The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most critically and commercially successful franchises of all time. Its movies have grossed over nine billion dollars worldwide, and with Phase 3 still in the pipeline, it shows no signs of slowing down. Things could have turned out very differently, of course. Let’s use our imaginations and travel back to a magical time called, “The Eighties.” It was in this decade that CBS’ The Incredible Hulk, one of the most beloved shows on television, was cancelled. Eventually, NBC would pick up the reins and launch a trilogy of made-for-TV movies to conclude the adventures of David Bruce Banner, but…
What if The Incredible Hulk had led to a series of big-budget blockbusters? What if The Avengers had been cast in the ’80s? For one thing, The Hulk’s purple pants would have been heavily pleated. But fashion jokes aside, who could have filled the roles of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?
13. Burt Reynolds as Iron Man
As genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark, there’s only one true choice, and it’s Burt Reynolds. One of the greatest actors of his era, Reynolds was the definition of cool during his run on Hollywood in the ’70s and ’80s, with such classics as Smokey and the Bandit, Sharky’s Machine, and Deliverance under his belt, among countless others. An aloof know-it-all whose strengths and capability is matched only by his insufferable arrogance, Tony Stark would have been right up Burt’s alley. In his heyday, the actor certainly had the necessary gravitas to have owned the role, had the opportunity been afforded to him. And his mustache makes Downey Jr.’s incongruous goatee look downright amateur.
There’s no shortage of great performances (even in his weaker films) to choose from, but we recommend checking out The End to see Burt at his funniest. The 1978 black comedy features the screen legend matching rapid-fire quips with Dom Deluise and showcasing the tap dancing style of comedy which Downey’s Stark has come to be known for.
12. Patrick Swayze as Captain America
Captain America began his life as the pint-sized Steve Rogers, All-American shrimp. But after receiving a dose of Dr. Abraham Erskine’s super soldier serum, he became the ultimate WWII commando, a shining example of the American dream, before being lost at sea and later found, frozen in arctic ice.
Patrick Swayze was the ultimate hunk of the ’80s, with fans of both his ass-kicking in films like Road House and Red Dawn and of his dreamy good looks in more light-hearted affairs like Dirty Dancing and The Outsiders. He also had some serious acting chops, as showcased in films like Ghost and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. We’d love to see his righteous sense of justice go toe-to-toe with Burt Reynolds’s older and more experienced Tony Stark in an ’80s take on the characters’ famous verbal sparring matches.
11. Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk
There were a surprising number of Marvel characters on live-action television in the ’70s and ’80s, from Spider-Man (awful) to Captain America (awful), with a bit of Doctor Strange (awful, but not as bad as you might think) in between. The clear winner, however, was The Incredible Hulk, which ran for five seasons on CBS. It heavily influenced the 2008 Incredible Hulk film starring Edward Norton, which borrowed much of its imagery from the series and even made use of its legendary “Lonely Man” theme.
Bill Bixby was the definitive Dr. Banner, and casting anyone else in our 1980s version of The Avengers would be a disservice to the his legacy. What a interesting direction it would be for the character, who spent five years on the run, trying and failing to cure his ailment, to find that he could use his super-strength to save the world as part of a team. Of course, Lou Ferrigno would undoubtedly have to return to play the monstrous form of the character, though we wouldn’t mind seeing his strength levels boosted to the levels of his modern-day counterpart.
10. Billy Dee Williams as Nick Fury
Samuel L. Jackson is one of the coolest guys around, but no one will ever be able to hold a candle to Billy Dee Williams, quite possibly the coolest and most handsome man to ever walk the Earth. After all, his is the only mustache capable of being a believable authority figure over someone as headstrong as Tony Stark, especially a Stark who is fueled by the mustachioed gravitas of Burt Reynolds.
Billy Dee Williams would bring a more suave and charming characterization to the role, as opposed to Jackson’s barely-contained anger. That being said, we envision Williams’s Fury, like Jackson, to go into full no-nonsense mode once the bullets and laser beams start flying. He is a battle-hardened veteran, after all. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how awesome would Billy Dee Williams look with an eyepatch?
9. Dolph Lundgren as Thor
Dolph Lundgren was pretty big for comic fandom in the 80s, having portrayed both He-Man and The Punisher. Still, it’s a shame he was never able to suit up in the role he was born to play, The Mighty Thor of Asgard. While a version of the character did feature in the 1988 TV movie, The Return of The Incredible Hulk (kind of), our ’80s MCU is effectively replacing that film and its two sequels, so let’s not worry about that. While Dolph is less traditionally handsome than Chris Hemsworth, he more than makes up for it in essentially being the human equivalent of a titanium brick; utterly unbreakable. He’s rougher than Hemsworth; less princely and more of a straight-up warrior god.
8. Alan Rickman as Loki
The brains to Thor’s brawn, Loki is the Norse god of trickery, a cunning and devious schemer who defeats his enemies not with clubs and swords, but with clever manipulation and tactical thinking. There was nobody more clever-looking than Hans Gruber himself, Alan Rickman, and he would have been the perfect choice for a 1980s Loki. Minus the questionable “German” accent, Rickman’s performance in his Hollywood debut, Die Hard, is 100% Loki. He has two plans: the one he publicly enacts, and the one he actually intends to carry out.
While the late actor had a full decade on Dolph Lundgren, we think that would just make his character, the older brother with a Frost Giant-sized chip on his shoulder, that much more interesting. Rickman could have played this nefarious villain in his sleep, and the pairing of him and Lundgren would have rivaled, and possibly even surpassed, the combo of Hiddleston and Hemsworth.
