The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a staple of the American box office for more than a decade. Since “Iron Man” first hit theaters in 2008, we’ve been treated to at least one new Marvel movie every year (sometimes as many as three), and its universe includes a growing list of popular TV series like ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Netflix’s “Jessica Jones.”
Have you ever wondered what the actors from your favorite Marvel movies look like without their capes — or computer-animated suits — on? Listed below are 30 popular characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the real people who bring them to life.
Character: Iron Man / Tony Stark
First appearing in Marvel Comics in 1963, Iron Man is the alter ego of billionaire engineering genius Tony Stark. His high-tech armor allows Stark to fly, blast repulsers from his hands and protect him from nearly all damage. The character was the first superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring in 2008’s “Iron Man,” which was a smash hit with audiences and critics.
Played By: Robert Downey Jr.
The son of two actors, Robert Downey Jr. was born into the entertainment business and became a star in the 1980s with a run of acclaimed performances. After a well-publicized battle with drugs and several arrests in the late ’90s, Downey had one of the greatest comebacks in Hollywood history with his role as Tony Stark, whom he’s played in eight movies so far.
Thor, the god of thunder from Asgard, first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1962 and in the MCU in 2011’s “Thor.” He uses his powers to manipulate the weather and fly, while his go-to weapon is his powerful hammer, Mjolnir.
Played By: Chris Hemsworth
Chris Hemsworth first made his name as a TV soap star in his native Australia. American audiences first saw him in 2009’s “Star Trek,” and he’s been a Hollywood mainstay ever since. He’s appeared in seven MCU movies so far, including three standalone Thor films.
Character: Captain America / Steve Rogers
Captain America first appeared in 1941 and is one of Marvel’s earliest characters. In the 2011 movie “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Steve Rogers was shown as a young man rejected by the American military in World War II for being physically unable to serve. This led him to enlist in a secret government program that turned him into a physically imposing super-soldier, complete with a signature shield that was built for him by Tony Stark’s father. He was eventually frozen until the 21st century, when he would join The Avengers.
— Captain America (@CaptainAmerica) January 25, 2019
Played By: Chris Evans
Each installment of Chris Evans’ Captain America trilogy has been among the most-acclaimed movies in the MCU. He’s been a Hollywood star since the early 2000s and first became an on-screen superhero in the mid-2000s’ “Fantastic Four” movies, in which he played the Human Torch. He’s appeared in eight MCU movies so far.
Character: Hulk / Bruce Banner
Debuting in Marvel Comics in 1962, The Hulk is the massive, green-skinned alter ego of mild-mannered scientist Bruce Banner. Banner transforms into Hulk when he’s angry and distressed, as a result of being exposed to gamma radiation. The character first appeared in the MCU in 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.
It’s been one smash hit after another. 👊 See all the Marvel Studios 10 Year Anniversary posters and order Marvel Studios' "@Avengers: #InfinityWar" today: https://t.co/Mu94J4KxIT pic.twitter.com/u3EgXHb9va
— Incredible Hulk (@Hulk) July 10, 2018
Played By: Mark Ruffalo
Bruce Banner is one of the few characters to have changed actors during its run in the MCU. Edward Norton played the role in “The Incredible Hulk,” but Mark Ruffalo replaced him, starting with 2012’s “The Avengers.” Ruffalo is one of the most respected dramatic actors in the MCU, with acclaimed performances in movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Spotlight” and “Foxcatcher.” He’s played Banner in five movies so far.
Character: Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff
Originally appearing in Marvel Comics as a villain in 1964, Natasha Romanoff eventually became a hero when she joined up with S.H.I.E.L.D. In the MCU, she first appeared in 2010’s “Iron Man 2” as a Russian-born S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who worked undercover at Tony Stark’s company, where she kept an eye on him. She’s been a steady member of the Avengers since the group formed on screen in 2012.
— Iron Man (@Iron_Man) May 16, 2016
Played By: Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson has been a mainstay of American movies since she was a child actor in the mid-’90s. Since then, she’s become Hollywood’s highest-grossing female actor of all time, thanks in no small part to her role as Natasha Romanoff in six MCU movies so far. In early 2018, it was announced that Black Widow would finally be given her own standalone movie in the MCU.
Character: War Machine / James Rhodes
A decorated U.S. military man, Tony Stark’s close friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes first appeared in print in 1979 and made his MCU debut in 2008’s “Iron Man.” Since “Iron Man 2,” he’s been frequently seen in one of Stark’s armor suits, fighting alongside the Avengers under the name War Machine.
