The Most Heroic Moments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
After 10 years of superhero stories told in the unprecedented blockbuster canvas that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there have been many, many moments that show what it means to be a hero. With the release of Infinity War less than a week away we wanted to highlight the moments of heroism that stand apart, the ones that make audiences cheer and inspire kids of all ages to be their best selves and to make a difference.
Iron Man (2008)
Occuring roughly towards the end of Iron Man’s second act, the Gulmira sequence is the first legitimate superhero moment of the MCU, as we get Tony Stark suited up in the iconic red-and-gold suit. But more importantly, we see Stark taking swift action to protect those in danger and make his mark on the world stage. At this point, he has only been readjusting to life back home after being held captive by the Ten Rings, but he is eager to use his tech to take vengenace against the rogue militia. Upon viewing a scene of disorder and chaos in Gulmira on TV, he gears up, takes to the skies and, and lands not long after. After quickly disposing of some goons, the others order Stark to stand down by threatening to execute their captives, many of them women and children, if he does not obey them. Stark lowers his repulsors, but as we move into his HUD display, the targeting system isolates the terrorists and in the blink of an eye, knocks them unconscious. A moment of silence passes as the world bears witness to the sight of a new kind of hero, as Stark jettisons off to take care of the rest of the Ten Rings. It’s a crowdpleasing display and maybe the best moment of the film itself, as it gives birth to a new hero, willing to face evil and save lives, while demonstrating an immense display of power at the same time.
- Rob Trench
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Kids-Seeing-The Hero is a moment that can truly shine in the superhero film genre. One of the best ones for my money exists within the often kicked around Iron Man 2. In the film’s finale, a huge battle takes place with dozens of deadly mechanical drones ready to crush, kill and destroy Iron Man. One drone walks amongst the crowd and locks onto Iron Man, only it is not Tony Stark the drone targets. It is a little boy wearing an Iron Man mask and gloves like his hero. The drone take aim on the child, but the child does not run. The boy stands his ground, lifts his fake Repulsor Blaster ready to “fire” back at the mechanical menace. Just as the drone is about to fire, Iron Man lands right beside the boy and blasts bot to scrap metal. He then leans down and says “Nice work, kid.” then flies away to save the evening. A brave (or stupid) child was nearly popped like a balloon, only to be saved by his hero and commended in the process. It’s one of Stark’s finest moves, but no one brings it up because they are too busy knocking this film.
- Rockie Juarez
Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is, at its heart, about the humbling of a god. Thor Odinson is an arrogant prince who cares only for himself until he stripped of his powers and cast to Earth. Through his interactions with the brave and kind with Jane Foster and other mortals he learns what it means to be a man. The most heroic moment of this film is something fairly unique to the superhero genre, as it’s Thor realizing that he can’t save his friends, and the other residents of the small town, through fighting. Instead, Thor sacrifices himself so that Loki will have no reason to continue his assault. This sacrifice shows that he is indeed worthy to wield the powers of Thor and he is resurrected. It’s a wonderfully crowd-pleasing moment and one of the best examples of heroism in the MCU.
- Sam Van Haren
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
I feel fairly certain that most people would point to Steve’s decision to go down with the bomber at the end of The First Avenger as that film’s most heroic moment. However, I hold a different opinion. Steve’s most heroic moment is, far and away, when he launches himself on the dummy grenade thrown at his platoon during training. In that moment, when everyone else around him is thinking only of their own lives and wellbeing, Steve is willing to give his life for everyone without a second thought. Steve’s entire ethos is on display in this very moment, his moral compass exposed for all to see. Even after being relentlessly mocked by the more muscular and brutish members of his platoon, Steve is still willing to die for them, simply because he knows it’s the right thing to do. Steve Rogers is a hero by nature. The only thing the powers did was make it easier for him to show it.
- Harrison Brockwell
The Avengers (2012)
Late in the first act of The Avengers, the earth’s mightiest heroes are not getting along. Loki’s Spear is amping up tensions, but they are not from nowhere. Steve accuses Tony of being in it only for himself and that, if the time should come, he would not make the sacrifice play. Tony takes this to heart, so when the World Security Council launches a nuke in a foolish attempt to close the wormhole, he doesn’t flinch and drags the missile through the rift in space knowing it’s a one-way trip. Robert Downey, Jr. sells this sacrificial effort wonderfully especially when he attempts to make a final call to Pepper. At the last second, Stark drops through the wormhole and Steve recognizes he was wrong about his now brother-in-arms. It’s the perfect punctuation to a film filled with great hero moments.
