Without question, Marvel reigns supreme at the box office, and being cast in a Marvel film is often a golden ticket to instant stardom for an actor – especially if they end up in an Avengers movie.
It’s amazing to look back at childhood photos of the most famous actors and see how far they’ve come. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of Avengers actors’ childhood photos, ranging from the adorable to the downright heart-breakingly cute.
1. Tom Holland – Spider-Man
It’s no secret that the Spider-Man character has been in turmoil for decades, having been the subject of a war between the ascendant Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment, who have a tight grip on the character’s film rights. This tension between Marvel and Sony was made public in December 2014 after the Sony computer hack, when it was revealed that both studios were in talks regarding a Spider-Man feature in Captain America: Civil War – with Sony wanting to retain all the rights to the Spider-Man character.
It seemed like the studios weren’t going to be able to make things work, but, in February 2015, Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios announced that Spider-Man would feature in the MCU. Tom Holland then went on to play the character in Captain America: Civil War. But when Holland was pretending to be Spider-Man, aged just three, did he realise he’d end up portraying the web-slinger on the silver screen? That cheeky smile says: maybe.
2. Paul Rudd – Ant-Man
Paul Rudd’s 2015 entry into the MCU, simply titled Ant-Man, was so refreshingly peppy it seemed to blindside many cinemagoers. The film depicted Rudd’s character Scott Lang as a former systems engineer and petty criminal who becomes the next Ant-Man after Hank Pym, once Pym gives him a suit which allows him to shrink down to the size of an ant and while retaining his strength. Since then, Rudd has become a fan favourite and featured as Ant-Man in multiple MCU films including Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Endgame. There’s also an Ant-Man sequel titled Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania scheduled for release in February 2023.
For an actor whose agelessness has become the stuff of Hollywood legend, we promise he was, in fact, young once. Not only was Rudd young, but look at that magnificent hair! And that handsome smile! He’s also dropped the tie, unlike those losers Matt Bailey, Mike Roberts and Karl Myers.
3. Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange
Once upon a time, Benedict Cumberbatch was a classically trained actor who brought Sherlock Holmes to a new, swooning audience. Since he swanned onto screens in 2010 as the dashing detective, Cumberbatch garnered a cult following all across the globe. Cumberbatch’s performances on British TV shows (as well as his cumbersome, meme-worthy name) soon caught the attention of executives across the pond, and he landed the role of interdimensional kaleidoscope wizard Doctor Steven Strange.
The 2016 film saw Cumberbatch star as the eponymous Doctor Strange, and tracks his journey to learns the mystic arts after a devastating car crash puts an end to his career as a neurosurgeon. Strange also appears in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). He’s also expected to feature in Spider-Man: No Way Home later this year, and in the Multiverse of Madness in 2022. But it’s not like Cumberbatch was a theatre nerd his whole life – just take a look at this photo of a young Benny C in a rugby team! We’d recognise that face and smile anywhere.
4. Chris Hemsworth – Thor
Chris Hemsworth is part of one of Hollywood’s newer acting families, alongside brothers Liam and Luke, who all got their start in Australian soaps. Hey, if it can work for Kylie Minogue, it can work for hunks too! After appearing in soap opera series Neighbours and one episode of Marshall Law, Hemsworth auditioned for the role of Robbie Hunter in Home and Away. Although he did not receive the part, but he was eventually recalled and cast as series regular Kim Hyde.
Hemsworth made his debut in the MCU in 2011, starring in the eponymous film Thor. As of 2021, he’s appeared in seven more films: The Avengers (2012), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Doctor Strange (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019). Hemsworth is also set to star in Thor: Love and Thunder, which is due to be released in May 2022. Yet before he was the God of Thunder, it looks like Hemsworth was the god of getting his hair cut by his mother. Those were the days.
5. Brie Larson – Captain Marvel
You wouldn’t expect a thriller about a brutal kidnapping would be the best launching pad into the MCU, but it certainly worked for Brie Larson, who won an Oscar in 2016 for Room. Room starred Larson as a young woman held captive with her five-year-old son for seven years by a man named “Old Nick.” The two then escape by faking Jack’s death, allowing him to experience the outside world and meet his grandparents.
