceptance as Captain America realizes he’ll have to fight his way out of this elevator filled with his now-former comrades. —JR

Nat and Steve’s car ride

Seen in: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A little quiet and funny moment between two normally stalwart characters punctuates the action of The Winter Soldier. Natasha always had a sense of humor beneath whichever mask she puts on for the occasion and seeing it come out in this little moment — and Steve getting a little rustled, then teasing her right back — makes for a poignant exchange about life, friendship, and experience — PR

“I’m with you until the end of the line”

Seen in: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A line echoing through time, Steve’s promise melts the cold, programed hear of The Winter Soldier until the memories of Bucky burst through. It’s awesome. —MP

Peter Quill dances to save the day

Seen in: Guardians of the Galaxy

While the power of friendship ultimately helps Peter defeat Ronan and contain the Power Stone, his dancing goes a long way at making this a brilliant MCU moment. —MP

The Mjolnir lifting contest

Seen in: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Like a super-sized version of the Shawarma credits scene, this party was the first time the MCU seemed content to let its cast full of charisma do the literal heavy lifting. As an added bonus, it gave fans permission to engage in their most base, comic book desires and wonder aloud who the strongest Avenger really is. — AG

“I know my value”

Seen in: Agent Carter

Move over, Agents of SHIELD: Peggy’s TV spinoff is the truly great MCU small screen venture, and this moment takes the cake. —MP

Ant-Man and Yellowjacket’s final fight scene

Seen in: Ant-Man

The highlights of the MCU films often shine brightest during their massive action scenes. From the Battle of New York in The Avengers to the climactic shootout on Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel tends to close out its films with city-scale brawls that express the power of their heroes and villains. However, Ant-Man takes that concept and imbues it with a sense of humor that pervades the entire film. What if there were a massive action scene to cap off the film, but instead of the encounter taking place in a city, it took place on a toy train set to perfectly utilize Ant-Man’s shrinking powers and the kind of visual gags only possible in his film? —JR

Sam Wilson getting sassy with T’Challa in a cop car “So ... you like cats?”

Seen in: Captain America: Civil War

Civil War introduced us to T’Challa, and moments like this immediately made him part of the Avengers family. —MP

The Doctor Strange psychedelic trip sequence

Seen in: Doctor Strange

After the dark and dour Civil War, Doctor Strange’s hands-filled trip into Stephen’s mind felt like it opened up a whole new, and much weirder, visual style for the MCU that would blossom in Phase 3 — AG

The eye-popping space gate jump in Guardians 2

Seen in: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Speaking of wild visuals, James Gunn and the Guardians franchise kicked down the doors to the weirdest sectors of the MCU, and this scene, a burst of Tex Avery psychedelia, might be his wildest.

Captain America’s High School PSAs

Seen in: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Squeaky-clean Captain America is nothing particularly new, but the series of awkward, outdated school-use videos featuring moral authority Cap is a particularly hilarious leveraging of his public image. More ironic is the fact that Homecoming takes place after Captain America: Civil War, where Cap actually becomes an international fugitive. In one of the funnier one-off lines in Spider-Man: Homecoming (a high bar), Peter’s gym teacher says, “Pretty sure this guy’s a war criminal now, but whatever. I have to show these videos, it’s required by the state. Let’s do it.” —Palmer Haasch

Surprise: Vulture is Liz’s dad

Seen in: Spider-Man: Homecoming

The reveal that Peter Parker’s prom date is the daughter of the black market arms dealer he’s been fighting all year was a shocking and masterfully executed twist. But the ensuing car ride to school, shot in claustrophobic close-ups, is hands-down the tensest scene of 2017, a year that also saw the release of Get Out, Mother!, and It. — Emily Heller

“Team Thor”

Seen in: Thor: Ragnarok

It had been a minute since Marvel One-Shots, the featurettes that once filled in some gaps of the MCU. This isn’t it, insomuch as it isn’t some canonical side mission. But this peek into the life of Thor and Darryl was just as important on an emotional level, setting up Thor as a character that could fit perfectly in director Taika Waititi’s sense of humor, and showing Chris Hemsworth had great comedic timing. Thor Ragnarok, even in retrospect, remains a surprisingly strong reboot of Thor as a character. “Team Thor” was our first clue — and even now, it’s still great to watch. — Ross Miller

Hela breaking Thor’s hammer

Seen in: Thor: Ragnarok

This scene is like a visual acknowledgement that Thor 2 sucked, and that Cate Blanchett and Taika Waititi were here to save the series. Also Hela rules. — AG

Piss off, ghost!

