In the beginning, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't the multi-billion dollar behemoth it's become today. When it all kicked off, the concept was a foreign land. Never before had a multi-layered idea as delicately constructed as Stan Lee's Marvel Comics creations been brought together under a collective umbrella to form a singular, connected universe.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige would later admit the uncertainties and anxieties surrounding 2008's Iron Man, stating that so many pieces had to come together in order for the project to become the franchise-lauching film it's perceived as today.
Ten years after its launch, the grandiose, broadly-defined MCU film collection has gathered the thousands of working minds behind the scenes to put forth an interweaving group of superheroes which could only come to life with the many talents of the films' ridiculously gifted cast of actors. Although many characters have come and gone over the course of Marvel's three phases, the best of the best have forever cemented themselves as part of one of cinema's greatest blockbuster achievements.
Taking a look back at all the A-list celebrities who've filled the screen over the past decade, we're searching through the brightest stars to remember those who've risen to the top of the Hollywood ladder as well as those who are already fading into the background as new names take their place.
Not every MCU actor has managed to keep relevant outside of the Marvel movie world, so join us as we look at 13 MCU Stars Who Are A-Listers Outside the MCU (And 13 Who Faded).
26 A-Lister: Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk)
As the winner of Bruce Banner's role in the MCU, Mark Ruffalo has become the hands-down favorite to adapt the big green rage machine to the big screen, but away from his alter-ego, he's making just as big of a splash with his smaller scale projects.
In 2014, the Marvel hero had an outstanding year, raking up both an Emmy nomination and an Academy Award nomination for his roles in The Normal Heart and Foxcatcher, respectively.
Stepping away from the blockbusters again to film Spotlight, he earned yet another Oscar nomination in 2015, showing he's more than just a monster who likes smashing things in his spare time.
25 Faded: Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson)
A writer, director and actor, Clark Gregg has long had a hand in the movie world, writing screenplays for such films as What Lies Beneath and Choke, but his most popular role would came as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson in 2008's Iron Man.
Delivering the MCU's first devastating death, Gregg would find his second coming soon after his character's demise when he was resurrected for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While his continued success on the show has brought him steady work, the same cannot be said for his film career, with many of his smaller budget pictures failing to get wide release recognition.
24 A-Lister: Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow)
Scarlett Johansson has graduated from her teenage years playing characters wise beyond their years to become one of the most famous faces in Hollywood.
With the recent announcement that Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, will finally get a much-deserved solo film, Johansson will finally get the MCU outing she deserves.
In her titular role in 2014's Lucy, she led the film to over $400 million worldwide.
23 Faded: Liv Tyler (Betty Ross)
First coming to prominence as the daughter to Aerosmith frontman Steve Tyler, the soft-spoken Liv Tyler has paved her own way as an actress with big time roles in action adventures such as Armageddon and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but as Bruce Banner's love interest Betty Ross, her time in the MCU was short-lived.
Since the end of her Marvel days, Tyler's career has been sadly lackluster movie-wise, with her most notable roles coming in smaller-budget flicks.
In television, however, she found a part on the critically praised series The Leftovers, which managed to carve a niche for itself as a cult sci-fi drama that was largely underappreciated.
22 A-Lister: Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther)
Getting his start at age nine when he began writing plays while participating in improvisation theater, Daniel Kaluuya began with minor roles on shows like the BBC series Skins, on which he was given the opportunity to contribute as a writer. His talents soon found their way to the first season of Black Mirror where he first gained recognition as a performer.
After catching the eye of Jordan Peele with his Black Mirror role, Kaluuya landed his Oscar-nominated part in Get Out.
Most recently, his role as W'Kabi, Wakanda's head of security, in Black Panther, has garnered him further praise and solidified him as a newly established A-lister. He'll follow that up with a turn in Steve McQueen's star-studded Widows.
21 Faded: Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts)
Throughout the later half of the '90s and into the early 2000s, Gwyneth Paltrow was an instantly recognizable face, having starred in many successful films, including Seven and Shakespeare in Love, but with her time as Pepper Potts soon coming to an end, it seems her career has shifted more towards her lifestyle brand as the owner of the company Goop.
Away from her Marvel roles, Paltrow is rarely seen on screen.
In 2015, she starred opposite Johnny Depp in the critically panned Mortdecai, though she hasn't had another role since. Luckily, with her lifestyle brand taking off in a big way, she can afford to lay low entirely if she decides to leave the acting world behind.
20 A-Lister: Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch)
While Elizabeth Olsen's recent string of success with the MCU may appear as newfound fame, the actress has been on sets since she was four years old, co-starring in the productions of her older sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley when she first started out.
Finding stardom as a rising indie talent in 2011, Olsen's breakthrough role came with her critically-lauded turn in the drama Martha Marcy May Marlene. Shortly thereafter, she appeared in such films as the Spike Lee remake of Oldboy as well as the rebooted Godzilla movie.
These days, she spends her spare time doing independent pictures such as the highly-praised Wind River as well as the recently released Netflix film Kodachrome.
