It's become a common talking point that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is low on romance. As a series of films aimed squarely at teenagers and young adults, the studio's take on love stories has, generally, been one of interruptus: heroes and their gals might get close to that magic moment, but they tend to get adjourned by more urgent business — generally something relatable to the target audience like, say, monsters and aliens rampaging through New York City.
In this spirit — and with Infinity War, certain to bring its share of deaths to our favorite superhero team before many of them can see these nascent relationships through, right around the corner – here is every kiss in the MCU, timestamped and ranked. Eighteen movies, twenty-three kisses. (Kisses on the cheek do not count. Sorry, Stephen Strange.)
23. The Incredible Hulk – 42 minutes in: Bruce and Betty kiss… maybe?
I'll be honest, this one comes last because I can't even tell if it's a kiss. After years on the run, Bruce (Edward Norton) returns to the US, is spotted by Betty (Liv Tyler), who drives after him, finds him walking alone in the rain (little Lou Ferrigno homage there), jumps out of her car, and embraces him. Much of the ensuing poignant moment is shot from a distance, and it's heavily raining, and it… kind of looks like Betty kisses Bruce? Final verdict: even if there is a kiss in there, shooting it from so far undercuts its emotional importance, so – say hello to the worst (maybe) kiss of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
22. The Incredible Hulk – 36 minutes in: Betty Ross kisses her shrink boyfriend
Move along, nothing of importance to see here.
21. Iron Man Three – 3 minutes in: Tony and Maya kiss
In flashback, Tony and then-girlfriend Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) share a kiss. It's not emotionally involving. Happy and Tony's awful throwback facial hair has scarred us all for life. And it's impossible to ignore that this Maya Hansen is little more than a flashback love interest who gets to die in the third act solely because the original Maya Hansen, who was meant to be the movie's villain, had to be rewritten to nothing when Marvel decided Iron Man 3 couldn't have a female villain because, in Shane Black's words, "that toy won't sell." All the thumbs-down emojis for this one.
20. Avengers: Age of Ultron – 1 hour in; 1 hour 4 minutes in; 1 hour 15 minutes in: Hawkeye and Mrs. Barton kiss, several times
It's Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and his pregnant wife (Linda Cardellini) exchanging comfortable married-couple snogs, punctuating Joss Whedon's brainwave that the way to make Hawkeye less boring was, apparently, to embrace how boring he is. Are you bored yet?
19. The Avengers – 2 hours 13 minutes in: Tony and Pepper kiss
At the end of a long, very busy movie, Tony and Pepper kiss as we pull out. Pun obviously intended.
18. The Incredible Hulk – 1 hour 31 minutes in: Bruce kisses Betty, and then jumps out of a helicopter
Because that's what you always do after a great kiss, right?
17. Thor: The Dark World – 37 minutes in: Thor and Jane kiss
Having brought Jane to Asgard, Thor explains the "convergence" to her, and they kiss. I watched this movie two days ago and I can barely remember this kiss, other than to say it caps off some exposition, which I already can't remember either. Tells you everything, doesn't it?
16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 2 minutes in: Ego and Meredith Quill kiss
This relationship is a big thing in Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt)'s emotional makeup. This moment, the first time we see Peter's mom and dad together, deserves better: better than its duties as an exposition-heavy one-minute scene, better than Kurt Russell's plastic-mask-looking CGI de-aged face, better than Laura Haddock's Lurleen Lumpkin accent.
15. Captain America: The First Avenger – 1 hour 17 minutes in: Private Lorraine kisses Steve Rogers
Horny private with desk job (Natalie Dormer) pulls aside scientifically-enhanced heartthrob (Chris Evans) and kisses him passionately, mostly as a plot point so the hero's true love (Hayley Atwell) can come across them and get the wrong idea. Natalie Dormer deserves better than this role and the Cap/Peggy romance deserves better than tired soap-opera obstacles (it's literally World War 2, guys, I'm sure we can find a way to complicate their romance that isn't "hussy at the office throws herself at Steve"). It is marginally more enjoyable if you imagine it to be the first kiss of poor Steve's entire life, though.
14. Thor: The Dark World – 1 hour 38 minutes in: Darcy kisses the handsome intern
Good for you, Darcy. Good for you.
13. Iron Man 2 – 1 hour 53 minutes in: Tony and Pepper kiss
This kiss (two kisses, actually) is intended as a grand culmination. After two full movies of neglecting Pepper, and with baddie Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) defeated, Tony finally kisses his reliable best friend, and she returns it. But let's be honest. Have any of us ever watched this sequence and felt that electric tingle we're expected to feel when a couple we're rooting for finally comes together?
Maybe it's the dialogue — Tony mansplaining Pepper's own resignation to her before apologizing for his past behavior in a way that basically feels like a manipulative way to build up to a kiss is, let's face it, no carbonite chamber "I love you / I know." And then there's Rhodey cracking a joke to break the moment, because an MCU kiss can't get too hot and steamy, and because the teenage arrested development perspective calls for an obligatory buddy chanting "Tony and Pepper, sitting in a tree." Everything that feels underwhelming about MCU romances in the space of two minutes.