— Iron Man (@Iron_Man) April 29, 2016
Played By: Don Cheadle
The role of James Rhodes has been played by two actors during the MCU’s run. Don Cheadle took over the role in 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” after Terrence Howard had played him in “Iron Man.” With a long list of acclaimed roles and a background as a director, writer and producer, Cheadle is one of the most accomplished entertainers to appear regularly in the MCU.
The sister of T’Challa and princess of Wakanda, Shuri didn’t make her Marvel Comics debut until 2005 but has already become a favorite character among fans. In 2018’s “Black Panther,” where she made her MCU debut, some viewers felt she stole the show. Shuri uses her brilliant intellect to advance Wakanda’s already impressive technology and also acts as a healer.
Played By: Letitia Wright
Letitia Wright is only 24 years old and has only been in two MCU movies but is already a fan favorite. Born in Guyana and raised in England, Wright has also had roles in British TV shows, including “Top Boy,” “Doctor Who” and “Black Mirror.”
Another member of the Guardians of the Galaxy and arguably the toughest in the group, Gamora first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1975 and in the MCU in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” She is the adopted daughter of Thanos and has a background as an assassin. In the movies, she and Peter Quill have a will-they-won’t-they relationship.
Played By: Zoe Saldana
New Jersey-born Zoe Saldana has become a sci-fi icon thanks to her work as Gamora in three MCU movies, as Lt. Uhura in the three latest Star Trek movies and as the star of James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Many ’90s kids will remember her as Britney Spears’ co-star in the cult-classic movie “Crossroads.”
A brutal and effective mercenary, Nebula made her Marvel Comics debut in 1985 and has primarily been a villain in print. In the MCU, she debuted in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and has fought alongside the titular group. In the movies, she is the adopted daughter of Thanos and the adopted sister of Gamora, with whom she has a tense relationship.
— Karen Gillan (@karengillan) March 26, 2019
Played By: Karen Gillan
Like her on-screen sister Zoe Saldana, Scottish actor Karen Gillan is regarded as a sci-fi icon, thanks to her work in the MCU and in the BBC series “Doctor Who.” Gillan has been acclaimed for her work as Nebula — for which she actually shaved off her fantastic red locks — and recently cemented her star status in 2017’s smash hit “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”
Character: Scarlet Witch / Wanda Maximoff
An extremely powerful sorcerer, Wanda Maximoff (aka Scarlet Witch) first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1964. She was originally written as a villain before becoming a member of the Avengers. She followed a similar path in the MCU, where she made her debut in 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” where she appeared alongside her late brother, Pietro.
Played By: Elizabeth Olsen
The younger sister of ’90s child-acting icons Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Elizabeth Olsen has become an indie darling over the years, starting with her acclaimed performance in 2011’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” She’s appeared in four MCU movies so far, giving an especially moving performance in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
A character named Loki first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1949, but the version people are most familiar with first appeared in 1962. He’s the trouble-making adopted brother of Thor, with whom he has a love-hate relationship. In the MCU, Loki first appeared in 2011’s “Thor” and served as the villain in 2012’s “The Avengers” before becoming an ally of the heroic group in later movies.
Played By: Tom Hiddleston
A respected British actor, Tom Hiddleston was mostly known for his stage work before his breakout role as Loki in “Thor.” His performances as Loki in five MCU movies have earned him acclaim, and he won a Golden Globe for his work in 2016’s “The Night Manager.” Off-screen, Hiddleston made news in summer 2016 for his whirlwind relationship with Taylor Swift.
Vision is an all-powerful android who was introduced in Marvel Comics in 1968, when he first fought alongside the Avengers. In the MCU, Vision first appeared in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” where he was born when Tony Stark’s artificial intelligence program, J.A.R.V.I.S., was given a body to inhabit.
Played By: Paul Bettany
Due to his dual role as Vision and the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S., British actor Paul Bettany has appeared in seven MCU movies so far. His other big roles include playing the villain in 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code” and Chaucer in “A Knight’s Tale.” This year, he has a role in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
Character: James “Bucky” Barnes
The character of “Bucky” Barnes is as old as Marvel Comics itself, with his first appearance coming in the original issue of “Captain America Comics” in 1941. In the MCU, Barnes debuted in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” where he was shown to be the best friend of Steve Rogers. He was believed to be killed in that movie but later came back as a brainwashed villain before joining the Avengers as a hero.
