15 Most Beloved Marvel Actors and Actresses
A couple of weeks ago, I asked a question. Who are the greatest living Disney celebrities? At the time, a friend posed a question to me. How would the results vary if I focused on one part of the Disney movie empire like, say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)? Here are my picks as the 15 most beloved Disney celebrities from the MCU.
Establishing the Rules
I won’t lie. I agonized over these rankings. Some of the most famous actors of our era have performed in Marvel movies over the past dozen years. How should I address Tommy Lee Jones, who appeared briefly in Captain America: The First Avenger? He only claims a few minutes of screen time, but he’s a four-time Academy Award nominee and one-time winner.
Similarly, how much weight should I give to someone for their importance in the MCU? I think Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans would both acknowledge that they’re less accomplished actors than, say, Sam Rockwell, who appears in Iron Man 2. Which of the three deserves a spot?
This task is so difficult that I had to exclude Paul Bettany, Cate Blanchett, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper, Peter Dinklage, Michael Douglas, Idris Elba, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Holland, Rachel McAdams, Lupita Nyong’o, Elizabeth Olsen, Kurt Russell, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgård, Tilda Swinton, and Tessa Thompson.
This seems like a good time to mention Don Cheadle’s one of my favorite actors ever. And Holland has become the face of the MCU in the wake of Avengers: Endgame. Also, Russell earned a spot on my most famous living Disney celebrities list. So, picking 15 for the best of Marvel was tough, y’all.
In evaluating the greatest living Marvel celebrities, I settled on an Occam’s razor approach. The names on this list are mostly the same ones who have starred or co-starred in many blockbuster movies. I did adjust somewhat to find a place for a couple of living legends, though.
Boseman’s placement here is simple. No MCU movie set the world on fire the way that Black Panther did. Worldwide audiences loved the character and the mystical land of Wakanda so much that Black Panther skewed Disney’s quarterly earnings reports a couple of times.
Not coincidentally, both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame ended with Wakandan fighters thwarting Thanos. Speaking of which…
The venerable James Brolin has enjoyed such a remarkable career that nobody allowed for the possibility that his son might usurp him. Josh Brolin somehow managed this feat, though. His unforgettable work in films like No Country for Old Men, True Grit, and Milk has made him a star.
However, in the MCU, Brolin is now and forever shall be the face of true evil, even though it’s not his face a lot of the time. Brolin’s portrayal of Thanos snapped movie-goers out of their belief that the universe is a kind and loving place.
Robert Downey, Jr.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, RDJ as an acronym was synonymous with self-destruction. Downey Jr. battled addiction even as he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He was 27 at the time and would receive a Golden Globe in 2001 for his work on Ally McBeal. Soon afterward, he was fired from the show.
After gaining his sobriety, RDJ scratched and crawled his way back into the spotlight. He received acclaim in lesser-known but exceptional movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Good Night, and Good Luck.
Then, Jon Favreau took a chance on his friend and cast the actor as Tony Stark in Iron Man. It’s a $22.5 billion success story. The question has changed from, “Why RDJ?” to “How can the MCU survive without RDJ?”
A couple of the people on this list qualify more as celebrities than as actors. I’ve loved Chris Evans going back to his first three comic book movies – Fantastic Four, Push, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – but the next major acting award nomination he receives will be the first. Don’t get me wrong. It’s coming, though. He’s gifted, and everyone loves him.
More importantly, Captain America has become the moral fiber of the MCU. Evans has portrayed Steve Rogers as earnestly as possible, and his face (along with his posterior in Avengers: Endgame) has anchored several Marvel marketing campaigns. His throwback good looks make him the ideal displaced World War II-era American.
Sure, everyone loves Evans’ face, but Hemsworth’s abs and, later, his beard have popularized Thor. The Australian actor’s eight-pack adds some levity to the first film. Then, his unlikely gut similarly entertained in Avengers: Endgame.
Hemsworth is so affable that Thor somehow flip-flops between a lovable buffoon and a terrifying lightning warrior. Like Evans, his acting achievements outside of the MCU are minor, but he’s one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world.
The opposite is true of Sir Anthony Hopkins. The master thespian has gained five different Academy Awards nominations for his acting, winning once for his iconic turn as Hannibal Lecter.
In the MCU, Hopkins has appeared three times as one of the most powerful beings in all creation. He’s Odin, the King of Asgard and father to Thor. Hopkins added a degree of credibility to the franchise that it sorely needed.
