In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born with the release of the first Iron Man movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. Nobody could have foreseen back then just how prolific the series of films that would follow that first one would become.
There have been 23 MCU movies produced in total, with an enormous number of actors in its cast. After Avengers: Endgame the fate of many of those stars' futures in the "universe" is now known to us. Who survived the battle with Thanos, and who is now out? Read on to see who will continue on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and expect spoilers).
Anthony Hopkins – Out
Anthony Hopkins played Odin, Thor's father, in three Marvel films based on his character's son's storyline. Oddly enough, his demise didn't come at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, like it did for many actors on this list. Odin died at the beginning of Thor: Ragnarok in 2017.
Barring any big changes to storylines in the future, Hopkins will not return to reprise his role. That being said, a fourth Thor film is set to be released in the future, and in the world of comics, any die-hard fan will tell you: death is not a permanent thing, especially for the Allfather, Odin.
Cobie Smulders – Still In
Cobie Smulders has appeared in a number of Marvel films as Agent Maria Hill, working under the tutelage of Nick Fury at the covert spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. She debuted in the first Avengers film, then made subsequent appearances in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Avengers: Infinity War. She also appeared in Spider-Man: Far from Home later in 2019.
In earlier interviews, Smulders suggested she was contracted for eight film appearances in total. If that's true, we should expect to see more of Maria Hill in the films coming up in the future...even if she's being portrayed by a Skrull imposter.
Karen Gillan/Nebula – Probably Staying
Nebula, who is blue-skinned sister to Gamora and the adoptive daughter of Thanos, survived the events of Avengers: Endgame, even though she shot and killed her 2014 counterpart, who had traveled to the future in the movie. As we saw in that movie, the rules of time travel, commonly seen in other movies in the past, don't actually work, so her past self dying didn't affect her present/future life.
Karen Gillan has played Nebula in four MCU films so far: the two Infinity saga Avengers films, and the two Guardians of the Galaxy films released prior to those. She's stated that she's excited to reprise the role of Nebula when the third Guardians film starts production.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sorcerer Supreme – Staying
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Doctor Strange, a sorcerer in the Marvel universe who first appeared in the 2016 movie, aptly titled Doctor Strange. He's appeared in a number of MCU movies since, including Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. He was "snapped" out of existence by Thanos, but returned when the snap was undone.
Because he's now back, it's obvious he's going to continue on in the MCU, and production of the second Doctor Strange movie has already begun. It's been hinted that in this film, the concept of the multiverse is going to be introduced. Indeed, the title of the film is, Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness.
Idris Elba Is Departing
Primarily seen in the Thor series of films, Idris Elba played the character of Heimdall, a longtime ally of the Norse-inspired title character. His job was primarily that of chief transporter: with his sword, he was able to help Thor (and others) travel over vast distances across the nine realms.
He played a minor role in Avengers: Infinity War. He was killed by Thanos after using the last bit of his strength to transport Hulk back to earth. As he was killed pre-snap, the undoing of Thanos's snap did not result in his resurrection, so it's believed Elba won't be coming back to reprise his role.
Mark Ruffalo – Sticking Around
Mark Ruffalo took over the role of Hulk/Bruce Banner in 2012's Avengers film. His power, of course, is the ability to turn into a raging, nearly-undefeatable green monster, who can destroy almost anything in his path. Ruffalo signed a six-movie deal with Marvel, which doesn't include cameo appearances he made in Iron Man 3 or Captain Marvel. Since he's appeared in all four Avengers films, plus Thor: Ragnarok, as a principal character, that means there should be at least one more film that features Ruffalo in it.
It's possible this could mean a long-awaited standalone Hulk film is on its way. If that's the case, it could also mean we get to see more of Ruffalo portraying a "controlled" Hulk character, like we saw in Endgame. But as the comics have shown us, even a "controlled" Hulk tends to bring problems for Banner.
Gwyneth Paltrow – Leaving?
