The Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced hit after hit ever since it began with Iron Man. The MCU has introduced viewers to new, exciting film versions of beloved characters like the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man. Their stories have consistently enthralled fans and left many moviegoers anxious for the next chapter.
Although these stories are now familiar and celebrated, the MCU movies did not always look like their successful finished products. Behind the scenes, writers and directors worked with a wide range of ideas for moving the stories forward and bringing the comic book universe to life on the big screen.
Many stories were left behind in development. In unused stories, Iron Man's first villain was the Mandarin, Doctor Strange took on Nightmare, Hawkeye fought Captain America, and Captain Marvel showed up to defeat Ultron.
If writers and Marvel executives had gone forward with some of their developmental ideas, the MCU would look very different than it does today. Decisions made for these MCU movies shaped how future movies would play out and set precedents that affect all of the following movies. These decisions will influence how upcoming films like Avengers: Infinity War and Captain Marvel will continue the story.
Spoiler alert for recent Marvel movies, especially Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.
Here are the 17 Ways The MCU Was Almost Completely Different.
17 The Mandarin was the villain of the first Iron Man
The first Iron Man movie, which kick-started the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, showed Tony Stark taking on villain Obadiah Stane, his father's old partner and manager of Stark Industries. However, Stane was not the main villain the creators originally intended. In earlier drafts, Obadiah Stane was a secondary villain to the Mandarin, Iron Man's archenemy from the comics.
Eventually, the studio decided not to introduce Iron Man's most iconic villain in the very first movie and centered Stane as the antagonist of the movie. They decided to hold off on the Mandarin due to his problematic imagery and complicated powers, feeling his character was too much to deal with in the introductory movie.
Iron Man did face a form of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, although many fans were disappointed that this version of the Mandarin was only a fake persona to hide the true mastermind, Aldrich Killian. The first Iron Man's development decision may have deprived the MCU of a real version of the Mandarin.
16 Civil War had a completely different plot
The central conflict of Captain America: Civil War was the ideological (and then physical) clash between Iron Man and Captain America. Given the importance of Iron Man to the plot, it is surprising that Marvel prepared for a version of Civil War with no Iron Man.
At the time of the movie, Robert Downey Jr.'s new contract was being negotiated. In case this fell through, the plot would have revolved around the Madbomb, a device that would turn anyone into a mindless zombie. Captain America would have fought these zombies instead of Iron Man's team.
Multiple versions of the script were written for legal contingencies. Another version omitted Spider-Man in case he could not be added to the MCU at that point. Fortunately, both deals worked out, and Marvel was able to move forward with the ideal script for the movie with both Iron Man and Spider-Man.
15 Ant-Man had a Hank Pym action sequence
Ant-Man introduced the lovable Scott Lang as the Ant-Man of the MCU, leaving most of Hank Pym's story in the background. Although the plot is heavily influenced by Pym's run as Ant-Man, his time in the suit is given very little time in the movie.
An earlier version of the script, however, contained more of Hank Pym as Ant-Man, opening the movie with a flashback to his heyday.
Director Peyton Reed elaborated, "It was basically a standalone sequence where you really did not see it was Hank Pym. He was retrieving some microfilm from this, originally Cuban general and then it because a Panamanian general… It really was designed in those early drafts to be almost like a Bond movie standalone scene in the beginning. It was going to show the powers. You never saw Ant-Man, it almost felt like an Invisible Man sequence, and it’s really, really cool."
14 Hawkeye confronted Captain America in Winter Soldier
In the big changes happening in S.H.I.E.L.D. during Captain America: Winter Soldier, Hawkeye was noticeably absent. Due to scheduling conflicts, Jeremy Renner was unable to appear. The directors did originally want Hawkeye to feature in the film, and they had planned a heartbreaking conflict for him.
Director Joe Russo explained, "What it was going to be, we were trying to complicate the relationship between Cap and his S.H.I.E.L.D agent friends. If Hawkeye got a call from S.H.I.E.L.D saying Captain America is a fugitive, would he listen to that call or not listen to that call?"
They had even planned a plot twist. Russo continued, "There was an awesome sequence where they confronted each other in a ravine on the outskirts of D.C. and Hawkeye was shooting a series of arrows closing in on Cap, Cap closing in on him."
"And then Cap took him down and he realized for the first time that Hawkeye was trying to trick S.H.I.E.L.D, where he whispered something into Cap’s ear that Cap had a tracker on his suit and to punch Hawkeye to make it look real, because there was a Quinjet hovering above where they were watching the feedback back at S.H.I.E.L.D.," he said.
13 Black Widow almost had her own movie
Most members of the Avengers have had their complex backstories explained in a series of their own movies. With the volume of backstory the other movies have hinted at for Black Widow, it may seem strange that the skilled assassin-turned-agent does not have a standalone story of her own yet, but she almost did.
Even before the beginning of the MCU, X-Men writer David Hayter wrote a Black Widow screenplay for Lionsgate, but Lionsgate decided that the market was too saturated with female vigilante movies after the failure of the lackluster Aeon Flux movie. Marvel tried to sell the idea to other studios before getting the rights back for her character's premiere in Iron Man 2.
