The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) kicked off in 2008 with the very first Iron Man movie. Since then, a whole cast of superheroes and villains played by some of Hollywood’s top-billed actors have been introduced into the franchise. Twenty films later, it all comes to a head with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, ending “Phase Three” of Marvel Studios’ planned projects. With “Phase Four” already in the works, some superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America are rumored to be retiring after Endgame. Though those Marvel contracts and more are up, there are just as many – like Scarlett Johansson’s and Paul Rudd’s – that will be giving us more of the good stuff! Warning: There are some spoilers!
Anthony Hopkins – Leaving
Anthony Hopkins portrays Odin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Odin serves as the Allfather, or “King” of Asgard, and he is also the father of Thor. Hopkins debuted in this role for 2011’s Thor and reprised it for Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
Hopkins will not be returning to any subsequent Marvel movies since his character Odin passes away in Thor: Ragnarok, leaving Thor and Loki to face Hela, Odin’s first-born, on their own. Based on that, Hopkins isn’t likely to return unless the producers at Marvel have any plot twists up their sleeves.
Cobie Smulders – Staying
Cobie Smulders debuted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in 2012’s The Avengers. At the time, Smulders was asked how many Marvel films she was contracted for. “Plus this one, seven more I think,” she replied.
Indeed, Smulders has made appearances in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Avengers: Infinity War. We can expect to see her in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, and possibly any other subsequent Marvel films that have yet to be announced.
Karen Gillan – Staying?
Karen Gillan portrays Nebula in the MCU, making her debut in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Raised alongside Gamora as one of Thanos’s adopted daughters, Nebula is tortured with an obsessive need to kill her father and best her sister at combat – both of which she can never do.
Gillan reprises the role in both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, and is expected to return for Avengers: Endgame. Gillan may or may not continue to play Nebula in Marvel movies, depending on the character’s fate in Endgame.
Benedict Cumberbatch – Staying
Benedict Cumberbatch originally passed up the role of Doctor Stephen Strange but reportedly ended up signing on for a six-movie contract with Marvel. Cumberbatch debuted in 2016’s Doctor Strange to introduce his character and subsequently crossed over into Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War.
Though he is one of the characters who turned to dust in the latter movie, he is already on the cast list for Avengers: Endgame, hinting that his character will somehow return. Considering production has also reportedly begun on Doctor Strange 2, Cumberbatch is obviously staying for a few more movies.
Idris Elba – Leaving
Idris Elba portrays Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Heimdall is the all-seeing and all-hearing gatekeeper of the Bifröst that connects Asgard to Earth. Elba debuted as Heimdall in the first Thor movie and reprised the role for both Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok.
He appears briefly in Avengers: Infinity War but is killed at the beginning of the movie. Based on that alone, it’s not likely that Elba will reprise the role for any subsequent Marvel movies unless the producers think of some convoluted way for Heimdall to return.
Mark Ruffalo – Staying
Mark Ruffalo has said outright that he signed a six-film deal with Marvel producers. The first of these films was The Avengers, in which Ruffalo portrays Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk. In addition to cameos in Iron Man 3 and Captain Marvel, Ruffalo has reprised the Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Infinity War.
Ruffalo is already slated to appear in Avengers: Endgame and since cameos don’t count in the number of films on an actor’s contract, we can expect to see Ruffalo as the Hulk in at least one additional film. Perhaps a standalone Hulk movie?
Gwyneth Paltrow – Leaving?
Gwyneth Paltrow portrays Virginia “Pepper” Potts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Paltrow debuted Pepper Potts from the very first film in the series, 2008’s Iron Man. Potts is Tony Stark’s love interest in the MCU but also serves as his secretary and personal aide.
Paltrow reprised the role in the second and third Iron Man movies but also appears in The Avengers, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Infinity War. Paltrow’s filmography lists her as a cast member in Avengers: Endgame as well, but her character’s subsequent fate remains up in the air.
