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Every Stan Lee movie cameo ranked worst to best

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has included stories as different as the high fantasy of Thor, the mind-bending mysticism of Doctor Strange, and the sci-fi superhero action of the Avengers movies, but there's one thing that ties them together more than anything else: the cameo appearances by Marvel icon Stan Lee. To date, he's shown up in some form or another in every installment of the MCU — not to mention a few other films, both within and without the Marvel Universe. And for good reason: as the writer and editor responsible for co-creating the Marvel Universe and a good chunk of its characters, those movies quite literally wouldn't exist without him. Sadly, Lee passed away on November 12, 2018 at the age of 95, but he lived long enough to see his creations become worldwide icons both on the comics page and on the big screen, and the fact that he got to be such a notable part of their most famous exploits is something that every fan can enjoy when we look back on a life of creativity as the smiling face of superheroes. With that in mind, we're sitting down with every single Stan Lee cameo from every superhero movie he's been a part of, and ranking all of our favorites. Excelsior!

Daredevil/Jessica Jones/Iron Fist/Luke Cage/The Defenders

If you ever needed proof that there was a pretty heavy line drawn between the MCU projects that make it to the big screen and the ones that show up on Netflix, consider how Stan Lee showed up in Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist. He's definitely in there, but it's the definition of a technicality.

Rather than appearing in person, Lee appears as a police officer, but only in photographs as a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Easter Egg. In Daredevil and Jessica Jones, he's in the background of the scenes set in the police station, while Luke Cage and Iron Fist feature him on a PSA poster visible on the streets of New York. The one interesting piece about this is that in Iron Fist, his character is actually identified as Irving Forbush, a fictional member of the Marvel Comics bullpen that Lee created so that he could clown on the office without actually targeting any of his coworkers.

There's a couple levels where this actually makes sense. For one thing, unlike Thor, the Hulk, or Spider-Man, none of those characters were actually created or even prominently written by Lee, putting a little distance between them. For another, well, if the most prominent cop in the Marvel Universe's NYC is a 94 year-old man, there's probably a reason they need a blind lawyer on the streets handling all the criminals.

Man-Thing

By the mid-2000s, Stan's cameos were becoming something that Marvel movie fans looked forward to in every film, but you can't really blame him for skipping out on this one. It was, after all, a Sci-Fi Channel original film that was shot on the cheap in Australia. It'd be hard to get someone to drive 30 minutes to make a cameo in Man-Thing, let alone take an 18-hour flight. Thus, Stan's "cameo" is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance as a photo on a bulletin board full of missing people.

In that respect, it's closer to the photos in the Defenders shows than anything else, but with two crucial differences. First, while we're actually living in a time when it's not that surprising to see a company producing dozens of hours of television involving Hellcat and Nuke, it's still pretty hilarious to think about the attempt to make a horror movie about Man-Thing, the swamp monster who hangs out with Howard the Duck. Second, given Stan's other appearances, being eaten by said swamp monster makes a lot more sense for his character than winding up as a decorated police officer.

X-Men: The Last Stand

While you might think Stan's cameos are pretty much mandatory for anything that hits theaters with a Marvel logo attached to it, that's not exactly the case. He can be spotted in each of the MCU offerings, but he never appeared in the Blade trilogy, and only showed up in about half of the movies in the X-Men franchise.

Bad luck, then, that he missed out on mutant-themed movies like LoganX-Men: First Class, and X-Men 2 — arguably the high point of superhero movies at the time it was released — instead of skipping out on this one. The cameo itself, in which he marvels (get it?) at a garden hose defying gravity, is pretty basic, and it's nice that Stan can be spotted alongside Chris Claremont, whose legendary 17-year run on Uncanny X-MenNew Mutants, and more provided the cornerstone for some of Marvel's most groundbreaking stories. Unfortunately, they're both surrounded by a movie that could charitably be called "disappointing," and accurately called a whole lot worse. Turns out that garden hose was actually more interesting than anything else going on in that movie. 

X-Men

The very first Stan Lee cameo of the modern era of Marvel movies is less interesting for what it is than the way it represents how far they've come.

These days, with the MCU standing tall as the most bankable franchise in movie history, Stan's cameos have become a mini-event within the movies themselves, complete with clapping in the theater every time he pops up. In 2000, though? The co-creator of the X-Men was a dialogue-free hot dog vendor with no dialogue in the background of a crowd scene, and if you didn't know what you were looking for, or even to look, he was pretty easy to miss. It was a nice bit of trivia for the diehards, but not much more. 

