Over the course of nine years, 22 films (including shorts) and 10 TV shows, Marvel Studios has wowed fans by creating a shared cinematic universe to rival its comics counterpart. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is – much like its source material – built around telling interconnected, ongoing stories that branch across several franchise installments. Sure, some MCU entries fit into this bigger picture better than others, but broadly speaking, all of Marvel’s properties are tied together, and regularly introduce (or further develop) narrative threads designed to pay-off further down the line.
To its credit, Marvel has done a pretty good job of making everything fit together, considering how many different sub-franchises are in production at any given moment. Even so, cracks in this supposedly unified front have started to show as the MCU has expanded – heck, not even the in-universe timeline makes sense anymore!
That’s not the only thing that’s gone awry, either. While Marvel has done a great job of keeping its major, predominantly Avengers-related narrative elements bubbling along nicely, the studio has also ditched several others along the way. The reasons for this vary – maybe the filmmakers involved convinced the studio to go in a different direction, or perhaps the actors required were no longer available.
Regardless, here are 15 MCU Plotlines That Were Completely Abandoned.
15 Thor’s Quest For The Infinity Stones
Infamously, Avengers: Age of Ultron director Joss Whedon was forced by the (now defunct) Marvel Creative Committee to include a subplot in the film intended to set-up Thor: Ragnarok. That bizarre tangent basically amounts to the God of Thunder splashing around in cave, tormented by cosmic visions like an ageing hippie. At the heart of Thor’s crazy trance are the Infinity Stones – the all-powerful MacGuffins that have been driving the entire MCU towards Avengers: Infinity War for literal years now -- which the Odinson resolves to track down.
That's what Ragnarok was going to be about: Thor embarking on a solemn quest across the galaxy to discover more about the Stones – and the malevolent presence who sought them. But all that changed once Taiki Waititi was brought onboard to helm the film and he decided to scrap the pre-existing story elements and somber tone for a light-hearted romp that’s largely content to do its own thing.
Waititi does address Thor’s mission with a single line of dialogue – apparently, Thor wasn’t much of a detective – that (like much of the movie) is played mostly for laughs, but this plotline is pretty much dead.
14 The Mandarin Is The Real Power Behind The 10 Rings
In the comics, Iron Man’s archenemy is the Mandarin – a Chinese supervillain who wields 10 powerful magic rings. Obviously, adapting a character like this for the MCU posed several challenges. These ranged from concerns about racism – the Mandarin is a throwback to “Yellow Peril” villains – to doubts over whether the audience would be take his mystical bling seriously.
For this reason, director Jon Favreau elected to exclude the Mandarin from Iron Man's debut, alluding to the baddie – via the 10 Rings terrorist organization – instead. Favreau intended to unveil the Mandarin in all his supernatural glory in Iron Man 3. Delaying the reveal would also give Marvel time to weave otherworldly themes into MCU lore, ensuring moviegoers wouldn’t bat an eyelid at this outlandish antagonist.
However, as with Thor: Ragnarok, these plans changed after Favreau bowed out as director. His replacement, Shane Black, controversially diverged from comics canon, presenting a fraudulent Mandarin portrayed by drunken British actor Trevor Slattery. Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige has suggested fans shouldn’t give up hope of seeing a comics-accurate Mandarin on screen, but honestly, it seems that ship has sailed.
13 Enter: The Leader!
The Incredible Hulk is generally considered the unloved stepchild of the MCU. Not only was the lead role of Bruce Banner subsequently recast (Mark Ruffalo stepping in for Edward Norton), but very few its characters and plotlines – outside of William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross – were carried over in future films. This includes the rise of legendary Hulk villain The Leader, whose origin was briefly shown when biologist Samuel Sterns begins mutating after being exposed to Banner’s irradiated blood.
Given that Marvel seems largely content to pretend The Incredible Hulk never happened – coupled with legal issues which make a direct sequel to the film extremely unlikely – odds are we’ll never see this narrative seed grow to fruition.
This is a real shame, especially for actor Tim Blake Nelson, who joins the ranks of those actors who – like Mark Strong as Sinestro in rival superhero flick Green Lantern – signed on to play a villain in a follow-up destined not to materialize.
