Since the release of Blade in August 1998, Marvel has spent more than two decades making comic book movies mainstream, four-quadrant entertainment. And it's done so with plenty of punching and blasty-blasty action.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel movies made outside of it, including the X-Men series, have delivered (mostly) character-first summer blockbusters full of exceptional stunt work and special effects grounded on the backs of heroes and villains audiences can’t help but invest in. To celebrate the upcoming premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+ on March 19 — which looks to be filled with plenty of big screen-worthy, high-flying action — we’ve looked at everything from Blade to Spider-Man: Far From Home to come up with a ranking of Marvel’s 25 best big-screen action scenes.
Wolverine and Sabretooth fight in the snow in 'X-Men' (2000)
Even though it had a limited budget ($65 million) compared to modern comic book movies, the first X-Men film did its best to put every penny on the screen, especially with this fan-favorite fight between Wolverine and Sabretooth.
In their live-action debut, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is forced to duke it out briefly with Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) in the snow before Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men show up. The brawl is all too brief, sure, but it delivers a hell of a punch and a promising start to Wolverine’s big-screen career spent kick-punching and slashing at baddies for 17 years.
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Tony Stark’s MARK I suit vs. terrorists in 'Iron Man' (2008)
This memorable sequence from Iron Man proves that more action scenes should feature guys in clunky metal suits armed with flamethrowers.
After being held captive, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) uses his wits to construct the bulky MARK I armor in order to blast, punch, and burn his way out of a terrorist cave network in the Middle East. Director Jon Favreau and his stunt crew stage the scene for maximum effect; Marvel fans have waited a long time to see this character in action and Iron Man’s debut did not disappoint.
Black Widow’s first fight in 'Iron Man 2' (2010)
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is arguably the reason why so many action scenes since this one have featured more leg flip-centric fight choreography. Before Iron Man 2, American audiences had rarely seen a fighting style like Natasha’s, one that involves a considerable amount of gravity-defying kicks and punches and flips on and around her targets.
While the future Avenger’s considerable prowess is almost wasted on a couple of nameless goons in a hallway, it sets the stage for how powerful — and important — she will be as a load-bearing character in the MCU.
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Lady Deathstrike vs. Wolverine In 'X2' (2003)
X2 (2003) was, at the time, one of the biggest and best Marvel comic book movies. A large part of that success can be attributed to the bigger scale and budget afforded the summer blockbuster, especially when it came to Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike’s climactic battle at Alkali Lake.
Finding himself separated from the X-Men while hunting down the villainous Stryker (Brian Cox), Wolverine battles Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) in the very lab area where his adamantium skeleton was forged. The two mutants hack, stab, and slash at each other as a vat of adamantium bubbles nearby — and it is there where Deathstrike meets a very gruesome (and somewhat tragic) end.
Deadpool and Cable's truck chase in 'Deadpool 2' (2018)
"Bigger and louder" seemed to be this sequel’s mandate, and no action sequence further proves that than Deadpool 2’s endlessly inventive truck fight between our titular hero and his time-traveling rival, Cable (Josh Brolin). Here, guns, John Wick-level fight choreography (thanks to Wick and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch), crashing cars, flipping trucks, Domino's luck, and the Juggernaut all mix together to form a balls-to-the-wall set piece full of fist-pumping moments.
While the CG elements aren’t quite photo-real or seamless, the ideas being executed here more than make up for it.
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The 'Barrel of Monkeys' sequence in 'Iron Man Three' (2013)
Iron Man Three tends to get a bad rap among fans, but director and co-writer Shane Black deserves credit for investing the Iron Man movies with a level of subversive humor and inventive action that they never had before. The latter is clear in one of the film’s biggest action scenes, when an attack aboard Air Force One sends Tony Stark skydiving after the plane’s passengers in freefall.
Consistent with the movie’s theme, it’s Tony’s ingenuity over his suit’s strength that allows the PTSD-suffering hero to save the day in a riveting sequence that culminates with a surprising twist: Tony’s suit gets hit by a truck, but thankfully, Tony is safely elsewhere piloting his armor like a drone.
