The Marvel Cinematic Universe is incredibly popular — it’s the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time, after all — and with good reason. It brings characters from iconic comic books to life and places them in exciting stories with high-octane action, moments of hilarity, and some genuine emotion. Basically, it has a little bit of everything.
The main reason for the franchise’s unrivaled success, however, is undoubtedly the aforementioned characters themselves. The likes of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord have become some of the most popular in all of cinema, thanks to some excellent character development and incredibly interesting story arcs.
That doesn’t apply to all the popular comic book characters to have appeared in the MCU, however. In some cases, you can’t help but feel that characters are being underutilized, and that’s what we’re going to be discussing here. Thankfully, in some cases, there’s still time for that to be fixed. Sadly, in others — most obviously in the cases of characters who’ve been killed off — redemption is significantly less likely to happen. It should be noted that this article will be focusing on movie characters, although there are undoubtedly a number of MCU characters who were wasted on television (like Franklin Hall AKA Graviton on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) but that’s an article for another day. It will also be missing characters like Thanos, who are quite obviously going to get their moment to truly shine in future MCU installments.
Here are the 15 MCU Characters With The Most Wasted Potential.
15. Baron Strucker
Let’s get one thing straight: Baron Strucker is no Batroc the Leaper. Seeing a minor character like Batroc reduced to a small role on the big screen (played by UFC fighter and part-time terrible actor Georges St-Pierre in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is absolutely fine. It’s a fun cameo. But Strucker is so much more than a minor villain. He’s a major threat to the heroes of the Marvel universe in the comic books, and his basically-a-cameo appearance in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (and his even smaller cameo in the mid-credits scene of the aforementioned Winter Soldier) was, frankly, an insult to the character’s history.
Moreover, the fleeting appearance was completely wasted on a fantastic actor in Thomas Kretschmann, who could have made Strucker a major player in the MCU going forward. Marvel Studios has a tendency to kill off most of their villains early, and there are more than a few baddies on this list as a result. But the treatment of Strucker, even before his extremely premature and bloody demise at the metallic hands of Ultron, was nothing short of horrific.
14. The Leader
The Leader is the comic book alter-ego of Samuel Sterns. You may remember him from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, in which he tried to help free Bruce Banner from his Hulk curse before willingly assisting Emil Blonsky to become the Hulk-like Abomination. You may also remember that viewers last saw him (on screen at least) undergoing a cranial mutation after some of the Hulk’s blood mixed with his.
This mutation was a not-so-subtle towards him becoming the Leader — a major psionic foe of the Hulk’s in the comics — and yet here we are, nine years later, and he’s still nowhere to be found. (There was an MCU tie-in comic in which he appeared, but most fans don’t know about those and the ones who do don’t necessarily see them as canon anyway.) Why was he hinted at if he was never going to reappear? The potential of the MCU’s Hulk facing off against a mind-controlling antagonist is huge! It’s such a shame that we’ll probably never see this villain on screen, given that the Green Goliath probably won’t get another solo movie anytime soon due to his ever-complicated screen rights issues.
Brock Rumlow has appeared in two MCU movies — 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and 2016’s Captain America: Civil War — but only the latter of those saw him taking on the Crossbones guise, and he was killed off a few minutes after he first appeared, having blown himself up in a failed attempt to kill Steve Rogers.
Crossbones is one of Captain America’s most prominent adversaries in the comic books, and a genuine threat to the World War II hero. To see him disappear from the MCU so quickly was a bit of a bummer. Moreover, fans never got to see what the character was truly capable of. In the comics, he has so much more to offer than what he showed on screen. He has a real taste for torturing people, an expertise in brainwashing and reprogramming his victim’s minds, as well as the ability to generate a circle of energy in front of his face which can fire energy beams capable of decimating opponents (an ability he developed through exposure to the Terrigen Mist). But he’s super dead now, so it looks like that’s all out the window.
