Whether you think it’s the worst thing to happen to cinema or the only thing keeping it alive, there’s no denying the MCU changed Hollywood forever. Kevin Feige and his producing partners at the time should never stop getting praise for creating the franchise mold everyone borrows from now and for finally delivering the connected superhero universe every comic book fan dreamt about for ages. They weren’t the first to produce quality superhero movies but they were the first to make each film an event by making you see how each one was going to connect to the next and what it was all leading to. It was a ballsy move that ended up being the most successful gamble in Hollywood history. It has spawned over 30 movies and almost half as many TV shows. Not all of them have been great but almost all of them have produced great characters. Characters that turn no-name actors into instant movie stars and make B-tier comic creations into instant fan favorites. This franchise will continue to thrive for years to come because the actors they cast are always on point (well, most of the time) and the writing keeps them feeling distinct and instantly memorable. No other franchise has produced this many unforgettable characters and I predict, no other franchise ever will.
These are the 100 Greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe Characters of All Time.
100. Watcher Informant (Stan Lee)
According to some sources, Stan Lee is the highest-grossing “person in film” of all time. Which is nuts. Lee was always a character for me as a young comic fan, a larger-than-life personality whose name graced “Stan’s Soapbox” on every Marvel comic I bought. A consummate showman and promoter (often self-promoter), Stan was the face of Marvel Comics, and it was only fitting that he should show up in cameo appearances in so many of Marvel’s films. (And he didn’t stop there – I think the first time I ever saw him in a film was in Mallrats.)
For the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he first appeared in 2008’s Iron Man at a party where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) mistakes him for Hugh Heffner. His last appearance was in Avengers: Endgame as a younger version of himself (along with his wife, Joan Boocock Lee). In between he was a beauty pageant judge, a janitor, a hairdresser, and a bus driver. For a hot moment there was even a rumor that Stan was playing Uatu – The Watcher – and all his appearances were simply the cosmic witness doing his “watch, do not interfere,” job. Sadly, James Gunn put an end to that speculation with a scene in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 where Stan is telling stories to an increasingly disinterested group of Watchers, rendering him not much more than a galactic snitch.
With Lee’s death in 2017, we lost the opportunity for more cameos (though creators have continued to sneak in references). It’s always been a fun part of watching Marvel films for me, looking for Stan’s cameo (though they were never as subtle as, say, Hitchcock’s film appearances), and knowing that there won’t be another lessens the experience – just a tiny bit.
99. Dum Dum Dugan (Neil McDonough)
Captain America: The First Avenger is a near-perfect adventure film. Scene to scene, moment to moment, it’s as good as any of the more highly acclaimed Marvel moments. The training montage is one of the best character origins in the entire franchise, the transformation is still impressive, the USO segment is a ton of fun and the main antagonist is classic old-school comic book villain. Yeah, the CGI is a bit dodgy and none of the action set pieces stand out but if you come to these for the characters and not the bing bang pow of it all, this film delivers. The character interactions are so good, I really wanted a spin-off. The Howling Commandos are strong enough, that I think they could’ve carried an entire movie, if not a limited TV show by themselves — without Cap or Bucky involved at all. The team consists of Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi), Montgomery Falsworth (JJ Field), Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci), Gabe Jones (Derek Luke) and Dum Dum Dugan, a character so great, they keep bringing him back even though he died decades and decades before the events of the first MCU movie. He’s a hard-drinking, hard-hitting, barrel-chested boisterous bruiser who is hand-picked by Steve Rogers to lead the team in his and Bucky’s absence. And his instincts were spot on, Dugan is every bit as good a leader and arguably just as good a man. He may not be able to lift Mjonir but he can definitely hold his own against Rogers or Thor when it comes to drinking, that’s for sure.
98. Blackagar Boltagon / Black Bolt (Anson Mount)
The MCU would be packed with Inhumans by now if Disney had never bought 20th Century Fox, giving Marvel Studios back the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four. An Inhumans feature film was downgraded to an ABC series that I’m pretty sure no one watched. They were going to be the MCU’s answer to not being allowed to use mutants, but it all went to shit. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige was apparently never keen on adding the Inhumans to the MCU with higher-ups at the time mandating their inclusion. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actually did some cool and interesting things with select Inhumans characters, the self-titled live-action series was a colossal failure.
However, Anson Mount’s portrayal of Blackagar Boltagon, a.k.a. Black Bolt, was one of the few performances from the short-lived Inhumans that fans didn’t mind. Mount, on his part, showed that he was committed to the role, coming up with his own form of sign language for Black Bolt to communicate with since the character’s Inhuman ability is his destructive hypersonic voice. His dedication to the role as well as fan interest in seeing him return properly in the MCU led to a small cameo in 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as the Earth-838 version of Black Bolt. With a comics-accurate costume, Mount made good use of his little screentime, giving him and Black Bolt some much-needed Marvel redemption.
97. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson)
Intended as Netflix’s Nick Fury, Claire shows up sporadically in other heroes’ lives when they are in a time of need. She ends up getting a reputation as the “Night Nurse” that all of the street heroes can approach for help without having their secret identities compromised. Finding herself in the middle of a vigilante crisis, she helps Matt Murdock heal his wounds when he is on the verge of losing his life. It was a very odd choice to choose Rosario Dawson for this role. She is one of those actresses who comes and goes and doesn’t seem to do anything much except play herself in anything she’s ever in. I didn’t mind her but she didn’t bring much to the role and I can’t say that I miss her either.
