We’re now more than 30 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means there are dozens of heroes and villains to choose from when it comes to ranking the best Marvel characters. The task is now very difficult indeed. We were spoiled for choice, which means your favorite might not even make the list.
But we love the Marvel Cinematic Universe just as much as you do and we’re all looking ahead to the upcoming Marvel movies we have ahead of us. We’ve been right back through the Marvel movies in order to put this list together, and we’re confident that we’ve got all of the main faces from the best movies in the multiverse. Let’s see if you agree.
Even before he had magical portal-making powers, we were completely in love with Ned. Peter Parker’s “guy in the chair” is everything you could want in a friend. He’s loyal and dependable in every way, but he’s also willing to tell you when you’re being utterly crazy. Sometimes that’s what we need.
Ned made his first Marvel appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming and has since been a fixture of the Spidey movies within the MCU. Jacob Batalon and Tom Holland have tremendous chemistry together and they’re among the most believable sets of buddies in the Marvel world.
Across the three Spidey adventures we’ve seen so far, Ned has been a consistent highlight, and we can’t wait to see what Ned does with his newfound magical abilities in the future. Sure, we know he’s technically forgotten everything about Peter, but we don’t expect that to last for very long.
There aren’t many actors in the MCU having as much fun as Pom Klementieff. She brought real deadpan comedy flair to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as Ego the Living Planet’s empath companion and subsequently became one of the funniest and most lovable characters in the entire universe.
We completely understand why she was given essentially one of the lead roles in the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special – she and Drax are just dynamite together. They’re two of the strangest characters in the Marvel world and they just mesh perfectly, whether they’re arguing like a married couple or melting our heartstrings with their tears.
Of course, the third Guardians movie gave us a fitting farewell to that entire cast. But it would be a shame if we never got more weirdness from Mantis. We need to make it happen, though we’re not sure anyone but James Gunn could quite nail it.
28. Carol Danvers
We know that certain corners of the internet can’t stand Brie Larson, but we think they’re talking absolute nonsense. Carol Danvers has been a terrific addition to the MCU and, as we wrote in our The Marvels review, she now has a team of buddies we love just as much.
Captain Marvel is definitely right up there with the most powerful members of the Avengers, boasting cosmic abilities beyond those of the more earthbound heroes. But she’s also a likable character with a complex backstory involving both Monica and Maria Rambeau.
There’s a sense with Carol that we’re still waiting for her definitive Marvel outing. We’re very confident that we’ll get it eventually, giving Larson her chance to shine as bright as we know she can.
Okoye is the MCU’s ultimate warrior. As the fearless leader of Wakanda‘s efficient and badass Dora Milaje army, she’s among the most accomplished fighters in the world. We wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her when she’s wielding a spear, or any weapon really.
But it’s not just Okoye’s fighting abilities that make her fascinating. She has found herself at the center of some enormous moral quandaries, pitting her loyalty to King T’Challa against her love for her husband W’Kabi in the first Black Panther.
As for the future, Okoye has now been gifted the Midnight Angel armor. She didn’t need to be any more of a formidable badass, but you just can’t stop Okoye getting better and better.
The God of Thunder is one of the original Avengers and probably deserves a spot on this list based on that alone. However, the genius of Chris Hemsworth’s performance at the head of the Thor cast is in the way he and the directors he has worked with have changed the character over the course of a decade.
In his early movies, Thor was exactly the quasi-Shakespearean classic vision of a flamboyant deity. But over time, he became more accustomed to the modern world. By the time Taika Waititi got hold of the character in Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel learned to embrace the fact that Thor is capable of being completely hilarious.
Hemsworth has shown himself to be a complete chameleon during his MCU tenure and we wouldn’t be surprised to see something completely different when the Thor 5 release date comes around. When people talk about actors being “trapped” within the MCU, they’re ignoring people like Hemsworth who have shown just how much freedom to evolve there can be within this comic book world.
25. Erik Killmonger
There aren’t many stand-alone Marvel villains on this list for the simple reason that few of them have ever made a big impact. The opposite is true of Michael B. Jordan’s swaggering bad guy in Black Panther. Erik Killmonger is arguably the greatest single-movie villain in the entire franchise.
Killmonger storms into the film with intense physicality, besting T’Challa in physical combat and subsequently preparing to overthrow world governments with Wakanda’s weapons and technology. But he’s set apart from other villains because his arguments aren’t completely wrong.
