Ever since Blade hit theaters in the summer of 1998, Marvel movies have spent more than two decades reshaping the summer movie landscape with their unique take on action-packed comic book movies.
With 2008’s Iron Man launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe, under the guidance of super-producer Kevin Feige, Marvel managed to level-up the action movie genre as well, thanks to the MCU’s deep bench of characters. For the first time, Marvel was in charge of a slate of movies wholesale; they no longer had to sit on the sidelines as the studios to which they licensed characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man did whatever they wanted with valuable IP. As a result, Feige’s MCU honed their approach by offering a signature mix of character-first thrills and big-budget action that has changed Hollywood history once again.
In honor of Marvel celebrating their 23rd year delivering action-packed blockbusters to their passionate fanbase, here’s a ranking of the best action scenes ever in a Marvel movie — both outside and within the MCU.
19. Deadpool and Cable’s Truck Chase Fight in ‘Deadpool 2’ (2018)
“Bigger and louder” seemed to be this sequel’s mandate, and no action sequence further proves that than Deadpool 2’s endlessly inventive truck fight between our titular hero and his time-traveling rival, Cable (Josh Brolin). Here, guns, John Wick-level fight choreography (thanks to Wick and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch), crashing cars, flipping trucks, and the Juggernaut all mix together to form a balls-to-the-wall set piece full of fist-pumping moments.
While the CG elements aren’t quite photo-real or seamless, the ideas being executed here more than make up for it.
18. The Air Force One Sequence in ‘Iron Man 3’ (2013)
Iron Man 3 tends to get a bad rap, but director Shane Black deserves credit for infusing the Iron Man movies with a level of subversive humor and inventive action that they never had before. The latter is clear in one of the film’s biggest action scenes, when an attack aboard Air Force One sends Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) skydiving after the plane’s passengers in freefall. Consistent with the movie’s theme, it’s Tony’s ingenuity over his suit’s strength that allows the PTSD-suffering hero to save the day in a riveting sequence.
17. The Blood Bath in ‘Blade’ (1998)
Blade’s bloody opening action sequence is one of the most memorable character intros in all of Marvel’s canon. It encapsulates Blade’s lethal slayer skills while establishing the film’s R-rated horror and tone.
By ambushing a secret “Blood Bath” club home to dozens of goth-y vamps, where ceiling sprinklers rain blood on thirsty patrons, Blade (Wesley Snipes) unleashes inventive fisticuffs and an impressive arsenal in one of the genre’s most satisfying (and unnerving) set pieces. Blade’s assault is action-packed, yes, but also terrifying — a tricky balance to pull off, tonally. But it is one that director Stephen Norrington and writer David S. Goyer execute effortlessly.
16. The Bullet Train Fight in ‘The Wolverine’ (2013)
The Wolverine lets director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman indulge in the popular mutant’s more violent and brooding tendencies in equal measure, as Logan must contend with a draining healing ability and a bloody conflict between a powerful family in Japan. Plot and action perfectly intersect atop a bullet train, at 300 mph, as Logan goes all hack-and-slash against a deadly throng of Japanese gangsters.
This inspired action set piece culminates with Wolverine in a face off with one very brave (or stupid) Yakuza who brings a knife to an adamantium claw fight. Rocketing down the rails at 300 miles-per-hour, with nothing but the sound of roaring winds and the snikt of Logan’s claws, Wolverine defeats his enemy by turning himself into a very stab-happy projectile. Mangold’s deft handling of the sequence earns it the distinction of being Wolverine’s best brawl since he fought Lady Deathstrike in X2.
15. Deadpool vs. a Carpool of Thugs in ‘Deadpool’ (2016)
This witty, action-packed set piece from Deadpool is inspired by the infamous sizzle reel that leaked and resulted in the then-risky R-rated blockbuster getting the greenlight for production. Here, the virtually indestructible Wade Wilson (Ryan Renyolds) flings himself off a highway overpass and into a vehicle full of thugs with itchy triggers. They prove no match for either Wade’s wit or his weapons, as the Merc With the Mouth shoots and slices his way through vaguely-European band guys in ways that make us gasp, cheer, and cackle with equal measure.