We now come to the first “main” villain on this list, and his name his Malekith, the main antagonist of 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. Malekith is a Dark Elf who sought to get his hands on the Infinity Stone known as the Aether in order to plunge the whole universe into darkness. But let’s face it: given how weakly he was portrayed, that was never going to happen.
Former Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston performed about as well as he could have with the material he was given, but his character just had nothing to him. In the comic books, Malekith is an incredibly powerful sorcerer with some pretty insane superhuman attributes. In Thor: The Dark World, he was so pathetic that he was barely a match for the titular hero while he was in possession of an Infinity Stone and using it against the Asgardian. He could have been made to look absolutely spectacular, utilizing Dark Faerie magic and summoning the supernatural army known as the Wild Hunt. Instead, he was just another generic bad guy who was even outshone by his silent henchman, Kurse, who at least at a memorable death scene.
Like Malekith, Ronan was the main villain in the one movie he appeared; 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy in his case. Also like Malekith, he was massively underutilized in the MCU. He was portrayed (by Lee Pace) as a radical Kree warlord who was so disgusted by a peace treaty that was agreed upon between his species and the planet of Xandar that he sought to destroy the latter’s homeworld. He teamed up with Thanos to do so — with the Mad Titan asking for the Infinity Stone known as the Orb in exchange for destroying Xandar on Ronan’s behalf — but he was killed by the Guardians of the Galaxy when he decided to turn against Thanos and use the Orb’s power to try to take down Xandar himself.
There’s so much more to him than that in the comics. While he’s sometimes portrayed as a villain, his personality goes deeper than merely being “evil”. He has a noble and honorable side and is much more complex/interesting. He’s also far more powerful, with a wider range of abilities than those shown on screen. With all of that in mind, it’s hard to deny that he wasn’t somewhat shortchanged by his lone MCU appearance.
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, AKA Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, both made their first appearance in the MCU in the mid-credits scene of 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They went on to appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron a year later, which saw the duo switch up their allegiance from HYDRA to join forces with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. While Scarlet Witch has gone on to establish herself as a mainstay in the franchise, her brother wasn’t so lucky. Quicksilver was swiftly killed off in Age of Ultron, when the titular villainous robot’s bullets, which were heading straight for Hawkeye, were intercepted by the speedster.
Fans never truly got to see just what a super fast hero could offer as a member of the Avengers, and with the team gearing up to face their toughest challenge yet, they could really do with a bit more metahumans on their roster. Rumors of a potential resurrection by way of Infinity Stone have made the rounds, but whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen. As things stand, the character was pretty underwhelming, having been vastly outperformed by the X-Men universe’s take on the character.
Emil Blonsky appeared in that other 2008 MCU film, The Incredible Hulk, where he was played by Tim Roth. Blonsky was a Russian-born officer in the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines Commandos, who General Ross utilized in his mission to apprehend the Hulk. He gave him the Super Soldier Serum as a means of bettering his chances of doing so, and when the aforementioned Samuel Sterns injected him with some of Bruce Banner’s blood as well, he became the Hulk-like beast, Abomination.
In the film’s final act, the super-sized monstrosity was beaten down in reasonably short order by the Hulk and promptly taken into custody. He is now being held in the Vault — a cryocell located at a facility in Barrow, Alaska — but he could very easily have been used again in the MCU, which certainly would have been interesting. There were rumors floating around that the titular villain of Avengers: Age of Ultron would be springing him loose to wreak havoc on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but those whispers obviously didn’t pan out. Going forward, having him working as a pawn of Loki and/or Thanos in a future movie would really give the Avengers a lot to think about, and it would definitely be worth seeing more of him — or, more importantly, seeing exactly what he’s capable of.
Celestials aside, of all the individuals and beings we’ve seen in the MCU thus far, Odin should be the most powerful. In the comic books, he’s often depicted as being more powerful than Thanos himself. He could take out the entire Avengers roster on his own if he so wished, and he’s well into the tier of beings that one might describe as “cosmic”. Sadly, thus far in the MCU, we haven’t really seen that. Sure, he has the power to give and take Thor’s power at will, but he certainly hasn’t demonstrated the kind of galaxy-destroying power that he has in the comics.