96. Robbie Reyes / Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna)
Most MCU fans, unfortunately, tuned out of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. during its first season before the HYDRA in S.H.I.E.L.D. twist gave the ABC show a much-needed shot of adrenaline. Cut off from a multi-billion-dollar spy organization, Phil Coulson and his loyal team must rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. from the ground up while dealing with remnants of HYDRA as well as the emergence of Inhumans. While the series would occasionally receive permission to use a familiar outside character (like Lady Sif or Peggy Carter), the biggest “get” S.H.I.E.L.D. ever got its hands on was the Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider.
Say what you will about the Nic Cage Ghost Rider films, but they weren’t exactly praised for their story or special effects. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. redeemed Ghost Rider, with stunning special effects and a breakout performance by Gabriel Luna. The character played an important part in the show’s fourth season, which also dealt with the Darkhold, Life Model Decoys, and virtual reality. While I’m glad Luna continues to find new roles (Terminator: Dark Fate, The Last of Us), I’m still bummed that Hulu never moved forward with its Ghost Rider series. With Marvel Studios seemingly more open with bringing back characters (and their actors) from non-Marvel Studios-produced properties, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Marvel will do the right thing and give the fans more of Luna’s Ghost Rider in the MCU. We need more of Ghost Rider’s flaming Hell Charger on our screen!
95. Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson)
Wow. Who would’ve thought Owen Wilson could fit so seamlessly into the MCU? But the Loki series is arguably at its best as an absurdist workplace comedy, and that is largely due to Wilson’s chemistry with Tom Hiddleston. Plus his arc over the course of season 1 saw him go from a good-natured antagonist to a full-blown ally. The finale twist assures there will be plenty more fun to be had with the character in Loki Season 2.
94. Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian (David Harbour)
After watching Black Widow for the first time, I realized that Alexei Shostakov was a character I wish they had introduced earlier in the MCU. Russia’s counterpart to Captain America, Shostakov, aka the Red Guardian, spent decades in a Russian prison before being rescued by Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova, both of whom had viewed Shostakov as a pseudo-father figure. My favorite thing about Alexei, beyond the fact that he’s portrayed by David Harbour, is his intense desire to relive his glory days as Russia’s first super soldier. Had he not been incarcerated, he was convinced he could have done even more for the world than Captain America himself. At the same time, you sense his admiration and affection for Yelena and Natasha. As often as he might complain about the undercover mission that took him off the path of becoming a legend, it’s clear he loved Yelena and Natasha like daughters, going so far as to get their names tattooed on his body. Alexei brings plenty of humor to the franchise and frankly, it’s kind of fun seeing a super soldier who can barely fit into his superhero uniform. Not to mention the endless amusement that stems from Alexei’s one-sided rivalry with Captain America himself.
93. The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright)
I loved the What If…? comics when I was a kid. The alternative universe stories Marvel put out starting in the 1970s (with What if Spider-Man Had Joined the Fantastic Four?). I think I still have a few issues downstairs. Each issue was introduced by Uatu, The Watcher – a member of an ancient race sworn to watch the events of the universe without interfering.
Yeah, about that.
Uatu in the comics broke his oath more times than James T. Kirk broke the Prime Directive, most famously in the pages of the Fantastic Four. Not so much in the TV series, where Jeffrey Wright’s version is WAY more faithful to his oath than the comic version. Wright’s version of Uatu (never named in the TV series) carries the right level of gravitas and warmth you’d expect from a being who let his fondness for those he watches to overwhelm his own moral code, though. When he does finally break his oath – to save the multiverse, natch – he goes almost all-in, assembling a team from across the multiverse to stop an Infinity Stone-powered Ultron from erasing all of existence. Even forming a sort of friendship with a corrupted version of Doctor Strange (though that might be a bit one-sided). While I enjoyed some episodes of What if…? more than others (as with the comic) I am looking forward to another season. And what exactly it is that makes The Watcher bend the rules THIS time.
92. Hope van Dyne / Wasp (Evangeline Lilly)
I thought it was a weird choice for Evangeline Lilly to get cast in a Marvel movie. It didn’t seem like her type of thing but then I thought that about Paul Rudd too. But I have to say, the more I see them together the more I like the two of them in a relationship. In fact, they almost look like siblings. Whoops! Hope is the daughter of the original Ant-Man and the Wasp. She and Scott end up forming a romantic relationship. Eventually, Hope would become the new Wasp, taking up the mantle from her thought-to-be deceased mother who they would reunite after they rescue her from the Quantum Realm. Ant-Man and Wasp just closed out a trilogy, will we see her again? Time will tell.
91. Monica Rambeau (Akira Akbar & Teyonah Parris)
Monica is relatively new compared to many of the other MCU characters. She befriended Carol Danvers when she was just a child. Carol and her mother were best friends, both in the air force together and she would refuse to believe that Carol died in a random plane crash. Growing up, she founded SWORD and would be responsible for bringing the truth to Westview, New Jersey, and freeing Wanda from Agatha’s spell. Monica will soon be fighting alongside both Carol and Kamala Khan in the upcoming The Marvels and I cannot wait to see where Marvel decides to take her character next now that she has superpowers.
Who are some of your favorite MCU characters? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!