Last week we lost the brilliant mind behind so much of Marvel Comics history, Stan Lee. Lee undoubtedly managed to shape the entertainment landscape today as much as any other individual when you see how hugely popular almost any Marvel property is nowadays. Now I’m not a comic book expert, so I’ve decided to celebrate Stan Lee by talking through my Top 15 favourite of his numerous cameo appearances in films. As always this list is just my opinion, but I would love to hear your favourite Stan Lee cameo, and memories, in the comments. Excelsior.
15) Big Hero 6 – Big Hero 6 is a woefully underappreciated film, and one that some may not know is actually loosely based on a Marvel Comic of the same name. Whilst Stan Lee may not have been involved in its creation, he did still appear in the end credits of the film as the father of Fred, the comic book fan of the group, who had hidden a lot of superhero equipment in his mansion. It was a nice cameo as we got to see Fred bond with his father, and it was a brilliant surprise to hear Stan Lee’s distinctive voice in the part.
14) Venom – Lee’s most recent cameo was a small nod to Lee’s status in Marvel comics. He appears after Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock has had a heart to heart conversation with former fiancee Anne and offers some words of encouragement not to give up on her “either of you”. I always enjoy when Lee’s characters appear to have more knowledge about the world than a regular person would, because he should, and in Venom he appears to know that the symbiote resides inside Brock.
13) Hulk – Stan Lee’s cameo in Ang Lee’s 2003 film Hulk was one that fits firmly into the Easter Egg category, much like Big Hero 6. It’s a short one as he plays a security guard that walks past Bruce Banner alongside his colleague, played by the original actor who brought the TV version of The Hulk to life, Lou Ferrigno. There might not been any jokes to this one, or cleaver nods to Stan’s status as the king of comics, but it is just a really nice nod to include in a Hulk film.
12) Iron Man – The first film in the MCU being about a celebrity in Tony Stark allowed Marvel to play with some jokes that Lee looked like some other famous people. In the first Iron Man they had Tony Stark confuse Lee for Hugh Hefner. They returned to this well in the second film by having Lee appear as the very distinctive Larry King. It’s a nice joke, but one that definitely had diminishing returns the second time around.
11) Ant-Man – One of my favourite gags in Ant-Man has to be when Michael Pena’s Luis goes on his long winded stories where we see other people speaking with his voice. In the first film Stan plays one of the people in Luis’ story, and to see the great man say “Yeah, crazy stupid fine” in Michael Pena’s voice is something else. It’s the kind of cameo from Stan that I liked, because it didn’t detract from what was happening, and fitted in with the joke very well.
10) Deadpool – There have been a couple of Stan Lee cameos that play on the idea of Stan in scenarios you wouldn’t expect, the first Guardians of the Galaxy is one great example of this, but the best has to be Deadpool, which takes advantage of the film’s R-Rating to have Stan playing an MC in a strip club. It’s so funny because it is probably the last moment you’d expect Stan’s cameo to happen, but it also doesn’t derail the story.
9) The Amazing Spider-Man – Of all the Stan Lee doesn’t realise there’s a fight going on cameos the first Amazing Spider-Man film undoubtedly has the best. Appearing in the school library listening to classical music whilst Spider-Man fights The Lizard behind him. It’s a really cool and interesting way of staging an fight scene, and proved that whilst Mark Webb’s strength maybe Rom-Coms he did have some great directorial flair for action as well.
8) Teen Titans Go To The Movies – Stan Lee is of course most associated with Marvel, but one of his most recent cameos was actually in a DC film of all things. Pastiching the way that these cameos are often far from subtle we get treated to an extremely subtle Stan Lee cameo… as subtle as having your name in flashing lights and big arrows pointing to you whilst you announce that you’re doing your subtle cameo can be. It’s a great moment, and is even capped with an assistant coming to point out that it’s a DC film. Hilarious.
7) Captain America: Civil War – A hugely popular Stan Lee cameo has to be his appearance at the end of Captain America: Civil War where he delivers a parcel to Tony Stark, and unfortunately for Tony misreads his name as Tony Stank. It’s a funny gag, but also allows us to really re-establish the friendship between Tony and Rhodey, something that we hadn’t really seen highlighted in an MCU for a good few years prior to that, and something that we needed to really see the weight of Rhodey’s injury for Tony.
6) Ant-Man and the Wasp – The recent films have seen a lot of very in your face cameos that have taken me out of the story a little, with Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther being some of the worst culprits. But in a straight up comedy heist film where insane visual things are happening having Stan Lee make a joke about ‘the sixties being fun but him paying for it now’ after his car is shrunk fits perfectly. It’s also one of the more adventurous jokes you’ll see in a Marvel film.
5) The Incredible Hulk – Very rarely does a Stan Lee cameo actually have any meaningful, or even slight, impact upon the plot of the film. But in The Incredible Hulk it does just that, and that’s something I do think we could’ve seen a little more. As the old man who dies from ingesting the drink tainted with Banner’s blood. It is this that allows Thunderbolt Ross and Emil Blonsky to track him down in Brazil and kicks off the story of the film in earnest.
4) Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – I do love a good pun or play on words, and to see Stan fail to get into Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s because the name Stanley on the list is hilarious to me. It’s as simple as that, and it’s getting a high place.
3) Age of Ultron – Of all the pure comedy cameos that Stan Lee made none were funnier than his attempt to to drink some of Thor’s Asgardian drink, which obviously left him drunker than any other mortal has ever been. As he’s carried away from the party he manages to drunkenly shout his well known catchphrase, “Excelsior”.
2) Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – A theory went around that Stan Lee was actually the character of Uatu the Watcher which would explain how he managed to appear in all these different films taking place in different parts and times of the universe. In Guardians 2 Lee appeared telling his tales of what he had witnessed to a group who were unmistakably the Watchers. It was a great nod to a fun fan theory, and a great sign that Marvel are still willing to reward fans with great Easter Eggs like this one.
1) Spider-Man 3 – The best cameo in Stan Lee’s illustrious repertoire may well have come in what is potentially one of the worst films on this list (it would push Fantastic Four 2 close for that title). But this may have been small, but it was a powerful and inspirational cameo. When Peter Parker sees that Spider-Man is due to receive the key to the city Stan Lee appears to tell him “You know, I guess one person can make a difference, nuff said”. It’s short and cuts right to the heart of what makes Spider-Man such a great hero. Nuff said.