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The Most Epic Superhero Movie Scene, Every Year Since 1999

Here at Looper, we believe in preparing for every possible scenario, even when it makes us look crazy. For instance, what if a purple bodybuilder from outer space teleports to Earth, checks into a Vegas hotel, and announces that when he wakes up in the morning, he's going to snap his fingers and make half of the superhero movies released since 1999 disappear forever? 

In case this wildly unlikely turn of events comes to fruition, we've made arrangements to avert mass panic: Humanity can simply focus on this list of the most epic scenes of every superhero movie released since 1999. This way, since the aforementioned situation doesn't leave anyone with the time to watch each film in its entirety, we can soak in the most exciting moments before they're snapped out of existence forever. Until they mysteriously blip back in a few years, of course.

What if that oddball apocalypse doesn't come to pass? Well, we'll have created an enjoyable list regardless. Without further ado, let us present the most jaw-dropping, breath-taking, and eye-popping superhero movie scenes from every year since 1999. 

Caution: What follows is positively loaded with massive spoilers for every movie mentioned. The very next thing we're about to do is talk about the ending of a classic, so don't say we didn't warn you.

1999: Mr. Furious extracts his revenge in Mystery Men

Mystery Men came a few decades too early. In 1999, the star-studded satire failed to turn a profit, despite costing well under $100 million. But imagine a 2022 movie about a loose alliance of wannabe Batmen. It could star Pete Davidson as Mr. Furious, who has the power to get incredibly angry; Aubrey Plaza as the Bowler, whose dead father's ghost haunts her bowling ball; and Adam Driver as the Shoveler, who shovels very well. Does that movie make $33 million at the box office? No, sir. Mystery Men in 2022 makes a cool billion dollars, easy. We're certain of it.

But in the Mystery Men that exists, Ben Stiller plays Roy, AKA Mr. Furious, who spends much of the film trying and failing to convince anyone to believe in his cliché brooding badass persona. A short temper is not a superpower, after all. Finally, he manages to convert his rage into something akin to resolve when the time comes to pull Monica the waitress (Claire Forlani) from the clutches of the diabolical Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush). On paper, a romantic subplot about a violent, delusional schlub winning the heart of a woman he's stalking looks pretty questionable, but Stiller and Forlani spin it into one of the movie's most charming elements.

2000: Wolverine pops his claws in X-Men

These days, we expect to see every major comic book character appear in live-action media with the special effects necessary to make their scientifically impossible powers appear utterly and immediately possible. But within the larger scheme of pop culture history, our current status quo is an anomaly. If Superman and Batman's movies proved comic book characters could translate to box office success as long as 50 years of cultural visibility preceded their films, X-Men showed the potential of comparatively untested properties. This was unprecedented, and many moviegoers were still pretty skeptical — especially regarding the portrayal of X-Men characters with particularly weird powersets.

The X-Men originally ranked among Marvel's least popular characters until the team rebooted with a new roster (including the Canadian ruffian Wolverine) in 1975. By the 1990s, only Spider-Man held a candle to the X-Men's popularity and bankability. So by the time the millennium rolled around, the sight of Hugh Jackman menacing bigoted thugs with his shiny hand razors elicited quite a bit of enthusiasm, and Hollywood learned they can definitely make truckloads of money off movies that mainly appeal to comic book nerds.

2002: Spidey and MJ smooch upside-down in Spider-Man

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man sparked a revival of the wide-eyed sincerity and optimism that vanished from superhero films after Christopher Reeve's Superman series ran its course. It also grossed more than twice what X-Men pulled in at the box office a few years earlier. This might explain why Captain America and Thor don't wear matching black leather outfits in The Avengers, opting instead for colorful costumes that have stayed remarkably faithful to their comic book duds.

Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst (playing Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, respectively) spend many of their Spider-Man scenes spouting utterly earnest dialogue you might find a bit more ham-fisted than you remembered. However, in a vacuum, the image of MJ smooching upside-down Spidey in the rain, following a foiled alleyway assault, still resonates — even after all the Spider-Man solo films that have blasted across our eyeballs since. Maybe Spider-Man isn't the best Spider-Man movie, but what an image it creates in this romantic scene.

2003: Nightcrawler storms the White House in X2

Nobody would be crazy enough to write a character who breaks into a major Washington D.C. government building and attacks a prominent public official today. Of course, terrorism was still a loaded topic in 2003. But at the time, it was easier to ignore the real-world implications of a presidential assassination attempt when the perpetrator is an ostensibly magical blue imp. These days, a dude who looks like a circus performer threatening Congress doesn't seem so far-fetched. 