Avengers

The Avengers was a movie tasked with taking every piece of the MCU up to that point and making it all work together, so it's pretty understandable that for most of its runtime, it was focused on trying to do that.

It's not until after the climax of the movie, when the Avengers have come together as a team to save the world from an invading army of Chitauri, that Lee finally makes his cameo, showing up in a news broadcast to dismiss the very idea of superheroes showing up in New York. It's the kind of easy joke that pretty much had to be done in one of these cameos, but it's also so easy that the only thing that makes it work is Lee's effortless charm.

Iron Man 3

One of the recurring gags about Stan's cameos in the MCU movies is that he's often portrayed as, to put it bluntly, a dirty old man. In the otherwise underrated Iron Man 3, that lasciviousness hits critical mass when we see him judging a beauty contest and getting so worked up over a bikini-clad beauty queen that he gives her a 10 on the spot.

This scene does have a fun piece of trivia to go along with it, though: in the original casting, this role wasn't supposed to go to Lee. It just turned out that the Wolf from those Tex Avery cartoons wasn't available that day.

Hulk

Stan's first speaking cameo in a Marvel film came in Ang Lee's much-maligned Hulk movie, in which he showed up alongside former Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno as a security guard — and friends, that raises a lot of questions. Why would you hire an 81 year-old man to be a security guard? Shouldn't he have retired? Does the Stan Lee of this movie's universe need money so badly that he's willing to take what is obviously a dangerous job? Do Security Guard's Union rules state that you have to have a partner when you're patrolling the grounds, and the lab figured Lou Ferrigno was so jacked that they could get away with making his partner a fast-talking octogenarian? Is that why Ferrigno looks like he's wearing a shirt that's two sizes too small, because he messed up and grabbed one of Stan's by mistake? 

It's the kind of thing that'll leave you distracted, which is probably the opposite of what Stan's quick cameo was supposed to do. Look, we're not saying Stan shouldn't be in the movie, but maybe if that lab had hired someone else to work security, there wouldn't be so many gamma-ray monsters running around.

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Stan's appearance in this movie was built entirely around the gag of having Stan Lee show up and say that he knows Spider-Man, which is almost clever, but doesn't quite work. On one hand, Stan Lee should know Spider-Man — he co-created the character and wrote over a hundred issues of his comic book. On the other hand, if he's just talking about Peter Parker within the world of the movie, he should still know who he is — he was the librarian at his high school in the first movie. Honestly, it would've been a much better gag if he would've said "hey, I know them" about literally every student who was graduating. Maybe he did, and we just didn't see it?

Agent Carter

Lee's cameos don't usually require any justification other than having him show up to be a part of the fun, but usually, they're accompanied by a joke, or maybe even a minor plot point. On Agent Carter, however, he just… shows up.

There's nothing wrong with it, and Lee remains as charming as ever as a slightly pesky pedestrian who bums a newspaper off of a visibly annoyed Howard Stark, but it's also the definition of a cameo that just shows you Stan Lee so you can go, "Hey, it's Stan Lee!" The nicest thing you can say about it is that at least he asks for the sports page instead of the comics. Even in the MCU, that would've been a little bit on the nose.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy features one of Lee's few appearances where he doesn't actually say anything—or at least, nothing that we can hear. Instead, he's a victim of Rocket's running commentary on how much he hates the humanoid population of Xandar, the home planet of the Nova Corps.

When he gets to Stan—whose signature glasses have been tricked out with some weirdly steampunk-looking extra lenses to give him that outer-space cool factor—he identifies him as a "class-A pre-vert," pointing once again to MCU Stan's tendency to show up on the arm of a much younger beautiful woman.

Or maybe Rocket saw Iron Man 3?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Speaking of Stan's ever-changing roster of lady companions, his appearance in the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doubled up by giving him two women to accompany him on a train ride through the Italian countryside. The thing is, this one is where that gag actually really pays off.

The scene starts with Phil Coulson and Jemma Simmons going undercover, and Simmons getting so into her role that she starts ranting about all of the problems in their cover-story marriage, including Coulson's tendency to patronize sex workers. This, of course, is the sort of thing that gets you a lot of attention, and while one would think that would be a detriment to a secret undercover mission, they've got those gigantic thick-rimmed glasses to hide their identities. Hey, if it works for DC, why not?