— Captain America (@CaptainAmerica) September 5, 2016
Played By: Sebastian Stan
Before taking his role as “Bucky” Barnes, Romanian-born actor Sebastian Stan had recurring roles in TV shows including “Gossip Girl” and NBC’s “Kings.” He’s since made appearances in six MCU movies.
Calling Thanos one of your “favorite” Marvel characters might be a stretch after what he did during “Avengers: Infinity War,” but stick with me here. This massive titan first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1973 and made his first appearance in the MCU during a credits scene in 2012’s “The Avengers.” His story built in the background until finally coming to the forefront in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” where he shook up the entire MCU.
Played By: Josh Brolin
Like Hulk and “Rhodey,” the role of Thanos has been played by two actors during his time in the MCU. In “The Avengers,” Damion Poitier played the role, but Josh Brolin took over for the three (so far) subsequent appearances, starting with 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The son of actor James Brolin, Josh Brolin has starred in a long list of notable Hollywood movies, earning great acclaim for his work in “No Country For Old Men” and “Milk,” among others. He most recently played Cable in “Deadpool 2,” another Marvel film franchise that’s not part of the MCU.
Character: Falcon / Sam Wilson
One of the first black superheroes to appear in mainstream comics — and considered the first to not have the word “black” as part of his superhero name — Sam Wilson (aka Falcon) first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1969. A friend of Steve Rogers and a member of the Avengers, he first appeared in the MCU in 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Played By: Anthony Mackie
A respected Broadway actor, Anthony Mackie first caught the attention of many filmgoers for his role in 2009’s Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker.” In addition to playing Sam Wilson in five MCU movies so far, Mackie has had roles in “8 Mile,” “Detroit” and HBO’s 2016 film “All the Way,” in which he played Martin Luther King Jr.
Character: Star-Lord / Peter Quill
Born in America but raised in outer space, Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) is the de facto leader of the ragtag Guardians of the Galaxy. He first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1976 and made his MCU debut in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” In the movies, he’s a music nerd who’s rarely seen without his Walkman and a mixtape.
Played By: Chris Pratt
One of Hollywood’s most in-demand actors, Chris Pratt has played Peter Quill in three movies so far, including two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. He’s had TV and movie roles since 2000, including main parts in The WB’s “Everwood” and NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” In addition to his MCU work, he’s currently at the center of several blockbuster movie franchises, including “The Lego Movie” and “Jurassic World.”
Character: Drax the Destroyer
In the comics, Drax the Destroyer was introduced in 1973, originally as a human named Arthur Douglas who’s given a powerful new body. But in the MCU, Drax was introduced in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and is an integral part of the group. He’s as tough as he is unintentionally funny, getting as many laughs as any character in the entire MCU. In both universes, he’s bent on avenging the deaths of his wife and child.
— The Artist Formerly Known as Super Duper Dave (@DaveBautista) May 3, 2018
Played By: Dave Bautista
Standing at 6 feet 9 inches tall and weighing nearly 300 pounds, Dave Bautista doesn’t need much help to look like a superhero. He spent more than 10 years as a professional wrestler with WWE before getting into acting full-time. He’s played Drax in three MCU movies so far and has also worked in major films like the James Bond outing “Spectre” and 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049.”
Possibly the world’s favorite member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the tree-like creature Groot first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1960, giving him more history than most members of the Avengers. He was originally introduced as a villainous invader of Earth but has since been portrayed as a hero. First introduced to film audiences in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Groot — in his full-grown, teenage and baby forms — may be the most quoted character in the MCU thanks to his only line of dialogue being, “I am Groot.”
— GuardiansOfTheGalaxy (@Guardians) August 25, 2017
Played By: Vin Diesel
One of Hollywood’s go-to action stars, Vin Diesel has provided the voice for Groot in three MCU movies, including “Avengers: Infinity War.” Aside from his work as the beloved creature, he’s also the star and producer of the XXX and The Fast and the Furious movie franchises. Due to his busy schedule, Diesel has said that doing the voice of Groot is the only way he would’ve been able to be a part of the MCU.
Character: Rocket Raccoon
Arguably the most hard-nosed member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket is a talking raccoon who also happens to be a weapons nut and a ruthless mercenary. He was introduced in Marvel Comics in 1976 and in the MCU in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” where he was paired up with Groot. In the films, the two have a very close relationship, which led to one of the most touching moments of “Avengers: Infinity War.”