Seen in: Thor: Ragnarok

Do we need to explain this? Brace for a lot of Thor: Ragnarok love, a movie just full of moments.—MP

“He knows I love snakes … and then MBLERG he stabbed me!”

Seen in: Thor: Ragnarok

Chris Hemsworth leading man status and overall handsomeness can sometimes belie that fact that dude’s got serious comedy chops. With a director like Taika Waititi, he’s able to flex his weird sense of humor in some truly silly moments, like this scene where the God of Thunder airs some boyhood grievances. Tom Hiddleston’s satisfied smirk at the memory is a perfect button. —EH

Thor getting his powers back to the sound of Led Zeppelin

Seen in: Thor: Ragnarok

Ragnaork uses Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” twice for the same kind of moment. It’s a risky move that totally pays off the second time, when Thor is “worthy” once again and Ragnarok’s visuals go full metal.

Killmonger at the museum

Seen in: Black Panther

Marvel films are filled with villains monologuing as a means to not only express their intentions, but to highlight how they think their goals are deserved. Loki, Ultron, and even Marvel’s biggest-bad, Thanos, all expound their ideas at length to prove their menace is justified. However, one of the most compelling and convincing arguments comes from Black Panther’s Killmonger. In the above scene, the villain eyes several artifacts stolen from his homeland only to have them explained to him by a museum curator as if he were an outsider. It’s clear that his need to take back what belongs to him is supported by layers of complexity that no other MCU villain has. —JR

“Guns. So primitive.”

Seen in: Black Panther

This is right up there with the elevator fight scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier when it comes to the MCU’s best action sequences. Black Panther’s Busan casino shootout is filmed in a way that keeps you right in the middle of the battle, and clearly lays out the participants and their competing interests. And its martial arts choreography grounds the action before the ensuing car chase, when T’Challa dons his sleek new Black Panther suit for the first time. That sequence is a thrilling demonstration of the suit’s powers, Shuri’s ingenuity, and Nakia and Okoye’s fearlessness — encapsulated by the indelible image of Okoye crouched atop their vibranium-armored Lexus, red dress billowing in the breeze, her face breaking into a warrior’s grin after destroying a car with a single spear. —Samit Sarkar

“Is this your king?”

Seen in: Black Panther

Again, have you ever rooted harder for an MCU villain than you secretly did for Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in this moment? —AG

“For Wakanda? Without question.”

Seen in: Black Panther

Not only does this moment have a rhino in battle armor (and, honestly, as a collective culture we should have more movies featuring rhinos in battle armor), it turns Okoye from a badass to an extremely awesome badass. Who said Lawful Good Characters can’t be interesting and fun? Also, not only is the rhino in battle armor, it’s also an adorable friend. —PR

“Uh, he’s from space, he came here to steal a necklace from a wizard”

Seen in: Avengers: Infinity War

The best moments of Infinity War came from watching characters who never shared screentime before interact for the first time. That also meant many of the disparate elements of the MCU — from Dr. Strange’s multidimensional magic to, well, a wisecracking alien raccoon — had to find a way to coexist a cohesive way. There’s a meta-awareness to bits like this, in that it shows just how expanded the MCU has become, but it’s also a punch line that took 20 films of setup for the payoff. —RM

“WHY IS GAMORA?”

Seen in: Avengers: Infinity War

The age old question, finally asked on screen. —MP

The Red Skull reveal on Vormir

Seen in: Avengers: Infinity War

As if Johann Schmidt’s turn in The First Avenger weren’t enough, Marvel made a point to re-reveal the villain by answering the question of his mysterious fate. Like a Dickensian ghost, he floats back into the universe at a pivotal moment.

“I’m sure you did your best”

Seen in: Avengers: Infinity War

Shuri is the smartest character in the MCU, bar none. Bringing her into contact with Bruce Banner, one of the other smartest characters in the MCU, and allowing her to absolutely eviscerate him in the middle of a crisis was nothing short of perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bruce — but there’s something so refreshing about watching a teenage girl tear down one of the Big Science Guys of the universe in mere seconds. Even aside from that, the moment’s break Infinity War’s gloomy tone and Letitia Wright’s perfectly patronizing delivery make this a smash hit. —PH

Luis literally explaining anything

Seen in: Ant-Man and the Wasp

The MCU’s funniest chapter asked the MCU’s funniest actor to do one of the MCU’s funniest bits for a second time. What could have felt like a tired rehash was a transcendent sequel moment.

