There’s no arguing that the quality of Marvel films has fluctuated over the years, varying between box office favorites like this year’s “Captain America: Civil War” and critical flops, like 2003’s “Hulk.” But where these film adaptations of our superhero icons have sometimes failed us, there’s always one thing that fans can count on with the Marvel Cinematic Universe: we’re probably going to get to see Stan Lee, as long as we’re playing close enough attention.
Ever since the most famous Marvel superheroes returned to the silver screen in 2000 with the very first “X-Men” movie, Lee has been making cameo appearances to subtly — and sometimes not so subtly– remind viewers exactly who is responsible for our favorite heroes.
And with the recent boom in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Netflix premiering both “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” on the small screen, Lee’s appearances have increased exponentially over the last ten years. At current count he’s been on screen over 30 times, and already has three more “Staneos” due out over the next year.
As if that weren’t enough, Fox is betting on Lee’s notoriety to be its next big franchise star. Yes, Stan Lee’s life story is being adapted by the studio for a period action-adventure movie set in the 1970s with a “Stan Lee” character serving as a hero with an alter ego, just like so many of his creations.
Unfortunately, although some fans have postulated that the 93 year-old creator’s cameos might combine to reveal a masterful subplot, it seems unlikely; they’re all drastically different — sometimes silent, often funny, and (every so often) intensely poignant.
Combine that with the fact that they appear in drastically different films, and you have a body of work that is difficult to categorize.
So of course, CBR had to try.
In the list that follows, we’ve ranked Stan Lee’s cameos in one master list by choosing the Staneos we found funniest, most surprising, most charming (read: fan service) or easiest to miss — in combination with a healthy dose of impulsive decision making, of course. It was particularly hard because we think they’re all pretty great — it’s just that some are greater than others.
Without further ado, check out our complete ranking of Stan Lee’s Marvel cameos, and be sure to be let us know where we got it right — or wrong — when you get to the end.
30. An Excited Beauty Pageant Judge in “Iron Man 3” (2013)
This cameo ranks lowest among Lee’s currently released cameos because of its total lack of substance. Although clearly meant to be funny, Lee’s role in this film hardly accomplishes anything — it is very brief, but lacks the qualities of surprise or subtlety that make his harder-to-find appearances feel worthwhile.
For context, Lee appears on-screen just after the film’s hero, Tony Stark, enters the back of a news van. The channel in question — Channel 8 News for Chattanooga — is covering the swimsuit portion of a beauty pageant, and also keeping it casual as far as vehicle security goes. In the cameo — which comes by way of an active monitor that Stark passes in the back of the van — Lee excitedly scores the bikini-clad pageant contestant a “10,” paired with wide-eyes and a somewhat-lascivious grin.
Although viewers certainly wouldn’t expect Lee to appear in the back of the news van, his cameo here didn’t carry the entertaining shock value of favorite cameos like his appearance in “Thor,” for instance. Instead, it made the infamous creator of the title character feel like an underutilized Roger Rabbit, giving ooga-booga eyes to attractive women.
29. Helpful Bystander in “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” (2004)
This combo of cameos is ranked together because they are, at the heart of the matter, indistinguishable. In each movie, Spider-Man has just engaged with the major villain of the movie in the streets of Manhattan. In “Spider-Man” that’s the Green Goblin, and we find Lee in a crowd of bystanders just as a balcony explodes above them. Frantically, he pulls a little girl out of the way of the falling debris.
It’s the same story in “Spider-Man 2,” as Peter Parker grapples with Doctor Octopus high above the streets. When Doc Ock’s extra-powerful mechanical arms throw Spider-Man back against a building, bricks come loose and fall to the street below. Reacting quickly, then-81 year-old Lee pulls a woman out of the way just in time.
There’s nothing wrong with these cameos, of course, but they’re not that exciting when you compare them with the larger group of cameos as a whole. At best they were exciting because Lee was relatively new to the cameo game at that time, and hadn’t yet established that he would appear in every film.
28. Class-A Pervert in “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
Maybe it’s just us, but cameos that reduce the creator of most of our favorite Marvel characters to lechery tend to rank pretty low on our list of favorites. Although “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a box office hit and one of the most fun films to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the last decade, it fell a little short when it came to looping in Lee.
