The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now officially the most successful movie franchise of all time. The twelve films that have been released in the franchise to date have collectively grossed an absolutely huge $9 billion – and that’s thanks largely to a huge cast of characters that is headlined by some top class actors and Hollywood A-listers.
Those actors have brought Marvel’s biggest comic book characters to life on the big screen brilliantly and are now instantly recognisable in their roles – but they all had to start somewhere and, in a lot of their cases, that was on television.
Granted, a lot of those television roles were quite great and memorable in themselves (Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation, Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock and Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, for example), but some of them were a lot less memorable.
In this article, we’re going to take you through ten Marvel Cinematic Universe actors and the television shows you didn’t know they had appeared in.
10. Absolutely Fabulous (Idris Elba)
The brilliant Idris Elba plays the enigmatic Asgardian Heimdall – guardian of the Bifrost and seer of everything – in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He famously doesn’t actually enjoy performing the role, but has still played it in Thor, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron so far – and he’ll no doubt play it again in the likes of Thor: Ragnarok.
Elba is now a bona fide A-list megastar, but his acting career started more humbly with a number of television roles – including a single episode of the wonderful British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. He played a character called Hilton in an episode simply entitled “Sex“.
9. The League Of Gentlemen (Christopher Eccleston)
Christopher Eccleston has enjoyed a very distinguished acting career – one that was actually somewhat tarnished when he played the very underdeveloped villain in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. That villain was Malekith – an ancient Dark Elf with a plan to plunge the entire universe into darkness.
He’s appeared in a number of great television shows – including famously as the titular Doctor in Doctor Who – but a more obscure appearance saw him showing up in surreal British comedy The League of Gentlemen. He played Dougal Siepp – a man who opened a “Cat Theatre” in an episode called “How the Elephant Got Its Trunk.”
8. Sex And The City (Kat Dennings)
Kat Dennings has played a very annoying character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Darcy Lewis – in both 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. She has served as nothing more than comic relief and has riled fans as much as any other character in the franchise with her constant quips.
Her first acting role was as an equally annoying character in a single episode of Sex and the City back in the year 2000. She was just fourteen years old at the time and her character was a thirteen-year-old girl called Jenny Brier who acted just like the show’s older main characters.
7. Clueless (Paul Rudd)
Paul Rudd is the most recent heroic addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as he took on the role of Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man in the final movie of Phase 3 (which was, of course, called Ant-Man). He will next appear in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, when he will be a part of Captain America’s team and go up against Iron Man’s opposing group.
Now, pretty much everyone knows that Rudd appeared in the 1995 Clueless movie, but very few remember than he appeared in an episode of the television show a year later – and not as the same character he played on the big screen. He was Josh in the movie, he was Sonny on the television show.
6. Casualty (Tom Hiddleston)
Tom Hiddleston has successfully turned a villain into one of the most popular characters in cinema with his take on Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To date, Hiddleston’s Loki has appeared in 2011’s Thor, 2012’s The Avengers and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World and he will undoubtedly reprise the role in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok and beyond.
But the English actor’s acting roots were far more humble and included a minor role on the British television drama serial Casualty. He played a character called Chris Vaughn, who hurt his arm following a fall and ended up in hospital, in a single 2007 episode.
5. Angel (Jeremy Renner)
Since first appearing in a very minor cameo in 2011’s Thor, Jeremy Renner has gone on to portray Hawkeye AKA Clint Barton in 2011’s The Avengers and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s an ongoing role that will see him return to action in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
But prior to the Avengers movies, he has worked under Joss Whedon before – in the season one episode of Angel called “Somnambulist”. Renner played Penn – a vampire sired by Angelus in 1786. Having killed a number of people in Los Angeles – which made Angel believe he was killing people in his sleep – Penn was killed by Angel’s LAPD ally Kate Lockley.
4. Smallville (Cobie Smulders)
Cobie Smulders portrays S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Avengers ally Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She has appeared in The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron on the big screen and has appeared in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the small screen.
She is most famous for her role as Robin Scherbatsky in the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, but she has also appeared in a single episode of the DC television show Smallville. She was in a single episode, in which she played Shannon Bell – a scorned former lover of Lex Luthor.
3. Due South (Mark Ruffalo)
Since the departure of Edward Norton (due to “creative differences”) after 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Mark Ruffalo has taken over the role of Bruce Banner in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ruffalo has portrayed Banner in The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron and, in between those two appearances, in a cameo in the post-credits scene of Iron Man 3.
But, back in 1994, he played a character called Vinnie Webber on a single episode of Canadian crime drama Due South. Webber found himself in debt to some nasty characters and attempted to sell his son to raise the cash to pay them back.
2. Neighbours (Chris Hemsworth)
Chris Hemsworth famously made a name for himself in the world of acting when he starred in popular Australian soap opera Home and Away. The Thor and Avengers actor played Kim Hyde in 185 episodes of the show from 2004 to 2007 – it was his definitive breakthrough role – but he also appeared in another Australian soap prior to that happening.
Hemsworth played a character called Jamie Kane – an assistant at Moco – in a single episode of rival show Neighbours in 2002 – the soap opera equivalent of an actor having previously appeared in a DC movie before appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
1. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (Clark Gregg)
Clark Gregg has had a long and successful career in both film and television – his role as Phil Coulson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is testament to that, as he has appeared as the character in four movies (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and The Avengers), two One-Shots (The Consultant and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer) and on television (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
However, not many people know that he also appeared in a single episode of George Lucas‘ The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles back in 1993. He played a character simply called “Dickinson” – an electrical engineer who worked at Edison Laboratory.