"Pepper" Potts, the love interest of Iron Man/Tony Stark, has appeared in a number of Marvel Cinematic Universe films over the years. Portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow, it's unclear what the character's fate may be, especially due to the fate of Iron Man at the end of Avengers: Endgame (more on that later).
It's possible if another Iron Man film gets made that Paltrow could reprise her role, but there doesn't seem to be any plans for that in the immediate future, based on what Marvel has suggested its direction will be for the Phase 4 set of films. And in previous interviews, Paltrow has said she will not be returning to the MCU...but you should never say never in comic book movies!
Tom Hiddleston – Returning To Disney+
Tom Hiddleston has portrayed Loki, the God of mischief (and Thor's adoptive brother) for many films, starting with the first Thor film. He was the primary antagonist in the first Avengers movie, but since that time the character became something of an anti-hero, aligning with Thor at times to do some good for the universe.
The character perished at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War. But in the middle of Endgame, as the heroes traveled to the past, they accidentally allowed a past version of Loki to get his hands back on an Infinity Stone, transporting out of the scene when he grabbed it. Where did he go? That's what is set to be answered on the Disney+ program, aptly titled Loki.
We'll Definitely See More Of The Scarlett Witch...
At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, Scarlett Witch, aka Wanda Maximoff (portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen) held Thanos back with one arm while (reluctantly) destroying the Mind Stone with the other. Of course, Thanos reversed her action with the Time Stone, but her raw power was put on full display.
Thanos's snap dusted Maximoff, but she returned in Avengers: Endgame to help in the battle to defeat the Mad Titan. Olsen is slated to return in the Disney+ series Wanda/Vision, which will delve into the relationship she had with the robot who once housed the Mind stone.
Jeremy Renner Stays
Jeremy Renner has portrayed Hawkeye in many MCU films, debuting in a cameo appearance in Thor. The bow and arrow expert rarely misses and has been an important member of the Avengers team since its inception.
Clint Barton (the real name of Hawkeye) was under house arrest during the events of Infinity War, but he returned to "active duty" in Endgame, being involved in a very important scene with him and the Black Widow attempting to get one of the Infinity Stones during the "time heist." He's slated to return for his own series on the Disney streaming network, Disney+, appropriately titled Hawkeye.
Gamora's Coming Back, Too
Zoe Saldana portrays Gamora, the adopted daughter of the Mad Titan Thanos. In 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy, she teamed up with Starlord Peter Quill, Rocket, Groot, and Drax the Destroyer to defeat Ronin the Accuser. Saldana reprised her role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Although her character died in Infinity War, she was brought back in a unique way that didn't involve the infinity stones. Instead, her 2014 counterpart traveled to the year 2023, and helped to defeat her father's pursuit of the reality-altering gems. Zaldana is slated to return in the third Guardians film, which will be interesting to watch. How will this new (technically, old) version of Gamora interact with the team?
Staying: Paul Rudd/Ant-Man
Scott Lang, also known as Ant-Man, played a big role in how the heroes regained the destroyed Infinity Stones in Avengers: Endgame. It was because of him that the idea of a "time heist" was even possible. Portrayed by Paul Rudd, Ant-Man is reportedly set to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the years ahead.
Rudd appeared as Ant-Man in a number of films, including in the two Ant-Man films, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Endgame. Many questions remain unanswered about quantum science from Ant-Man and the Wasp, so we're excited to see where this character goes from here!
Expect A Return From The Wasp
Like Ant-Man, the Wasp is likely to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe should the characters be given a third movie to tell their cast of characters' stories. Evangeline Lilly, who plays Hope van Dyne (and dons the second shrinking suit to become the Wasp), would assuredly be in that film if it comes to fruition.
First appearing in Ant-Man, Lilly reprised her role in Ant-Man and the Wasp, although she and her family were "snapped" out of existence while Scott Lang was caught in the Quantum zone. She returned to help in the battle against Thanos in Avengers: Endgame.