When Jude Law is all like, PROVE YOURSELF and then Captain Marvel is like, bitch

Seen in: Captain Marvel

That’s it, that’s the description. — PR

Korg asks Thor to yell at a kid through Fortnite voice chat

Seen in: Avengers: Endgame

Endgame is a wall-to-wall payoff, and therefore wall-to-wall moments. Almost every scene could make this list, as MCU veterans Joe and Anthony Russo pay resects to the totality of the mega-franchise while indulging in the aforementioned quirks of each character. We’d be remiss if we didn’t include this “what if?” gamer-adjacent goof, which takes knowing Thor on a molecular level to really appreciate.

captain america fighting captain america in avengers endgame, clashing shields in a heroic pose Marvel Studios

Cap fighting Cap: “I could do this all day.” “Yeah, I know.”

Seen in: Avengers: Endgame

By the time we’ve reached Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers has lived through too much war, become an international criminal, and also grown a beard. Putting grizzled, too-old-for-this Cap in the ring with his fresh-out-of-the-ice younger self highlights just how tired Steve is — and how earnestly irritating he used to be. — PH

“So many stairs”

Seen in: Avengers: Endgame

Endgame’s remix of the Battle of New York takes us beyond the scope of the original, and the immediate aftermath involved a lot of men in suits — and a lot of stairs! Even in the midst of cross-dimensional heist, Tony comes through with the ultimate quip. —MP

thor is still worthy in avengers: endgame

“I’m still worthy”

Seen in: Avengers: Endgame

Thor’s arc comes (literally) full circle in the most emotionally resonant moment of Avengers: Endgame. Five years after the Snap, Thor’s lost his family, his friends, and his homeland. And still it’s this Thor, a Thor in need of some serious self-care, that’s able to call Mjolnir. Chris Hemsworth’s delivery of the line, “I’m still worthy” is so full of relief, joy, and yearning that it makes me wish the Academy gave out Oscars for individual line readings. —EH

When the guns on Thanos’ ship turn to the clouds “What are they firing at?” and it’s motherfucking Carol Danvers

Seen in: Avengers: Endgame

Since her MCU debut came out a few short months before Endgame, Carol got the short end of the Avengers stick in this culminating battle. In return, she gets the most epic blow in the entire movie. —MP

avengers endgame morgan stark Marvel Studios

“Hamburgers” cry line

Seen in: Avengers: Endgame

Tony’s death is a gut-wrenching crescendo to the final battle with Thanos. The magnitude of that self-sacrifice doesn’t really hit you until a few scenes later, when Tony’s daughter Morgan sits with Happy Hogan, thinking about the immediate future. He suggests they go get hamburgers. The subtext is he’ll always be there to get hamburgers whenever she needs him. No, you’re crying. —MP

When Steve and Peggy get their dance

Seen in: Avengers: Endgame

NO, YOU’RE CRYING —MP

The basketball team, un-blipped

Seen in: Spiderman: Far From Home

There’s some recency bias in including anything from Far From Home, but like Endgame, the movie offers a ton of payoff while standing on its own. Take the un-blipping of the Midtown School of Science and Technology marching band during a basketball game in the year 2024, hands down the greatest sight gag in Marvel history. —MP

Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal shake hands as Spider-Man and Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home Jay Maidment/Sony Pictures

Mysterio’s revealing speech

Seen in: Spiderman: Far From Home

Uh, spoilers! Weaponizing Jake Gyllenhaal’s charm is cruel and perfect, and the sneer he has when he says, “see, that wasn’t so hard” is the single best facial expression in the MCU. — AG

That post-credit scene

Seen in: Spiderman: Far From Home

We get MJ and Peter swinging through the Manhattan skyline. We get J. Jonah Jameson. We get a giant threequel tease in Spidey’s identity disclosure. We get so much! And it’s the perfect kickoff to Phase 4 — which we can only hope will offer up a few moments worthy of the Marvel legacy. —MP