The Marvel Cinematic Universe has successfully translated some of the most iconic comic characters in history to the silver screen. As recently as 15 years ago, Marvel fans would have called you overly optimistic if you suggested that one day a film starring the Avengers would become the highest-grossing movie of all time.
One of the most impressive things about the MCU is that Marvel has cast actors who faithfully match the appearance and spirit of their characters. For longtime readers, it’s magical to see top Hollywood actors bring their favorite characters to life.
Today, we’re counting down the top ten most comic-accurate actors who portray characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Did your favorite character make the list?
Warning: this article contains spoilers for recent MCU shows and movies like Wandavision and Spider-Man: No Way Home. You’ve been warned!
10. Elizabeth Olson as Scarlet Witch
Elizabeth Olson first appeared as the mystical Scarlet Witch in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Her introduction is surprisingly accurate to her comics background–she’s initially a villain, but sides with the Avengers after realizing she serves a cruel master. In the comics, Wanda and her brother Pietro initially serve Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants. In the MCU, they start as pawns of Ultron before turning their backs on the genocidal robot.
Elizabeth Olson is a perfect visual match for Wanda Maximoff. Marvel doubles down on her comics-accurate depiction of the character in the 2020 TV series Wandavision. In that show’s final episode, Wanda finally dons her iconic red spellcaster outfit, proving that she’s the perfect actor for the role.
9. Simu Liu as Shang-Chi
Simu Liu portrays the title character in 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Liu perfectly captures the character’s affable and unassuming personality while also exemplifying the physicality of the Master of Kung Fu. Liu got into incredible shape for his turn as Shang-Chi, as evidenced by his impressive stamina during prolonged fight scenes in the fast-paced action film.
Liu also has an uncanny resemblance to some artists’ depictions of Shang Chi. He sports the square jaw and stoic presence that artists like Paul Gulacy inject into the character. Gulacy told comics reporters that he based his version of Shang-Chi on Bruce Lee.
The most important facet of portraying the Master of Kung Fu isn’t the look, though. It’s nailing the fight scenes, which Liu does with aplomb.
8. Chris Hemsworth as Thor
Chris Hemsworth is a stunning human being. It’s easy to see why Marvel Studios cast him to portray the glorious golden god of thunder, Thor. His luscious blonde hair and incredible physique are all spot-on for the comics version of the Norse deity. Hemsworth has also proved himself to have the perfect balance of regal poise and jovial humor to bring the character to life.
In his early appearances, like The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World, Hemsworth played Thor straight, with only flashes of the good cheer that he’s known for in the comics. As the MCU rolled on, Hemsworth and director Taika Waititi morphed the character into a more well-defined person, with equal helpings of pathos and a riotous sense of humor.
7. Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther
Black Panther is an iconic character, not just for Marvel, but for many Black comics fans. He was the first Black headlining superhero to star in his own comic book, and he’s one of the most influential people in the Marvel universe. As the king of the fictional African country of Wakanda, T’Challa carries a heavy mantel of responsibility.
The late Chadwick Boseman portrayed T’Challa with grace and regal dignity that perfectly mirrored his comic counterpart. Boseman injected humanity and genuine warmth into the role, too, showing audiences that the legendary Black Panther is more than just a symbol–he’s a hero who truly cares about Wakandans and humanity as a whole.
It’s currently unclear how Marvel Studios will proceed with the character without Boseman, but Marvel head Kevin Feige told reporters that the studio had no plans to recast the role.
6. Josh Brolin as Thanos
Josh Brolin provided the motion capture and voice for the villainous Thanos in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. The actor’s gravelly voice and no-nonsense presence lend Thanos menace and weight. While the comic version of Thanos is more of a fanatic than his film portrayal, Brolin nails the self-serious idealogue’s absolute certainty of purpose.
In the comics, Thanos is in love with the personification of Death. His infatuation with Lady Death drives him to destroy half of all life in the universe using the Infinity Gauntlet. In the MCU, Thanos has a different motivation. He believes that the universe is overcrowded and that things will only get better if there are fewer people in it.