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The Blood Bath in 'Blade' (1998)
Blade’s bloody opening action sequence is one of the most memorable character intros in all of Marvel’s canon. It encapsulates Blade’s lethal slayer skills while establishing the film’s R-rated horror and tone. (It also lets star Wesley Snipes invest the Daywalker with a very dry and dark sense of humor.)
By ambushing a secret “Blood Bath” club home to dozens of goth vamps, where ceiling sprinklers rain blood on thirsty patrons, Blade unleashes inventive fisticuffs and an impressive arsenal in one of the genre’s most satisfying (and unnerving) set pieces. Blade’s assault is action-packed, yes, but also terrifying — a tricky balance to pull off, tonally. But it is one that director Stephen Norrington and writer David S. Goyer execute effortlessly.
Deadpool | Official HD Trailer #1 | 2016
Deadpool vs. a carpool of thugs in 'Deadpool' (2016)
This witty, action-packed set piece from Deadpool is inspired by the infamous sizzle reel that leaked and resulted in 20th Century Fox giving the then-risky R-rated blockbuster the green light for production. Here, the virtually indestructible Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) flings himself off a highway overpass and into a vehicle full of thugs with itchy trigger fingers. They prove no match for either Wade’s wit or his weapons, as the Merc With a Mouth shoots and slices his way through vaguely European bad guys in ways that make us gasp, cheer, and cackle in equal measure.
The Hulkbuster armor fight in 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' (2015)
Avengers: Age of Ultron is an uneven but ambitious sequel that raises the stakes for the Avengers while making their fight more personal — and more painful. The conflict between the Avengers and Ultron (James Spader) ratchets up the tension in the movie’s midpoint set-piece, where Tony is forced to summon the fan-favorite Hulkbuster armor (aka Veronica) from a Stark Industries satellite in an effort to contain, and then fight, a rogue Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Marvel comics fans have been eager to see the Hulkbuster armor in live-action and, on this front, Age of Ultron does not disappoint. (The armor would later play a key role in Avengers: Infinity War.) From RDJ’s deadpan delivery of “go to sleep, go to sleep” over and over again as he jackhammers Hulk’s face with punches to Tony buying a building that is still under construction before using it as a last-ditch effort to immobilize the Green Guy, this scene is a relentless delivery system for action-packed fan service.
The Wolverine - "Train Fight"
The bullet train fight in 'The Wolverine' (2013)
The Wolverine lets director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman indulge in the popular mutant’s more violent and brooding tendencies in equal measure, as Logan must contend with his diminished healing ability and a bloody conflict between a powerful family in Japan. Plot and action perfectly intersect atop a bullet train as Logan goes all hack-and-slash against a deadly throng of Japanese gangsters at 300 miles per hour.
The fisticuffs start inside the train before moving to its roof. This inspired action set-piece culminates with Wolverine in a face-off with one very brave (or stupid) Yakuza who brings a knife to an adamantium claw fight. Rocketing down the rails at 300 mph with nothing but the sound of roaring winds and the snikt of Logan’s claws, Wolverine defeats his enemy by turning himself into a very stab-happy projectile. Mangold’s deft handling of the sequence earns it the distinction of being Wolverine's best brawl since he fought Lady Deathstrike in X2.
Carol battles her old crew in 'Captain Marvel' (2019)
This crowd-pleaser, scored to No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” finally provides Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) with an opportunity to do that which so many people in her life have been preventing her to do: Show her full potential.
Once Carol Danvers discovers she has been betrayed by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and the rest of her Alpha Flight teammates, the future Avenger summons her considerable powers and unleashes a flurry of energy and punches to celebrate coming into her own. The fight choreography has a very Winter Soldier feel to it, which Larson executes mostly on her own without using her stunt double. The scene is made all the more compelling with the No Doubt needle drop; the perfect tune to underscore Carol’s thematic journey and arc in the movie.
