For many stars, landing a role in a superhero film is like winning the lottery. Play a superhero, and you’ll be set for life. Script after script will land on your lap, and directors will be begging you to appear in their movies.
Sometimes, that’s exactly what happens, and these stars deliver hit after box-office hit. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is filled with stars who rose out of obscurity and became household names after their Marvel movie dropped.
Marvel has also been responsible for rebranding several actors, raising them from their humble television origins and turning them into A-list action stars.
However, for some of the actors and actresses listed here, what was supposed to be their big break turned out to be a career crusher.
After appearing in a big Marvel movie, some of these actors and actresses disappeared from our screens only to return years later, usually in a television show, making audiences ask, “Where have they been?”
For the most part, stars who have appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have enjoyed lengthy periods of success, while those who appeared in other Marvel Comics properties have not always been as lucky.
Here are the 7 Marvel Stars Whose Careers Flopped After Their Movies Ended (And 8 Whose Careers Blew Up).
15 Blew Up: Hugh Jackman As Wolverine
Hugh Jackman is indisputably the ultimate triple-threat in Hollywood. He can sing, dance, and act, and he’s enjoyed success in a wide range of genres like musicals, science-fiction, and action movies.
Before his breakthrough performance as Wolverine in the first X-Men film, Jackman was primarily known within Australia for his work in musical theater. He gained widespread recognition when he starred in a Royal National Theatre’s production of Oklahoma! The role won him an Olivier for Best Actor in a Musical.
As difficult as it is to imagine anyone else playing the role of Wolverine, the part was originally written for fellow Australian actor Russel Crowe who suggested Jackman for the part.
From then on, Jackman has starred in a number of movies, from cult hits like The Prestige to Oscar darlings like Les Misérables, in addition to a number of X-Men movies and standalone Wolverine movies.
14 Flopped: January Jones As Emma Frost
When January Jones appeared as Emma Frost in the X-Men reboot, X-Men: First Class, it seemed like she’d be making a home for herself on the big screen.
If anything, when news of a follow-up to First Class was announced, fans thought she’d at least make a return as the icy mutant for Days of Future Past. For whatever reason, Jones wasn’t asked back to reprieve her role along with several other actors from the Singerverse X-Men and First Class.
After First Class, Jones continued to appear as Betty Draper in AMC’s Critically acclaimed Mad Men, and she also starred in a number of movies that went straight to Video on Demand.
While she didn’t find long-running success in movies, she has continued to do well in television. She’s currently starring in the Fox comedy The Last Man on Earth with Will Forte and Kristen Schaal.
13 Blew Up: Chris Hemsworth As Thor
One of Chris Hemsworth’s earliest credits is a 171-episode run on an Australian soap opera called Home and Away. Shortly after he left that show, he had a six-week stint on Dancing with the Stars Australia before getting eliminated from the competition.
A little over two years later, he grabbed a small, but important role in J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot as James T. Kirk's father, George Kirk. While the role didn’t make him a star, it got him noticed by none other than Joss Whedon who cast him in his horror comedy Cabin in the Woods.
Hemsworth had to audition for the role of Thor several times, and he credits Joss Whedon for encouraging him to audition again after initially being rejected. The rest is Marvel history. Since the first Thor, Hemsworth has starred in both financial successes like Snow White and the Huntsman, as well critical knockouts like Rush.
12 12: Flopped: Eric Bana As The Hulk
Surprisingly, Eric Bana got his start in the Australian stand-up comedy scene. While he has a few several comedic roles to his name, most of his work skews towards drama or action.
Shortly after appearing in Black Hawk Down along with half of Hollywood’s 2000 it-actors, he was offered the lead role in Ang Lee’s Hulk. While critics applauded the film for its visual style, overall, the film received mixed reviews, with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus stating that the movie had “too much talking and not enough smashing.”
Despite Hulk’s negative reviews, Bana went on to star in several movies, including Troy, Munich, and The Other Boleyn Girl. Since then, most of his parts have been supporting roles. His most recent credit is playing Uther Pendragon in Guy Ritchie’s 2017 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
11 Blew Up: Sebastian Stan As Bucky Barnes
Before Captain America: The First Avenger, Sebastian Stan had minor roles in movies like Black Swan, Rachel Getting Married, and Hot Tub Time Machine.