Larson then went on to be cast as the eponymous Captain Marvel, starring in the movie in 2019. Initially Larson was skeptical about joining the MCU, but eventually came round after viewing the role as an opportunity to be a role model for young girls. Ultimately, Captain Marvel became the first female-led superhero film to make more than $1 billion at the box office, and it looks like Larson will be flying around and punching things for many years to come. Larson began, however, by acting in various sitcoms at the turn of the millennium, in which she sported classic early noughties bangs and curls!
6. Robert Downey Jr – Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr has had a rollercoaster of a career that few could have predicted, including struggles with alcoholism and drug abuse that have dogged his adult acting life. He went sober, but it wasn’t until 2008’s Iron Man that Downey Jr truly returned to his A-list status, ending up as the highest-paid actor in the world. Since then, Downey Jr has appeared in multiple MCU films as Iron Man including a cameo in The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012), Iron Man 3 (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Most recently, the character also appeared in 2021 film Black Widow.
Downey Jr’s first acting role was in 1970’s Pound, aged only five; the film was written and directed by his father. Before even then, however, this remarkable photograph was taken, featuring Robert and his sister Allison enjoying some ice cream. Who knew that he’d grow up to act in Doolittle?
7. Tom Hiddleston – Loki
Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t the only actor to make the jump from classical acting to the MCU. In fact, both he and Tom Hiddleston have had well-received turns as Hamlet! Hiddleston entered the MCU one year after Cumberbatch, starring as antagonist Loki in 2011 film Thor. Hiddleston was actually encouraged to audition by director Kenneth Branagh, as the two had previously worked together on both Ivanov and Wallander.
Hiddleston said of Branagh’s encouragement: “Ken has had a life-changing effect. He was able to say to the executives, ‘Trust me on this, you can cast Tom and he will deliver’. It was massive and it’s completely changed the course of what is available to me to do. Ken gave me my break.” Initially, Branagh wanted to cast Hiddleston as Thor, but eventually decided that he would be better suited to playing Loki – in hindsight, it seems this was the right call. Hiddleston was unrecognisable in his early days, as pictured above. Where are those flowing, glossy locks?
8. Chris Evans – Captain America
Chris Evans’ first run at comic book movie stardom was a bit of a damp squib – all the more ironic when you consider that his part was as the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four. But Evans rebooted his career with Captain America: The First Avengers, and he hasn’t looked back since. Since 2011, he has portrayed Steve Rogers/Captain America in several MCU films, including: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and Captain America: Civil War (2016). He’s also appeared in ensemble films The Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Evans’ work with Marvel has cemented his position as one of the best actors out there and also made him one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.
But let’s take a moment to look back at one of his childhood photos. Now, we know what you’re thinking: since when did Chris Evans have such big cheeks? Just remember, he’s the one on the right.
9. Dave Bautista – Drax the Destroyer
Guardians of the Galaxy showed off a new, swashbuckling side to the MCU, and also showed us a new side of former professional wrestler Dave Bautista. Bautista landed the role of Drax the Destroyer back in 2014, making his MCU debut in Guardians of the Galaxy. In the film, Drax is depicted as an alien who is obsessed with killing Ronan the Accuser as revenge for killing his wife and daughter. Bautista went on to feature as Drax again in the 2017 sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, as well as in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
The character’s origin story revealed that Drax was created when Kronos took the spirit of Arthur Douglas – a human whose family was murdered by Thanos – and placed it within a powerful new body. Drax possesses superhuman strength as well as the ability to fire powerful energy blasts from his hands. powers included enhanced strength and resilience, flight, and the ability to project energy blasts from his hands. But, as what Drax the Destroyer might term ‘a PUNY CHILD,’ Bautista was completely adorable!
10. Jeremy Renner – Hawkeye
Back in the day, Jeremy Renner’s first role came in the poorly-received National Lampoon’s Senior Trip, in which he played a slacker. Since then, Renner has carved out a career in Marvel blockbusters, even if he stars as one of the most derided superheroes of the group. Speaking about the role, Renner said: “When I saw Iron Man, I thought that was a really kick-ass approach to superheroes. Then they told me about this Hawkeye character, and I liked how he wasn’t really a superhero; he’s just a guy with a high skill set. I could connect to that.”
