How Every Avengers Actor Was Cast In The MCU

Summary

  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe has introduced a plethora of iconic characters and actors to Hollywood. Some of these actors were already famous before joining the MCU, while others rose to fame after their debut in the franchise.
  • The MCU Avengers cast have a range of interesting stories regarding how the respective actors joined the franchise.
  • Many of the most important castings in the MCU almost didn’t happen, making them even more special in retrospect.

While the studio is far from infallible, it is safe to say that Marvel Studios’ casting decisions rarely miss the mark in the MCU – and every Avengers actor has a compelling story behind how they were cast. Since it began in 2008 with Iron Man, the MCU is now the biggest franchise in cinematic history, becoming a powerhouse that would inspire the modern phenomenon of cinematic universes. The actors that make up its central characters are largely to thank for its success, and it is now hard to imagine any other actor portraying the current lineup of Avengers.

The Avengers was the first team-up movie to debut the earliest iteration of the titular team, and it landed with a flourish. The writing was on the wall since then, and four Avengers movies later, the team grew substantially before the heart-wrenching departure of three of its founding members left the Avengers’ MCU future in a questionable state. After having left such a lasting impact on the MCU and superhero movies in general, here is how each core Avenger landed their iconic roles.

Captain Marvel, Spider-Man and Iron Man against a backdrop of Marvel posters Related Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Ranked Worst To Best

Over 15 years and 33 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have redefined blockbuster cinema. But how do all the films stack up?

12 MCU Higher-Ups Had To Fight For Robert Downey Jr. As Iron Man

Debuted In Iron Man (2008)

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Although he didn’t star in a blockbuster, Robert Downey Jr.’s pre-MCU career comprises a litany of critical and financial successes. His biggest roles before landing the career-defining Tony Stark gig included Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, Harry Lockhart in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and Paul Avery in Zodiac, which was released the year before Iron Man in 2007. The role that would launch the MCU in earnest, however, was nearly never to be if not for the zeal of two Marvel Studios figures in particular.

Although Tony Stark is ostensibly dead, Robert Downey Jr. could still reprise the role as a variant in the Multiverse Saga.

RDJ’s spotty history remained a sticking point for much of Marvel Studios’ top brass when Director John Favreau first floated his name. Favreau’s belief in Downey Jr. was rooted in the similarities he could see in his life experience and that of Tony Stark, telling Texas radio station 100.3 Jack FM that he had to fight to get his preferred casting over the line. Then Marvel Studios COO, David Maisel, mirrored this sentiment and helped push for Robert Downey Jr. by convincing the board that he was the perfect candidate – a belief that is now considered a foregone conclusion.

Iron Man PG-13 Where to Watch

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Iron Man is the first film in the long-running Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, who becomes Iron Man after he is kidnapped and discovers terrorists are using weapons developed by Stark Industries. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Tony’s love interest Pepper Potts alongside Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan and Jeff Bridges as the villainous Obadiah Stane.

Director Jon Favreau Release Date May 2, 2008 Cast Robert Downey Jr. , Jeff Bridges , gwyneth paltrow , Terrence Howard , Leslie Bibb , Shaun Toub , Clark Gregg , Paul Bettany Runtime 126 minutes

11 We All Have Chris Evans’ Mother To Thank For The MCU’s First Captain America

Debuted In Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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Chris Evans was something of a comic book movie veteran when he was cast as Steve Rogers, having starred as Johnny Storm/the Human Torch in Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer in 2005 and 2007 respectively. He also starred as Lucas in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which was an adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. Despite his experience (or perhaps because of it), Evans nearly turned down the offer of Captain America entirely.

Wyatt Russell, Sebastian Stan, and Chris Pratt all auditioned for Captain America before landing their roles as John Walker, Bucky Barnes, and Peter Quill, respectively.

His prescient concern that adopting the role of the MCU’s Captain America would catapult him into superstardom was twinned with the notion that he would lose control over his career after being tied to a multi-movie deal. Thankfully, Evans’ mother, Lisa Evans, convinced him that taking the role would set him up for life as an actor (via Esquire). Marvel Studios’ tenacity in pursuing Evans for the role paid dividends as Captain America’s MCU legacy remains one of the most iconic.