In the film, Rocket Raccoon is utilizing a futuristic scanner to judge the people around him. He scans a hipster and an infant, and then lingers on Lee, who has his arm around an attractive younger woman. In just a few seconds he calls Lee “A Class-A Pervert,” and wonders aloud: “Where’s your wife, old man?”
When you consider the body of work that Lee has produced in his lifetime, and the sheer quantity of characters that he brought into being, it feels irreverent to treat him this way on camera just for a laugh. Perhaps if the scene had been a bit funnier, it wouldn’t feel so problematic.
But it may be because the team had to improvise a cameo at the last minute. According to information released at the time, director James Gunn had originally planned to involve Lee as part of the Collector’s collection — essentially a Stan Lee in a box, who may or may not have flipped off Groot. Later, when the collection exploded, Lee would go with it.
On Instagram, Gunn later revealed that journalists, who claimed that “Disney forbade the scene because of standards … [were] incorrect — no one at Disney ever even saw the scene, and it was cut solely for creative reasons.” It’s a shame, really, because that would have been great to see.
27. A Concerned Train Passenger in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Although we ranked this cameo low on the list, Lee’s appearance in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is still notable because of his willingness to appear on the small screen, too. Maybe it’s due to his clearly growing appetite for acting — not only has he joked that he would do “half-hour roles” if he could, but he’s even gone so far as to make himself available for DCU appearances.
In this particular cameo, Lee appears on the scene just in time to scold Agent Coulson for not taking his falsified-life seriously enough. In the episode, Coulson and Agent Simmons (played by Clark Gregg and Elizabeth Henstridge, respectively) are pretending to be an estranged father and daughter transporting the ashes of their recently deceased loved one to her final resting place. Simmons has just finished loudly criticizing Coulson for his unfaithfulness and his absence in her life growing up when Stan Lee steps in. “I’m sorry about your loss, dear,” Lee tells Simmons, before turning to Coulson. “As for you, sir: now’s your chance to do better. Why don’t you see that you take it?”
Although it’s always nice to see Lee get a speaking role, this one gets low marks for a couple of reasons. First, because it was not a surprise by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Marvel actually advertised the episode as involving Stan Lee, so audiences were ready ahead of time. Second, Lee is conspicuously sporting a girl on each arm, which somewhat detracts from the “traditional family values” message that he’s touting. In that sense, it seems like this Staneo was more about how Lee wanted to be portrayed, rather than what necessarily made sense.
26. Getting a Shoe Shine on “Agent Carter”
Like his appearance on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Lee’s cameo on “Agent Carter” appeared after it had already been heavily covered by the media.
The episode, which premiered in January 2015, features Lee hidden behind a newspaper while Tony Stark’s father, Howard Stark, gets his shoes shined. “Hey,” Lee says to Stark, lowering his newspaper. “Could I borrow the sports section?”
Although unremarkable in some ways, this Staneo easily outshines the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” appearance just by being somewhat believable. Rather than having girls on his arm, Lee is dressed in clothes appropriate for the era, and appears alone. Although not the funniest of Lee’s appearances — despite some good expressions from Stark — it’s nice to see Lee emerging from behind a newspaper again, as he did in “Daredevil.”
Unfortunately, the heavy marketing which surrounded this cameo ultimately detracted from its effectiveness. Still, it’s possible that Lee’s cameos on the small screen deserve recognition purely for helping to bridge the connection between Marvel’s television properties and its full-length features.
25. Military Veteran in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)
Much of the work behind ranking Lee’s cameos is dependent on sorting by cheese factor. By this logic, the Staneo in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” comes in at #25, because it is just that cheesy.
In case you (somehow) missed it, Lee appears in the film just as Thor is passing out a liquor of the gods to his fellow superhuman companions. “This is not meant for Mortal Men,” says Thor, when asked to share. “Neither was Omaha Beach,” breaks in Lee next. “Stop trying to scare us.”
Had the cameo ended here, it could have been ranked fairly highly for being a semi-rational way to introduce Lee into the story. It wasn’t incredibly surprising, per se, but it suited the genre (so to speak). It isn’t until after Stan drinks the Asgardian ale that things get next-level cheesy: the now-drunk Lee is carried from the room moaning “Excelsior.”
Although it might feel unfair to poorly rank this appearance just for being cheesy — as this tends to go with the territory — the addition of Lee’s well-known catchphrase made the writing feel a bit too heavy-handed.