He’s right that there are marginalized Black people all over the world who could benefit from Wakanda’s wealth. In fact, T’Challa ultimately does many of the things Killmonger wanted to do, albeit with diplomacy rather than bloodshed. Unlike many disposable Marvel bad guys, Killmonger has a real influence on his adversary’s future.
Dave Bautista is the best wrestler turned actor and a huge amount of the reason behind that comes down to Drax. It’s telling that in a group of characters that includes a talking tree and a raccoon with a love for heavy weaponry, Drax is the strangest of the bunch.
Bautista’s gift for comedy is delightfully at odds with his immense physicality, making for an unpredictable character in just about every way. There aren’t many Marvel actors who look like they’re having as good a time as Bautista is, even under all of that body paint and prosthetics.
But what caught us off-guard in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is how emotional Drax’s story became. We’d laughed with Drax for years and loved watching him blunder into action scenes with violent joy, but we never expected to cry with him. Farewell to the Destroyer. it’s been a hell of a ride.
23. Kamala Khan
While everyone was talking about superhero fatigue and wondering if the MCU might have to wind down before Marvel Phase 6 even completes its story, Kamala Khan sneaked in the back door and gave the entire franchise a shot of adrenaline. In her own Marvel series and during her return in The Marvels, she brought more joy than the rest of the cast combined.
It helps that actor Iman Vellani is a Marvel superfan and brings that affection and enthusiasm right into the heart of the character. Her charisma is infectious and, more than any other recently introduced superhero, you just want her to win.
By the end of The Marvels, it very much looks like Kamala has started to put together the Young Avengers. Frankly, we can’t wait. Anything that gets Vellani on our screens as much as possible is a real cause for celebration.
Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) is one of the most impactful heroes on our list. Not only is this blind hero just plain cool, but he also helped kickstart the trend of amazing Marvel series that we all enjoy today, thanks to the brilliant Netflix series Daredevil.
While growing up in New York City, a chemical accident leaves Matt with some special powers. The incident blinds him, but he now has radar sense and uses his abilities to fight crime as a masked vigilante by night. So, silver linings?
Daredevil is constantly willing to risk everything for what he believes is right, and watching him juggle his double life as a crime fighter and successful lawyer is always a treat. Personally, we can’t wait to see the hero on our small screens again once the Daredevil season 4 release date heads our way!
21. Bucky Barnes
Most good stories and character arcs are, unfortunately, packed with trauma and tragedy, and Bucky Barnes has both of these in spades. James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes started off as a good guy, a childhood friend to Steve Rogers, and a soldier for his country during World War II. However, after being brainwashed and turned into a killing machine, he had to go on a long journey to reclaim his memories and find himself once again.
Over the years, we’ve seen Bucky undergo a complete transformation like few others. He went from assassin baddie to fighting against Thanos to a man trying to heal with therapy mentally. Bucky’s story is still hands-down one of the most detailed we’ve seen in the MCU so far.
Shuri (Letitia Wright) had massive shoes to fill in Black Panther 2, but lived up to all expectations, becoming a Black Panther in her own right. She was allowed to struggle with grief and stumble instead of just succeeding out of the gate, which made her arc feel grounded in emotional reality.
It was a hard left from the light, comedic Shuri we met in the first film, but ultimately, she’s a character who strikes us as real and rooted in the world around her.
We’re excited to continue to see her evolve into the role she has found herself in, and ultimately, the added shades to her personality have worked in her favor.
19. Pepper Potts
Pepper Potts isn’t a superhero, technically… but she may as well be; there’s no one else in the world who can make Tony palatable quite like she can. But beyond that, she never allowed him to overshadow her, was steadfast in her own skills and intellect, and ultimately came in clutch in emergencies.
Gwyneth Paltrow is Pepper, so she has that going for immediately out of the gate. There’s something about Paltrow’s airy, ‘I don’t care about this beyond the material in front of my eyes right now’ attitude that was splendid for a universe often bogged down by everything tangential to it. She simply turned up and did a great job, and Pepper, as a result, feels like she exists in her own space as a character. Incredibly likable and too often undermined (mistake, every time), she served her purpose with gusto.
If you need a reminder of what we’re missing, the best Pepper movies, in our humble opinion, are Iron Man 2, 3, and The Avengers.
18. Kate Bishop
The better Hawkeye! Just kidding, but we love Kate Bishop (so much that the person writing this dressed up as her for Halloween, unfortunately). A difficult ask to get right on screen — her bubbly personality yet slightly depressed vibes from the best comic runs are a balancing act — Hailee Steinfeld did everything right.