The assault on the X-Mansion in 'X2' (2003)
As Wolverine growls to one of General Stryker’s guys invading the X-Mansion: "You picked the wrong house, bub."
The crime of breaking and entering in Wolverine's world is punishable by claws through the chest — and face — as Logan unleashes a blur of berserker rage on General Stryker’s commandos. Stryker, a vengeful father ashamed of his mutant son, has come to kidnap the young students that call Professor X’s mansion home. That little experiment ends with Wolverine painting the walls of Xavier's home with PG-13 carnage.
Magneto's Nazi hunt in 'X-Men: First Class' (2011)
X-Men: First Class, director Matthew Vaughn’s first (and only) X-Men movie, had the unenviable task of revitalizing the franchise after the creative disappointment that was 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. He and this prequel's co-writer, Jane Goldman, succeeded with a grounded, 1960s-set storyline that partially centered on Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and his search for the Nazis who used him as a lab rat and murdered his mother.
His search culminates in one of the most satisfying moments in the film, in which Erik hunts his targets down to a South American bar and ends them with his powers in a manner that’s more Sean Connery-era Bond movie than summer blockbuster.
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The X-Jet attack in 'X2' (2003)
In any other movie, this riveting set piece would be big enough to serve as a finale. For X2, it’s just a sequence that marks the halfway point of an action-packed movie.
Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Jansen), Rogue (Anna Paquin), and Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) are forced to deploy their unique power sets as Storm pilots the jet away from F-15s in pursuit. If the military aircraft doesn’t kill them, the out-of-control tornados Storm summons to deal with those planes just might. All of this goes down at 30,000 feet, which leads to the sequence’s most harrowing moment yet: After evading the F-15s, but not before enduring some battle damage to the X-Jet, our mutant heroes are helpless as Rogue gets sucked out of a hull breach. She’s a goner — until Nightcrawler “bamfs” in for a mid-air rescue.
Throughout the entire action scene, it’s non-stop, white-knuckle tension — a high point for Fox’s X-Men movies.
Nick Fury’s car chase in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' (2014)
The Russo Brothers’ first Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, spared no expense with its action scenes. Any of the movie’s many set pieces would be show-stoppers in any other film, but Winter Soldier just keeps them coming. One of the best, earliest action scenes is a standoff-turned-car-chase with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Pinned down and under fire in his SUV by HYDRA operatives, Fury uses his considerable training as a spy to outwit his enemies since he can’t really outgun them. From waiting until the last second to unload his car’s mini-Gatling gun at point-blank range, to narrowly escaping Winter Soldier’s kill order by the end of a mostly-in-camera car chase, Fury gets a long-overdue moment to shine in an MCU action scene. It’s one of the most rewatchable moments in a movie full of them.
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Nightcrawler's attack on the White House in 'X2' (2003)
A mix of bullet time-esque photography and impressive CG, X2’s opening teaser sequence is a dream come true for both Nightcrawler and action movie fans. Under the influence of a powerful mind-control serum, Nightcrawler leaps and teleports away from confused Secret Service agents and into the Oval Office on a mission to assassinate the President of the United States. Before he reaches his target, the visual effects team perfectly captures his trademark bamf-ing effect in one of the genre’s most iconic scenes.
Wolverine vs. car thieves in 'Logan' (2017)
The Oscar-nominated screenplay for Logan, co-written by Scott Frank (Out of Sight), takes a beat before its opening scene to set the table for how different this film’s action scenes will be from previous comic book adventures. As the script puts it, there will be no "CG f***-a-thon" theatrics, or people getting hit or stabbed and reacting as if they can just walk it off moments later.
No, in Logan, when the drunk and broken former X-Man wakes up in the back of his rented limo to thieves trying to strip it, his slowly-deploying claws unleash a bloody spectacle for the 17-and-up crowd. The first scene in this modern classic finally delivers the Wolverine comic book fans have waited nearly two decades to see — with the realism and resonance both they and the character deserve.