Samuel L. Jackson
As Nick Fury, Jackson’s responsible for the entire MCU. He invented the Avengers Initiative, after all. As crucial as Jackson is to the franchise, he’s also gained a remarkable title due to it. The actor’s the all-time best box office star with nearly $17 billion to date. Oh, and he’s also a frequent collaborator with Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino, too. Jackson’s career is the stuff of myth and legend.
Johansson just capped Phase Three of the MCU by saving the day. She’ll also trigger Phase Four with her lead role in Black Widow. In between those two feats, all the actress did was gain two different Academy Awards nominations for acting…in the same year.
As far as Hollywood career years go, it’s hard to top “biggest box office blockbuster ever and two Oscar nominations to boot.”
Speaking of Academy Awards, Brie Larson won her first award in 2015. She was only 25 at the moment when she reached the pinnacle of the industry. Since then, Larson’s gone on to star in Captain Marvel, a movie set in 1995.
This fact is hysterical because the actress was six that year. Ignoring that fact, Larson dazzled in the role and later triumphantly returned to destroy an intergalactic starcruiser in Avengers: Endgame. Currently, she’s the most powerful being in the MCU.
Like RDJ, Paltrow has been in the MCU since the beginning, even before Disney owned Marvel. She’s co-starred as Pepper Potts in several MCU titles to date, leveling up in Iron Man 3 and providing the emotional center for the final moments of Avengers: Endgame.
Oh, by the way, she’s also a Tony away from a prestigious EGOT and has published a shocking number of cookbooks. She’s multi-faceted and bona fide Hollywood royalty to boot.
Stop me if I sound like a broken record here, but Natalie Portman has also won an Academy Award. Apparently, the quickest way to gain entrance to the MCU is by bagging an Oscar.
Of course, Portman’s been acting almost her entire life and had memorable roles in Beautiful Girls and Leon: the Professional before she was old enough to watch R-rated movies.
I previously mentioned that Hemsworth lacks acting credentials, and that’s reason enough to get excited about the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder. Portman will replace her ex-boyfriend as the Goddess of Lightning, adding a bit of grandeur to the title role.
This dude can train a dinosaur, impersonate a Lego, and romance Thanos’ stepdaughter. He’s a true renaissance man. Well, he’s actually half-living planet on his father’s side, but that’s a bit too comic book nerd to get into here.
The point is that everybody loves Chris Pratt, who went from a bit player on Everwood to becoming one of the most famous movie stars of the generation. He’s also an integral part of the success of Guardians of the Galaxy due to his adorable buffoonery.
Anthony Hopkins was the first exception here, albeit a justifiable one. After all, Hopkins portrayed Odin in three films and had a great deal of screen time. I’m reaching a bit here with Robert Redford, who played the villain in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Since then, he has made a surprise cameo in Avengers: Endgame.
Still, Redford’s spot on this list stems more from the fact that Redford is the freakin’ Sundance Kid! He’s Jay Gatsby and Roy Hobbs and The Condor and Jeremiah Johnson and Johnny Hooker and Bob Woodward and…look, this could go on for a while.
Suffice to say that the Sundance Film Festival is one of the most recognizable festivals in movie history, and Robert Redford created it. He’s a living legend in the truest sense of the words.
Here, I’ll name some movies that everyone loves: Clueless, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Night at the Museum, Role Models. What do they all have in common? Hint: They co-starred the dude who married Phoebe Buffay on Friends.
Folks, Paul Rudd’s career has been amazing. And a Vulture quiz proved that he’s aging in reverse like Benjamin Button. The actor’s presence is an essential component of the MCU because his character, Ant-Man, sounds like a joke.
It’s a laughable superhero premise, but people have bought into it because they like Rudd so much. In fact, he rivals Evans, Johansson, and Pratt as the most innately likable person in the MCU.
Here’s a terrific trivia question that you can ask your friends. Name the only actor who appears in the top two movies in box office history. Yes, the answer is Zoe Saldana, thanks to her roles in Avatar and Avengers: Endgame. She also has a part in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Trek (reboot) franchises, which just seems greedy.
Saldana’s one of the most accomplished box office draws of all-time, …and she’s only 41. By the way, Disney now owns all of those franchises but Star Trek. So, she’s in tight with the Mouse.
Okay, that’s my choice for the 15 greatest living Marvel celebrities. Stan Lee obviously would have made the list if he were still alive. Beyond that, I understand that some exclusions are a bit controversial. Feel free to say where you agree or disagree in the comments section.