10 best Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos, ranked

A good cameo makes audiences jump out of their seat in excitement and disbelief. So it's time to celebrate the best of them we've got in Marvel's MCU so far!
The Netflix Original Series “Marvel’s Daredevil” 
Photo: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Netflix Original Series “Marvel’s Daredevil” Photo: Barry Wetcher © 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved. /

Across sixteen years of history (and counting), the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gifted us with lots of exciting moments. Ever since the day Nick Fury stepped into Tony Stark's house in the post-credits scene of Iron Man, audiences knew any character could make an appearance in any project without previous notice. Time and time again, these shocking surprises made us cheer at the top of our lungs, making the moviegoing experience all the more memorable and special. So now it's time to take a trip down memory lane and rank the top 10 best cameos the MCU has given so far!

However - before we begin - we need to set a few ground rules. For as much as we'd love to include Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire in this list for their appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home... technically those weren't cameos. Instead, they acted as supporting characters with fully fleshed-out roles that played a major part in the movie's plot. The same can be said for Evan Peters' character in WandaVision, who initially appeared to be Quicksilver but instead turned out to be a completely new persona with a subplot of his own. For an appearance to count as a "cameo", it needs to be quick and play mostly for the surprise factor rather than to have a big impact on a project's narrative.

So now that we got that out of the way, it's time to go!

10. Howard The Duck in Guardians of the Galaxy

Let's kick things off with a rather playful cameo, shall we? At a time when the MCU was getting known for always teasing the "next big thing" in their post-credits scenes, James Gunn decided to play with audiences' expectations in the most perfect way possible. After all, the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie introduced us to widely unknown characters (even to the most hardcore comic book fans). So what better way to wrap things up than by introducing another obscure hero in the form of Howard the Duck?

Unlike most other entries on this list, this cameo was made with the sole purpose of making audiences laugh and maybe confuse them a little along the way. Howard wasn't being set up as an important character within the MCU whatsoever. Granted, he did end up making another appearance in Avengers: Endgame of all projects, but it was in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment that was seen as a gag as well. And the thing is; we wouldn't want it any other way.

Doing these types of light-hearted cameos from time to time is a perfect way to keep audiences' expectations balanced when going into an MCU project. If every single surprise appearance attempted to tease the introduction of a fan-favorite hero, then chances are Marvel would've run out of big characters by this point. Instead, it's nice to know there can be "smaller" cameos that play mostly for laughs and, yet, reinforce the idea that the MCU is filled with many comic book heroes who could steal the spotlight at any given time. Of course, this card shouldn't be overplayed in the long term, and it only gives you the tenth place on this ranking. But Howard the Duck's cameo came at a perfect time and still makes us laugh to this very date.

Tessa Thompson as King Valkyrie in Marvel Studios' THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER. Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved. /

9. Valkyrie in The Marvels

Before we dive into what makes this cameo great, let's discuss its negative side first and why it is placed in ninth place. While Tessa Thompson's appearance as Valkyrie in The Marvels was more than welcome, it didn't take anyone by surprise. After all, promotional trailers had already spoiled the fact that she would play a role in the movie, removing the "shock" factor of this sequence altogether when we finally watched it on the big screen. Granted, some of the cameos we've yet to discuss were also revealed weeks ahead of their release as well. But, in most cases, we knew about them due to unofficial leaks (which casual audiences never see anyway) and not because Marvel themselves decided to ruin the fun.

Maybe the decision to reveal Valkyrie's appearance in The Marvels was made because Disney anticipated the movie would have an underwhelming box-office run. So showing the return of this beloved character could've been a desperate attempt to make audiences more interested in Captain Marvel's latest adventure. If that was the case, the strategy failed since the movie ended up costing Marvel money anyway. Not only that, but it also robbed us of being surprised when watching this cameo take place.

But now that we got the bad part out of the way, let's move on to its positives. This sequence brilliantly succeeds in letting us know Carol Danvers and Valkyrie grew close off-screen with just a couple of lines of dialog. In a world ever so expanding as the MCU, it becomes really difficult to show every single character interaction on screen, so it's fine to assume certain relationships will develop out of the camera. Besides; part of the fun is knowing the stories of heroes we know and love keep evolving even in between projects. That gives us an extra incentive to never miss a Marvel project. Many things could've happened to a character since the last time we saw them, and Valkyrie's cameo perfectly captures this idea.

