Now, 24 films later and one TV show later, the series has introduced 27 world-saving characters.
After the introduction of the originals – including Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow – it seemed unlikely that characters introduced in future films would rank alongside them.
It turns out that assumption was wildly incorrect – thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and the MCU’s first female-led film Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, those originals have been given a run for their money.
With Loki – the third of many planned Marvel shows – about to begin, we’ve ranked every single Avenger (NB: we’ve omitted SHIELD agents Nick Fury, Phil Coulson and Maria Hill).
Played by: Pom Klementieff
The forgettable Mantis is purely there to make up the numbers. It doesn’t help that she was introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, one of the MCU’s weakest films to date, as the servant to Kurt Russell’s tedious villain, Ego. In a crowded ensemble, Mantis is drowned out by the larger personalities.
26. War Machine
Played by: Don Cheadle
Imagine Iron Man but without a backstory or humour. That’s War Machine. Terrence Howard saw that the character would be underwritten and dropped out after filming the first Iron Man. Still, it’s hard to dislike Don Cheadle in anything, even when he’s not used to his potential.
Played by: Jeremy Renner
“Oh no! It’s a man with no superpowers and a bow and arrow! I, an alien with futuristic technology who has travelled through the galaxy to invade Earth, am terrified!” – Thanos’s army of Outriders, probably.
Played by: Karen Gillan
Nebula has all the makings of being a vintage Marvel character, but the feeling that she’s been slightly short-changed by her appearances to date cannot be escaped. Going forward, she’ll undoubtedly have an elevated role in the MCU, so here’s hoping the deadpan creation is handed the justice she deserves.
23. Drax the Destroyer
Played by: Dave Bautista
Drax is proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. His burly appearance suggests he should be fighting for the bad guys, but the opposite couldn’t be truer – thanks to Dave Bautista, the character is given a cuddly sheen that belies his full name (Drax the Destroyer). Underneath that, though, he’s purely there to make up the numbers.
22. Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord
Played by: Chris Pratt
Star-Lord – the half-man, half-Celestial – is one of the corniest Marvel characters to date. Yet, the Avengers would have saved the universe the first time around if it weren’t for his (quite understandable) temper tantrum over the death of Gamora in Infinity War. For that, the leader of Guardian of the Galaxy falls many places.
Played by: Tessa Thompson
Introduced in Thor: Ragnarok, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie has the swagger of Han Solo and the powers of Wonder Woman. The result is probably the coolest and smoothest Avenger yet, and someone we very much look forward to seeing again in Thor: Love and Thunder.
20. Bucky Barnes AKA The Winter Soldier
Played by: Sebastian Stan
Sebastian Stan’s Bucky was a bit of a non-entity in the otherwise underrated Captain America: The First Avenger, which is why his do-over as the brainwashed Winter Soldier in the sequel three years later injected the character with some much needed intrigue. His shift back to being a good guy, though, which will be further explored in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, isn’t the most exciting thing happening in the MCU, let’s be honest.
19. Captain Marvel
Played by: Brie Larson
There’s no doubt that Captain Marvel could become one of the best characters in the MCU. Fresh off her billion dollar-grossing debut – the series’s first female-led superhero film – the character returned to save the day (well, help the crew out) in Avengers: Endgame. Now her origin story is out of the way, the sky’s the limit for her; it’ll be exciting to see which planets her story scales next.
18. The Wasp
Played by: Evangeline Lilly
Sidelined during the first Ant-Man, The Wasp finally became a headline name in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Not only is she smarter, quicker and a better fighter than Ant-Man, she can also fly thanks to a set of wings. Fingers crossed we’ll be getting more Wasp post-Endgame.
17. Black Widow
Played by: Scarlett Johansson
Black Widow has had a rough ride. Introduced during Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson’s agent was a fierce fighter with an intriguing back story. However, this has rarely been explored since, with the Avengers films focusing on the guys rather than the one female character in the team. Almost 20 Marvel films on and the character is finally getting a solo film – but it’s a prequel film arriving after her death in Endgame that’s been delayed for more than a year because of the pandemic.
16. The Falcon
Played by: Anthony Mackie
There’s no two ways about it: if Falcon wasn’t played by Anthony Mackie, he’d be far lower down this list. His character remains memorable solely due to the vibrancy the entertaining actor brings to the role. Falcon might be a lesser Avenger, but that’s (hopefully) set to change thanks to The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
Played by Zoë Saldana
Although the father-daughter relationship between Gamora and Thanos is interesting, it’s completely overshadowed by the dynamic between her half-sister Nebula and the Mad Titan. And now she’s AWOL. Perhaps. No one really knows.
Played by: Vin Diesel
To be quite honest, it’s hard to screw up a character who is literally a tree that’s able to speak just one word (his name). There’s no denying that Vin Diesel’s Groot was one of the best things about the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, and his camaraderie with Rocket Raccoon a highlight. Sadly, being turned into a baby for the entirety of the sequel made his character extremely annoying, which brings his position to 17th.
Played by: Paul Bettany
Vision is the purple embodiment of Tony Stark’s AI butler JARVIS, brought to life by the Mind Stone. For many, he is overpowered to the point of being boring (despite not knowing his paprika from his cayenne), but the ambitious, emotional conclusion to WandaVision has no doubt won him legions of fans.