Captain America The First Avenger Poster Captain America: The First Avenger PG-13 Where to Watch

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Captain America: The First Avenger is a 2011 superhero movie starring Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, a weak patriotic civilian who becomes the test subject for the military’s Super Soldier project. The film was the fifth film in the long-running MCU franchise and also starred Samuel L. Jackson, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, and Sebastian Stan.

Director Joe Johnston Release Date July 22, 2011 Cast Chris Evans , Hayley Atwell , Hugo Weaving , Sebastian Stan , Tommy Lee Jones , Samuel L. Jackson , Dominic Cooper , Stanley Tucci , Toby Jones Runtime 124 Minutes

10 Marvel Studios Nearly Missed Out On Chris Hemsworth As Thor

Debuted In Thor (2011)

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Of the MCU’s Big Three, Chris Hemsworth was the least well-known by the time he was cast as Thor. Having starred in nearly 200 episodes of Home and Away, he was certainly a recognizable face among Australian audiences but had yet to fully break into Hollywood. This would change after his agent convinced newly minted Marvel Studios boss, Kevin Feige, to renege on the studio’s initial rejection and take another stab with Hemsworth as Thor.

Chris Pratt also said that he auditioned for
Thor
, with the second rejection making him feel like he would never try for a Marvel movie role again.

Several now-big names had auditioned including Charlie Hunnam and Alexander Skarsgard, with Daniel Craig being outright offered the role before he turned it down. Hemsworth was rejected before he could even do a screentest but was given a second chance by Feige before blowing the filmmakers away with his aptitude for the role. He now boasts the most solo movies of any MCU character as well as 10 total appearances across the MCU, a number which is likely to increase with the release of Thor 5.

Thor PG-13 Where to Watch

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Chris Hemsworth’s MCU debut as the Asgardian God of Thunder saw him navigating the ultimare sibling rivalry and parental expectations. Kenneth Branagh’s theatrical adaptation of the long-running Marvel Comics deals with Thor’s quest to prove himself worthy. Banished to Earth for his impulsiveness and tendency to violence, Thor must earn his destiny, while Tom Hiddleston’s Loki tries to destroy him.

Director Kenneth Branagh Release Date May 6, 2011 Cast Chris Hemsworth , Natalie Portman , Tom Hiddleston , Kat Dennings , Stellan Skarsgård , Idris Elba , Clark Gregg , Colm Feore Runtime 115 minutes

9 Mark Ruffalo Was The First Choice For Hulk

Debuted In The Avengers (2012)

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Mark Ruffalo recently gained a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is no surprise given his decorated acting career is rife with Academy Award contenders. Ruffalo joined the MCU in 2012 after starring in Margaret, Date Night, and Shutter Island in the preceding two years. His casting, meanwhile, was especially notable as he came aboard the MCU roster as a recast Bruce Banner, a character that was one of the first to debut in the MCU in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, but portrayed by Edward Norton at the time.

Mark Ruffalo’s casting, therefore, came off of the back of some behind-the-scenes reconfiguration, as Norton parted ways with the MCU due to creative differences. Interestingly, Ruffalo was The Incredible Hulk Director Louis Leterrier’s first choice to portray the Jade Giant, though it was reported that he was sidelined for not being famous enough at the time with a history of making more intellectual films. His second shot at the role would be one of the MCU’s best casting decisions, though whether he’ll get to create his own solo movie is looking decidedly uncertain.

The Avengers 2012 Poster The Avengers PG-13 Where to Watch

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The sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers is an action superhero film that sees the heroes assembled across the franchise face off with a deadly galactic threat. With the arrival of Thor’s brother, Loki, heroes such as Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, and Black Widow are brought together to stop him from unleashing an alien race upon earth.

Director Joss Whedon Release Date May 4, 2012 Cast Chris Hemsworth , Mark Ruffalo , Robert Downey Jr. , Scarlett Johansson , Samuel L. Jackson , Stellan Skarsgård , Clark Gregg , Paul Bettany , Cobie Smulders , Tom Hiddleston , Jeremy Renner , gwyneth paltrow , Chris Evans Runtime 143 Minutes Expand

8 Emily Blunt’s Schedule Opened The Door For Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow

Debuted In Iron Man 2 (2010)

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Scarlett Johansson was a big name by the time she was cast in the MCU, having starred in Lost In Translation, The Island, and The Prestige, to name just a few Hollywood hits. It is fair to say though that Black Widow was the role that made her globally recognizable, in a similar state of affairs to her The Avengers co-star, Mark Ruffalo. Despite her fame and talent, however, Johansson was initially sidelined in favor of another Hollywood A-Lister.