Prior to taking on the role of Captain America’s best friend, Bucky Barnes, Stan’s most recognizable role was probably his recurring character on Gossip Girl.
He’s come a long way from his time on the CW, but he didn’t really become a star until after The Winter Soldier, where he played a tortured Bucky Barnes who’d been brainwashed by HYDRA.
Since The Winter Soldier, Stan has appeared in The Martian and had a large part in the critically acclaimed I, Tonya. Not only that, but there’s widespread speculation that once Chris Evans leaves the MCU, Stan’s Bucky will take over as Captain America.
10 Flopped: Ioan Gruffudd As Mister Fantastic
The actor started off with small roles, like playing the Fifth Officer in Titanic, but, soon after, the meatier parts rolled in. Just before he became Mister Fantastic, he played Lancelot in 2004’s King Arthur alongside Keira Knightly and Clive Owen.
Sadly, starring in a Marvel film didn’t catapult him into blockbuster stardom like it eventually did for his co-star, Chris Evans. While Gruffudd’s no longer starring in action films, he currently has two television projects in the works: the second season of his ITV psychological drama Liar and an Australian crime drama called Harrow.
9 Blew Up: Michael B. Jordan As Erik Killmonger
Like Chris Evans, Michael B. Jordan rose from the ashes of a previous Marvel flop, in which he also played the Human Torch, and became a household name.
Jordan has gained critical acclaim for his leading roles in Fruitvale Station and Creed, but before that he had notable roles in two critically acclaimed shows, The Wire and Friday Night Lights.
While Jordan was already a household name for many before Black Panther, his portrayal of the nuanced antagonist Erik Killmonger has him on the fast-track to superstardom.
His performance has already been lauded as the best of the Marvel villains, dethroning the reigning champion Loki with just a single appearance. His next big project sees him producing and starring in a Netflix sci-fi series Raising Dion.
8 Flopped: Topher Grace As Venom
Topher Grace is best known for playing sarcastic nice-guy Eric Forman in one of Fox’s most successful sitcoms, That 70s Show.
After playing the same character for seven seasons, Grace decided to leave the show to pursue other projects.
While he already nabbed some starring movie roles during his time on television with movies like Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and In Good Company, he wanted to devote more time to getting on the big screen. His big break came when he landed the role of Venom in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 3.
While the movie made a lot of money, it received mixed reviews from fans and critics. One of the major critiques of the film was the choice to include three villains, which left Topher’s Venom with little screentime. Since Spiderman 3, Grace has had a stream of supporting roles, including four projects that are slated to premiere this year.
7 Blew Up: Chris Evans As Captain America
It’s hard to imagine a time before Chris Evans was anything other than the heroic Captain America, but that time did exist.
Before Evans began to don the colors of the American flag, he appeared as a different Marvel hero, Johnny Storm, a.k.a. the Human Torch in the 2005 Fantastic Four. His other notable pre-Captain America works consisted of a starring role in the teen-comedy Not Another Teen Movie and a small, but memorable role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Over five years and one Fantastic Four sequel later, Evans appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger. However, his starpower had yet to reach peak levels.
His leading man status wasn’t cemented until he starred opposite Robert Downey Jr. in Joss Whedon’s Avengers, where Evans held his own against Downey’s impressive acting prowess.
6 Flopped: Jennifer Garner As Elektra
Jennifer Garner won the hearts of critics and viewers alike in her turn as Sydney in the J.J. Abrams created action thriller Alias. Garner’s portrayal of a CIA double agent won her a Golden Globe, proving she had the acting chops in addition to being able to kick butt.
Ultimately, this is what landed her a role as Elektra in the Ben Affleck led Daredevil. Since the film was a commercial success, the studio decided to make a spinoff film featuring Garner’s Elektra.
The film was a commercial failure, ranking amongst the least grossing films to feature a Marvel character. Despite not making it big as a Marvel heroine, Garner still regularly appears in films, typically in a supporting role.
