One of the most rigidly defined components of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s episodic story formula is that all of its movies and TV shows culminate in a big battle sequence. The third act revolves around a large-scale showdown between the hero (or heroes) and villain (or villains).
These battle sequences are burdened with topping the excitement and spectacle of all the action that came before them. Some MCU battles have succeeded admirably – like The Avengers‘Battle of New York and Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s live-action Spider-Verse team-up – but others have been overshadowed by more thrilling set-pieces from the first or second act.
10 The Opening Hydra Raid In Avengers: Age Of Ultron
On the whole, Avengers: Age of Ultron was a disappointment after the groundbreaking original Avengers movie. But its opening sequence got the sequel off to a terrific start with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ raid on a Hydra base. This scene plays like a live-action Saturday morning cartoon.
The final battle just rehashes the formula from the first Avengers movie. This time, the city is floating in the sky – but it’s still more or less the same thing, with the Avengers fighting an army of faceless robots instead of an army of faceless aliens. The opening Hydra raid was a much more exciting and focused set-piece.
9 Whiplash Attacks The Monaco Grand Prix In Iron Man 2
When Tony takes Pepper to the Monaco Grand Prix in Iron Man 2, she’s surprised to learn that he’s taking part in the race. Midway through the race, Whiplash comes out on the track and starts slashing the cars in half with his electric whips. Happy drives onto the track with Tony’s armor in a briefcase. This is one of Iron Man’s tensest, most thrilling suiting-up scenes in the MCU, as Tony desperately tries to get the armor on before Whiplash can kill him.
The final battle has a cool team-up of Iron Man and War Machine, but it’s too messy and culminates in a “deus ex machina” with Tony and Rhodey shooting their repulsors at each other and hoping it does something (and, lo and behold , it conveniently defeats the villain).
8 The Skrull Chase In Captain Marvel
Upon arrival on Earth in Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers chases a rogue Skrull through the streets. This fast-paced chase sequence nostalgically evokes the all-out fun of ’90s action movies with the high-concept twist that the Skrull that Carol is chasing could be disguised as anybody. She punches an elderly lady in the face (which quickly became one of the movie’s most talked-about trailer moments).
The final battle exhibits one of the biggest dramatic problems with this character: she has too much power. Carol can punch an entire fleet out of space, so the conflict never feels at all dangerous.
7 The Kyln Jailbreak In Guardians Of The Galaxy
The first time the titular team works together in Guardians of the Galaxy is when they break out of the Kyln so they can sell the Orb and split the proceeds between them. Groot starts the plan early due to a miscommunication, which establishes the Guardians’ greatest strength as a unit: thinking on their feet when things go wrong.
The movie’s final battle is a big, dazzling spaceship dogfight. It has a few emotionally engaging moments – like the “We are Groot” sacrifice and the climax with the Guardians joining forces to keep the cosmic energy of the Power Stone out of Ronan’s hands – but the prison break is a stronger sequence.
6 The Air Force One Barrel Of Monkeys Sequence In Iron Man 3
Shane Black, the creator of the Lethal Weapon franchise, is an action movie legend, so it’s hardly surprising that Iron Man 3 has some great action scenes. The greatest set-piece in the movie is the “Barrel of Monkeys” sequence with Tony catching the passengers of Air Force One out of the sky. This is a totally unique action sequence with clear stakes and dizzying aerial cinematography.
The final battle is just a mediocre showdown between the Iron Legion and the glowing orange Extremis henchmen at a dull-looking industrial park.
5 The Washington Monument Rescue In Spider-Man: Homecoming
Around the midpoint of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ned unwittingly takes a volatile alien weapon into the elevator at the Washington Monument. Peter races against time to save his classmates from the elevator with tense cross-cutting and breathtaking high-altitude visuals.
This Washington Monument sequence is much more captivating than the final showdown with the Vulture on the beach (although that’s a lot of fun, too).
4 Killmonger Challenges T’Challa For The Wakandan Throne In Black Panther
The best action set-piece in Black Panther is set up with an earlier sequence when T’Challa effortlessly dispatches a challenger to the throne. When a new challenger shows up – Killmonger, one of the greatest villains in comic book movie history – he turns the tables on the king and dispatches him with the same ease.
Killmonger triumphantly assumes the throne and tosses an unconscious T’Challa over a waterfall, which massively raises the stakes of the story. By contrast, the climactic set-piece is just a generic battle with weightless CGI.
3 Tony Stark Escapes From The Cave In Iron Man
While Iron Man still holds up as one of the MCU’s finest movies and it’s easy to see why it paved the way for so much future success, its final battle is kind of a let-down. It’s a forgettable fight between two rich guys in clunky metal suits. Tony allows Pepper to put his life in danger to eradicate the Iron Monger, then sits back and lets his plot armor carry him to the next scene.
The greatest action scene in the movie is when Tony first dons the Mark I armor and escapes from the cave. As terrorists’ bullets ping off the suit, Tony quips, “My turn,” and blasts them with flamethrowers.
2 The Elevator Brawl In Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Following the pedestrian action scenes in Cap’s first solo movie, the Russo brothers revamped his on-screen action in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. From the opening Hydra warship attack to the highway ambush to the big finale with the crashing Helicarrier, The Winter Soldier is filled with spectacular action.
As exciting as that Helicarrier sequence is, the most compelling set-piece in the film is when Cap singlehandedly takes on a team of Hydra agents in a crowded elevator.
1 The Bus Fight In Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
There are many great action sequences from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Ringsfrom the opening Crouching Tiger homage to the scaffolding fight on the side of a skyscraper. But easily the best action scene in the movie is Shang-Chi’s fight with Ten Rings assassins on a speeding bus.
The climactic battle sequence is certainly eye-popping – with an ancient lake dragon fighting an interdimensional soul-eating monster – but it does not manage to top the riveting intensity of the bus fight.
NEXT: The 10 Best Action Sequences From The MCU Phase Four (So Far)
10 MCU Final Battles That Lived Up To Expectations
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