Let’s face it: We go to see Marvel movies for the spectacle. We go to see the characters we know and love come to life and kick all manner of ass. But some of the most memorable and entertaining moments in Marvel movies don’t come from the heroes — they come from the characters with only one line or scene. In fact, some of these appearances can either steal or change the direction of an entire movie, which is saying quite a lot, given Marvel’s so-far delicious cinematic buffet of offerings.
RELATED: Stan Lee’s Best Marvel Movie Cameos
Cameo appearances just add a little something extra for the audience to enjoy (and talk about once the movie is over), and Marvel has given us some classics over the years. Here are just 15 of the best cameos in Marvel movies (at least, so far).
NOTE: Not all of the following films are exclusively from Marvel Studios; rather, they star characters or concepts that are originally from Marvel comics.
15. Chris O’Dowd, Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Ah, poor Richard. You have to give him some credit, because he did what many guys would be way too intimidated to do: ask out Natalie Portman... well, Jane Foster, anyway. Richard came onto the scene in “Thor: The Dark World” just a tad too late, after Jane had gotten hung up on none other than the god of thunder himself. But Chris O’Dowd did what he does best, and endeared his awkward character to the audience almost immediately on that cringe-inducing dinner date. And then he basically disappeared.
Of course, no one was really surprised when, the minute Thor showed his pretty face again on Earth, Jane would completely forget Richard even existed. How do you compete with an actual god? Richard’s character and appearance is so diametrically opposite to Thor that we do feel kinda bad for him, but he still made for a fun cameo to watch. Bad luck with the ex-boyfriend, bro.
14. Jim Rash, Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Rash most likely makes people think of his unforgettably unique role as Dean Pelton in the show “Community,” which makes his appearing in a movie like “Captain America: Civil War” so unexpected. What does the movie and the show have in common? Not much beyond the Russo brothers directing both, to be honest. That’s right, a cameo by an actor like Rash is just pure fun. He’s so well-known for that one role that seeing him in any other setting (especially one with such an *ahem* different tone than “Community”) is going to get the audience’s attention.
However, his cameo near the beginning of the film, as an MIT faculty member is small enough that it doesn’t distract from the plot, or really seem out of place. Still, he made enough of an impression for people to remember after leaving the theater. Since Rash is so associated with his “Community” role, his cameo was also one that could be shared especially by people who know the TV show. Let’s face it, if you aren’t familiar with Dean Pelton, that scene just didn’t quite have the same effect.
In a movie centered around a billionaire nerd, that packs in all the cool futuristic technology as possible, it only makes sense for a real-life billionaire tech nerd like Musk to get a cameo. Musk’s appearance doesn’t last long (he just spends a few seconds chatting with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts at the Grand Prix in Monaco), but it’s always fun to see cameos by non-actor celebrities that actually makes sense. Of course Tony would be at an event that Elon Musk would also attend.
This cameo is done exactly right — it doesn’t distract from the plot and Musk isn’t forced to have an extended conversation with major characters and ruin the effect of the cameo by making it clear he isn’t an actor. If you know what Musk looks like, you’ll get the reference. If you don’t, you won’t. And isn’t that the beauty of an Easter egg cameo?
12. Jim Cramer, Iron Man (2008)
Another completely unexpected cameo by someone playing himself. Cramer appearing on TV as himself (in his real-life show “Mad Money” no less) made the movie’s plot actually seem more believable. Clearly, Cramer is there for comic relief, but not in a way that simply stands as a joke. He appears on TV bashing Stark Industries after Tony’s abrupt change of heart on manufacturing weapons, and it’s totally believable since this kind of over-the-top behavior is exactly what Cramer is known for on his show.
If a real-life company made such a business move, it’s likely Cramer would react in the same way. Even though his appearance doesn’t really do anything to advance the plot, seeing someone on TV in a movie who actually appears on TV in real life is kind of genius, making the events of the film seem like they could be happening in the audience’s world too.
11. Danny Pudi, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The Russo brothers writing small roles for “Community” actors into Marvel movies didn’t start with “Civil War.” You might not have recognized Pudi at first, but he’s the S.H.I.E.L.D. employee on the unfortunate receiving end of Cap’s break-in, right before the climax of the movie begins. Sure, his role is little more than “that poor sap in the wrong place at the wrong time when the hero needs to save the day,” but his appearance was an extra bit of fun for the audience.