Elizabeth Olsen – Staying
Elizabeth Olsen portrays Wanda Maximoff, otherwise known as Scarlet Witch. Her dramatic debut into the MCU is seen in a mid-credits scene from 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. From there, Olsen’s character joined the Avengers in Avengers: Age of Ultron and subsequently participates in Captain America: Civil War, as well as Avengers: Infinity War.
Though she is one of the characters to disappear at the end of Infinity War, Olsen is slated to return for Avengers: Endgame. Maximoff’s fate is unknown up until that point, although a limited TV series about the character is reportedly in the works.
Zoe Saldana – Leaving?
Zoe Saldana made her debut into the MCU as Gamora in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Gamora was adopted by Thanos while he destroyed half the population of her home planet, though she decides to rebel against him as an adult. Saldana reprised the role for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Avengers: Infinity War.
Though Gamora unexpectedly meets her demise at the end of the latter movie, Avengers: Endgame appears in Saldana’s filmography. How Gamora will reappear in the upcoming Avengers flick is yet to be revealed but it’s unlikely that Saldana is signed up for any more Marvel flicks after that.
Paul Rudd – Staying
Paul Rudd portrays convict-turned-superhero Paul Lang, otherwise known as Ant-Man. Rudd debuted in the MCU in 2015’s Ant-Man and has since reprised his role in Captain America: Civil War and Ant-Man and the Wasp.
The post-credits scene of the latter film sees Ant-Man’s fate on an incredible cliffhanger, as it aligns with the ending of Avengers: Infinity War. Because of this, Rudd is definitely going to be in Avengers: Endgame. Since he reportedly signed a “three-plus-plus” deal with Marvel, we’re likely to see Paul Rudd in more future Marvel movies.
Jeremy Renner – Leaving?
Jeremy Renner first appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a cameo in Thor as Clint Barton, also known as Hawkeye. Renner’s multi-movie contract was supposed to include a standalone Hawkeye film, though many believe that it has been scrapped.
Regardless, Hawkeye has played pivotal roles in The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War. Though he said he was going to appear in Infinity War, he apparently didn’t make the theatrical cut. Still, Renner is slated to reprise Hawkeye for Endgame, though it’s widely believed that it will be his final appearance in the series.
Evangeline Lilly – Staying?
Evangeline Lilly is a relative newcomer to the MCU, debuting as Hope van Dyne in 2015’s Ant-Man. Hope returns as the superhero the Wasp in the Ant-Man sequel but disappears into dust in a post-credits scene thanks to Thanos’s snap from Infinity Wars.
Though the Wasp’s fate is yet unknown, we do know that she will somehow reappear in Avengers: Endgame. Afterward, there’s no knowing for sure if Lilly will be reprising her role in any subsequent films and her filmography doesn’t give away any hints about it either. The actress has expressed interest in doing more Marvel movies, however.
Don Cheadle – Leaving?
Don Cheadle debuted in the MCU in Iron Man 2, replacing actor Terrence Howard for the role as Lt. Col. James Rhodes, also known as War Machine. Cheadle reprised the role for Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron. It seemed that War Machine was to meet his fate in Captain America: Civil War, but he miraculously survived and reappeared in Infinity War.
Aside from a mid-credits cameo in Captain Marvel and an expected return in Avengers: Endgame, the question of whether Cheadle will continue to portray War Machine remains unanswered.
Samuel L. Jackson – Leaving?
Samuel L. Jackson is a prominent figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The character first appeared in 2001 in the Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Marvel Section books and was actually designed in Jackson’s likeness in the first place.
Jackson signed a nine-picture deal with Marvel, appearing in Iron Man and its sequel, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, and Captain Marvel. Though Jackson will reprise the role for Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, most believe Jackson’s Marvel commitments are pretty much complete.
Chris Pratt – Leaving?
Chris Pratt portrays Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star-Lord debuts in Guardians of the Galaxy and becomes the leader of a rag-tag team of ex-convicts that come face-to-face with the Avengers in Avengers: Infinity War.