- Sam Van Haren
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Shane Black’s Iron Man sequel has many moments of the armored billionaire behaving altruistically, but none quite as daring and heroic as the sky rescue sequence. When Savin blows a hole in Air Force One several crew members are sucked out and are falling to their deaths. With so many to save and very little time to do so Stark has to rely on his true superpower, his intellect. He soars through the air to each crew member electrifying them together in a human barrel of monkeys. This sequence remains one of the most formally impressive stunts in the MCU, but the emotional resonance of Tony saving everyone is what sticks with you. And the final beat, revealing that Stark was remotely piloting the armor, is perfect.
- Sam Van Haren
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The most selfless and brave act in The Dark World does not come from Thor, or Heimdall, or any of the Warriors Three. It comes from the Queen of Asgard, Frigga, when she defends Jane Foster from the Dark Elf Malekith. Frigga takes sword in hand and goes toe-to-toe with the intimidating menace. While she knows she can not defeat this enemy on her own, she is willing to give her life if it means that Jane stays alive just a bit longer. Thor arrives just in time to he see his mother killed, as he electrocutes Malekith, scarring him badly. Her sacrifice is honored in the most visually stunning scene of the film, an otherworldly Viking funeral.
- Sam Van Haren
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The Winter Soldier may be the only film in the MCU in which the most heroic moment is performed by the villain. Of course, there is plenty of heroism from Cap himself, that elevator scene, that helicopter bicep scene, anyone? But remember, the Winter Soldier, or Bucky if you prefer, is as much a victim as anyone in this story. He has been tortured and brainwashed repeatedly to play the role of the villain. Despite this reprogramming, at the end of the film, after pseudo defeating our hero, Bucky manages to shake off his Winter Soldier persona for just long enough to drag Captain America to safety. This relatively simple act speaks not only to Bucky’s internal strength, but the bond he and Cap share, which has been one of the driving forces of one of the favorite heroes in the MCU. We can only hope that the real Bucky will get a few more heroic moments soon!
- David Hart
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Peter Quill grabbing an Infinity Stone to save a planet has to be one of the best Hero moments in the entirety of the MCU. As the film’s villain Ronan the Accuser is about to lay waste to the planet Xandar using an all powerful Infinity Stone, the motley crew of shitty but lovable heroes seems all but defeated. Ronan begins to monologue like an idiot (possible nod to The Incredibles) giving Peter a chance to distract him with a Dance Contest. The ruse gives Rocket Raccoon and Drax the time needed to construct and fire a weapon releasing the powerful stone from Ronan’s grasp. Before the stone can hit the ground, Peter grabs it and the impossible happens. Screaming in pain and seemingly about to die, he begins to see his mother who he lost due to cancer asking him: “Take my hand.” Gamora screams the same, touching Peter and absorbing the destructive power as well. Drax and Rocket follow suit and in this moment with the score swelling that perfect theme they become a team. Family is more apt. It works like gangbusters making Peter’s suicidal play a thing of beauty and a highly memorable hero moment.
- Rockie Juarez
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
In Age of Ultron, the Avengers have found themselves filling the void left by S.H.I.E.L.D. after its fall in Winter Soldier. As the Battle of Sokovia is raging and all seems at its most hopeless, Nick Fury arrives with the last remnants of the super spy agency. The Helicarrier did not come with weapons, instead it brought life boats to rescue as many civilians as possible. Seeing S.H.I.E.L.D. behave how they’re supposed to gives the Avengers a second wind and a reminds them of their true goal. The Avengers realize that they may not survive their battle with Ultron, but as long as the people survive, both on the city turned asteroid and the Earth below, their job is well done.
- Sam Van Haren
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) loves his daughter Cassie. Sure he's made mistakes, spending time in prison and away from her, but his love for his daughter comes across easily with their interactions throughout Peyton Reed’s 2015 film, Ant-Man. There's a theme throughout the movie of fathers protecting their daughters from the horrors of the world, whether if it's Hank Pym’s guarding his daughter Hope from the truth about her mother's death or Lang fighting Darren Cross’s Yellowjacket in Cassie's bedroom. During Lang's initial training as the new Ant-Man Pym warns Scott about messing with the regulator on his suit as tampering with it could cause Scott to continue to shrink smaller and smaller down into the Quantum Realm. This is where space and time become irrelevant as you shrink to the size of an atom and even smaller still. In order to defeat Yellowjacket however, Scott does in fact need to shrink down to unsafe levels, eventually entering the Quantum Realm all in order to save his daughter's life from the lunatic villain. If that doesn't scream “HERO” I don't know what does.
