The Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced lots of wonderful designs over the years, from the comics-accurate costumes of Spider-Man: Homecoming to the far-out mystical realms of Doctor Strange, not to mention the sumptuous space-scapes of Guardians of the Galaxy. However, over the years, there have also been missed opportunities.
Marvel Studios, like every major film company, hires artists to produce concept art during the development of its movies. Marvel and its directors end up taking some inspiration from these artists, resulting in some visually-pleasing cinematic spectacle. However, in some cases, the best concept art designs get left behind in favor of less interesting ones.
Sometimes, to retain a more grounded style, or simply to save some money, Marvel ignores the most imaginative designs and plumps for something a bit safer. Indeed, as you’ll learn in the list you’re about to read, a lot of very funky ideas have come up during development, only to be quashed before the actual production of the film.
The MCU would be a lot more visually varied, and a fair bit weirder, if the powers-that-be had acknowledged the excellence of certain pieces of concept art, instead of choosing the homogenous lunchbox-friendly options.
Read on, then, and discover 20 Unused MCU Concept Art Designs That Were Better Than What We Got.
20 Caped Gamora
Clearly, lots of different designs were considered during the development of Guardians of the Galaxy. This makes sense, of course, considering that the film was so far removed from everything previously seen in the MCU. In the end, the powers-that-be opted for a bright and colorful vibe that film fans of all ages could enjoy.
However, along the way to that understandable decision, Marvel tried out some grungier designs. This caped Gamora concept art – which bears some similarity to the aforementioned steampunk team shot – imagines a darker, greyer and more sinister take on Zoe Saldana's daughter of Thanos.
Arguably, this design is less generic than the bright green skin and the leather outfit that ended up on the screen. You can imagine this version of Gamora undertaking some darker character material, and slotting into a less family-friendly Guardians flick.
19 Iron Man’s Space Suit
While promoting Iron Man 3, Marvel put out tonnes of images, each pertaining to a different suit that Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark had made between movies. One of these images was a cool piece of concept art: Iron Man’s space suit, which features a unique white and grey color palette along with the traditional gold faceplate.
However, the suit had no role to play in the movie. The new suits showed up and then got blown up in the third act, as Tony made a big romantic gesture to impress Gwenyth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts. There was no space travel in the film, and this piece of art ended up having no relevance to the story.
This is a very cool suit, though, which is a lot more fresh and exciting than the costumes that did appear in Iron Man 3. With any luck, fans will get to see this suit – or one like it – in a future MCU movie. Between Infinity War and its sequel, Tony has to end up in space at some point.
18 Ultron’s Extra Arms
Speaking of Age of Ultron, these two pieces of concept art show that Marvel entertained the idea of giving the murderous robot a few extra arms. This would have given Ultron more of a threatening physicality, which might have helped to make the villain scarier.
Following in the footsteps of Loki was never going to be easy for this Avengers 2 baddie, but some extra arms may have helped him to stand out from the pack a bit more. James Spader’s voice work was fine, but the character of Ultron wasn’t a particularly groundbreaking or showstopping presence.
Obviously, throwing some extra arms at its title villain wouldn’t have made Age of Ultron a perfect movie. However, it could have made the character slightly more threatening, and lessened the need to have hundreds of Ultron-bots in the third act.
17 Arnim Zola Takes Robotic Form
The Russo brothers’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier is revered as one of the MCU’s best movies, boasting a gritty aesthetic that looks closer to a Bourne film than a generic superhero movie.
As the film’s tension ratchets up, Chris Evans’ Captain America discovers a secret HYDRA base controlled by Toby Jones’ deceased evil scientist, Arnim Zola. In the finished movie, Zola appears on a computer screen, which Cap – not being too savvy with modern technology – wallops with his fist. This is one of the few naff moments in an otherwise excellent film.
However, clearly, other ideas were thrown around during development: these pieces of concept art reveal that Marvel considered giving Zola a robotic body, which would allow him to challenge Cap on a physical level as well as a political one. It’s hard to deny that these designs are more eye-catching than a face on a screen.