After the first Guardians film debuted, Pratt told GQ that he was contracted for “two more Guardians plus another couple.” The “couple” other films were likely Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame but while we’ve already seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the third film has been placed on hold indefinitely due to Disney’s firing of director James Gunn.
Scarlett Johansson – Staying
Scarlett Johansson first appeared as Natasha Romanova, more popularly known as Black Widow, in 2010’s Iron Man 2. In order to secure the role, Johansson went so far as to dye her hair red and undergo rigorous stunt training.
Reprising the role for The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Captain Marvel, we can expect to see her in Endgame as well. That’s not all for Black Widow either, who is rumored to have her own standalone film the works.
Robert Downey Jr. – Leaving
Robert Downey Jr. debuted as Iron Man in 2008 in what was Marvel Studios’ first film in the franchise. Downey Jr. has since become one of the main faces of the MCU and has since been featured in eight subsequent Marvel films. Though we will for sure see Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame, it’s likely that Downey Jr.’s contract is up after that.
There are no hard feelings between the actor and the studio, however. In 2017, Downey Jr. told the press, “I just want to hang up my jersey before it [gets] embarrassing.”
Tom Hiddleston – Staying
Tom Hiddleston portrays Loki in the MCU. Also known as the God of Mischief, Loki is Thor’s adopted brother and also his nemesis. Hiddleston debuted the role in the very first Thor movie from 2011 and is believed to have signed a six-film contract with Marvel.
Accordingly, Loki has been featured in The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, and Infinity War. Though Loki dies at the beginning of Infinity War, he’s expected to return somehow in Avengers: Endgame, which would mark Hiddleston’s sixth film obligation. That doesn’t mean he’s leaving, however, since a limited TV series centered around his character is in the works.
Chris Evans – Leaving
Chris Evans is a prominent face in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Steve Rogers, otherwise known as Captain America. A fan favorite among all the Avengers, Evans has portrayed Captain America in ten Marvel movies since 2011.
Though Avengers: Endgame will mark his eleventh film in the franchise, Evans has suggested that it will be the last time he will reprise his character. He apparently wants to focus more on directing, telling Good Morning America in 2018, “I don’t know what’s next, but by 2019, that’s it.”
Chris Hemsworth – Staying?
Australian actor Chris Hemsworth has made a killing in the role as Thor. Taking on the role for all three Thor movies, in addition to The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange, and Avengers: Infinity War, Hemsworth is also expected to bear his great strength for Avengers: Endgame.
Though that is the last film in the actor’s contract, Hemsworth has expressed interest in reprising the role of Thor for a fourth Thor film. Whether or not that is actually going to happen, it’s good to know that Hemsworth is willing to go beyond his standing contract with Marvel.
Matt Damon Was Supposed To Be Daredevil
Long before the 2003 superhero film was released starring Ben Affleck, his longtime buddy Matt Damon was the first choice for the role. Damon told New York Daily News that he’d always been a fan of the Marvel character, but that he didn’t know much about the director’s work, so he passed on the project.
Look, Daredevil as a whole was a huge failure. Affleck has stated on numerous occasions that he regretted taking the role, so maybe Damon passing on it wasn’t such a bad idea.
Marvel Keeps Trying To Cast Joaquin Phoenix
Apparently, Marvel tried many times to get their hands on actor Joaquin Phoenix, but he kept sliding out of their grasp. The producers first wanted Phoenix to play The Hulk/Bruce Banner, but as we all know, the part when to Mark Ruffalo instead. Marvel then tried to cast Phoenix as Dr. Stephen Strange, but once again he turned it down.
When asked why he avoided the Marvel universe for so long, Phoenix said the films “never felt like they’d really be fulfilling.”
Jason Momoa Originally Had A Different Character
Now we know Jason Momoa as the hunky Aquaman from the DC Universe. Years before he landed the aquatic role, he was invited by Marvel to play Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy. While the role was tempting, Momoa turned it down because he said the role was too much like other ones he’d played.