Despite the fact Hawkeye is sort of a loner among the other Avengers, this hasn’t hurt Renner’s career prospects or bank balance. So far Renner has earned between $2 to 3 million dollars for his role as Hawkeye, and he’s set to earn more as he’s scheduled to reprise the role in the Disney+ television series Hawkeye as well as the animated series What If…? Maybe Renner and Hawkeye would get more respect if he’d maintained this remarkable hairdo and sweater combo. Mullet or spiked hair? The real question is: why not both?
11. Cobie Smulders – Maria Hill
For Cobie Smulders, getting a role in The Avengers truly marked hitting the big-time, even if her previous role in American sitcom How I Met Your Mother saw her garner huge success. Smulders bagged a People’s Choice award nomination and even won an EWwy award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Robin Scherbatsky on the show.
Smulders made her MCU debut as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in The Avengers in 2012. A dedicated actress, Smulders received training from a Los Angeles SWAT team in order to learn how to handle guns properly in the role. She reprised her role in five further MCU films: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). She also made several guest appearances on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In that show, we get a glimpse at Robyn’s (Smulders) upbringing, but nothing as early as this toothy-grinned picture! Wasn’t Smulders an adorable kid?
12. Elizabeth Olsen – Scarlet Witch
Elizabeth Olsen’s surname is the stuff of 90s gold dust, but that era wasn’t so great for this lesser-known Olsen sister. For one thing, Olsen was overshadowed by her incredibly famous twin sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley. But Elizabeth has recently come into her own and become successful in her own right after making her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. She first starred in Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015, before going on to feature in Captain America: Civil War in 2016, Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, and Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Most recently, in 2021, she starred in the Disney+ miniseries WandaVision alongside Paul Bettany who reprised his role as Vision. The series acted as a set up to the upcoming 2022 film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, where Olsen is set to reprise her role as Wanda.
As seen above, Olsen certainly looks adorable in this family photo. She’s pictured here alongside her brother – and, yes, there really is an Olsen brother!
13. Chadwick Boseman – Black Panther
Chadwick Boseman first featured as T’challa/Black Panther in 2016 in Captain America: Civil War. He went on to reprise the eponymous role in the 2018 film Black Panther, which made history for its African setting and became the first Marvel project to be nominated for an Academy Award. At its core, however, the film is about a hi-tech city whose king dresses up as a cat and fights crime. Thankfully, Chadwick Boseman’s effortless likeability carries the day.
The film was also massively well-received by critics with a staggering seven nominations at the 91st Academy Awards, including the first nomination for Best Picture for a superhero film. It also bagged the first Academy Award win for a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, scooping up the prizes for Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design. Impressive! Can you believe that this fresh face pictured above is really Chadwick Boseman? Well, you’ll have to: his name is right there underneath the picture!
14. Mark Ruffalo – The Hulk
Let’s be honest: the Hulk hasn’t had a glamorous Hollywood history. Ang Lee’s Hulk, starring Edward Norton as the angry green lump, is often regarded as one of the lesser Marvel efforts in spite of the talent on board. It’s been refreshing, then, to have someone like Mark Ruffalo take up the role. Ruffalo first starred as Bruce Banner/the Hulk in 2012 in The Avengers, and has since gone on to appear in Iron Man 3 (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Captain Marvel (2019), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). He’s also set to reprise his role in the upcoming Disney+ series She-Hulk (2022), where Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany is set to star as the eponymous Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk.
But if you think the Hulk is ugly, think about how gorgeous Ruffalo is underneath! In this early picture, the actor bears a fleeting resemblance to current Hollywood heartthrob Timothee Chalamet. It’s in the brows.
15. Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Zoe Saldana made her first appearance in the MCU as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy back in 2014. Gamora might be an underrated member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but she brings an emotional heft to Infinity War that sets that film’s dire events in motion. Speaking about the role, Saldana said: “I was just excited to be asked to join by James Gunn and to also play someone green. I’ve been blue before [in Avatar].” She later described Gamora as “a warrior, she’s an assassin and she’s very lethal, but what saves her is the same thing that can doom her. She has a sense of righteousness. She’s a very righteous individual.”
Saldana has appeared in three of the five highest-grossing films of all time – Avatar, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame – making her the second-highest-grossing film actress of all time. Impressively, her films have grossed more than $11 billion worldwide. Not only that, but Saldana can say that she is the only actress to be in three of the top five grossing movies ever! We bet little Zoe Saldana could never have guessed she’d grow up to make a considerable living by covering herself in green paint.