Don Cheadle – Who Knows?
Don Cheadle became the character War Machine/Lt. Col. James Rhodes in Iron Man 2. He took over the role for Terrence Howard, who had played the character in the first Iron Man movie. Cheadle returned as War Machine, a character who wears a similar suit to that of Iron Man himself, in Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War. He also appeared in both Infinity War and Endgame.
The future of the character at this point is uncertain. Although he survived the war at the end of Endgame, War Machine's plans are less concrete. Cheadle could return in future films in major ways, or he could make occasional small appearances in other characters' films...or he may be done completely.
Samuel L. Jackson – Staying (Probably)
The list of movies in the MCU that Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in, portraying the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury is long. Jackson has been in Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain Marvel. His character made a cameo disappearance, being snapped out of existence, in Avengers: Infinity War, and appeared at the tail end of Avengers: Endgame. He also featured prominently in Spider-Man, Far From Home.
Given that last film's closing credits scene, it's hard to imagine an MCU without Nick Fury continuing on, although it's not a sure thing at this point either.
Chris Pratt Returning For Guardians 3
The future of Starlord, also known as Peter Quill, played by actor Chris Pratt, was uncertain for some time after Guardians of the Galaxy 3 director James Gunn was fired by Disney over social media posts he had made in the past. The director has since been rehired, and although delayed, the film is back on track, and Starlord is likely to lead his crew of misfits yet again (unless Thor takes over leadership). Fans will likely be anticipating whether his romance with Gamora picks up again, considering she is a Gamora from a different timeline who doesn't know much about him!
Pratt appeared in the first two Guardians movies, and also in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame as well.
So Long, Iron Man...
Robert Downey Jr. has portrayed Iron Man/billionaire Tony Stark since 2008's Iron Man. The film was the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but certainly not the least for the actor — not by a longshot.
There have been 23 MCU films in total, and Downey Jr., as Iron Man, has made an appearance in 11 of them. That's impressive! Sadly, at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Tony Stark used the Infinity Gauntlet to defeat the Mad Titan Thanos and his giant army. The result from his use of the Infinity Stones? The overwhelming energy blast killed Tony Stark, thus ending Downey Jr.'s future (for now?) in the MCU.
Black Widow Has Perished, But Will Return For At Least One More Film
Natasha Romanoff (code name: Black Widow) was one of the founding members of the Avengers in the first film by the same name. Played by Scarlett Johansson, Romanoff paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2019's Avengers: Endgame, jumping off a cliff and ending her life so that Clint Barton could attain the Soul Stone.
Her death means that appearances by the Black Widow won't coincide with the future timeline of Marvel movies. But that doesn't mean she's not going to be in more movies. Johansson is set to reprise the role of Black Widow in a prequel film, scheduled to be released in May of 2020. The announcement of this film had many fans saying, "about time!" as the character had appeared in a number of MCU movies.
Chris Evans Passes On The Shield...
Often called "the first Avenger," Steve Rogers/Captain America has been around since World War II in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chris Evans has portrayed the character in a number of films within the MCU since 2011, but it appears that Avengers: Endgame will be his last hurrah.
At the end of that film, Cap is found, old and frail, after having returned back in time to put back the Infinity Stones where they belonged — and to have that dance with his love, Peggy Carter. He opted to stay with her, rather than return to the present timeline, handing his famous shield off to his friend, Sam Wilson.
A Fourth Thor Film Is In The Works
Chris Hemsworth has played Thor, God of Thunder, in a number of films. He's obviously played the part in all three of the Thor-based films, but he's played a central role in all four of the Avengers films as well. He even made a cameo appearance in Doctor Strange.
As Thor traveled off with the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of Avengers: Endgame, it was somewhat expected that this film, like for Iron Man and Captain America, would be the last. But Thor has at least one more movie left to do — Thor: Love and Thunder, which will see Natalie Portman return to play Dr. Jane Foster as well...who will take on the title of Thor herself. What will become of Odinson, then?