Moreover, having only appeared in the two Thor movies in the MCU to date, Anthony Hopkins’ version of the character is already an ageing and dwindling one, and he doesn’t look like he’ll be making a big impact anytime soon (he’s set to appear as a powerless, confused vagabond in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok). But that doesn’t mean we’re giving up on him showing off his true badass self. Maybe, just maybe, when the time comes that Thanos is officially threatening the entire universe, Odin will pull out all the stops to assist in the fight against the Mad Titan and truly show his full potential as a powerful character in the franchise.
7. Justin Hammer
2010’s Iron Man 2 was undoubtedly a lot better than people give it credit for. It obviously compares unfavorably to its predecessor (Iron Man was one of the best comic book movies of all time, after all) but that doesn’t automatically make it a bad movie. One of the main bright spots of the film, of course, was its secondary villain, Justin Hammer. Sam Rockwell was fantastic in the role — he completely overshadowed Mickey Rourke’s lackluster performance as the C-list villain Whiplash — and he definitely has more to offer in the MCU.
We did see the character again briefly in the Marvel One-Shot short film, All Hail the King, but he was hardly prominent in that (he was in jail, where it was suggested that he was in a relationship with a young, male inmate). If you’ve read your Marvel comics, however, you know that he’s more than deserving of an expanded role going forward. A constant annoyance to Tony Stark, he’d be a great fit as an ongoing secondary villain in the franchise. We just hope that Marvel Studios is aware of this as well, and that they’ll look to get more out of him in the future. You can never get enough Sam Rockwell, right?
6. Red Skull
Red Skull was actually a pretty great villain as far as one-offs go, and he comes second only to Loki in the list of best big screen MCU antagonists to date. That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Marvel fan that doesn’t think he’s been underused. His first and only appearance so far was in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, in which Hugo Weaving did a fantastic job bringing the Nazi megalomaniac to life. The movie ended with him falling victim to the very item he sought to utilize in his quest for world domination: the Tesseract.
Initially, fans thought the aforementioned MacGuffin had killed him, but, when it became apparent that the Tesseract was actually the Space Stone, it suddenly became very possible that he’d simply been transported across space. The good thing about Red Skull, therefore, is that he could yet make one of the most spectacular returns in cinematic history, albeit one that’s far from guaranteed. Could he turn up in Avengers: Infinity War and/or its sequel, perhaps even as an ally of Thanos? We’ll have to wait and see, but the villain whose ambitions are on a universe-conquering scale in the comic books certainly has more to offer the MCU.
5. The Mandarin
Oh, where to begin? What some movie fans saw as a clever twist in 2013’s Iron Man was seen by diehard comic book fans as a massacre of an iconic supervillain. Ben Kingsley’s casting as the Mandarin was seen as a real coup for the MCU, and fans of Marvel Comics were excited at the prospect of seeing what he would bring to the table. Unfortunately, it turned out that he wasn’t really playing the Mandarin at all; he was playing Trevor Slattery, a British actor who’d been hired to play the Mandarin in order to cover the actions of the movie’s real villain, Aldrich Killian.
Marvel Studios have since backtracked on this by revealing that the real Mandarin is still out there in the previously mentioned Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King — and he’s angry at Slattery for using his name. Unfortunately, that backtracking comes off as a bit of a cop-out, more than anything. There’s no way they’ll double down on that backtracking by using the real Mandarin as a villain in a future movie — it just won’t happen. And that’s a real shame, because the potential of a more faithful depiction of the character as an exciting, interesting, and genuine threat to the superheroes of the MCU cannot be understated.
4. Nick Fury
Including credits scenes, Nick Fury has made seven appearances to date in the MCU — as many as anyone else. Played brilliantly by the always awesome Samuel L. Jackson, his initial appearance in the post-credits scene of 2008’s Iron Man was one of the most exciting moments in the franchise so far, and his subsequent appearances have ranged from mere cameos to very prominent roles. He’s certainly shown himself to be badass and tactically astute, but what could have been done with the character, based on his comic book history, proves that he’s definitely not yet lived up to his true potential on screen.