16 The Mandarin With An Actual Suit
One of the most divisive moments in MCU history came in Iron Man 3, when Sir Ben Kingsley’s the Mandarin was revealed to be a cockney actor and soccer enthusiast named Trevor Slattery. The backlash was loud, and the short film All Hail the King didn’t really fix anything by suggesting that there was, in fact, a proper Mandarin keeping tabs on Trevor.
This Iron Man 3 concept art, however, shows that Marvel was thinking about giving Kingsley’s Mandarin an actual battle suit at some point. It’s unclear if there was ever a draft of the script where Kingsley was playing the actual Mandarin, or a draft where he donned a suit to fight Iron Man physically, but it’s still fun to imagine an alternate version of Iron Man 3 where both of those things happened.
For some fans, the Mandarin/Trevor reveal was a hilarious moment, but for others, it was a big let-down. For fans in the latter camp, this concept art offers a tantalizing glimpse of what could’ve been.
15 Steampunk Guardians
James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a triumph for the MCU, allowing fans to glimpse a whole new cosmic corner of the shared universe. The finished film features plentiful beautiful vistas, eye-catching characters, and stunning visual effects shots. However, during the concept art phase, a far less mainstream version of the central team was drawn up.
Groot looks monstrous, Quill wears a blue suit of armor, and Gamora dons a cape. Only Drax and Rocket resemble the final product that ended up being produced in this steampunk iteration of the Guardians. The Guardians films ended up being beautiful, but it’s still interesting to wonder what could’ve been.
If Marvel and Gunn had gone down this route and made the Guardians a bit grungier and edgier, the film could well have been even cooler-- but would it have appealed to as wide an audience? Perhaps not.
14 Dormammu With A Body
“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.” This scene-- in which Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange used the Time Stone to outwit and infuriate a huge cosmic being-- is one of the standout moments in Scott Derickson’s well-received origin movie, Doctor Strange.
However, you could argue that the visualization of Dormammu – essentially a big face in the sky – felt a little half-baked compared to the stunning VFX sequences elsewhere in the film.
This concept art version of the space-based baddie is a bit more interesting, showing Dormammu as a rock-like being with a full body and a long head. A fiery dimension looms behind him, in a very creepy fashion.
This design is a bit more unique than the one from the finished film, but, in all honesty, Dormammu’s look isn’t of vital importance. This scene is all about Stephen Strange using his smarts to save the day, and it still packs a really entertaining punch.
13 Decomposing Scary Malekith
Speaking of uninteresting baddies that could’ve looked better, Thor: The Dark World really squandered Christopher Eccleston's talents by giving him the undeveloped and utterly unthreatening Malekith to work with.
In this, one of the worst MCU movies, Malekith is one of the most deplorable facets of the film. His uninspired visual look – lots of white and black, and some colored contact lenses – didn’t really help.
However, during the concept art phase of development, a more interesting look for Malekith cropped up. This version would’ve been grey and grim, with a decomposed feel dominating the design. The finished Malekith had one manky half of his face, but this version would’ve covered the whole character in that sort of color.
Given that Malekith spent ages locked up prior to the events of the film, this kind of look would make narrative sense, and would also look cool. It may not have saved the film, but it could’ve made it more bearable.
12 Alternate Yellowjacket Looks
It isn’t just the ants that got different designs during Ant-Man’s lengthy development process, either. Various looks were also considered for Corey Stoll’s villainous Yellowjacket. Arguably, the one they ended up going with was the least impressive of the bunch.
One design (above right) gave Yellowjacket pointed stilts, which could’ve provided him with a few different attacks during the climactic fight scenes. Another (above left) blended blue lights into the costume, adding another eye-catching element to the design.
In the end, they went for a fairly generic looking armored suit (above middle), with yellow honeycomb patterns splattered across it. The glowing helmet on the finished design is particularly unremarkable, and either of the other options would’ve been better. As it stands, Yellowjacket went down as one of the least memorable villains in the MCU.
11 Star-Lord’s Mom With A Giant Hand
In Guardians of the Galaxy’s final confrontation between Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord and Lee Pace’s Ronan, the former grabs hold of an Infinity Stone. He is thrust into a cosmically-tinged vision, where sees his mother reaching out her hand, just as she did from her hospital bed on the day of her death.