DC eventually decided to snatch him up for the role of Aquaman. Momoa later commented that it was ironic because once again he was playing a role where he doesn’t wear a shirt or have many lines. Hey, we’ll still take it.
Rachel McAdams Was The Original Pepper Pots
Not too long ago, Gwyneth Paltrow announced that after 13 years she was retiring from the role of Pepper Pots. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Tony Stark’s secretary and love interest, but Paltrow wasn’t even the first choice. Rachel McAdams of The Notebook was the top choice by Marvel.
McAdams eventually had to decline because of scheduling conflicts at the time. Luckily, she got her second chance at being part of the MCU when she landed her role in Doctor Strange.
Bryan Cranston Was Supposed To Be An X-Men Mutant
The role of mutant Sebastian Shaw was initially offered to fan favorite Bryan Cranston. Cranston was riding high off the success of Breaking Bad and seemed like the perfect person to play the mutant in X-Men: First Class.
Unfortunately, Cranston turned the role down and instead chose to star opposite Ryan Gosling in Drive. There’s no hard feeling though because we got to see the incredible Kevin Bacon take on the role instead.
There’s A New, Smaller Star-Lord In Town
We can’t imagine anyone but Chris Pratt playing the goofy character of Peter Quill AKA Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, but what about Joseph Gordon Levitt? Yep, Levitt was the first choice by producers, but due to conflicting schedules with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Levitt turned down the role.
The Marvel producers then offered the part to Pratt who interestingly enough also turned it down. Pratt thought he was too out of shape for the MCU, but luckily, he changed his mind and hit the gym.
Emily Blunt Said “Yes” To Playing Black Widow
Back in 2009, British actress Emily Blunt was a star on the rise. Her profile was growing so big that Marvel actually reached out to her personally to offer her the role of Black Widow and she accepted immediately! The only problem was, Blunt was already on contract for the film Gulliver’s Travels.
The conflicting contracts and time frame meant Blunt had to call Marvel back and turn down the role. They opened up the role to auditions and found Scarlett Johansson to be the perfect fit.
Matthew McConaughey Was Not Alright, Alright, Alright With The MCU
Both Marvel and DC have been trying to get their hands on Matthew McConaughey for years. The closest they ever got to casting the memorable actor was when he was supposed to play Ego the Living Planet in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Not only did McConaughey turn the part down, but he had some not-so-nice words. The actor said he felt the part was “an amendment” just because Marvel wanted to add a big name to the cast. Yikes.
Mel Gibson Was Supposed To Be Odin
When Marvel introduced the character of Odin in Thor, they wanted to cast a big name with an intimidating presence. With those guidelines, Mel Gibson was initially the top pick to play the King of Asgard. In an interview with The Guardian, Gibson simply explained he "didn’t do it." No rhyme or reason why.
The role ended up going to Anthony Hopkins, who might not seem as intimidating, but definitely did a great job as the character.
Gamora Was Originally Set Aside For Olivia Wilde
Casting the character of Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t easy and it took a few tries for Marvel. When it came to finding the perfect person to play a deadly alien assassin, Olivia Wilde was the first choice. With her talent and good looks, she would have been a shoo-in, but unfortunately, scheduling conflicts forced her to decline.
It appears that Marvel had a really tough time casting for Guardians of the Galaxy but it seems to have worked out alright in the end.
Tom Cruise Was Our Original Iron Man
Yep, you read that right. Tom Cruise was the original actor slated to play the one and only Tony Stark. He was all signed up and ready to go, but eventually backed out because Marvel took too long to get the rights for the character and Cruise "lost interest."
When they did finally gain the rights back in 2005, Marvel turned to Robert Downey Jr. who audiences know was the perfect actor for the part.
Leonardo DiCaprio Turned Down Multiple Superhero Roles
During an interview with ShortList, DiCaprio said that he’s been on the radar of both DC and Marvel to play superheroes. DC tried to get him to play Robin in Batman Forever but DiCaprio said he wasn’t interested. Years later Marvel tried to take a swing at him and cast the actor as Peter Parker in the original Spider-Man trilogy. Again, he declined.
