The Marvel Cinematic Universe has delivered a number of the biggest films of the 21st century, and there are none bigger than those part of the Avengers titles. Through the first three phases of the franchise, movies from the series were used to punctuate the action and act as capstones, serving as the equivalent of crossover events in the comics, and as a result a majority of the key moments in the canon have played out within them. They are features built out of blockbuster battles, key showdowns, and major emotional beats, and ranking them all side-by-side would probably seem to the average Marvel fan to be a sincerely challenging task.
But we are giving it a shot anyway. Reflecting on The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, we’ve determined what we see the be the best and most important moments in all of the movies, and ranked them to create a new Top 10 list. Will ours directly match up with yours? Probably not, but there’s only one way to find out: read on!
10. The Mjolnir Lifting Contest (Avengers: Age Of Ultron)
One could make a strong argument that if one were to suddenly come upon The Avengers, there would be reason to panic. After all, the team of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes typically only comes together when a potentially world-ending problem is at play. Tensions are high in their line of work – which is why it’s so nice to see them relaxing and hanging out in the first act of Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The Mjolnir Lifting Contest is a wonderful moment of levity and simultaneously reveals a lot about each of the characters – and that’s not an easy thing to balance. It certainly also helps that the scene gets a great payoff in Avengers: Endgame, with Thor exclaiming “I knew it!” as Captain America is able to summon the mythic hammer.
9. Loki’s Journey To Germany (The Avengers)
While the first Thor movie has its issues, one largely agreed upon fact is that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is perfection, and fans leaving the film for the first time were left excited about his return in The Avengers. Then the 2012 blockbuster arrived to continue the God of Mischief’s arc, and did so brilliantly. His entrance in the film is magnificent, but his shining moment is during his trip to Germany is where he gets to go pure id and express his full ego. Of course, the only thing better than seeing Loki go full Loki is to see the German citizen stand up to him, and then watch as Captain America and Iron Man (teaming up for the first time ever) arrive to put him in his place.
8. Thanos Sacrifices Gamora (Avengers: Infinity War)
Thanos is a horrible monster. Full stop. His quest to bring balance to the universe reduces him to becoming a genocidal maniac, and only further adding to the horror show is the fact that he has a history of “adopting” children from planets he raids. There are no reasonable excuses for his actions… and yet Avengers: Infinity War finds an emotional and sympathetic core to him after he learns about the only way to acquire the Soul Stone. The performances by both Josh Brolin as the Mad Titan and Zoe Saldana as Gamora are spectacular, particularly as the mood shifts and the Guardian of the Galaxy goes from laughing to crying, realizing what is about to happen. It’s heartbreaking.
7. The Birth Of Vision (Avengers: Age Of Ultron)
When Joss Whedon was being courted for what was just Avengers 2 at the time, one of his key stipulations was that the film would have to give him the opportunity to introduce Vision to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, played by Paul Bettany. One can see why it was a reach at the time, as the purple-faced, caped android has a unique look and story, but it pays off remarkably well in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. At a time when the titular team is in crisis mode due to the careless actions of Tony Stark, Vision proves to be exactly the character needed to bring balance, delivering not only a Zen demeanor, but some incredible new abilities to the table. And as though it all weren’t amazing enough, the lifting of Mjolnir is the perfect way to accentuate the power of the moment.
6. “I’m Always Angry” (The Avengers)
Prior to The Avengers, it wasn’t quite clear if the big screen had a full understanding of Hulk as a character. His two previous solo films (one in the MCU, one not) failed to generate a great deal of enthusiasm, and the notion of the character fitting into the grand scheme didn’t inspire much confidence. The Avengers turned out to be a game-changer, however, as the giant green rage monster has some of the best moments in the blockbuster – including Bruce Banner’s revelation regarding how he keeps a cap on his other half. Bruce’s entrance into the scene is amazing, puttering up on a junked motorbike, and his mid-transformation punch into the schnoz of a Leviathian is legendary.
