The Silver Age of Comics, AKA the Marvel Age of Comics, began in the early ’60’s with a veritable Murderer’s Row of iconic medium-redefining characters (particularly Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers) created by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and a boisterous rakish extrovert named Stanley Martin Lieber, whom we know better as Stan Lee. Around the dawn of the 21st century, when movies about Marvel comics where just starting to stake a claim in theaters, it seemed only natural to offer cameo appearances to the one surviving member of the legendary creative team. Now, with the MCU absolutely dominating pop-culture, it is almost a civic duty to watch the latest billion-dollar blockbuster while keeping our eyes peeled for every comic fans’ favorite wacky grandpa. So that’s why today, as an official representative of Geekade, I’m counting down my Top Ten Stan Lee Cameos.
By the by, if for whatever reason you’re worried about MCU burnout from two consecutive MCU-flavored Top Tens, rest assured that less than half of my picks are actually from the MCU. To wit:
- “The Librarian” – Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Truth be told, it actually hurts me just a little to include this one. My brain is very much in favor of completely forgetting that Sony’s ill-fated Amazing Spider-Man duology ever existed, with the dubstep-powered Electro and the pantsless Russian Paul Giamatti and the C. Thomas “Crane Dad” Howell. And yet, the classic slapstick of this scene still makes me smile. Stan Lee’s high school librarian is just jammin’ to his tunes, completely oblivious to the pitched battle between Spidey and the Lizard happening right behind him, and he nearly gets domed by an errant flying school desk. While I much prefer Spider-Man: Homecoming as a film, Stan’s cameo in that (guy who complains about Spidey stopping a possible car theft and is also named Gary) does not compare.
- “Neither was Omaha Beach, Blondie!” – Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Fun fact: in several recent public appearances (including AwesomeCon 2017 which I attended), Stan admitted that this scene, where he loses Thor’s Asgardian mead challenge at the Avengers’ hammer-lifting party, is his favorite cameo. Firstly, he played a WWII veteran, which Stan just happens to be IRL. Secondly, the part where he calls Thor “Blondie” and the part where he’s drug away drunkenly slurring the word “Excelsior” had to be filmed on two different days, so that meant double the paycheck! Aw yeah, ca$h money! Yes, well, the depressing royalty-free world of comic creation aside, this is one of my favorite cameos too.
- “Tony Stank” – Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Let me set the stage for you. The Avengers are shattered, victims of Helmut Zemo’s manipulation of fake threats and very real dark secrets. Black Panther’s father has been killed, Steve Rogers has renounced his identity, and James Rhodes has been grievously injured and possibly paralyzed. And just as our man Stark is starting to notice a glimmer of hope in Rhodey’s heroic resolve to keep fighting the good fight, in walks Stan the Fed-Ex Man with a package for “Tony Stank”. I don’t know what’s more incredible: the absolutely flawless comedic timing of this scene, or the fact that this is still only my second favorite “Stan is a postal carrier” role.
- “Please, kind sir, don’t cut my hair” – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
So here’s where Stan get’s his sweet, slightly hungover revenge on Thor and his lovely blond tresses! Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi was on a mission to revitalize ol’ Sparkles, the Lord of Thunder for his trilogy capstone. His mad plan had many facets, including: evil Galadriel, Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, akimbo assault rifles from the Earth realm called Tex-Ass, the Warriors Three all dying, telling Jeff Goldblum “just be yourself”, and also giving Thor a butch new haircut. The latter objective naturally fell to Stan and his crazy space weed whacker, which apparently has a setting for carving an N and a Z into opposite temples in honor of the director’s home country. In all seriousness, this is probably the most Stan has ever affected the plot of these movies, with Thor bemoaning the fact that a “creepy old man cut my hair off” several scenes later. What an honor!
- “Give it up for Chastity” – Deadpool (2016)
You know, it’s a bit of an unspoken rule that Stan only appears in movies that star characters he had a hand in making. That’s why you’d be hard pressed to find him in the Blade trilogy or any of the Punisher’s cinematic outings. But if there’s any place where all the rules of comic book movies go to die, it’s Deadpool. And thus we have the most un-Stan Lee of Stan Lee cameos, where strip club DJ Stan introduces a performer called Chastity, prompting the following response from TJ “Weasel” Miller “Or as I like to call her … Irony”. I am both excited and deathly afraid of what Stan might be doing in Deadpool 2 (which came out after this was written). Although I am hoping Wade brutalizes TJ Miller for starring in the Emoji Movie.
- “I should be on that list” – FF: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Believe me, the FF movies are constantly jockeying with the Amazing Spider-Man’s for prime real estate in my “Wishing to be forgotten” lobe, but I’ll be damned if Stan’s cameos in them don’t speak directly to my rabid Marvel fandom. I’m sure most of the movie-going audience rolled their eyes at the scene where Stan isn’t allowed in to Reed and Sue’s wedding ceremony. Firstly, I’m sure they rolled their eyes much harder at Galactus the World Devouring Fart Cloud. Secondly, the last panel of FF Annual #3 from way back in 1965 featured both Stan AND Jack Kirby getting turned away from the wedding. I actually really appreciate this, the only time that Stan’s been able to re-enact one of his own scenes from a classic comic he wrote 40+ years earlier. If only there was some way to combine this level of source material devotion to Stan’s bravura turn as a postal carrier from Civil War. Hey, wait a minute…
- “Willie Lumpkin” – Fantastic Four (2005)
Yes, the scene where postman Stan gives Reed Richards his mail, and Reed says “Thanks, Willie” just misses the podium on my list. Why? Because it’s the only time Stan has ever played a named character that he created, the Baxter Building’s venerable postmaster Willie Lumpkin. I don’t know why Stan felt that the FF needed a recurring postal carrier in their supporting cast. I don’t know why a guy Stan wrote when he was 40 looks so uncannily like Stan does today. And I don’t know why the wedding doorman in the last scene didn’t reject Stan Lee with one hand THEN wave in postal hat-wearing Stan Lee with his other. That would have been delightful. All I know is this deserves to be remembered as a classic Stan Lee cameo. Fun fact: 2015’s Fantastic Four movie, AKA Fant-4-Stick, is apparently the only film that offered Stan a cameo which he officially declined. Good call, Stan.
