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The 'Nets were aflutter last week when news leaked about Marvel icon Stan Lee's upcoming cameo in Iron Man 2. The creator of properties like Spider-Man, Iron Man and X-Men, Stan Lee's grizzled visage has become as obligatory in Marvel movies as a Danny Elfman theme song. But not all Stan "The Man" pop-ins are created equal. Let's take a look at the highs and lows of Marvel's resident Hitchcock.
Hot Dog Vendor, X-Men (2000)
Prior to Marvel's movie renaissance, Stan's Hollywood dalliances mostly involved providing peppy narration to cartoons like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. But his appearance on the beach right after a water-logged Senator Kelly emerges from the ocean kicked off a whole new acting career for the comic czar. Stan's appearance here is pretty subtle, but it's a nice nod to fans and director Bryan Singer's way of saying, "Don't worry, we care about these characters and their creator." And if you didn't know who he was, he blends in as just another shocked old dude on the beach.
Himself, Iron Man (2008)
In keeping with the tone of the movie, Stan's Iron Man turn is tongue-in-cheek: Walking down the red carpet, Tony Stark mistakes a bathrobe-clad Stan for Hugh Hefner. A decent joke, and one that plays on Stan's age and jovial persona, but also a bit creepy. (Seeing the father of Spider-Man surrounded by young babes is kind of wrong, like your grandpa making a dirty joke.) Scuttlebutt says Stan will be playing a Larry King character in the second outing, which suggests he's entering his "aging celebrities with big glasses" phase.
Security Guard, Hulk (2003)
Stan's banter with fellow guard Lou Ferrigno is one of the sole bright spots of Ang Lee's plodding, melodramatic take on Marvel's un-jolly green giant. In a stronger movie, sticking Hulk's creator and the man who famously portrayed him on the small screen in the same scene would be more awkward than Nick Nolte's dialogue. But as it happens, the encounter is a brief respite between Jennifer Connelly's tedious brow-furrowing and all the mutant poodles.
Willie Lumpkin, Fantastic Four
For once, Stan actually gets to play a character from the Marvel Universe as Mailman Willie Lumpkin, a fixture in Fantastic Four canon. The character has an interesting back-story -- Lee originally created him (with Archie artist Dan DeCarlo) for a proposed comic strip, eventually opting to insert him in the FF comics -- and Stan's scene is the ultimate Fantastic Four fan in-joke. The movie itself is nothing to scream about, but it's nice to see Stan play something outside of "random confused passerby." Dare we hope for Fantastic Four Origins: Willie Lumpkin?
Man in Times Square, Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Stan's cameos in the first two Spider-Man outings consisted of the codger saving civilians from falling debris. (Turns out Stan's the only New Yorker who isn't just looking out for number one.) But by the third movie, he finally scores some dialogue: While reading a news ticker bulletin about Spidey's heroic exploits, Peter Parker is approached by a random stranger who proclaims, "I guess one person can make a difference. 'Nuff Said." The signature sign-off is nice and all, but like much in the troubled third chapter, the scene falls flat.
And how about these marvelous moments of Stan movie merriment?
Himself, Mallrats (1995) -- Stan's best role to date, offering advice to lovelorn comic nerd Brodie (Jason Lee) in Kevin Smith's Clerks follow-up. (He even gets to call out fanboy obsession over superhero anatomy.)
Himself, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) -- Stan the man gets turned away from Reed and Sue's wedding. No Willie Lumpkin? "'Nuff said" to this one.
Guy with hose, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) -- Stan tries to water his lawn, but is thwarted by the powers of young Jean Grey. Cool special effects save this one from being yet another misstep in the worst X-installment.
Old man at crosswalk, Daredevil (2003) -- Matt Murdock uses his cane to save a newspaper-reading Stan from getting hit by a bus. If he had failed, Stan never would have given us Pamela Anderson in Stripperella.
Wedding guest, Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) -- Stan attempts to hit on Julie Andrews by making Three Stooges "whoop whoop" noises. Easily the highlight of any Anne Hathaway movie.
What are your favorite Stan Lee movie moments? Let us know in the comments. And for more comic book news and views, hit up Nick Nadel's column on Twitter.