The most epic shots in Marvel movies

As demonstrated by years of solid reviews and blockbuster box office grosses, there's an awful lot to love about the best Marvel movies. They've all got their share of funny one-liners, tons of high-stakes excitement, and even some good old-fashioned character development along the way — but really, when you get down to it, we're all turning out to be blown away by the most spectacular action that modern cinema has to offer. Given all the amazing, mind-blowing camera work and CGI effects packed inside each and every Marvel movie, it's difficult to narrow it all down to a handful of shots can truly define the visual magnificence of the MCU. Difficult, but not impossible — and we've rounded up the senses-shattering scenes that prove it, narrowing every minute that makes up the studio's ever-growing list of blockbusters down to the 10 most epic shots in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Age of Ultron's opening tracking shot (Avengers: Age of Ultron)

Considering how exhilarating the first Avengers movie's big tracking shot was, it's no surprise that Joss Whedon opted to double-dip and reuse the technique for the opening of Age of Ultron. Here, he takes the idea to its logical extremes, reserving the whole first minute of the film for a non-stop assault on the senses. The camera moves at a rip-roaring pace, sweeping beside Black Widow and Hawkeye before chasing after Thor, slowing for a brief moment only to rev back to life in hot pursuit of Captain America's motorcycle. It only goes on from there, in a shot that covers an entire CGI forest's worth of ground inside of sixty seconds. It's not just an impressive shot, it's a killer intro to each of the characters.

Without a single cut to break the flow, this shot introduces you to each Avenger as well as the abilities they bring to the team. Black Widow drives, punches, and shoots, Hawkeye fires off arrows, Hulk smashes; you get the idea. It's got a near-perfect blend of pure spectacle with unspoken character descriptions. As icing on the cake, the shot even finishes with the whole team assembled, striking a pose together in mid-air, an homage to any number of Avengers comics covers. It's the ideal way to open up an Avengers movie and get the audience ready for two hours of high-octane, over-the-top action.

The climactic wide shot of Iron Man and Captain America's fight (Captain America: Civil War)

Featuring a particularly awesome homage to Captain America: Civil War's source material, this shot is ripped directly from the comics. And the best bit? The movie lets you know it's coming up, giving you a few precious moments to relish in anticipation. Yes, there's just no better shot to illustrate the movie's core conflict than that of the finale's epic shield-repulsor clash. 

Before the money shot drops, a quick insert of Cap grabbing his shield is seen. Given that the music is already at its peak, this insert makes it clear that what's coming next is what the audience has been waiting for: the camera follows Steve Rogers as he charges toward Stark, deflecting each and every repulsor blast with his shield until the two foes are inches apart. Then the world slows to a crawl, isolating the visually stunning moment when Iron Man unleashes one final repulsor blast directly onto the surface of Cap's shield. The blast reflects off it and blazes to life, filling the screen with a light that could only be achieved by the union of this unstoppable force (Rogers) meeting the immovable object (Stark). There's no mystery why this shot is the defining image of the film it's representing—it fulfills everything we hoped this movie would be, all within a few frames.

The Guardians gather to save the galaxy (Guardians of the Galaxy)

In the last shot of this sequence, James Gunn made it clear to us that he managed to assemble his own team of Avengers inside a movie of (previously) C-list Marvel heroes. With Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn crafted an action film that had heart and wit and made Groot more than just a sentient tree, it made him a household name. This shot serves as the payoff to that accomplishment. 

Just as we all cheered when the Avengers finally assembled in their historic rotating dolly, this slow-mo dolly shot is epic, showing us this isn't your usual gang of heroes. The edit of each character joining in, looking annoyed or bored, or, in the case of Rocket, tugging on a suit too tight around his junk, coupled with the angry '70s rock hit "Cherry Bomb," tells us this team is as far from the Avengers as you're going to get while still able to use the word "heroes." Its gritty lighting and muted colors, in an otherwise colorful outer space world, gives us the sense our heroes are walking toward their doom. And, considering a couple of them are yawning, not too busted up about it. 