7. Carl Weathers as War Machine
James Rhodes, better known as War Machine or Iron Patriot, was played adequately by Terrence Howard in Iron Man before being replaced by the great Don Cheadle for Iron Man 2 and onward. But as an air force colonel, someone with an extensive military background, Rhodes should look like someone who considers eight weeks of boot camp to be little more than a mild workout regimen.
Carl Weathers’s most famous role was as the original “Iron Patriot,” Apollo Creed, in the first four Rocky movies, and he also attempted to “get to the chopper” alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator. Combine those two characters, and you have a James Rhodes who could keep pace with Burt Reynolds and even knock him into shape when the stakes got serious. There are very few people who could conceivably punch Burt Reynolds and get away with it, and Carl Weathers is definitely one of them.
6. Michelle Pfeiffer as Black Widow
Natasha Romanoff is the ice queen, a cool-as-they-come killer with a whole lot of “red in her ledger.” While the ’80s were full of cold-as-ice female assassins, from Sharon Stone in Total Recall to Brigitte Nielsen in Red Sonja, we think Michelle Pfeiffer would be best-suited for the role. Between Scarface, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Ladyhawke, among others, Pfeiffer has proven herself to be capable of utilizing her femininity as a shield to deflect the suffering she has caused to others, and the guilt she endures because of it, something the MCU’s big-screen Black Widow has proven time and again to be a master of.
Plus, you just know she could rock the trademark Black Widow catsuit like nobody else, evidenced of course by her work in Batman Returns. In fact, we’d love to see Pfeiffer appear in the real MCU as Widow’s mentor-turned-enemy. They’re going to dive into Black Widow’s backstory eventually, right? Make it happen, Marvel.
5. Mel Gibson as Hawkeye
Hawkeye, the everyman of the team, has no true superpowers beyond an accuracy with his weapons which would make Bullseye blush. These days, many may only recognize Mel Gibson as the raving lunatic who’s gone on one horrific rant too many, which makes us not want to have annual Lethal Weapon marathons (confession time: we do anyway), but Mel was, and is, one of the most gifted actors in the world. Through Braveheart, Mad Max, Tequila Sunrise (with Michelle Pfeiffer!), and so many others, Mel proved he could embody the salt-of-the-Earth warmth which makes Hawkeye stand out from his all-star companions.
Watch the original 1979 Mad Max and see how effortlessly Gibson goes from deadly-serious highway cop to loving family man in between scenes. Apart from the always-awesome car action, that performance holds up remarkably well, and is one which surely inspired a great many “family guy by day, action hero by night” performances, including Jeremy Renner’s own turn as Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye.
4. Philip Michael Thomas as Falcon
Miami Vice was THE show of the 1980s, and as one of its two leads, Philip Michael Thomas, along with costar Don Johnson, was one of the hippest cats of the decade. In the current MCU, they don’t come any cooler than Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, who’s somehow able to remain the coolest figure in ensemble casts that feature bionic assassins, agents of STRIKE, and Captain America.
Naturally, Thomas would have to be the one to take up the wings and help Patrick Swayze’s 1940s Golden Boy adapt to life in the wild and weird 1980s, as well as being his most dependable ally when the drama really kicks into high gear. Still, we can’t help but think that instead of the Trouble Man soundtrack, our Falcon would probably have recommended Living the Book of My Life…by Philip Michael Thomas.
3. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym
Michael Douglas played a 70-year-old Hank Pym in Ant-Man, so why not let his younger self play a more “in-the-field” version of the same character? Between Romancing the Stone and Black Rain, Douglas proved that he could be a major action-adventure star, though he usually leaned more towards dramatic roles.
For our 1980s version of the character, we would like to see Hank Pym continue playing the straight man to Scott Lang’s more comedic leanings, but for them to be able to go out into the field together and have a buddy-cop dynamic. But who could play the comic foil to this younger Pym, a man at the peak of his physical and mental acuity?
2. Tom Hanks as Scott Lang/Ant-Man
Boom. As Hank Pym’s young accomplice, Scott Lang, we’re enlisting Forrest Gump himself, Tom Hanks. Hanks was very much a comedy star in the ’80s, starring in laugh-a-minute hits like Big, Bachelor Party, and Splash. He’s also twelve years younger than Michael Douglas, so they could still have something of a mentor/mentee dynamic, with Douglas as the grizzled veteran at the top of his game and Hanks as the skilled-but-undisciplined rookie who tags along for the ride.
Basically, it could be very similar to the 2015 Ant-Man film, but with an even more hands-on version of Hank Pym. The only thing we’d really have to change is Wasp. Whoever would replace the excellent Evangeline Lily would surely have to be the first Wasp, Pym’s wife. But we think this is an addition many fans would be very happy to see, as the absence of the first Wasp disappointed many of her longtime fans.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Thanos
Thanos is the big bad boss of the entire MCU thus far. Though he hasn’t done much since we first saw him at the end of The Avengers, we expect him to get off his throne and start wreaking havoc any day now.
Regardless, we want our 1980s Thanos to be the most physically intimidating actor of the ’80s, if not of all time: Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator, Conan the Barbarian, Total Recall, the list goes on and on. One of the greatest action stars to ever grace the silver screen, Arnold regularly plays characters who could theoretically crush your skull with a single hand. Now imagine if that hand was wearing the Infinity Gauntlet? It’s going to take the combined efforts of Burt Reynolds, Bill Bixby, Patrick Swayze, Dolph Lundgren, and the rest of The Avengers to even stand a chance at taking down this maniac.
If any team of superheroes can take on Schwarzenegger’s Thanos, it’s our cast for a 1980s version of The Avengers.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with our casting? What other additions would you make to the roster? Make your voice heard in the comments below, and, as always… Excelsior!