16. Josh Brolin – Thanos
As the son of actor James Brolin and stepchild of Barbra Streisand, Josh Brolin came to acting as Hollywood royalty. He’s been a famous face among film fans for many years, having made a memorable early appearance aged 17 in The Goonies. In adulthood, Brolin briefly stepped away from the industry to work as a stocks trader, but came back in the late 90s with roles in Mimic and Hollow Man. He really broke big in 2007, with a leading role in multi-Oscar winner No Country for Old Men.
Brolin appeared alongside Denzel Washinton and Russell Crowe in American Gangster, played President George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s biopic W, and took the title role in comic book movie Jonah Hex before being cast as Thanos. He portrayed Marvel’s intergalactic uber-villian in Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Nor is that the only major comic book movie role Brolin’s taken in recent years, as he also co-starred with Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2, playing time-travelling mutant assassin Cable.
17. Don Cheadle – War Machine
Don Cheadle came to the MCU under slightly controversial circumstances, taking over the role of James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (AKA War Machine) from original Iron Man co-star Terrence Howard. However, since Iron Man 2, Cheadle has notched up a further seven appearances in the role (including a recent appearance on Disney+ TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), so it’s now easy to forget he wasn’t there from the beginning.
Born in Kansas City in 1964, Cheadle has been acting on film and television since the early 80s, getting some of his first credits on TV’s Fame, LA Law and Hill Street Blues. Later, he appeared in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The actor’s profile really rose in the late 90s with roles in Boogie Nights, Out of Sight and Traffic. Rhodey wasn’t his first franchise role, however; Cheadle also played Basher Tarr, the explosives expert with a Dick Van Dyke-esque cockney accent in Ocean’s Eleven and its two sequels.
18. Scarlett Johansson – Black Widow
Born in New York City in 1984, Scarlett Johansson came to film acting early. She was just 10 when she made her film debut alongside Elijah Wood in North, and a role in Home Alone 3 followed. She transitioned into more mature roles in 2001 with roles in The Man Who Wasn’t There and Ghost World. Johansson really hit the big time in 2003, with her hugely acclaimed performances in Lost in Translation and The Girl with the Pearl Earring; she earned Best Actress nominations at the 2004 BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards for both films.
Infamously, Johansson was cast as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in Iron Man 2 as a last minute replacement for first choice Emily Blunt. However, Johannson has really made the role her own since with her scene-stealing performances in all four Avengers movies as well as the two Captain America sequels. Summer 2021 will finally see the release of the long-awaited Black Widow solo movie.
19. Samuel L Jackson – Nick Fury
Born in Washinton, DC all the way back in 1948, Samuel L. Jackson worked his way up through bit film and TV bit parts in the 70s and 80s. His profile slowly began to rise with roles in Coming To America, Do the Right Thing, Goodfellas and Jurassic Park, but Jackson achieved true star status with his Oscar-nominated turn in the hugely acclaimed Pulp Fiction. Later, he landed his first major franchise role as Jedi master Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
Originally, the Marvel Comics character Nick Fury was white (as once portrayed by David Hasslehoff in a TV movie), but the character was rewritten as black in 2002 comic The Ultimates – in which artist Bryan Hitch modelled the character directly on Jackson. As such, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy when Jackson took the role in Iron Man, and he’s gone on to reprise the role in a further 10 movies, as well as appearing on TV’s Agents of SHIELD and the upcoming Disney+ series Secret Invasion.
20. Chris Pratt – Star-Lord
Born in Virginia, Minnesota in 1979, Christopher Michael Pratt grew up in Lake Stevens, Washington. By all accounts had no idea what he wanted to do with his life for some time, before he experienced every actor’s dream scenario: being discovered whilst waiting tables. This led to stints on TV shows Everwood and The OC, after which Pratt made a name for himself as Andy Dwyer on comedy series Parks and Recreation; a role for which, notoriously, he allowed himself to grow overweight.
