With a staggering ten years worth of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe comprises of eighteen films, with another six entries promised for the next two years. Encompassing three phases of blockbusting comic book movies, Disney’s juggernaut franchise has seemingly employed nearly every actor in the business.
Although the series has given rise to exciting comebacks such as Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), granted established stars such as Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) yet another franchise under their belts, and made heroes out of unknown talents like Tom Holland (Spider-Man), the multi-billion dollar MCU has worked with so many stars, it’s impossible to keep track of them all.
Many roles have been recast and there are also many cameos that you may have missed – and no, we’re not talking about Stan Lee. Earlier films have also featured brief appearances from actors who had not yet had their big break, but are huge now.
Here are 20 Stars Even Die Hard Fans Forgot Were in the MCU
20 Danny Pudi
Best known for his mega-meta role on Community as Abed Nadir, Danny Pudi teamed back up with the Russo Brothers, who directed several of the show’s best episodes, for a small role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. technician in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. His lines are sparse, but he plays a crucial role in the film when Captain America and team take back control of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Hellicarriers.
Pudi is no action star and this bite-sized appearance is little more than a cameo bred from his existing relationship with the directors.
However, his role as Abed was voted one of comedy television’s best characters, so we wouldn’t be surprised if this small role becomes one of many cinematic appearances for the comedian best known for his bromance with Troy (Donald Glover).
19 Natalie Dormer
Of course, we now all know Natalie Dormer as the power hungry Margaery Tyrell in HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones, as well as appearing alongside Jennifer Lawrence in the final two Hunger Games films. However, before she vied for the Iron Throne, she only had eyes for Captain America.
A short scene following a montage of Cap’s brave exploits has Dormer playing Private Lorraine, who shares a steamy ‘thank you’ kiss in front of Hayley Atwell’s jealous Peggy Carter. From seducing superheroes to seducing kings, the actress has now swapped small film roles for starring television roles, with Dormer leading Showcase’s upcoming reimagining of Picnic at Hanging Rock this year.
18 Colm Feore
It’s not hard to miss this appearance as, although Feore’s turn as the King of the Frost Giants, Laufey, is far more than a brief cameo, his face and body were trapped beneath several layers of impressive costuming and make up for the entirety of his appearance.
He still manages to impress, however, as Asgard’s greatest threat before Loki comes along.
Though Feore eventually returned to blockbuster movies in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the villainous Laufey is where he really shines with Marvel, and he is probably best known for his supporting role in the fourth series of House of Cards.
17 Olivia Munn
Previously known for hosting pop culture discussion show Attack of the Show! Munn is now known as a breakout star in projects such as Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom and eventually became a superhero herself (Psylocke) in the latest entry in the X-Men series, X-Men: Apocalypse.
After speculation followed reports of Munn’s casting in Iron Man 2, fans hoped she could be making an appearance as Black Widow or the Wasp. Sadly, her role was a brief one and her time in the spotlight was a few years off yet. Playing a reporter outside the Stark Expo, Munn is now fulfilling her blockbuster potential and will be appearing as Psylocke again in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
16 Powers Boothe
MCU fans may remember the shadowy World Security Council from the first Avengers film, a group of Nick Fury’s superiors who keep to the darkness and make stupid decisions. Though the majority of them reappeared in The Winter Soldier, the head Councilman, Gideon Malick, instead shows up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., played by Powers Boothe.
A TV legend, Boothe first became popular after his appearance as famous detective Phillip Marlowe, before scoring roles in everything from Deadwood to 24 and Nashville. Appearing in Sin City and its sequel, Boothe is also no stranger to superhero properties, having voiced both Gorilla Grodd and Red Tornado in the long-running Justice League animated shows.
15 Chris O'Dowd
Still best known for his hilarious work on The IT Crowd, the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd can be seen in a short sequence in the disappointing Thor: The Dark World.
Thankfully, his comedic charm makes his scene, in which he plays a potential suitor for Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, one of the film’s best.
Though O’Dowd ditches his scraggly beard and Irish brogue, it’s not hard to imagine him asking if they’ve tried turning it off and on again when Portman bashes a piece of malfunctioning tech on their table in the middle of a date. O’Dowd has since seen success in further serious roles in films such as Molly’s Game and Calvary, though his comedic presence wasn’t quite enough to save The Cloverfield Paradox.