19 Faded: Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye)
Despite being early addition to the MCU, he's kept far from the spotlight even within the Marvel movies.
Off screen, Renner shares a similar low-key approach to stardom as his heroic, arrow-shooting counterpart. Although he's appeared in such films as the Mission Impossible and Jason Bourne franchises, he's never broken the leading man barrier past the smaller, independent film circuit, keeping him largely under the radar.
18 A-Lister: Josh Brolin (Thanos)
Although Josh Brolin has had a consistent stream of movie roles since his debut in The Goonies in 1985, he's only recently reached the top of the heap thanks to his roles as Thanos and Cable in both the MCU and Fox's X-Men universe. Still, things haven't always been all hunky-dory.
Before hitting it bit as the Mad Titan, Brolin has some legal troubles, including a 2013 public intoxication arrest which reportedly put him back on a straight career path.
17 Faded: Terrence Howard (War Machine)
Fresh off the heels of an Academy Award-nominated turn in Hustle & Flow as well as another role in the Best Picture-winning film Crash, Howard had all the signs of a star in the making, landing him a hig- profile part as Tony Stark's best friend James Rhodes in 2008's Iron Man.
Flash forward a few years later and a contract dispute over a 50 to 80% pay cut left Howard on the outside looking in.
After being replaced by Don Cheadle, Howard managed to find a second life in television as Lucious Lyon in the immensely popular series Empire, though he's never found the same level of success in the movie world.
16 A-Lister: Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury)
With his authoritative voice and persuasive knack for cursing on screen, Samuel L. Jackson has appeared across multiple film franchises, collecting a total of over one hundred film roles, tallying more than $16 billion in box office revenues.
While his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Nick Fury has guaranteed Jackson a future of high box office returns, his long-time collaborations with director Quentin Tarantino as well as his history as a bonafide action star has kept him even more in the spotlight.
15 Faded: Michael Rooker (Yondu)
After being recognized for his leading part in the unsavory 1986 film Henry Alabama native Michael Rooker began his long-tenured career as the supporting character in multiple action and thriller roles, later leading to his biggest role as Meryle Dixon in The Walking Dead.
Rooker's role as Yondu Udonta in Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel would gain him further recognition among comic book fans, but while the star has enjoyed his success, his recent end in the MCU has left him with an empty schedule.
Rooker has his fair share of fans, though he's still looking to become a household name.
14 A-Lister: Tom Hiddleston (Loki)
As the articulate and arrogant Loki in the MCU, Tom Hiddleston introduced the Avengers to their first worthy adversary, nearly wiping out all of Manhattan with an alien invasion.
With his charming wit and sinister smooth voice, Hiddleston skyrocketed to fame overnight thanks to his working relationship with writer-director Kenneth Branagh, with whom he collaborated on the BBC detective drama Wallander. His association with the Thor director later earned him the coveted role as Thor's adopted brother, bringing him into the MCU fold.
13 Faded: Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill)
Off the recommendation of actress Alyson Hannigan, who worked with director Joss Whedon on Buffy, fellow How I Met Your Mother star Cobie Smulders landed her biggest film role to date as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. Unfortunately, her movie career wasn't meant to be and Smulders has found it difficult to find work in movies after the end of HIMYM.
Finding leading lady status in independent features such as Unexpected and Results, Smulders' largest movie roles have sadly gone unnoticed. Although she's continued to find some success, starring in both Netflix shows A Series of Unfortunate Events and Friends from College, she continues to look for a career outside of TV.
12 A-Lister: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man)
Although comedian extraordinaire Paul Rudd's role in the MCU may appear comparably small next to his Avengers cohorts, his low-key humor and deadpan delivery has been felt since the early '90s.
Finding early success with such notable projects as the 1995 teen comedy Clueless as well as the sitcom Friends, Rudd has since proven to be a capable leading man in dramas and comedies with his recent turn as Scott Lang jump-starting his superhero career.
When he isn't shrinking down to microscopic sizes, however, Rudd can still be seen in other projects including the Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.
11 Faded: Edward Norton (The Hulk)
Despite having three Oscar-nominated roles to his credit, Edward Norton isn't exactly on the same wavelength as other members of the MCU these days.
Cast out of Marvel productions after irreconcilable differences with the studio, Norton's version of Bruce Banner was completely discarded from all future films after much of Norton's creative control over 2008's The Incredible Hulk was passed over.
These days, Norton is stepping away from bigger budget films for smaller, critically successful projects.
While he can be spotted in almost every Wes Anderson film, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, he's mostly been reduced to supporting roles, keeping him away from leading man status.
10 A-Lister: Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange)
Although his claim to fame in United States has come as the Sorcerer Supreme in Doctor Strange, the British-born Benedict Cumberbatch has long been a top talent in his native country, first rising to star status as Stephen Hawking in the 2004 TV movie Hawking.
Becoming a household name thanks to his highly sophisticated turn as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, he's since gone on to portray big-time characters such as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness and Alan Turing in his Oscar-nominated role in The Imitation Game.
