The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) kicked off back in 2008 with the release of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. And since then, the franchise and its stars have enjoyed over a decade of incredible success and three phases of movies, culminating with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. But with Marvel’s next phase of projects on the horizon, we’ve taken a closer look at the heroes who may be leaving the universe and those who seem to be sticking around.
20. Anthony Hopkins – Leaving
One of the most experienced actors on the MCU roster, Anthony Hopkins made his feature-film debut back in 1968 with The Lion in Winter. But despite achieving numerous recognitions since then – including two Emmys, three BAFTAs and even a knighthood – it was the Welshman’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs that earned him an Academy Award. In fact, the serial killer remains arguably his most iconic role to this day.
But Hopkins added another string to his bow in 2011 when he joined the MCU and the cast of Thor, taking on the character of the god Odin. Two years later, he reprised the part for Thor: The Dark World, but he didn’t seem particularly enthused with the results. “I haven’t seen the movie, and I’ve forgotten it,” the British actor revealed at a Disney convention in August 2013. And yet the Oscar winner nevertheless returned for 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok and brought Odin’s story to a peaceful conclusion.
19. Cobie Smulders – Staying
Born in April 1982 in Vancouver, Canada, Cobie Smulders made her television debut at just 19 years old in an episode of Special Unit 2. The actress subsequently featured in a number of other TV shows, including The L Word and Veritas: The Quest. However, most fans know her as newsreader Robin Scherbatsky from the smash-hit comedy series How I Met Your Mother, which ran from 2005 for nine years.
And in 2012, while still filming How I Met Your Mother, Smulders joined the MCU as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in The Avengers before going on to appear in three more Marvel movies. But while her character was seemingly “dusted” at the end of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, the actress has confirmed that she’s set to make a return in the 2019 Spider-Man feature. And with apparently a few more films left to run on her multi-picture deal, it looks as if Smulders’ time in the Universe isn’t up just yet.
18. Karen Gillan – Leaving?
Karen Gillan was born in November 1987 and made her acting debut 19 years later, featuring in an episode of the TV series Rebus. Then, in 2008 the Scottish star appeared on Doctor Who as Amy Pond, a companion to The Doctor. And after leaving the show in 2013, Gillan’s career continued to flourish on TV and film, leading to an exciting opportunity.
Yes, in 2014 Gillan appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy – one of the more obscure titles in Marvel’s pantheon – as Nebula. Her other MCU movies thus far are 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. However, due to the controversial delay of Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol. 3, Gillan’s future with the franchise seems somewhat unclear.
17. Benedict Cumberbatch – Staying
After studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Benedict Cumberbatch appeared in a number of stage and television productions in the early 2000s. And eight years after his 2002 small-screen breakthrough in Silent Witness, he bagged the lead role in Sherlock, arguably transforming his career forever.
Then in 2016 Cumberbatch made another career-changing move when he joined the MCU as the titular lead in Doctor Strange – a part which he had previously passed up. The star has portrayed the neurosurgeon in two further films, Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War, in 2017 and 2018, respectively. But despite his character’s gloomy fate at the end of Infinity War, Cumberbatch is expected to return in Avengers: Endgame and Doctor Strange 2 – meaning he’ll be hanging around for at least a little while yet.
16. Idris Elba – Leaving?
Born in September 1972, Idris Elba first appeared on the small screen in 1994 in an episode of the sitcom 2point4 Children. From there, the actor landed larger roles in several British television shows before moving to America. And following a successful stint on HBO show The Wire, Elba made the jump into movies.
After establishing himself on the big screen, Elba joined the Marvel Universe in 2011 as the all-seeing and all-hearing Heimdall. He has featured in all three Thor movies as well as 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and 2018’s Infinity War. But after being killed off in the opening scene of Infinity War, we’re understandably not so certain of where Elba’s future in the MCU stands.
15. Mark Ruffalo – Staying
Born in November 1967, Mark Ruffalo’s Hollywood career has been a slow-burner. After a string of small roles in the 1990s, Ruffalo finally made a name for himself in the mid-2000s by starring in several rom-coms, including 2004’s 13 Going on 30 and 2005’s Just Like Heaven. But Ruffalo’s reputation as a romantic lead wasn’t going to define him.
In 2012 Ruffalo really made his mark outside the genre when he joined the cast of The Avengers as Bruce Banner – a.k.a. the Hulk. Apparently, the actor signed a six-film contract with Marvel as the green-skinned giant previously portrayed by Ed Norton. And given that 2019’s Avengers: Endgame only counts as his fifth MCU feature, it looks as if the Hulk still has some fight left in him yet.