— GuardiansOfTheGalaxy (@Guardians) August 2, 2017
Played By: Bradley Cooper
Rocket’s gruff voice comes from four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper. Cooper has been a regular in TV and movies since the early 2000s, with his breakout role coming in 2009’s “The Hangover.” He’s gone on to produce movies and his directorial debut, “A Star is Born,” hits theaters this year.
Character: Ant-Man / Scott Lang
A master thief who eventually gains technology that allows him to shrink — or grow — to a ridiculous size. While Ant-Man first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1962, Scott Lang didn’t debut in print until 1979, and was the second man to carry that superhero title. Lang debuted in the MCU in 2015’s “Ant-Man” and will have a second stand-alone movie this year in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
— Ant-Man (@AntMan) October 9, 2018
Played By: Paul Rudd
One of the most likable actors in Hollywood, Paul Rudd has been a mainstay of movies and TV since making his film debut in 1995’s “Clueless.” He’s had main roles in beloved comedies like “Anchorman,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” as well as a recurring role in “Friends.” When “Ant-Man and the Wasp” hits theaters, he will have appeared in three MCU movies so far.
Character: Spider-Man / Peter Parker
Forget Superman or Batman. Spider-Man is the most profitable superhero of all-time, according to CBS News. Marvel’s most iconic character first appeared in its comics in 1962 but, due to the character’s movie rights being owned by Sony, he didn’t appear in the MCU until 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.” In both universes, his true identity is Peter Parker, a high school student who gains spider-like abilities after being bitten by one.
— Spider-Man (@SpiderMan) April 4, 2018
Played By: Tom Holland
London-born Tom Holland has been acting since he was a child, on stage, in TV and in movies. He made his screen debut in 2012’s “The Impossible” at the age of 16. Despite being younger than other actors who’ve played Spider-Man on-screen, he’s drawn praise for his energetic performances as the character in three MCU movies so far.
Character: Black Panther / T’Challa
The leader of the secretive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda, T’Challa (aka Black Panther) was one of the first black superheroes in American comics. He made his print debut in 1966 and his MCU debut in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.” T’Challa gains super-strength and agility through a Wakandan ritual that all people who earn the mantle of Black Panther must go through.
— Black Panther (@theblackpanther) January 7, 2019
Played By: Chadwick Boseman
A veteran of TV and movies, Chadwick Boseman was nearly 40 years old when he made his MCU debut as T’Challa in 2016. He’s also known for his performances as American icons like Jackie Robinson (“42”), James Brown (“Get On Up”) and Thurgood Marshall (“Marshall”). Boseman’s intense performance in “Black Panther” helped make it one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. So far, he’s appeared in three MCU films.
Character: Doctor Stephen Strange
Making his Marvel Comics debut in 1963, Doctor Strange was a brilliant, yet egotistical, brain surgeon who lost his ability to operate after a car crash, eventually using his powerful mind to become a master sorcerer. Strange made his MCU debut in the 2016 stand-alone movie “Doctor Strange.” He’s able to manipulate time and space, protecting Earth from inter-dimensional threats from his base in New York City.
Played By: Benedict Cumberbatch
A powerhouse British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch has been nominated for nearly ever major award a thespian can hope to earn. Aside from three appearances in the MCU as Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch is perhaps best known for his work in the BBC/PBS series “Sherlock,” for which he won an Emmy in 2014.
Character: Killmonger / Erik Stevens
Erik Stevens (aka Erik Killmonger) was born in Wakanda but raised in America, where he nursed a hatred for his former home and its leaders, including T’Challa. Killmonger made his Marvel Comics debut in 1973 and his MCU debut in 2018’s “Black Panther,” where he quickly became regarded as one of the best villains in the entire franchise. In the movies, Killmonger is played as an ex-Black Ops soldier who gained a reputation for being ruthless in battle.
— Black Panther (@theblackpanther) June 19, 2018
Played By: Michael B. Jordan
At only 31, Michael B. Jordan has already had a career in TV and movies that any actor would envy. As a teen, he turned heads for his role in HBO’s legendary series “The Wire” and, from there, had main roles in ABC’s “All My Children” and NBC’s “Friday Night Lights.” He has yet to be nominated for an Emmy or Oscar but was heavily praised for his roles in 2013’s “Fruitvale Station” and 2015’s Rocky Balboa reboot “Creed.”