12 The Original Plans For Inhumans
Even by the standards of live-action comic book adaptations, Inhumans had a rocky road to the screen. Initially announced as a feature film in Phase Three of the MCU, the property was later dropped from the studio’s slate in favor of a television series co-financed with IMAX Cinemas (who screened the premiere episode in theaters). Interestingly, in the period between Inhumans’ transition from the big to small screen, Marvel was already inserting the underlying mythology needed to set-up these characters and their world in another TV series: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Except Marvel and the Agents showrunners were obviously laying groundwork for the then in-development Inhumans movie, not the TV show! Even though it was always expected that the film would be free to develop these concepts independently of the series – and would focus on the Inhuman Royal Family over second-stringers – the expectation was that the two would feel connected.
Once Inhumans became a TV show, however, this all fell by the wayside – the plotlines developed in Agents were quickly curtailed, and the new series charted its own, largely-unrelated (and ultimately ill-fated) course.
11 Tony Stark: Consultant To The Avengers
At the end of Iron Man 2, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director – and Avengers assembler – Nick Fury informs Tony Stark that, due to his volatile personality, he won’t be invited to join the super team. Shrewd operator that he is, Fury does still intend to make use of Stark’s incredible intellect and awesome Iron Man armor, though – but only in a “consulting” capacity.
Presumably added into the script to cover the possibility that Robert Downey Jr. might not reprise the role in Avengers, this plot thread was automatically made redundant the instant the MCU’s MVP signed on the dotted line. As such, it was swiftly reversed about 10 minutes into The Avengers - one of several continuity discrepancies breezily waved away with a few casual sound bites.
10 The Tragic Romance Between Bruce Banner And Betty Ross
Another Incredible Hulk plotline that wound up hitting a dead end, the doomed relationship between Bruce Banner and Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross has vanished from the MCU almost without a trace. The first of several couples on this list to fizzle out off-screen, “Bretty” (as no one ever called it) wasn’t even referenced again until Age of Ultron – and even then, only obliquely.
In a sly bit of subtle, metatextual humor, Tony Stark christens the Hulkbuster armor with the codename “Veronica” – an indirect nod to Archie Comics’ characters Betty and Veronica, who are both capable of stopping Archie in his tracks.
Other than this minor gag – which given the context, hints that Bruce and Betty hit the skids – the only other (implicit) confirmation we get that the pair are no longer an item comes in the shape of Banner’s burgeoning romance with Black Widow.
9 Red Skull
During his final showdown with Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger, the Red Skull grabs hold of the Tesseract, which – considering it houses an Infinity Stone – wasn’t a smart move. Overwhelmed by its raw power, the Hydra leader is enveloped in a shaft of light and apparently sucked into the wider cosmos!
Fast forward six years – or over 70, if you consider the movie’s WWII setting – and we’re still no closer to an answer regarding the Red Skull’s current location. True, he could have been vaporized by the awesome power that engulfed him, but it’s strongly suggested that the Skull was transported to one of the worlds that make up the MCU’s Nine Realms.
So far, the villain hasn’t been spotted hanging out in any of the Realms visited in the Thor films, and given Hugo Weaving’s reluctance to don the red mask again (although it’d be an easy part to re-cast), we may have seen the last of the Red Skull.
8 Tony Stark's PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious medical condition – which made it highly alarming when Tony Stark began to exhibit symptoms of PTSD in Iron Man 3. Shell-shocked after his close brush with death during the battle to save New York at the climax of Avengers, Stark suffers from panic attacks, flashbacks, and insomia. Things get so bad Tony’s effectiveness as Iron Man begins to falter – as does his relationship with Pepper Potts.
Fortunately, by the time the credits roll, Tony has apparently conquered his demons, owning his life as a superhero and recommitting to Pepper (more on that later). Seriously: our guy’s mental health issues are never mentioned again.
While this speedy recovery is convenient from a storytelling perspective -- The Punisher just spent 13 hours on the topic -- Tony bouncing back to 100% so soon is pretty insulting to real-world victims of PTSD.
7 Thor And Jane Foster
Part of the charm of the first Thor movie was the warm chemistry shared between Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder and Natalie Portman’s feisty scientist, Jane Foster. Even the less well-received sequel The Dark World managed to maintain the charm of this unlikely pairing, and references to Foster in other films released shortly after kept the torch burning.
This makes it even more frustrating that this plotline has since fallen by the wayside, as in Ragnarok, Thor and Jane become the latest MCU couple to break up offscreen. In fairness to Marvel, there were outside factors. Between Portman’s growing apathy towards the role and the inherent narrative limitations attached to a human love interest, it makes sense that the studio would eventually write her out.
6 The Collector Wants The Infinity Stones
While the MCU is blessed with many nuanced heroes and villains driven by complex motivations, others are brilliant in their simplicity. Take Taneleer Tivan, better known as “the Collector”: it’s not exactly hard to work out what this guy’s shtick is.