Later, Pratt slimmed down and took on more dramatic roles in Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty, before surprising everyone with his transformation into a musclebound hero as Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. (That same year Pratt took on two more franchise leading roles, in Jurassic World and The Lego Movie.) He’s since portrayed Star-Lord three more times, and is set to play the role again in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder and the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
21. Zendaya – Michelle Jones (MJ)
Born September 1996 in Oakland, California, Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman is one of the comparative babies of the MCU. After embracing acting, dancing and singing as a pre-teen, the precocious youngster attended Oakland School for the Arts, and got her first professional breakthrough as a child model. This led to a leading role on Disney Channel musical sitcom Shake It Up, and hand in hand with this Zendaya launched her musical career. In 2013, she also became the youngest celebrity contestant ever on US reality show Dancing with the Stars.
While she’d been in the Disney Channel TV movies Frenemies and Zapped, Zendaya had never made a theatrically released film before being cast in Spider-Man: Homecoming as Michelle/MJ. As well as reprising that role in Spider-Man: Far from Home and the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home, Zendaya also made a scene-stealing appearance in musical The Greatest Showman, and will soon be seen in sci-fi epic Dune. She also won widespread acclaim, and an Emmy, for TV series Euphoria.
22. Paul Bettany – Vision
Acting is in Paul Bettany’s blood. The son of actor Thane Bettany and theatre teacher/stage manager Anne Bettany, the English thespian was born in London in 1971. At 16, following the tragic death of his younger brother, Bettany dropped out of school and scraped a living as a street performer before enrolling at London’s Drama Centre. He started out as a stage actor, before breaking into screen work in the late 90s with a number of British film and TV roles. Then in 2001, Bettany reached an international audience with key roles in A Knight’s Tale and A Beautiful Mind.
Bettany worked steadily in films for several more years before being cast in the seemingly minor voice role of JARVIS, Tony Stark’s computer, in Iron Man. After reprising this role in three further Marvel movies, JARVIS finally became the synthetic life form Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron, a role Bettany has continued to play in the Avengers movies and most recently in acclaimed Disney+ series WandaVision.
23. Sebastian Stan – Bucky Barnes
The Winter Soldier has one of the longest and most diverse histories of any Marvel hero, so it’s fitting that Sebastian Stan has also gone through a lot of big changes in his life. Born in Constanța, Romania in 1982, Stan’s parents divorced when he was young, and he and his pianist mother went to live first in Vienna, Austria, and later to Rockland County, New York. He made his first film appearance in an Austrian film in 1994, before deciding to seriously pursue acting at school. He went on to study at Rutger’s University, during which time he spent a year studying in London and performing at the historic Globe Theatre.
After taking roles in Black Swan, Hot Tub Time Machine and TV’s Gossip Girl, Stan was cast as Bucky Barnes in Captain America: The First Avenger, a character who then unexpectedly returned as the titular antagonist of sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier. His villain became a hero in later MCU movies, and has continued down that path with Disney + series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
24. Natalie Portman – Jane Foster
Natalie Portman has spent most of her life in the limelight. Born Natalie Hershlag in Jerusalem, Israel in 1981, she was courted for a child modelling career at age 10 but instead pursued acting. She made an attention-grabbing debut in 1994’s Leon (AKA The Professional), an acclaimed though controversial thriller centred on the unconventional relationship between a hitman and a young girl. This paved the way for Portman to make further scene-stealing appearances in Heat and Mars Attacks! before landing the coveted role of Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequels.
2011 was a big year for Portman. She was awarded many accolades including the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Black Swan, and appeared in a certain comic book movie called Thor. Portman would reprise her role of Jane Foster in sequel Thor: the Dark World, but wouldn’t be seen again in the MCU until a very brief Avengers: Endgame cameo. Happily, she’s coming back in a big way in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, which will see Jane Foster become the new, female Thor.
25. Idris Elba – Heimdall
Born in London, England in 1972, Idrissa Akuna Elba has progressed from humble beginnings to the upper echelons of worldwide fame. After working as a DJ at nightclubs and weddings in his teens, Elba studied musical theatre and broke into acting via TV bit parts, including appearances in The Bill and Absolutely Fabulous. He later moved stateside and worked on the New York stage, before landing the role that really made him: Stringer Bell, on hugely acclaimed HBO series The Wire. The success of this show soon ensured that Elba was hugely in demand. The actor soon enjoyed further small screen success in the title role of BBC detective series Luther.
After appearing in a number of Hollywood movies, Elba was cast as Heimdall in Thor, and would reprise the role in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, before the beloved Asgardian sadly met his end in Avengers: Infinity War. He’ll soon be seen in another major comic boom movie, DC’s The Suicide Squad, and rumours persist that he may be a contender for the next James Bond.
