Friday, May 24, 2024

MCU Actors In Roles Outside Of The MCU

By Lauren LaMagna 

​​I am not making any grand statement by saying that you wanted to be a superhero at some point in your life. Admit it; you’d put on that cape and pretended to save the world before dinner time or trick or treated like your favorite good guy. It’s natural. It’s a significant part of popular culture, media, and growing up. Not to mention, it is also loved by millions. So when an actor embarks on their career, it is only natural that they fantasize about putting on that cape and saving the world in the movies. They might not admit it in every interview, but if someone offered them a role in a superhero movie, odds are they’d take it.

It is also no secret that the most successful superhero franchise of the current day is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) at Marvel Studios. Under the leadership of Kevin Feige, he has been able to reshape the idea of the blockbuster and cinematic universe. Since its conception in 2008 with “Iron Man,” the MCU has been the biggest blessing to the actors who have taken the mantel as heroes in this universe. This one character has changed, made, and even started all of their careers. Most of them now have several brand deals, multi-million dollar contracts, and hundreds of stan accounts on social media who claim to be their biggest fans. However, it has come to my attention that some of these “stans” have only seen these actors in MCU-related content. So I ask the question, how much of a super fan (or stan) are you? Have you seen most of the actor’s filmography or just their work in the MCU?

Let’s take a look and figure out if you really are a super fan or just a fan of their one Marvel character…

Robert Downey Jr.

MCU Role: Tony Stark/Iron Man

The leader of the Avengers. Earth’s mightiest hero. It is evident that the person who has reaped the most from the success of the MCU is no one other than their first hero, Robert Downey Jr. Since “Iron Man,” which was seen as his comeback vehicle, Downey has become one of the most powerful actors in Hollywood and even ended his journey at Marvel with creative control. But before he proved that Tony Stack had a heart, he was a tour de force in “Chaplin” (1992). The film, which earned Downey an Oscar nomination, tells the grim story of filmmaking legend Charlie Chaplin. Here, Downey transforms into the performer, yet he allows the audience to see the man behind the art. It is only pure poetry that this young actor playing a man who redefined cinema will one day do the same 16 years later.

Have you seen his Oscar-nominated work in “Chaplin?” If so, great! You earn a point.

If you haven’t, you can earn a bonus point if you can name the John Hughes films Downey stars in.

Chris Evans

MCU Role: Steve Rogers/Captain America

Chris Evans was no rookie when it came to the superhero genre or blockbusters in general. At the time of his first Marvel film – “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – he was already considered a heartthrob. But of course, playing Steve Rodgers, aka Captain America, certainly helped. With the success of playing the ideal personification of America, Evans had the freedom to pick and choose his projects when he wasn’t gaining 100 pounds of muscle. During one of these breaks, he starred in a little film called “Gifted” (2017), which follows the story of an uncle raising his niece, who happens to be a prodigy. “Gifted” is small, intimate, and is dependent on the chemistry between Evans and a young McKenna Grace. It’s a beautiful contrast between the big-budget spectacle that is an MCU movie and an atmosphere that Evans seems to enjoy, especially considering the tone of his directorial debut, “Before We Go” (which is also stars in). 

Bonus points if you can name all the heroes Evans has played (Hint: voiceover roles count).

Chris Hemsworth 

MCU Role: Thor

Unlike Downey and Evans, Hemsworth was a relatively unknown actor before being cast as the God of Thunder. Now, he has creative control over the character and has established himself as an international leading man with a great sense of humor. One of his early movies that goes unnoticed is 2013’s “Rush.” The biopic of Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda is entertaining for both F1 fans and general moviegoers. It’s a different type of action movie for Hemsworth and solidified him as more than an action movie star with that special X-Factor.

Bonus points if you can name all the actors in “Rush” who worked or are currently working on a Marvel film.

​Scarlett Johansson

MCU Role: Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

It’s hard to imagine now, but there once was a time when Scarlett Johansson wasn’t the Black Widow. In fact, she was cast as Natasha Romanoff last minute with only a few weeks left before production began on “Iron Man 2.” Since her debut as the former KGB assassin, Johansson has been featured on the Forbe’s list of highest-paid actors several times and got to handpick the screenwriter and director for her upcoming film “Black Widow.” But in-between playing Natasha Romanoff, Johansson still manages to have a diverse career that allows her to grow as an actor, like collaborating with Jonathan Glazer on “Under the Skin” (2014). Here, they weaponized Johansson’s sex appeal to tell a fascinating story of predator and prey. In the same year, she also starred in Spike Jonze’s “Her,” which was arguably the most cathartic film of the year, as the voice of an artificial intelligence.

Bonus points if you can name all the movies she and Chris Evans have stared in (hint: it’s a lot).

Mark Ruffalo

MCU Role: Bruce Banner/Hulk

Unlike Johansson, it is easy to imagine a time where Mark Ruffalo didn’t portray Bruce Banner. His MCU debut was in “The Avengers” (2012), where he took over the role from Edward Norton. Ruffalo brings a lightness to Banner that tends to lean a little into a ‘stressful chaos’ (which would happen to any of us who turned into a green monster when provoked). Ruffalo’s Banner kind of knows what he’s doing but probably has too much emotion or passion to do his best. This is Ruffalo’s signature quality, which is apparent in David Fincher’s 2007 film “Zodiac.” The film features Ruffalo and a few other future MCU actors investigating a serial killer in the San Francisco area.

Bonus point if you’ve seen the film where Ruffalo plays Gwyneth Paltrow’s love interest.

