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Stan Lee's cameo in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are as follows -

In Iron Man (2008) Stan Lee appears with three blonds to resemble Hugh Hefner.

In The Incredible Hulk (2008), Lee is seen drinking a soft drink mixed with Bruce Banner's blood.

In Iron Man 2 (2010), Lee is greeted by Tony Stark as "Larry King".

In Thor (2011), Lee appears among many people at the site where Thor's hammer Mjolnir lands on Earth. He tears the back off his pickup truck in an attempt to pull Mjolnir out of the ground with a chain and causes everyone to laugh by asking, "Did it work?".

In Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Lee portrayed a general in World War II, who mistakes another man for Captain America/Steve Rogers, commenting, "I thought he'd be taller."

In The Avengers (2012), Lee makes a cameo appearance as a random citizen in the park asked about the Avengers saving Manhattan. Lee's character responds, "Superheroes in New York? Give me a break", and then returns to his game of chess. He also appears in a deleted scene, apparently as the same character: when a waitress flirts with Steve Rogers, he says to him, "Ask for her number, you moron!" (Source: Wikipedia)

So these random appearances conflict with the shared universe, especially for the case of Captain America: The First Avenger.

So how do Stan Lee's random appearances work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

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    I don't feel the chracters would conflict because all his portrayals are so random and trivial they don't need to be repeated again in all the coming movies. – Mistu4u Mar 7 '13 at 8:21
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    It's like asking how Dr. Evil and Austin Powers work. Different characters played by the same actor. – Tablemaker Mar 7 '13 at 14:13
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    He developed a way to travel through time and decided to act as a time guardian, however he was discovered by Thanos and was thrown into a randomly occurring time shift loop that he has no control over. He has seen the impending destruction reserved for Earth in the Infinity War but is near powerless to stop it. In the time that has passed, he has since settled into living out his existence quietly, wherever he may shift to. Marvel Universe Complete. – user21116 May 9 '15 at 23:19
  • Who says they're random? – Paul D. Waite May 1 at 16:23
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Because he is a watcher or works for them. Likely Uatu, the watcher that's assigned to watch Earth. Confirmed by Marvel in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

Marvel chief Kevin Feige has endorsed the popular fan theory that Stan Lee is playing the same character in all of his MCU roles. http://screenrant.com/stan-lee-mcu-cameo-theory-marvel-kevin-feige/

“Yes, we always thought it would be fun. Stan Lee clearly exists, you know, above and apart from the reality of all the films. So the notion that he could be sitting there on a cosmic pit stop during the jump gate sequence in Guardians was something very fun – James had that idea and we shot that cameo and loved it so much, you know, you see it a couple of times in the movie. It wasn’t in for a long time and we put it back in towards the end of the process where he references that time he was a Federal Express agent – we thought it would be fun to put that in there because that really says, so wait a minute, he’s this same character who’s popped up in all these films.”

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Stan's appearances are a sort of wink to the screen, an in-joke to those that know who he is. All of the characters that he's appeared as have had no material significance to the universe, they're just there for on-screen fluff. There's no need to try and retcon these characters, they're all different characters played by Stan with no real story purpose.

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    To elaborate more on DForck42's answer, it is an easter egg type of feature and a trademark. Much like Hitchcock appearing in all of his movies with eager fans trying to find him. The difference being fans are always eager to see what crazy role he'll be playing. It's an ode to the man who created (or had a role in creating) all of these characters. – user4308 Mar 7 '13 at 15:49
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    "an in-joke to those that know who he is" -> and also the reason why today most people know who he is. :-) – Vedran Šego May 10 '15 at 2:58
  • Retconned. So your answer is now retroactively wrong. – cde Apr 29 '17 at 20:12

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