After 11 years, 22 films and $21.37 billion (and counting) at the worldwide box office (when all of the figures on Box Office Mojo are tallied up), the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU for short) has become a pop culture phenomenon like no other. It has revitalised the superhero genre and its epic fight sequences are among the most hotly anticipated film moments every summer. While the superhero spectacle is undeniably excellent, one of the franchise’s more grounded motifs is fatherhood.
The franchise has featured a number of characters who are fathers, including Scott Lang, Clint Barton and Tony Stark, their relationships with their children often serving as an important plot point or aspect of their motivation. In honour of Father’s Day this weekend, this piece is going to discuss the 10 best father-child moments within the MCU, some of which have significance to the narrative and/or characters, others of which are simply heartwarming.
Bear in mind though, this list is not restricted to moments between fathers and their biological children, as several key relationships in the MCU centre around a man with somebody whom he views as his child (e.g. Yondu Udonta and Peter Quill, or Tony Stark and Peter Parker).
10. Odin Rebukes Thor (Thor)
Of all of the father-child moments on this list, this is by far the least warm. When Thor tries to prove that he is ready to be King of Asgard to his father, Odin, he ends up causing a war between Asgard and Jotunheim. When they return to Asgard, Odin gives his son some home truths, telling him that he is “a vain, greedy, cruel boy” who is not ready to be King. Seeing no other choice, Odin strips Thor of his powers and banishes his son from Asgard.
Doing all of this visibly saddens and pains Odin, and this harrowing moment emphasises the hardest aspect of being a parent – having to discipline your child. Despite his love for Thor, Odin cannot turn a blind eye to his terrible misdeeds, as to do so would make him irresponsible as both a father and a King. It is a sad, yet necessary thing for a father to have to do as they try to help their children learn and grow, and ultimately that is what it does for Thor, as Odin’s rebuke is the catalyst for a series of events that help Thor develop into a selfless and worthy leader.
9. The Ancestral Plane (Black Panther)
Following King T’Chaka’s death in Captain America: Civil War, his son T’Challa becomes King of Wakanda in Black Panther. In scenes not unlike some of The Lion King’s latter moments, T’Challa converses with his father’s spirit within the Ancestral Plane, thanks to the Heart-Shaped Herb, and seeks his father’s wisdom. During his first visit to the Ancestral Plane, T’Challa and T’Chaka are overjoyed to reunite with one another, which begins a scene which offers a raw and honest depiction of a father-son relationship.
T’Challa’s vulnerable side is explored for the first time as he confesses to his father that he does not believe himself ready to be King or to live in a world without his father, before seeking wisdom from T’Chaka, who aims to help his son as best he can. The reality that most of us will one day have to live in a world without our fathers is not a pleasant thought, and is a reality which many people have difficulty adjusting to. As such, this moment offers a raw and honest depiction of a less pleasant aspect of a parent-child relationship but, in doing so, also offers insight into just how close and heartfelt the father-son bond between T’Chaka and T’Challa really is.
8. Comforting Peter (Avengers: Infinity War)
One of the most prominent father-child relationships in the entire MCU is neither a biological one nor an adoptive one, rather it is a figurative one. After becoming friends and allies during Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark really takes Peter Parker under his wing during Spider-Man: Homecoming, helping the teen nurture his abilities to become Spider-Man.
Over the course of the film, the two develop a very close bond and it becomes apparent that Peter views Tony as a father-figure. In Avengers: Infinity War, an ever-eager Peter joins Tony in his efforts to rescue Doctor Strange, before helping Tony, Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy fight Thanos at his home planet, Titan.
The group are ultimately beaten and Thanos takes the Time Stone from Strange. Later on, after Thanos completes his Infinity Gauntlet, Peter begins to disintegrate when the Infinity Snap happens. Terrified and deeply upset Peter utters the words “Mr. Stark…I don’t feel so good” before collapsing in the arms of his friend, mentor and father-figure.
In the most harrowing death scene of the film, a devastated Tony tries his best to comfort the terrified teenager in his final moments, and in these moments it becomes clear that Tony has come to love Peter like a son. Tony would never be able to truly move on from this moment, and losing Peter would motivate him to join the Avengers five years later for the Time Heist in Avengers: Endgame. Peter’s death itself is harrowing, but what adds extra weight to the moment is that depicting Tony as viewing Peter like a son conveys that paternal love and instinct is not confined to biological relationships.
7. Odin Departs (Thor: Ragnarok)
Some time prior to the events of Thor: Ragnarok, Loki returned to Asgard, took on Odin’s appearance and ruled in his place, placing his father under a spell and exiling him to Earth to live in a retirement home in New York. After Thor uncovers the truth, he and Loki travel to Earth to locate their father, only to find that Odin has broken free of Loki’s spell and is no longer in New York, but has chosen to stay on Earth. Doctor Strange sends the brothers to Norway via a portal, where they find their father on a clifftop and share a bittersweet reunion. Odin reveals that the time has come for him to depart for Valhalla and be with their mother, Frigga.
