Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Most Cringeworthy MCU Moments

There's no denying the sheer enormity and massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though the popular entertainment umbrella franchise may have its ivory tower detractors — celebrated director Martin Scorsese famously said the Marvel films are "not cinema" and that "theaters have become amusement parks" (via The Hollywood Reporter) — there's no denying the success. According to The Numbers, three of the top 10 films for all-time global box office have the word "Avengers" in the title and nine of the top 25 are MCU flicks. The franchise has brought in nearly $23 billion in ticket sales around the globe, a number that's going to continue growing as the future of the MCU unfolds (via The Numbers). 

It all started with 2008's "Iron Man," which was not a perfect film but brought in a respectable haul of $585 million. Since Robert Downey Jr. first took on the mantle of the title character and his alter ego Tony Stark in the MCU's opening salvo, the franchise has continued to sort itself out, with various growing pains presenting themselves. Among the missteps Marvel Studios has had along the way, some have given us more pause than others and have truly not aged well as society progresses, and other things have become downright icky in hindsight. Here are the most cringeworthy moments in MCU canon.

The objectification of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, in Iron Man 2

"I want one." Three words from Tony Stark in 2010's "Iron Man 2" inspire so much cringe you'd think the arc reactor keeping our heart beating just flickered. The line, of course, came at the end of the scene in which the MCU was first introduced to Scarlett Johansson's character Natasha Romanoff — aka the Black Widow — who, at the time, was working undercover for SHIELD at Stark Industries under the alias Natalie Rushman. Outside of the gross, surface-level objectification, it doesn't help that his love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) happens to be the person to whom the line is delivered. At the same time, as a spy, Natasha plays the role of a femme fatale, which lends itself to that kind of humor.

Johansson herself acknowledged her own role in how the sexualization of superheroes developed while doing press in 2019 for "Black Widow," before the film's release was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. "It's hard because I'm inside it, but probably a lot of that is actually from me too. I'll be 35 years old and I'm a mom and my life is different. Obviously, 10 years have passed and things have happened and I have a much different, more evolved understanding of myself," Johansson said in discussing how the depiction of the Black Widow character has evolved (via Collider). "It's changing now. Now people, young girls, are getting a much more positive message, but it's been incredible to be a part of that shift and be able to come out the other side and be a part of that old story, but also progress."

But wait, there's more Black Widow badness

Of course, cringe-worthy quotes about Black Widow aren't limited to MCU characters; we've heard them from MCU actors as well. When doing an interview with Digital Spy UK in advance of 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron," Captain America actor Chris Evans and Hawkeye actor Jeremy Renner made some pretty tasteless remarks about Scarlett Johansson's character. When asked a question of dubious seriousness about MCU fans shipping Black Widow with both Cap and Hawkeye, Renner deadpanned "She's a slut," causing Evans to erupt with laughter and admit he was going to say something along the same lines before calling Natasha a "complete whore." It's clear the remarks were meant in good humor, but they came off a bit tone deaf, considering the depiction of the character to date.

Both actors faced an understandable amount of backlash for their respective remarks via social media and each issued a statement apologizing (via Time). Evans admitted he and Renner "answered in a very juvenile and offensive way." "I regret it and sincerely apologize." Renner's response was a bit more measured: ""I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone. It was not meant to be serious in any way."

Renner later made light of the situation in an appearance on "Conan." "I got in a lot of internet trouble; I guess that's a thing now," he said, going on to clarify that he was talking about "a fictional character and fictional behavior."

Do you kiss your mother with that mouth, Steve Rogers?

That wasn't our last cringeworthy "Age of Ultron" gripe and this one won't be the final complaint about Joss Whedon's final MCU film either. We accept and acknowledge that Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, is a man from a different era. Turned into a super-soldier during WWII, he spent decades frozen in ice after crashing a bomber into the ocean. He's technically a nonagenarian, he admits he was in a barbershop quartet, and he's definitely a bit naive when it comes to his thoughts on soldiers following orders. But while the Star-Spangled Avenger is as wholesome and all-American as apple pie, there's no real reason to think he's a prude. So while the whole "Language" gag from the first act of "Age of Ultron" was good for a quick laugh — with Cap admonishing Tony Stark for dropping an S-bomb after running into the force field protecting Strucker's fortress — we're not sure it really makes that much sense at the end of the day. 