Jeremy Renner

MCU Role: Clint Barton/Hawkeye 

Jeremy Renner is another actor that has been able to balance the big-budget world of the MCU with small independent projects. We all know him as Sgt. William James in “The Hurt Locker” (for which he earned an Oscar nomination), but are you aware of his smaller projects of the last decade like Taylor Sheridan’s 2017 feature directorial debut “Wind River?” Here, he stars with fellow Marvel co-star Elizabeth Olsen (more on her soon), investigating a murder on an Indian reservation. Not to mention his collaborations with directors Denis Villeneuve and James Gray and roles in the Mission: Impossible and Bourne franchises, it is clear Renner is always busy. 

Bonus points if you can name all the MCU actors in “The Hurt Locker.”

Elizabeth Olsen

MCU Role: Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Being in front of the camera runs in the Olsen family. After all, Elizabeth is the younger sister of the Mary-Kate and Ashely Olsen, the biggest child stars of the 1990s and early 2000s. Olsen’s childhood featured a first-hand experience of what it was like to be work in film. So, it was only natural for her to one day try acting herself, and three years into acting professionally, she secured her role as Wanda Maximoff, also known as the Scarlet Witch. But before her MCU debut in 2014, Olsen made nine films from 2011-2013 that ranged from horror (“Silent House”) to independent coming-of-age (“Very Good Girls”). But the one that stands out is Olsen’s second film, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (2011). Here, Olsen plays a young girl who just escaped a cult and is trying to adjust back to everyday life. The film tackles dark subject matters like brainwashing, post-traumatic stress, and paranoia, all of which fall on Olsen’s shoulders. Yet, even though it’s only her second film, she gives a subtle and authentic performance that will stay with you long after the film ends.

Bonus points if you can name all the Mary-Kate and Ashley content Elizabeth is featured in.

​Anthony Mackie

MCU Role: Sam Wilson/The Falcon/Captain America

Today, Anthony Mackie is known as the life of the party at Marvel Studios. He puts his natural extroverted charisma into his portrayal of Sam Wilson and constantly lights up every red carpet and interview that he’s on. It is clear that Mackie loves his career and is continuously soaking everything in. But that supernova charm is nowhere to be seen in Mackie’s film debut in “8 Mile” (2002). Here Mackie, straight out of Julliard, plays the gang leader who is intimating, threatening, and nowhere near the Anthony Mackie we know and love. In fact, the role was only meant to have four lines, but once Mackie got to set, the role was expanded upon. This just shows no matter what role he plays, Mackie always brings a great temperament to set and is always telling a full layered story, no matter how big the role appears to be on paper.

Bonus point if you can name the other film Mackie co-stars with Daniel Brühl.

Sebastian Stan

MCU Role: Bucky Barnes/The Winter Solider

In my opinion, Sebastian Stan’s filmography is the most interesting one out of all of these actors. He has perfectly mastered the math of a Marvel contract. For every Marvel film he is in, it seems as if he has at least two other non-MCU projects in development or post-production (which is probably the advantage of being a supporting player in the MCU for the last ten years). As Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier, Stan is a Marvel fan favorite. Audiences love the tragic origin story of The Winter Soldier, the foil character to Captain America, which then evolves into a cathartic and satisfying redemption arc. Like Bucky, Stan’s other roles live in the grey areas of humanity, like his roles in “I, Tonya” (2017) and the recently released “Monday.” Stan thrives in the anti-hero role, and these other projects prove it. Both of his characters in the aforementioned films are toxic individuals, yet they are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. In “I, Tonya,” Stan plays Jeff Gillooly, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, who is obviously the villain and is on par with Margot Robbie throughout, while his character in “Monday” may not be aware of his toxic nature. However, both characters center on the negative effects of passion and how two people can feel so much for each other while also being horrible for one another. Which, admittedly, are interesting stories to watch. Plus, with his other works like “Destroyer” and “Rachel Getting Married,” it is clear that Sebastian Stan will always tell dark yet deeply human stories.

Bonus point if you can name Stan’s non MCU credit that is canon in the MCU.

Tom Hiddleston

MCU Role: Loki

Tom Hiddleston is currently owning this month with the Disney+ show “Loki.” After ten years playing the God of Mischief, Hiddleston is finally taking center stage in what might be Marvel’s most successful TV show to date. After all, like Hemsworth, “Thor” was Hiddleston’s big break, but since, he has worked on a load of underrated projects like Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” (2015). In this gothic romance, Hiddleston plays another deceiving individual (although more hidden than Loki, who admittedly enjoys creating chaos) but is elevated in del Toro’s world of monsters and gothic costumes. Hiddleston also sticks to his theater roots with “The Hollow Crown,” which is one of Shakespeare’s greatest works; the adaption of his plays Henry IV: Part 1 and Part 2 as a fantastic Prince Hal that everyone should witness.

Bonus points if you can name the other project he shares with “Loki” co-star Owen Wilson

If you’ve seen over half of these films: congratulations! You’re a legitimate fan! If not, you got some amazing films to see! It’s always a great idea to dive into an actor’s filmography because they are so much more than one character. But if you want some extra credit, check out “What’s Your Number.” I will admit, it is not the best film in the world, but it features three MCU actors prior to their MCU debut in ways you haven’t seen them before.

​How well did you do? Have you seen all of the films and performances listed above from some of your favorite actors in the MCU? Who is your favorite actor in the MCU? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Lauren and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @laurenlamango

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Lauren LaMagna
Lauren LaMagna
Assistant arts editor at Daily Collegian. Film & TV copy editor.

Related Articles

Stay Connected


Latest Reviews