By Christian Holub
May 06, 2019 at 11:03 AM EDT
Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame finally hit theaters on April 26, and closed the book on the Marvel Cinematic Universe story as we’ve known it. The MCU is set to continue afterwards (there’s already a new, post-Endgame trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home) but it still feels like the end of an era.

In the wake of the final showdown with Thanos, we decided to look back at the MCU’s best fight scenes up until now. They range from one-on-one duels to epic wars for the fate of planets, but together they paint a picture of how far we’ve come: From the streets of Afghanistan to the wastelands of Titan. Check them out below as you bask in the afterglow of Endgame. 

Iron Man in Gulmira from Iron Man (2008)

Tony Stark got rich by destroying the Middle East. Well, Howard Stark built the family’s fame and fortune by contributing to the atom bomb, but Tony made his own name selling high-tech Jericho missiles to American troops in Afghanistan (“the bad guys won’t even want to come out of their caves,” he promises them). But once he ended up on the receiving end of his company’s weapons, Tony had a change of heart. He built the Iron Man suit instead, and put it to use in this scene defending the people of Afghanistan from his own company’s weapons.

It’s hard to remember now, but the MCU probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground at all if Iron Man hadn’t seemed like the coolest superhero ever put on screen. Rewatching this scene a decade later, it’s still a joy to watch him in action, saving lives and birthing the biggest franchise in film history.

Battle of New York from The Avengers (2012)

How perfectly fitting that the climactic battle that would define the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years to come occurred in New York City, birthplace of the original Marvel comics and characters. The copious shots of midtown Manhattan established real stakes; it felt like the Avengers were defending an actual place from the invading Chitauri, rather than a studio set. But it wasn’t just a huge alien brawl; the heroes also established their superhero credentials by spending so much time actually saving people. The battle has had long-reaching consequences over the subsequent MCU films, from Tony Stark’s PTSD in Iron Man 3 to Thanos taking a more direct role in his Infinity Stone collection plans.

This climactic battle has been ripped off a hundred times over in the years since, but none of the imitators have been able to surpass the brilliance of the original.

Reality war from Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World probably has a safe spot near the bottom of most fans’ MCU rankings. Its stuffy vision of fantasy (one where forgettable actors are clad in mounds of elven prosthetics speaking incomprehensible fake languages) feels like the last dying gasp of the Peter Jackson zeitgeist that dominated 2000s pop culture.

Nevertheless, director Alan Taylor’s one stroke of luck was that he got the single coolest Infinity Stone to play with. The dimension-warping powers of the Reality Stone (or the “Aether,” if you prefer) add some much-needed spice to the climactic confrontation with the dark elves who want to destroy the world (or whatever it is they want to do).

Elevator fight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

This is almost certainly the shortest fight sequence on this list, but still remains seared into our retinas years later. The first Captain America film was a delightful period piece origin story, but the Russo brothers’ MCU debut brought Steve Rogers firmly into the 21st century — and he was not screwing around. The hero who had been held up as the paragon of American values did not take kindly to the American state he discovered after waking up from the ice: One where a huge state security apparatus manipulated assassinations across the globe and saw its own citizens as targets. By knocking out an entire elevator full of Hydra operatives, Cap proved he wasn’t going to take this national betrayal sitting down.

Finishing off HYDRA from Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The climactic battle of Age of Ultron, in which the Avengers protect the people of Sokovia from an army of Ultron drones, felt way too much like the battle against the Chitauri’s faceless army to be truly exciting. But the opening fight, where they storm HYDRA’s last stronghold, was a blast of fresh air. It finds the Avengers at the height of their powers, before self-doubt and civil war scattered them all across the universe. Joss Whedon’s directorial quirks are all over this one, from the iconic “language!” exchange to the whole spectacle of the Avengers trading quips in between hurling HYDRA goons into trees. The rest of the movie was pretty downhill from here (other than the incredible party scene, of course).

Airport showdown from Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Civil War was a movie with a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man remains as exciting as ever. The movie has to make some big stretches in order to get all the heroes fighting each other like this in the first place, but the end result is as fun as mashing together your favorite childhood toys. There’s Ant-Man teaming up with Hawkeye! Now Captain America’s fighting Black Panther! It’s a blast, though the drab airport makes a less-than-ideal backdrop.

Baby Groot’s opening dance from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Fighting doesn’t always come first; sometimes you just gotta dance. The first Guardians of the Galaxy was widely beloved for its unexpected casting and psychedelic palette, but ultimately still colored within the team-up movie lines set by The Avengers: Heroes meet, bicker with each other, but then figure out their differences in time to beat back an army of faceless monsters. The second outing tried something different.

Director James Gunn basically built Guardians 2 like a series of music videos, with colorful action perfectly matched to classic songs. That sensibility is broadcast right from the beginning of the film, where a clash with a Lovecraftian space monster that would overshadow most other MCU movies is relegated to the background so Baby Groot can get his groove on to “Mr. Blue Sky.” 