8. Wong in Shang-Chi

Much like the previous entry in our ranking, Wong's appearance in Shang-Chi And the Legend of the Ten Rings was revealed before the movie was released. This time around, Kevin Feige himself confirmed that a battle between the Sorcerer Supreme and Abomination was set to take place in Simu Liu's stand-alone adventure on the MCU. So we have to take some points off for that reason. After all, It would've been infinitely better to not know about their appearances until watching the movie for the first time. When talking about cameos, the "shock" factor plays a huge part in the overall experience, and it was nowhere to be found here.

That being said, Marvel could've used any two characters to showcase the cage matches in Shang-Chi. We could've even seen two generic mob bosses battling it out for that matter. But instead, they decided to go the extra step and make the most out of this opportunity. And what better character to make a cameo in this situation than Wong? After all, we learned he had money problems during the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Maybe he needs to attend these cage matches in his extra time to earn a bit of cash and pay the bills of the Sanctum Sanctorum.

It's nice to know even the smallest of details like this are consistent across different MCU projects. That only reinforces the idea that it has an overarching narrative that can be followed up at any point, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

7. Nick Fury in Iron Man

This is where it all began. This sequence alone foreshadowed the creation of an entire universe of films sharing the same overlapping story. It was impossible to know it back then, but Nick Fury's message to Tony Stark was not to be taken lightly. It was here that things were set in motion for the Avengers to join forces on the big screen, and all that was needed was a cameo in a short post-credits scene.

This marked the first of many times audiences saw S.H.I.E.L.D.'s director suited up on the big screen. After that, Nick Fury would go on to become one of the most important MCU characters ever, and that's in huge part to Marvel's perfect casting of the role. Let's face it: it's impossible to imagine anyone else under the eye patch but Samuel L. Jackson. He plays the part to perfection, easily capturing the coldness and intelligence needed from the leader of a spy organization. As a result, he's become one of the actors with the most MCU appearances over time.

On the downside; this cameo is one of the few on the MCU that doesn't constitute a "crossover". Nick Fury wasn't introduced in any other project by that point, so it was a bit harder to get excited by his appearance unless you knew about his character in comic book pages. For that reason, this cameo could pale in comparison to others we've gotten in recent years. But on the bright side, this was the first time we were introduced to the Avengers initiative, and that alone is enough to make us have goosebumps once again.

6. Captain America in Thor: The Dark World

It took many years for Marvel to build its interconnected universe of films from the ground up. What started as a simple tease back in 2008 evolved into a massive crossover four years down the line. It was a while before we finally watched Earth's Mightiest Heroes share the big screen, but when that day finally came we knew the payoff was worth it. The only downside was that the first Avengers movie came and went pretty quickly. Suddenly, all the build-up was over.

Yes, we knew heroes such as Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America would eventually cross paths in another exciting big-screen adventure. But it would take multiple years for this reunion to be set up once again. It was a little disappointing having to play the waiting game for the second time, so thankfully Thor: The Dark World fortunately decided to make things a little bit easier for us.

Now, I know technically Steve Rogers never crossed paths with the God of Thunder in this sequence. Instead, it was Loki disguised as America's greatest hero pulling a prank on his brother. But even then, this cameo was a clear reminder that - at any given time - we could see Marvel's greatest characters interact with each other. These sorts of scenes made the waiting on Avengers: Age of Ultron a little bit shorter, and we'll always be thankful for that.

5. Doctor Strange in Thor: Ragnarok

On a personal note, I believe this is what a good cameo should be like. Doctor Strange had a good amount of screen time on Thor: Ragnarok without overstaying his welcome. He struck a perfect time balance for his appearance to be memorable without exceeding what constitutes a cameo. The master of the mystic arts aided Thor briefly in his quest to find Odin, and after that, he was gone. Not only is it a fun sequence to watch unfold, but it also makes perfect sense for someone with Strange's powers to keep track of potentially dangerous beings such as Loki. After all, he is one of Earth's greatest defenders against the unknown.

Watching big heroes interact with each other on the big screen for the first time is always a lot of fun, and this case was no different. It isn't a surprise this sequence had a mostly comical tone throughout, especially considering it takes place within Thor: Ragnarok of all movies. But even then we can see Doctor Strange is mostly skeptical of the God of Thunder and his brother. While he has no solid reasons to believe they intend to harm Earth, you can never be too sure. That did perfect justice to Strange's character, and it ensured his personality remained intact even across different movies.

