Last year, I ranked my favourite villains from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now that Avengers: Endgame has come and gone, I decided it was time to do the same for my favourite heroes in the franchise. So without further ado, here are my picks for the MCU’s 15 best heroes.
UPDATED JULY 2020
15. Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel
Portrayed By: Brie Larson
Appears In: Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame.
Given that she’s the MCU’s newest hero, we haven’t seen much of Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel yet. However, what we have seen is enough to get us excited for her future in the franchise. One of the most powerful characters Marvel has introduced so far, Carol’s fierce determination and refusal to give up makes her a force to be reckoned with – and her ability to piss off male nerds on the internet simply by existing is just a bonus.
Best Moment: One of the most cheer-worthy moments in Avengers: Endgame is when Carol flies in from space during the final battle and destroys Thanos’ ships
Portrayed By: Karen Gillan
Appears In: Guardians Of The Galaxy, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Having endured physical and psychological abuse from her “father” Thanos since she was a child, Nebula is one of Marvel’s most tragic heroes. She was introduced as an evil henchwoman in Guardians Of The Galaxy, but by Avengers: Endgame, she’s fighting alongside Earth’s mightiest heroes against the person who turned her into a weapon in the first place. Her journey has made her one of the series’ most interesting characters – not bad for somebody who started out as a seemingly one-note supporting player.
Best Moment: When she confronts and kills the evil version of herself from the past in Avengers: Endgame, remaining us just how far she’s come since we first met her.
Portrayed By: Tessa Thompson
Appears In: Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame.
One of the best parts of Thor: Ragnarok was Tessa Thompson’s performance as Valkyrie, the cynical, hard-drinking warrior who finds herself pulled into Thor’s quest to save Asgard from Hela. A badass in combat who also has a dry sense of humour and an interesting backstory, Valkyrie is a character I can’t wait to see more of.
Best Moment: During the escape from Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok, Valkyrie jumps from ship-to-ship, single-handedly taking down The Grandmaster’s fleet of vessels one-by-one.
12. Rocket Raccoon
Portrayed By: Bradley Cooper (Voice) and Sean Gunn (Motion-Capture)
Film Appearances: Guardians Of The Galaxy, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.
The result of illegal genetic experimentation, Rocket Raccoon makes up in attitude what he lacks in size. Sarcastic, cynical and crafty, Rocket has a tendency to annoy his fellow guardians of the galaxy with his arrogance and snarky attitude, but he cares about them deep down – in Endgame, he admits that he considers them the only family he’s ever had.
Best Moment: His heart-to-heart discussion with Thor in Infinity War about the many losses the latter has suffered over the years is a key moment in Rocket’s character evolution – one of the first times we see him show true empathy and compassion without resorting to a smart-ass comment to cover up his vulnerability.
11. Doctor Stephen Strange
Portrayed By: Benedict Cumberbatch
Film Appearances: Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Talented, but self-centred surgeon Stephen Strange loses the use of his hands in a devastating car accident. His subsequent quest for healing leads him to a mysterious school run by “The Ancient One”, who trains sorcerers in the mystic arts. Strange soon becomes a defender against dark forces who threaten our reality. On typically charismatic form, Benedict Cumberbatch gives Strange a deadpan sense of humour, and his interactions with Iron Man in Avengers: Infinity War are a delight.
Best Moment: Trapping the evil Dormammu in an endless time loop unless he agrees to his “bargain” of leaving the Earth alone in exchange for freedom. It’s a creative way to defeat the villain that refreshingly doesn’t involve fighting a faceless CGI army.
10. Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Portrayed By: Jeremy Renner
Film Appearances: Thor, The Avengers, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame.
In the first Avengers movie, Hawkeye was considered by fans to be the least memorable member of the team – apart from the fact that he spends much of the film being mind-controlled by Loki, his main claim to fame is that he’s good with a bow and arrow. What could he possibly bring to this superhero team? But in Age Of Ultron, Clint really comes into his own as a character. His sharp sense of humour and determination to protect his family give us a better sense of his personality, and the fact that we see him interact with the others more makes him feel like much less of a hanger-on. By Endgame, he’s become more than worthy of sharing the spotlight with his fellow Avengers.
