It’s been a long old road to reach the Endgame. 21 films, a crowd of super-powered, wise-cracking heroes, and the biggest box office phenomenon of the 21st century all come to a (sort of) end when Endgame hits cinemas this week.

Amongst all that noise and the tie-ins, and the crossovers, and the credit stings, a few moments have really stood out, defining Marvel’s characters, their conflicts, and the franchise’s whole ethos. Ahead of the biggest blockbuster event of the year (sorry Star Wars), ten of our writers wrote about their picks.

“I am Iron Man” – Iron Man – James Andrews

Tony Stark rarely plays by the rules, so why should he stick to superhero conventions? At the very end of Iron Man, Stark is asked to read a cover story explaining that it was his bodyguard in the suit (a long-standing ruse in the comics). Initially ready to go along with this, he suddenly rips up the rule book by telling a press conference: “I am Iron Man”.

Secret identities be damned! With four short words, Marvel set out its disregard for the well-worn alter ego trope – with most subsequent Avengers simply getting on with kicking ass and saving the world.

The Grenade – Captain America: The First Avenger – Alex Goldstein

What does it mean to be a hero? In the early days it was Stark’s ingenuity, Banner’s rage-based internal struggles and a touch of Shakespearean sibling rivalry. A leader was needed: someone a little more self-sacrificing, and a lot less self-obsessed. No scene demonstrated the true heart of Steve “we don’t trade lives” Rogers more than throwing his underdeveloped body onto an apparently live grenade. It’s the moment that determined his selection for the super soldier programme, and it brought genuine heart to the MCU by making humanity rather than smarts, strength or swagger the real superpower.

The Battle of New York – Avengers Assemble – Phil W. Bayles

It may seem hard to believe now, but when Avengers Assemble was released in 2012, nobody was sure it would work. Surely taking such disparate characters and slamming them together would result in an incomprehensible mess. And yet somehow, Joss Whedon pulled it off. The grand experiment was a success. And to celebrate, we get the money shot to end all money shots – a sweeping view of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, perfectly paired with an instantly iconic score from Alan Silvestri. Seven years later, it still sends shivers down my spine every single time I watch it.

The Mandarin – Iron Man 3 – Joni Blyth

The MCU isn’t just defined by great team-ups or 40 people named Chris. By far the MCU’s greatest superpower is hindsight.

Eighty years of comic book storytelling is a blessing and a curse. Love it or loathe it, Trevor Slattery’s triumphant stumble onto the MCU chessboard paved the way for all of your favourite comedic moments in the series. With the Mandarin, we learned two things about Marvel: they were *occasionally* willing to admit when they’ve been problematic and make a change, and they were more than willing to throw the big story to the wall in favour of a good gag

Both of these have shaped the series, for better (the Mandarin reversal, the comedic shenanigans of Guardians and Thor: Ragnarok) and for worse (Dr Strange’s The Ancient One).

Welcome to the Galaxy – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 – Jack King

In stark contrast to its terrestrial predecessors, Guardians opens with an establishing shot of Morag, an abandoned planet in a nondescript solar system. Moving down to the planet’s surface, a magnificent long shot shows an impossibly advanced explorer, his face hidden by a Vader-like mask, enter a derelict temple. Their mask dissolves, revealing the face of a handsome, human rogue – one with a Sony Walkman, great dance moves, and an adoration for eighties rock music. With Guardians’ introduction of its eponymous galaxy, the scope of the MCU had been immensely expanded; and in tandem, a lighter tone was born.

Vision Picks Up Thor’s Hammer – Avengers: Age of Ultron – Dan Sareen

“So there may be no way to make you trust me,” he says, before doing the only possible thing that will. In true Joss Whedon fashion, the seemingly comical misdirect from earlier, which saw the heroes attempting to lift the hammer, comes full circle with hilarious and shocking effect. In that one moment, Vision demonstrated the power of the gems, showing that he too walked among Gods, and acting as if it meant nothing. The mind gem in Vision’s head had made him worthy. Coupled with Thanos’ appearance in the post credits sequence, this really was a defining moment that fully shifted the MCU from the single stories and a few crossovers into a streamlined, mega multi film story – an Infinity Quest.

The Airport Fight – Captain America: Civil War – Carmen Paddock

It might be another computer-aided superhero smash-up, but the airport fight in Captain America: Civil War is an iconic MCU moment as it unabashedly celebrates each beloved character’s specific set of skills while forever changing the Avengers’ team dynamic. Watching redshirt baddies/aliens/robots fall to a trademark Iron Man blast or Cap shield smash has its merits, but seeing Spider-Man specifically target Falcon’s, Winter Soldier’s, and giant Ant-Man’s weaknesses while Black Widow and Hawkeye match up perfectly proves a delightful demonstration of what made the team work so well together until the Sokovia Accords – the gravity of which remains untouched alongside the MCU’s trademark levity.

Captain America vs Iron Man – Captain America: Civil War – Marie-Célia

Superheroes keep battling against the whole universe’s villains but rarely do we clearly see them struggling with their inner self. Civil War, and specifically the climax fight between Captain America and Iron Man, is one of those moments that completely redefined the MCU, laying bare its heroes’ humanity. Here, Iron Man abandons his mask of nonchalance to unveil Tony, the little boy he once was, raw with hurt as he learns that his friend Steve Rogers knew all along who murdered his parents. For several seconds, the impossible conflict in Stark’s eyes really pops on screen as Rogers confesses his betrayal. What the Russo brothers accomplish with this crucial scene is allowing the audience to dive into the vulnerable side of two historically imperturbable pillars of the MCU.

The Waterfall Fight – Black Panther – Kambole

Despite mostly being set in real places, there’s no setting in a Marvel film that feels as lived in as Wakanda. The greatest strength’s of Coogler’s Black Panther is its sense of place and tradition – apparent from the film’s first great set piece – T’Challa’s crowning by ritual combat. And it’s not just because of the fight itself – Ruth E. Carter’s costume design truly gets to shine here, each tribe divided by bold colours and styles inherited from different African tribes. It’s Wakanda at its most alive, and Marvel’s presentation of a fictional history that has never felt more real.

Thor Lands in Wakanda – Avengers: Infinity War – Jack Blackwell

Probably the single most exciting moment in superhero cinema, Thor’s arrival in Wakanda during the battle against Thanos’s army is not only a soaring, fist-pumping triumph but also displays just how ingrained the MCU has become in our culture. A Norse god, a gun-toting raccoon, and a talking tree arrive on the plains of Africa via a giant rainbow and proceed to use a magic axe to wipe out thousands of aliens, and instead of feeling ridiculous, it’s genuinely affecting. It also cements Thor, along with his great outing in Ragnarok, as the new MVP of the MCU after having spent six years as its most maligned member, which is no small feat.