Short and simple, but exciting nonetheless. This cameo was everything we could've hoped for and we can't wait for Marvel to replicate that same formula in upcoming movies.

4. Tony Stark in The Incredible Hulk

This is it, ladies and gentlemen. This scene marked the first time in the MCU that a key character introduced in a completely different movie made a crossover in another one. While Nick Fury's appearance in Iron Man served to let audiences know there were big things in store for our favorite heroes, this cameo took things a step forward. We were no longer at a "planning" stage anymore. The pieces were already in motion to see the Avengers united on the big screen and it felt simply magical.

But even if watching Tony Stark share the screen with General Ross made us jump out of our seats in excitement, it can be argued this cameo was... for nothing, really. At the end of the day, the version of Bruce Banner we saw in The Incredible Hulk wasn't the same as we got in the first Avengers movie. However, does that really matter? After all, we had no clue how things would turn out when watching this scene for the first time. All that we could think of back then was "Oh God, it's happening!". That idea alone makes this cameo stand out from others we've gotten in recent years that are taken more as a given. In a time when the MCU's future wasn't as certain as it is today, these kinds of surprises meant more than can be described.

3. The Beast in The Marvels

Not only did this post-credits scene succeed in surprising us by including a fan-favorite hero, but it also has a lot of nostalgia points going on for it. Let's face it: it is one thing to watch a beloved character come to life on the big screen, but another to watch a specific actor reprise that role. It's the same scenario as when J. K. Simmons played J. Jonah Jameson again in the MCU after owning that part in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. Even if it isn't technically the same version of the character, it's a nice callback to what once was.

In that same way, watching the return of Kelsey Grammer's Beast in The Marvels was a joy to behold. But leaving aside all the excitement that this cameo brought, it's great to know the MCU is slowly incorporating the X-Men into their projects. First, we saw the return of Charles Xavier in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Then, it was revealed that Iman Vellani's Ms Marvel was actually a mutant. Now X-Men '97 is taking the world by storm and - at the time of writing this - we're a few months away from Deadpool & Wolverine being released on the big screen. So it's a good time to be a Marvel fan, without a doubt.

2. The Illuminati in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Out of all the cameos in the list, this one may be the most impactful in a movie's narrative. But even if The Illuminati were present in multiple scenes and had a healthy amount of dialog, they were taken out of the picture as quickly as they were introduced. Their presence in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness played for the "shock factor" rather than to alter its story in a big way. For that reason, we're still counting them as "cameos", and with that in mind... Marvel did not hold back here in the slightest.

For years we wondered when the Mutants and the Fantastic Four would make their debut in the MCU. But before Doctor Strange had his second stand-alone adventure, we hadn't even seen projects such as Ms. Marvel where it was revealed its protagonist is a Mutant. Nor had She-Hulk asked the all-powerful mind of Kevin Feige when audiences could expect to see X-Men join the fight. We had no clue about their future in any capacity, so the introduction of some of them as members of The Illuminati was truly mind-blowing. It may have been a little bit disappointing to see them all killed just after a few minutes but hey; it was better than nothing.

1. Matt Murdock in Spider-Man: No Way Home

There was a time when no one completely knew whether or not the events in the Netflix and Marvel series were canon to the MCU. Sure, there were a few hints here and there that indicated they both took place within the same universe. But there was never a "ground-breaking" moment that served to clear all doubts. To make matters worse, it was later announced that the collaboration between the streaming powerhouse and Disney would be no more, leaving the status of The Defenders universe and its characters up in the air.

However, rumors hinted that Daredevil was too beloved of a hero for Marvel to let go. Everything seemed to indicate we could see the return of Matt Murdock and Kingpin in two different MCU projects around the same time. Stars seemed to align for a moment, and leaks even made their way onto the internet before anybody could've anticipated. But even then, no one was quite sure about what to expect. Everything just sounded too good to be true. Anticipation was at an all-time high, and then Spider-Man: No Way Home finally premiered when we couldn't take it anymore. It was a long wait, but one that definitely paid off.

Even if many suspected Matt Murdock was going to make an appearance as Peter Parker's lawyer in the third Spider-Man movie in the MCU, watching the sequence finally unfold was a joy to behold. Finally, the character that we watched on the small screen for years was interacting with other big Marvel heroes aside from The Defenders. Daredevil was back home. His cameo is, without a doubt, the best we've gotten so far on the MCU and we wouldn't want it any other way.

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