Best Moment: His speech to Wanda Maximoff in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. “The city is flying, and where fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense” he says. “But I’m going out there because it’s my job…it doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were…if you step out that door, you’re an Avenger”. It has to be one of the best “hero speeches” in the MCU.
9. King T’Challa/Black Panther
Portrayed By: Chadwick Boseman
Film Appearances: Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
The heir to the utopian African nation of Wakanda, T’Challa made his debut in Captain America: Civil War, before he went on to star in his own film, which was significant for being the first MCU movie with a black lead. More serious than some of the other, quippier Marvel heroes, T’Challa is still hugely compelling thanks to Chadwick Boseman’s excellent performance. Watching him learn from the mistakes of his predecessors to become a better leader to his people makes for one of the most engaging character arcs in the Marvel universe.
Best Moment: His decision to not let his desire for vengeance consume him and spare Zemo’s life in Captain America: Civil War marks a key moment in his character evolution, as he spent much of that movie driven purely by revenge.
8. Scott Lang/Ant-Man
Portrayed By: Paul Rudd
Film Appearances: Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man And The Wasp and Avengers: Endgame.
A small-time thief with a heart of gold, Scott Lang is a lovable goofball who finds himself recruited by scientist Hank Pym to help steal back his high-tech “shrinking suit” before it gets into the wrong hands. Though he may have seemed like a silly basis for a movie at first, Scott instead turned out to be a funny, likeable and charming hero thanks to the considerable charisma of Paul Rudd.
Best Moment: Turning into “Giant-Man” in Captain America: Civil War. In addition to how cool the moment is, it’s made even better by the hilarious “evil laugh” Rudd lets out when he does it.
7. Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Portrayed By: Tom Holland
Film Appearances: Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Tom Holland is the third actor to take on the role of Spider-Man this century, but he’s also the best of the bunch, as he captures what made Peter Parker such a beloved character in the comics to begin with – for all his powers and gadgets, he’s ultimately a normal teenager at heart, and the greatest battles he fights are the everyday ones he goes against in school. Holland’s endearing, funny performance deservedly made him a star, and it will be interesting to see how his role in the MCU develops now that his mentor is gone.
Best Moment: His introduction in Captain America: Civil War, when he meets Tony Stark for the first time and is recruited as an Avenger. In just a few minutes, we learn plenty about his character, and he establishes himself as the best on-screen Spidey yet.
6. Bruce Banner/The Hulk
Portrayed By: Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk, and Mark Ruffalo in all subsequent appearances.
Film Appearances: The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
End-Credits Scene Appearances: Iron Man 3 and Captain Marvel.
Bruce Banner first appears in The Incredible Hulk, where he’s portrayed by Edward Norton. Norton’s take on the character was perfectly serviceable, but also fairly bland. However, the character started to significantly improve in The Avengers, when Mark Ruffalo took on the role and gave him more of a personality. Over the course of the MCU, we watch Banner attempt to wrestle the two sides of his personality – the nerdy scientist Bruce Banner and the big, green monster he becomes when angry – before he finally solves the problem in Endgame by fusing the Hulk’s body with Banner’s mind. Though he only has one solo movie in the MCU, Banner continued to gain popularity among fans through his appearances in the Avengers movies and Thor: Ragnarok, and it’s not hard to see why.
Best Moment: His declaration that “I’m always angry” before he turns into the Hulk and punches the Leviathan in the first Avengers, which is followed immediately by the now-iconic shot of the heroes standing together. It’s the kind of moment that makes you want to jump out of your seat and cheer.
5. Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
Portrayed By: Scarlett Johansson
Film Appearances: Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
End-Credits Scene Appearances: Captain Marvel.
Since her debut in Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow has deservedly become one of the MCU’s most popular characters. A former Russian spy who now works for SHIELD, Natasha is one of the founding members of the Avengers, and while she does not yet have her own movie (something that is expected to change next year), she proves to a highlight of the films she does appear in, thanks to a layered and engaging performance from Scarlett Johansson.
Best Moment: Her fight with Justin Hammer’s goons in a corridor in Iron Man 2. This is the moment where she firmly establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with, barely flinching as she fights off her enemy’s minions.