Matt Damon Almost Became Daredevil
Well before there was a Marvel Cinematic Universe at all, Marvel films were still being created. The comic book company licensed many of the rights to their characters to different film studios. One film that pre-dated the MCU was Daredevil, a film about the superhero by the same name. Matthew Murdoch is also a blind lawyer who can "see" using his other enhanced senses (and who has extensive martial arts training).
The movie was made in 2003, and starred Ben Affleck. His good friend, Matt Damon, however, was the first choice by the movie to play the role. Damon allegedly turned it down because he wasn't sure about the director. Affleck took on the role, but has since stated he regretted it — it's often used as an example of how not to make a comic book movie.
Joaquin Phoenix As Stephen Strange?
Marvel has made several attempts to get Joaquin Phoenix into their lineup, and has failed at every turn. They first tried to get him signed on to become Bruce Banner/The Hulk, but that didn't work out (the role went to Mark Ruffalo instead). The studio even considered Phoenix for the role of Doctor Strange for a short time. Phoenix has said he wasn't interested in joining the MCU because the films "never felt like they'd really be fulfilling" to him. Ouch!
It's even less likely he'll take on an MCU role now that his film, Joker, is out. The villain, who hails from the DC comic book line, is definitely a role most actors wouldn't turn down.
Jason Momoa Almost Became Drax
Jason Momoa has played Aquaman in two separate DC-based films — Justice League, and his own standalone film, Aquaman. His muscular build has drawn many fans to silver screens across the nation, but the actor also caught the attention of Marvel Studios a while back...
Momoa was actually invited to play the role of Drax the Destroyer, one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, in the MCU. Momoa turned the part down, saying it was similar to other roles he's had in the past. Ultimately, it went to another muscular actor, pro-wrestler Dave Bautista.
Rachel McAdams Could Have Played Pepper Potts
Rachel McAdams appeared in Doctor Strange, playing opposite of Benedict Cumberbatch, but it wasn't the first role she was offered in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Apparently, she was also considered to play Tony Stark's love interest (and the eventual manager of his company), Pepper Potts, long before Gwyneth Paltrow was considered for the role.
Unfortunately for McAdams, scheduling conflicts prevented her from taking on the role as Ms. Potts. It's hard to imagine her taking on that role, however, as Paltrow seemed to have been the perfect, balanced counterpart to Robert Downey Jr.'s more flamboyant take on Iron Man/Tony Stark.
Bryan Cranston Was Supposed To Be An X-Men Mutant
X-Men: First Class was a reboot (of sorts) of the X-Men series of films, and saw Charles Xavier, and his crew of mutant superheroes (as well as eventual foes) take on Sebastian Shaw. The role was played in the film by iconic actor Kevin Bacon, but it almost took a different direction entirely...
Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston was highly considered to take on the role of Shaw. He turned it down, however, because he already had obligations to star in the film Drive, opposite Ryan Gosling. Cranston's versatile acting style — being able to play dramatic and comedic roles perfectly, as well as being able to balance both within the same character — would have undoubtedly been utilized, but Bacon played the role magnificently as well.
Joseph Gordon Levitt Turns Down Starlord
Chris Pratt played the role of Peter Quill/Starlord perfectly in the Guardians of the Galaxy Films, as well as appearing in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Had producers had their way, however, it wouldn't have been Pratt leading the team of misfits, but Joseph Gordon Levitt instead.
It's hard to imagine anyone else in that role, but Levitt has had some experience in comic book films, appearing in The Dark Knight Rises as a police officer who, it's implied at the end, becomes Robin. Still, even with that experience, Pratt's quirkiness would be hard to match on the big screen.
Emily Blunt Wanted To Be Black Widow, But Had To Say No
Emily Blunt was offered a role that even she couldn't say no to back in 2009 — Marvel wanted her to become Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff. The studio called her up, and she accepted the offer right away.