- “I wear ’em front. I wear ’em back” – Big Hero 6 (2014)
Be honest with me. Who among you even knew that Big Hero 6 was based on a Marvel property? It’s definitely not part of the MCU. We’ve seen San Francisco in Ant-Man and the Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t made of kanji. Granted, you may have suspected some connection at the part where fantastically wealthy slacker dude Fred looks at a portrait of his perennially absent father, who bears a resemblance to Stan. (You know, I never caught who voice-acted Fred. Let me take a second to hit up imdb … What! TJ Miller! Oh, god damn it!) Anyway, if you stayed to the end of the credits, you’d have been graced by Fred’s tearful reunion with papa Stan and the twin revelations that like Fred he’s also a costumed crime fighter AND like Fred he also wears underwear multiple times without laundering! It’s as heart-warming as it is disgusting. But if you think Big Hero 6 is an obscure pick on my part, you’re really gonna want to sit down for the next one…
- “Telling NPH to kill people” – Spider-Man: TNAS: Mind Games pt I (2003)
Behold, the CGI Spider-Man series that ran on MTV in 2003, and the Stan Lee cameo so obscure I had to screen-cap my DVD because Google Image Search didn’t have a copy. Forgive me for rushing thorough the setup, but Spider-Man (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) has been trapped in an illusory mental prison by evil incestuous psychic Russian Kathy Griffin, wherein he is helpless to stop Lieutenant Worf from killing that woman who sang “Stay.” Later, at Stay Girl’s funeral, a despondent NPH is approached by some guy with a gray trimmed beard and huge flat Romanesque nose who tries to convince him to murder Worf in retribution, and three sentences into this conversation I jumped out of my chair when I recognized that was Stan Lee’s voice coming out of “some guy.” I cannot put into words how soul-searing this was, hearing Stan “Great Power, Great Responsibility” Lee justifying murder to Doogie Howser, and wondering why Spidey was hearing this from “some guy” as opposed to his equally bitter best friend, Fin Shepard from Sharknado, whom I forgot to mention was also in that scene. I’m just grateful I have this forum to tell others about this insane event that every comic nerd in the world should know about by now, and I can only promise to devote a future episode of the Non-Stop Comic Shop to giving this Kathy Griffin-NPH-Worf-Stay Girl-Sharknado daisy chain the proper attention it clearly needs.
- “Who watches the Watchers?” – Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)
What else could top off the list but the Stan Lee cameo to end all Stan Lee cameos. So while shooting Guardians 2, director James Gunn heard about a goofy little fan theory about Stan Lee and thought “Welp, that’s goin’ in.” Thus we have a completely out-of-nowhere scene where a 1950’s cosmonaut Stan recounts his life story (re: all of his previous cameos) to a coterie of Watchers, the big-headed toga wearing cosmic record keepers of the Marvel universe. And Marvel Zombies the world over have now been putting on their best Stan Lee impressions and spinning halting and rambling yarns to their friends that go something like: “So after I died drinking Brazilian soda that had Ed Norton’s blood in it, that was when Iron Man confused me for Hugh Hefner, or was that Larry King, I don’t remember which was first. Anyway, then I stole Black Panther’s money at a Korean casino … oh, oh, did I ever tell you about the time I helped Julia Roberts’ brother and a chewing gum-addicted James Earl Jones hunt down an evil ambulance? If you thought that whole NPH thing was weird, then brother, I’d … zzzzzzzzzz”
“Honorable” Mention. “Super heroes’ sex organs” – Mallrats (1995)
This is my personal list, so let’s end it by getting really personal, shall we? I am an avid fan of comics and film, I live within spitting distance of New Jersey, and with my appearance it would be simplicity itself for me to cosplay as Silent Bob. Despite all of this I have never, EVER been a fan of Kevin Smith. Not his films and definitely not his comics (feel free to look for Batman: the Widening Gyre on my Top 20 Worst Comics podcast special for more evidence of that last point). And it occurs to me that my distaste for the Comic Book Man began when I saw Mallrats, which I sought out explicitly because a friend told me that Stan Lee was in it. I was just discovering my love of comics at the time and I was so excited to see Stan the Man on the big screen. And let me tell you his classic and revered spot in Mallrats disappointed me to my very core. The whole stilted and awful conversation Stan has with Mr. “zany half of Kevin Smith movie duo #3 of 8” is split between him pining for an ex of his from decades ago, to his groupie-banging contest with Mick Jagger (to be a fly on the wall when Stan explained his role to Joan, his wife of nearly 50 years at the time), to that cheery little motif that concludes with Stan saying “He seems to be really hung up on super heroes’ sex organs.” Fans have talked my ear off over the years about how “respectful” Smith was to write that scene for Stan, and I am sorry, it comes across like the exact opposite to me. It sucked 23 years ago, and it sucks today! So why the hell am I mentioning this now? Because I distinctly remember walking out of that theater thinking, “Well, Stan’s not going to want to be in any more movies after that travesty,” and I am so very glad to have been wrong. Not about Kevin Smith, though. Actually, half of Chasing Amy was pretty good. You know, the half that wasn’t just the “My girlfriend sucked 37 dicks” scene from Clerks again.