Since Pudi appearing in a “Captain America” movie is so unexpected, giving him a very small role that doesn’t awkwardly eat up too much screen time is perfect, and a nice nod to a most-likely shared audience. And hey, if Pudi’s character hadn’t let Cap in, he might not have been able to give his big inspirational speech in time to start saving the day. Give the little guys some credit!
10. Bryan Singer, X2 (2003)
Who says only actors get to have all the fun in Marvel or Marvel-adjacent movies? “X2” director Bryan Singer got his few seconds of fame in front of the camera with a small role as one of the ill-fated prison guards watching over Magneto‘s plastic holding cell. While it’s not exactly uncommon for directors to give themselves cameos within their own movies, Singer’s was done just right.
His was a small enough part that it didn’t distract from the plot or make it look like Singer just wanted attention, but it was also clear enough that anyone familiar with the director would recognize him. The fact that “X2” was ranked as the best of the 2000s X-Men trilogy by Rotten Tomatoes (and was ranked far higher than the 2006 sequel “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which Singer did not direct), well, that’s just icing on the cameo cake.
9. Adam Pally, Iron Man 3 (2013)
Here’s a rare occurrence where a small cameo appearance is both entertaining and pretty important to the plot of the movie. Pally plays Gary, a Tony Stark superfan who meets his idol when Tony breaks into his news van in Tennessee to hijack the satellite signal and figure out what A.I.M. is plotting. Pally plays the part of the fanboy perfectly, and it pairs with Tony’s dry sarcasm in a way that’s simply hilarious.
The “Mindy Project” star has worked with actor Robert Downey Jr. offscreen before, of course, so a film cameo where the actors actually get to share screen time is even more fun. As with any great special appearance, once the point of the cameo is made, it’s dropped and the plot moves on, rather then dragging out Pally’s appearance and risk ruining the true humor of it. In the end, Pally’s Gary does help Tony get what he needs to go save the day. Tony needed Gary, and Gary did good.
8. Chris Evans, Thor: The Dark World (2013)
This one might technically be a character and an actor cameo. Chris Evans popping up in Midgard was likely the last thing audiences were expecting in “Thor: The Dark World,” and it was a hilarious scene to say the least. It’s even more interesting when you know that Tom Hiddleston actually filmed the scene doing an impression of Cap — in costume no less — and then Evans’ image was digitally added later.
Loki’s pulled this kind of tricky shape-shifting before (he is the trickster god, after all), but this one was pure teasing, rather than for evil. Evans playing Cap technically played by Loki (that’s a mind-bender), lightened up the movie and showed Cap in a goofier light than we were used to seeing. It’s a classic move by the god of mischief, and while it was centered on Evans, it probably did a lot more to remind us why we all love Loki than why we love Cap.
7. Garry Shandling, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Audiences had already met Garry Shandling’s sneering character Senator Stern in “Iron Man 2,” where his obnoxious and arrogant behavior immediately alienated the audience (in the intended way), but his role in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was far more significant. Stern wasn’t even on screen for 30 seconds before revealing that — gasp! — he was a Hydra agent all along! Jerk.
Shandling (RIP) plays the part of a sleazy politician (who clearly thinks he’ll never get caught by S.H.I.E.L.D.) to a perfection, and while we don’t feel bad for him at all when he’s arrested at the end of the movie, it’s a shame we won’t get to see him again as the character we love to hate. The reveal of Stern’s true allegiance to Hydra also made it grimly clear that the warning Cap and Black Widow had gotten from Zola about Hydra’s deep infiltration of U.S. government was no exaggeration.
6. Ed Brubaker, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The tremendous success of Marvel movies wouldn’t be possible without the people who wrote and illustrated the comics to begin with, so it’s always satisfying to see those incredible creators recognized when their work is brought to life. Ed Brubaker wrote the original storyline for the “Captain America” comics that would give rise to one of the MCU’s biggest fan favorite characters: the Winter Soldier, and is more than deserving of a cinematic nod.
Brubaker resurrected Bucky Barnes and turned him into the soviet-possessed Winter Soldier in the comics. When the character was brought to the screen in 2014, Brubaker made a very quick cameo in the film — but not too small not to go unnoticed. His role even mirrored his life’s work in a way, as Brubaker played one of the Hydra technicians who assisted in cruelly wiping the vague memory of Steve Rogers from Bucky’s mind, effectively turning him back into the Winter Soldier. We saw what you did there, Marvel.