When he was asked why later on, DiCaprio said he felt that at the time, they weren’t “complex characters.”
Wolverine Couldn’t Wait Around For Dougray Scott
One of the most long-lasting and iconic characters in the MCU is Wolverine, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but Hugh Jackman as the character. While Jackman is now a fan-favorite, he was a last minute recast when Dougray Scott had to quickly back out of filming.
Scott was simultaneously shooting Mission Impossible 2. He’d been in a bad motorcycle accident which stalled shooting for MI2. Marvel got tired of waiting for Scott to heal and just a few days before filming began, offered the role to Jackman.
John Krasinski Auditioned For Captain America
It’s easy to believe now that we’ve seen John Krasinski take on action roles, but back in 2011, he was still Jim from The Office. 2011 was the year that Krasinski began stepping into film roles and directing, and one of his first auditions was for Captain America.
He didn’t end up getting the part but he says he doesn’t regret it. Krasinski told Yahoo Entertainment that if he had to sign on for multiple Marvel films, he would have missed out on other great projects.
Brie Larson Didn’t Want To Become A Marvel Celebrity
Brie Larson has made a name for herself in Hollywood as a serious actress who takes on serious roles. While she’s received a ton of critical acclaim, she keeps a relatively low celebrity profile. That’s why she initially rejected the offer to play Captain Marvel. Larson told Entertainment Weekly that she didn’t want the celebrity that ultimately comes from playing an MCU role.
Considering the fact that Captain Marvel was recently released and broke box office records, it was a good idea that Larson eventually took the role.
Amandla Stenberg Couldn’t Accept A Role In Black Panther On Moral Grounds
The up and coming actress could land basically any role she wanted. In 2018 alone, Amandla Stenberg was the lead in three blockbuster films. That’s why it wasn’t surprising when she was offered the role of Shuri in Black Panther.
She ended up turning down the role though because the felt an African princess should be played by a darker-skinned actress. She admitted it was “challenging to make that decision” but that there are “spaces that [she[ should not take up.” Bravo, Amandla!
Jessica Chastain Just Didn’t Want To Play A Civilian
Most actors would beg to be cast as any part in the MCU, but actress Jessica Chastain decided to be a bit pickier. Marvel reached out to the fiery redhead and offered her the part of genius Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3. There were scheduling issues that forced her to say no, but Chastain also said, "why do a superhero movie and play the boring civilian?"
She got a second chance and was offered the role of the Wasp in Ant-Man, but for unknown reasons, she also lost out on the part.
Olivia Munn Wanted A Bigger Role In Deadpool
Deadpool was one of the most anticipated Marvel Universe films in recent memory and Olivia Munn was originally touted as playing Ryan Reynold’s girlfriend, Vanessa Carlysle. Munn has the looks and the comedic timing so she would have been perfect for the role.
None of that mattered because the actress turned down the role because she "had no desire to play someone’s girlfriend in a movie." Who knows if her opinion would be different if she’d known Carlysle would turn into Copycat.
Josh Hartnett Was Too Nervous To Play Spider-Man
Josh Hartnett became famous for his roles in action films like Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down, so you’d think he’d feel totally comfortable taking on a superhero action role. Apparently not. In the early 2000s, Hartnett was offered the role of Spider-Man but turned it down immediately.
He later told Playboy Magazine that he was nervous about being "pigeonholed" as an actor. That wasn’t the only superhero role he turned down. Apparently, he also said no to playing both Superman and Batman in the DC Universe.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson Couldn’t Train And Shoot A Film
Quinton Jackson is one of the biggest stars in the MMA world. He was fighting long before Connor McGregor and Ronda Rousey hit the scene. In 2010, Jackson moved out of MMA and into Hollywood when he was cast in The A-Team.
One year later, Jackson was offered the part of John Wraith in the MCU film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Unfortunately, he was preparing for his next MMA fight when he was offered the role and couldn’t train and shoot a film at the same time.