26. Marisa Tomei – Aunt May
Marisa Tomei was born in New York City in December 1964, and studied at Boston University before starting out her acting career in the early 80s. Following some theatre roles and a TV soap opera, Tomei enjoyed her first big break on sitcom A Different World, although she left the show after its first season. She then broke into film, and surprised many by winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for one of her first major movies, My Cousin Vinny.
Tomei went on to enjoy an illustrious career, earning further Oscar nominations for her performances in dramas In the Bedroom and The Wrestler. Many eyebrows were raised when Tomei was announced as the new May Parker in Captain America: Civil War, as previously the role had been played by more frail, elderly women: but as a woman in her 50s, Tomei was clearly old enough, even if she still doesn’t look it. She’s since reprised Aunt May in all the MCU Spider-Man movies and briefly in Avengers: Endgame.
27. Karen Gillan – Nebula
Karen Sheila Gillan was born in Inverness, Scotland in November 1987, and studied in Edinburgh and London in her efforts to pursue acting. After getting her first break as a model and a performer on comedy series The Kevin Bishop Show, Gillan hit the big time when cast on Doctor Who as Amy Pond. This role brought the actress to widespread attention, and after appearing in a number of TV productions and British films, Gillan headed to America and broke through with the lead role in horror movie Oculus.
Gillan was then cast as the sinister cyborg Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy. Famously agreed to have her head shaved for the part, although she’s since worn a bald cap in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. We can expect to see her play Nebula again in Thor: Love and Thunder and the third Guardians movie. Gillan’s also enjoyed further blockbuster success alongside Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black in the recent Jumanji sequels.
28. Michael Keaton – Vulture
From playing one of the most iconic DC superheroes to taking bad guy duties with Marvel, Michael Keaton has pretty much run the gamut when it comes to superhero movies. Born Michael John Douglas in September 1951, he adopted his professional name in the mid-70s to avoid confusion with that other Michael Douglas. Gradually working his way up through bit parts, Keaton became known as a comedy actor thanks to Night Shift, Mr Mom and eventually Beetlejuice, and thousands of fans protested when he was cast as Batman. Happily, Tim Burton’s 1989 film proved a smash hit, silencing the naysayers.
After playing the Dark Knight once more in Batman Returns, Keaton retreated from the limelight for many years, until 2014’s Birdman: or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance earned him rave reviews and an Oscar nomination. This prompted an unexpected return to superhero movies, as Keaton played the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, a role he will reprise in upcoming Sony-Marvel film Morbius. Remarkably, he’s also poised to play Batman again in 2022’s The Flash.
29. Gwyneth Paltrow – Pepper Potts
Gwyneth Jane Paltrow is another of those figures to whom the term ‘Hollywood Royalty’ might apply, as the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and filmmaker Bruce Paltrow, and the goddaughter of the legendary Steven Spielberg, who would give the young actress the brief but pivotal role of young Wendy in Hook. Slowly working her way up, Paltrow broke through with such hits as Seven (alongside then-boyfriend Brad Pitt). Soon she wowed audiences with her near-flawless British accent, which she utilised in Emma, Sliding Doors and Shakespeare in Love, the latter of which proved an especially big hit, and won Paltrow the Best Actress Oscar.
Paltrow went on to enjoy success in both mainstream and independent films, before signing on to play Pepper Potts in Iron Man. She would reprise the role of Tony Stark’s assistant-turned-partner in six subsequent MCU movies, but as of Avengers: Endgame she’s thought to have retired from the role, and indeed from acting. Instead, Paltrow’s main focus now is her highly controversial lifestyle and wellness brand Goop.
30. Jake Gyllenhaal – Mysterio
With a slightly different roll of the dice, Jacob Benjamin Gyllenhaal could have been an even bigger part of comic book movie history. Born in December 1980 to a director father and screenwriter mother, Gyllenhaal (whose sister Maggie is also a successful actress) pursued acting from an early age, but didn’t really break through until he landed the title role in 2001 cult hit Donnie Darko. This success immediately made the young actor a hot property, and he famously came close to taking the lead role in Spider-Man 2 when Tobey Maguire suffered a back injury. However, Maguire recovered and played the role. Not long thereafter Gyllenhaal was also among the actors considered to play the young Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, but he lost out to Christian Bale.
