In the 82 years since its humble origins, Marvel has produced some of the most recognizable and bankable characters on the planet. These days, they are best known on the big screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Disney-owned film franchise that has made more than $22 billion worldwide across 23 films, two TV series, and plenty more to come. This shared universe of connected films is an unprecedented undertaking in entertainment media. It was a risk, and one that has paid off in huge dividends with no end in sight. We will be talking about Spider-Man, Thor, Black Panther, and (hopefully) Korg for many years to come.
Two weeks ago, we (Esquire‘s resident Marvel heads) rounded up what we considered to be the 20 worst characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The list had very little love for some of the OG Avengers. Cap, Iron Man, and Hawkeye. (Especially Hawkeye.) Not much props for the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. A hefty helping of shade for Bill O’Reilly. Sure, the list had some surprises. But what’s the fun in a list that rails off only the MCU’s agreed-upon regrettable characters, like the dark elf from The Dark World?
After taking down the likes of Elon Musk and Ralph Bohner, we thought it was only fair to go back to Marvel’s archives to find the best characters who’ve bravely stepped foot in Kevin Feige’s money printing playground. Here, you’ll find love for the following: Cats, nearly every Spider-Man side character, and the only acceptable incarnation of MCU Thor. You know what to do. Read, enjoy, and let us know what you think.
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20. Goose the Cat
I mean, sure, you could’ve put any cat on these movies and the lucky kitty would’ve immediately been on this list. But Captain Marvel‘s Goose the Cat (who’s technically a Flerken, but we don’t want to think about his tentacled mouth right now) is a sweet little tabby cat, and we’d like to give him a treat. That’s all.—Brady Langmann
The improbable, storied, and slightly terrifying rise of Noobmaster69 is one of the best running jokes in the MCU. First, this guy was introduced as a sales rep in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Then, Thor and the rest of his college roommates name-check a gamer named “Noobmaster69” in Avengers: Endgame. No connection, right? Wrong. Get this: A freaking Xbox commerical promoting The Falcon and the Winter Soldier brings back The Winter Soldier actor, who says his gamertag is Noobmaster69. Feels like we just met the MCU’s new Thanos, no?—B.L.
Can we get some justice for Heimdall? And some for the criminally-underused Idris Elba, too? Marvel hired Elba, more or less, to stand in front of the Bifröst as a glorified security guard. So we refuse to believe Heimdall’s death in Avengers: Endgame is the end for the character. Heimdall’s inclusion on this list hopefully sparks his resurrection in Thor: Love and Thunder into existence.—B.L.
17. Ned Leeds
If only, say, any Iron Man jam had half the amount of better-than-they-should-be side characters as the MCU Spider-Man films do. First up is Ned Leeds, whose every GIFable reaction is worth celebrating. No Way Home writers, please, do not make this kid the Hobgoblin, as the rumor mills are claiming. It’s OK to let one character just be there for the lolz.—B.L.
16. Ho Yinsen
When you’re thinking of founding members of the MCU, I’m guessing you probably throw Iron Man, Nick Fury, and maybe Cap down on a list. How about the guy who busted Tony Stark out of captivity, invented freaking Iron Man, and powder-kegged the events of the MCU? Give us the Ho Yinsen series, Disney+.—B.L.
15. Jimmy Woo
First of all, whomever we have to thank for putting Randall Park in the MCU, we’d like to say: Thank you for putting Randall Park in the MCU. Anyway. Park’s FBI agent, Jimmy Woo, was a welcome side character in the Ant-Man franchise. In WandaVision, his card tricks and what-the-hell-is-going-on quips made him a fan-favorite character. Now, we’d like to see his role upped a bit. Maybe he’s been Mephisto all along?—B.L.
For all of the MCU’s tough guys, there’s quite a few unabashed badasses in the MCU. The Hulk? Kind of a softie! Thor? Emotionally unstable! Cap? So in love with his ex that he takes himself out of the game! Enter Valkyrie, who takes the air out of every scene she shows up in. (Or appears via flying horse.) More Valkyrie in Thor: Love and Thunder, please.—B.L.
13. Phil Coulson
You might be hard-pressed to remember a day when the MCU was super-duper serious. Back in Phase One, this blossoming film universe was merely a bunch of jacked-up dudes yelling at each other. Enter Phil Coulson. The S.H.I.E.L.D agent was one of the first pioneers of the MCU’s humor as we know it now, pointing out that, hey, this spandex and superpowers thing is kinda weird! —B.L.