24. World War II General in “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)
The cameo from “Captain America” does a few things better than those in the lower ranks. It’s more surprising, particularly when you consider that it wasn’t as transparently marketed or contextualized as some of the others. It also doesn’t vilify Lee, or make him look lascivious.
Instead, the Staneo boasts a reasonable level of surprise, complete with the traditional comedic quip. When Captain America is conspicuously absent from a press conference following his heroic actions in the war, a messenger is sent to the podium to explain. Lee, who plays a General, is suddenly shown among the audience. “I thought he’d be taller,” he says, mistaking the messenger for the Avenger.
This is one of those cameos that warms the heart, largely because it doesn’t distract or detract from the motion of the greater film. While cameos that feature Lee ogling younger women are capable of leaving a bad taste in the mouth, this one wraps the Stan Lee appearance we’ve come to expect into a respectable package. It might not be the funniest or the most memorable, but it’s pleasant and palatable.
23. Jean Grey’s neighbor in “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006)
In the early days, Lee’s cameos tended to be smaller and simpler than they are now. In “X-Men: the Last Stand,” for instance, Lee is on screen for only a moment, in a scene that exemplifies Jean Grey’s quickly developing telekinetic powers.
In the movie, Professor X and Magneto are sitting in Jean Grey’s living room, hoping to convince her to join them at their school. “We’re mutants, Jean,” says Xavier, played at this point by Patrick Stewart. “We’re like you.”
“Really?” says young Jean, with a certain measure of disdain in her voice. “I doubt that.” And then, to prove her point, she starts lifting cars all over her neighborhood.
It’s here that Lee enters, briefly. As cars and lawnmowers lift into the air, so too does the water from Lee’s hose, which he appears to have been using to water his roses.
It makes for a good cameo for a variety of reasons. First, because it was still early enough in his cameo career that audiences were not necessarily looking for him in every scene, but also because it’s brief enough — and silent enough — that you could blink and miss it. Finally, Jean Grey (as Marvel Girl) was a part of the original X-Men team that Lee co-created, so it’s fitting to see him here, just after her first introduction — even if Chris Claremont is the one to thank for the Phoenix Saga.
22. Not Hugh Hefner in “Iron Man” (2008)
As Lee’s cameos became more frequent, it became necessary to make them a bit more inventive. In 2008’s “Iron Man,” Lee stepped into a new vein of cameo — the doppelgänger cameo.
It’s a charming idea, because it supports the assumption that Marvel’s superheroes live and work in the world we live in — a world where most of them live and work in New York, and where worldwide crises happen every year.
And, in this case, a world where Tony Stark goes to the same kinds of events that Hugh Hefner does.
In the cameo, Tony is slipping down a red carpet when he encounters Lee, whose back is to him. “Looking great, Hef,” Tony quips, walking inside just as Lee turns around. It’s funny, and it’s quick, and you could miss it if you weren’t paying attention.
That Stan Lee would be asked to dress up like Hugh Hefner for a cameo makes sense because Lee actually looks a bit like Hefner, and certainly doesn’t seem to hate having a younger women on his arm. And, Hefner and Stark really might be at the same types of events, if they both actually existed. After all, they are both very rich, and both really like the ladies.
21. Not Larry King in “Iron Man 2” (2010)
Fans must have responded positively to the Stan-Lee-as-Hugh-Hefner bit in “Iron Man,” because the studio reached for a similar gag in “Iron Man 2.” Tony is in control this time, carrying a camera around at a party to greet the guests.
The first person camera weaves through the crowd and down the stairs to encounter Lee, who is dressed in suspenders.
“Larry,” we hear Stark call through the camera’s speakers, to get Lee’s attention. “Larry!”
Although Lee doesn’t actually speak before the camera cuts away, the iconic creator is clearly mimicking the talk show host. Not only is he dressed in customary Larry King garb, but he’s standing with his hands behind his back, doing a truly impressive impression. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Lee looks perhaps more like Larry King than he does Hugh Hefner, but the true charm of this cameo lies in its clever reference to the previous movie. And, of course, because it reinforces the idea that Stark exists in the real world.
20. Pingo Doce Casualty in “The Incredible Hulk” (2008)
On this side of #20, the cameos get better and better. The appearance of Lee in 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” might be one of the most visually stimulating cameos that Lee has been a part of, with a number of interesting camera angles — one of which, you might say, puts him inside of a refrigerator.