At the start of the second X-Men movie, Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) tumbles and teleports across the West Wing, dispatches a score of Secret Service agents, and inadvertently makes a prescient statement about the future of superheroes in film. By the mid-'90s, Nightcrawler had moved on from the X-Men in the comics. He mostly appeared in that era's lower-profile Excalibur series, and only showed up in a handful of episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series, the foundational text for a generation of X-fans. But his provisional B-lister status didn't keep him out of X2, nor did it prevent his visually complicated powers from appearing in their fullest-possible glory. 

In some respects, Nightcrawler in X2 predicts Guardians of the Galaxy, WandaVision, and plenty of other current Marvel and DC projects that push secondary characters to the forefront. If X-Men didn't entirely drive the point home, X2 demonstrates that Batman and Spider-Man's brand-recognition is not essential for a sufficiently awesome superhero film.   

2004: Doc Ock sleeps through his own homicidal rampage in Spider-Man 2

Almost all of these movies are family-friendly PG or PG-13 affairs, so you won't see a ton of genuinely frightening sequences on this list of epic movie scenes. Here we have an exception that proves the rule: The inaugural appearance of Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) in full Doc Ock-mode in Spider-Man 2. And what an exceptional exception it is, eh? 

Before Spider-Man, Sam Raimi was known mainly for directing the pulpy horror classic The Evil Dead and its pair of sequels. In this sequel (which is still one of the all-time best Spider-Man movies), Raimi expands on his track record of filming inanimate objects on kill-crazy death sprees. A team of surgeons make the mistake of ticking off Otto's metal arms as they prepare to sever them from their human host. The arms attack as Octavius sleeps, making mincemeat of the medical team. After the carnage concludes, Octavius lets out an anguished "Nooooooooooo!" that makes Darth Vader's similar bellow at the end of Revenge of the Sith sound goofy by comparison. Eh, actually, Vader's "Noooo!" looks pretty silly even without us comparing it to Molina. Regardless, this is an iconic moment.

2005: Batman gets his groove back in Batman Begins

Much has already been written regarding Christopher Nolan's rehabilitation of the Batman film franchise. But this sequence goes especially far towards that goal, separating the Nolan trilogy from every previous on-screen iteration of Batman with genuine panache.

As Carmine Falcone's minions move concealed drugs by the Gotham City docks, Bruce Wayne doesn't approach them head-on with a flashy, tech-based assault, like he might in a Tim Burton film. He doesn't give them a warning and remind them of the difference between right and wrong, like Adam West's Batman would do. Instead, he stalks and brutalizes them as if they were helpless, half-naked teenagers in a slasher film.

Batman Begins emphatically declares the previous era of a stoic, aloof Batman and his empire of merchandizing has come to a close. Going forward, the Caped Crusader feels more in line with the spirit of Frank Miller and Chuck Dixon's comics, and less like a guy in a rubber suit, easily outshined by flamboyant, gimmicky villains played by better actors. In this scene, Christian Bale officially becomes the first post-Adam West Batman who doesn't wind up playing second banana to the bad guys in his own movie. 

2006: Kal-El lands an airplane in a stadium in Superman Returns

Hoo boy. So, we do not encourage anyone to watch Superman Returns, which is a B-minus blockbuster at best. But we think it's okay to take a gander at this particular sequence, in which Superman (Brandon Routh) pulls a plummeting commercial airliner out of its freefall and lands it safely, mid-game, on a pro baseball diamond. Not only is it the most epic scene from a superhero movie in 2006, it's the only scene from Superman Returns anyone we know remembers. 

Despite his status as the very first superhero, Superman hasn't quite transferred his comics prominence over to cineplexes since Richard Donner left the franchise in 1981. It could be that the right team hasn't come along at the right time. It's also possible that America has a hard time relating to an omnipotent space alien with purely altruistic motives. Meanwhile, Batman movies are mostly about guys with emotional problems trying (and usually failing) to work their issues out through violence. Our culture finds that sort of thing easier to connect with, apparently. But Super-fans will keep the hope alive regardless, and enjoy watching this scene in the meantime.