Against the backdrop of jaded older heroes, Kate is willing to admit that being one has some fun benefits. Sure, her family went down the cold, rat-infested drains of New York City at Christmas time, but Kate is a go-getter; she wants to keep moving, transforming the bad into good.
A breath of fresh air and frequently funny in her awkward way, the idea of her on a younger-skewing team with the likes of Yelena and Kamala sounds so enticing that we’re starting to resent Thunderbolts for being greenlit instead.
17. Jessica Jones
If characters like Matt Murdock and Kingpin from Netflix’s Marvel series are in the MCU, so is Jess! And honestly, we would do just about anything to convince Kevin Feige (who is reportedly a big fan) to get her back on screen.
Among the sometimes lacking — sometimes non-existent — character work in MCU projects, Netflix’s Jessica Jones series was a sequestered, unique, and character-first drama that immediately won us over. It had its highs and lows, but at top form, the sober (yes, that is a funny word to use in the context of Jessica Jones) approach to ‘gifts’ and the baggage that comes with them created a memorable show that felt far removed from the checklists of MCU filmmaking.
From Krysten Ritter’s pitch-perfect version of Jess inspired by the grungy Alias comics to Rachael Taylor’s supporting work as the lovable Trish Walker, Jess burrowed into our hearts. The show understood that developed interiority is punchier than world-ending stakes, and as a result, she’s one of the few characters actually missed.
I’m sorry, but if you didn’t put cutlery between your fingers and pretend to be a mutant as a kid, are you even a superhero fan? Wolverine is downright iconic and is one of the main driving forces behind the popularity of the X-Men franchise.
He is a moody, metal-infused, loveable hero who is just plain cool – even when he is wearing a brightly colored yellow onesie. What truly made this character stand out, though, was Hugh Jackman’s portrayal in the X-Men movies; seeing Wolverine in real life was a massive treat. And who can forget how Jackman also gave us one of the best action movies of all time – Logan. Honestly, we can’t wait to see Wolverine again once Deadpool 3 hits cinemas in May 2024.
Nebula’s character development over the years has been incredible, and in GOTG 3 she finally broke the cycle of abuse. The dynamic between her and Gamora explored in GOTG 2 brought her to life, and in Endgame, we saw a different side to her. She fit in with the Avengers, which we don’t think many fans saw coming.
With untapped potential still left, we’re excited to see where Nebula goes next now that she can carve out her own identity away from her troubled family dynamics. Although, we’ll definitely miss the ongoing evolution with Gamora.
Gamora may not be as fully developed in the MCU as she is in the comics, but Zoë Saldaña’s turn as the deadliest woman in the galaxy still played our heartstrings beautifully, particularly with her sister, Nebula.
Gamora, especially in Vol. 3, is rough around the edges in a charming way. She kicks ass in action scenes and provides a different flavor to the Guardians. And let’s not even get into her performance in Infinity War… the part she played in that chapter of the MCU is unforgettable. While we do wish Gunn had done more with her (The Russos seemed to jump at the chance to feature her more heavily), we think her story ended in a decisive and authentic way.
13. Nick Fury
Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury was one of the first big ‘gets’ for the MCU, and it’s easy to see why. He started in the Iron Man cast, but it was later in the likes of The Winter Soldier, The Avengers, and Secret Invasion, where it was made clear just what Jackson brings to the table.
He’s one of the longest-serving MCU characters, so put some respect on his name (even if Secret Invasion should have been an Avengers movie). While that series may have been one of the worst from Disney Plus, Nick himself is still an intriguing character.
12. Rocket Raccoon
Star-Who? Of all the characters in the Guardians of the Galaxy cast line-up, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is easily the best. Come on, he’s an anthropomorphic Raccoon, and he has more weapons than you can shake a Groot at — what’s not to love?
His backstory is something of a mystery in the MCU. All we know is that he was experimented on over and over again before winding up like this. So that’s why he’s the spiky, cynical member of the gang, but that also makes him one of the most entertaining.
Some credit has to be given to Groot because they’re a bit of a double act — but some of Rocket’s lines are instant classics. “Does anybody have any tape out there? I wanna put some tape over the death button.”
Nice. Don’t even get us started on his obsession with prosthetic limbs… Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 also proved that Rocket is a scene stealer (just read our Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 review for more), and his place on this list is unquestionable.
11. Doctor Strange
Although Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) only joined the MCU at the end of 2016, he quickly wound up in a pivotal place at the center of the Multiverse (of Madness). It’s easy to see why Cumberbatch’s snarky hero ushers in the weirder side of the universe in the best way possible, thanks to things like the Mirror Dimension and the Dark Dimension.