Played by: Danai Gurira
Black Panther was a landmark moment for cinema, let alone Marvel. It was a film filled with selling points – the lustrous visuals of Wakanda; a villain you actually cared about – but sitting at the top of the heap was Okoye. The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira swapped the katana for a vibranium spear and showed audiences that not only was she more than just television character Michonne, she could translate a supporting comic book character into such a memorable addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
11. Bruce Banner AKA Hulk
Played by: Mark Ruffalo
The Hulk was originally played by Edward Norton, but Mark Ruffalo took over for the Avengers films. The actor brought out a manic unpredictability to the character, who remains a skittish presence in every film. Since the first Avengers outing, though, Bruce Banner/Hulk has been less integral to the team. Ruffalo is always a welcome presence, though.
Played by: Letitia Wright
One of Black Panther‘s biggest revelations was Shuri, T’Challa’s kid sister who might just be the cleverest character in the entire MCU. She’s brought to life by British actor Letitia Wright, who capitalised on the several opportunities she had to steal the film from under her co-stars’ noses. “Great, another broken white boy for us to fix,” she says as Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross is carted into her workshop – and thus, a star was born.
9. Doctor Strange
Played by: Benedict Cumberbatch
It was wobbly for Doctor Strange at the start. While there was clearly a good characters there, it seemed as if Benedict Cumberbatch might not have been the man chosen to play him. Jump forward to Infinity War and Endgame, and he was the one to shine despite being surrounded by a crowded ensemble. His appearances pulled him back fro the brink so much, he’s cracked the top 10. What is this sorcery?
8. Rocket Raccoon
Played by: Bradley Cooper
In many ways, the success of Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel’s first true move away from the cleaner cut Avengers (see: Captan America, Thor) – rested on the shoulders of Rocket Raccoon. Many questioned whether it’d work, but thanks to impressive effects, Bradley Cooper’s terrific voice work – and not to mention James Gunn’s knockout screenplay – Rocket found himself with more range than most characters on this list.
Played by: Paul Rudd
A man who presses a button and takes on the powers of an ant: not exactly a thrilling premise for a superhero. Thankfully, Marvel accepted that Ant-Man’s power are a bit of a joke and cast the ever-delightful comic actor Paul Rudd as the mini-hero. And despite his stature, Ant-Man stole the show in Captain America: Civil War when he reversed his powers and became Giant Man.
6. Black Panther
Played by: Chadwick Boseman
Few characters have had the cultural impact of the late Boseman’s Black Panther. First appearing in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa’s measured demeanour was a counter to the quip-making norm of the other Avengers. Come the character’s solo film, the noble leader finally accepted his role as King of Wakanda and, in the process, unleashed the inner Panther. It’s no wonder that the film became a box-office sensation, even out-grossing Avengers: Infinity War (2018) in the United States.
5. The Scarlet Witch
Played by: Elizabeth Olsen
Wanda Maximoff never really did much save for wave her hands around while looking concerned about the well-being of her love, Vision (Paul Bettany) until WandaVision. In placing the spotlight on her character for nine episodes, Marve;’s first TV show revealed what can be done when time is taken to really get to know these characters. Olsen is extraordinary as the character, who has now fully transformed into The Scarlet Witch. Wanda is officially one of the MCU elite.
Played by: Tom Holland
Spider-Man’s back. Again. Where Tobey Maguire’s web-slinger was an out-and-out dork, and Andrew Garfield’s version was arguably too slick to really be Peter Parker, Tom Holland has found the perfect middle ground: still obsessed with making Star Wars references yet also capable of talking coherently with members of the opposite sex. It’s a miracle that Marvel Studios managed to bring Spider-Man into their cinematic universe – and a miracle they managed to make him feel this fresh third time around.
3. Captain America
Played by: Chris Evans
On paper, Captain America should be the most boring Avenger. Yet, with Chris Evans at the wheel, the patriotic super-strong OAP who fought in the Second World War has been enjoyable company in every film he’s been in, his righteous values never being too overbearing. Captain America, with his pure heart, really is one of the ultimate superheroes.
2. Iron Man
Played by: Robert Downey Jr
The leader of the MCU used to be its greatest character. But with the influx of newer additions, Tony Stark has been pushed down that list – which isn’t to say he isn’t still a reason why the series has been such a success. No Marvel actor has thrown themselves into a role more than Robert Downey Jr, whose larger-than-life personality made him the only candidate to have brought the billionaire industrialist and former playboy to screen. Among the big-budget explosions, he’s a breath of fresh air and without him, the MCU would have run out of steam long ago.
Played by: Chris Hemsworth
Thor was an OK film. Thor: The Dark World was not. Yet, against all odds, the God of Thunder has established himself as the greatest Avenger. How? It’s namely thanks to Taika Waititi’s revisioning of the character in Thor: Ragnarok. Rather than making Hemsworth deliver sub-par Shakespearean prose, the filmmaker gave Thor a sense of humour – something that played to Hemsworth’s strength as an actor. The result was a charismatic, short-haired, smouldering superhero who was finally able to charm Marvel fans. If only he had been this way all along.
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The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is available to stream now alongside every other MCU title, bar Spider-Man Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, on Disney Plus.