5. Rebecca Romijn, X-Men: First Class (2011)
“X-Men: First Class” explored a very cool idea. The film followed the story about how some of the X-characters we know and love became the renowned characters they are today. However, being a prequel movie, new actors were obviously needed to play some of those characters. Nothing against Michael Fassbender or James McAvoy‘s acting chops, but it just didn’t seem quite the same to watch someone else play roles made iconic by actors like Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.
That’s why it was definitely a surprise for the audience when Jennifer Lawrence (as Mystique), while trying to seduce Magneto, suddenly changed her appearance into none other than Rebecca Romijn, the original cinematic Mystique. The cameo only lasted for a few seconds before Mystique changed her appearance again, but fans of the original movies didn’t miss it. Hey, if you can make yourself look like Jennifer Lawrence or Rebecca Romijn whenever you wanted, why wouldn’t you?
4. J. Michael Straczynski, Thor (2011)
You’d think one of the people who helped bring the God of Thunder to the big screen would be considered worthy to lift his hammer, right? Guess not. J. Michael Straczynski has been a writer for major comics as well as sci-fi TV and movies for years, and also assisted in the story for the 2011 movie “Thor.” Even though he wasn’t considered worthy by Asgardian standards (lofty things that they are), Straczynski still got a pretty sweet cameo in the film.
The legendary writer plays the local guy who first discovered Mjolnir where it fell from Midgard into the New Mexico desert, before S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up and starts swarming around. That discovery would technically also make him the first mortal to touch the hammer, right? Not too shabby, Straczynski. Cameos in movies by the people who helped bring the story to life just bring things full circle in a nice way, don’t they?
3. Lou Ferrigno, Hulk (2003)
Sorry, Mark Ruffalo. We may love you now, but you can’t deny Ferrigno did it first. Lou Ferrigno will always have a place in the hearts of Hulk fans as the man who brought the Hulk to life on TV in 1978. When Universal Pictures took on the story for the 2003 film “Hulk,” Ferrigno wasn’t overlooked — he had a small role as a security guard at Bruce Banner‘s lab. He also shared that cameo with none other than Stan Lee, the big man himself. Cameos don’t get much cooler or more meta than that.
An actor so well-known for bringing a comic book character to life getting an (albeit small) role in a later adaptation about that same character is such a nice nod in an otherwise throwaway scene. Talk about fan service that’s actually called for! Now, was that cameo the best few seconds of the entire movie? That remains up for debate in the still highly-contentious film, but it’s still pretty cool nonetheless.
2. Bruce Campbell, Spider-Man Movies
This is a cameo appearance so nice, they did it twice. Mr. Chin himself, Bruce Campbell, starred in a little movie directed by Sam Raimi called “Evil Dead” in 1981, and the director and actor proved to be a stellar entertainment team. So when Raimi took the helm of the “Spider-Man” movies in 2002, it was unexpected, but not exactly unsurprising, to see Campbell show up in a cameo.
Campbell plays the quick-thinking announcer at the wrestling match that Peter Parker attends after gaining his spidey powers, a nod to his origin story in the comics. If you don’t remember the cameo, Campbell’s character actually coins the name “The Amazing Spider-Man” on the fly. So much better than “The Human Spider,” right? Campbell’s “Spider-Man” cameos didn’t stop there, though, as Raimi put him in both of the sequels, first as the obnoxious usher in “Spider-Man 2” and the French waiter in “Spider-Man 3.” Groovy.
1. Stan Lee, Basically Every Marvel Movie
Stan Lee’s cameos become almost a game within the movies at this point. There’s a new Marvel movie out? Okay, when’s Stan Lee going to show up? This guy has had so many cameos over the years, it’s hard to pick one that beats out the rest. Perhaps it was when he was Larry King in “Iron Man 2?” Or when he tried to lift Thor’s hammer with a winch and a pickup truck? How about when he scoffs at the idea of superheroes in New York in “The Avengers?” Of course, we can’t forget the instant classic “Are you Tony Stank?” in “Captain America: Civil War.”
Many of the Marvel heroes we all crowd the theaters to watch on the big screen wouldn’t even exist without the great Stan Lee, and his movie cameos have become not only a source of entertainment, but a nod to everything he did for the world of comics.
Did we miss any of your favorite Marvel movie cameos? Tell us in the comments!
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