Who are the Ten Rings, the terrorist organization set to return in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and what impact have they already had on the MCU? The Ten Rings have been one of the MCU's recurring threats, a shadowy group of terrorists who covet advanced technology. Their numbers are vast, and according to Iron Man, members of the Ten Rings speak Arabic, Urdu, Dari, Pashto, Mongolian, Farsi, and even Russian.
The name of the group clearly alludes to Iron Man's greatest enemy, the Mandarin. In the comics, the Mandarin gained possession of ten mystic rings, each of which contains the spirit of a long-dead legendary cosmic warrior. They grant the Mandarin phenomenal power, with each ring possessing a different ability - from mental manipulation to electrical blasts, from vortexes of air to matter manipulation. An ancestor of Genghis Khan, the Mandarin is a would-be conqueror who seeks world domination.
After a fake-out in Iron Man 3, Marvel Studios is finally about to introduce the real Mandarin in Shang-Chi, where he will be played by Tony Leung. But the Mandarin's shadow already looms over the MCU as a whole. Let's take a look at all the different things the Ten Rings have been responsible for.
The Ten Rings Were Responsible For Creating Iron Man
The Ten Rings made their MCU debut back in 2008's Iron Man, revealing they were a group of high-tech terrorists who'd been causing trouble in the Middle East for years. Obadiah Stane had been secretly selling Stark weapons to the Ten Rings for years, and struck a deal with them to kill Tony Stark on his behalf. Instead, a Ten Rings cell based in Afghanistan took Stark prisoner, and attempted to force him to make weapons for them. They miscalculated, and Stark built the first Iron Man armor, breaking out and subsequently launching a one-man war against the Ten Rings.
Iron Man introduced the Ten Rings as a tremendously well-organized group of global terrorists, who had access to some of the most advanced weapons on the planet. While the Ten Rings had been a major (albeit illegal) client of Stark Industries, there's absolutely no reason to assume they didn't also have similar contacts in other arms manufacturers. The Ten Rings were particularly interested in having Tony Stark build a Jericho missile for them, and it's noteworthy they believed their Afghanistan cell had the resources to have one made. While Obadiah Stane fumed that Stark built the Iron Man armor in a cave with a box of scraps, he was oversimplifying; Tony had access to some seriously advanced tech when he fashioned a miniature Arc Reactor and his first armor.
The Ten Rings Helped Whiplash Target Tony Stark
According to tie-in comics such as Iron Man 2: Agents of SHIELD, Iron Man continued to take down Ten Rings operations across the globe. In return, they supported Whiplash's attempt to exact revenge on Tony Stark. As shown in Iron Man 2, an agent of the Ten Rings gave Whiplash a ticket to Circuit de Monaco, which Stark would be attending. It's reasonable to assume they also arranged Whiplash's cover as a member of the pit-crew.
The Ten Rings Obtained Scans Of The War Machine Armor
In the aftermath of Iron Man 2, War Machine found himself locked in combat with Ten Rings cells across the globe. The Iron Man 3 Prelude established the basic operating structure of the Ten Rings, largely as a result of Rhodey's investigation. Each Ten Rings cell is apparently completely autonomous, with the leader having just the one contact in another cell. That level of autonomy makes them pretty difficult to fight, as each cell is acting independently and there's no easy way to work your way up the chain of command. War Machine suspected the Ten Rings had operatives inside the US military whose job was to ensure the Ten Rings' leadership were never compromised.
He was probably right, given his battle against the Ten Rings culminated in a trap. The terrorists faked a bio-terror attack in Hong Kong, and when War Machine responded, they attacked him with stolen Hammer-tech - a prototype tank powered by a miniature nuclear reactor, which if damaged could have nuked the entire city. While Rhodey outsmarted the Ten Rings and escaped, they were able to get detailed sensor scans of his War Machine armor.
The False Mandarin And Extremis
That was when Marvel Studios threw a curveball. Fans were primed to expect Iron Man 3 to introduce the Mandarin at last, but instead director Shane Black took a different approach. Corrupt businessman and industrialist Aldrich Killian recognized the potential of the Ten Rings, and tapped into legends of their leadership to create a "boogeyman" called the Mandarin. He used the Mandarin, and his Extremis bio-engineering, to launch terrorist strikes across the United States. Killian's goal was to manipulate the US Government by capturing the president himself, but fortunately he was foiled by Iron Man and War Machine.
The interesting question is whether or not there was even any real relationship between Killian and the Ten Rings. The Iron Man 3 Prelude, for example, definitely shows real Ten Rings operations; but it also featured a member of Killian's team. The most likely reason, from an out-of-universe perspective, is Marvel Comics hadn't been briefed on the Mandarin twist. From an in-universe point of view, though, it may mean the Ten Rings were monitoring Killian and didn't mind him committing havoc in their name, while they waited to see how events played out.
The Mandarin's Revenge on Trevor Slattery
The Mandarin twist didn't go down well with comic book readers, who'd expected a more accurate version of the iconic villain. As a result, Marvel filmed a one-shot called "All Hail the King" as something of an apology. This revealed the actor who had played the Mandarin, Trevor Slattery, had been imprisoned in Seagate Penitentiary for his crimes. After he had served some of his time, the Ten Rings sent in an extraction team to take him to the real Mandarin, who did not appreciate having his identity stolen.
This was a smart fix; it allowed Iron Man 3's version of the Mandarin to coexist perfectly with the idea the villain was really a part of the MCU all along. Slattery didn't know it, but his portrayal was in fact inspired by legends about the real Mandarin.
The Ten Rings Attempted To Obtain PymTech
The Ten Rings faded into the background of the MCU after Iron Man 3; perhaps the fake Mandarin's scheme had put them on the world's radar a little too effectively, and so they wanted to keep their heads down for a while. Whatever the case, though, they were clearly still active; in 2015's Ant-Man, the Ten Rings were one of the groups who tried to purchase PymTech from Darren Cross.
The Ten Rings Could Have Been Obtaining Other Advanced Tech
The attempt to acquire the Yellowjacket suit may suggest the Ten Rings have played another, more subtle role in the MCU in recent years. Spider-Man: Homecoming revealed the Vulture had been selling alien and advanced tech on the black market for years, and it's possible the Ten Rings were one of his clients. Meanwhile, Ant-Man 2 introduced an illicit businessman called Sonny Burch. When Burch learned the potential of Pym Particles, it didn't take him long to find a buyer; the identity of Burch's buyer remains a mystery, but it could be he was working for the Mandarin and the Ten Rings. If that is indeed the case, perhaps Marvel will confirm it by having Walton Goggins reprise the role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021