Her last big role was in the IFC movie The Tribes of Palos Verdes, though most people have probably seen her most recent work in those Capital One commercials.
5 Blew Up: Letitia Wright As Shuri
As a tech genius with a great sense of humor, Letitia Wright’s Shuri is easily one of the fan favorites from Black Panther, and the actress has been repeatedly called its breakout star.
Prior to her time with Marvel, the actress appeared in a number of successful shows, including Doctor Who and BBC’s Humans. She was most recently seen in the “Black Museum” episode of the latest season of Black Mirror.
While she’s only appeared in the one Marvel film so far, she’s slated to appear in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. Some fans have speculated that once Robert Downey Jr. takes his final bow as Iron Man, Wright will takeover as the head inventor and gadget guru in the MCU.
Wright will also be appearing in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the book Ready Player One, which is scheduled to premiere later this year.
4 Flopped: Aaron Taylor-Johnson As Quicksilver
Aaron Taylor-Johnson is one of the (surprisingly many) actors to play not one, but two Marvel characters. His first brush with stardom came when he played the title role in the 2010 movie Kick-Ass.
While the movie wasn’t made by Marvel Studios, it was adapted from a Marvel comic. Flash-forward years later, and he starred alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans in the highly-anticipated sequel to the first Avengers film.
In Age of Ultron, Aaron Taylor-Johnson played Pietro Maximoff a.k.a. Quicksilver. While his turn as Quicksilver was entertaining, his sister Scarlett Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen, stole the show with her bewitching powers.
While Taylor-Johnson has voiced his desire to return to the MCU, with its ever-growing cast of supporting characters, it seems unlikely. But you never know. In the meantime, he’ll be appearing as the lead in the adaptation of the memoir A Million Little Pieces.
3 Blew Up: Chris Pratt As Star Lord
Before starring in the surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt was primarily known as the affable Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation.
As the show and Pratt’s character gained popularity, the actor began landing more roles. At first, they were supporting roles, but once Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy hit screens, Pratt became a household name.
Soon after playing Star Lord, he snagged another leading role in the fourth installment of the Jurassic Park series, Jurassic World. The film received mild praise from critics, but it was a huge financial success with the film breaking several box office records.
While Pratt had a minor hiccup with his Jennifer Lawrence co-led film Passengers, he’s enjoyed continued success as a leading man with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
2 Flopped: Famke Janssen As Jean Grey
As the beloved Jean Grey, Famke Janssen played a key role in the Singerverse X-Men movies. While the first two films in the trilogy were well received, the last one, the Brett Ratner directed The Last Stand, was panned by fans and critics alike.
The movie suffered from a weak script and the throwaway deaths of major characters like Xavier, Cyclops, and Jean Grey. The Last Stand should have been Janssen’s time to shine as the film tackled the highly anticipated Dark Phoenix storyline, but fans were disappointed with its lazy execution.
Since then, Janssen hasn’t had a leading role in any major blockbuster hits; however, she’s done well on television, with a leading role in Netflix’s Hemlock Grove, a recurring guest spot in How to Get Away with Murder, and a starring role in the Blacklist spinoff, Blacklist: Redemption.
1 Blew Up: Robert Downey Jr. As Iron Man
There’s no doubt that Robert Downey Jr. was well-known before he became the man (along with a few others) who would shepherd in a new era for Marvel movies. He’d gained critical acclaim for a number of roles, including an Oscar nomination for his performance as the title character in the biopic Chaplin.
In the late '90s, Downey was arrested and imprisoned several times on drug-related charges, amongst other things. His road to recovery was a shaky one, but after meeting his wife, producer Susan Levin, he swore off drugs for good.
He landed several roles, including a starring role in the quirky Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and a supporting role in David Finhcer’s thriller Zodiac. Soon after, he got the call for Iron Man, where he brilliantly played an exaggerated version of himself.
The movie was both a financial and critical success, and is often cited as elevating the comic book movie genre. Downey’s box office magic continued with starring roles in six MCU films and Guy Ritchie’s rollicking Sherlock Holmes adaptations.
Can you think of any other Marvel stars whose careers flopped or blew up? Let us know in the comments!