12. Pepper Potts
Virginia “Pepper” Potts has to put up with a lot of bullshit in the MCU—perhaps more than any other character. Most of this comes from Tony Stark, who is either getting drunk and destroying his house with a weapon more advanced than anything the U.S. government has or is constantly sacrificing his own life regardless of what that means to the people who love him. She is also, perhaps, the only CEO in film history worth rooting for—partly because she proves Worst MCU Character Bill O’Reilly totally wrong.— Matt Miller
11. Baby Groot
In our ranking of worst MCU characters, I listed Adult Groot as one of the worst. I feel the same way I did then: Adult Groot is just Adult Vin Diesel groaning into an expensive microphone. Baby Groot? Well, shit. There’s nothing cuter on this Disneyfied planet than the little dancing twig. (Except for Baby Yoda, of course.)—B.L.
MJ is Zendaya. Zendaya is MJ. For that, we are thankful.—B.L.
Killmonger is at once one of the best villains and heroes in the MCU. Though Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is the Avenger with his name on his own poster, and the character who re-defined modern cinema, Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger brings an astonishing, and revolutionary, political complexity to the MCU. Perhaps Disney would be smart to bring him back into this franchise as it moves forward after Boseman’s tragic death.—M.M.
8. Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Tom Holland had a lot working against him when he picked up the mantle of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. In 2016, when he first appeared in Captain America: Civil War, he was the third of three different actors to play Spider-Man in less than a decade. Many fans of Tobey Maguire or even Andrew Garfield might not have been ready to accept yet another friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Yet, against all odds, Tom Holland danced his way into our hearts. As the youngest, and most charming, of the film web slingers, I will even argue he’s the best live action Spider-Man we’ve ever seen.—M.M.
7. Wanda Maximoff
Sure, Wanda Maximoff spent years shooting red beams out of her hands and muttering strange and varied accents. But WandaVision showed us the superhero we never even imagined she could be. On the surface, Wanda rocked five decades’ worth of costumes. Look a little deeper, and you have a story of grief and loss that made Wanda into one of the MCU’s most unforgettable characters.—B.L.
6. Nick Fury
If you pop-quizzed me right now, I would tell you that Nick Fury is in 80 percent of the MCU. Is that right? Feels right. It’s as simple as this: Samuel L. Jackson is always welcome in just about every film. Same goes for Nick Fury, who’s basically Samuel L. Jackson with an eyepatch.—B.L.
One of the rare exceptions to the Marvel Villain Problem, it’s baffling that we had to wait over a decade for Loki to get his own starring vehicle. Bolstered by the strength of Tom Hiddleston and his millions of Hiddlestans, the MCU’s version of Loki is chaotic evil embodied, and a villain I’d roll with over just about every Avenger any day.—B.L.
4. Agatha Harkness
My god. Kathryn Hahn? Kathryn Hahn. The legendary character actress made what could’ve been an instantly forgettable, quippy villain into one of the best damn feats we’ve ever seen pulled off in the MCU. Hilarious, full of manic energy, and a master manipulator. We need someone to save Agatha from Westview so we can witness one of the GOATs in action once again. Agatha! All along.—B.L.
Korg is a pile of rocks. “I’m actually a thing. A being,” he kindly introduces himself in a garbage planet prison. “I’m made of rocks, as you can see, but don’t let that intimidate you unless you’re made of scissors.” Where does Korg come from? Why is he sentient rocks? How is he familiar with the nuances of an ancient Earth game played with the human hand? I must know the answer to these questions. I require either a Korg stand-alone series, a Korg stand-alone movie or, preferably, both. Starring, directed, and written by Taika Waititi, of course.—M.M.
2. Thor (Short Hair)
Just like the namesake movies themselves, the versions of Thor we see in the movies are a mixed bag, at best. Writers of the character struggled early on to make him much more than a beautiful god with a hammer. Because, let’s face it, Chris Hemsworth is a beautiful god with a hammer IRL. But it wasn’t until Thor: Ragnarok (when he shed those beautiful romance novel cover locks) that Taika Waititi coaxed out Hemsworth’s true comedic acting chops. Short hair Thor suddenly has a human depth, a very real set of anxieties and problems, and, most importantly, a sense of humor!— M.M.
1. T’Challa/Black Panther
Simply put, Black Panther changed cinema. His first stand-alone film still ranks as the highest grossing single-outing movie in the entire MCU lineup. Chadwick Boseman brought strength, grace, and honor to a character that had the weight of Wakanda on his shoulders. It is simply tragic that we lost Boseman so soon. But he will always be remembered for his four impeccable appearances in the MCU. The greatest challenge Marvel has ahead is carrying this character forward in a way that honors Boseman and the groundbreaking work he did in his short time here. Of anyone in the MCU, it might just be T’Challa who will have the most lasting legacy.—B.L.
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