Still, Gyllenhaal has enjoyed plenty of success including such acclaimed hits as Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac and Nightcrawler. He might not have gotten to play Spider-Man, but he did the next best thing by playing the duplicitous Quentin Beck/Mysterio alongside Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
31. Evangeline Lilly – Wasp
When you look at the MCU as the whole, the Ant-Man movies are maybe the most whimsical and childlike of any instalment. The first movie features a fight in which the tide is turned by a giant Thomas the Tank Engine Toy, and the emotional arc features a new, blended family working through a divorce to find a dynamic that works for them all.
It’s all pretty wholesome and low-stakes. Even when the mission becomes journeying into the dangerous Quantum Realm, we’re still treated to microorganisms that look like adorable grazing cattle, and the mission is still more about reuniting a family and taking responsibility for past wrongs than saving the world or capturing villains.
Still, there aren’t many things scarier to a toddler than creepy crawlies. So it’s possible that before she was cast as The Wasp, Evangeline Lilly would have been pretty terrified of giant swarms of ants, no matter how much control her character would go on to have over them.
32. Tessa Thompson – Valkyrie
Tessa Thompson’s professional acting career began before she even graduated from university. When she was still a student studying at Santa Monica College, she was also spending her time between classes as a member of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company, which allowed her to star in productions of The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet. These early performances were well-received too, even earning her a NAACP Theatre Award nomination.
Since then, Thomson has gone from strength to strength, starring in a number of major franchises and prestige television series, from Men in Black and Westworld to utilising her voice acting skills in 2019’s live-action Lady and the Tramp. Voicing the titular Lady was not Thompson’s first experience working with Disney though, as she had previously made her debut appearance in the MCU in 2017, thanks to Thor: Ragnorok.
Thompson’s character Valkyrie has gone on to become a firm favourite amongst Marvel fans, who were thrilled to see her become the new King of Asgard.
33. Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Pom Klementieff had an interesting path into the MCU. Born in Canada as the child of diplomat parents, with a Korean mother and French-Russian father, she spent much of her early life travelling, and lived in both Japan and the Côte d’Ivoire. However, after she settled in France she was raised by her aunt and uncle, and tried out numerous professions as a young adult, from attending law school to working as a saleswoman and waitress.
When she was 19, she auditioned for and was accepted into the Parisian drama school Cours Florent, even winning a theatre competition that rewarded her with two years of free tuition. After that, her career went from strength to strength, with Klementieff appearing in numerous independent French films before her breakout role in Spike Lee’s Oldboy.
However, it was her portrayal of the sensitive and naive Mantis that brought her worldwide fame, and led to her joining her fellow MCU colleague Tessa Thompson in Westworld.
34. Jeff Goldblum – Grandmaster
By the time Jeff Goldblum was recruited to join the annals of the MCU history books, he had already had a long and storied career. Over the course of several decades, the legendary actor has starred in some of the world’s highest-grossing movies, from Jurassic Park to Independence Day. He has also ventured into weirder work, from David Cronenberg’s infamous philosophical body horror The Fly, to 1984’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
As if that wasn’t enough, Goldblum has also spent time hosting and curating his own documentary series, called The World According to Jeff Goldblum. He’s also an accomplished pianist, with two albums under his belt and numerous concert appearances. His love of entertaining could be a result of his upbringing, since his mother was a successful radio broadcaster, and his father was initially going to study acting before deciding on medicine instead.
With such a deep love of the arts instilled in him from an early age, it’s unsurprising that his character of The Grandmaster exudes both charisma and comedy.
35. Lee Pace – Ronan the Accuser
Very few actors have displayed the range of Lee Pace. His breakout role came in 2007, when he appeared in the lead role in the sweet and offbeat crime dramedy Pushing Daisies. In the show he played Ned, an aspiring baker who has the power to bring someone back to life with one touch, and kill them forever with another. He followed up that affable and down to Earth performance with one at the completely opposite end of the spectrum, when he played the regal Elven King Thranduil in The Hobbit trilogy.
Despite proving time and time again that he had no problem playing heroes, Pace was recruited into the MCU to do something rather different. He first appeared in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy as the fearsome extremist Ronan the Accuser, a role he reprised again in 2019 for Captain Marvel. Fun fact: Pace actually auditioned to play Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, but was beaten out for the role by Chris Pratt.