In the finished film, Laura Haddock’s Meredith Quill appeared as her ordinary human-sized self during this vision. However, in this piece of concept art, she’s writ large, with her hand and face filling the screen, highlighting the importance of the moment and hammering home the emotional payoff.
It’s easy to assume that budgetary constraints had a hand in the decision to tone down this design. The VFX budget was spent well elsewhere, and – even though the giant hand might've looked more visually arresting – this final foray into cosmic color still had its intended impact in the film.
10 Death Zealots From Doctor Strange
In Doctor Strange, there’s a sense that so much of the budget was spent on trippy realm-spanning sequences and magical moves that there wasn’t much left over to make the baddies look cool. Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius has the cracks around his eyes to make him stand out, but his acolytes are just blokes in robes.
This piece of concept art depicts an idea that got lost on the way to the screen: the Death Zealots, who were intended to appear as creepy followers of Kaecilius. They have skeletal faces, holes instead of eyes, and all-black clothing. Undeniably, they look far more interesting than the generic robe-wearing footsoldiers that ended up in the movie.
Obviously, it would have cost a lot to make these characters appear on screen convincingly, so it’s easy to see why the design was dropped. It’s still pretty cool, though.
9 Nebula With Robotic Eye & ‘Hair’
Thanos’ other daughter, Karen Gillan’s Nebula, also underwent some different designs during the development phase of Guardians of the Galaxy. Also veering into darker territory, this version of Nebula has a fully robotic eye, a mostly-black armored costume, and jagged "hair" – which looks like wires, or some other form of technology – emerging from the back of her head.
In the end, this design got thrown out with all the other steampunk material, and Nebula wound up having bright blue skin and a purple out. Her arm was fully robotic, but her face only features a few metallic flourishes. Again, Marvel opted for less grunge and more toy-friendly fun.
It’s fun to imagine a world where Marvel and writer-director James Gunn had expressed different preferences, resulting in a darker style for the Guardians of the Galaxy. These grim designs wouldn’t really fit with the funny and familial script, though.
8 Hulk Vs Massive Abomination
Interestingly, this concept art for The Incredible Hulk imagined that Bruce Banner’s big green rage monster was tiny in comparison to the Abomination. In the finished film they are roughly the same size, meaning that, when they finally fight at the end, it’s a fairly even bout and not particularly remarkable.
Perhaps this concept artist was onto something. If Emil Blonsky’s transformation made him far larger than the Hulk, that final fight would’ve put the jade giant in a very unfamiliar position: battling a creature with more might and size than he has. This could’ve been a visually arresting showdown, with the Hulk having to use some unconventional tactics to take the Abomination down.
Filming such a sequence and bringing it to life with CGI wouldn’t have been easy, though, so you can see the filmmaking logic behind ignoring this concept art and making the two monsters essentially the same.
7 Armored Ant With A Lazer
This piece of Ant-Man concept art proves that the Marvel Cinematic Universe puts loads of thought into the tiniest of details. At some point during the film's development – it's unclear if Edgar Wright or Peyton Reed was in charge at this stage – the idea came up to have weaponized ants with armor and lasers.
The finished film, however, doesn’t feature any violent ants. It just has helpful ones – like the standout insect character, Anthony – that aid Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang on his missions. Arguably, some killer ants firing lasers could’ve really livened the film up. They definitely would’ve added a whole new dimension to some of the action scenes.
Perhaps fans will get to see this idea – which looks very cool in the concept art – explored at some point in the future. With Rudd’s Scott set to return in Ant-Man & The Wasp and Avengers: Infinity War, there’s no reason why not.
6 Strucker With A Claw
After making his MCU debut during the credits of The Winter Soldier, Thomas Kretschmann’s Wolfgang von Strucker turned up in Avengers: Age of Ultron as the main HYDRA presence in the film. However, after playing his part in the creation of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, he was captured by the Avengers and locked in a cell. Shortly afterward, Ultron killed him off-screen.
This was an unceremonious end for a character that had barely had a chance to be established. However, the concept art for Strucker suggests that he might once have played a larger role: in this piece of art, he has his powerful Satan Claw from the comics.