In his final moments he tells his sons that he loves them, which leaves a remorseful Loki looking especially touched, but also warns them of the impending Ragnarok, and informs them for the first time of Hela’s existence, before his spirit ascends to Valhalla.
While Odin’s departure is very poignant, its build-up conveys a very touching picture of fatherhood. Loki is visibly moved by his father’s admission of love, and it becomes clear that he regrets the way he had treated Odin. In Odin’s admission of love we see that his love for his sons is great enough that he is able to forgive Loki for his countless misdeeds and treat him with love and respect, in a brief, yet beautiful depiction of just how powerful paternal love can truly be.
6. Telling Hope the Truth (Ant-Man)
As Scott Lang gets to know Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne, it becomes clear that the two have a strained relationship, a strain which stems from Hank sending Hope to boarding school after the disappearance and supposed death of her mother, Janet, when she was a child. While training Scott to become the Ant-Man, tensions grow between father and daughter until Hank loses his temper. Later, when the two have calmed down, Hank decides that it is time to do something that he has been avoiding for nigh on 30 years – tell Hope the truth about her mother’s fate. He explains that she disappeared into the Quantum Realm as the Wasp and, in doing so, saved millions of lives from a missile strike.
As Hank tells Hope the truth at long last, he expresses his regrets and explains that he had spent years afterwards trying to bring her back. Hope weeps during this revelation and is visibly remorseful for having misjudged her father for so many years, before hugging him in what would be the first step in them rebuilding their relationship during the rest of the film. Not only is this a very tender moment between a father and his daughter, but it conveys an important truth about fatherhood.
In Hank revealing the truth at long last, we see that his past lies and secrets had been an effort to protect Hope and spare her feelings. This conveys the truth that, even when fathers have their children’s best interests at heart, they can and will still make mistakes, but that those mistakes ultimately come from a place of pure, sincere and honourable intentions, born from a place of paternal love.
5. “These are…smaller agents” (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
After a disastrous mission to South Africa to try to stop Ultron, the Avengers need a safe house and Clint Barton knows just the place. The Avengers arrive at a farm and, upon entering the house, Clint is greeted by his wife and two very excitable young children, whom Tony refers to as “smaller agents”. The two children are overjoyed to reunite with their father and Natasha Romanoff (or “Aunty Nat”), the only other Avenger who even knows that they exist, as Nick Fury had chosen to keep their existence off S.H.I.E.L.D.’s records.
Up until this point, Clint was a character whom fans liked but, for the most part, just regarded as “the arrow guy” (or words to that effect). However, this heartwarming moment showed a wholly different side to the tough Agent, and fans immediately became more emotionally invested in him and more concerned about whether or not he would survive. Furthermore, this revelation would ultimately go on to inform Clint’s absence during Avengers: Infinity War, his motivations in Avengers: Endgame, and the father-daughter like bond he would form with Wanda Maximoff over the course of Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and Endgame.
4. “Peanut! Happy Birthday!” (Ant-Man)
In the opening 20 minutes of Ant-Man, it is established that Scott Lang is an ex-convict who is struggling to get a job and get his life back on track after his release. It is also established that his number one priority is his young daughter, Cassie, from his previous marriage.
Scott arrives at Cassie’s birthday party a bit late, and has a heartwarming reunion with his daughter, whom he affectionately refers to as “Peanut”. When Cassie tells him that the time that the party started was on the invitation, her stepfather-to-be – Police Officer Jim Paxton – says that Scott did not receive an invitation but turned up anyway (although, to his credit, he says it in a way that makes Scott sound amazing).
The fact that Scott and Cassie share a close father-daughter bond is very clear, making it heartbreaking to learn that Jim and Scott’s ex-wife, Maggie, are so reluctant to let Scott be a part of Cassie’s life that they tried to stop him from seeing her on her birthday. To make matters worse, Jim even threatens Scott with arrest for not paying child support, despite knowing that an unemployed Scott cannot afford it.
However, the fact that Scott was willing to risk an inevitable argument, and even the possibility of arrest, in order to spend time with his daughter on her birthday emphasises that she will always be his number one priority and he will do anything to make up for lost time. Establishing this as Scott’s number one priority also foreshadows his motivation for the rest of the film and the explanation for his absence in Avengers: Infinity War.
3. Juice Pops and “I Love You 3000” (Avengers: Endgame)
Five years after the Infinity Snap, Tony Stark is married to Pepper Potts, and they have started a new life in a modest lakeside house with their 4-year-old daughter, Morgan. When Tony and Morgan are first seen playing together when Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Scott Lang visit him to propose the Time Heist, it is clear that the two share a close and affectionate bond. When a restless Tony stays up trying to work out the precise science of the Time Heist, he ends up in a less-than-ideal situation when he realises that Morgan has snuck downstairs, way past her bedtime, in time to hear him exclaim “sh*t”.