According to the narrator whose voice carries over the cameo, Lee’s character accidentally drank a “guarana soda” that happened to be tainted with gamma radiation.
“Guess it had a little more kick than he was looking for,” she says.
“Wow,” says Lee — and then the bottle smashes to the ground.
Although we don’t actually see it happen on screen, it would seem that Lee’s character passed away in this particular cameo, making it the first cameo to accomplish that feat. Both funny and (potentially) a little bit feminist, this cameo felt like a fresh new take on what might have otherwise become another stale Staneo.
19. Pickup Truck Driver in “Thor” (2011)
Thor’s ownership of the legendary hammer Mjolnir has served as fodder for many lovely Avengers moments, and it all began here. When Thor first falls to Earth, Mjolnir lands in New Mexico, and the local inhabitants are soon enraptured by its mysterious strength.
Much like the story of Arthur and the sword in the stone, local residents gather to try their strength (and eventually their trucks) against the weapon of the god of thunder.
And that’s where Stan Lee comes in.
It’s a cameo that gets high marks for both originality and timing. In the moments immediately preceding Lee’s appearance, it is clear to anyone familiar with the comics that this is not going to work. The inscription clearly states that the wielder of Mjolnir must be worthy, and it’s unlikely that someone worthy of acting as the god of thunder just happens to be nearby. (Particularly when you know that Captain America couldn’t even lift it.)
So it’s clear that the pickup truck isn’t going to budge the hammer — but who would expect the entire bed of the truck to rip off? We didn’t — and, it would seem, Stan Lee didn’t, either.
18. A Distracted Librarian in “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012)
Although some have argued that the first “Spider-Man” was a better film than the 2012 reboot, it’s fairly easy to agree that Lee’s cameos in the later films are more engaging than his unremarkable feats of heroism in the earlier movies.
In this case, Stan Lee is sorting books when he appears in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” during one of Parker’s battles against the Lizard. They burst in through the wall behind him, and you might have to focus to keep your eyes on the fight because the serenely joyful way that Lee is listening to classical music is just that enticing.
The fact that he can serenely sort books without noticing the melee behind him is not only charming, but also displays a proficiency for acting that doesn’t always seem to come naturally to the comic creator. In some ways he seems more likely to be an amicable and distracted librarian than, say, a successful beauty pageant judge. For originality, humor, and its surprise placement within the narrative, this cameo gets high marks.
17. Surprisingly Stoic Mental Patient in “Thor: The Dark World” (2013)
One of the best qualities of effective Staneos is the tactful use of misdirection. “Thor: the Dark World” was the perfect candidate for just this kind of cameo appearance, since it embraced elements of the wacky in the larger narrative, too.
Take, for instance, the institutionalization of Dr. Erik Selvig, who allied with Thor and Jane Foster in the first “Thor,” and whose brain was addled by the manipulations of Loki in “The Avengers.” The return of Selvig in “The Dark World” helps to tie the franchise neatly together, but also provides some much-needed comic relief.
In fact, audiences are not even aware that Selvig has been institutionalized until the scene in which Lee appears. Instead, he appears to be teaching a class — explaining high level physics with a pair of mismatched shoes.
“It’s beautiful,” he says, as he finishes up. “It’s… simple. Any questions?”
“Yeah,” says Stan Lee, now revealed to be sitting stoically, in a chair across the room. He seems to be the only resident of the institution to be paying attention. “Can I have my shoe back?”
In this case, Lee’s cameo stacked comedically upon the comedic timing of an already funny scene, and it benefits for it. He doesn’t exactly come off as crazy, but we’re glad he’s there, anyway.
16. MC at the Gentleman’s Club in “Deadpool” (2016)
Lee’s cameo in “Deadpool” slides into the ranks with high marks for surprising us, because his appearance is, without a doubt, a much dirtier cameo than we expected. Although Lee has played a couple of lascivious characters in his brief time on the silver screen, none have appeared in quite as colorful a context as the gentleman’s club where Wade Wilson first meets Vanessa.
In fact, this cameo is the visual opposite of Lee’s appearance as a librarian in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” because it’s hard to look away from the naked, moving bodies all around him. In fact, if the camera didn’t cut to a close-up of his face, this cameo might be worth ranking one of the hardest to catch, because everything else is just so distracting.