14. The Hulkbuster Armor Fight in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (2015)
Avengers: Age of Ultron is an uneven but ambitious sequel that raises the stakes for the Avengers while making their fight more personal, and more painful. The escalation in tension peaks at the movie’s midpoint, where Tony is forced to summon the fan-favorite Hulkbuster armor from a Stark Industries satellite in an effort to contain, and then fight, a rogue Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Marvel comics fans have been eager to see the Hulkbuster armor in live-action form and, on this front, Age of Ultron does not disappoint. (The armor would later play a key role in Avengers: Infinity War). From RDJ’s deadpan delivery of “go to sleep, go to sleep” over and over again as his suit’s fist jackhammers Hulk’s face, to Tony buying a building that is still under-construction before using it as a last ditch effort to immobilize the Green Guy, this set piece is a relentless delivery system of action-packed fan-service.
13. The Assault on the X-Mansion in ‘X2: X-Men United’ (2003)
As Wolverine growls to one of General Stryker’s guys invading the X-Mansion: “You picked the wrong house, bub.”
The crime of breaking and entering in Wolverine’s world is punishable by claws through the chest — and face — as Logan unleashes a blur of claw and fist on soldiers led by General Stryker (Brian Cox). Stryker, a vengeful father ashamed of his mutant son, has come to kidnap the young students that call the mansion home. That little experiment ends with Wolverine painting the walls of Xavier’s home with PG-13 carnage.
12. The X-Jet Attack in ‘X2’ (2003)
Great action scenes are often made up of a rapid series of “good news, bad news” moments. Your hero or heroes are caught in a cycle of mini-victories followed by increasingly complicated setbacks — and it all (hopefully) culminates into one big finish. The textbook example of this is X2’s riveting second act set piece aboard and outside the X-Jet in mid-flight.
Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Jansen), Rogue (Anna Paquin), and Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) are forced to deploy their unique power sets as Storm pilots the jet away from F-15s in pursuit. If the military aircraft doesn’t kill them, the out-of-control tornados Storm summons to deal with those planes just might. All of this goes down at 30,000 feet, which leads to the sequence’s most harrowing moment yet: After evading the F-15s, but not before enduring some battle damage to the X-Jet, our mutant heroes are helpless as Rogue gets sucked out of a hull breach. She’s a goner — until Nightcrawler “bamfs” in for a mid-air rescue. Throughout the entire action scene, it’s non-stop, white-kunckle tension — a high point for Fox’s X-Men movies.
11. Young Magneto’s Nazi Hunt in ‘X-Men: First Class’ (2011)
Director Matthew Vaughn’s first (and only) X-Men movie had the unenviable task of revitalizing the franchise after the creative disappointment that was 2006’s X3. He and this prequel’s co-writer, Jane Goldman, succeeded with a grounded, 1960s-set storyline that centered on Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and his search for the Nazis that used him as a lab rat and murdered his mother.
His search culminates in one of the most satisfying moments in the film, in which Erik hunts his targets down to a South American bar and ends them with his powers in a manner that’s more Sean Connery-era Bond movie than summer blockbuster.
10. Nightcrawler’s Attack on the White House in ‘X2’ (2003)
A mix of bullet time-esque photography and impressive CG, X2’s opening teaser sequence is a dream come true for both Nightcrawler and action movie fans. Under the influence of a powerful mind control serum, Nightcrawler leaps and teleports away from confused Secret Service agents and into the Oval Office on a mission to assassinate the President of the United States. Before he reaches his target, the visual effects team perfectly captures his trademark BAMF-ing effect in one of the genre’s most iconic scenes.
9. Wolverine vs. Car Thieves in ‘Logan’ (2017)
The Oscar-nominated screenplay for Logan, co-written by Scott Frank (Out of Sight), takes a beat before its opening scene to set the table for how different this film’s action scenes will be from previous comic book adventures. As the script puts it, there will be no “CG f***-a-thon” theatrics, or people getting hit or stabbed and reacting as if they are suffering from a hangnail.