Either way, it gets the attention of Smilin' Stan, who, as we've already seen so far on this list, knows a thing or two about dealing with complicated relationships, and dispenses some condolences to Simmons and some angry advice to Coulson. It's not often that we get to see Stan get gruff, but it's pretty fun when we do.

Venom

In a movie that otherwise embraces Spider-Man's most viciously viscous foe in all his goofy glory, Stan's cameo in Venom is one of the most disappointing of the bunch. It doesn't help that it's one of the last things that happens before the credits roll, meaning that viewers have spent the entire runtime leading up to it waiting to see our favorite mustachioed nonagenarian, only to encounter a scene so unnecessary that it could've been cut out without anyone ever noticing. The only bit of fun that it brings to the table is the idea that this random dude on the street is well aware that Eddie Brock has a slimy alien space cannibal living in his skin. It's neat, but after seeing the same idea done better elsewhere, it's a letdown.

It's especially annoying since a good chunk of that movie is devoted to showing us how another symbiote managed to get halfway around the world from China to San Francisco by possessing different bodies. In the same way that Incredible Hulk's cameo hinted at getting a Gamma-irradiated Stan-Hulk, this would seem like the perfect way to work Lee into Venom. He's just as unsuspecting as the little girl that Riot hitches a ride on in the film, with the added bonus that getting to see Stan the Man with tentacles and giant knives for hands would be an absolute hoot. Then again, it might be for the best that they avoided that route. Nobody really wants to think about Comics Grandpa getting his liver eaten by an alien, even if he was chopping off dudes' heads right before. 

Deadpool 2

Stan's "cameo" in Deadpool 2 is more of an Easter egg than the speaking roles that he usually gets in the MCU movies. He appears as a massive mural painted on a wall during the scene when X-Force makes their ill-fated attempt at parachuting into action, which at first glance puts this one more in the ballpark of Man-Thing or the Netflix shows than anything else. Really, though, there are a couple of things that put this one well above those.

For starters, it just looks better. The mural is a cool addition to a cityscape, simultaneously giving Stan his requisite appearance and also livening up what would've otherwise been a pretty boring background. The design looks like something that would be really cool to see in real life, and certainly has a little more effort put into it than just tacking up a photograph on the wall. 

More than that, though, is the idea that this one works perfectly on a metaphorical level. Unlike most of the Marvel movies, Deadpool 2's characters have no real connection to Stan Lee — with the exception of the Vanisher, whose "appearance" in the film is pretty debatable, the entire cast is made up of more modern characters who debuted well after Stan was no longer writing regular monthly comics. At the same time, Deadpool, Domino and the others are undeniably characters that were built for the Marvel Universe that Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others created. Having his smiling face looking out over the action is a great way to represent the fact that while Stan wasn't directly involved in the creation of these characters, his presence was a big part of why they exist in the first place, and that's pretty cool. 

Spider-Man

With the first Spider-Man movie, director Sam Raimi gave Stan the kind of cameo that he rarely gets in other films. Rather than being a background character gawking at the action, Stan actually got to be a hero himself, saving a kid from danger when the Green Goblin attacked. Not a bad tribute to the guy who wrote the first hundred issues of Spidey's comic, but also nowhere near the fun that Bruce Campbell got to have in his far more compelling cameos in these movies — including being the guy who gave Spidey his codename. 

Spider-Man 2

Second verse, same as the first. A little bit better or a little bit worse? 

We're going to go with "better." Stan's cameo in the second Spider-Man film is almost exactly the same as it was in the last time around: a heroic passer-by who pulls someone out of danger during Spidey's battle with a supervillain. The only thing that distinguishes it from the first one — and puts it above it in our rankings — is what's going on around it: Spider-Man's first big battle against Doctor Octopus, which starts in a bank and winds up scaling high-rise walls in the middle of Manhattan. Being a part of that is going to elevate anything around it, even if it is a rerun.

Daredevil

The Ben Affleck/Jennifer Garner Daredevil movie was memorable for all the wrong reasons — that weird playground flirt-fight between Matt Murdock and Elektra, the idea that soundwaves make Daredevil stronger, Bullseye's bad CGI glass-throwing — but Stan Lee's appearance actually represents one of the movie's nice touches. In a nod to Daredevil's comic book origin, a young Matt Murdock keeps a distracted Lee from stepping out in front of a truck, despite his blindness.

Of course, that doesn't explain why they changed Daredevil's origin to take out the part where he's blinded because he's saving an old man, but hey, at least Stan fares better than one of the movie's other creator cameos. Frank Miller showed up and got stabbed in the eye with a pencil.