Iron Man races to save Air Force One's crew (Iron Man 3)

Iron Man 3's entire Air Force One rescue scene is downright incredible, so narrowing it down to a single shot was tough—but we've done it.

While there are a multitude of winner-worthy examples of cinematography on display in this scene, one narrowly rises above the competition. It's the shot of Iron Man dashing down from a destroyed Air Force One to save its entire crew, immediately after being told by Jarvis that carrying them all would be an impossibility. 

From a visual imagery perspective, the shot contains all the necessary elements: a smoking Air Force One in the distance, a crew of people screaming and flailing mid-free fall, and a tiny gold and red speck rocketing toward them to save the day. This shot does an impeccable job of conveying the stakes of the situation as well as the horror of it. And it doesn't stop there: not only does the director's expert stage-blocking cram all of that information into a single shot's framing, but it does so while employing the shaky-cam technique, so viewers can get swept up in the free fall themselves. It's a touch that really sells the gravity (heh) of the situation, even if the audience isn't consciously aware of it. Couple all of that with Brian Tyler's eerie score ominously murmuring in the background, and it's an uncontested nail-biter of a shot, guaranteed to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

Ant-Man hops over the firing pistol (Ant-Man)

This shot is epic if for no other reason than that it makes a character called "Ant-Man" look cooler than some of the A-list Avengers. Seriously, everything about this shot just screams "Holy crap!" What makes it so cool? Maybe it's the kinetic energy of the camera sweeping beside Ant-Man that makes the moment so special, tracking him as he runs on the surface of a gun immediately after dodging its bullet at (literal) point-blank range. Or maybe it's the fact that we just saw an ant-sized hero hop through a glass bullet hole seconds earlier only to end up on top of the pistol that created the hole in the first place. It's that brand of absurdity that perfectly summarizes why the shot works: it revels in its craziness while also giving Scott Lang the heroic framing he deserves. And it doesn't hurt that the shot is also superbly paced, moving along at at a speed where our minds aren't allowed even a split-second to dwell on the ridiculousness of the sequence.

Kaecilius' first sling ring escape (Dr. Strange)

You can tell the director and storyboard artist had a fun time thinking up this one. It's the kind of crazy, mind-bending shot that reaffirms why this movie needed to happen: to establish magic in the MCU and, perhaps, bring it back to cinemas at large.

The first thing to note about the shot is its paradoxical angling: it's simultaneously a low angle and high angle shot, with either definition working based on how you look at it. This subliminally reinforces one of Doctor Strange's biggest themes, that everything's just a matter of perspective. This, of course, is only one of a few super-interesting things going on with the shot.

The next thing to note is the color grading of the shot. It leaves the buildings a dull, desaturated grey divided only by pitch-black shadows, allowing us to A) perfectly track where the sorcerers are distorting geography and B) help us focus our attention on the mystical glowing elements, i.e., the sling ring portal. It's a prime example of masterful aesthetic design by director Scott Derrickson. And, on the topic of aesthetics, this shot really is a special one in that regard: it's ridiculously busy yet also super focused, allowing us to be overwhelmed by the buildings consuming themselves in the background while still letting us remain fully concentrated on Kaecilius' sling ring escape.

All of these factors make it clear why this is easily one of the most epic shots in the MCU to date.

The big punch between Hulk and the Hulkbuster (Avengers: Age of Ultron)

This one made the list for pretty obvious reasons. The Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight instantly became one of the most anticipated MCU throwdowns of all time when the first Age of Ultron trailer dropped, and, having seen the whole fight, we can all attest that the hype was well warranted. This shot had some close competition with other great bits from the ruckus, such as the initial assembly of the Hulkbuster and Hulk pummeling Stark up a tower, but we feel this one really captures the most epic moment. 

