Marvel Studios has been known over the years to go after the best of the best in Hollywood to play starring roles in their blockbuster films. While the main casts of all the films have had varying levels of star power, each MCU film winds up with a few other film industry elites finding their way into the final cut of the movie. This is one aspect of filmmaking that Marvel Studios has absolutely mastered: the art of the cameo.
Marvel’s original cameo master was none other than the company’s longtime leading man: Stan Lee. He made on-screen cameos in the first 22 movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his last one coming posthumously in Avengers: Endgame after he passed away in 2018. That being said, Marvel Studios has always found a way to get other big-name talent from all different genres of the entertainment industry into their movies in some capacity or another. These facts in mind, here is The Direct’s breakdown of the Top 10 cameos in the MCU not including Stan “The Man” Lee.
Natalie Dormer in Captain America: The First Avenger – Dormer only had about a minute of screentime playing an army private sitting outside Howard Stark's office. Considering her biggest moment of the MCU turned out to be kissing Captain America, fans ever since have wanted to see her in other more expansive MCU roles due to her massive star power.
Marvel Comics Writers Hit the Big Screen – Marvel has done a great job paying tribute to the legendary comic writers who contributed to the MCU’s biggest characters. Two of the biggest examples of this are J. Michael Straczynski in Thor (the first man to attempt to lift Mjolnir in the New Mexico desert) and Ed Brubaker in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (a Hydra scientist working on Bucky Barnes).
The Original Guardians of the Galaxy – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 introduced fans to the original team from the comics, led by Sylvester Stalone as Stakar Ogord. The team also has cameos of Michael Rosenbaum (Martinex), Ving Rhames (Charlie-27), Miley Cyrus (voice of Mainframe), and Michelle Yeoh (Aletta Ogord). Yeoh will also star in 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in an undisclosed role. There are no confirmed plans to see this team return.
Community Actors – Joe and Anthony Russo were major pieces of the NBC series Community , where they directed multiple episodes, including the pilot. Numerous actors from the show have made cameos in their movies including Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Danny Pudi, Aaron Himmelstein, D.C. Pierson), Captain America: Civil War (Jim Rash) and Avengers: Endgame (Ken Jeong, Yvette Nicole Brown).
Newscasters/Talk show hosts in Iron Man trilogy – Marvel has often used real world personalities as background elements to their movies, and a few of these big names have had cameos particularly in the Iron Man franchise. Iron Man 2 has former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly reporting on Pepper Potts taking over Stark Industries while Iron Man 3 has both Bill Maher and Joan Rivers commenting on War Machine’s change to Iron Patriot.
10.) Business Moguls in "Iron Man 2"
One of the MCU’s most distinguishable qualities outside of its use of cameos is its effort to connect to the modern-day world. Fans of these movies seem to enjoy imagining what life would be like if characters like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers really existed among them. Marvel seemed to take note of this right from the beginning, and the first entry in the countdown is one of the earliest examples of the MCU using these real world personalities.
In a couple split second moments of 2010’s Iron Man 2 , Tony Stark has quick interactions with 2 of the most impactful businessmen of the era. After his Stark Expo intro, Tony shakes the hand of Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison. Then, shortly after Tony arrives at the Monaco Grand Prix with Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanoff, he has a moment with Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla/SpaceX/etc. Tony is one of the most successful businessmen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Marvel did a great job of reinforcing that fact having him meet two men with very similar statures in his second solo outing.
9.) David Hasselhoff in "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2"
The main plotline of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 explored Peter Quill’s backstory and his search for a family. While Kurt Russell’s Ego was introduced as Quill’s father, the movie gave a quick peek into Star Lord’s frame of mind relating to his daddy issues before their relationship evolved. Just after Quill and Ego meet for the first time, Gamora recounts a story Quill had told her of who he wanted his father to be, and it leads to one of the most unexpected cameos of the entire MCU.
Gamora recalls Peter explaining that as a kid, because of his love of 80's pop culture, he always imagined David Hasselhoff as his father. When the other kids asked a young Peter about his father, Peter escaped the truth by saying that his dad was always “shooting Knight Rider or touring with his band in Germany." Just after Ego reveals that he killed Peter’s mother, Ego morphs into Hasselhoff just to mess with his son, letting the Knight Rider and Baywatch star have his MCU moment. On top of his cameo, Hasselhoff also performed “Inferno,” which played during the movie’s end-credits. This franchise has helped to feature so many 80s highlights, and David Hasselhoff’s cameo fit the movie perfectly considering his star power in that decade.