Thor: The Dark World

The second Thor movie goes with another easy gag, having Lee pop up as a patient in a mental institution for a quick laugh. The thing is, it really does raise the question of just how he got there in the first place.

Our preferred theory, of course, is that this version of Stan Lee is the one who remembers all the other movies he's made cameos in that weren't part of the MCU. It's easy to imagine him being dragged off while ranting about the X-Men, Magneto, and the Fantastic Four, or wondering why nobody in this universe seems to cuss as much as they did when he was hanging out with Deadpool. "You don't understand," shouts Stan Lee as the door locks behind him, "I've seen three different Spider-Men!"

Spider-Man: Homecoming

The main plot might've involved a handful of super-villains, but the scene of Spider-Man patrolling Manhattan and helping out average New Yorkers is absolutely one of Homecoming's finest moments—and not just because it involves Spider-Man pushing up his mask to eat a churro in a perfect recreation of a common scene from the comics. It shows two really important parts of Spidey's personality: that he's willing to help everyone with what they need, no matter how small, and that he's not immune to screwing up on a pretty regular basis.

It's that second part that leads to Lee's appearance, as an entire neighborhood gets together to yell at our wall-crawling hero for making too much damn noise in the middle of the day (and also bouncing some poor guy's head off his own car just for locking his own keys inside). It quickly turns to a loud conversation among neighbors, but Lee's grinning "don't make me come down there" is a really nice moment.

And it's actually pretty appropriate, considering that if you want to get technical, he is kind of Spider-Man's dad. Which, it turns out, is nowhere near as dangerous as being his uncle.

Captain America: The First Avenger

If you were going to show someone exactly one Stan Lee cameo to explain what he actually does in these movies, this would be the one. It might not be the best, but it's definitely the one that best fits the archetype.

Here's why: it's a situation that follows a classic (and actually kind of cliché) setup for comedy. When Captain America is introduced at an awards ceremony designed to show him off to a bunch of generals, it turns out that he's too busy to show up, and an aide comes out to break the news instead, leading one of the generals to remark, "I thought he'd be taller!"

It's a line that could've been delivered by anyone, but giving it to Stan allows it to become a lot more than just a one-liner. It perfectly fits the meta-character he's been building as a bumbling but affable (and inexplicably romantically inclined) character, and the joke's good enough that the scene isn't just about spotting Lee in a costume. It's the archetype of the Stan Lee cameo.

Deadpool

As we saw in Guardians of the Galaxy, there seem to be few things that superhero filmmakers enjoy more than casting Stan Lee as a dirty old man — and honestly, judging by Stan the Man's own comments, he seems to get a kick out of it too. Unsurprisingly, that idea hit its apotheosis in Deadpool, the first major R-rated Marvel movie since the Blade trilogy wrapped in 2003, and which, sadly, failed to include Stan as a vampire. A Stanpire, if you will. 

Here, Stan takes the stage as a strip club DJ in a scene that we can't actually show you while still keeping things safe for work around here. That said, it gives a whole new meaning to the meta-character theory about how Stan's actually playing a Watcher every time he shows up in one of these movies. Does being sworn not to interfere include dropping the needle on "Pour Some Sugar On Me" before Chastity takes the main stage? 

Trial of the Incredible Hulk

While it wasn't on the big screen, Stan's earliest Marvel movie cameo came in 1989's Trial of the Incredible Hulk. A TV movie that aired on NBC, it was not only a sequel to the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk series, it was also a backdoor pilot for a Daredevil show that never happened. If you've ever seen Trial of the Incredible Hulk, that probably won't surprise you, but it is pretty interesting that NBC was trying to create a shared Marvel Universe on TV back in the early '80s. The first Hulk TV movie even had Thor involved.

Given the title, it won't surprise you that a lot of the action happens in court, including Stan's appearance as a jury foreman present when Banner Hulks out in the middle of a trial. His main role here is to just look surprised, but he winds up coming off a lot better than some of the other jurors — a guy sitting behind him in this scene decides that it's a good idea to throw his chair at the Hulk. Dude. What are you doing?

Thor

If his cameo in The First Avenger is the archetype, Stan's appearance in Thor refines it by putting him into a situation that's way goofier, and way more ripe for comedy.

The very idea of a bunch of dudes gathering around a crater to drink beer and have a cookout while they all try to pick up a magic hammer that crashed to Earth from the distant realm of Asgard is great all on its own. Stan showing up as a redneck who tears his own pickup truck apart trying to drag it out of that crater? That's great, and even goes to show that the Odinpower is even stronger than a Chevy Silverado.