14. Gwyneth Paltrow – Leaving?
Actress, singer and writer Gwyneth Paltrow was born in September 1972, and she established herself as one of Hollywood’s big-hitters at an early age. In fact, she was just 19 when she played Wendy Darling in Steven Spielberg’s Hook, and she had already given an Oscar-winning performance by the age of 26 – as the lead in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love.
Paltrow has been with the MCU since the very beginning, having joined the cast of Iron Man back in 2008. And in character as Pepper Potts, she has featured in five subsequent movies. It’s rumored, though, that 2019’s Avengers: Endgame marks Paltrow’s final Marvel appearance.
13. Elizabeth Olsen – Staying
The younger sibling of Mary-Kate and Ashely, Elizabeth Olsen was acting from the tender age of four. After featuring in several of her sisters’ flicks, she found her solo break in 2011 with the critically acclaimed Martha Marcy May Marlene. From there, the California native showcased her talent in a number of other big roles, including the lead in 2011 horror movie Silent House.
Olsen’s entrance into the Marvel Universe was somewhat dramatic. In fact, she announced her arrival as Scarlet Witch in the post-credits sequence of 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and she has since appeared in three Marvel movies, with Avengers: Endgame marking her fourth. But as for her future in the Universe? Well, rumors are circulating of a Scarlet Witch TV spin-off.
12. Zoe Saldana – Leaving?
Born in June 1978, Zoe Saldana made her acting debut back in 1999 when she appeared in a two-part episode of Law & Order. The actress subsequently featured in several movies, including 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Saldana is perhaps best known, though, for her parts in Star Trek and Avatar.
Swapping blue skin for green, Saldana made her way into the MCU in 2014 as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. The New Jersey native went on to star in two more Marvel features after that, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 and Infinity War, in 2017 and 2018, respectively. But considering Gamora’s unexpected demise in Infinity War and Saldana’s seeming commitment to four upcoming Avatar sequels, the star’s future in the MCU is looking pretty uncertain.
11. Paul Rudd – Staying
Arguably one of the more unexpected faces in the MCU line-up is Paul Rudd. After making his big-screen debut in 1995’s Clueless, Rudd found his big break in 2002 as the lovable Mike on Friends. And Rudd has since established himself as one of Hollywood’s most popular comedic actors, having appeared in a host of funny flicks, including Anchorman, Role Models and I Love You, Man.
Given Rudd’s comic background, then, there may have been a few raised eyebrows when he joined the MCU in 2015. And yet the star has certainly made Ant-Man – otherwise known as Scott Lang – his own, with the character featuring in three movies so far. And with confirmation of his involvement in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame and a multi-movie contract reportedly up his sleeve, it’s probably fair to say that Rudd isn’t done with Marvel quite yet.
10. Jeremy Renner – Leaving
Born in January 1971, Jeremy Renner began his career on the big screen with 1995 comedy National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. The actor later starred in indies and picked up supporting roles in bigger-budget movies before his breakout performance in 2008’s The Hurt Locker. And that particular effort earned Renner his first Oscar nomination.
Renner made his MCU debut in 2011 with a cameo appearance in Thor. The actor has appeared in another three Marvel features, and his character, Hawkeye, has become a solid fan favorite. However, it’s believed that Avengers: Endgame may be the last movie in Renner’s Marvel run – at least for now.
9. Evangeline Lilly – Staying?
Evangeline Lilly’s big television break came in 2004 when she starred in the hit series Lost. The Canadian actress featured in nearly 120 episodes of the gripping drama, which eventually came to an end in 2010. After that, she took on the Elvish-speaking Tauriel in The Hobbit movie series.
Another relative newcomer to the MCU, Lilly joined the franchise in 2015 as Hope van Dyne. Following a post-credits tease in Ant-Man that year, the star then donned the Wasp costume in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp alongside Paul Rudd. And as well as confirming her involvement in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, Lilly has also expressed a wish to appear in more Marvel movies. It seems, then, that this superhero may be sticking around for now.
8. Don Cheadle – Leaving?
Don Cheadle made his silver-screen debut back in 1985 before his career really kicked off in the 1990s. That decade saw Cheadle establish himself as a solid performer in Hollywood with roles in movies such as Rosewood and Out of Sight in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Then, in 2004 his performance in historical drama Hotel Rwanda earned him an Academy Award nod.
Cheadle is in fact one of the MCU’s longest-serving actors, having made his entry into the Universe in 2010. The Missouri native replaced Terrence Howard as James Rhodes – a.k.a. War Machine – in Iron Man 2 before appearing in another four of the franchise’s flicks. But while War Machine will certainly feature in Avengers: Endgame in 2019, Cheadle’s future beyond that remains somewhat mysterious.
