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The 15 Best Action Sequences in the MCU (so far…)

9 min read

With the release of The Marvels, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been running for fifteen years, with thirty three theatrically released films, ten television series, two one-off special presentations, eight short films and two viral series. Much has been made of the cameos, worldbuilding, and characters of the MCU but one thing that has never really been discussed is the action at the heart of the franchise. To celebrate Nia DaCosta's The Marvels hitting cinemas, we bring you the fifteen best action sequences of the MCU. We won't be including anything from The Marvels, so that audiences can enjoy the action with fresh eyes.

15. Favela Foot Chase
The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The red-headed step child of the MCU, Louis Leterier's second entry into the series took a while to be reclaimed by the series at large, thanks in part to the replacing of Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo. Even so, the film's first big action sequence – a chase between a fugitive Banner (Norton) and the US army lead by British-Russian SAS soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) through the favelas of Brazil is great. Not only is the parkour something different for a big superhero film but the ongoing threat that should Banner's heart rate increase too much he will become the hulk provides an added issue than just running away from bad guys. Inventive, and a highlight of an uneven film.

14. The Battle of New York
 (2012)

Joss Whedon's Phase One closer, the team up film that many could only dream of isn't known for it's action. Whedon, by his nature, gives us great character interactions, the bickering of these god-like heroes forced to get along. A car-chase and a fairly mediocre punch-up are the action beats before Loki (Tom Hiddleston) opens a great big wormhole in the New York skyline unleashing an army of aliens. It's only then that The Avengers finally assemble and team up to take down the threat. At the time six big name heroes teaming up seemed like the biggest thing ever, how naive we were!

13. Driving with the Top Down
(2008)

The first true superhero action sequence in the MCU sees Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) don his second Iron Man suit to take for a test drive. In true Stark fashion he proclaims you have to run before you can walk and takes his still unfinished suit for spin around the L.A. night sky. Ramin Djawadi's score perfectly captures the effortless cool of Marvel's first superhero as he joyfully zooms through the air. It's only when he reaches too high an altitude that the threat of over freezing sets in. Funny, and stylish, Favreau announced to the world that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was going to be the coolest franchise there is.

12. Ferry Attack
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Tom Holland's first solo outing as Peter Parker / Spider-Man is a great riff on the John Hughes high-school movie formula that every so often gives way to a huge Marvel film. A mid-film showdown on a ferry where Spidey tries to stop an arms deal between his enemy Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and some` thugs leads to an alien-tech powered shoot out that splits the Staten Island ferry in two. Desperate to save the people Peter webs the two halves together and attempts to hold the whole boat together. A show not only of Parker's drive to save innocents, but his ability to think fast, Jon Watts show stopping action sequence offers viewers their first sign that Spider-Man is more than a high-tech Stark suit, but the kid inside is the real deal.

11. Escape from the Kyln
(2014)

It's a surprisingly long time into James Gunn's origin movie until the Guardians of the Galaxy form properly. Locked up in a space prison, loveable rogue Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and talking tree Groot (Vin Diesel), deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) and hulking rage machine Drax (Dave Bautista) finally team up to break out. The uneasy alliance is made all the better as prison guards and inmates seek to stop the uneasy team for their own reasons. Working together the group manage to bust out of the prison and thus Marvel's weirdest and most beloved family comes together. It mixes the heart and soul Gunn infuses his work with and the off-the-wall humour he's known for – not least Rocket's desire for a man's false leg. When Tyler Bates' theme kicks in, and the team stand as one, it's impossible not to cheer.

10. The Battle of Wakanda
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

It's not surprising it took two directors to helm the massive event film that marked ten years of the MCU. As intergalactic baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin) seeks six mystical stones that will allow him to reduce the universe to half it's population the heroes of the universe converge to stop him and his armies from getting them. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), grief stricken after Thanos kills his brother, seeks to forge an axe to kill the tyrant, while the Avengers on Earth join T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda to stage a last stand against his army and protect AI hero Vision (Paul Bettany) who has a stone in his head. When Thor arrives on the battle field, flanked by Rocket and Groot, demanding he be brought Thanos, underscored by Alan Silvestri's now iconic theme, it's impossible to think that these heroes could possibly lose. But, then… Thanos has yet to arrive.

9. No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Gunn's heartfelt farewell to his roster of rogue space heroes is a mighty runtime of big belly laughs and genuinely upsetting emotion. As we learn more about Rocket's damaged history with egomaniac The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), we realise that Rocket's hard-nosed personality is born from real pain and suffering. As the Guardians converge on High Evolutionary's ship, Quill, always with music, puts on a Beastie Boys classic as the Guardians stage their last hurrah against the guards that seek to stop them. Done as a one take, in slow motion, Gunn's fight scene allows every member of the roster to get their moment to take down an enemy. A fitting goodbye to the group.

8. Barrel of Monkeys
Iron Man Three (2013)

Controversial for it's irreverent tone and silly plot-twists but Shane Black's entry into the canon sees Stark at his most vulnerable. A high powered terrorist has stripped Stark of everything he holds dear, including his loved ones and back-up suits, and begins to target Air Force One. With only an unreliable suit and a malfunctioning JARVIS (Paul Bettany) to aid him, Stark tries to save the Air Force One staff as the plane explodes. Adopting the age old game of Barrel of Monkeys to support the weight of the people, Stark proves he's adept at improvising. Mostly practically done with Red Bull skydivers, the action sequence is a show stopping tour-de-force of what can be done with an idea and a superhero who will stop at nothing to save innocent lives. 