That being said, it’s noteworthy that this cameo feels decidedly less creepy than some of Lee’s prior appearances, despite its unusual setting. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that Lee was not actually in a strip club when he filmed it– the scene was actually filmed in a studio offsite, and added into “Deadpool” in post-production.
15. Hot Dog Vendor in “X-Men” (2000)
As the first cameo in the new age of the Marvel films, Lee’s appearance as a hot dog vendor in 2000’s “X-Men” was a seminal moment for all future films. At the time there was no precedent for Lee appearing in films about his creations — at least not one that viewers were sure to remember. In fact, it’s unlikely that many people outside of comics even knew what Stan Lee looked like at the time, particularly not well enough to identify him in such a brief scene.
It’s the type of cameo that even seasoned comic veterans could miss if they weren’t looking for it. In this first appearance Lee only appears for a moment, amongst a number of other extras, and he is both silent and still.
In the foreground, Senator Kelly has just emerged, naked and emotionless, from the water. The crowd, struck dumb by the strange circumstances, watches as he walks up the beach towards a television which is broadcasting the news. It is at this moment that Lee appears, quiet and frozen, in the background.
Since the television is the only source of sound, it draws the eye naturally, making it difficult to catch the white-haired Lee gaping. This is exacerbated by the motion of both Kelly and the camera, which both approach the TV. After just a moment, Lee is cut out of the frame.
It isn’t the funniest of Lee’s cameos over the years, but its place in the history of his appearances, combined with the fact that it was designed to be missed make it worth ranking in the upper half of all Staneos.
14. Graduation Guest in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014)
While this cameo gains points for schmaltz, there’s only so many times that it’s fun to see Lee point out his responsibility for these characters on film. In fact, keen Staneo observers might have sensed Lee’s cameo approaching, if his prevalence in crowded gatherings is anything to go by.
In this case, Lee is hiding in a crowd of graduation attendees at Peter Parker’s school. The ceremony is already underway when Parker swings onto the scene, frantically exchanging his costume for his mortarboard and almost forgetting to remove his mask. He makes it onstage just after his named is called, which is when we catch a glimpse of Lee. “I think I know that guy!” he calls out loudly.
It’s a somewhat inappropriate thing to shout at a graduation, if you’ve ever been to one, which only emphasizes the fact that the line was included purely to service Spider-Man fans. In Lee’s better cameos, his responsibility for the franchise is a bit subtler. Still, the comic timing of Parker rushing back from crime fighting to attend his own graduation makes the scene charming.
13. Chess Player in “The Avengers” (2012)
In the decade and a half since Lee’s return to the Marvel screen in 2000, he has firmly established himself as a must-have easter egg in any Marvel property he helped to create. That means that the cameo of 2000 — where Lee was hard to spot — rarely exists anymore. As such, cameos like this one rank highly, because the writer is actually a bit hard to catch.
In “The Avengers,” Lee appears on a news monitor just as the camera pans across it. Although he turns away from his chess game to speak to the camera, the volume is low, so it’s hard to hear him say his line. “Superheroes in New York? Give me a break.”
Sure, it’s a bit cheesy, but for a creator who lived through the invention of superheroes and who co-created so many of them, it’s a line that Lee almost certainly heard in real life. It’s that sort of sentimentality that makes this cameo worthwhile, particularly when combined with its brevity; clearly the real focal point of the shot is the news anchor who appears next, and who speaks at a much higher volume, so you could turn to a friend and miss Lee altogether.
12. Fred’s Father in “Big Hero 6” (2014)
Although not strictly related to his other Staneos (because he didn’t actually create the Big Hero 6 comics), Lee’s cameo in “Big Hero 6” is significant because it marks his return to the animated screen, which we haven’t seen in a Marvel property since he appeared in “Spider-Man: The Animated Series.”
It’s also interesting because Lee appears twice in the film — and you could miss either one of them, if you’re not paying attention.
Lee first appears on screen in Fred’s hallway, when the character points out a portrait of his father to his friends. It’s a silent cameo, of course, and if you didn’t recognize Lee’s hair, glasses and suit, you might not realize who the character was modeled after.
Luckily, Fred’s father appears again in an after-credits scene.