Think about it: there's absolutely zero doubt he'd have heard a lot worse while fighting alongside enlisted men in WWII. He led the legendary Howling Commandos in the MCU; do you think they were howling "gosh," "darn," and "heck" when things didn't go their way? Would he have stopped to admonish them as they faced off against the German army and HYDRA? The "Language" joke and its subsequent repetition — when Maria Hill tells Cap "Steve, he said a bad language word!" — just come off a bit forced and try-hard.

Hide the pen from whomever wrote this line

In our final stop on the Cringeworthy Moments in "Age of Ultron" Tour, we take a bow with another just outright gross line from Tony Stark. With Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) recruited to the side of good and Sokovia already airborne, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) shows up to rescue Black Widow from Ultron's captivity but unwilling to participate in the battle. It's understandable, given the carnage he caused earlier in the film after Wanda got into his head. Unfortunately, he doesn't get what he wants, because, as Natasha says, she needs "the other guy." As such, when the final conflict with the title villain is about to reach its climax, the ever-mature Tony Stark quips that Black Widow and Banner "had better not be playing hide the zucchini." Natasha's able to handle the joke in stride, calling Stark the classic Iron Man nickname "Shellhead" and reminding him that not everyone can fly, but seriously, ew.

For starters, that's beyond crude and adds another unnecessary layer to how the Black Widow character was depicted early on. Secondly, no one needs that mental image — bear in mind, Thor got an eyeful in "Thor: Ragnarok." Also, just because the movie is rated PG-13 doesn't mean that's the level of humor to which the writers needed to aspire. Thankfully, it's not a joke that would be readily apparent to the younger members of the audience.

Peter Quill's appreciation for the abstract expressionist movement

If there's anyone to rival Tony Stark for the Most Juvenile Superhero Award, Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) would definitely give him a run for his money. Tony uses humor as a defense mechanism and sports a chip on his shoulder from his father Howard devoting more time to his work than he did to his family. Star-Lord, on the other hand, never knew his father and his surrogate father was a blue-skinned alien pirate named Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) who kidnapped him, so it's understandable that he'd develop similar defense mechanisms. It's also no surprise that, having been abducted by the Ravagers as a child, he doesn't exactly value cleanliness. 

In fact, he seems oddly proud of it, or at the very least uncaring when Gamora (Zoe Saldana) remarks on the general disarray of his ship, the Milano, in the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie. After the as-yet unnamed title team discusses selling the Orb — which contains the Power Stone) — Star-Lord's green-hued love interest informs him that his ship is "filthy." Instead of taking offense, as one might imagine, he leans into it, telling Rocket (Bradley Cooper) that Gamora "has no idea." "If I had a black light, this place would look like a Jackson Pollock painting." 

For those of you who've never seen "Dateline" — and we don't recommend tracking down the relevant episodes! — in addition to offering cool effects to a lot of colors, a black light will also cause certain — ahem — bodily fluids to glow, the kind we can't really spell out any further. Ew. Like Rocket said, you've got issues, Quill!

Professor Hulk shows off his moves

Not unlike Captain America being depicted as a prude, perhaps the MCU went more than a little bit overboard in trying to convey what a dork Bruce Banner is. After all, Natasha Romanoff just straight up said it in "Age of Ultron," wasn't that and all the tech talk on the bridge of the SHIELD helicarrier in the first "Avengers" movie enough? No?

Five years after Thor (Chris Hemsworth) beheads Thanos in "Avengers: Endgame," Ant-Man, aka Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has exited the quantum realm after surviving the villain's snap in a billion-to-one cosmic fluke — per Tony Stark's estimation at least. As such, given the family he's built with Pepper, Tony isn't really interested in helping Scott, Steve, and Natasha out with their time heist plans. Fortunately, there's another big brain around, one who's been working on himself. By that time, Bruce has finally figured out how to harness the Hulk and maintain his genius-level intellect at the same time, courtesy of the time and effort he spent in the gamma lab. The result is what's commonly referred to as Professor Hulk. He might be massive, strong, and also brilliant, but he's also still a dork; we get that Bruce Banner isn't exactly hip, but to have him do The Dab? The Dab was already cringingly uncool when the movie came out in 2018; the fact the he dropped that movie in the film's 2023 setting? Yeesh.