7. Elevator Fight
: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo described the following sequence as what happens when you lock a gorilla in a cage. With Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) fully aware SHIELD has been infiltrated by Hydra for seventy years, he attempts to escape before the S.T.R.I.K.E. team enter the elevator to subdue him. Locking one arm against the wall, Cap is forced to take on a highly trained team of soldiers in a confined space. Showing that Cap is an accomplished fighter, and underlying the film's 70s-infused paranoia of a conspiracy unfolding, Rogers is forced to become more of a rebel than he is perhaps comfortable with. But Evans, with his arms like tree trunks, makes this fisticuffs business look like easy work. That's America's abs.

6. Three-Way Fight
Captain America: Civil War (2016)

We could have gone for the mid-film Team Cap v Team Iron Man airport fight where superheroes wail on each other, but actually the more impressive sequence is the film's finale. The uneasy alliance that Stark, Rogers and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) form is shattered when cunning villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl) shows footage of Barnes killing Stark's parents while under mind control. The resulting fight in which Stark tries to straight up kill Barnes, and stop Cap in the process is horrifying in it's brutality. Former friends punching each other is one thing but intercut with Zemo's attempted suicide, his mission to destroy the Avengers seemingly complete, and T'Challa's decision to spare the man who killed his father, is operatic in the extreme. Cap holding his shield over Tony's face, as if he's going to take his former-friend's head off is as close as these film's ever get to true horror. A dark, and upsetting final note for a film that deals in the grey area of world saving.

5. Musical Fight
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Sam Raimi's horror-infused sequel has his trademarks all over it. His weird zooms, his bestie Bruce Campbell, even his fetish for people smacking their heads off things. Admittedly the most Raimi things get is when a zombie Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) flies with a cape made from demon souls, but the most fun is when Strange has to fight an alternate universe version of himself dubbed Sinister Strange (also Cumberbatch). The two use their mystical arts to make musical notes come alive in this wildly inventive and fun fight sequence that embraces the magic of the character and the weirdness the film has been revelling in. It don't get more Raimi than that.

4. T'Challa vs Killmonger
Black Panther (2018)

Ryan Coogler's multi-Oscar winning, Best Picture nominee is important not just because of it's cultural significance but also because it's just so bloody good. The final CGI battle might be the weakest element of the film but the earlier waterfall fight sequence in which noble king T'Challa is stripped of his super powers and forced to fight his cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is a reminder that this is from the man who directed Creed. It's hard to watch, and despite being a major franchise makes you genuinely wonder if Coogler is going to kill off our hero mid-way through the film. A hero vs villain fight that is as character based as it is a specular action sequence, punctuated by a horrific killing, marking Jordan's Killmonger as one of the MCU's most complex and compelling villains.

3. Three Spideys
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Carefully treading the line between nostalgia baiting and actual storytelling Watts' threequel brings back Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's interactions of Spider-Man for a film that looks at the concept of second chances. With villains from franchise's past all zoning in on the Statue of Liberty (a sign of second chances, you see?), the Three web-heads have to team up to cure the villains of their afflictions, before sending them back to their respective universes. It's a chance for Holland's Peter to make good on his promise of second chances, Garfield's Peter to save a girlfriend where he once failed, and Maguire's Peter to reconcile with mentors he couldn't save in the past. Yes it panders to the “oh that thing I like” but Watts and crew deftly meld it into the film's core themes of righting wrongs, and sacrifice for the greater good. If great power comes with great responsibility then with great second chances come great team ups… or something.

2. Wushu Prologue
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Who'd have thought the guy behind that drama starring Brie Larson, that drama starring Brie Larson and that drama… starring Brie Larson would give us one of the best entries in the MCU to date. Taking barely known kung-fu hero Shang-Chi, casting the barely known Simu Liu from sitcom Kim's Convenience and making a fantasy epic is no small feat. But Destin Daniel Cretton sets his table out early. In the prologue where we learn of Shang-Chi's father Wenwu, (Tony Leung) a millennia old warlord who sought a mystical kingdom and fell in love with it's protector . In an elegant Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, wushu-inspired sequence Leung's Wenwu and Fala Chen's Ying Li begin as enemies, fighting one another before the graceful martial arts becomes a romantic dance of sorts showing them fall in love. A bridging of Hollywood spectacle and Hong Kong grace.

1. The Endgame
Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Having undone Thanos' snap thanks to time-travel, the Avengers are reunited with their fallen comrades via portals just as Thanos' army arrives to take them down. The movie equivalent of emptying a toy chest and smashing action figures together, the Russo brothers deliver spectacle on a level comic nerds could have only dreamt. Every Marvel hero bands together, reuniting after five years, to stop Thanos from getting the infinity stones and this time destroying all life in the universe. There's so much to love here. Tony's heartfelt reunion with Peter Parker, Cap and Thor trading Mjolnir to knock down aliens, a time-travelled Gamora kicking Quill in the balls. Perhaps best of all is the sight of (Brie Larson) with her “can I speak to the manager” hair delivering a juicy smackdown on Thanos. Cap proclaimed that Avengers need assemble, and assemble they did. If you didn't cheer in the cinema, you're a liar. Comic book action at it's finest, and a truly epic end to the Infinity saga.