He’s the conduit for Marvel to prove that it doesn’t just make comic book movies but genre-inspired adventures. He’s instrumental in saving the universe, too — remember, he looked into 14 million different timelines to see the one version of Infinity War where the Avengers beat Thanos.
Without that information, Tony Stark wouldn’t have been able to make his sacrifice play with the Nano Gauntlet. And after his scary trip through alternate universes in Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, anything is possible for the Master of the Mystic Arts.
10. Black Widow
While there have been ups and downs in her portrayal (we shudder at some of the stuff in Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron) Scarlett Johansson’s steely ex-assassin earned a soft spot in our hearts after she continuously proved herself to be one of the most reasonable yet selfless and compassionate Avengers.
She’s also extremely capable, able to fight alongside souped-up figures with nothing other than her trained abilities. In the solo Black Widow movie, we got a final farewell and insight into her interiority after her sacrifice in Endgame (which sent us off our own cliff). The new slant on her — an older sister — was becoming and made the loss hurt even more.
Ultimately, the character’s legacy lives on through Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova. But we won’t lie; we miss Natasha’s quiet bolstering in the MCU. Comic recommendation? Nathan Edmonson’s icy Black Widow run is fantastic.
Marvel fans everywhere rejoiced back in 2016 when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) was finally introduced into the MCU thanks to a ground-breaking deal between Sony and Disney so that he could appear next to the Avengers.
Since then, the web-slinger’s adventures have taken him to new heights and redefined how an entire generation sees the hero. It’s hard not to compare Holland to his predecessors, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, but what’s impressive is that he manages to balance a fine line between his fellow Wallcrawlers.
Not only does he perfectly capture Spidey’s witty one-liners and light-hearted approach to crime-fighting, but Holland also really leans into Peter Parker’s lovable awkwardness.
There’s something wholesome about the way Holland conveys the struggle to keep up the eternal balancing act between his normal life and his superhero career. Sure, Spidey does get a little too close to being Iron Man Jr. at times, but it’s hard to deny that his adventures are some of the best in the MCU.
8. Black Panther
When it comes to iconic heroes, we have to talk about the King of Wakanda: Black Panther. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) first shows up in Captain America: Civil War, where he’s desperate to find justice for his father’s death at the hands of Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl).
It’s a fascinating place to start his story since he’s not a king at that point — and we watch him grow from lusting for revenge to ensuring he does the right thing in choosing to save Zemo from himself.
Boseman’s regal performance throughout the MCU inspires hope and righteousness thanks to his commanding but compassionate presence. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is nothing short of a rich adventure with a truly talented cast led by Boseman.
The star’s death was devastating for fans around the world, and it’s incredibly sad we’ll never get to see him reprise the role again or see what else his career had in store for us.
Of course, Mad Titan earns his spot on the list, mainly because his whole plot to kill half the universe to stave off the chaos is just about as ambitious as Kevin Feige’s plan for the MCU itself.
When the big purple baddie first shows up in The Avengers’ post-credits scene, general audiences have no idea who he is but fast-forward to 2022, and even our uninterested moms know about Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.
The way Marvel built up the importance of the Infinity Stones over the years only made fans more desperate to see Thanos get his hands on them. And it is weirdly satisfying watching him go around the cosmos collecting them in Avengers Infinity War.
But there’s a depth to his crusade, which is only made understandable and potentially reasonable due to Josh Brolin’s incredible performance. Nobody would care if he was just a generic snarling CGI bad guy, but Brolin gives Thanos moments of quiet that actually make the audience connect with him a little more. We’ll never have another Marvel villain like him, that’s for sure.
6. Captain America
Of course, we have to talk about the First Avenger. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the most idealized version of a hero that fans could ask for while also being incredibly lovable at the same time.
The reason Cap is great in the first place is the same one that persuaded Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) to choose Steve for the Supersoldier Program back in World War II. He’s a good man with an honest heart — and he doesn’t lose his humility when he suddenly has the chiseled abs to rival an Asgardian god.
All Steve wants to do is to protect those in need from anyone who might do them harm, and he doesn’t have a problem throwing himself on the grenade to do so. Even when all hope is lost in the finale of Avengers: Endgame, he still gets up and faces down the full might of Thanos and his army.
Sure, Alan Silvestri’s spine-tingling score kicks in, and Cap gets reinforcements, but he had every intention of running in alone. That’s who Steve Rogers is.