Emily Blunt was Marvel Studios’ first pick to portray Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2, but the actress turned it down due to scheduling concerns. Johansson would later tell Parade that being the second pick would help her develop Natasha Romanoff’s character, whose lack of super-powers weirdly make her stand out among an Avengers lineup that includes a green giant with limitless strength and a cosmic god. Like many Avengers, her role would help define her career before rounding it out with a prequel solo movie following one of the most heart-wrenching deaths in the MCU.

Iron Man 2 PG-13 Where to Watch

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The third film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 2, is an action-superhero film that occurs six months after the original film’s events. After outing himself as the heavy metal superhero known as Iron Man, Tony Stark goes to great lengths to avoid demands from the government for his tech. But, unfortunately, the technology Tony used to save his life is beginning to impact his health inversely – just in time for a man named Ivan Vanko to arrive, who creates his version of the Iron Man tech to settle a decades-long score with Howard Stark’s son.

Director Jon Favreau Release Date May 7, 2010 Cast Robert Downey Jr. , Mickey Rourke , Don Cheadle , gwyneth paltrow Runtime 124 minutes

7 Samuel L. Jackson Preempted His Nick Fury Casting

Debuted In Iron Man (2008)

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Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood, let alone in the MCU. His involvement began when the MCU itself did, as he appeared in the post-credits scene of Iron Man to inform Tony Stark of the Avengers Initiative before debuting in earnest in Iron Man 2. His biggest pre-MCU roles are in some of Hollywood’s most iconic movies, including Pulp Fiction‘s Jules, Jurassic Park‘s Arnold, and the Star Wars franchise’s Mace Windu. His superstar status is something of an outlier in the MCU, which had a habit of casting lesser-known actors in its earliest days.

The decision to cast him was set in stone after Marvel decided to re-model Nick Fury to resemble the famous actor in Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe.

The decision to cast Jackson was set in stone after Marvel decided to re-model Nick Fury to resemble the famous actor in Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe. As a Marvel Comics reader, Jackson noticed this and proceeded to wrangle a promise out of Marvel to cast him as the live-action Nick Fury should the character ever make it to the big screen. He did, of course, and Marvel made good on its promise. Jackson’s Fury has now appeared in more MCU productions than any other character, even playing a central role in its most recent movie, The Marvels.

samuel l jackson as nick fury in captain marvel and secret invasion Related Nick Fury’s Complete MCU Timeline Explained

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury has been a staple of the MCU since its start with Iron Man. Here’s a breakdown of Nick Fury’s complete MCU backstory.

6 Jeremy Renner Had Certain Reservations About Hawkeye

Debuted In Thor (2011)

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Jeremy Renner had a respectable career in Hollywood before debuting as Hawkeye in 2011’s Thor. His most famous movies include 28 Weeks Later, The Town, and Hurt Locker, and he received Academy Award nominations for the latter two. His MCU debut was in 2011’s Thor – though it was uncredited at the time – before he would make a splash in 2012’s The Avengers and receive serious character development in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The role nearly went to Supernatural star, Jensen Ackles, after he was rejected for the role of Captain America. After turning down the second opportunity (citing Supernatural scheduling concerns), the role was then offered to Renner. Coincidentally, Renner stated in an interview with Variety that he harbored a similar reticence to Chris Evans, expressing concern over signing on for multiple movies. Yet instead of fearing loss of control, Renner was more concerned about “wearing tights” into his 50s.

5 Iman Vellani Began Acting Professionally With Ms Marvel

Debuted In Ms. Marvel (2022)

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Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan is the MCU’s freshest face, with the 21-year-old actor having no prior professional acting experience to her name before landing the role. Nevertheless, she had all the credentials required to fulfill the role of the excitable Young Avenger, from her Pakistani heritage to her zealous appreciation for the Avengers. After winning a Saturn and Critics Choice Super Award for each of her two live-action appearances in the MCU, it is safe to say that she has already made an indelible mark.

