He first made his appearance as a jury member at Bruce Banner’s trial in the 1989 TV movie, “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk,” and cameos by Marvel godhead Stan Lee are now the “Where’s Waldo?” of the movies his stories created. He resurfaced in 2000’s “X-Men,” became a recurring gag in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies, and then formalized in “Iron Man” at the dawn of the MCU. Now, moviegoers can count on seeing some version of the icon (and his sunglasses) in each new Marvel film, even those that aren’t part of the MCU. Some appearances are amusing; some are cringe-worthy, and several have even been, um, super horned up.
Below, check out our list of the good, the bad, and the ugly of Stan Lee cameos, as we’ve ranked all 36 of his movie appearances from worst to best.
36. “Deadpool 2”
20th Century Fox/Screenshot
More of a reference than a cameo, Stan Lee’s appearance in the recent “Deadpool” sequel is limited to some graffiti art of his face in the background when Domino touches down for her big action sequence (supposedly, he can also be seen in some pieces of artwork in the Professor X’s home). In the most hyper-referential of all Marvel-related movies, this feels like a missed opportunity.
35. “Iron Man 2”
One of the worst movies in the MCU fittingly gets one of the worst Stan Lee cameos, as the graphic novel great shows up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment as television personality Larry King (suspenders and all). He’s not even the only celebrity to appear in the scene, as Seth Green shows up for a split second a few moments later. Did Seth Green create the Avengers? No he did not. Rude.
34. “X-Men: The Last Stand”
Stan Lee is watering his garden when a nearby Jean Grey shows off her powers. Marvel at the imagination of visionary director Brett Ratner as the water from Lee’s hose begins to float up.
33. “Iron Man 3”
The shorter the Stan Lee cameo, the more likely it hinges on him being a horny old man. Lee is only on screen for a few seconds of “Iron Man 3” (his presence filtered through a TV screen, as it was in “The Avengers”), playing an elderly beauty-pageant judge who gives one contestant a perfect 10. His appearance is confined to a single cutaway shot that could have been filmed by a seventh-unit director on the studio lot, and it feels like it probably was.
32. “Iron Man”
Stan Lee’s first cameo in the MCU proper was short and sleazy. Tony Stark sees Lee on a red carpet, standing between some buxom young women and wearing a bathrobe. He says “Hi, Hef,” and Lee turns around with a confused look on his face.
The joke — such as it is — is that Stark mistakes Lee for the “Playboy” tycoon? Because they kind of look alike? Or is the idea that Lee isn’t known for his sexual escapades, so he and Hefner make for a silly contrast? Also, given that Lee would later play Larry King in “Iron Man 2,” is there any chance that he was supposed actually be Hugh Hefner? It’s hard to say, but the fleeting glee of recognition inspired by his appearance isn’t really worth the questions it provokes.
31. “Avengers: Infinity War”
Considering that most of this movie takes place in the deepest reaches of computer-generated space, the Russo brothers only had a small window to squeeze Lee into the story. They got him out of the way early, casting the Marvel godfather as the driver of Peter Parker’s school bus. While the teens are pretty rattled by the giant extraterrestrial death machine that appears in the skies above Manhattan, Lee shrugs it off: “What’s the matter with you kids — you’ve never seen a spaceship before?” In a movie full of moments that are best described as “Fine, I guess?,” Lee’s “Infinity War” cameo is par for the course.
30. “Captain America”
One of the best Marvel movies gets one of the most “meh” Stan Lee cameos — but maybe that’s for the best, as Lee didn’t create Captain America, and may not have the same personal connection to the character as he does to the other Avengers. Or maybe the screenwriters were just being super lazy that day. Whatever the case, Lee plays an army general sitting in a crowd of people at a medal ceremony. When a lackey shows up to tell the emcee that Captain isn’t coming, Lee wisecracks: “I thought he’d be taller.” His first MCU joke! Gotta start somewhere.
29. “The Avengers”
Lee doesn’t show up until the very end of the MCU’s first team-up movie, after the Battle of New York has leveled a good part of the city. Playing a cranky old man who’s being interviewed on NY1 (Pat Kiernan should be an honorary Avenger by now), Lee shrugs off the comic-book carnage: “Superheroes, in New York? Give me a break.”
It’s an amusing line, but one that suggests Lee is playing some kind of conspiracy theorist InfoWars type. Dude, thousands of regular people saw the Avengers fight off the Chitauri! It’s not some elaborate lie concocted by the mainstream media. Thanos is real, and there’s a 50% chance that he’s coming for you.
After playing a hero in “Spider-Man,” Lee next showed as a (near) victim in “Daredevil.” Fortunately for Lee, a young Matt Murdock is there to stop him from walking out into traffic. Unfortunately for Lee, this scene takes place in the movie “Daredevil,” and is therefore wretched by default.
27. “Big Hero 6”
Animated Stan Lee! Playing … T.J. Miller’s dad. “We have a lot to talk about.” More than you know, guy. But it’s fun that Disney’s cartoon iteration of Lee kinda looks like a Wii avatar, from his boxy face to the deep creases over his eyebrows.
26. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
Stan Lee shows up at Peter Parker’s graduation, and spots the kid changing from his superhero outfit to street clothes. “I think I know that guy!” It’s fun if you read it as a reference to the fact that the role had recently been recast (and would be recast again shortly thereafter), but really it’s just a cute nod.
25. “Fantastic Four”
Stan Lee scores extra credit for playing an actual comic book character as the Marvel mastermind steps into the role of mailman Willie Lumpkin. Unfortunately, Stan Lee loses his extra credit (and then some) for allowing this godawful movie to exist in the first place.
The third installment of the MCU found Stan Lee settling into his groove of disposable, “it’s nice that he’s still alive” cameos (a reassuring vibe after his seemingly fatal appearance in “The Incredible Hulk”). Here, he plays the dude behind the wheel of the pickup truck that’s trying to uproot Thor’s hammer. “Did it work?” he shouts to the rowdy crowd over his shoulder. No, sir, it did not work. You are not Odin’s heir. You are not a “Chris.” You did not star in “Blackhat.” Mjolnir will not move for you.
The true genesis of the cameo tradition that continues to this day, Lee’s appearance in “X-Men” doesn’t call attention to itself. He shows up in the background as a hot dog vendor during the scene where Senator Kelly slimes his way onto an unsuspecting beach, and he sure does a good job of, uh, standing there with his sunglasses on. Back in the year 2000, just seeing his face on the big screen was enough to send comic book fans into fits of delight.
22. “Ant-Man and the Wasp”
Peyton Reed deserves credit for having the dexterity to weave a studio-obligated cameo into the middle of his film’s biggest set piece, and Lee’s sole line — a crack about how it’s time for him to put down the drugs — is a good-humored reference to the sheer wackiness of the movie’s incredible shrinking action.
Celebrating Marvel’s first R-rated movie in a minute — and seizing on it as a perfect opportunity to continue his own tradition of playing horny old men — Lee shows up as a DJ at a strip club. It’s an amusing, head-shaking choice, albeit one that would have been funnier and more unexpected if so many of Lee’s earlier cameos weren’t also dedicated to him ogling young women.
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