13 MCU Movies That Burn Their Best Action Scene In The First Half

List Rules
Vote up the MCU movies that peak in the first hour or so.

It has been said before that the MCU has third-act problems, though many will disagree. One reason for the perception could be that some of the best MCU action scenes seem to be stuffed into the opening acts of their films, which can sometimes be both a blessing and a curse to theater-goers. Those watching these movies at home will take the exciting scenes whenever and wherever they come.

As a franchise, the MCU may love its climactic battles, but all-out brawls and intense conflicts can also be part of the rising action - and occasionally, even the exposition. Really, there’s no shortage of amazing action in the MCU, so it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that some of its most thrilling sequences occur a little earlier in the narrative structure than one might expect - call it an issue of abundance.


  • The life of the eponymous star seems rather mundane early on in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, right up until a handful of Ten Rings goons ambush him on a San Francisco bus and attempt to forcibly remove his family pendant. In the all-out brawl that follows, Shang-Chi reveals his martial arts mastery to everyone - his opponents, his best friend Katy, and the world at large, thanks to the magic of social media.

    In a scene that comes off as Jackie Chan-meets-Speed, Shang-Chi flips around the out-of-control bus, dodging Razor Fists and commuters alike as he does. His jacket comes off, his jacket goes back on, and through it all, Shang-Chi doesn’t stop moving until the vehicle is in two halves and his opponents are in the opposite one from him. The bus itself stops moving moments later.

    It’s the first of many brawls to take place in the film, a slate that includes a Wong vs. Abomination cage match and a scaffolding scuffle for the ages, but none can match the sheer momentum of the pulse-pounding fracas that starts it all.

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  • The titular Guardians of the Galaxy both come together and highlight their own best attributes as they escape from the Kyln early on in their first adventure. From the moment the well-meaning Groot kicks things off entirely too early by ripping the prison’s emergency lockdown device off the wall, it’s an all-out frantic race to complete the breakout plan that nobody, not even Rocket, fully understands.

    Star-Lord clumsily tries to lead, Gamora operates with brutal efficiency, Drax incites chaos, and Rocket laughs uproariously in the face of that chaos. Each Guardian is at their peak as they bust out of the Kyln, taking audiences with them on what culminates in a very literal thrill ride to freedom.

    Later action sequences, like the storming of Xandar, pack a big emotional punch, but they don’t approach the sheer excitement of the prison break.

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  • Thor: Ragnarok is a rollicking adventure across the Nine Realms that makes the most of the Asgardian wing of the franchise in all its weirdness, but it’s the action taking place on Sakaar that really defines the film. How could any other conflict ever live up to the hype that comes from seeing Thor and Hulk finally go all-out against one another, and in an alien gladiatorial arena, no less?

    It’s the sort of scene that used to only be possible on the comic book page, but it’s brought to life in hard-hitting detail as the two heroes smash one another hundreds of feet into the air and then back down again. It answers the question of what happened to Hulk after Avengers: Age of Ultron in an optimal way - and if anyone managed to view it unspoiled, the feeling of Hulk coming out of those arena doors must have been immense. The only thing holding this one back from being perfect is its abrupt ending - but that’s more than made up for by all the action sequences that follow, even if they never manage to top the excitement factor. 

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  • Black Panther is brimming with aesthetically pleasing character clashes, whether they be full-scale fights on the plains of Wakanda or more private affairs atop a waterfall. But nothing approaches the lethal combination of adrenaline and animosity as the confrontation with Ulysses Klaue and his men in a Busan casino - one that spills into the surrounding streets in short order.

    As soon as Okoye is made and the music kicks in, it’s a continuous shot of Wakandan butt-kicking until Klaue makes a cowardly dash for the exit, revealing his built-in sonic arm in the process. T’Challa follows Klaue into the street, where the Black Panther hops on top of a vibranium car being remote-driven by Shuri back in Wakanda, and it’s on - with Okoye and Nakia bringing up the rear quickly enough to stop T’Challa from slaying Klaue after the inevitable crash-ending.

    No UN press conference could ever do half as much to reveal Wakandan technological superiority to the rest of the world as this one hot pursuit did. 

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  • Civil Wars aside, the Avengers have been a fairly tight unit ever since they assembled, and that’s robbed audiences of as much hero-on-hero action as they’d like to see. Avengers: Age of Ultron gives the people what they want by having the Scarlet Witch enchant the Hulk and setting him loose on his teammates, necessitating Tony Stark finally breaking out the Hulkbuster armor and seeing which of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is truly the strongest.

    The Hulk and the Hulkbuster throw each other through downtown Johannesburg, demolishing buildings and splintering pavement as they go. After some unbelievable visual gags, including Stark summoning a new fist mid-fight, the brawl ends in somewhat surprising fashion, with the Hulk knocked unconscious - though some of this can be attributed to Wanda Maximoff’s magic.

    The duel of Johannesburg isn’t just monumental, it’s monumentally consequential in pinning public opinion against the Avengers. Other Age of Ultron action sequences, like the semi chase or the big final robot battle, are certainly cinematic and fun, but they aren’t particularly memorable. It’s the clash of teammates that tends to stick with moviegoers.

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  • It’s all well and good when Scott Lang uses his Pym Particles to grow to enormous proportions, but the best action in the Ant-Man films happens at a much smaller scale. Fighting is just more fun when it’s shrunk down, and never is that made more obvious than when Ant-Man and the Wasp take on Sonny Burch and his gang at a restaurant meeting gone wrong.

    Hope van Dyne does the vast majority of the scrapping herself, flitting about the kitchen as she dances across knives and knocks out crooks with supersized salt shakers. It’s only when Ghost makes her first appearance that Lang gets involved, and from there it’s a butt-kicking in the wrong direction - but still an entertaining one.

    Luis’s epic car chase through the streets of San Francisco is a near-contender, but it can’t compete with two pint-sized heroes putting the boots to an entire criminal organization in the backroom of a family establishment. And unlike most MCU films, this one ends with the two sides talking through their differences and coming to a peaceful accord, so there’s no big final fight to consider. 

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