This is the appearance that really refined the meta-character that makes for the best of Lee's cameos: the everyman who just keeps finding himself in these bizarre, superheroic situations and winds up bumbling through them on the periphery of the action. It's a bit that works, and much like Lee himself did as a writer an editor, it keeps the action grounded in a world of regular folks.

Spider-Man 3

After the simplicity of Stan's cameos in the first two Spider-Man movies, his appearance in the third seems weirdly drawn out. While it was nice to have him in a speaking role for the first time in the franchise, adding a long pause and a "'nuff said" to his line about making a difference feels strange. It's almost like Sam Raimi was aware that this was going to be his final film, and wanted to give audiences something that could work as Stan Lee's final cameo appearance, too. Fortunately, that wasn't the case.

There is one little twist, though. Since it's easy to believe that Stan's playing the same character in all three Spider-Man movies, that also means this is a guy who previously saved two people's lives during a supervillain attack. Why should we assume that the "one person who can make a difference" that he's talking about is Spider-Man? It makes a whole lot of sense if he's actually talking about himself.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron is kind of a mess, but the party scene where we get to see the Avengers just hanging out and having fun is probably the highlight of the movie—especially since we also get to see Lee's character having fun and getting trashed on thousand year-old Asgardian ale, which is more than you can say for most of his other appearances. He even gets to keep a little bit of his true-to-character everyman style by having to get carried out of the tower after getting a little too confident about his ability to hold his liquor.

Incidentally, casting Lee as a World War II veteran might be the closest that the cameos ever got to reflecting his real life. He actually is a veteran, having served in the Signal Corps, producing training manuals and occasionally illustrating posters warning soldiers about the dangers of venereal disease. According to The Man himself, he was one of nine men who served during the war to be classified as a "playwright."

Iron Man

Forget about Thanos and the Infinity Gems. The biggest buildup and payoff in the entire MCU comes from Stan Lee's interactions with Tony Stark. But we'll get to that in a minute. Right now, we have the setup.

Their first encounter in Iron Man actually blends two of the recurring gags together: Stan Lee as an irascible ladies man, and Tony Stark constantly confusing him with other people. In this case, Tony mistakes him for Playboy publisher and smoking jacket enthusiast Hugh Hefner, and takes the first step towards a pretty amazing payoff.

Iron Man 2

The second time that Stan meets Tony Stark, he's mistaken for Larry King. And look, no disrespect, but that's actually pretty insulting to Stan Lee, who has managed to stay spry and wiry well into his 90s.

Then again, there might not be a better metaphor for Tony's evolution as a character than the fact that he just can't see past a pair of suspenders to the real person underneath.

Ant-Man

Lee's cameo in Ant-Man comes as part of a genuinely great scene that gets some great comedy out of Luis and his winding, fast-paced storytelling, something that would arguably be the best scene in a movie that did not also have a keychain that turned into a tank. The thing is, as great as this bit is, we're robbed of hearing Stan Lee actually say, "Yeah, CRAZY stupid fine!"  

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

If there's one word that describes Lee's meta-character more than any other, it's "hapless." There's a sort of instant sympathy you have for this guy after seeing him tear up his pickup truck or get clowned on by Tony Stark, and that comes to its apotheosis in Winter Soldier.

This poor guy! They're gonna think he just missed somebody stealing a priceless piece of superhero history, but at the very least, nobody would be able to realistically expect him to stop a bit of costume thievery if they knew Captain Friggin' America was the culprit! C'mon, Cap! You couldn't just leave a note?

Doctor Strange

In what might be his most high-brow cameo to date, Lee appears as a bus passenger getting a kick out of a book, completely oblivious to the mind-bending, reality-altering battle going on around him.

The joke? Lee's book is a copy of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, a memoir detailing the writer's experience of experimenting with mescaline, the hallucinogenic chemical commonly found in the peyote cactus. It's a strange bit of commentary on the trippy visuals of the film, but let's be real here: if Huxley had seen New York folding in on itself while an angular man in a Cloak of Levitation cast magic spells during his trip, he probably wouldn't have been surprised.