2007: Leonardo smacks Raphael around in TMNT

Hollywood botched multiple Marvel adaptions in 2007. The year was part of an awkward period, when superheroes were a hot Hollywood commodity but the MCU hadn't yet come to fruition. Rather than dwell upon unpleasant experiences like Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the final entry in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, or the first Nicolas Cage Ghost Rider, let's take a gander at a movie that didn't bum us out: TMNT, one of the better feature-length Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adventures

TNMT takes place years after Leonardo embarks upon a leave of absence to soul-search and hone his craft. Meanwhile, his three brothers are forced to figure out what to do with themselves during their involuntary hiatus from crimefighting. Michelangelo finds work performing at children's birthday parties, Donatello operates an IT helpline, and Raphael decides to screw it, and continues his crimefighting career under an alias. When Leo gets back to town, he's not pleased to see another, apparently less-restrained vigilante hopping around, and so commences the long-time-coming match between the two most highly-skilled Ninja Turtles.

2008: "To them, you're just a freak...like me."

Before moving forward, we should note that in the after-credits scene in 2008's Iron Man and let's remember, sitting through the credits for a secret preview of an upcoming film was not common practice in 2008 Nick Fury approaches Tony Stark to tell him "about the Avenger Initiative." Thus began the MCU, which would go on to dominate the movie industry and shift the trajectory of pop culture itself. 

But this is a list of epic scenes, not important scenes, so let's talk about Joker's interrogation in The Dark Knight. 

Themes and visual cues from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke emerge as Batman futilely attempts to intimidate the Joker (Heath Ledger) into confessing the location of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). This is pretty ironic, considering The Killing Joke is an origin story and The Dark Knight never explains the existence of Ledger's Joker in a way we're meant to assume is true. In this scene, Ledger is at the apex of his performance, a strange creature of chaos locked within four rigid walls that do nothing to keep him from utterly unnerving Batman. Ledger passed away shortly after The Dark Knight wrapped production, leaving us to permanently wonder how The Dark Knight Rises (2012) would've panned out had his tragic death never occurred. 

2009: Rorschach whispers "No" in Watchmen

If The Dark Knight took grimdark superhero media to new heights in 2008, Watchmen inadvertently gestured at its flaws and shouted, "Hey everyone! Look at these flaws!" the following year. The Zack Snyder-directed adaptation slavishly follows Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' touchstone work panel by panel, to the point of calling the necessity of its own existence into question. This goes on right up until the compromised ending, which misses the point of the original story entirely. 

Snyder went to become a fairly prolific director of DC films, and a media personality closely associated with a specific segment of film fandom. Meanwhile, the Watchmen timeline only reemerged in live-action several years later — this time as an acclaimed HBO limited series overseen by Damon Lindelof  

Not everybody likes Snyder's Watchmen, but nobody knocks Jackie Earle Haley's performance as Walter Kovacs, the original Rorschach. Regardless of how you feel about his  politics, Kovacs kicks off Watchmen with a tirade for the ages, promising to deny politicians and sex workers help, should they ask for it at any point in the foreseeable future. In so doing, he lets us know early that he is actually kind of terrible at being a superhero, even if his one-liner game is utterly top-notch.

2010: Basically every fight scene in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

So Scott Pilgrim is a comic book character, but he's not a superhero. He's not even a regular hero. In fact, he's the sort of dude who thinks of himself as a much nicer person than he actually is. Some of you might accuse us of smudging the rules and playing favorites with this selection. Given the fact that 2010 includes Iron Man 2, the James Gunn-directed Super, and Chloë Grace Moretz's career-making criminal slaughter in Kick-Ass, some of you might have a point.

But wait: What if the League of Evil Exes are superheroes, the same way Magneto is a superhero, even though he leads the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants sometimes? They have powers, and they try to prevent Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from dating Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) which is ... sort of heroic? Maybe not so much in the way they go about it, but we're saying it counts.

The fight scenes in this movie — in which vegan bass guitar champ Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), mallcore ninja Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman), and jerky action movie star Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) all mercilessly pummel Cera — are all top notch. If we have to pick one, let's go with Roxy Richter's belt- and teleportation-based assault, just because Routh and Evans are both represented elsewhere on this list.

2011: Captain America rescues everybody in Captain America: The First Avenger

In the comics version of Captain America's origin, Steve Rogers begins the tale as a scrawny dweeb who desperately wants to serve his country and punch Hitler in the face. So he undergoes the super soldier treatment, instantly gains a bunch of muscle, and suddenly, everyone considers him a wildly inspiring guy. But Captain America: The First Avenger does not suppose that other military recruits would instantly accept Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as an admirable superhuman mascot. Instead, they principally consider Cap a walking punchline who siphons stage time away from the dancing girls at USO shows. 