It all happens after Fred returns to his father’s portrait to tell him about his new life as a superhero. “I wish I could share my accomplishments with you,” Fred tells the portrait, and then leans on it… inadvertently opening a secret door into a room where his father keeps — you guessed it — all of his superhero stuff.
“Fred,” says Lee, appearing in animated form behind him. “Son.” And then, because he’s Fred’s father through and through, Lee’s character reveals that he, too, wears his underwear four times before washing it. “We have a lot to talk about,” he says finally, just before the two hug.
It’s a fun cameo because Lee is responsible for so much of what Marvel is now all about, and because the Big Hero 6 team is, in some ways, a team modeled after the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. And, although it’s not likely that they’ll join forces with Spider-Man or Alpha Flight as they do in the comics, at least we know that Big Hero 6 will be returning on the small screen next year.
We’ll just have to wait and see whether Fred’s dad will return, too.
11. Willie Lumpkins in “Fantastic Four” (2005)
Unless you count the fact that “Stan Lee” exists as a character within Earth 616, then Stan Lee’s appearance in 2005’s “Fantastic Four” may be unique among all of Lee’s appearances. That’s because it marks the first time that Lee has been cast as an existing character from within the Marvel Universe.
It may be because a cameo, by its very definition, is a brief, uncredited role in a larger film, and existing characters have a nasty tendency to recur. But in this case, Lee’s appearance as beloved postman Willie Lumpkins just feels right.
He appears on screen just as Reed Richards and Sue Storm enter the Baxter Building. “Welcome back to the Baxter, Dr. Richards,” Lee says, reaching into his mailbag. “I’ve got the usual for you. Good to have you back, sir.”
Given their history, it’s likely that the stack of mail that Willie hands over is a pile of fan letters. That was Lumpkins’ recurring role in the comics — to bring the Fantastic Four their fan mail. As the co-creator of both Lumpkins and the Fantastic Four, it’s a special, deep-cut twist that Lee was able to bring the Postman to the big screen.
10. Smithsonian Security Guard in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
Stan Lee’s cameo in “The Winter Soldier” is a particularly happy one, because it fits into the film so seamlessly. With few exceptions, movies about the Avengers have always prioritized a family friendly humor that breaks up the action, and this film is no exception.
Because a major aspect of the film is Steve Rogers‘ difficulty adjusting to modern life, it makes sense that his character would be drawn to the Smithsonian, where his Captain America uniform from the first movie is on display. It is also charming to see Rogers get recognized by a young boy, who is clearly starstruck.
But, rather unexpectedly, Rogers’ visit to the Smithsonian is reprised when he requires his costume for a new mission. In a scene that encapsulates the way that heroes act without necessarily considering the consequences of their actions, Rogers steals back his uniform, much to the chagrin of the security guard.
The security guard who just happens to be Stan Lee. “Oh man,” he says regretfully, stopping in his tracks and shaking his head. “I am so fired.”
9. An Almost Casualty in “Daredevil” (2003)
Although “Daredevil” was the first of Ben Affleck‘s superhero roles to fail critically with audiences, Lee’s cameo in this early film might be one of his best. Bolstered by the fact that his cameos were still a new concept for viewers, this on-screen appearance delivers the exact sort of easily-missable surprise and delight that we’ve come to expect from a good Staneo.
The cameo comes early in the film, just as audiences are adjusting to the fact that the young Matt Murdock has gained unusually heightened senses after his traumatic accident. Although he still walks with a cane, he has a sort-of sight created by his hypersensitivity to sound.
As an adult, he’ll suit up as Daredevil and use his talents to save lives. But even as a kid he knows that life is important, and he exemplifies that when he saves the life of an old man.
Murdock is patiently waiting at a crosswalk when a man reading a newspaper starts to walk past him into oncoming traffic. With lightning quick reflexes, the boy stops him with his cane. The man lowers the newspaper, incredulous, revealing that he’s actually Stan Lee. He stares, shocked, at the blind boy who has saved him.
It’s a brief scene, and silent, but the humor and fan service is so intricately bound together that this cameo definitely deserves to be in the top ten — even if “Daredevil” doesn’t.
8. Security Guard in “Hulk” (2003)
Speaking of movies that don’t deserve to be in a top ten, there are few critical failures as significant as 2003’s “Hulk.” This movie proved so disappointing to fans that the studio rebooted the franchise only five years later, when they brought Edward Norton in to play Bruce Banner. (Even the later replacement of Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo did not, apparently, warrant that.)