Quicksilver's prison break in 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' (2014)
Before Evan Peters’ Quicksilver found himself guest starring on WandaVision, he was introduced to Marvel fans in X-Men: Days of Future Past. We find Quicksilver living his best life, in his mom’s basement, before Wolverine and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) need his help and speed in order to bust Magneto out of a prison under the Pentagon.
This sequence is one of the best things the Fox X-Men series has ever achieved; a clever approach to slow-motion that also serves as a way to reveal Quicksilver’s personality through action. There’s hardly a better way to endear fans to a character with limited screentime than what Days of Future Past does here.
Spider-Man 2 - The Train Battle Scene (6/10) | Movieclips
Doc Ock and Spider-Man's train fight in 'Spider-Man 2' (2004)
Spider-Man 2 is one of the best sequels ever made, a Marvel blockbuster that’s equal parts character drama and tragedy as Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) continues to struggle with finding a balance between being himself and being a superhero. Director Sam Raimi puts this struggle front and center as Peter gets tangled up with Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and his almost-sentient metal tentacles. The two eventually trade punches along the sides and top of a speeding NYC train car.
The CG here, for the most part, still holds up, as Spidey is forced into a battle to stop Doc Ock and save the passengers inside the car. The latter proves extra challenging when Spidey must find a way to stop the runaway train before it runs out of track. Raimi’s deft handling of this extraordinary set piece never loses sight of the fact that Peter is just an ordinary guy at heart who doesn’t want to see bad things happen to good people. His pathological inability to not try and save the day drives this all-timer action scene — a landmark moment for summer movies and comic book films.
The elevator fight in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' (2014)
"Before we get started… does anyone want to get out?"
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo decided to imbue their first Marvel movie with Bourne-style action and 1970s political thriller tone as they elevated Steve Rogers' big-screen adventures to be worthy of the Thanos-level threats the First Avenger would face. In doing so, they delivered an action blockbuster that surpassed all expectations — and they did it in large part with the help of this elevator fight.
The instantly iconic fight is a contained, intense brawl that pits Cap (Chris Evans) against a squad of HYDRA soldiers posing as S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives. Cap gives them a minute to consider leaving the car before making them wish they did. This elevator scene created a whole slew of memes that centered around Captain America and his opponents. One against almost a dozen, Captain America managed to take them all down single-handedly.
It was one of the most memorable fight scenes in the entire MCU.
The car chase in 'Black Panther' (2018)
This unforgettable scene from Black Panther starts in a decadent casino in South Korea and ends with a car chase during which T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman) propels himself off one car and flipping through the air so he can land on another one.
Director Ryan Coogler imbues Black Panther with his signature character-driven storytelling sensibilities, especially when it comes to action scenes like this one. T’Challa, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and Okoye (Danai Gurira) team up to track down the villainous Klaw (Andy Serkis) at a casino in Busan. Their banter and dynamic elevates the scene’s emotional stakes and gives audiences more reasons to invest in these characters when their op goes sideways and spills out onto the city streets in the form of a car chase unlike any we have seen before.
Since T’Challa’s suit stores kinetic energy, he uses it as a weapon to simultaneously push himself off, and flip, one of the bad guy’s cars before landing in superhero pose atop another moving vehicle. But that’s just the sequence’s A-story. It also comes with an equally action-packed comedic runner that involves Nakia and Okoye (and a remote Shuri) in their own car chase, one that culminates with a dazed Nakia sliding to a stop seated in what’s left of her vehicle while clutching a severed steering wheel.
The Avengers' fight in Wakanda in 'Avengers: Infinity War' (2018)
From Black Panther summoning Wakandan forces to defend their home from alien dog-like creatures to Bucky wielding Rocket Raccoon like a sentient machine gun, this battle has everything.