14 Sylvester Stallone
It’s almost criminal that James Gunn cast the original action movie star, both Rocky and Rambo himself, Sylvester Stallone, in the briefest of appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but we’re willing to forgive him knowing that both Stakar Ogord and his team of misfits will be appearing in future films.
Also known as Starhawk, Stakar is one of Marvel Comics’ most powerful galactic heroes and an original founding member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. With precognitive abilities, a seemingly endless life span and the power to manipulate light and energy, we can’t wait for his cinematic role to be extended, and for Sly Stallone to make his glorious return to action movies.
13 Linda Cardellini
Avengers: Age of Ultron certainly wasn’t the best received movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I think we can all agree that the revelation of Hawkeye’s family was one of its best and sweetest scenes.
Who better to portray Clint Barton’s wife than Linda Cardellini, who became every millennial’s teenage crush with her starring role on Freaks and Geeks?
Younger readers will likely know her best from the live action Scooby Doo films, but she has since taken more mature television roles on both Mad Men and Netflix’s Bloodline. Though Cardellini isn’t slated to appear in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, we hope she reappears to give her husband some important life lessons very soon.
12 Ty Burrell
Before Phil Dunphy became everyone’s favourite comedy TV dad since Homer Simpson, Ty Burrell was a lesser known dramatic actor, with cinematic roles in Evolution and Dawn of the Dead and even appearing in three episodes of Law & Order as three different characters.
A year before his big break, Burrell appeared as Doc Samson, who is seen dating Bruce Banner’s comic love interest Betty Ross at the start of the film. Comic book aficionados will recognise the name of Doc Samson as another exponent to gamma radiation, usually depicted with superhuman strength, green hair and a tight red shirt. That’s a look we would love to see Ty Burrell pull off.
11 Nathan Fillion
Nathan Fillion should really have been starring in one of these films, but since his hit show Firefly was unceremoniously cancelled after just one season, he has struggled to be considered leading man material.
Instead of being the choice to play intergalactic rogue, Star Lord, Fillion makes a brief appearance in the film’s infamous prison scene.
Much like Colm Feore, it’s not hard to have missed this cameo, as the character played by Fillion is entirely CGI and he simply provides the voice. Playing a giant, blue alien who threatens Star Lord, Fillion was also supposed to appear in the film’s sequel, yet his cameo was eventually cut. Surely James Gunn can do the guy a favour and give him a meatier role in Vol. 3?
10 Glenn Close
From Nathan Fillion, to John C Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz, Guardians of the Galaxy is packed to the brim with surprising supporting cast members, but none is so wildly out of left field than Glenn Close, whose casting is so strange for such a little utilized character that it’s easy to forget what exactly her character did during the course of the film.
Best known to us as her brilliant and crazy performance as Cruella de Vil in Disney’s live action 101 Dalmations and its sequel, Close is no stranger to taking tiny, weird film roles. We now all know that the pirate who gets subjugated to torture by scorpion stings in Hook was played by Close, but she also appeared as Alodi in the recent adaptation of Warcraft.
9 Julie Delpy
The snobbier film fans amongst us will know Julie Delpy from her stunning work as Celine in all three entries of Richard Linklater’s acclaimed Before… Trilogy.
However, she was a stranger to mainstream audiences and MCU fanatics until her appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
A French actress, who also appeared in the Three Colours Trilogy, Delpy turns up in a small role in the Avengers sequel as Natasha Romanoff’s cruel teacher in the sinister Red Room training programme, a memory sparked by Scarlet Witch’s mind-altering powers. With a Black Widow film potentially in the works, we wouldn’t be surprised if Delpy’s role is eventually extended.
8 Ving Rhames
Much like Sylvester Stallone, this is one very brief appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that is bound to be increased in future MCU films. Playing Charlie-27, Ving Rhames’ impressive build is perfect as a genetically engineered soldier designed to withstand Jupiter’s heavy gravity.
As such, the soldier and pilot has increased strength, durability and stamina and has 11 times the body mass of an average human. Though Ving Rhames disappeared after his appearances in Mission Impossible and Pulp Fiction, the last and upcoming Mission: Impossible films have bulked his role, so we have no doubt Rhames has what it takes to portray a founding member of the original Guardians of the Galaxy.
7 Jim Rash
Another Community alum, Jim Rash is best known for playing the flamboyant Dean of Greendale Community College and made a brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War as none other than, well, the Dean of M.I.T.