But despite the failure of the first film adaptation of the Hulk, it gave Lee an opportunity to appear in a cameo worth remembering. Like his appearances in “X-Men,” “Spider-Man” and “Daredevil,” Lee’s cameos still benefitted from the fact that audiences had no idea what to expect. In this case, director Ang Lee capitalized on that by putting Lee in his first ever speaking cameo.
But that’s not even the best part. When Lee emerges from the building talking about “beefing up security,” he’s speaking to none-other than the infamous Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk on the long-running television show. The addition of Ferrigno makes this cameo easily one of the most notable. As such, it’s even more regrettable that “Hulk” was such a critical failure — because a lot of people never saw it.
7. Bartender in “Ant-Man” (2015)
At the top of the list, Lee’s cameos become harder to rank. Coming in unexpectedly high is his appearance in the recent “Ant-Man,” both because of its comedic timing, its use of the increasingly popular over-dub, and its ability to miss it.
Lee appears on scene unexpectedly, just as Luis has started his final speedy breakdown of events. In Luis’ story, his friend Pablo sees a “crazy fine” girl at the bar the previous night. While Luis (played by actor Michael Peña) narrates, we see Pablo in flashbacks, acting out the story.
“And he goes up to the bartender and goes, ‘Look at the girl I’m with, you know what I’m saying? She’s crazy super fine, right?'” says Luis, “And the bartender,” who just happens to be Stan Lee, “is all like, ‘Yeah. Crazy stupid fine.”
Peña’s top notch delivery, paired with the film’s “Drunk History”-levels of lip syncing, make this cameo a particularly enjoyable gem.
6. A Philosophical Bystander in “Spider-Man 3” (2007)
Most fans will agree that “Spider-Man 3” was a true disappointment in Marvel film history. The story, which follows Peter Parker’s struggle with his identity — by way of his struggle with Venom — spirals into a self-indulgent pity fantasy that estranged a lot of diehard Spider-Man fans.
But Lee’s cameo in this movie says something poignant about his role in these films overall, and it’s worth remembering as the creator approaches his 94th birthday.
The line comes as Parker stands dumbfounded in Times Square, watching the news scroll announcements that Spider-Man is getting a key to the city. It’s an important moment for the character, who, as we know, is always struggling with his great responsibility. And it’s a moment that, if not for Lee’s words, wouldn’t exist.
In light of that, Lee’s line transcends the cheesiness that was inherent in cameos like the one in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” When he says, “I guess one person can make a difference,” it means a lot of things to Parker, but to us it just means that we wouldn’t have any of it without Stan Lee.
5. A Retired Police Officer in Netflix’s “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”
Like Lee’s appearances in “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2,” the cameos in “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” are essentially clones of each other, and therefore are ranked together. Although these cameos are, by far, the smallest ones to make the list, they get high marks for two important reasons.
First, they both work to confirm the relationship between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel’s properties on the small screen. By including Lee cameos, the smaller properties validate their connection to the larger comic universe, even if their characters are unlikely to migrate to the larger screen.
Second, both shows made sure to make the cameos hard to find, which hearkens back to the initial inclusion of Stan Lee in films like the “X-Men.” Diehard comic fans love to prove their knowledge of hidden easter eggs, and Lee’s cameos in both of these shows were sure to have people hunting. If you haven’t seen him yet, take a closer look at the precinct walls any time that Jones or Murdock find themselves in the police station. There’s a good chance you might find Lee, in full uniform, commemorated there.
4. Jury Foreman in “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” (1989)
No comprehensive list of Lee’s Marvel movie cameos would be complete without his first film cameo ever, in the 1989 television movie “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk.” The film, which was a full-length sequel to the successful 1970s series starring Lou Ferrigno, featured Ferrigno reprising his role as the Hulk.
But it also featured Marvel’s first cinematic crossover event. Not only did the Hulk and Daredevil work together to bring down the notorious criminal Wilson Fisk, but Matt Murdock actually appears in court to represent David Banner, when the latter is wrongfully accused of a crime. Beholden to concerns about becoming angry in the courtroom, Banner has a stress dream about the upcoming trial, which is where Lee comes in.