No, in Logan, when the drunk and broken former X-Man wakes up in the back of his rented limo to thieves trying to strip it, his slowly-deploying claws unleash a bloody spectacle for the 17-and-up crowd. The first scene in this modern classic finally delivers the Wolverine that comic book fans have waited nearly two decades to see — with the realism and resonance both they and the character deserve.
8. Quicksilver’s Prison Break in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (2014)
Having seen this movie three times in theaters, this scene always managed to get the crowd to laugh and applaud as Quicksilver (Evan Peters).
Before Peters’ Quicksilver found himself guest starring on WandaVision, he was introduced to Marvel fans in X-Men: Days of Future Past — living his best life, in his mom’s basement, before Wolverine and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) need his help and speed to bust Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of military prison. This sequence is one of the best things the Fox X-Men series has ever achieved; a clever approach to slow-motion that also serves as a way to show off Quicksilver’s personality through action. If there is a better way to endear fans to a character with limited screentime than what Days of Future Past does here, we don’t wanna know about it.
7. Doc Ock and Spider-Man’s Train Fight in ‘Spider-Man 2’ (2004)
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is one of the best sequels ever made, a Marvel blockbuster that’s equal parts character drama and tragedy as Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) continues to struggle with finding a balance between being himself and being a hero. That struggle puts him in the path of Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and his almost sentient metal tentacles, as the two eventually trade punches along the sides and atop of a speeding NYC train car.
The CG here, for the most part, still holds up, as Spidey is forced into a battle to stop Doc Ock and save the passengers inside the car. The latter proves extra challenging when Spidey must find a way to stop the runaway train before it runs out of track. Raimi’s deft handling of this extraordinary set piece never loses sight of the fact that Peter is just an ordinary guy at heart who doesn’t want to see bad things happen to good people. His pathological inability not to save the day and do the right thing drives this all-timer action scene — a landmark moment for summer movies and comic book films.
6. The Elevator Fight in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014)
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo decided to invest their first Marvel movie with Bourne-style action and a gritty, 1970s political thriller tone as they elevated Steve Rogers’ big-screen adventures to be worthy of the Thanos-level threats the First Avenger would face. In doing so, they delivered an action blockbuster that surpassed all expectations — and they did it in large part with the help of this elevator fight.
The instantly-iconic fight is a contained, intense brawl that pits Cap (Chris Evans) against a squad of HYDRA soldiers posing as SHIELD. Cap gives them a minute to consider leaving the car before making them wish they did. This elevator scene created a whole slew of funny memes that centered around Captain America and his opponents. One against almost a dozen, Captain America managed to take them all down single handedly.
It was one of the most memorable fight scenes in the entire MCU.
5. Killmonger’s Last Fight in ‘Black Panther’ (2018)
The first comic book movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Black Panther is a movie experience unlike any other. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and his production team (some of which would win deserved Oscars) seem free of Marvel’s assembly line approach, which allows for its most complicated and compelling mano-a-mano showdown to date: T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman) vs. Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
After tumbling down into a vibranium mine, the two combatants duke it out for the literal soul of Wakanda. Each wear powerful, armored suits that glitch in the mine every time a mag-lev transport zooms past, which means T’Challa and Killmonger are on virtually equal footing as they fight. But it’s not so much the choreography of their combat that hooks us in as it is the Shakespearean power struggle fueling their blows. And when the fatal one is delivered to Killmonger, it’s not one T’Challa relishes. Their fight ends on one of the most emotional and profound moments in a comic book movie, especially one released by Disney. With his final breaths, as he watches the sun set on his would-be tyranny, Killmonger proclaims that — like his ancestors — he would rather die than live in bondage.