36. Michael Douglas – Hank Pym
The MCU has no shortage of megastars, whether appearing in a Marvel movie gave them their big break, helped them transition into the acting world, or simply pushed their fame to new heights. However, on a couple of occasions, Marvel directors have cast bonafide classic performers in their movies, from the polished thespian Anthony Hopkins to Glenn Close.
Michael Douglas is another example of this. By the time he was brought on board to play the world-weary scientist Hank Pym in 2015’s Ant-Man, he already had two Academy Awards, five Golden Globes and an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award under his belt. With his storied career including everything from the classic musical A Chorus Line to Fatal Attraction, many were surprised to see him join the MCU roster.
Still, Ant-Man and its sequels have proven that Douglas has serious comedy chops, as well as the dramatic prowess he was already so loved for. The only question is, what will 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania hold for his character?
37. Benicio del Toro – The Collector
Alongside Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster Benicio del Toro’s Collector is one of the MCU’s most quixotic characters. A team-up between the two would no doubt be a wacky and surreal affair, especially because the Collector has been known to keep the maligned hero of the MCU Howard the Duck in a jar. Amazingly, Goldblum has teased exactly such a crossover film in the past, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed!
Before becoming a stand out in the world of Marvel, however, Benicio del Toro’s was most famous for playing the revolutionary Che Guevara in biopic Che, as well as the memorable antagonist Jackie Boy in 2005’s Sin City. He currently boasts an Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award, mostly for his notable performance as the morally grey police officer Javier Rodriguez in 2000’s Traffic.
It is unclear if and when the MCU’s trajectory will again collide with del Toro’s Collector, but it is fair to say that he will probably appear again sometime soon, especially since he currently has his own theme park ride at Walt Disney World.
38. Stellan Skarsgård – Dr Erik Selvig
The early Thor films have always been considered the ugly ducklings of the MCU, especially in the years since Thor: Ragnarok so spectacularly rebooted both the setting and the title character. However, there is plenty to love about the early Thor instalments, and Stellan Skarsgård’s performance as Dr Erik Selvig is chief among them.
Selvig provided world-saving scientific advice to the Asgardian in both 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, as well as being brainwashed by Loki in 2012’s The Avengers. However, those less familiar with the MCU will no doubt recognise the actor from his other Disney work, as Skarsgård also played Bootstrap Bill Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Of course, his most iconic role is no doubt the character of Bill Anderson in Mamma-Mia and Mamma-Mia: Here We Go Again. Oddly though, when it came time to cast Bill Anderson’s younger self, none of Skarsgård’s eight children won the role, despite several of them being high profile actors in their own right.
39. Robert Redford – Alexander Pierce
Despite starting with a single superhero movie at a time when they were decidedly unfashionable, the MCU is now a formidable film empire in its own right. In fact, the Marvel cinematic universe is now so powerful that it has even inspired legendary actors to join in and be a part of it.
That’s what happened with Robert Redford, who reemerged for a quick cameo in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame to play Alexander Pierce, having previously played the character in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Redford’s work spans decades and includes some truly career-defining roles, from the titular Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, to Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, to Bob Woodward in All The President’s Men.
With so many unforgettable roles under his belt, Robert Redford’s castmates in The Winter Solider were no doubt intimidated! With that said, Redford is showing no sign of slowing down, so there’s no telling what project we might see him in next!
40. Martin Freeman – Everett K Ross
Martin Freeman first rose to prominence as the beleaguered coworker Tim Canterbury in The Office. He later shot to fame in a variety of projects, playing the grounded everyman dragged along to various crime scenes in BBC’s Sherlock, the curmudgeonly hobbit dragged along to various adventures in The Hobbit trilogy, and the grouchy primary school teacher dragged into throwing the Christmas performance of a lifetime in Nativity.
In Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther, Martin Freeman plays Everett K Ross, a confident FBI agent with no glimmer of the put-upon resignation of his previous characters. However, Freeman does still play the fish out of water in the MCU, as in Black Panther, he finds himself relocated to Wakanda, with very limited knowledge of the culture or indeed how to help. Ross ends up taking instructions on how to fight from, and following the strategy instructions of, a young teenager, making the character not a total break away from type for Freeman.