9 Faded: Paul Bettany (Vision)
Hidden underneath heavy makeup, Paul Bettany's performance as the Vision is so subtle, it's hard to imagine the actor in the role. The British star has actually been a part of the MCU since its inception, voicing Tony Stark's artificial intelligence system J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man.
Prior to accepting the role, Bettany admitted he had been told by an unnamed producer that his career was over.
Although his career is now seeing some rejuvenation thanks to the MCU as well as a recent turn as Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story, his path to resurrecting his career to full health still has a long way to go.
8 A-Lister: Chris Hemsworth (Thor)
These days, women may be swooning over the good looks of Thor star Chris Hemsworth, but prior to his casting as the God of Thunder, the Australian native was on the cusp of superstardom.
Landing his life-changing part in 2011, Hemsworth's biggest role before the MCU came in 2009 when he played James Kirk's father in J.J. Abram's Star Trek.
Since Thor, his career has been a roller coaster of endless roles, including both comedic characters and action heroes.
7 Faded: Mickey Rourke (Whiplash)
At one time considered a hunky leading man, Mickey Rourke left the acting world in 1991 to pursue a professional boxing career. The change would result in multiple reconstructive surgeries which would significantly alter his appearance.
In 2005, with the role of Marv in Sin City, Rourke reminded the world of his acting abilities. He soon followed the part with an Oscar-nominated turn in 2008's The Wrestler, which garnered him acclaim and landed him a follow-up role as Whiplash in Iron Man 2.
Since his days as Whiplash, Rourke's career has been largely a string of misses with many roles in largely unheard of movies and no major upcoming projects to speak of.
6 A-Lister: Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther)
As the crowned king of Wakanda and the latest exciting addition to the Avengers, Chadwick Boseman's take on Black Panther is an unparalleled achievement in black superhero depictions on the silver screen. More specifically, it is a major milestone when it comes to showcasing traditional African values in a positive light.
When Boseman isn't shouting "Wakanda forever!" with a rallying cry for his cinematic homeland, he's portraying historically significant African-American heroes such as James Brown and Thurgood Marshall in films like Get On Up and Marshall.
With so much talent on display, it's only a matter of time before he lands a role that earns him some serious awards for his craft.
5 Faded: Don Cheadle (War Machine)
Although Don Cheadle has long earned favorable critical responses for his dramatic performances, his name has never garnered much attention when it comes to heavy-hitting action roles.
Replacing Terrence Howard as James Rhodes, aka War Machine, in Iron Man 2, he's been a part of the MCU since 2010, though he's played second string to Tony Stark from the beginning.
Looking at Cheadle's recent starring roles, from Miles Davis in Miles Ahead to Marty Kaan in the successful series House of Lies, it's a mystery why Cheadle hasn't been given his chance to shine. With Robert Downey Jr. on his way out, our guess is he'll have his chance very soon.
4 A-Lister: Tom Holland (Spider-Man)
After impressing choreographer Lynne Page with his hip hop moves, Tom Holland found his way to the stage in Billy Elliot the Musical, later transforming into Naomi Watts' son in the 2012 natural disaster film The Impossible.
After beating out multiple competitors as Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War, he's since morphed into an A-list crime-fighter with the wise mouth to back it up.
Outside of the MCU, Holland has kept a steady list of roles, including parts in movies such as The Lost City of Z and the upcoming Chaos Walking alongside Star Wars star Daisy Ridley. With his best years still ahead of him, something tells us his Spider-Man career is far from over.
3 Faded: Chris Evans (Captain America)
As the eldest Avenger, Captain America injected traditional values into the modern day United States, bringing a renewed sense of stoicism into the comic book movie world.
Portrayed to perfection by Chris Evans, Cap has represented the MCU since 2011. As Evans looks to pursue other avenues of creativity, Steve Rogers' end sadly grows nearer.
Although Evans has explored directing as a career, his first feature from behind the camera, Before We Go, was largely unseen.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with much of the actor's non-MCU films, which have also failed to make a big impression.
2 A-Lister: Chris Pratt (Star-Lord)
From a consummate funnyman to a full-time stud, Chris Pratt beefed up his body and practiced his heroic one-liners in the mirror to become Star-Lord. He's come a long way from the dim-witted, carefree Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, joining a stellar cast of heroes along the way.
He's also lent his voice to The Lego Movie and its upcoming sequel, showing he doesn't even have to show off his face to become instantly recognizable on the big screen.
1 Faded: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man)
As the man who started it all, Robert Downey Jr. deserves some credit for the survival of the MCU. A model leader with his narcissistic and quick-witted portrayal of Tony Stark, he jump-started the Marvel universe. Now, as Tony's final days approach, Downey finds himself searching for a life without Iron Man.
Away from the MCU, RDJ's career has stagnated somewhat.
The last major film on his resume was The Judge in 2014, which has largely faded from the public's memory. Although the highest paid player of the MCU does have some projects in the pipeline, including Sherlock Holmes 3, it remains to be seen what direction his future will take.
Who's your favorite actor in the MCU? Let us know in the comments!