4. Peter Quill/Star-Lord
Portrayed By: Chris Pratt
Film Appearances: Guardians Of The Galaxy, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Taken from Earth as a boy following the death of his mother, Peter Quill is cocky and maybe a little immature, but still a good person at heart. Rather accurately described by actor Chris Pratt as a cross between Marty McFly and Han Solo, Quill is an intergalactic criminal who’s rarely without his beloved cassette tape, and soon becomes one of the galaxy’s unlikeliest defenders. Though one of the MCU’s funniest heroes, Quill is also not without his share of touching moments, with Pratt managing a perfect balance of comedy and pathos.
Best Moment: During the opening moments of the first Guardians Of The Galaxy, where he dances to Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love while making his way to a valuable orb he’s about to steal. It’s unexpected, funny and instantly tells us all we need to know about his character.
3. Thor Odinson
Portrayed By: Chris Hemsworth
Film Appearances: Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
End-Credits Scene Appearances: Doctor Strange.
Thor started out as one of the franchise’s more boring heroes. Sure, he had a couple of cool moments, but his stiff personality and pompous Shakespearean lingo worked best when contrasted with the rest of the heroes, and he was often overshadowed by other characters in his own movies. But then along came Thor: Ragnarok. Director Taika Waititi gave the character a complete makeover, finally playing to actor Chris Hemsworth’s strengths by ditching Thor’s self-seriousness in favour of a laid-back sense of humour. The change turned out to be for the better, as Thor instantly became one of the most entertaining Avengers. He went on to become one of the coolest parts of Infinity War, and stole every scene he was in in Endgame, having finally found his footing as a character.
Best Moment: Without question, Thor’s most badass moment is when he arrives in Wakanda in Infinity War, yells “bring me Thanos!”, and unleashes the full force of his power onto his foe’s army. I still get goosebumps every time I watch it.
2. Steve Rogers/Captain America
Portrayed By: Chris Evans
Film Appearances: Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
End-Credits Appearances: Ant-Man and Captain Marvel.
With his undying optimism and strong commitment to his morals, Captain America could have ended up as a bland hero, but somehow ended up being not just one of the most engaging characters on this list, but one of the coolest. Chris Evans, channelling Christopher Reeve in Superman, is perfectly cast, making him enormously likeable and delivering his many rousing speeches in a way that’ll send shivers down your spine. Known as “Cap” by his teammates, Steve is a natural-born leader who is willing to risk it all for the greater good, and if you knock him to the ground, you can be sure he’ll get back to his feet and declare “I could do this all day”.
Best Moment: In Avengers: Endgame, when he proves himself worthy of lifting Thor’s hammer Mjiolnir, a moment that caused the theatre I saw the movie in to burst into applause.
1. Tony Stark/Iron Man
Portrayed By: Robert Downey Jr
Film Appearances: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
End-Credits Appearances: The Incredible Hulk.
A self-described genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist, Tony Stark may not be the most humble person in the world, but his growth over the last eleven years has made for the most compelling character arc in the MCU. He begins as a reckless and carefree party animal, but eventually evolves into a responsible leader, mentor, husband and father, determined to protect his loved ones at all cost – though he retains his wisecracking nature, rarely resisting the opportunity for a snappy one-liner. All this is played flawlessly by Robert Downey Jr, in probably the best superhero casting choice of all time. Nailing Tony’s humorous nature and his moments of vulnerability, Downey is always 100% committed throughout his nine appearances in the MCU (ten if you count his post-credits cameo in The Incredible Hulk), and while we’ll miss seeing him in character as Tony Stark, the character’s sendoff in Avengers: Endgame could not have been more perfect.
Best Moment: I’m going to cheat slightly by picking three, though there is a connection between all of them. At the end of the first Iron Man movie, Tony tells the press “I am Iron Man”, breaking the tradition of superheroes keeping secret identities. At the end of Iron Man 3, he repeats that line as he comes to the realisation that he’s more than just a suit of armour. And in Endgame, he says it one last time before he sacrifices himself to save the universe. The line is used in a different context in each moment, but they all track Tony’s evolution as a person, and the last one brings him nicely full-circle.
James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle)
Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie)
Gamora (Zoe Saldana)
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)