After minutes of heated conflict where the upper-hand flip-flops between Hulk and Iron Man in his Hulkbuster suit, the ultimate stalemate is reached when green fist meets robot fist, creating a blast wave that breaks glass and sends people flying. It's as intense as punches come and is captured at an extra wide angle that really helps translate the enormity of the two titans clashing. Not only is it a very cool shot on a technical level, but, for Marvel fans, it's just such an amazing sight to see Hulk and Iron Man going at it on the big screen.

Spider-Man holds the ferry together (Spider-Man: Homecoming)

This is the quintessential hero shot, displaying a protagonist challenging impossible odds head-on in order to save the day. There's nothing quite as epic as seeing teen hero Spider-Man desperately clutching to his webs to keep the Staten Island Ferry and all of its passengers from drowning. While it's not a very tense moment given that the movie's own promotional material spoils how the situation resolves, it's still an epic shot that aptly summarizes the Spider-Man ethos, one of determination even in the absence of hope. In that sense, the shot flawlessly captures the essence of Homecoming's Peter Parker and helps to define this movie's take on the character.

Furthermore, if you look in the background of the shot, you'll notice a nice touch: the Statue of Liberty. Not only is it an iconic landmark that helps remind us just how high-profile the situation is, but it's also a monument representative of people who fought in the service of securing a better, safer tomorrow. It's a subtle reinforcement of Spider-Man's struggle, dangling between tons of sinking steel to try and keep everyone alive. This symbolism reminds us that Spidey is always in it for the greater good, which is why he's one of the greatest heroes.

Hammer drones surround Iron Man and War Machine (Iron Man 2)

This is a shot that flawlessly sums up why Iron Man and War Machine are so cool: they're just as ready to rumble as the audience watching them. Though the shot itself isn't very complex, its simplicity is one of its biggest selling points. The uncomplicated framing does a fine job of setting the scene for the fight, illustrating all key information via a slow, methodical rotation. The motion of the camera helps to capture the predatory nature of the conflict, with the Hammer drones surrounding their prey at all angles like a pack of wolves would. Yet that's what makes our first point stand out even more: even though Stark and Rhodey are the ones standing at the heart of the death ring, they're not one bit worried. It's an epic shot that shows both Iron Men are ready to assume the mantle of being superheroes. It's also a great lead-in to the action: it's a downtempo moment that visually illustrates the enemy's superior quantity and helps foreshadow that the big fight is only moments away, thanks to a plodding drum beat that escalates in perfect accordance with audience anticipation. Add in the remarkably gritty color palette and lighting choices that help set the mood for the upcoming fight, and this is a shot that's got all the ingredients for a badass finale setup.

Banner's "I'm Always Angry" (Avengers)

We had to put this one on our list. After all, it's likely the moment when most of us realized the MCU was finally becoming the cinematic juggernaut its studio's architects always knew it would be.

The "That's my secret, Cap," shot is not only the most iconic moment for the MCU's Hulk but also for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. It's the direct lead-in to the Avengers finally assembling, after five movies' worth of buildup. It's simultaneously an intensely personal character-building moment as well as an "oh my god" moment for the audiences who've just realized that Marvel cracked the code to making epic superhero movies. When people think back to The Avengers, they think about this shot and the bevy of amazing scenes that follow it.

Literally everything about this shot works: Alan Silvestri's Avengers theme building in the background, Ruffalo's expert line delivery, and the shot's perfect length all capitalize on the audience's expectation for some Hulk-smashing. While Joss Whedon is smart to use all of these things to the moment's advantage, he mostly relies on the framing of the shot itself to communicate his point. Even though there's a massive alien heading toward a shrimpy Bruce Banner, the incoming CGI spectacle is placed in the background of the shot while Ruffalo remains alone in the fore. This placement reminds us that the true emphasis will never be on the spectacle, but, rather, on the characters that help facilitate it. And that's the MCU's secret, Cap: it's always focused … on the superheroes.