If Black Widow had premiered in a standalone film inside or outside of the MCU, it certainly would have affected her following parts in the Avengers movies.
Fortunately, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has confirmed Black Widow will be getting her own movie down the line, though the details are unclear at this point.
12 Ant-Man was on Iron Man's team in Civil War
Captain America: Civil War divided the Avengers and their new friends into conflicting factions. War Machine, Black Panther, Vision, and Black Widow joined Iron Man, with Iron Man also recruiting Spider-Man out of his then-unseen origins into his team of superheroes.
Captain America's team consisted of Winter Soldier, Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man, but these teams were not set in stone throughout the movie's development.
Concept art reveals that Ant-Man was once on Iron Man's side, showing Captain America having to face down the giant version of Ant-Man that gave Stark's team so much trouble in final version. In the end, joining Team Cap made more sense for Scott Lang's character and gave fans a few great scenes with Ant-Man meeting his hero and playing off Captain America.
11 Dr. Maya Hansen was a bigger villain in Iron Man 3
Dr. Maya Hansen played an important role in Iron Man 3 getting Tony Stark involved in Aldrich Killian's malevolent designs. The research scientist worked with Killian on the Extremis project until the project starting killing people, and she sought out Stark to help fix Extremis. When Hansen tried to stop the evil plot Killian had created around Extremis, she was murdered.
According to Hansen's actress Rebecca Hall, her character did not die in the original story. She stated, "I signed on to do something that was a substantial role. [Maya] wasn't entirely the villain -- there have been several phases of this -- but I signed on to do something very different to what I ended up doing. Halfway through shooting they were basically like, 'What would you think if you just got shot out of nowhere?' I was meant to be in the movie until the end."
Director Shane Black revealed that an early draft of the movie had a female villain as the lead antagonist, but Marvel corporate demanded a male villain because the toys would not sell as well with a female villain.
10 Arnim Zola had a robot body
Nazi scientist Arnim Zola was a character that proved exceptionally hard to get rid of. He worked for Red Skull during the war, rebuilt HYDRA from within S.H.I.E.L.D., and created the Winter Soldier.
In the present day Avengers timeline, long after one would think Zola would be gone, he inserted himself again as a ghost presence uploaded to a computer brain, which was destroyed in a plan to kill Captain America and Black Widow in Winter Soldier.
Zola was supposed to make another appearance in the MCU in Ant-Man, but in a different way. He was going to appear in the 1989 flashback with Hank Pym, Howard Stark, and Peggy Carter. Since 1989 was after he uploaded his consciousness to a computer brain, concept art shows Zola was going to appear in robot form, a disturbing but comic-accurate visual.
9 Vision and War Machine appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming introduced Spider-Man into the MCU in his own movie after years of waiting. The MCU's introduction to Spider-Man tied in heavily with the Avengers, since he had first been brought in to fight alongside Iron Man during Civil War.
Due to Iron Man's influence on Spider-Man's origins, Iron Man appeared in Homecoming to continue his part in Peter Parker's life.
Iron Man was not originally going to help Spider-Man by himself, though. When Iron Man came to Spider-Man's aid, he was going to bring some friends. Early concept art shows Vision and War Machine were also going to make an appearance in earlier versions of the story to provide assistance during the ferry rescue scene.
Both characters have a close relationship with Iron Man and would have been a natural choice for backup, and the scene may have come together better with the help of these extra Avengers.
8 Skrulls were introduced in Guardians
Skrulls, the shapeshifting aliens and enemies of the Kree, have long been part of Marvel lore. They will finally get their introduction to the MCU in the upcoming Captain Marvel, and Carol Danvers will be facing off against the alien antagonists. While fans will have to wait until 2019 to see the Skrulls, they almost got their start in the MCU much earlier in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Director James Gunn said the Skrulls were never off the table for the film, explaining, "No, [Marvel] never said no. [They] said yes! It's something that we've talked a lot about dealing with. I almost put a Skrull in the Ravagers. But I'm really excited they're coming about, and I think it's going to be fun to see where they go from there, and what happens with the Skrulls in the future of the Marvel Universe. I'm a huge fan of the Skrulls."
Eventually, Gunn decided it would take too much time from the Guardians movies to explain the complicated history of the Skrulls, choosing instead to have a simpler plot and leave the exposition for the Skrulls to another movie.
7 Jason Momoa almost joined the MCU instead of the DCEU
The DC cinematic universe is gaining an interesting new character in Justice League with Jason Momoa's Aquaman, but before Momoa was cast as Aquaman, he almost joined the MCU instead.
Jason Momoa originally auditioned for the role of Drax the Destroyer for Guardians of the Galaxy, but he backed out of it after auditioning. Momoa thought the character was too similar to the brutish characters he has often portrayed in the past and did not want to be continue to play only those roles.
Momoa explained, "It didn't really fit in my time because I've done so many things where I don't say much and I'm colored up and I have my shirt off again... I was on Stargate: Atlantis for four years playing a similar character called Ronon, who was an alien who didn't say much and grunted. I've been there and done that, whether people have seen it or not. You want to stretch."