Avengers: Infinity War

Stan Lee's cameo in Avengers: Infinity War isn't just good, it's smart. By getting it out of the way early, the filmmakers made sure everyone would be paying attention to the epic interplanetary action of the team's battle against Thanos rather than keeping an eye out for everyone's favorite comic book grandpa. Not a bad idea, considering how much there is to keep track of when every hero in the MCU is slugging it out onscreen at once. Well, every major hero, anyway. No offense, Ant-Man and Hawkeye.

As for what makes it good, it's absolutely Stan's grumpy, way-too-calm evaluation of the Black Order's invasion of Earth. If anyone's seen enough spaceships that it's not even a big deal anymore, it's going to be the guy who hung out with the Watchers, got blitzed on Asgardian ale, and took a second job as a barber for the Grandmaster's gladiatorial arena. He's been dealing with aliens invading the Marvel Universe's version of New York since 1961. 

Thor: Ragnarok

If you're paying attention to that "meta-character" that we've been talking about, you may have noticed that Stan the Man's cameos have been getting a little more cosmic as time goes on. Sure, most of them are firmly rooted on Earth, but if we're to believe that he's actually playing the same character in every movie and keeping the Watchers informed of the development of this bold age of superheroes, then it makes a lot of sense that he'd show up in some pretty weird places — and that he'd always be on the lookout for new characters who might shape the universe in conflicts to come. Why else would he hang out on the planet Xandar and in Forest Hills? 

Either way, that's an idea that comes to a head in Thor: Ragnarok, when he makes an appearance as the barber who cuts Thor's hair to get him ready for the Gamesmaster's intergalactic gladiatorial games. Not only does he provide a great straight-man for Chris Hemsworth's hilarious blubbering about his precious golden locks, it also makes perfect sense for someone looking for game-changing heroes and villains. We know from the rest of the movie that even before Thor wound up there, the Hulk, Beta Ray Bill, and even the Bi-Beast (yes, that's his actual name) have passed through the Gamesmaster's arena, and at least one of those guys is a pretty big deal. Plus, just by changing up his glasses, Stan manages to fit right in with all the other unusual characters hanging out on Sakaar. 

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk is usually the least-loved entry in the MCU, but its use of Lee is one of the best. The movie's first major point involves Bruce Banner's blood accidentally getting into a soda while he's working at a bottling plant, temporarily turning anyone who drinks it into a Hulk. And naturally, the one poor hulked-out consumer that we see is Stan Lee.

So basically, this movie gave us the idea of Stan Lee with Incredible Hulk Powers, running around with his glasses stretched to the breaking point and snarling "Excelsior!" as he punched through a car. The only downside is that we never actually saw it, which might actually be the biggest oversight in the entire franchise.

X-Men: Apocalypse

With X-Men: Apocalypse, director Bryan Singer used his Stan Lee cameo to accomplish two goals at once. With his lingering take on Stan's face, he was able to get the Marvel creator in there for the kind of crowd reaction that makes a sharp contrast to the blurry hot dog vendor 16 years earlier, while also using the reflection of his signature sunglasses to show the missiles streaking through the sky. It's a cool look, and it actually uses Stan's physical presence in an interesting visual way, which is more than you can say for most of his appearances.

Behind the scenes, though, this is one of the most memorable Lee cameos for a much more bittersweet reason. It marks the only time that Stan appeared in a film alongside Joan, his wife of nearly 60 years. Sadly, she'd pass away just over a year later.

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement

Okay, bear with us for a second. The Princess Diaries doesn't appear to be a Marvel franchise, but a few years ago, Spider-Man wasn't part of the MCU either. Who's to say that Genovia and its unconventional princess don't exist alongside Latveria, Wakanda, Sokovia, and all the other countries that make up Marvel's version of Earth? Royal Engagement was, after all, a Disney movie, so there's really no reason why they can't, and it even sounds like one of those countries! If there's any footage of the Avengers snacking on an exceptionally delicious-looking pear, then we'll know for sure that they were actually meant to be in continuity with each other all along. 

In fact, they have to be, because that's the only conceivable reason that Stan Lee should be showing up in this movie. Princess Diaries wasn't based on a comic — the original movie was based on a novel by Meg Cabot, who did not make a cameo — and there's no other connection to be found. The only other explanation is that director Garry Marshall noticed that this one guy was in all of these successful, big-budget movies (and Daredevil) and figured he was some kind of lucky charm that brought good fortune to moviemakers, without ever actually finding out who he was. Either that, or somebody behind the scenes was a fan. Our money's on Queen Mia Thermopolis showing up at the United Nations next time T'Challa drops by to let them know what's up.  