5. Tony Stark And Natasha Romanoff’s Funeral (Avengers: Endgame)
One of the greatest challenges in the making of Avengers: Endgame was simply about logistics, and making sure that everyone in the ridiculously expansive cast could make room in their schedules at the appropriate times to make their contributions to the project. Thankfully the blockbuster had the aid of super advanced visual effects to make the situation work for the big battle scenes – but the funeral for Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff is special, as it is the only sequence in any Marvel movie that features all of the heroes and side characters physically together (minus Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Paul Bettany given their on-screen deaths). Not only is it impressive to think about from a production point of view, but it is also one of the most powerful moments in any film in the canon, as fans really feel like they are saying goodbye to a pop culture icon.
4. Hulk vs. Loki (The Avengers)
One of the keys to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s early success was the application of humor, counterbalancing emotional drama and intense action with quips and jokes to create an all-around entertaining experience. With the exception of maybe The Incredible Hulk, every title has multiple laugh-out-loud moments – but there is no funnier moment we’ve seen in this franchise than the first showdown between Hulk and Loki in The Avengers. At the start of the showdown, the God of Mischief is brimming with confidence, proclaiming out loud that Hulk, the Avengers, and all of Earth is below him – and then the green monster proceeds to shut him the fuck up by whipping him around like a rag doll. It’s such a hilarious moment that when the blockbuster was playing in theaters it was actually difficult to hear Hulk call Loki a “puny god” because the laughter was too loud.
3. “I Am Iron Man” (Avengers: Endgame)
Being a capstone for the decade-plus-worth of movies that came before it, Avengers: Endgame is a film filled to the brim with lines of dialogue that originated in previous titles – rewarding all of the fans paying attention – but nothing compares to the return of “I am Iron Man.” That was originally arguably the line that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in a flash setting Iron Man apart from every superhero movie that came before it, and its delivery is perfection in retort to Thanos’ powerful “I am inevitable.” It’s pretty ridiculous that the moment was a last minute reshoot, but sometimes that’s just the way things play out in the stories of Hollywood’s best scenes.
2. Thanos Snaps (Avengers: Infinity War)
On a certain level, all of us have been conditioned by superhero movies. As much drama and conflict may unfold over the course of two hours, in the end the good guys are going to win, and the bad guys are going to pay for their evil deeds. That’s why the end of Avengers: Infinity War is so incredibly devastating, as Thanos’ victorious snap that kills half of life in the universe runs totally contrary to our expectations. The scene begins with what is now an iconic line (“You should have aimed for the head”), and what follows is crushing as our favorite protagonists find themselves saying goodbye to the people they care about. It’s the heaviest moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon thus far – and proving its power is that it doesn’t get easier to watch on repeat viewings.
1. "Avengers, Assemble" (Avengers: Endgame)
Although trivial in the grand scheme of things, one of the more significant complaints about Avengers: Infinity War was that it didn’t deliver any kind of big team shot – despite the fact that such a moment was teased in the trailers. The reason that doesn’t matter in retrospect is that Avengers: Endgame came through with one so massive that you entirely forget about its predecessor’s lacking. From humble beginnings and constant questioning about whether or not a shared universe could work, the MCU delivered one of the most epic shots in blockbuster history with the arrival of every Marvel hero on the battlefield against Thanos via portal, and fans will eternally be grateful for it. How will it ever be topped? It certainly seems impossible right now, but at this stage in the game only a fool would question the potential of the magic being made at Marvel.
Do you agree with our selections and our order? Would you rank them differently? Do you think there are moments that, as defined by the results of this list, are underrated? Hit the comments section with all of your thoughts, feelings, and opinions in regard to the greatest hits of the Avengers movies – and if reading through all of this has given you the urge to watch all of the films again, they are all currently available to stream for Disney+ subscribers, and the individual titles are all available for purchase digitally and on Blu-ray and DVD.