A dress rehearsal for Avengers: Endgame’s iconic climax, Infinity War’s battle between veteran Marvel heroes and Thanos’ Black Army packs as many emotional punches as it does real ones. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and the rest of their filmmaking team responsible for bringing this showdown to life do so with a perfect amount of tension and spectacle. The final battle finds a great balance between anamorphic, summer movie thrills and character-centric conflict. Everything plays out with an “intimate epic” approach; that way, each victory our Avengers earn or panicked breath they take feels like one of our own.
And there are more losses than wins for our heroes here, which makes the outcome of their struggle all the more resonate. Sure, as triumphant as it feels to watch Bucky spin Rocket Raccoon while both fire machine guns, or to witness Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Okoye team up in a very entertaining three-on-one battle against Proxima Midnight, it just detours us from the inevitable gut-punch of Vision (Paul Bettany) dying — twice — and Thanos making off with the last Infinity Stone as half the team turns to ash.
Infinity War is one of the most rewatchable movies Marvel Studios has ever made, largely because of this bittersweet and emotional endnote.
The airport fight in 'Captain America: Civil War' (2016)
In only five years, Captain America: Civil War’s once-novel concept of teaming up Marvel’s Avengers with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) has become almost “old hat.” The notion of characters forming a shared universe in this way is all but expected in modern big-screen blockbusters, but Civil War did it first — and in epic fashion, with its action-packed tarmac brawl between Team Cap and Team Iron Man.
This exceptional scene is a Marvel comics splash page come to life, as Tony Stark leads War Machine (Don Cheadle), Peter Parker (Tom Holland), and more against the likes of Steve Rogers, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Each side exercises their opposing views over the Sokovia Accords with increasingly inventive ways to punch, fly, blast, and swing, resulting in one of cinema’s most memorable summer movie moments. Before this scene, the idea of pairing one studio’s blockbuster IP with another’s seemed, at best, far-fetched. But thanks to Civil War making it a reality, it opened the doors for Hollywood to embrace other crossover opportunities as Civil War added another brick in the road to Endgame.
The Avengers Unite for the Iconic Battle of New York | Rotten Tomatoes’ 21 Most Memorable Moments
The Battle of New York in 'The Avengers' (2012)
When Loki’s army of Chitauri aliens fly into NYC on gold jet skis, it’s up to the Avengers to save the day. And that is exactly what our heroes do with a generous amount of property damage and CG explosions.
Almost a decade since it was originally released, this landmark action sequence from The Avengers still makes us giddy. The Battle of New York, which takes place on the ground and in the air (and in space), succeeds largely because each sphere of action is character-driven spectacle. The emotional and physical geography of the mini-battles within the larger one are made clear, and the stakes are palpable, so audiences are never confused as to where to invest their attention. From Hulk smashing “Puny God” Loki like he’s a ragdoll to the Avengers using their unique skillsets to take down a flying Leviathan, the Battle of New York never fails to find inventive ways for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to put aside their differences to defeat the bad guys. Which explains why this blockbuster action sequence is so damn rewatchable.
The final battle in 'Avengers: Endgame' (2019)
Avengers: Endgame is one of the best movies to experience with a sold-out crowd in a theater, especially its final third, which features the now-iconic return of every Avenger assembling just in time to take down Thanos and his horde.
Endgame’s climactic showdown with the Mad Titan surpasses all fan expectations, thanks to the script’s character-first delivery of mini-set pieces within the larger battle. The final showdown’s epic scope is only surpassed by countless fist-pumping moments and character team-ups that will make you applaud whenever the action isn’t also tugging on your heartstrings. Here, nearly every major Avenger is given the exact amount of whatever they need to drive the film to its victorious (and bittersweet) conclusion.
Endgame’s runtime breezes by and you’ll wish you could just stay in this third-act battle and interact with it like it is a VR experience. It’s rich with detail and contains one of the best shots ever in the MCU: a splash-panel-worthy spread that assembles every Avenger as they race into battle opposite Thanos’ evil forces. Going to the movies doesn’t get much better than this.