But Blunt was already slated to be in the film Gulliver's Travels, and there was a noticeable scheduling conflict between the two films. Sadly, the actress went back to Marvel to tell them the bad news. The studio moved on, and opened the role up to others for audition — and were wowed by Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of the character. She earned the role, and has played the character ever since.
McConaughey Said 'No' To An Out-Of-This-World Role In The MCU
Matthew McConaughey is a talented actor that both Marvel and DC have wanted to include in their respective heroes' rosters. The problem is, McConaughey isn't too keen on being in either franchise, especially if it's just to fill movie seats.
That was his excuse for turning down a role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Marvel had wanted McConaughey to play the role of Ego, the living planet, in the film. McConaughey reportedly said he didn't want to, feeling that his part in the film would simply be "an amendment" — or, in other words, a move by the studio just to put a big-named Hollywood actor to play the role.
Mel Gibson As The Allfather?
It's hard to fathom any other person playing the role of Odin in the Thor series of films other than Anthony Hopkins. The typically soft-spoken actor has an intimidating presence when he acts angrily or takes a defiant turn in those films.
It could have gone a completely different direction. When the studio was trying to think of names to cast, they wanted a big name that could be seen as powerful — and their first thoughts were Mel Gibson. In the end, Gibson explained in an interview with The Guardian, he turned it down, simply saying he "didn't do it." No reason was given in that interview, but we think that it probably worked out for the better.
Olivia Wilde Turned Down Gamora
Finding the right characters for Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be a big challenge for Marvel. First, they wanted Joseph Gordon Levitt for Starlord, but didn't get him. They also wanted Jason Momoa for Drax, but he denied the role, too. As for Gamora, the green assassin and adopted daughter of the Mad Titan Thanos, Marvel first sought out actress Olivia Wilde. She, too, had scheduling conflicts, and had to politely decline the part.
With all of their top choices out for some of the top roles in the film, Guardians in the Galaxy seemed to have lucked out — all of the actors and actresses who played their respective roles seemed to have made the perfect fit, despite not being the first choices of the film's creators.
Tom Cruise Could Have Been Tony Stark
Get this: Robert Downey Jr. wasn't the first choice to play Iron Man. If that blows your mind, consider who Marvel first thought of playing the part of Tony Stark: Tom Cruise. It even got to the point where Cruise was signed on and ready to take on the part, but it took away for Marvel Studios to secure the rights for the character. By the time it did, Cruise supposedly "lost interest" in the part.
Marvel eventually secured rights to Iron Man on-screen in 2005. By then, they had found the perfect person to play the part: Downey Jr. It's hard to imagine anyone else taking on the role in such a successful way.
Leonardo DiCaprio Could Have Been A Webslinger
Long before the MCU was a thing, Leonardo DiCaprio was approached by both Marvel and DC to take on parts within their respective canons. DC wanted the actor to play Robin in its 1990s Batman film, Batman Forever — DiCaprio declined, saying the role didn't interest him. Marvel then tried to enlist the actor to be Spider-Man when it licensed the character out to Sony for its first trilogy series, but again, DiCraprio said no.
His reasoning for opting out of both parts? The actor didn't think the characters were "complex" enough.
Dougray Scott, Not Hugh Jackman, As Wolverine
Unless you've been living inside of a cave for the past two decades or so, you know that Hugh Jackman has personified the character of Wolverine within the X-Men films. Over the course of 17 years, Jackman played Wolverine in nine separate films. A few of those were cameo appearances, to be sure, but that's still an impressive number.
It almost never happened. Jackman was brought in to play the role because the studio's first choice, Dougray Scott, had to step away from the project when the first X-Men film was in production. An injury, while he was shooting Mission Impossible 2, would have delayed the filming of X-Men, so Fox chose to cast Jackman instead.