Fantastic Four

While Stan's appearances in most Marvel movies cast him as an innocent bystander and/or a member of an ancient order of celestial beings tasked with chronicling the great moments of the universe without ever interfering, his cameo in 2005's Fantastic Four marks a huge departure. For the first time, Stan was playing an existing Marvel character that he actually co-created: Willie Lumpkin, the Fantastic Four's erstwhile mailman.

That might not seem like a big deal, but believe it or not, Willie is, like J. Jonah Jameson, one of Marvel's most prominent non-superhero characters. Since first appearing in 1963, he's been around for some of the FF's most pivotal moments, received a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, and even dated Aunt May. As a cheerful regular guy with a connection to the whole dang Marvel Universe, it's kind of the perfect role for Stan.

Big Hero 6

Since it feels more like a Disney movie than anything else Disney has actually done with the Marvel Universe, It's almost easy to forget that Big Hero 6 is a Marvel movie — at least until Stan Lee shows up at the end and reveals that he's got a whole weird room full of superhero artifacts that are bound to show up in the inevitable sequel.

It's a weird cameo, though, since Lee has virtually no connection to the characters.  Big Hero 6 was created by Steve Seagle and Duncan Rouleau in 1998, when Stan was actually briefly out of his longstanding Marvel contract. At the same time, in a movie where the characters struggle with older brothers and various other surrogate father figures, it's nice to know that at least one of them has a father that we already like.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Most of Stan Lee's cameos in the MCU work with the pretty simple idea of dropping the comics' lovable grandpa into weird situations for a quick reaction. When he makes his brief appearance in Ant-Man and the Wasp, on the other hand, it's with a gag that works on two levels.

First, there's the surface gag. When Stan's sedan is hit by a Pym Particle disk that shrinks it to the size of a Hot Wheels car, he quips, "the '60s were fun, but now I'm paying for it." In the universe of the film, where Stan's just a random passer-by who happened to get caught up in superheroic hijinx, it's a decent gag that plays with the idea that an older fellow in the famous Haight-Ashbury district would probably have had a very specific kind of fun back then. That place was the center of hippie culture, and anyone Stan's age who was there might have a few hallucinogens still kicking around their bloodstream.

In our world, however, we actually know who he is, and the scene reaches a new level of meta-commentary. We know exactly what Lee was doing in the '60s: inventing weird, increasingly improbable situations involving superheroes who could shrink to the size of ants. That's a fun job, but when you find yourself actually in that world, where your car's getting hit with Pym Particles (and Captain America's stealing his uniform back from the museum you're working at, and you accidentally drink a soda dosed with Hulk Blood, and wrecking up your pick-up truck trying to tow a magic hammer, and so on), you have no one to blame but yourself. You're the one who came up with all this stuff, and now you're paying for it. 

Captain America: Civil War

And here it is: the payoff. After getting snubbed twice by a man who keeps mistaking him for others, Stan rolls up to the Avengers compound and asks for Tony Stank.

On the surface, this is just a delivery guy getting someone's name wrong for humorous effect, but come on. In the world of these movies, Tony Stark is unquestionably the most famous person in the entire world. There's no way that Stan Lee wouldn't be able to recognize him, even if he didn't have his name written down on the delivery sheet. "Tony Stank" is revenge my friends, served cold by a man who's tired of being mistaken for Hugh Hefner and Larry King.

Black Panther

Whoever came up with the idea of rooting Stan's cameos in the Seven Deadly Sins (the Seven Deadly Stans, perhaps) was onto something, and it rarely gets better than his brief appearance in Black Panther. Maybe he's not actually a Watcher at all, but the human form of Mephisto? 

If you saw the movie, it hardly needs explaining, as it's easily one of the most memorable cameos he's ever done. It happens in the secret casino in South Korea, when T'Challa encounters Everett Ross while he's waiting for Klaue to show up for a vibranium deal. It's an incredibly tense moment where three different groups all have different interests, and none of them are quite sure what the others are up to. And then here comes Stan for a truly great gag.

Not only does it play off the idea of T'Challa being way-past-Bond levels of cool when he rolls up on a roulette table and casually wins a stack of money, but having Stan show up to pocket the king's winnings for "safekeeping" is even better. It's a great punchline that helps to break the tension right before the action really kicks into high gear, and it even makes sense for those of us who subscribe to that "Stan Lee is actually a Watcher" theory that was confirmed back in Guardians vol. 2. In all the comics we've read, Uatu never mentions an expense account, a salary, or even getting his parking validated. If Stan has to go all the way out to the depths of space to meet up and deliver his reports, well, those trips to Xandar aren't gonna pay for themselves.