Cast as the foreman in Banner’s dream sequence, Lee feels the courtroom in terror when Banner hulks out. He’s only onscreen for a moment, but it marked the beginning of a lasting tradition.
In other words, “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” foreshadowed the future of Marvel films in more ways than one.
3. Himself in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007)
Because it’s a part of such an unsuccessful movie, it’s tempting to say that Lee’s cameo in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” ought to be ranked lower. But this is actually one of the most memorable cameos for comic book buffs — not to mention the fact that it’s the first time Lee appeared in a Marvel film as himself.
In Lee’s short cameo, he is rebuffed when he attempts to attend Sue Storm‘s wedding to Reed Richards. Cheerfully walking up the steps in a tuxedo, Lee is stopped by a bouncer, who asks for his name. “I should be on that list,” Lee says, truthfully. But when Lee tells him his name, the bouncer laughs.
“Nice try, buddy,” he says, pressing Lee back through the crowd.
It feels like a heavy-handed reference to Lee’s involvement in the creation of the Fantastic Four, but, unless you really know your “Fantastic Four” comics, you might miss it: this cameo is the cream of the crop as far as fan service goes, because it’s a deep cut from “Fantastic Four Annual #3” (1965) where Sue Storm and Reed Richards first got married.
Lee wrote that issue, of course, along with his long-time co-creator Jack Kirby. But what you might not know is that they appeared in it, too. In the final panels of the issue, Lee and Kirby are rebuffed from the wedding reception by Nick Fury, who isn’t interested in finding out who they are. “I don’t care who they are, Gabe!” he says. “No one comes in without an invite. That’s an order!”
As the tuxedo clad creators walk away from the wedding, disappointed, they plot their revenge. “We’ll show ’em, Jack!” says Stan. “Let’s get back to the bullpen and start writing the next ish!”
It’s hard to say how many viewers of 2004’s “Rise of the Silver Surfer” would catch such an old reference, but it definitely makes this one of Lee’s best cameos overall. Really, the only thing that could make it better is if Jack Kirby could have been there, too.
2. FedEx Delivery Guy in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)
Although it might feel out of place among the other top ten cameos, which feature deep cut comic references and glimpses of Lou Ferrigno, Lee’s appearance in this year’s “Captain America: Civil War” is probably one of his most enjoyable.
In the film, tempers are running hot. Tony Stark and Captain America are at each other’s throats, and their teammates are being forced to choose sides. Both heroes have their reasons, of course, and there is inarguable merit in the logic of both ideologies. But they have to choose, and neither Stark nor Rogers are men who give in easily. It might just be the end of the Avengers, for what might as well be creative differences.
In short, it is a tense film to watch. So it needs every morsel of humor it can muster — and Lee — who delivers his line with unusually good comedic timing — contributes to that.
Cast as a FedEx delivery guy, Lee knocks at the entryway to the room where Tony Stark and James Rhodes are arguing; the scene is filled with tension.
And then Lee asks, “Are you Tony–” and looks down at the box to confirm: “Stank?”
“Yes,” says Rhodes, jumping in immediately. “This is — this is Tony Stank.”
1. Horrified Bystander in “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016)
Just about 16 years ago, Stan Lee appeared in the background of “X-Men,” the first full-length Marvel film to release in theaters. He had a small nonspeaking role, and many viewers missed it. It marked the beginning of a tradition that has lasted ever since.
But even though Stan Lee co-created the X-Men, and is responsible for the existence of mutants in Marvel continuity, he hadn’t appeared in an X-Men film for over ten years. It’s for that reason that Lee’s cameo in “X-Men: Apocalypse” this year felt so important, and it’s why we’re ranking it #1.
On some level, Lee’s cameo in the film suggests that Fox is expressing reverence for the biological father of their adopted property. But even if that weren’t the case, the cameo is significant and charming for another reason: it’s the first time that Lee has appeared on screen beside his wife of 69 years, Joan (unless you count the time they both appeared on “Spider-Man: The Animated Series,” back in the ’90s). The two embrace as offscreen, missiles launch into the sky.
Although the list may evolve with the premiere of “Doctor Strange” this November, these are our favorite Staneos to date, and we stand by them.
Would you rank them differently? Let us know in the comments!
Stan Lee’s next cameo will appear in “Doctor Strange,” coming to theaters on November 4, 2016.
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