John Krasinski Could Have Wielded The Shield
John Krasinski, best known by many as Jim from The Office, began seeking film and directing roles in 2011. It happened to be around that same time that Marvel was trying to cast Captain America. Krasinski auditioned for the role, but lost out to Chris Evans.
Krasinski didn't have a lot of action roles under his belt at the time, so it's easy to see why they went with Evans, who had starred in The Fantastic Four years before, instead. But now, Krasinski is in shows such as Jack Ryan, which showcase his versatility within the genre. Fans are likely happy with the choice of Chris Evans as Cap, but Krasinski may have been a good choice after all, too.
Brie Larson Almost Turned Down Captain Marvel
Brie Larson almost said 'no' to becoming one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The actress, who typically takes on more serious and dramatic roles, had a big concern when it came to becoming Captain Marvel: she didn't want to become a comic book-movie celebrity, she told Entertainment Weekly in an interview with them.
She eventually agreed to take on the role, which won her critical acclaim and broke many box office records. Her character was introduced in-between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, with Captain Marvel making an appearance in the latter of those two films as well.
Amandla Stenberg Turned Down A Role Over Her Moral Beliefs
Amandla Stenberg, who fans may recall played Rue in The Hunger Games, is an up-and-coming actress who is sought after by many producers to be in their films. It's not surprising that Marvel wanted to cast her as Shuri in Black Panther, but the actress actually took a moral stand against doing so.
Stenberg turned down the role because she felt that the character of Shuri, an African princess, should go to a darker-skinned actress instead. It was a powerful, yet "challenging" decision, she explained, but she held true to her beliefs that there are "spaces that [she[ should not take up" as an actress that others should. Perhaps another role will come about that she'll be more inclined to say yes to!
Jessica Chastain Didn't Want A Small Part
Jessica Chastain was cast to be included in Iron Man 3, to play the part of super-genius Maya Hansen. She had to back out of the role, however, for scheduling reasons, but also later explained that she wanted a bigger part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Why do a superhero movie and play the boring civilian?" she remarked.
Later, Chastain was offered to play the part of the Wasp (aka Hope van Dyne) in the Ant-Man series of films. But for unknown reasons, she didn't get that part as well, losing out to Evangeline Lilly, who got the part instead.
Olivia Munn was slated to play the role of Vanessa Carlyle, Wade Wilson's love interest in the film Deadpool, a film about a Marvel fan-favorite assassin with a quick wit and dark humor. Munn would have been perfect with the role, but she turned it down, stating that she "had no desire to play someone's girlfriend in a movie."
It turned out alright for Munn, as she got cast in a separate X-Men movie, as the character Psylocke, one of Apocalypse's Four Horsemen. That being said, being cast as Vanessa likely would have landed her more speaking roles, even if she was just someone's girlfriend!
Josh Hartnett Said 'No' To Being Peter (And Clark, And Bruce...)
Josh Hartnett is no stranger to action roles. He's played big parts in Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor, both of those being war films in which his characters faced consequential violence. So you would he wouldd be all-for becoming the next Spider-Man, right?
That wasn't the case. In the early 2000s, Hartnett turned down the role of the webslinger almost as soon as it was offered to him. According to an interview he gave to Playboy magazine, Hartnett had some real concerns about becoming "pigeonholed" into the role of action star. Hartnett was consistent on the matter, however: he's also reportedly turned down becoming Superman or Batman in the past as well.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson Couldn't Train And Shoot A Film
Fox was looking for more mutants to join the X-Men roster, specifically for a movie looking at Wolverine's beginnings. One character they were looking to cast was that of John Wraith, a mutant who can teleport.
Fox offered the role to MMA fighter Quinton Jackson, who had also starred in the A-Team movie in 2010. He seemed like a good fit for the role, but Jackson had to turn it down — he was preparing for a big MMA fight when the offer was made for him, and couldn't put it on hold to take on the role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The part eventually went to will.i.am.