So Stan Lee is going to have a cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy, despite not having created, written or (presumably) having any idea who those characters even are. In honor of his now ubiquitous presence in the Marvel Cinema universe, I have ranked Stan's previous Marvel cameos from worst to best.
20. Spider-Man 3 – Stan wanders up to a stranger and blurts out some nonsense topped off with one of his signature catchphrases (“’Nuff said”) in this awful bit of business that pulls you directly out of the film for the fifteen seconds he’s onscreen. Seriously, if the audience didn’t know this was one half of the protagonist’s creative team talking to the actor portraying him, this would just come off as an old man with a terrible pick-up line. And “’Nuff Said” doesn’t even make sense in this instance! At least “Excelsior!” would have come off as a weird dude’s way of saying goodbye! Just the worst.
19. Iron Man 3 – Ha, ha, Stan’s a lecherous old guy giving the hot girl a “10”. It’s really similar to the bit in the first Iron Man, but it’s just blatantly overacted here.
18. Hulk (2003) – The first time Stan shared cameo space was when he and Lou Ferrgino were fellow security guards at the lab where Banner (“Krensler”) was working. This is also his first cameo with dialogue. It feels SUPER stapled in, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that Stan’s mumbled dialogue about “security upgrades” and tossing in a hello to the film’s star were ad-libbed, because Stan’s at his best when he’s drawing attention to himself.
17. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Stan Lee is the worst security guard ever. After presumably getting fired for letting Hulks into the building at his last job, this time he lets some dude steal Cap’s old costume right off the display dummy at Cap’s own museum exhibit! How does this guy keep getting references? Why do places keep hiring men of retirement age to guard their precious gamma experiments and historical ephemera? Where the hell is Damage Control in this universe?
16. Iron Man 2 – Stan cosplays Larry King for a cameo so short it barely qualifies as a walk-on. It’s nice to have one of these that isn’t super dragged out, but wow, did that feel forced.
15. X-Men: The Last Stand – Another of the rare times Stan has shared cameo space, this time watering his yard on the same block Chris Claremont is mowing his own – which (naturally) is the street where young Jean Grey first displays her telekinesis. It’s quick and inconspicuous (especially compared to some of the others on this list), mostly ending up so low here because it was in such a terrible movie.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger – Stan gets all dressed up as Generalissimo Lee, another callback to one of his elbow-in-the-ribs nicknames he gave himself back when he was Editor-in-Chief at Marvel. It’s a fun bit with an okay punchline, but it doesn’t really add anything to the film except Stan’s name in the credits.
13. Thor: The Dark World – Crazypants McComicrelief (Editor's Note: Derek has an unusal condition in that he can't actually spell Stellan Skarsgård. -Sam) has Stan’s shoe, and he sure wants it back. It’s a decent gag, but this movie has so many better ones that this bit kind of falls by the wayside.
12. Spider-Man – Stan reacts to the Goblin’s attack on the World Unity festival, saving a young girl from falling debris. It’s actually kinda cool to see him do something heroic, and it’s much better than the initial cameo plan – he was originally supposed to be a street vendor, hawking glasses that were “the same kind they used in the X-Men movie!” Ugh.
11. Spider-Man 2 – I get the feeling that Stan was pushed on Sam Raimi for this second appearance, as he does pretty much the same thing as his earlier Spidey cameo: this time, it’s pull an older woman away from falling debris in the first great Spidey-Doc Ock slugfest, only with an added “Look out!” looped in after filming.
10. Avengers – Stan appears amidst a montage of media footage where the common man reacts to the presence of superheroes. It’s cool because “the common man’s perspective” is a pretty pervasive theme in Marvel stories, and having one of the men so famous for giving Marvel’s heroes their feet of clay just completely dismiss them is a pleasant touch. I actually prefer the cameo they left on the cutting room floor, though – Stan leans over to a civvies-clad Steve Rogers and badgers him to get a cute waitress’ phone number.
9. X-Men - Stan’s earliest and most unobtrusive cameo is blink-and-you’ll miss it fast – he’s the hotdog vendor on the beach when the newly mutated Senator Kelly washes ashore. It’s cute, and kind of amazing in how it doesn’t draw attention to itself like so many of the others.
8. Amazing Spider-Man – Yeah, it’s dumb, but it’s fun as hell – Stan’s the librarian blaring classical music so loudly through his headphones that he completely misses the huge fight between Spidey and the Lizard taking place twenty feet behind him. Nearly clobbering the old coot with a desk was an inspired touch.
7. Amazing Spider-Man 2 – And speaking of dumb but fun, Stan sees Spidey in cap, gown, and facemask, and sputters out, “I think I know that guy!” It’s goofy, but there’s a charm to it in this flick that just doesn’t come through as well in something like Captain America or the second Thor.
6. Iron Man – Stan gets mistaken for (or is supposed to be, I never have figured out which) Hugh Hefner, complete with a pat on the back from rising star Robert Downey Jr as the titular Tony Stark. Stan with a hot young blonde on either arm definitely feels like a sop to the old man’s ego, but it’s legitimately funny.
5. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – Stan shows up as himself to the wedding of Sue Storm and Reed Richards, only to be turned away at the door. It’s a super sweet nod to FF ANNUAL #3, made a little sad by the fact that Jack Kirby wasn’t around to share the spotlight here like he did in the comic (Editor's Note: :( -Sam).
4. Daredevil – Young Matt Murdock uses his cane to stop an oblivious Stan from wandering into traffic. I really like this one because it touches on DD’s original origin, something the movie itself more or less ignored; also, hiding him behind a newspaper before you hit the reveal is pretty clever. Also, I TOTALLY buy Stan as a blundering old dude walking around New York, y’know?
3. Thor – Stan drives the truck that tries to pull Thor’s hammer from its resting place in the New Mexico desert. He gets off a pretty great line – “Did it work?” – and he’s only onscreen for a couple of seconds. It’s one of the best examples of how to pull off a creator cameo in these films.
2. Fantastic Four – I kind of love this one, in which Stan plays Willie Lumpkin, the infamous FF mailman, mostly because according to the director commentary the character as written had no lines. So of course once the cameras are rolling, Stan comes out bellowing a welcome to Dr. Richards, telling him he has the usual for him, and that it’s good to have him back; Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba stand there clearly nonplussed and unsure of what to do next until Gruffudd pulls it together enough to say “Thanks, Willie”. It’s hilarious.
1. Incredible Hulk (2008) – For the first (and I want to say only) time, Stan’s cameo actually plays an important role in the movie’s plot – he’s the old guy who has a reaction to drinking the gamma-blood contaminated soda, which clues General Ross to Banner’s possible whereabouts. It’s great because it’s organic, muted; it’s the only cameo on this list that doesn’t feel at all shoehorned in for the sake of fanservice. And, as an added bonus, it totally reminds the audience of the time Stan tried to Hulk out on The Simpsons.