Stan Lee Cameo Ranking: Every MCU Appearance From Worst To Best

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.  

8. Guardians of the Galaxy

Lee doesn't get to fire off any one-liners in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, but his cameo gets a laugh nonetheless. Lee plays a character named "Xandarian Ladies' Man", seen hitting on a much younger woman. He's being watched at a distance by Bradley Cooper's Rocket, who proclaims Lee to be a "Class-A creeper." Guardians director James Gunn actually originally had a completely different Lee cameo in mind, as he revealed back in 2014:

"In the original cut of the film, when the Guardians enter the Collector's museum, Rocket looks over and sees Cosmo the dog in one display case, Quill looks over into another display case and is surprised by a tentacle slapping against the glass, and Groot looks over and sees, in another display case, Stan Lee. In one take, Stan Lee just slowly turns up his finger, flipping off Groot...Although I thought the cameo was funny, I thought the flipping off joke was too similar to the moment earlier in the film where Quill flips off the Nova Corps, so I excised that part of it immediately. A couple of the guys at Marvel thought Stan Lee in a case was too broad of a joke in general, and that it took the audience out of the movie. I argued about it for a bit, but we ended up not keeping it in the film."

Personally speaking, this cameo sounds better than what ended up in the final film. Oh well.

7. Thor

Another short and simple cameo: after Thor (Chris Hemsworth) loses his mighty hammer Mjolnir, and the impossible-to-wield weapon gets stuck somewhere in New Mexico, locals try (and fail) to pull it from the earth, including a man in a flatbed pickup truck who proceeds to do little more than rip the back of the truck off. Can you guess who plays this unlucky gentleman? I'll give you a hint: he's the subject of this list.

6. The Incredible Hulk

Remember 2008's The Incredible Hulk? Louis Leterrier's attempt to give the big green superhero, as played by Edward Norton, a new lease on life? Probably not, since it's the only original MCU film to not spawn a sequel, Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo, and most people seem more interested in Ang Lee's less-coherent but more soulful Hulk. Forgotten though The Incredible Hulk may be, it contains a Stan Lee cameo with a lot of potential. 

Here, Lee plays a man who just-so-happens to swig some soda that was accidentally contaminated by Bruce Banner's Hulk-tainted blood. The scene cuts before we see the effects, but the implication is that after his sip of soda, Lee then transformed into a Hulk-like creature himself. Focusing on that probably would've made for a better film overall.

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Lee plays yet another military figure in Avengers: Age of Ultron, this time an old veteran who thinks he can handle some of Thor's Asgardian liquor, not meant for mortal men. Lee thinks he can handle it – cut to later, where his friends are dragging an intoxicated Lee out of the room. The Marvel editor gets to drunkenly utter his famous "Excelsior!" send-off in the process. On top of all this, Lee claims this was his personal favorite MCU cameo.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

One of the more laugh-out-loud funny Stan Lee cameos appears in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Lee plays a security guard at the Smithsonian who has the bad luck of being on duty when Cap breaks in to steal one of his old costumes, currently on display. "I am so fired!" Lee's security guard character groans. It's a nice moment of levity in one of Marvel's darker entries.

3. Captain America: Civil War

Lee may have lost his cushy Smithsonian security guard gig in The Winter Soldier, but he was lucky enough to land a new job with FedEx just in time for Captain America: Civil War. Once again, Lee's appearance is used to generate a big laugh following more dour circumstances. Paging Tony Stank. This jokey cameo may seem like a toss-off, but it actually plays a part in the number 1 entry on the list. Keep reading to see! 

2. Ant-Man

Ant-Man went through a famously troubled pre-production stage, resulting in original director Edgar Wright, who had been developing the film since 2003, leaving the project. Peyton Reed took over, but some of Wright's script work remained. One of the more notable moments that seems to have Wright's fingerprints all over it is a quick-paced montage/flashback where Michael Peña's character Luis recounts the tale of a friend meeting a "crazy-fine writer chick" at a bar. During this fast, funny sequence, Lee drops in as a bartender who has his voice dubbed-over by Peña as he tells the tale. It's a great moment in a mostly lackluster film.

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1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

As fate would have it, the most recent Stan Lee cameo, in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, just happens to be the best. Lee's frequent cameos, being associated with Marvel which is, in turn, associated with internet fandom was bound to inspire fan theories. One persistent theory stated that Lee was somehow playing the same person in all of these films, jumping from job to job, era to era, seemingly unfazed. 

Lee's appearance in GotG Vol. 2 all but confirms this. Lee appears sitting on a planet in retro-looking space suit conversing with some silent aliens. These aren't just any aliens, though: they're Watchers, one of the oldest species in the universe. The Watchers observe and compile all the knowledge of the universe, but have a strict policy of never intervening. As characters, the Watchers were previously owned by Fox, but thanks to a recent deal between Marvel and Fox,  Gunn was able to insert them into Guardians

In the film, Lee can be heard telling the Watchers, "And then I was a FedEx delivery man...," likely pointing to his appearance in Civil War. It seems that Lee is going through a list of all his previous MCU cameos for the Watchers, although they don't seem very interested. In one of the five post-credit scenes for the film, the Watchers simply leave Lee alone on the planet without a ride home. Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige spoke about the cameo during a press junket for the film: 

"James [Gunn] had that idea and we shot that cameo and loved it so much, you know, you see it a couple of times in the movie. It wasn't in for a long time and we put it back in towards the end of the process where he references that time he was a Federal Express agent...We thought it would be fun to put that in there because that really says, so wait a minute, he's the same character who's popped up in all these films."

So there you have it: finally, a crazy fan theory turned out to be real! The ball's in your court, now, Pixar: time to prove the fan theory that all your films are set in the same universe.