As established in one of the Thor: The Dark World post-credit scenes, the Collector is apparently fixated on adding the Infinity Stones to his collection – in true Pokémon style, he’s gotta catch ‘em all!
Or does he? While the Collector continues to have his sights set on the Stones in Guardians of the Galaxy – growing his horde to include two of the rocks, at least temporarily – from that point on, he doesn’t factor into the wider Infinity Stones storyline at all.
Admittedly, the Collector is set to appear in Avengers: Infinity War, but it’s almost certain only so that he can be robbed of the remaining gem in his possession. Alas, it seems that the Collector’s dreams – much like this plotline – are destined to go unfulfilled.
5 The Nova Corps' Place In The Big Picture
Another concept introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy only to fade back into the narrative ether is the galactic peacekeeping force the Nova Corps. Despite the Corps sizeable presence in the first Guardians film, the organisation fails to play a part in Vol.2, and barely even rates a mention!
There’s no word yet on whether or not the Nova Corps will return – along with almost every other MCU character – in Infinity War, although given how jam-packed that film is already, it’s unlikely.
Indeed, there’s really only two upcoming MCU projects that could potentially rescue the Corps from storytelling limbo. The first and most obvious is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, whereas Captain Marvel – which is set to introduce the Skrulls, sworn enemies of Corps allies the Kree – is a dark horse contender.
4 Hydra Has Access To Stolen Ant-Man Tech
Remember that time Hydra got its tentacles on stolen Ant-Man tech? Well, Marvel sure doesn’t seem to! We think there’s a reason for this. See, a bit like The Incredible Hulk, Ant-Man’s underrated solo flick tends to feel a bit forgotten, with Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang better remembered for his fun cameo in Captain America: Civil War instead.
This could explain why the moment in Ant-Man when a Hydra agent pockets a vial of Pym Particles has yet to be dealt with in a subsequent MCU adventure. On the plus side, unlike Incredible Hulk, this is one Marvel property that has nabbed itself a sequel, so fingers crossed that the missing shrinking juice is accounted for in next year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp!
3 Nick Fury… AWOL?
When the MCU was only just starting out with Phases One and Two, one thing – or rather, one man helped tie things together more than anything else. As the guy responsible for bringing the Avengers together, appearances by super spy Nick Fury also united nearly all the films in the franchise – to the point where he became as much a form of connective tissue as he was a character.
All of that changed in the wake of Age of Ultron, which marks the last big screen excursion by Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury to date! This means that the former S.H.I.E.L.D. Director has been missing in action for no less than six movies – and he’s not scheduled to appear in Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp or most surprisingly of all, Avengers: Infinity War!
On a more positive note, Jackson has confirmed that he’ll feature in Captain Marvel, but it’s safe to say that his days at the centre of the MCU are over.
2 Thor Is Stranded In Asgard
A huge moment in Thor occurs during the flick’s finale, when the Odinson smashes the Bifrost Bridge to thwart Loki’s plan – stranding himself in Asgard in the process. This is a big deal, because not only does it separate Thor from his newfound bae Jane Foster, it also theoretically should have prevented him from returning to Earth for The Avengers.
Luckily for fans, Marvel had zero intention of bringing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes together on the big screen minus the God of Thunder – although their means of bringing him in left a lot to be desired. Essentially undercutting the emotional heft of Thor’s ending, comments by Loki reveal that Odin is able to transport transport individuals to Earth by utilizing something called “Dark Energy.”
It’s at least made clear that this isn’t something the All-Father does lightly, but it’s still a massive cheat on the studio’s part!
1 Tony Resolves To Put Pepper First
The “fake Mandarin” plot development mentioned earlier wasn’t the only controversial aspect of Iron Man 3 – following the film’s climactic battle, Tony Stark orders his vast armory of suits to self-destruct. He does this as a romantic gesture symbolizing his intention to dedicate more of his life to his relationship with Pepper, and less of it to tinkering away in his workshop. It’s a bold plot development – one that also reinforces the notion that Tony, not his hardware, is the true hero – but it never really goes anywhere.
Not only does Stark continue to build new and improved Iron Man outfits which appear in subsequent MCU outings, as revealed in Civil War, he ends up losing Pepper, too! Of course, you could argue that this is actually a case of a storyline running its natural course: ever the inventor and futurist, Tony fails to suppress his workaholic tendencies and pays the price. But then they're randomly back together in Spider-Man: Homecoming. There's just no narrative through-line.
What other MCU plotlines has Marvel Studios completely abandoned? Let us know in the comments!