12. The Avengers — 27 minutes in: Tony and Pepper kiss
One of two comfortable, relationship-y kisses between Tony and Pepper in the course of the franchise. Early on in the first Avengers movie, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) interrupts a long-mooted date between Tony and Pepper, and Pepper, understanding Tony has homework to do, kisses him and leaves him to it. It's lovely. It works. No sparks. Solid.
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming – 2 hours 1 minute in: Tony and Pepper kiss
The second comfortable, relationship-y kiss. Tony and Pepper are in a good place, and you're happy for them.
10. Thor – 1 hour 32 minutes in: Thor and Jane kiss
Another obligatory, end-of-the-movie, superhero-kisses-normy-girlfriend Marvel kiss. Pro column: it has some real heat. Con column: come on, this isn't a love story. It's a traumatic time for both of them: Thor's been exiled across dimensions, Jane's lost years of research. They're both beautiful. They're stuck in small-town New Mexico. It's a great fling. Fling kisses are worth less than star-crossed lover kisses, though. Sorry.
9. Iron Man – 9 minutes in: Tony Stark and Vanity Fair reporter Christine Everhart
The first kiss in the entire MCU is, fittingly enough, not about love. After being confronted at an event by reporter Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb), early in the MCU's first picture, Tony Stark breaks down her hostility with good old-fashioned megalomaniacal tech-bro charm, and – cut – the two of them end up in the sack, making out furiously before falling off Tony's bed.
Poor Christine wakes up alone, Tony having slipped away to his workshop, and is called "trash" by trusty Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow). The whole thing hasn't aged very well – promiscuous playboy inappropriately beds reporter and then has employee he flirts with and has feelings for escort her out, making said employee feel so demeaned she smack-talks the poor one-night-stand on the way out – but it's also rare for a make-out session to get so much character-building done.
8. Thor: The Dark World – post-credits scene: Thor returns to kiss Jane
Sure, it's an afterthought. But it has the build-up, the swelling music, the slow-mo, the excitement as Thor and Jane move towards one another. It's a good 'un. Bonus points for not being interrupted by a sidekick wisecrack or a rampaging monster.
7. The Incredible Hulk – 1 hour 6 minutes: Bruce and Betty get steamy
In the closest thing the MCU has to a sex scene, fugitives Bruce Banner (in his first Edward Norton incarnation) and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) kiss furiously as they fall into bed, but have to abort the foreplay when Bruce's heart-monitor watch warns him he is dangerously close to turning into the Hulk. Points given for embracing two adults wanting a sexual relationship. Points deducted for making it canon that sexual arousal, and not just anger, also turns Bruce into the Hulk, and for making us think of the Hulk having sex generally, to be honest.
6. Ant-Man – 1 hour 44 minutes in: Scott and Hope are caught kissing
Lighthearted, funny, and real – basically everything other MCU kisses struggle to be. Also, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) have better chemistry, fun, and playful banter in this one movie – culminating with this kiss and the way they react to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) catching them – than Tony Stark and Pepper Potts have in the five they're in. Don't @ me.
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron – 1 hour 43 minutes: Natasha kisses Bruce
Girl tells boy "I adore you," kisses him, pushes him into deep hole because there's an "other guy" she needs more than him — the other guy being a massive, destructive, half-naked muscular beast. We've all been there, girl.
4. Captain America: Civil War – 1 hour 26 minutes in: Steve and Sharon Carter kiss
Love of man's life dies. Man goes on to kiss love of life's attractive great-niece. It's not quite Back to the Future incest, it's not quite an Electra complex situation, but it's weird. And a little sexy. Especially when you remember Steve's mass-murdering, brainwashed, one-armed platonic BFF is sat in a car watching.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 56 minutes in: Natasha and Steve kiss to escape detection
As Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Cap (Chris Evans) try to slip past some baddies in a shopping mall, they find themselves going down an escalator just as scowling baddie Rumlow (Frank Grillo) is coming up. So Natasha suggests a bit of standard spycraft: she tells Cap to kiss her, because "public displays of affection make people very uncomfortable" – suggesting Rumlow will avoid looking at them too long if they're smooching.
They kiss, it works, they get away. This one ranks as high as it does for three reasons: 1. It's one of only two kissing scenes in the MCU with absolute sexual subtext (Cap's "(uncomfortable) is not exactly the word I would use"? He's 100% saying that with a hard-on.). 2. It captures Natasha's emotional confusion and struggle with her own vulnerability as well as anything else in the franchise. 3. Don't believe Steve: this kiss is a landmark kiss. It absolutely is his first kiss since 1945.
2. Black Panther – T'Challa and Nakia kiss
They're both badass. In fact, Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) is so badass, the Black Panther and actual King of Wakanda is the one thirsty for HER – and it's totally earned. A kiss between equals, and all the better for it.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger – 1 hour 39 minutes in: Steve and Peggy finally kiss
A great movie kiss. Perfectly placed in the movie, understated, true to character (Peggy was always going to be the one to initiate this one), and topped with a lovely, equally understated, "Go get 'im," after which Cap literally jumps off a car and onto a plane. They won't see each other again for seventy years after that kiss: Cap, having promised Peggy a date they both know he's not going to make, sacrifices himself at the end of the movie and remains frozen for decades. It's a kiss that gets better on repeated viewing, because the loss that follows it – a sense of loss that defines both Cap and Peggy for the rest of their lives – crystallizes it.