The Marvel Cinematic Universe started with Marvel Studios adapting the best-known properties they still had the rights to. They didn’t have Spider-Man or the X-Men, but they did have Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk (kinda). As the franchise has gone on, they’ve gone deeper into their vault of lesser-known characters.
An appearance in the MCU – and especially a solo movie – is a one-way ticket out of obscurity and into mainstream recognition. Now, once-obscure characters like Doctor Strange and Ant-Man are as well-known and popular as any other superheroes. And even lesser-known characters have become even more recognizable than them. So, here are 10 Iconic Marvel Characters Who Were Saved From Obscurity By The MCU.
Thanos’ adopted daughter made her MCU debut five years ago, but she only got the large role she deserved in one of the storylines in this year’s Avengers: Endgame. As the culmination of “the Infinity Saga” and the Avengers’ last stand against Thanos, it was as good a time as any to give this overlooked comics character her due.
The Mad Titan kept pitting Nebula against his other adopted daughter, Gamora, and then replacing most of her body parts with cybernetic pieces when she kept losing the fights. So, it was only right that she played a huge role in defeating him.
Before his film debut, Black Panther wasn’t as big as Wolverine or the Hulk, but he was on par with characters like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange as a character you didn’t have to be deeply invested in the Marvel Comics universe to be aware of. However, you did have to be deeply invested to be aware of his sister, Shuri.
Thanks to the MCU, this is no longer the case. Rising star Letitia Wright made audiences across the world fall in love with Shuri, who is smart, funny, capable, powerful, lovable – she’s got it all! In fact, some fans have been asking for a Shuri solo movie.
Many MCU fans thought it was crazy when they heard that a movie called Guardians of the Galaxy was coming out with a talking tree as a character. They thought it was even crazier when they found out the producers had cast a huge star like Vin Diesel to voice a character who can only say three words.
However, it didn’t take long for the character to (pun intended) grow on audiences, especially at the end of his debut outing in 2014 when he said, “We are Groot,” and sacrificed himself to save the other Guardians. Groot is now a screen icon as well as a comics icon.
Thanks to Norse mythology, most people were vaguely familiar with Thor, as well as the family around him – Odin, Loki, Frigga etc. – but very few people outside the comic book fan community knew about Valkyrie.
She wasn’t introduced into the MCU until Thor’s third solo movie, and even then, she didn’t reappear until this year in Endgame. But she’s already proven to be tremendously popular with moviegoers, and the fact that Thor has just appointed her the Queen of New Asgard sets her up for a bright future in the MCU. Without the MCU, she might have been doomed to a life of insignificance.
Yondu, the leader of a chapter of the Ravagers who raised Peter Quill as his own son, will not be forgotten by MCU fans any time soon. At the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a movie about Quill meeting his biological father and discovering he’s actually a diabolical villain bent on dominating the universe, we realize just how much Yondu cares about Quill as he sacrifices himself to save him.
It’s a heartbreaking moment, especially since it’s followed by Quill’s realization that after years of telling the other kids his dad was David Hasselhoff, he actually had “a pretty cool dad.”
It’s tough to believe that Korg even existed before his film debut in Thor: Ragnarok, because director Taika Waititi played him himself and really made the character his own, modeling him after bouncers he knew from living in New Zealand.
But the softly spoken rock monster actually debuted in the Marvel Comics storyline “Planet Hulk,” which Ragnarok was loosely based on to make the third Thor movie kind of a Hulk solo movie without Universal getting to release it. It’s safe to say that virtually no one would be familiar with the character if it weren’t for Waititi’s hilarious portrayal of him in the MCU.
Gamora was widely loved by comic book readers before James Gunn brought her to the silver screen in 2014, but it wasn’t until then that mainstream audiences took notice of her. It wasn’t long before she was popular, though, because she’s fierce, funny, likable, and she’s clearly the strongest and smartest of all the Guardians of the Galaxy (but let’s be honest, that’s a low bar to top).
Zoe Saldana has always been fantastic in the role, and has made her so popular that fans are praying she wasn’t turned to dust when Tony Stark snapped his fingers at the end of Avengers: Endgame and she can still appear in the franchise’s future.
Comic book readers have always known Thanos as one of the most fearsome and powerful villains in Marvel lore, but it wasn’t until the Russo brothers set out to make him as iconic and instantly recognizable as Darth Vader in their gargantuan 2018 epic Avengers: Infinity War that mainstream moviegoers took notice of the purple tyrant.
The sight of the Mad Titan donning the Infinity Gauntlet with a complete set of Infinity Stones and then snapping his fingers to bend reality was already familiar to diehard comic fans, but now, it’s one of the most earth-shattering movie plot twists in recent memory. For the first time in the MCU, the bad guy won. Thanos wouldn’t be getting forgotten any time soon.
Rocket has gone from being entirely obscure to becoming one of the MCU’s most beloved characters. He’s so well-known now that most people know he’s not really a raccoon, he just happens to look a lot like one.
The voice work of Bradley Cooper, as well as James Gunn’s personable characterization in the writing and direction of the films, have made Rocket an unforgettable part of Marvel canon. Fans came for the jokes, but stayed for the emotional connection. Rocket has grown a lot over the course of his MCU story arc, and fans have relished the chance to follow that arc.
1 Iron Man
It’s hard to believe now that Iron Man was ever obscure, since Robert Downey, Jr. has spent the last 11 years making him the most popular superhero in the world, but back in 2008, Marvel took a risk when they chose him to kickstart their long-running, interconnected film franchise.
Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk were at least vaguely familiar to mainstream audiences. But no one outside of the comic book community really knew who Iron Man was. That would all change as the MCU grew, of course, and now, he’s as widely known as the legendary likes of Batman and Superman.