Vellani auditioned for the role after being made aware of a casting call by her Aunt, who received it through a WhatsApp forward chain (via Elite Daily). She expressed her skepticism over what she saw as an unorthodox casting method but forged ahead regardless, landing the role after winning Ms. Marvel casting directors over with her self-tape and interview. Vellani’s appreciation for Marvel Comics and the MCU was so great that it won her over to studio bosses instantly, a sentiment that carried over to Marvel audiences.

Ms. Marvel Where to Watch

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Ms. Marvel is an action-superhero TV series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show follows Iman Vellani, a 16-year-old high school student in New Jersey who is a huge fan of superheroes and has difficulty fitting in at school. When Iman is gifted a mysterious bangle from her grandfather, she discovers it allows her to utilize cosmic energy and construct what she can imagine. Now an accidental superhero, Iman will try to rise to the challenge and make a name for herself as Ms. Marvel.

Cast Matt Lintz , Laith Naki , Rish Shah , Nimra Bucha , Iman Vellani , Yasmeen Fletcher , Saagar Shaikh , Travina Springer , Zenobia Shroff , Mohan Kapur , Aramis Knight , Azher Usman Release Date June 8, 2022 Network Disney Channel Writers Bisha K. Ali , Adrian Alphona

4 Tom Holland’s Athleticism Cemented His Spider-Man Casting

Debuted In Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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Although the 28-year-old Tom Holland now portrays a Peter Parker who has reluctantly entered full-fledged adulthood, he entered the MCU in a similar capacity to Iman Vellani. The adolescent made a name for himself in 2012’s The Impossible and caught the eye of Marvel higher-ups. Holland auditioned for the role in Captain America: Civil War going up against hundreds of other hopefuls that included Asa Butterfield and Timothée Chalamet.

Holland’s youthful energy and boundless charisma were a huge plus for Marvel Studios’ head casting director, Sarah Halley Finn, but his background as a dancer and a gymnast definitively pushed him over the line for the Russo brothers. If not for Holland showing off these skills during his audition (reportedly pulling off a backflip), then the iconic Spider-Man actor may have looked decidedly different. Stan Lee even gave his stamp of approval to Holland, noting that the lithe actor was the “Exact age and height” that he pictured when creating him for Marvel Comics.

Captain America Civil War Poster Captain America: Civil War PG-13 Where to Watch

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This third Captain America film adapts the “Civil War” storyline from Marvel Comics and sees Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) at an impasse over who governs superheroes and how. Captain America: Civil War pits two teams of Avengers against one another and introduces new superheroes Black Panther and Spider-Man. The divide between the two perceived leaders of the Avengers caused the other members to choose sides. It all started when the UN decided to take control of the superheroes’ involvement in fighting crimes. Steve disagreed with the UN’s proposal, while Tony supported the decision. Things turn for the worst when Steve’s friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), also known as the Winter Soldier, becomes the prime suspect in a terrorist bombing.

Director Anthony Russo , Joe Russo Release Date May 6, 2016 Cast Martin Freeman , Daniel Brühl , Robert Downey Jr. , Sebastian Stan , Elizabeth Olsen , Chadwick Boseman , Chris Evans , Paul Rudd , Frank Grillo , Scarlett Johansson , William Hurt , Paul Bettany , Anthony Mackie , Emily VanCamp , Tom Holland Runtime 147 Minutes Expand

3 Benedict Cumberbatch Initially Rejected Doctor Strange

Debuted In Doctor Strange (2016)

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Arriving in MCU Phase 3 in his self-titled movie, the highly successful MCU was better positioned to hire a famous face for the central role. Benedict Cumberbatch was already a big name in Hollywood in 2016, making waves as Sherlock Holmes in the beloved Sherlock series, Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, and as the voice of Smaug in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. When production got underway for Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch was the preferred choice for Director Scott Derrickson.

Yet Cumberbatch initially had to turn the role down due to scheduling concerns with Sherlock. Following that, a number of other Hollywood A-listers were approached including Tom Hardy and Ryan Gosling, though the actor that came closest was Joaquin Phoenix before he suddenly pulled out of the deal citing that he felt too restricted. Thankfully, Phoenix’s exit prompted Marvel Studios to move scheduling around Cumberbatch’s other commitments, cementing him in the role after being re-approached.