This strength-enhancing gauntlet also has electrical shock powers in the comic book source material. If it had been included in the MCU, perhaps Strucker would have had some action scenes of his own. Maybe he could’ve put up a bit more of a fight against Ultron too. Alas, it wasn't to be.
5 Doctor Strange’s Unsettling Astral Form
This concept art – which offers an alternate idea of what Stephen Strange’s astral form could look like – offers further proof that a darker tone was considered during Doctor Strange’s development. Between this and the Death Zealots, it’s easy to imagine a version of Doctor Strange that leaned more onto director Scott Derrickson’s horror experience.
However, the MCU movies are all family-friendly films, and Doctor Strange did not end up bucking that trend. Instead of a skeletal, cracked, lightning-charged astral form, the movie ended up just going for a yellow, ghostly, more palatable design.
These alternate Doctor Strange designs, and the steampunk Guardians art, offer a tantalising glimpse at the other sorts of things that Marvel could do, if they were willing to move out of the PG-13 pigeonhole and embrace darker content. Sadly, as it stands, you can only get darker Marvel stories in live-action form via Netflix.
4 Grungier Nova Corps
One of the many things that Guardians of the Galaxy had to do was establish the space police force known as Nova Corps. In the finished film, they are a slick and fairly nice institution boasting Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz among their ranks. Their costumes are blue with flourishes of yellow, with extras being made to wear clunky helmets in the background.
During the film’s development, an alternative design was produced, with a more metallic armor. This costume was partially black and had some shiny segments. The light-up bits were blue instead of orange. And the helmets were a lot more sinister, with a spike protruding from the top.
This grungier take on the Nova Corps would have fit nicely with the alternate Guardians and Nebula designs featured earlier in this list. But, of course, that wasn’t the direction that the film ended up going in.
3 Baron Zemo’s Comic Book Style
Captain America: Civil War positioned Daniel Brühl’s Zemo as its big bad, borrowing a character name from the comics. Within the pages of Marvel's print output, Baron Zemo wears a purple mask and is a master strategist of a supervillain. In Civil War, the tactical mastery remained – as Zemo found a way to turn Cap and Iron Man against each other using Bucky’s chequered past – but the mask was gone.
Thanks to this piece of concept art, it’s clear that Marvel was, at some stage, open to the idea of giving Zemo a mask in the film. Here, the purple mask is paired with a military-style jacket. It’s a striking image, which would’ve worked well on screen. It suggests a version of Zemo that poses a more physical threat.
However, the decision was made to present the live-action Zemo as solely a genius manipulator. The supervillain outfit and the gunplay it suggests never made into the film.
2 Scarlet Witch Unleashing Her Power
Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch used her powers plenty of times in Age of Ultron, notably giving various people scary visions and even taking control of the Hulk for a time. However, fans never got to see this scene, which saw her unleashing her power to affect an entire legion of soldiers.
This is another cool piece of concept art, which shows Scarlet Witch as a real force to be reckoned with. If she could control/manipulate that many people at once, Scarlet Witch could easily cause a lot of trouble. However, Joss Whedon chose to send the character on a more heroic path instead, and there was no room in the movie for a scene like this.
Civil War offered something vaguely similar, when Scarlet Witch’s powers backfired during the Lagos mission. Even that wasn’t as exciting as this artwork, though, which showcases the character’s as-yet-untapped visual and villainous potential.
1 Comics-Accurate Daredevil
Here’s the proof that Marvel had the perfect Daredevil costume right under their nose, but deliberately opted for something worse. There was a lot of negative reaction to the live-action Daredevil costume that Charlie Cox donned towards the end of his first season on Netflix, with a lot of fans calling for a more accurate depiction of the suit from the comics.
This piece of concept art is remarkably accurate to the comics, with only a few black flourishes added to an otherwise bright red piece – complete with "DD" logo. However, instead of commissioning a costume like this, which fans would've loved, Marvel went with a duller shade of red and way more of that black padding.
Of course, you could argue that a comics-accurate costume would look a bit weird in real life. But still, it probably would’ve been better than what Cox ended up having to wear.
Which piece of concept art is your favourite? Which MCU design would you most like to change? Let us know in the comments.