6 Spider-Man and Captain Marvel were in Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron was already packed with introductions to new superheroes as the MCU welcomed Vision and Scarlet Witch to the permanent Avengers lineup, The Avengers needed all the help they could get to stop Tony Stark's enormous mistake, Ultron. The Avengers lineup was almost even bigger, though, since Joss Whedon had wanted to introduce Spider-Man and Captain Marvel in this movie.
Whedon stated, “I said, ‘It would be great if we could just add a few more … If we could have a Captain Marvel there …’ And they talked about it. And Spider-Man, we could do that too, because Sony had approached us during the first movie about a little integration, so I would have put both of them in, but neither of the deals were made."
Later, Marvel made deals for both characters, but too late for Age of Ultron, as Whedon recounted, "And then they're like, ‘We’re making a Captain Marvel movie and we’ve got Spider-Man as a property,’ and I’m like, ‘I’ve already locked my film you f***ers! Thanks for nothing.'”
5 Yondu had considerably less clothing
Yondu became an interesting and complex character over the course of the Guardians movies as leader of the Ravagers clan and adoptive father to Peter Quill. He was a cunning and resourceful criminal and member of the Guardians of the Galaxy with a noticeable soft spot for Quill, but this version of Yondu was not the idea the creators started with.
Early concept art of Yondu displays a very different character, showing off some impressive abs in more revealing armor resembling an ancient warrior, a far cry from the leather jacket-clad Yondu of the movies. This early concept was based on the Yondu of the comics, an original member of the Guardians of the Galaxy with mastery of the familiar Yaka arrows.
The comics have since explained that the movie version of Yondu is the criminal ancestor of the Guardians member of the comics. Sticking with this early warrior version of Yondu for the movies certainly would have changed Yondu's part in the movie considerably.
4 Doctor Strange's villain was Nightmare
Doctor Strange marked an excellent debut for Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange, setting Strange against the terrifying Dormammu from the Dark Dimension. However, Dormammu was not the only villain in consideration at the outset.
Director Scott Derrickson wanted Nightmare, the evil ruler of the Dream Dimension, to be Strange's first villain. According to Derrickson, Kevin Feige argued against the idea.
Derrickson related, “Kevin [Feige] made a very cogent case. The trouble with starting with Nightmare is getting across the idea of the Dream Dimension as another dimension. The movie was challenging enough. It's already an exposition-heavy movie... Dormammu made the most sense. And he is the most present villain in the comics.”
Derrickson would still like to include Nightmare at a later time, perhaps setting him up as the villain for the sequel.
3 Phil Coulson's death got Avengers an R rating
The Avengers managed to mostly stay family-friendly with a PG-13 rating, but the studio had to make changes to the movie in order to avoid an R rating. Kevin Feige stated, “When we submitted The Avengers, the first couple cuts of it came back from the MPAA rated R. That happened twice. So we went back and had to make adjustments.”
The scene that seemed to generate the most problems with the MPAA was Phil Coulson's death scene, where he is stabbed with Loki's scepter. The original scene they filmed was deemed too gruesome for PG-13 audiences. The studio had to make cuts to the scene until it was tame enough to avoid the R rating, resulting in the scene shown in the film.
The MCU may have become a very different series if they had stuck with R ratings early on, but fans are probably just as glad not to watch the beloved Phil Coulson die too gruesome a death.
2 Guardians 2 did not have its emotional ending
The ending of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 drew a few tears in the theaters. When the stakes are high, Yondu made a final sacrifice for his adoptive son, Peter Quill, allowing the Guardians to defeat Ego and save the universe. Peter Quill gave him a moving eulogy, realizing that Yondu had been his real father more than his biological father Ego had been.
The emotional ending of the movie was a difficult decision and almost did not happen. Director James Gunn revealed, "I didn’t want that to be the ending, and I kind of refused to put that in as the ending for a long time. It wasn’t how the movie ended… But, at the end of the day, I knew that’s where it needed to go. I knew that we need to have real stakes in these movies. We need to lose characters. And not everyone who sees Marvel movies loves that."
1 Obadiah Stane did not originally die in Iron Man
Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stane did not last long in the MCU. At the end of the first Iron Man movie, Stane's Iron Monger fell into the arc reactor and died, but this was also not the original plan for the movie. Jeff Bridges stated that when he signed on to do the movie, Stane was meant to survive the first movie.
Bridges stated, "No, in the script, the script that I hired onto, my character lives! They open my suit up and I’m gone. But then when we got to shoot that scene, they didn’t open my suit up! I said, 'Aren’t you going to open my suit up?' They said, 'No.' I said, 'You’re going to kill my guy?' And they say, 'Well, it’s a comic book. You could come back. Who knows?'"
The decision to kill Stane was a result of previous decisions to make him the main villain. If the Mandarin had remained the antagonist, Stane likely would have made it through the first movie alive and made multiple appearances in the MCU. Stane's death set a precedent for one-shot villains in the MCU. Had this been different, the MCU might have leaned toward more recurring villains.
Did you know about any of these changes? Do you wish the MCU had kept any of them? Sound off in the comment section!