Doctor Strange Poster Doctor Strange PG-13 Where to Watch

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Enter the world of Dr. Stephen Vincent Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a world-famous neurosurgeon whose car accident left him unable to use his hands. As he desperately tries to find a cure to enable his hands to perform operations again, he comes across a world that leads to another dimension. After being taught about the different dimensions and learning about the constant threat that looms on Earth, he began to embrace his role as the humble protector. Taking after the responsibilities of the Ancient One who trained him before her demise, Strange goes on to become the Sorcerer Supreme himself.

Director Scott Derrickson Release Date October 25, 2016 Cast Tilda Swinton , Benedict Wong , Michael Stuhlbarg , Mads Mikkelsen , Scott Adkins , Benedict Cumberbatch , Rachel McAdams , Chiwetel Ejiofor Runtime 126 minutes

2 Marvel Bosses Unanimously Agreed On Chadwick Boseman For Black Panther

Debuted In Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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The late Chadwick Boseman was a tour de force in Hollywood before being expertly cast in Captain America: Civil War. His roles as Jackie Robinson in 42 and as James Brown in Get on Up cemented the level of gravitas the young actor could bring to the MCU and one of its most important characters. Despite being experienced in more “serious” roles, however, Boseman made several efforts to get his foot in the door with Marvel movies.

Boseman read for a role in Iron Man 3 and Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, which was the moment that put him on Marvel Studios’ radar – and Sarah Halley Finn’s in particular. When it came time to cast Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, the choice was clear and Boseman was immediately offered the role. After cementing his indelible legacy in the MCU with four appearances, Boseman’s tragic passing left it to Letitia Wright’s Shuri to carry the torch.

1 Paul Rudd Was In Talks For Ant-Man In The MCU’s Earliest Days

Debuted In Ant-Man (2015)

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Paul Rudd made a name for himself as an extremely likable comedy actor in Hollywood before landing his iconic role in the MCU. He starred as Mike Hannigan in Friends, David in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, and Brian Fantana in Anchorman, to name just a few of his most iconic pre-MCU roles. Suffice it to say, Rudd was sufficiently famous before Scott Lang would push him into worldwide superstardom.

Despite Ant-Man closing out MCU Phase 2, however, Rudd was in talks for the role in the franchise’s earliest days, stating in an interview with Men’s Health that his agent set up a meeting with Feige before Marvel was even part of Disney. In 2013, two years before Ant-Man was released but in its earliest stages of development, Rudd was the frontrunner for the role alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt before landing the role later that same year. His casting came out of left field for many, including himself, but it is now hard to see anyone else as the hilarious Avenger.

Ant-Man 2015 Poster Ant-Man PG-13 Where to Watch

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Former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is alarmed when his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) announces his near success in replicating his shrinking technology. Representatives from HYDRA are looking to buy the suit that could cause massive destruction, and Hank must find a man who can successfully infiltrate a tightly guarded facility. After rigorous training with Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), including the manipulation of a technologically advanced suit, control of ants, and physical fighting skills, ex-convict Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is chosen to become the new Ant-Man. Together with Hank, Hope, and his friends Luis (Michael Peña) and Dave (Tip Harris), Scott must fight with Darren, who has perfected his version of the suit called the Yellowjacket. Ant-Man is the twelfth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and acts as the final addition to Phase 2.

Director Peyton Reed Release Date July 14, 2015 Cast Paul Rudd , Michael Douglas , Corey Stoll , Evangeline Lilly , Bobby Cannavale , Anthony Mackie Runtime 117 minutes

Upcoming Marvel Movies

Release Date

Deadpool & Wolverine

July 26, 2024

Captain America: Brave New World

February 14, 2025

Thunderbolts*

May 2, 2025

The Fantastic Four

July 25, 2025

Blade

November 7, 2025

Avengers: The Kang Dynasty

May 1, 2026

Avengers: Secret Wars

May 7, 2027

Sources: 100.3 Jack FM/Esquire/Parade/Variety/Elite Daily/Men’s Health

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