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.
90. Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon)
Director Jon Watts said in numerous interviews that his main inspiration for Homecoming wasn’t Raimi’s original trilogy or really any other superhero movies, it was the teen comedies of John Hughes. Since Peter Parker’s age and school experience are such foundational aspects of his character, Watts wanted to make sure he nailed it by using Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles as his template. What both of those films have in common (besides killer soundtracks and horribly dated fashion) is the believability of their characters. Hughes had a gift for writing dialogue for teens that felt authentic and natural, it never felt forced or like it came from the mouth of a much older man. Ned Leeds, even more so than Peter Parker or any other character in that film, feels the closest to how Hughes would write a character. He’s so supportive and outwardly goofy, he skates up to the point of cliche caricature but always masterfully reels it back in. He’s a one man support system that grounds Peter Parker. Without him, the film pushes the love story even more to the forefront, thus making it feel more like a typical Hollywood product. But since he is in the movies and since the actor is so good, the film just finds reasons to keep him in the action. They know that as long as they keep putting him in the middle of the action, Spider-Man will always have a great quippy one-liner to bounce off of him. Tony might’ve given him the suit to be the best version of Spider-Man that he can be, but Ned offered his love and made the character better simply through the power of friendship.
89. Korg (Taika Waititi)
Alright, so, I know Korg is just a comic-relief character, the big, silly warrior with a New Zealand accent, polite demeanor, and dry sense of humor. I still love him. Maybe it’s because I like Taika Waititi, who plays him (using motion capture) in all of his MCU appearances. Waititi’s version of the Kronan warrior is definitely a departure from his comic inspiration – a more standard “noble warrior” character first appearing in the “Planet Hulk” storyline – but he’s memorable and loveable in a way that character never was. I most appreciate Korg when he’s puncturing a serious moment or commenting on a self-serious character, less so when he’s just a goof, but I’ll take him wherever he appears. Even if that’s commenting on movie trailers with Deadpool. (And I’d take more of those as well.)
88. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell)
Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is CEO of weapons manufacturer Hammer Industries and archrival (at least in his own mind) of Tony Stark in Iron Man 2. After being humiliated by Stark during a Senate hearing, Hammer seeks revenge and joins forces with Ivan Vanko to beat Stark. Now, no one sets out to watch Iron Man 2 thinking that Hammer might somehow come out on top. Being Tony Stark’s archrival is an unenviable task, but Hammer gives it his best try. While he’s slightly pathetic in his effectiveness, it’s still fun to watch as Hammer bumbles through his attempts to get one over on Iron Man. Rockwell has made an art form out of playing villains with depth, and Hammer is no exception. His low-key quirkiness and awkwardness are both relatable and endearing, which I think makes him far more interesting as a villain than Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash.
87. Johann Schmidt / Red Skull (Hugo Weaving & Ross Marquand)
Of all the MCU villains, no one is as villainous as the Tesseract-obsessed Red Skull. He was the main villain in Captain America: The First Avenger then reappeared as the keeper of the Soul Stone in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. He was also the original head of HYDRA (remember those guys?). A sorely missed presence in the current MCU, I’m hoping Marvel will do the right and bring him back to menace the new Captain America, Sam Wilson, in the upcoming New World Order. Oh, and I really hope Marvel can convince Hugo Weaving to return to the role. Nothing against Ross Marquand, but Weaving is just perfect casting!
86. Heimdall (Idris Elba)
What makes Heimdall such a great sidekick is his understated wisdom. He is obviously one of Thor’s best friends but is able to offer more than just great friendship. He shows his worth as a worthy Asgardian warrior. However, it is often in times of doubt for Thor that Heimdall makes his value most known. It definitely does help to be a keeper of unimaginable wisdom when you’re able to see and hear everything going on across all known realms of the universe. But all of these great qualities make so much more than just a great sidekick, but also an amazing protector of Asgard.
85. Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci)
When Dr. Erskine first meets Steve Rogers, he immediately recognizes the hero he would eventually become. Even though he was so scrawny he got rejected multiple times, the fact that he kept trying to enlist — not to go kill Nazis but to stand up to bullies — told him everything he needed to know about his character. Which is why he picked him over every other potential soldier he saw, met and/or did research on for the experimental supersoldier program. The head of the program, Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) thought he was crazy but respected his choice. It wouldn’t be until Steve Rogers proves himself by “sacrificing himself” by jumping onto a dummy grenade, that he’s finally won over. That entire section of the movie, from when Erskine first meets him, till his assassination after the transformation about fifteen minutes later, is one of my favorite parts of any film in the MCU. It tells you everything you need to know about Steve Rogers, why he was Captain America long before he ever got the serum and how important a great character actor is to sell the major moments in this franchise, regardless of their screentime. Tucci isn’t in the film much but he leaves strong impression.
84. Sylvie Laufeydottir (Sophia Di Martino)
Knowing that you don’t have any control over your life can be a hard thing to accept, and knowing that you have multiple different variants of yourself spanning across multiple different realities is even worse. After learning the truth about the multiverse and starting a Nexus event of her very own to hide from the Time Variant Authority, Sylvie takes her fate into her own hands — and how about that kiss huh?! I wasn’t sure what to think of Sylvie when she was first introduced but she quickly grew on me and I’m glad that we will be seeing more of her in the future.
83. Odin Borson (Anthony Hopkins)
We owe a lot to Odin. Anthony Hopkins’ version of the Allfather never seemed to get the treatment he deserved, wavering (depending on writers and directors) between a wise ruler, a vengeance obsessed warrior and a tired old man. What gravitas he had as a character was almost entirely due to the performance of Hopkins, who managed to make the character watchable, even when he was unconscious. Before Thor, however, Hopkins had planned on retiring from acting. It was Kenneth Branagh who convinced him to return to the screen to play the leader of the Asgardians, and it was his experience on Thor that kept him in the business to give us his King Lear, his Dr. Ford in Westworld, his Anthony in The Father and more. As inconsistent as the movie treatment of Odin has been, I’m still glad we got him and Hopkin’s performance, if only for what else it gave us.
82. James E. “Jimmy” Woo (Randall Park)
Fitting, given that it was in Ant-Man and the Wasp that the MCU first introduced the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Jimmy Woo is a small part made big. Randall Park brings oodles of personality to what is on the page a relatively unremarkable character — suchlike Star-Lord before him. The character is at the center of a bunch of cool stuff, yes, I’m a fan of Agents of Atlas, the team Jimmy Woo is primarily associated with, but beyond “cool secret agent” he’s never been particularly well-defined. That changed when Park brought his personal brand of humour to the part and made for a welcome addition to the first MCU show to stream on Disney+, WandaVision. His role in that show is the kind of nice little pay-off that really takes advantage of the MCU’s interconnected structure, pairing him with characters we’d never have imagined seeing him alongside, like Darcy Lewis, and finally let him get that magic trick right.
81. Jane Foster / Mighty Thor (Natalie Portman)
Somehow, despite having loved the Mighty Thor comics when they initially came out, it never occurred to me that Natalie Portman might end up playing the character one day on the big screen. That’s not a dig against her take on Jane Foster, I just think it shows just how far the character has come since being nearly ripped apart by the Aether in Thor: The Dark World. I” admit I don’t know much about Jane Foster besides the MCU version but I always thought onscreen she was a perfect foil to Thor being, well, Thor.
And then came Thor: Love and Thunder and the revelation that we would finally see Jane Foster as Mighty Thor on the screen. As I said before, I loved the Mighty Thor story when it first came out and was deeply worried that the movie wouldn’t do the saga of Jane balancing cancer with being Mighty Thor justice. But I was wrong. While not an exact adaptation, I love how the film brings Mighty Thor into existence in the MCU. Seeing Jane try to figure out all the minutiae of being a superhero compared with the utter pain she feels whenever she reverts to being her all-too-mortal self is a story arc that will be hard to match in later installments.
100-91 | 80-71
Who are some of your favorite MCU characters? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!