Stan Lee

Greetings, true believers. There’s yet another Marvel Cinematic Universe film tearing up the box office – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. As with all MCU films, there’s world-building, in-jokes, action, adventure, and of course, the prerequisite Stan Lee cameo. For more than 40 years now, Lee has been the most recognizable public face for Marvel properties, even the ones he had nothing directly to do with. Much like the Marvel post-credit sequence, a cameo from Lee is expected from fans; fans who will inevitably lean over to their theater mates and loudly whisper, “That’s Stan Lee!” when the moment arises. 

Because I’m committed to doing world-changing, issue-driven film writing, I’ve decided to rank every single Stan Lee cameo to date from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For the sake of brevity I’ll only be dealing with the MCU films, and not the wealth of other Marvel-related films and TV projects, all of which Lee appears in one form or another. Excelsior!

Warning: there are SPOILERS listed here for various MCU films, including the now-playing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

15. Doctor Strange

Lee’s cameo in Doctor Strange is one of the most-winking and most disposable. During a big reality-altering battle sequence in Scott Derrickson’s mind-bending flick, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Karl Mordo end up plastered against the side of a passing bus, right in front of an oblivious bus passenger played by Lee. Appropriately enough for the trippy film, Lee’s passenger character is reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, a philosophical work Huxley wrote after taking mescaline. It’s a cute enough cameo, but it’s forgotten the second the film moves on.

14. Iron Man 3

Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 is one of the more criminally underrated MCU films (it’s great, don’t @ me), but once again we have a Stan Lee cameo that’s little more than an afterthought. During a Christmas-themed beauty pageant (this is a Shane Black movie, after all, so there has to be a Christmas element in there somewhere), Lee can be spotted on a TV monitor as one of the smitten judges holding up a high-scoring “10.”  

13. Iron Man 2

Unlike Iron Man 3, Iron Man 2 is just as bad as you remember it being, although Lee’s cameo here is slightly better simply because it garners a laugh. In an almost blink-and-you’ll-miss it appearance, Lee pops-up playing talk-show host Larry King, suspenders and all. If we didn’t get the visual reference, thankfully director Jon Favreau has off-screen characters shouting “Larry King!’ to clue us in. Speaking of Iron Man 2, remember how Mickey Rourke’s Iron Man 2 character has a cockatoo for some reason? Hey, this movie stinks!

12. Thor: The Dark World

In Thor: The Dark World, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) ends up in a mental hospital after suffering a mental breakdown from an attack by the villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston). There, he prattles on about other worlds while using two shoes as visual aids, much to the boredom of the apathetic patients around him. Stan Lee pops up as the most chill-sounding mental patient ever captured on film, asking Selvig to give him his shoe back. It’s sort of funny, I suppose.

11. Captain America: The First Avenger

One of the funnier Lee appearances comes courtesy of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, where Stan the Man plays an elderly general awaiting an appearance by Chris Evans’ Captain America. When a decidedly not-Captain America character walks out in front of the crowd, Lee’s befuddled general comments, “I thought he’d be taller.” Short, simple and humorous, this makes use of Lee’s occasional gift for comic timing and certainly gives him more to do than just laugh on a bus or silently hold up a sign.

10. The Avengers

Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was a huge deal when it hit theaters, bringing the main MCU characters together on the big screen for the first time, yet Stan Lee’s cameo here is lackluster – popping up on TV in a montage at the end to cry foul on the concept of “superheroes in New York.” There’s a deleted Lee cameo scene included on the Blu-ray release of the film that’s much better, where Stan calls Captain America a “moron” for failing to ask for the number of a flirty waitress (played by Ashley Johnson).

9. Iron Man

Like Iron Man 2, Lee’s cameo in Iron Man has the familiar Marvel figurehead getting a laugh by playing another well-known personality, in this case Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, complete with velvet smoking jacket and pipe. I’ve seen some descriptions of this moment state that Lee is in fact playing himself and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark merely mistakes him from Hefner, but I’m not buying that simply because it’s just not as funny.  

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