While he does become a super soldier and puts on the signature red, white, and blue outfit earlier in the film, Cap only gains the respect of his peers once he successfully rescues Bucky, and quite a few other prisoners, from a HYDRA base. The First Avenger takes comics mythology a few steps further, and recognizes that symbols do not inspire people in real life: Selfless actions do that. In other words, there's more to being Captain America than science-y muscles and star-spangled spandex.

2012: The ultimate group shot in The Avengers

For decades, the notion that a single film could unite a whole bunch of the audience's favorite non-X-Men superheroes in one story sounded like the ravings of an abject lunatic. Hollywood struggles to consistently get Batman right, so the odds that one movie could sustain more than one marquee do-gooder were not generally considered encouraging. That was before Marvel Studios honed a knack for constructing colorful, fantastic personalities in stand-out solo movies, of course, and long before they managed to put them all in a movie together. The Avengers changed everything.

We consider this particularly epic moment to be a testament to the power of blockbuster filmmaking as craft. The Avengers overflows with explosive action and high-stakes drama, but this group shot conveys just as much excitement as any other part of the movie, simply by the manner in which the camera circles the actors. Through movie magic, six of Earth's Mightiest Heroes become the definition of dynamic, and all they have to do is stand there.

2013: Tony plays mid-air barrel of monkeys in Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr. appears as Tony Stark in a whole lot of MCU movies. But the Shane Black-directed Iron Man 3 feels like the only film of the lot that focuses more on Tony Stark, billionaire inventor with emotional problems, than it does on Iron Man, the red and yellow suit of armor that shoots lasers. If the end of the Iron Man trilogy diminishes the armor's average screen time, it certainly makes the suit-oriented sequences count.  

Modern superhero movies — especially the MCU — take their fair share of flak for presenting us with loads of mayhem and city-destroying chaos without much evidence to suggest superheroes are actually helping people. Here, Black and company demonstrate how a daring, improbable mid-air rescue can provide just as many thrills as, let's say, a punching contest with General Zod that reduces Metropolis to a smoldering heap of rubble.   

2014: Quicksilver goes for a jog in X-Men: Days of Future Past

As epic superhero scenes go, 2014 was a competitive year. Captain America returned in The Winter Solider, often cited as the height of the MCU up to that point. Guardians of the Galaxy introduced America to its new favorite foul-mouthed critter and sentient space tree. But particularly in light of certain events that transpire on a Disney+ show we shan't name due to spoiler concerns, our nod for epicness in 2014 goes to Quicksilver (Evan Peters) bailing Magneto out of prison in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

 By the mid-2010s, the MCU had largely established itself as the premiere multi-superhero franchise. But Fox's X-Men series still had a few kinetically-charged playing cards up its sleeve, including Peters taking a slow-motion spin around a maximum security cafeteria kitchen. In contrast, the MCU's version of Pietro Maximoff doesn't survive Avengers: Age of Ultron, and frankly, that's just as well. Disney ultimately decimated Fox in the great Marvel superhero film war, but before the axe fell, Fox definitely won the title for Best Quicksilver.   

2015: The Avengers get drunk and demonstrate unworthiness in Avengers: Age of Ultron

While it was a solid financial success, Avengers: Age Of Ultron also received conflicting reactions from critics and fans. But everyone can agree that this movie gave us the immortal sight of the Avengers all knocking back a few drinks, exchanging quippy observations about life and love, and playfully attempting to prove that their friend and teammate is an insane fraud. Y'know, BFF stuff.

Snappy dialogue and distinctive characterizations are on full display here, reminding the viewer that it is these performances and relationships that give meaning to the MCU's explosive fight scenes, laser battles, and dance-offs. Here, we have a gathering of pop cultural icons and virtually unstoppable ass-kicking machines, just goofing around and being pals. Without humanizing segments like this hammer-lifting contest, these films are just celebrities dressed like action figures standing in front of greenscreens trying to look stressed out.

2016: Wonder Wonder saves the boys and the franchise in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

More than one superhero movie debut of note took place in 2016. An agreement between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures allowed for Peter Parker to make his long-overdue first appearance in the MCU. Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool surfed a wave of smirking irreverence and R-rated gore to surprise-hit statusSuicide Squad marked the first appearance of Margot Robbie's irresistible Harley Quinn. 