- Matt Curione
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
In a movie filled with mostly in-fighting, with the Avengers battling over the Sokovia Accords and Bucky Barnes, there aren’t too many traditional moments of pure heroism. Civilians are put in danger and killed in the first major action sequence, causing the team of heroes to reevaluate their approach. They even take their argument to an empty airport to avoid collateral damage. But, a true shining moment of heroism comes from T’Challa, aka Black Panther, at the very end of the ‘Civil War'. When it’s revealed that Zemo has been behind the whole evil plot to pit Captain America and Iron Man against each other, with the loss of life including T’Challa’s father, Black Panther faces his true enemy, first filled with rage. But when Zemo reveals his rationale, that he too lost loved ones, blaming it squarely on the Avengers, Black Panther’s deadly claws retract. Zemo is kept alive, rather than letting him commit suicide. It would’ve been easier and possibly more satisfying for some to see Zemo meet a deadly end, but Black Panther’s moral compass wouldn’t let it happen—it’s the sign of a true hero. “The living are not done with you yet.”
- Marcelo Pico
Doctor Strange (2016)
For the majority of Doctor Strange, the titular sorcerer solves his problems by diving in head first in order to prove to himself that he can overcome anything; but through his training he is humbled and learns that he is not the center of the universe. In the film’s inventive finale, Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to reverse time and prevent the Hong Kong Sanctum from being destroyed. Desperate to solve the problem permanently, Strange transports himself to Dormammu’s dark dimension and traps himself and the immortal evil in a time loop. Strange knows there is no way he can defeat Dormammu at his current training level, so he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice again and again as long as the Earth is safe. This bit of ingenuity is a perfectly in character move while also being the first truly selfless thing he does. (Sam)
- Sam Van Haren
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
In a movie populated with ‘a-holes’, a motley crew who would be better off with a group therapy session than a mission, it’s hard to find selfless heroics. This contrast between the sardonic and the sentimental is what makes James Gunn’s hooky exchanges so effective. From Drax telling Mantis that he believes in her, to Nebula undergoing much pain to save the group, and Gamora via her mechanical arm, the moments of friendship and family are well choreographed for payoffs and character redemptions. But the most touching and heroic moment comes in Yondu’s sacrifice to save Star-Lord from the implosion of Ego’s planet. ‘He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy!’’ Yondu yells while surrounding Peter Quill with one of Rocket’s instant spacesuits, as he dons the jet pack that enables them to leave the atmosphere, but exposes him to the coldness and radiation of space. This leads to an emotional reconciliation between the surviving Guardians, an emotional realization that helps Quill grow as a leader and friend, and a dazzling send off from Yondu’s fellow Ravager clans.
- Nick Isaac
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
hroughout Spider-Man’s solo debut in the MCU, Peter struggles with trying to earn his place in the world of the Avengers. He continues to force himself into situations he is not prepared for until Tony Stark finally takes back the suit he gave him as he says “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Needing to act, Peter confronts the Vulture in the film’s climax in his DIY Spidey costume. So when Vulture buries him under a massive pile of rubble, he has none of the amazing tech to help him. He is understandably terrified until he comes to a moment of self-actualization. The suit is never what made him heroic, nor was it his powers, it was him deciding that he can and should fight to make a difference. Now, with newfound confidence, he is able to free himself.
- Sam Van Haren & Sara Sorrentino
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Brothers Thor and Loki have had a shaky relationship, to say the least. Going from the villain in The Avengers to coming through in the end in Thor: Ragnarok, helping save the people of Asgard, Loki’s arc has turned out to be one of the best in the MCU. Ragnarok not only has the best Thor and Loki stories, it tackles the brotherly conflict between the two, perfectly summed up with the snake story. Thor says of Loki that he won’t change his mischievous ways, and Loki seemingly agrees. But when the people of Asgard look to be in trouble, and Thor’s mighty team of Revengers looks to be backed into a corner, it’s Loki who arrives with a hijacked ship with Korg’s band of revolutionaries, to save the day. Loki seems to have some good in him, and it’s nice to see the brothers together for one last time before it all comes crashing down in Avengers: Infinity War.
- Marcelo Pico
Black Panther (2018)
Ryan Coogler’s masterpiece subverts the well-worn tropes of the superhero genre for the entirety of its runtime. This primarily comes from making the “villain” not only a person whose motivations we understand but someone who is right, it even goes as far as having the hero learn from him. Killmonger has become a villain due to the actions of T’Challa’s father, and due to the isolationist ways of Wakanda. T’Challa realizes that leaving the world to its own devices, when Wakanda has the technology and resources to make a difference, is wrong. The most heroic act we see from T’Challa is when he decides to change things. This is crystalized inthe final scene, when he arrives outside the projects in Oakland where his cousin grew up. He tells Shuri that he is opening the first Wakandan Cultural Outreach Center. While the other young boys look in awe at the “Bugatti Spaceship” they arrived, one notices T’Challa and looks in wonder as he asks “Who are you?” Now that’s a hero moment.