The MCU version of Thanos is almost more frightening, as his motivations are cold and calculated, not driven by passion. In Avengers: Endgame, the time-travel plot sees a younger version of the character break into the present-day, and he’s driven by hatred for the Avengers and a desire to reduce the universe to atoms. Brolin’s portrayal of this younger, more passionate Thanos channels the unhinged emotions of his comics counterpart.
5. Tom Holland as Spider-Man
Audiences loved Tobey Maguire’s take on Peter Parker in the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy from the 2000s. However, modern fans can’t imagine the MCU without Tom Holland’s excellent take on the character. Holland plays Peter with youthful exuberance, portraying him as a believable high school student struggling to balance his personal life with his superhero persona.
Holland is also a natural in the Spider-Man suit. He serves up quips quickly and banters with enemies to keep them off their rhythm, just like in the comics. After the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the MCU sets up Peter as a college-age hero with no Stark tech and no support network to fall back on. Fans are excited to see future outings with this comics-accurate version of the Web-Head.
4. Chris Evans as Captain America
Captain America is a strange character. He was created as wartime propaganda in the 1940s and became emblematic of the Golden Age of Comics. His comics fell out of fashion in the 1950s, but Marvel revived the character in the 1960s as a throwback. It would have been easy for the MCU to treat Steve Rogers as a joke character, an overly-patriotic relic of a bygone era.
Instead, they cast Chris Evans as the First Avenger and made Cap one of the most vital characters in the Avengers franchise. Evans brings the character’s idealism and charm to bear in his solo films. In the ensemble movies, he’s a natural leader who acts as the team’s guiding light. He’s one of the most comics-accurate characters in the films, as his origin is essentially unchanged from his original publications.
3. Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange
Benedict Cumberbatch shares an uncanny resemblance to the 1970s-era illustrations of Doctor Stephen Strange. It’s good luck that he looks the part, but it’s good acting that makes him a perfect big-screen representation of the Master of the Mystic Arts.
Cumberbatch sells Strange as a cynical, big-headed neurosurgeon who learns that the world is, well, stranger than it seems. His take on the character in his 2016 origin film is so spot-on to the comics that it won fans over immediately while neatly weaving magic into the MCU.
Cumberbatch portrays the character with an air of intensity and mystery that reminds audiences of the psychedelic nature of Strange’s comics.
2. JK Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
Before you cry foul, JK Simmons is an MCU actor! Sony originally cast to portray J. Jonah Jameson in the 2002 Sam Raimi Spider-Man, but Marvel Studios brought him back to reprise his role as the slimy newspaper editor in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home.
In the MCU, Jameson isn’t in charge of a print publication. Instead, he’s the face of an internet news outlet (named the Daily Bugle, of course) and a notable public critic of Spider-Man. Simmons is spot-on in his portrayal of the firebrand newsman, channeling the faux-outrage and disarming charisma of the comics’ character.
1. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
There was no other option to choose for number one. Jon Favreau went to bat for Robert Downey Jr. when Marvel Studios started pre-production on the first Iron Man film. Downey was recovering from severe drug and alcohol addiction at the time, and major Hollywood studios considered him a liability. Favreau couldn’t picture anyone else in the iconic red-and-gold armor and convinced Marvel head Ron Perlmutter that Downey would be perfect for the role.
He was right, and Downey’s performance as the charming but tortured Tony Stark kicked off the biggest media franchise in cinematic history.
“It was my job as a director to show that it was the best choice creatively,” Favreau would later tell Texas radio station 100.3 Jack FM during a 2014 interview, “and now the Marvel Universe is the biggest franchise in film history.”
Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark are so interconnected in the public consciousness that it’s impossible to picture anyone else in the role. Now that Downey has hung up his armor and retired from the MCU, Marvel has a tough task ahead. Can it ever replace such a pitch-perfect casting choice?