Stan Lee, the godfather of Marvel comics, died on Monday, but his spirit will live on in the comic book characters he created, the adventures he took his readers on, and the imaginations he ignited. And of course, there are all those cameos.
Lee has been a fixture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as well as in Sony and Fox’s Marvel superhero films since the studios began making mainstream blockbusters in the ’00s, briefly appearing onscreen in nearly every movie in a vast range of bit parts. (Marvel sold away its film rights to characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man in the late ’90s, so they are considered separate universes — though this may change now that Sony and Marvel have collaborated on 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Disney stands to acquire Fox’s Marvel properties.)
The cameos were a way for movie studios to honor Lee’s contribution to the work by sharing him with a massive, mainstream audience. Mainstream audiences might not necessarily be familiar with every issue of Lee’s work, but they come away from these big movies and these revered cameos with a sense that Lee is an important, indelible figure in creating these fantasies.
He even has cameos in more esoteric properties, like 1989’s made-for-television movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk as well as voiceovers and appearances as himself in various Marvel animated television series.
YouTube user SuperheroesEvolution compiled a super reel of the cameos above.
As of his death, Lee has made 20 cameos in the MCU (including Spider-Man: Homecoming); five in the X-Men universe (including the Deadpool films); a sixth in the X-Men universe if you include the short film that appeared before Logan; five cameos in the pre-Tom Holland Spider-Man films that starred Tobey Maguire and then Andrew Garfield; two cameos in Fox’s now-defunct Fantastic Four franchise; and a handful of cameos in one-off superhero films like Hulk and Daredevil.
The cameos where Lee gets to speak and showcase his signature, enthusiastic voice are better than the non-speaking ones. But in this correspondent’s opinion, the best one may be Lee’s cameo in one of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s five post-credits scenes.
In it, Lee is seen wearing an astronaut outfit and talking to a bunch of weird-looking bald dudes with capes; it actually builds off his cameo in the “main” film, where he’s seen during Rocket and Yondu’s jump to the planet Ego. Lee is regaling the bald dudes with stories, but they start to walk away while he’s still talking. He yells that they were his ride home — with no indication of where that may be — and that he has more stories to tell before the scene fades to black.
In Marvel’s comic books, the weird dudes that Lee is talking to are a part of an entity known as the Watchers, the most famous of which is Uatu. The Watchers are spread out all around the universe, and exist to observe civilizations and life progress. They see and record everything, but they aren’t ever allowed to interfere.
The implication of the scene is that Lee might be one of the Watchers, and that the tales he is telling his fellow Watchers are from his many different Marvel movie cameos, meaning that he’s the same guy in all those different films. The idea that he’s recounting for the Watchers what he’s observed could signal that all along, he’s been observing the Marvel universe that he’s been tasked to help care for. It’s a touching way to honor Lee and what he has helped build.
As of now, the most recent Lee cameo can be seen in Venom, where he shares a passing scene with Tom Hardy. But with that said, there’s at least one more Lee cameo still to be unveiled, as it was reported earlier this year that he filmed one for Avengers 4, due out in May 2019.