Tony manages to buy her silence when she persuades him to join her in a late-night juice pop, which he describes to her as “extortion”. Rather than be annoyed, however, Tony clearly takes delight in being able to spend some father-daughter time with Morgan, which shows a wholly different side to the character than was found in his previous film appearances. While his bonds with Harley Keener in Iron Man 3, and Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War shows us glimpses of Tony as a father figure, never before in the franchise has he been in his element quite like he was in this scene.
When Tony later tucks Morgan in, he tells her he loves her and she responds “I love you 3000”, leaving Tony visibly touched, and the audience too as it is a very sweet moment. Seeing Tony in his element here and happier than he has ever been before emphasises beautifully just how much becoming a father can change people’s lives for the better. It shows that, despite his wealth, power and genius-level scientific mind, being a father is the only place in which Tony has truly felt like he has found purpose in life. It is a beautiful scene between a father and his daughter, and one which adds even more emotional weight to Tony’s narrative arc, while also foreshadowing the end of his character arc.
2. Yondu’s Sacrifice (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
Leader of an exiled faction of Ravagers and adoptive father to Peter Quill, Yondu Udonta had raised Quill since he was 8-years-old. While their relationship comes across as quite a love-hate one during Guardians of the Galaxy, it is clear that deep-down the pair love each other. The backstory that is established in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reveals that Yondu kidnapped the young Quill on Ego’s orders, but chose to raise Quill himself for fear that Ego would murder him. From there they grew a close father-son bond, with the other Ravagers noting that Yondu had a soft-spot for Quill, although his tough guy facade and surly attitude did cause problems to arise.
In Vol. 2’s climax, Quill resigns himself to his fate when Ego (his biological father) is destroyed and the planet upon which he stands begins to explode. However, Yondu (who has a flight suit and jet pack) flies him to safety, saying “He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.” This is a really heartwarming moment which shows just how kind and loving Yondu truly is beneath his tough facade, emphasising just how close their bond really is and just how strong the love of an adoptive parent can be to the child whom they raised.
The heartwarming moment, however, becomes heartbreaking as the pair have one flight suit between them as they fly into space, away from a source of oxygen. Yondu looks at Quill and, in a moment of raw sincerity, says to him “I’m sorry I didn’t do none of it right. I’m damn lucky you’re my boy”, before ensuring Quill’s survival by giving him his flight suit and dying as a result, leaving Quill distraught. It is a harrowing moment which further emphasises just how much Yondu loves Quill, the man whom he regards as a son, and displays with raw emotion and sincerity just how selfless and sacrificial the love of a father can truly be, regardless of whether the father-child relationship is a biological one.
1. Tony and Howard Discuss Fatherhood (Avengers: Endgame)
In Captain America: Civil War it is established that Tony Stark’s biggest regret in life was that he never said a proper goodbye to his parents the last time he saw them, mere hours before their deaths in 1991. While Tony had a strained relationship with his father, Howard, the pair ultimately loved each other, and Tony would spend the rest of his life wishing that he had been more affectionate with his father. In Avengers: Endgame, which is set 32 years after Tony’s parents died, Tony’s daughter Morgan is 4-years-old and shares a really close and affectionate bond with her father.
Although initially reluctant to do so for the sake of his family life, Tony agrees to join the Avengers in the Time Heist, which leads to himself and Steve Rogers travelling to April 1970, mere weeks before Tony was born. When retrieving the Tesseract from Camp Lehigh, Tony bumps into the past Howard. While initially caught off-guard, Tony decides to take the opportunity to have that final conversation with his father that he had always yearned for, albeit under the alias Howard Potts, in a heartwarming scene. What ensues is one of the most raw and honest conversations in the entire MCU.
Howard talks of how he would already do anything for his unborn child, but also admits that he is very scared at the prospect of fatherhood, and that he hopes that his child does not grow up to be like him. In this moment, we see an honest and sincere picture of a man who recognises his faults and yearns for his child to not make the same mistakes that he did, for his child to grow up to be the best person that he or she can be.
Tony, determined to make the most of this conversation, does not once show his egotistical side, rather he is honest about the fact that fatherhood has been an enormous learning process for him, but also reveals just how much he has come to value both his father and his father’s advice. Howard is, of course, oblivious to the fact that the pearl of wisdom (“No amount of money ever bought a second of time”) that Tony shares is something that he would go on to teach his own son in the years to come, but it is clear that he appreciates being able to discuss fatherhood with Tony in the weeks leading up to his firstborn’s arrival.
Not only is this a heartwarming moment for viewers as we see Tony finally get that final conversation with Howard, but it is the best fatherly moment in the entire MCU as it depicts two of the franchise’s most prominent fathers discussing fatherhood with each other in a manner which is honest, sincere and grounded in realism (excluding the time-travel aspect, obviously).