Amazing Spider-Man

If we're being honest, most of Stan's cameos don't add a lot to the movies they're in. Take out that scene where he's fretting about being fired, and Winter Soldier, for instance, is still a great movie. The same goes in reverse, actually — Stan's cameos are usually only worthwhile because it's Stan Lee, and Rocket referring to some random space-dude as a "pre-vert" wouldn't have any of the punch that it does unless we know who he's dunking on. Amazing Spider-Man, however, is one of the only times that Stan's presence doesn't just improve the movie, but serves as the basis for one of its most memorable scenes.

Having a big, wild action set piece going on in the background while one character is blissfully unaware of it is a well-worn, time-honored gag, but it's done perfectly here. The gentle classical music, the table that almost hits him before being webbed back at the Lizard, the casual, oblivious exit from the room as the fight continues to rage in another dimension? It's great, and it's only made better by the fact that the whole time, it's Stan in the foreground as a face that moviegoers had come to expect over the past dozen years.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

Stan's appearance in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies might be the single wildest cameo he's ever made, and part of that is because it's ridiculously complex. This is, after all, a movie about superhero movies, and like a lot of the jokes in the film, Stan's appearance is based on the idea that the audience is familiar enough with the tropes of big-screen capes and cowls to catch all the rapid-fire references. It's funny enough when Stan shows up as a janitor in the Warner Bros. back lot, and then gets funnier when he starts grinning directly at the camera, maneuvering around Robin to get a little extra screen time, and is downright hilarious when he charges the camera under a neon sign claiming that it's time for another one of his "subtle cameos." The punchline of his horrorstruck face when he realizes he's accidentally showing up in a DC movie is just the icing on the cake.

Except that it's not really the punchline. That comes half an hour later, when he crashes back into the movie and assures us all that he doesn't care who publishes the superhero movies, "I just love cameos!" That's what really makes it such an amazing gag. Fan theories have been trying to piece together an in-continuity reason for Stan's appearances in all these movies — and Guardians of the Galaxy actually did it — but there's a weird sort of Occam's razor approach to the conclusion that this guy who makes all the cameos is just some guy who really loves making cameos. 

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

For a movie that isn't remembered all that fondly by moviegoers, comics fans, or anyone else who sat through it, 2007's Fantastic Four sequel managed to provide what's truly one of the best Stan Lee cameos of all time. It happens during the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, when Stan Lee shows up and, in typical fashion, finds out that he's not on the guest list.

It's great for a couple reasons. For one thing, it's the only Marvel movie in which Stan actually identifies himself as "Stan Lee," smashing through the (fantastic) fourth wall by showing up as Reed and Sue's creator. For another, it's a callback to one of his greatest comics of all time, Fantastic Four Annual #3.

In that issue, the main action is devoted to Dr. Doom using a mind-control ray to make every supervillain in the Marvel Universe circa 1966 attack the nuptials of his most hated foes. The single best moment, though, comes in the very last panel, when Lee and Jack Kirby, the legendary artist who co-created the FF and the Marvel Universe alongside Stan, show up to the wedding only to — and stop us if you've heard this one — discover that they're not on the guest list. It might not be as big as Spider-Man lifting up a pile of rubble or the Captain America going up against Thanos, but it's the kind of classic Marvel moment that readers never thought they'd see brought to life. It's just a shame that Kirby, who died in 1993, couldn't be there to enjoy it too.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Throughout the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there's been a question about whether this was a world that just happened to be populated by a bunch of people who look exactly like Stan Lee, or if his cameos meant something… more. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we finally found out, and it was everything that a fan-theorist could've wanted.

In the middle of a scene where Rocket, Groot, Yondu, and Kraglin are careening through the galaxy on a series of warps, we linger on Stan, in the depths of space, having a conversation with three of the Watchers, the mysterious beings tasked with chronicling the history of a universe without ever interfering themselves—and who, incidentally, were created by Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of Fantastic Four #48. As Lee goes back to explaining the time that he dressed up as a FedEx driver to insult Tony Stark, it becomes clear that all of these cameos really are supposed to be the same guy.

In the MCU, Stan Lee might not be a Watcher himself, but he is their most reliable informant. Which explains why he's always around for the universe's most important events. Disney has been successful in keeping this cameo offline so far, so you'll just have to watch the movie to see it for yourself!