Fury is a tough and skilled combatant, a master marksman, an astounding tactician and, best of all, a godlike master of preparation. (Seriously, the guy could out-prep Batman on the Dark Knight’s best day.) In the comics, he has fail-safe plans in place for every apocalyptic scenario imaginable. Zombie apocalypse? Fury’s got it. Massive meteorite strike? He’s all over it. Evil robot attacking Earth from the safety of a different timeline? Pshh, he has like 3 different plans for that. If Fury’s classic preparation skills were brought to the big screen, Jackson’s character could be an even bigger player in the MCU than he already is — and that’s really saying something.
Admittedly, compared to pretty much all of his fellow Avengers, Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye is pretty unexciting and pedestrian. Still, even the guy with a bow and arrow is a classic comic book character, one that’s definitely been underutilized in the MCU thus far. Including his extremely brief debut in a cameo role in 2011’s Thor, Jeremy Renner’s character has made four appearances in the franchise, accumulating the least amount of screen time out of the original six Avengers along the way.
A prime example of Hawkeye being underutilized came in The Avengers, when he was reduced to being a mind-controlled flunky under Loki’s control for a large chunk of the movie. He’s undoubtedly been more prominent in his subsequent appearances, but you can’t help but think he should have shown more. His origins probably aren’t worth giving him a solo movie, but learning a little more about his backstory would be cool. Seeing him using a wider variety of his trademark trick arrows (seriously, there are LOADS in the comics) would definitely have made him a more worthwhile inclusion in the MCU. Here’s hoping that the best is yet to come for good old Hawkeye.
2. Black Widow
We now find ourselves talking about a character who most people would agree is the one with the most wasted potential in the MCU. Natasha Romanoff, AKA the Black Widow, has now made five appearances in the franchise as a founding member of the Avengers, and there have been numerous hints laid out that have alluded to her complex and highly intriguing history as a world-class assassin (you know, the one she has in the comics). And yet, she still hasn’t managed to secure herself a solo movie.
Having first appeared in 2010’s Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson’s character has become a key character in her time in the MCU, doing cool stuff like helping Captain America evade capture in The Winter Soldier and closing Loki’s portal and shutting down an alien invasion all by herself in the first Avengers movie. But when we stop and think about it, we realize that we really don’t know half as much as we’d like to know about her. It’s too late for an origin movie now, but a solo movie that looks back at her past while following her on a new adventure would be a welcome one for MCU fans — and it would go a long way towards unleashing the character’s true potential in the franchise. Kevin Feige’s been teasing it for years now to no avail, but we’re still holding onto hope that this will happen someday
What better way to conclude our list than with a controversial finale by way of an insanely popular character? The Hulk’s had some great moments in the MCU, and he’ll undoubtedly have many more, but the fact is that he may never live up to his full potential in the franchise. Not only will he never be portrayed as being anywhere close to as strong as his comic book counterpart (you know, the guy who once held up a mountain that weighed BILLIONS of tons), but, if current restraints on his film rights hold true, he’ll also never get another solo movie. And the two he’s already starred in were pretty underwhelming.
Thor: Ragnarok will undoubtedly give us some fantastic Hulk scenes — it’s incorporating the Planet Hulk storyline, after all — but that epitomizes exactly what we mean about the MCU’s Hulk never reaching his full potential. Planet Hulk would have made a fantastic movie on its own, but it’s being reduced to a bit-part subplot in another movie (a Thor movie, to boot) due to a combination of solo rights issues and Marvel Studios’ lack of faith in the character as a solo draw. Hulk could offer so much more to the MCU, and it’s high time that Marvel Studios started treating the jade giant like the A-list comic character he so obviously is.
Are there any other characters that you feel have been heavily underutilized in the MCU? Which of the characters on our list are you the most satisfied with thus far? Let us know in the comments.