8.) Seth Green in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1" and "Vol. 2"
The movie industry is absolutely jam-packed with comic book fans, and Marvel has more than its fair share of those fans with the growing popularity of the MCU. One of those self-proclaimed fans who himself has become a fan-favorite is Seth Green, having starred in numerous high-profile movies and TV shows over the years. He has worked with Marvel Entertainment in the past as a voice actor, and he even found a way to cameo in the MCU as one of the most bizarre Marvel characters in existence: Howard the Duck.
The talking waterfowl made his debut in the post credits scene of Guardians of the Galaxy as one of the Collector’s…”exhibits”, having a drink and quipping at his captor. He is seen again in the sequel drinking on Contraxia while joking around “You’re out of luck until you’ve gone duck!” Seth Green has been known as one of the funniest people in Hollywood for a long time, and hearing his voice come out of a CGI duck made for one of the most entertaining cameos of the entire franchise.
Side note: Green also had a cameo in Iron Man 2 as Tony left the Stark Expo, appearing for less than a split second in the movie as what appears to be himself. Howard the Duck also made an appearace before the final battle of Avengers: Endgame , although he did not speak.
7.) Garrett Morris in "Ant-Man"
Marvel has always respected the earliest pioneers of the comic book and comic book movie industries throughout the MCU. Before Earth’s Mightiest Heroes earned the big screen performances they so richly deserved, they were merely scattered throughout popular culture in any way imaginable. The next entry in this list marks one of the first of these portrayals for one of the original Avengers team members.
Just after Scott Lang’s first trial run as a hero in Ant-Man , he lands on top of a car occupied by veteran actor Garrett Morris, who simply exclaims, “What the hell?!” The interesting trivia about Morris is that he was the first person ever to portray Ant-Man on screen. Morris donned the Ant-Man suit during a superhero cocktail party sketch on Saturday Night Live back in 1979. Ant-Man director Peyton Reed remembered this skit and wanted to give Morris his due respect, and the cameo turned out to be one of the funnier moments in the miniature hero’s first movie in the MCU.
6.) Trio of Hulk Actors in "The Incredible Hulk"
Due to legal reasons, the MCU has only had one solo movie for one of the biggest and angriest original Avengers: The Incredible Hulk . Being much-maligned and sometimes forgotten in MCU lore, largely due to the leading actor change from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo, the 2nd movie of the MCU has become somewhat of a black sheep in the Infinity Saga. Even with all of these negatives, one of the positives that comes from this film is its use of cameos, which all pay homage to the Hulk’s extensive history in film and television.
Three cameos in this movie bring in the services of actors that have all played the enormous green rage monster in past productions. While hiding out in Brazil, Bruce Banner turns the TV to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father starring Bill Bixby, who played Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk , the first live-action Hulk TV show from 1977-1982. When he hides out in the pizza shop near Culver University, he meets the owner of the shop played by Paul Soles, who voiced the character in the 1966 animated Incredible Hulk series. In the very next scene, Bruce sneaks into Culver University only to be greeted by a security guard played by Lou Ferrigno. He played the Hulk in the original live-action show with Bill Bixby’s Bruce Banner, and he has continued his contributions to Hulk’s roaring voice throughout the MCU, his final performance coming in Thor: Ragnarok .
Even if it’s cheating by using three cameos for one entry, they all added a certain element of historical significance to the Incredible Hulk. The acting trio all helped build the character into the legend he is today, and they make for some fun trivia that is interesting to all fans of Marvel and the Hulk.
5.) Jim Starlin in "Avengers: Endgame"
Marvel Studios spent years planting the seeds that built up to one of the most iconic villains in movie history: the Mad Titan Thanos. His starring appearances, brought to life by Josh Brolin in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, vaulted him into the pantheon of great movie villains. This next cameo in the list pays homage to the man who brought Thanos into existence long before the MCU was ever dreamed of.
During the Steve Rogers-led group therapy meeting in the beginning of Avengers: Endgame , legendary comic writer Jim Starlin makes an appearance as part of the group. Starlin created the character of Thanos back in 1973, as well as the "Infinity Gauntlet" comic storyline in 1991, which heavily influenced both Thanos-led movies in the MCU. Marvel pays tribute to Starlin in such a meaningful way, giving him his 15 seconds of fame after he helped inspire the movie’s plot so many years ago.