Tony Stark's questionable taste in cheeseburgers

This one is a little forgivable with the help of context. After Tony Stark frees himself from the captivity of the Ten Rings in the first "Iron Man" movie, he tells Pepper Potts he wants to do two things. First, he asks for "an American cheeseburger." When they arrive for a press conference and Tony is greeted by Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), his driver, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), dutifully trots around the back of the car so Tony can retrieve another cheeseburger from the Burger King bag. Really? You're held in captivity, facing certain death, only to MacGyver together a super suit from spare weapons parts, engineer an escape plan, survive a trip through the desert, and you hit up the BK drive thru before facing the media? 

To be fair, it was a clear product plug. How is that an excuse? Consider the fact that this wasn't just the first "Iron Man" movie; it was the first entry in the MCU. Unless future-Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige used the Time Stone to glimpse the massive success the MCU franchise would attain before signing on to produce it, it was still a gamble to make this film.

There's more: ironically, Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr. backhandedly credits Burger King with helping him beat addiction and saving his life. As he told Empire (via the New York Daily News), he found himself eating Burger King in 2003 and essentially realized he'd hit rock bottom. "It was such a disgusting burger I ordered. I had that, and this big soda, and I thought something really bad was going to happen." As such, he threw all of his drugs into the ocean.

Iron Man 3's Mandarin is a charlatan

Jon Favreau, director of the first two Iron Man movies, chose not to return for "Iron Man 3," which was written and directed by Shane Black. But, around the time "Iron Man 2" was being released, Favreau had fully intended to helm the third solo flick. Who did he envision as the film's big bad? None other than classic Iron Man villain the Mandarin. Favreau had alluded to the baddy in "Iron Man" in the Ten Rings organization, a nod to the character's 10 magic rings that give him power. But since the MCU hadn't done much to introduce magic — since Kenneth Branagh's "Thor" would come out a year after "Iron Man 2" — Favreau said he wasn't sure it would fit with the franchise (via MTV). "But maybe with Thor and all those others, you'll introduce magic to that world and it won't seem so out of place."

"Thor" did indeed introduce magic and "Iron Man 3" went on to introduce the Mandarin. Or, a British actor named Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) hired to play the part of a terrorist. The Mandarin, we would later find, was simply a shell game to keep Tony Stark chasing his tail while the real villain, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) moved behind the scenes. For many fans, it was unsatisfying and even a slap in the face. Fortunately, those fans will get to see an earnest take on the Mandarin in the upcoming "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

Star-Lord should lead a new team called the Guardians of my own selfish feelings

"The only thing you really fight for is yourself," Steve Rogers tells Tony Stark in "Avengers." "You're not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you." That verbal dressing down really stuck with Tony, because he did exactly that at the film's climax, taking the nuclear bomb through the portal over New York City and risking never returning. In fact, we're pretty sure Iron Man sacrificing himself in "Endgame" by snapping Thanos and his army out of existence was just his way of proving Cap wrong once and for all. 

Star-Lord would have benefited from having received that lecture before the events of "Avengers: Infinity War." Because when they were mere moments from getting the Infinity Gauntlet off the Mad Titan's hand and saving the universe — which is what the Guardians of the Galaxy are supposed to be all about — Peter Quill has nothing on his mind but his own feelings. He demands Thanos tell him where his girlfriend Gamora is, only to learn he sacrificed her to get the Soul Stone on Vormir. In a fit of rage and irony, Star-Lord calls Thanos an a**hole and starts bashing him in the face, causing Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to break contact with Thanos, who manages to get the gauntlet back on. Thanos then grabbed the Time Stone off Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and bamfed over to Earth to pluck the Mind Stone out of Vision's (Paul Bettany) forehead, completing the set and snapping away half of existence.The team isn't called the Guardians of the Girlfriends, Peter; look at the bigger picture.