4. The Avengers Fight in Wakanda in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (2018)
From Black Panther ordering a section of Wakanda’s energy dome to be deactivated, to Bucky wielding Rocket Raccoon like a sentient machine gun, this battle has everything. It’s essentially the superhero movie set piece equivalent of one of Stefon’s night clubs.
A dress rehearsal for Avengers: Endgame’s iconic climax, Infinity War’s battle between veteran Marvel heroes and Thanos’ Black Army packs as many emotional punches as it does real ones. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and the rest of the filmmaking team responsible for bringing this showdown to life do so with a perfect amount of tension and spectacle. As anamorphic and summer movie-y aa the battle is, its sphere of the conflict is centered on our characters. Everything plays out in an “intimate epic” approach; that way, each victory our Avengers earn or panicked breath they take feels like one of our own. And there are more losses than wins here, which makes the outcome of our heroes’ struggle all the more resonate. Sure, as triumphant as it feels to watch Bucky spin Rocket Raccoon while both fire machine guns, or to witness Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Okoye team up in a very entertaining three-on-one battle against Proxima Midnight, it just detours us from the inevitable gut punch of Vision (Paul Bettany) dying — twice — and Thanos making off with the last Infinity Stone. Infinity War is one of the most rewatchable movies Marvel Studios has ever made, largely because of this bittersweet and emotional endnote.
3. The Airport Fight in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ (2016)
In only 5 years, Captain America: Civil War’s once novel concept of teaming up Marvel’s Avengers with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) has become almost “old hat.” The notion of characters forming a shared universe in this way is all but expected in modern big-screen blockbusters, but Civil War did it first. And in epic fashion, with its action-packed tarmac brawl between Team Cap and Team Iron Man.
This show-stopping set piece is a Marvel Comics splash page come to life, as Tony Stark leads War Machine (Don Cheadle), Peter Parker, and more against the likes of Steve Rogers, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Each side exercises their opposing views over the Sokovia Accords with increasingly-inventive ways to punch, fly, blast, and swing, resulting in one of cinema’s most memorable and game-changing feats.
2. The Battle of New York in ‘The Avengers’ (2012)
When Loki’s army of Chitauri aliens fly into NYC on gold jet skis, it’s up to the Avengers to save the day. And that is exactly what our heroes do with a generous amount of property damage and CG explosions.
Almost a decade since it was originally released, this landmark action sequence from The Avengers still makes us giddy. The Battle of New York, which takes place on the ground and in the air (and in space), succeeds largely because each sphere of action is character-driven spectacle. The emotional and physical geography of the mini-battles within the larger one are made clear, and the stakes are palpable, so audiences are never confused as to where to invest their attention. From Hulk smashing “Puny God” Loki like he’s a ragdoll, or the Avengers using their unique skillsets to take down a flying Levithan, the Battle of New York never fails to find inventive ways for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to put aside their differences to defeat the bad guys. Which explains why this blockbuster action sequence is so damn rewatchable.
1. The Final Battle in ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019)
“On your left.”
The third act of Avengers: Endgame makes a strong argument that theatrical exhibition is far from dead, as it is full of moments that make you go “so this is why we go to the movies.
The Russo Brothers and Kevin Feige knew going into the Avengers’ final battle with Thanos that fans’ expectations were, at best, incredibly high. Endgame’s climactic showdown with the Mad Titan delivers on and surpasses them, thanks to the script’s character-first delivery of mini set pieces within the larger battle. The final showdown is jaw-droppingly epic in scope and full of fist-pumping moments and character team-ups that will make you clap whenever the action isn’t also tugging on your heartstrings. Here, nearly every major Avenger is given the exact amount of whatever they need to drive the film to its victorious (and bittersweet) conclusion. Endgame’s run time breezes by and you’ll wish you could just stay in this third act battle and interact with it like it is a VR experience. It’s rich with detail and contains one of the best shots ever in the MCU – a splash-panel worthy spread that assembles every Avenger as they race into battle opposite Thanos’ evil forces. Going to the movies doesn’t get much better than this.
KEEP READING: The Best Comic Book Movie Every Year Since ‘Blade’
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