Character: Hawkeye / Clint Barton
A veteran character in Marvel Comics and the MCU, Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) made his print debut in 1964 and his film debut in 2011’s “Thor.” In the comics, the deadly archer was first a villain but became a member of the Avengers soon after. In the movies, Barton has a close relationship with Natasha Romanoff, whom he was responsible for recruiting to join S.H.I.E.L.D. Fans were upset that he was missing from “Avengers: Infinity War” but hope he’ll be back for the next outing.
Played By: Jeremy Renner
A two-time Oscar nominee, Jeremy Renner is yet another accomplished screen actor in the MCU. After making his movie debut in 1995’s silly “National Lampoon’s Senior Trip,” he’s gone on to have roles in intense movies like “The Hurt Locker,” “The Town” and the Mission Impossible franchise.
A loyal son of Asgard, Heimdall is one of Thor’s fiercest allies in both the MCU and Marvel Comics. He made his print debut in 1962 and his on-screen debut in 2011’s “Thor.” The character is physically powerful, as well as being the all-seeing and all-hearing guardian of the inter-dimensional Bifrost bridge.
Played By: Idris Elba
Widely regarded as one of the most attractive men on the planet, British actor Idris Elba has had a stellar career across TV, movies and music. On the small screen, he’s best known for his work in HBO’s “The Wire” and BBC’s “Luther,” while on the big screen he’s been in blockbusters like 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” “Star Trek Beyond” and “Zootopia,” as well as four MCU movies. Oh, and he also works as a renowned DJ in his spare time.
Known for his blue skin and red mohawk-like head fin, Yondu was first introduced in Marvel Comics in 1969, where he was a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. In the MCU, he debuted in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and became a true fan favorite in the 2017 sequel. The character acts as a father figure to Peter Quill, whom he raised after kidnapping him from Earth.
Played By: Michael Rooker
A veteran screen actor known for playing tough guys, Michael Rooker burst onto the Hollywood scene with his acclaimed performance as a serial killer in 1986’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” After that, he went on to have main roles in “Days of Thunder,” “Cliffhanger” and “JFK,” as well as a recurring role in AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” He’s played Yondu in two MCU movies.
A hard-nosed Wakandan warrior, Okoye first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1998 in a very limited role, but was moved to the foreground in the MCU, with her debut in 2018’s “Black Panther.” In the movies, she’s the leader of Wakanda’s military and shows herself to be more loyal to the nation than to T’Challa, defending her homeland at all costs.
— Black Panther (@theblackpanther) November 12, 2018
Played By: Danai Gurira
Best known for her starring role in AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” Danai Gurira is also an accomplished playwright who happens to speak four languages. Her 2009 play “Eclipsed” won several awards, including a Tony, leading her to take several notable roles in movies and TV. Along with playing Okoye in two MCU movies so far, she also played the mother of Tupac Shakur in 2017’s “All Eyez on Me.”
Possibly the sweetest member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Mantis made her Marvel Comics debut in 1973 and her MCU debut in 2017’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” She is an empath, which makes her able to read, and sometimes manipulate, the emotions of others. She has a close relationship with Drax in the movies.
— Pom Klementieff (@PomKlementieff) June 10, 2018
Played By: Pom Klementieff
French-Canadian actor Pom Klementieff hasn’t become too familiar to American audiences outside of her work as Mantis in two MCU movies so far. Before landing that role, she had mostly appeared in French-language movies, as well as director Spike Lee’s 2013 movie “Oldboy,” alongside fellow MCU actors Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen.
Character: Nick Fury
A former CIA spy, Nick Fury has been making an eyepatch look good since his Marvel Comics debut in 1963. He’s been an integral part of the MCU since the beginning, when he appeared in the now-legendary post-credits scene of 2008’s “Iron Man.” In the movies, he’s depicted as the man who initially puts the Avengers together, setting in motion the entire franchise.
50 Days. See Marvel Studios’ #CaptainMarvel in theaters March 8th, and check out these brand-new character posters. Get tickets now: https://t.co/MI90c3yvl8 and see them all at: https://t.co/cNsoy9T5li pic.twitter.com/Lr5rOeriYD
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) January 16, 2019
Played By: Samuel L. Jackson
Nick Fury was a white character in the comic books, but could you imagine anyone else playing this role? Arguably the most accomplished actor to have a main role in the MCU, Samuel L. Jackson is a Hollywood icon. In 2011, he was named the highest-grossing actor in movie history, with his films collecting more than $7 billion combined at that point, aided by his central roles in the MCU and the Star Wars franchise.