4.) Joe Russo in "Winter Soldier", "Civil War", and "Endgame"
Some of the most fascinating movie legends involve directors who make cameo appearances in their own films. A few of the most memorable examples include all-time great directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, and even notorious Marvel critic Martin Scorsese. The next entry in this cameo list continues that tradition with one of the most celebrated directors of the entire MCU.
Joe Russo, who has teamed up with his brother Anthony for four MCU blockbusters, has made a history appearing in his films with Marvel. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier , he played the doctor that helped Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff recover before the final battle of the film. In Captain America: Civil War , he was pictured as Dr. Theo Brussard, who was supposed to perform Bucky Barnes’ psych evaluation before Helmut Zemo killed him. Finally, in Avengers: Endgame , he was the main speaker in the support group led by Steve Rogers talking about his first date since Thanos’ snap wiped out half of humanity (along with this list's #5 entry Jim Starlin).
Russo’s roles have all been minor in the films, but it’s always fun to see him pop up either alongside Captain America or on Tony Stark’s holograms. Joe and Anthony’s time in the MCU may be finished after Avengers: Endgame , but they undoubtedly made their mark on the franchise, and Joe’s cameos are always especially entertaining to look out for.
3.) Kenneth Branagh’s voice in "Avengers: Infinity War"
Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War was one of the most star-studded movies of all time, not leaving all that much room for cameos. Even considering the amount of Marvel stars in the film, the Russo Brothers still managed to throw a couple unexpected cameos into the film's 2-hour-26-minute-runtime. One of the most interesting of these appearances came within the first minute of the movie.
During the opening Marvel logo before the film starts, a distress call is sent out from the Statesman, the refugee ship carrying the surviving Asgardians when Thanos attacks. The call is sent out by none other than Kenneth Branagh, the director of Phase 1’s Thor in 2011. An accomplished stage and film actor in his own right, he helped usher the God of Thunder into the MCU with his grand Shakespearean-style film. His voice cameo was a great show of appreciation to his MCU contributions, and it helped start off Avengers: Infinity War with the sense of impending doom that would continue through the entire movie.
2.) The On-Stage Thor Cast in "Thor: Ragnarok"
When Taika Waititi took over the Thor franchise with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok , a renewed breath of life was pumped into the MCU. Along with his colorful scenery and a mostly-improvised script, the movie turned out to be one of the funniest films of the entire MCU, as well as one of the very best. Early in the film, Waititi had one of the funniest scenes of the film which included 3 special cameos.
In a theatrical stage recount of Loki’s death from Thor: The Dark World, aptly named "The Tragedy of Loki of Asgard," the on-stage cast featured Luke Hemsworth as Thor (the real-life big brother of Thor star Chris Hemsworth), New Zealand-based Jurassic Park star Sam Neill as Odin, and Academy Award-winner/cameo master Matt Damon as Loki. This trio brought laughs all across theatres for their performances as the royal family and were so unexpected even this deep into the MCU. Not only did the scene help to erase some of the bad taste left in fans' mouths after Thor: The Dark World , Waititi used the scene and star cameos to keep audiences smiling and laughing during Thor's homecoming.
1.) "Agent Carter's" Edwin Jarvis in "Avengers: Endgame"
As was the case in Avengers: Infinity War , Avengers: Endgame brought a massive cast full of stars from the entire Infinity Saga. A few of the cameos in this movie made the honorable mentions, but that was just the start of the fun. As most fans know, the vast majority of the TV and Netflix series in the MCU either didn’t turn out to be canon, or they simply didn’t have any impact on the movies. The top entry on this list made its way to the top for one reason: its true display of inter-connectivity to the movies.
Just before Tony Stark travels back to 2023 with the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame , he bids goodbye to his father Howard before the elder Stark hands his briefcase to his longtime butler Edwin Jarvis. Not only was Jarvis the inspiration for Tony’s AI assistant J.A.R.V.I.S., he was portrayed in the movie by James D’Arcy, reprising the role from the short-lived Agent Carter show on ABC. After Howard Stark assigned him to Peggy Carter, Jarvis helped in her post-WWII missions as she worked her way through the Strategic Scientific Reserve, and his appearance in Avengers: Endgame showed just how important he was to the Stark family.
D’Arcy’s appearance in the movie was such an exciting moment for fans who watched the TV shows along with the full-length movies, and it allowed Agent Carter to align with the movies even as the other shows went in different directions. Considering the fact that he only had a few seconds of screen time in Avengers: Endgame , D’Arcy certainly made a huge impact for fans of the broader MCU, which makes his cameo the best of the bunch.