The Marvel Cinematic Universe is officially the most successful movie franchise of all time. Eleven movies down the line, it has grossed a whopping $8.5 billion at the worldwide box office. With another movie – Ant-Man – set to be released next month, and another ten planned up until 2019 after that, the amount of success it could go on to achieve is almost limitless. The fact that it has also spun-off onto television is quite unprecedented.
A franchise doesn’t garner that kind of success without great characters, however. The franchise is built around a huge ensemble cast, playing characters from the pages of Marvel’s comic books, and some of the adaptations have proven to be extremely popular with movie audiences.
The success of some of these characters was almost inevitable; Scarlett Johansson in tight leather pants was always going to go down well with the male audience, a giant green monster who was already extremely popular from the comic books was always going to go down a storm, and a beacon of American patriotism with unrivalled courage was a sure-fire hit, for example.
That being said, a number of characters who you might not have thought would be particularly popular have gone on to be some of the stars of the franchise – and that’s what this article will take a look at. Here are the ten most surprisingly popular characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
10. Rocket Raccoon
Even after the massive success of the previous nine movies, when Marvel Studios brought Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen, there was a massive sense of concern about whether or not they could pull it off. An obscure space team from the comics that happened to include an anthropomorphic raccoon – how could that possibly work? Well, the fact is, it did, and Rocket Raccoon was one of the stars of the movie.
Bradley Cooper voiced the character and he proved to be both bad-ass and loveable at the same time. He proved his worth as a character with his planning skills and became an instant hit with movie audiences – particularly when it came to shifting kid-targeted merchandise from store shelves.
9. Iron Man
Knowing what we all know now, this really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. However, the fact is that, in 2008, a B-list superhero was given a solo movie to kick off a new franchise. In the role of said superhero was an actor who had only recently shed his real life demons. Skeptics wondered what the hell Marvel Studios were playing at, but the rest, as they say, is history.
Robert Downey, Jr. has truly made Tony Stark his own – becoming the star of what is now the biggest movie franchise of all time in the process – through his amazing screen presence, charisma, charm and wit. He has appeared in three solo films, two Avengers movies and in a cameo role at the end of The Incredible Hulk so far (though he will be reprising the role in the future).
It’s not exactly common to see the villain of the piece become one of the most popular characters in any given franchise, but that’s exactly what has happened with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Hiddleston is arguably second only to the aforementioned Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man in terms of character popularity – and that’s all thanks to some brilliant performances as the God of Mischief.
Hiddleston has conveyed real charm in his role, in spite of the fact that he’s essentially a bad guy, and he has thus far appeared in Thor, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World. Like Robert Downey, Jr., he is set to reprise the role as Loki in a number of future movies.
If people thought Rocket Raccoon was going to be a hard sell when it came to making the character a cinematic success, imagine how hard they thought it would be to make his team-mate Groot – essentially an anthropomorphic tree who can only say three words (“I am Groot!”) – a popular character! However, he actually turned out to be a real sweetheart and a real bad-ass at the same time and audiences absolutely loved him.
Vin Diesel voiced the character who, by the end of the movie, had managed to increase his vocabulary to five words (with the heartfelt addition of both “we” and “are”). In fact, the “dancing Groot” concept involving the character has become one of the most popular things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, period.
Robots, by their very nature, aren’t really meant to have much personality. The term “robotic” creates images of monotony and using it to describe a living being is generally seen as quite insulting. In Ultron’s case, adding the fact that he has nefarious intentions to the fact that he’s a robot doesn’t stimulate feelings of endearment – but the titular villain in Avengers: Age of Ultron was actually strangely likeable.
Portrayed by the brilliant James Spader, Ultron had class, wit, humour and charm – in spite of the fact that he wanted to destroy humanity – and he was one of the most interesting villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. He represented a welcome change from the generally heavily criticised villains that came before him (Loki aside).
Like the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax the Destroyer was hardly a household name amongst casual movie-goers and, unlike the anthropomorphic tree and raccoon in the team, he didn’t really have an obvious quirk to potentially sell to audiences. So, when the relatively untested actor and former WWE wrestler Dave Batista was cast as the tattooed alien, the idea hardly put the world into excitement overload.
However, Batista absolutely killed his performance – he was awesome! He (unsurprisingly) effortlessly nailed the character’s physical prowess and bad-assery but, more surprisingly, he superbly pulled off Drax’s inability to take things anything other than completely literally, making for some very funny moments.
Remember that awful Daredevil movie back in 2003? The one starring Ben Affleck that almost destroyed his career? Well, that effectively made the blind hero a lost cause as far as trying to get a live action interpretation right, correct? Wrong! Marvel have put out a Netflix series starring the Hell’s Kitchen-based hero and they’ve absolutely nailed the character – banishing the demons of their horrific cinematic attempt of twelve years ago.
With Charlie Cox in the titular role, a dark and gritty version of the character is proving incredibly popular amongst fans and it surely won’t be long before fans see him crossing over into the movie world to mingle with the Avengers et al.
3. Peggy Carter
Peggy Carter – played by the gorgeous Hayley Atwell – first appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger, as a mere supporting character. Given that Captain America: The First Avenger was set during World War II, you’d be forgiven for thinking that would be the last time you’d ever see the character on screen – you would of course, have been wrong, however.
Such was the positive reception to Atwell’s bad-ass but beautiful character, she has since appeared in a self-titled Marvel One-Shot, as an older lady in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in a vision sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron, in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series and, most prominently, in her own self-titled television series called Agent Carter (which has recently been recommissioned for a second season).
Another Guardians of the Galaxy member now and this time it’s Star-Lord. Although he was always the most likely member of the team to become popular amongst fans (he is human and, therefore, the easiest to relate to, after all), the fact is that he is still a relatively obscure comic book character – and the fact that the chubby guy from Parks and Recreation was cast in the role didn’t exactly fill movie fans with confidence.
However, Chris Pratt got himself in amazing shape for the role and gave the performance of his life. His Peter Quill was cocky, funny, charismatic and heroic and the brilliant 2014 movie simply wouldn’t have been the same without him. He is arguably right up there with Tony Stark as one of the most popular heroes in the franchise.
1. Phil Coulson
Without a doubt, the most surprisingly popular character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Phil Coulson. Coulson – played by the brilliant Clark Gregg with bags of charisma and humour – first appeared in Iron Man back in 2008, which was the first instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was introduced as a relatively minor character – a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent – who didn’t even exist in the comic books prior to appearing in the movies, but he is now a major character.
He has gone on to appear in three more movies (Iron Man 2, Thor and The Avengers), as well as two Marvel One-Shots and, most prominently, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show – in which he is the main star (and for which he was brought back from the dead after Loki killed him in The Avengers). Most impressively, perhaps, is the fact that he is now a bona fide comic book character – Marvel took him to the pages of their comics due to his popularity – and he has appeared in other media, like animated shows.