Storm has one of the coolest and most impressive powers in the X-Men gang. With her ability to control the weather and atmosphere, she is one of the most powerful beings in the known Marvel Universe. Like seriously, we don’t talk about that fact enough.
While we are still waiting for Marvel to drop a proper spotlight on Storm’s backstory for a series and film, comic lovers already know how captivating she is. Not only does she have a tragic backstory that puts DC’s Batman to shame, but Storm was also the first major female character of African descent in American comics.
She is a vital figure for women in the genre as a whole, and with an origin story involving the war and an iconic romance with Black Panther, she deserves all our respect and her firm place on our list.
Next up is the God of Mischief, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). When he first showed up in 2011, the Asgardian was just a predictable villain who wanted a sneaky power grab to take Odin’s crown. But since then, he’s grown into something greater, and he even had his eyes on world domination thanks to his partnership with Thanos in The Avengers.
His unpredictable, backstabbing nature makes him incredibly fun to watch alongside his stoic brother — especially when they turn into frenemies in Thor: Ragnarok.
But let’s face it; Loki is really where he has flourished. The Michael Waldron-created Disney Plus show deconstructs the Asgardian to look at why he’s the God of Mischief before he evolves into actively trying to save the fabric of reality itself.
Much of his personal growth comes from finally finding love with his variant, Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). Yes, it is a bit weird if you think about it too long, but it’s also incredibly sweet. Hopefully, that continues after the Loki season 2 release date.
3. Iron Man
Of course, we couldn’t get into the top three without including old Shellhead Iron Man. Yes, he’s the man who kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe way back in 2008, and he’s soared to infinitely greater heights ever since.
The Jon Favreau movie was the comeback story for Robert Downey Jr., and he masterfully brought Tony Stark to life in a way that was nearly indistinguishable from his own personality. His performance gives the impression that the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang star has a whale of a time playing in the Marvel sandbox, and he looks undeniably cool doing it.
Thankfully, Marvel quickly realized they needed to do more with Tony other than having him as an ultra-cool hero, and the much-overlooked Iron Man 3 dives into his PTSD and looks at what makes him tick post-Avengers.
Although he started as the man who wouldn’t make the sacrifice play, he grows into the man who stops and saves the universe at the expense of his own life. That’s a hell of a character arc, and killing him off actually gives the Endgame some weight. Although that’ll probably be undone when Marvel dumps a load of cash at Downey Jr.’s house for Avengers: Secret Wars…
2. Scarlet Witch
Yes, Scarlet Witch deserves such a high spot on this list. Why? Well, because of her incredibly complex evolution throughout the MCU, that’s why. She’s gone from villain to hero to villain again in a stunning deconstruction of love, loss, and grief.
Yes, there are plenty of Marvel character arcs that change heroes into villains and vice versa, but none have been done quite as well as Scarlet Witch. Plus, the mystery behind her powers fuelled her arc as we slowly learned how she became so powerful in the first place — thanks to some Hydra experiments on Loki’s scepter.
But the one-two punch of WandaVision and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hammered home how much trauma Wanda’s gone through over the years — and Elizabeth Olsen’s heartbreaking performance in the former is nothing short of stunning. While her villainous turn in the latter is incredibly fun to watch, Raimi really puts the Witch in Scarlet Witch.
Wanda Maximoff is undeniably the strongest Avenger, and that’s why she’s earned her high spot.
1. Stan Lee
Stan Lee is the best Marvel character. Sorry. Yes, OK, his cameos started out as a lovable homage to the fact that he had a hand in creating many of these costumed crusaders, but Kevin Feige managed to find a way of weaving his appearances into the actual tapestry of the franchise.
In one of the post-credits scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Stan Lee is seen talking to a group of Watchers, explaining all the things he’s seen over the years.
It’s a great moment that confirms the true purpose of the cameos, noting that Lee has been a part of something bigger in the cosmos. It’s a touching parallel to how much the creator has given to the world through his creations.
Obviously, he didn’t create every single Marvel character, but it’s genuinely lovely that Marvel Studios wanted to honor Stan Lee in such a way.
If you love all things Marvel, then check out our guide on the best superhero movies of all time and our thoughts on why we still don’t know if Doctor Strange 2 was bad. Or perhaps you want to know more about the Black Panther 3 release date?
Still not satisfied? Well, we’ve also got a deep dive into how to watch all the Iron Man movies in order. Finally, you should check out our exhaustive articles explaining Marvel Phase 5, the Blade release date, and Marvel’s Echo release date.