7. Samuel L. Jackson – Staying?
Samuel L. Jackson has enjoyed a remarkably successful career in Hollywood since he first appeared on screen in 1972. He achieved critical acclaim in the 1990s with movies such as Goodfellas and Jurassic Park and established himself as one of the coolest actors of the decade in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, which also earned him an Oscar nomination.
However, Jackson surprised fans by popping up at the very end of 2008’s Iron Man – in what marked the first of the MCU’s infamous post-credits scenes. As Nick Fury – the Marvel Comics character who was, in the comics’ Ultimate universe, actually modeled on Jackson himself – the actor and producer has featured in eight Marvel movies. And while his involvement in Avengers: Endgame is up in the air, he’s confirmed for both Spider-Man: Far From Home and Captain Marvel in 2019. However, the latter apparently marks the final picture on his contract.
6. Chris Pratt – Leaving?
Born in June 1979, Chris Pratt made his television breakthrough in 2002 as Bright Abbott in the drama Everwood. After featuring in close to 90 episodes, he went on to be a regular in Parks and Recreation in 2009 and landed a string of supporting roles in movies. However, in 2014 Pratt finally upgraded to leading-man status.
That year, following his star turn in The Lego Movie, Pratt joined the MCU in another lead role. After fronting Guardians of the Galaxy as Peter Quill, the actor has gone on to feature in two more Marvel movies. But while Star-Lord is returning in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, Pratt’s contract is reportedly set to expire after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – which is currently stuck in limbo. Pratt has previously said that he’d happily renegotiate his contract for future movies in the franchise, though.
5. Scarlett Johansson – Staying
Another MCU veteran, Scarlett Johansson featured in several movies as a youngster, such as Home Alone 3, The Horse Whisperer and Ghost World. However, the actress got her big break in 2003 when she starred alongside Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. After that, Johansson scored a number of large roles, cementing her reputation as a leading lady.
On that note, Johansson joined the MCU in 2010 as Black Widow in Iron Man 2. And since that first appearance, the New York native has featured in five more Marvel movies, with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame up next. What’s more, a Black Widow solo film is officially in the works, suggesting that the character has an exciting future ahead.
4. Robert Downey Jr. – Leaving
Widely regarded as the original face of the MCU, Robert Downey Jr. played an integral role as the franchise grew into what it is today. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that he was top of Forbes’ highest-paid actors list for three years running between 2012 and 2015. He also has several accolades to his name, including a BAFTA, two Golden Globes and a pair of Oscar nominations.
Downey Jr. has been an MCU mainstay since 2008 when he appeared as Tony Stark in Iron Man, kicking off the entire franchise. After Avengers: Endgame in 2019, though, his contract is apparently up – and for good reason, it seems. After all, he told News Corp. Australia Network in 2017, “I just want to hang up my jersey before it [gets] embarrassing.”
3. Tom Hiddleston – Staying
Born in February 1981, Tom Hiddleston was mostly known for his stage performances before achieving his big break in the film industry. In the late 2000s the English actor made fleeting appearances on television before scoring two important roles in Wallander and Cranford. But Hiddleston didn’t really earn global recognition until 2011.
It was that year that Hiddleston joined the cast of Thor, taking on the role of Loki. And Thor’s adopted brother and nemesis has become one of the MCU’s most beloved villains, having featured in five movies so far. But while the God of Mischief was brutally dispatched at the start of 2018’s Infinity War, it may not be the last fans see of him. In fact, there have been rumors of a Loki television spin-off series.
2. Chris Evans – Leaving
If Robert Downey Jr. is the face of the MCU, Chris Evans may be the heart. After all, Captain America has become one of the franchise’s most beloved characters. Prior to that, though, the actor was better known for his work in the Fantastic Four series as Johnny Storm. Evans has also appeared in 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie and 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
After further establishing himself in Hollywood, Evans bagged the role of Steve Rogers in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. And much like Downey Jr., the star has since become an MCU favorite, having featured in several of the franchise’s movies. However, 2019’s Avengers: Endgame will apparently signal the end of his superhero stint. “I don’t know what’s next, but by 2019, that’s it,” he told Good Morning America in 2018 of his future plans with the Universe.
1. Chris Hemsworth – Staying?
Born in August 1983, Chris Hemsworth’s career really kicked off after an appearance on the Australian soap opera Neighbours. A few years later, he joined the cast of another show down under, Home and Away, before scoring a role that significantly changed his career. Indeed, Hemsworth’s memorable – albeit brief – turn in 2009’s Star Trek put him on the Hollywood map.
In 2011 Hemsworth joined the ranks of the MCU as Thor. And the Aussie actor features in eight Marvel movies in total, including 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. However, while his contract apparently comes to an end with that film, the star has suggested that he’d like to make another Thor sequel. Watch this space.