Stan Lee’s cameos have become a hallmark of Marvel’s films, but rarely is the legendary comic book creator put in harm’s way when he appears among all those superheroes. All that might’ve changed in Guardians of the Galaxy—at least if director James Gunn had gone with his initial plan.
While appearing on The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast, Gunn spoke about the production of Guardians. The director has previously revealed that the plan originally was to include Lee among the Collector’s museum of oddities and captured living specimens.
But Lee wasn’t going to make it out of the Collector’s holding cell unscathed, according to Gunn.
“He wasn’t going to be liberated. We were going to murder Stan Lee,” Gunn told Goldsmith.
Gunn’s initial cameo plans included two versions. The less bloody one showed Stan Lee simply sitting in a cage and raising his middle finger to Groot, which would have meant using a body double with Lee’s face superimposed over his own.
The deadlier version, however, marked Lee for an unfortunate end when the Collector’s museum explodes, thanks to the power of the Infinity Stone.
In this take, “we very clearly saw Stan Lee’s box exploding, when the thing explodes,” Gunn explained. “And I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if Stan Lee’s—these are the kind of ideas that I would come up with and Marvel would say I think that’s super James Gunn—but Stan Lee’s head is rolling into frame.’ And anyway, so we didn’t do that.”
In the end, Lee’s cameo arrives much earlier in the film, when the Guardians are first being introduced on Xandar and Rocket spies Lee flirting with a much younger woman among the crowds of people.
Gunn also explained that the Howard the Duck cameo from the Collector’s museum came about because he originally expected an Avengers: Age of Ultron tease. That scene ended up at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier—so he and his team scrambled at the end of production to make a plan b.
They came up with the idea to include Howard thanks to footage they had of Benicio del Toro as the Collector looking at one of his exploded cases.
“And then we told Kevin [Feige] that we wanted to do it,” Gunn said. “Also, it was at the very end [of production]. We had to create an entire CG character a month away from release, and so we weren’t sure about it, but Kevin thought it was hilarious too.”
So while Lee lives on to cameo another day, avoiding his death allowed Gunn to sneak in one of the strangest references Marvel’s movies have ever made.