And then we have Gal Gadot premiering as Princess Diana of Themyscira, punching the daylights out a humongous evil ninja turtle in the least polarizing scene of at least the second most polarizing movie in the entire genre. Maybe instead of begging for a director's cut of Justice League, we should've just screamed for a 90-minute version of Wonder Woman fighting Doomsday instead.

Let's also toss some credit for the spectacle to composers Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, who penned an instantly recognizable, intensely propulsive Wonder Woman theme song more than a year before DC would need it for Diana's first solo movie.     

2017: Wolverine finds out how dying feels in Logan

Fox's X-Men series would release three more movies after 2017. But even if we think The New Mutants took a bigger critical beating than it deserved, we can comfortably state that the earnest, non-Deadpool wing of the franchise should've ended with director James Mangold's masterful Logan. Now that they've reabsorbed his film licensing rights, Marvel Studios essentially has to reboot Wolverine at some point. To do otherwise would be financially irresponsible. But if Hugh Jackman's version of James Howlett had to bite the dust, X-fans can take much solace knowing his last hurrah stands as simultaneously the most brutal and heart-wrenching sequence of any X-Men film, and perhaps any superhero movie ever.

Logan contextualizes superhero movies as part of a cinematic tradition that includes westerns and samurai films. But while its themes border on meta-textual, the story itself resonates as a focused and personal road movie about a telepathic nonagenarian and two folks with razor-blade hands. Frankly, if the kid holding the action figure at the funeral scene doesn't make you cry, we question the existence of your soul.

2018: Miles takes a leap of faith in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

For superheroes, 2018 was another highly productive 12 months. Black Panther became a full-blown cross-cultural phenomenonInfinity War swerved the entire MCU in a shocking and terrifying direction, Aquaman made oodles more money at the box office than anyone expected, and Deadpool 2 kept the Merc with a Mouth train rolling. Meanwhile, the most epic single scene of the year appeared in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, as it spirals towards its final showdown. 

Miles Morales trades his shoddy Halloween costume shop outfit for a suit Aunt May customized for him specifically, and rolls the dice on his first big solo skyscraper-to-skyscraper swing, all while Blackway and Black Caviar's "What's Up Danger" rachets up the tension on the soundtrack. We haven't been affected by a transformation montage like this since we first saw Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers for the first time. Let us tell you, Spider-Verse holds up way better than that show does upon contemporary viewing. 

2019: Everybody's okay in Avengers: Endgame

After Thanos snaps his fingers in Avengers: Infinity War and half the life in the universe — including Spider-Man, Black Panther, Nick Fury, and Doctor  Strange — vanishes, moviegoers mostly understood the provisional nature of the intergalactic purple brute's victory. A major movie studio like Disney wouldn't kill off a whole bunch of its most popular and bankable characters — in fact, a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) had already been announcedSo we knew the good guys would find a way to reverse the snap, leaving it up to directors Anthony and Joe Russo to bring half the universe back from nothingness in a way that felt unexpected and miraculous, even when we all knew it was coming. 

Critics accuse Endgame of convoluted time-travel plot shenanigans, but the Russos really do manage to effectively reverse the Avengers' defeat in Infinity War in what might be the simplest and most direct manner possible. Hulk undoes the snap, Hawkeye's phone rings, a whole bunch of stuff blows up, and once enough time and mayhem has gone by to make us forget about Hawkeye's phone ringing, only then, in an unmatched instance of bonkers fan service, do the erstwhile disappeared heroes portal in to show Thanos what a beating feels like. 

2020: Black Mask falls down, goes boom in Birds Of Prey (and The Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, three major superhero movies — Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman 1984, and The New Mutants — all made their way into cineplexes in 2020. None of them were worth catching or spreading a potentially deadly virus over, granted. But funnily enough, the best of the bunch came and went from theaters in February, before the pandemic went into full effect and the world shut down. For many, Birds of Prey is the last (and perhaps only) movie they saw in theaters that year.

Choosing one epic scene from Birds of Prey is no small task, but since we can narrow it down to this scene or the police station break-in, we flipped a coin, and here we are. Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) going ka-blooey in the aftermath of an ill-conceived attempt to outmatch the Clown Queen of Chaos (and Cass Cain, well on her way to becoming princess) is a heck of a cinematic climax. Lots of people explode in movies, but Sionis splatters into little pieces in a manner that would be profoundly disturbing, if it wasn't also hilarious.