Gladiator duel from Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

They’re friends from work, but they’re still trying to pound each other to a pulp with sci-fi centurion weapons: Such is life in the Marvel Universe! Thor and Hulk both missed out on the brother-versus-brother action of Captain America: Civil War, but made up for it 10 times over when they finally came face to face again in the Grandmaster’s gladiator arena. Funnily enough, despite the movie’s title, this scene (and the rest of the Sakaar sequence) are adapted not from a Thor comic, but rather from the Planet Hulk storyline by writer Greg Pak and artist Carlo Pagulayan. They were the ones to first present images of Hulk fighting aliens in gladiator costume, and though it seemed outlandish at first, they soon proved that the best way to free the character from worn-out stories of being hated by society was to introduce him to an environment where he would be loved for his melee prowess, rather than feared.

Waititi expanded that fish-out-of-water approach to include Thor (who loses his hammer, homeland, and hair in this movie), which is why this arena fight is overloading with incredibly exciting energy. After a few punches, it’s easy to find yourself jumping off the coach and yelling just like Loki.  

When you think about it, Ragnarok is not just the MCU’s best Thor movie; it’s also the franchise’s best go at a Hulk movie.

Royal challenge from Black Panther (2018)

The MCU has often tried to paint its pictures with moral shades of gray, but Black Panther is the only installment that makes you legitimately wonder whether the hero is on the right side or not. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa was born into privilege — if it wasn’t for M’Baku (Winston Duke), he would have ascended the Wakandan throne without any opposition at all! But then comes Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger, the most compelling villain the MCU has yet produced. Ruth E. Carter’s costume design and Hannah Beachler’s production design both won deserved Oscars for establishing the colorful Afrofuturist atmosphere of Wakanda, but all that finery is absent when Killmonger challenges the new king for his throne. It’s just these two royal heirs facing each other down, their chests as bare as raw nerves. The difference is, T’Challa expects to win, while Killmonger has spent years as a footsoldier of American empire, honing his skill at killing until he was in prime position to take Marvel’s most famous black superhero down a peg (or off a waterfall, rather). Who’s your king?

Unfortunately for Killmonger, there’s more to ruling than just being a good fighter. But for a brief moment, he got to turn the world upside down.

Titan clash from Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Thanos has been promised as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate mega-villain since his shadowy cameo at the end of The Avengers, but it wasn’t until Infinity War’s epic climax that we finally got a sense of what that meant in real terms. In a face-to-face fight, Thanos is clearly far superior to the MCU’s many one-and-done villains — and even some of its most venerable heroes. Nevertheless, this eclectic group of do-gooders try their very hardest, and throw everything they’ve got at the last son of Titan. In return, he throws a moon at them.

The MCU will never be able to fully replicate seeing the original Avengers come together on screen for the first time, but the Titan meet-up gets close thanks to the delightful sight of the Guardians (who had previously been relegated to their own cosmic sector of the MCU) coming face-to-face with Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Doctor Strange crafting magical platforms for Star-Lord to hop off and portals for Spider-Man to swing from made for the franchise’s best example of pure, giddy action-figure excitement since Civil War. The resulting fight balances the MCU’s many tones, swinging from epic action (the aforementioned moon throw) to quiet devastation (Thanos saying “I hope they remember you” before raising his four-Stone fist against the franchise’s first hero) and back again. That puts it a notch above the other climactic Infinity War battle in Wakanda, which features the Avengers busting out crazy moves against…yet another army of identical drone soldiers.   

And in the end…all that for a drop of blood? Despite fighting harder on Titan than they’ve ever fought before, the heroes still lost. This is when it became clear that, despite how grand all the fights on this list have been, the Avengers would need to do whatever it took to beat Thanos. The result did not disappoint… 

Marvel Studios

Avengers Assemble! from Avengers: Endgame (2019)

It took everyone to beat Thanos — and we mean everyone.

At first, it seemed like the MCU was going to come to a close with the three original Avengers, the ones whose solo movies started this billion-dollar franchise, taking down Thanos together and saving the world for everyone else. But even without the Infinity Stones, the purple-skinned warlord was still able to hold off an admittedly rusty Cap, Iron Man, and Thor. Thankfully, by the time his forces attacked Avengers HQ, Hulk had already used the Infinity Gauntlet to snap half the universe back to life.

So then, just as Thanos’ forces prepared to pillage the Earth, the first of Doctor Strange’s portals opened. Wakandans, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Sorcerers Supreme started pouring onto the battlefield like the Ride of the Rohirrim, and the game was on. The following epic battle was filled with tons of little moments — Black Panther protecting the Infinity Gauntlet from a million aliens! Spider-Man meeting Valkyrie! The female Avengers teaming up!!! — but as soon as Cap said “Avengers Assemble” (in full for once, after being cut off at the end of Age of Ultron), it was clear that this was the biggest MCU battle of all time.

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