Could this be the same character after receiving an impressive promotion? Unfortunately, his shaky history at Greendale suggests probably not.
As well as occasionally directing and writing for the show, Jim Rash is also an Oscar Award winning writer of The Descendants. With Rash continuing the tradition of Community actors appearing in Russo Brothers-directed MCU films, speculation is running wild as to who will be appearing in Avengers: Infinity War. Our money is on Chevy Chase as Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben.
6 Judy Greer
The Descendants brings us nicely to Judy Greer, who made an appearance in the Oscar-winning film and, despite venturing into blockbuster territory, is best known for her work in comedy dramas and sitcoms. First attracting attention in Arrested Development, Greer is best celebrated as the voice of Archer’s psychotic egomaniac, Cheryl (or Carol).
Slated to reprise her role in the film’s sequel, Judy Greer first entered the MCU as Scott Lang’s ex-wife, Maggie, in Ant-Man. Now his new girlfriend has the ability to fly, so we’re sure Scott isn’t too cut up about it. Greer has also done impressive motion-capture work alongside Andy Serkis in the Planet of the Apes franchise.
5 Michael Stuhlbarg
Unfortunately, Disney made the egregious mistake of casting an actor who is now considered one of the all-time great supporting character actors in a tiny role that doesn’t really allow him to stretch his best performance skills.
Nicodemus West, a rival surgeon to Doctor Strange, is played by none other than Michael Stuhlbarg.
Previously known best for his leading role in the Coen Brothers’ underrated A Serious Man, Stuhlbarg has had the year of his life in 2017, appearing in an impressive three films nominated for Best Picture; The Shape of Water, The Post, and Call Me By Your Name. He also impressed us last year in Arrival, so we can only hope that the MCU gives him the role he deserves in the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel.
4 Sam Neill
Thor: Ragnarok was the funniest Marvel movie yet, thanks to the brilliant and eccentric mind of Taika Waititi. An uproarious scene in Asgard, now under the control of Loki impersonating his adopted father Odin, has Matt Damon surprise us by depicting Loki in a fine example of Asgardian theatre. It's a shame this means Damon is unlikely to appear in the MCU again, but it's worth it for the hilarious cameo.
What you may not know is that the role of Odin is here taken by Sam Neill, who worked with Waititi on his previous film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Best known for Jurassic Park, Neill’s intentionally wooden performance as Odin is far from his best, but it’s certainly one of his funniest.
3 Harry Dean Stanton
A rare breathing moment in the final, action-packed act of The Avengers sees a recently transformed and naked Bruce Banner lying face first in a pile of rubble, before being happened upon by an old security guard played by the late, great Harry Dean Stanton.
His suggestion that Hulk could be an alien refers back to Stanton’s most famous role in Alien as Brett.
However, his career spans multiple decades and includes work with famed directors such as David Lynch, John Carpenter and Wim Wenders. Never one to quit, Stanton worked well into his old age and his last film, Lucky, is a touching tribute to his long career as an actor. We're happy he was able to include the MCU in his impressive roster of films before he passed away.
2 Michelle Yeoh
The final actor we’ll mention as a founding member of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Michelle Yeoh, Ving Rhames and Sylvester Stallone also appears alongside the voice of Miley Cyrus in a post-credit scene in Vol. 2. Her comic counterpart is Aleta Ogord, the brother of Sly’s character, Stakar.
Much like her teammates, her powers are far stronger, and stranger, than the current slate of intergalactic guardians, sharing her brother’s ability to manipulate light itself, as well as being able to phase through solid matter. Before Yeoh becomes known as another extra-terrestrial superheroine for the MCU, however, she was one of the most popular martial arts actors in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
1 Terrence Howard
The MCU's most infamous recast. The role of Rhodey, Tony Stark’s best friend and partner who hates the term ‘sidekick’, was previously played by Terrence Howard before Don Cheadle took over. Introduced with the knowing line, “it’s me, I’m here, deal with it”, it’s now hard imagining anyone but Cheadle in the tank-like War Machine suit.
Though Marvel is not scared of recasting roles, the character of James Rhodes is their most high profile replacement yet.
This occurred after a potential pay cut caused Howard to drop the part. Howard never donned the grey Iron Man armour, so it’s easier to simply consider his part a separate character to the Rhodey we all know and love.
Any stars even we've forgotten about? Jog our memories in the comments!