The Marvel Cinematic Universe began way back in 2008, with the release of Iron Man. The huge and somewhat surprising success of that movie - both critically and financially - resulted in the beginning of the expansion of a movie franchise that is now the most successful in the world.
From rather grounded beginnings, it has now reached comic book levels of weirdness, as the movies have expanded into the cosmos and introduced some truly weird and wonderful characters - some of which possess great levels of superhuman power.
The heroes of the franchise are getting more and more backup with every movie - and indeed through the linked television shows - and the battle for "most powerful" is getting more and more frantic. This article will decide who currently holds that title.
Including only characters who are still alive in the franchise, these are the ten most powerful heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
10 Captain America
It was a tough call between Captain America, Drax and the generic Asgardians like Sif and the Warriors Three for this tenth spot - Odin doesn't really count, given that he's more of a deity and not a typical "hero". But Cap wins out, for his impressive show of strength in the recent Age of Ultron movie.
His strength went well beyond the "peak human" levels previously shown in other movies, as he was able to throw a motorcycle at his enemies to take them out. His speed is such that he can repeatedly lap Sam Wilson - who is in great shape - on a jogging route in Washington DC.
He is extremely durable - able to take hits that would kill a normal man and, most iconically, wields a vibranium shield that is able to casually block hits from Thor's powerful war hammer Mjolnir and be utilised as a formidable projectile weapon.
Is Groot eligible to be considered as one of MCU's most powerful heroes, given that he did effectively die? Yes, and here's why: As a sapling he was seen to be regrowing, so fans can safely presume he's coming back and is, as such, still alive. He may even be immortal.
He's undoubtedly the most powerful member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, given that he's extremely strong and durable, but also possesses a number of esoteric powers to boot.
Groot can extend his limbs, or branches, to reach things other people can't. He can form protective shields and use them to engulf his foes - he smashed a large group of Sakaarans against a wall repeatedly using this power. He can generate light, create sharp protrusions, regrow body parts and regenerate entirely from a mere twig. He can also instantly grow flowers, which is adorable - though the usefulness of that is questionable at best...
Deathlok is Mike Peterson - a man who lived a relatively normal life prior to being approached by the Centipede group - an arm of HYDRA - and given a serum made up of the Extremis virus, the Super Soldier Serum, Gamma radiation and Chan Ho Yin’s blood platelets.
As a result, he developed superhuman strength and durability, enabling him to tear through metal doors and be unscathed after jumping from several stories high (which damaged the concrete beneath him). He rebelled against HYDRA and worked with Phil Coulson's team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
Following an explosion which damaged his body, he was recaptured by the Centipede group and given cybernetic enhancements. He now also boasts in-built weaponry - such as missiles - which is capable of causing severe damage from afar.
Skye is the girl who has gone from a hacker living in a van to a trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has discovered that she's actually an Inhuman - a race of altered beings that were the result of experiments by the alien Kree on ancient beings.
As a result of her exposure to the Terrigen Mists, Skye - whose real name was revealed to be Daisy Johnson - developed the ability to manipulate and enhance the natural vibrations that occur on Earth. Using this power to its most extreme, she can cause massive earthquakes. She can also effectively use it to imitate telekinetic blasts that she can use offensively against opponents. It has also caused avalanches on mountains and levelled large areas of woodland. At a more intricate level, the power can also create music using wine glasses, which is cool - but doesn't give her any additional points for usefulness.
6 War Machine
War Machine - who was also briefly known as Iron Patriot when his armour was painted in the colours of the stars and stripes - is James "Rhodey" Rhodes. Rhodes is a good friend of Tony Stark and, as a result, wears one of his armours to become a hero in his own right.
It is essentially a cruder version of the most recent Iron Man armours, boasting the same levels of impressive super-strength (Rhodey stated in Age of Ultron that he used it to carry a tank) and durability, as well as high-speed flight and manoeuvrability capabilities. However, its weapons are less intricate and consist of basic repulsor blasts and a shoulder-mounted mini-gun.
5 Iron Man
Iron Man AKA Tony Stark is undoubtedly the most popular hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - and he's also one of the most powerful. His armours are generally identical to the aforementioned War Machine armour in terms of their basic appearance (obviously the colours are different, however) and functions (super-strength, durability, flight etc), but the weapons are more intricate and versatile.
Lacking the shoulder-mounted mini-gun, the Iron Man armour makes up for it with the same repulsor blasts and a number of in-built weapons, such as missiles and lasers. He also has an in-built A.I. to aid him when it comes to assessing situations.
Tony Stark also has the added bonus of being able to use other armours, such as Veronica AKA the Hulkbuster, which is bulkier and slower, but much stronger than his standard armour.
Hulk is the name given to the big green alter-ego of Bruce Banner. He's what Banner turns into - either voluntarily or when he experiences trauma - as a result of being exposed to massive amounts of gamma radiation in a laboratory incident.
His power as the Hulk isn't exactly very versatile, but it's still massive and extremely useful when it comes to straight up physical combat.
Hulk's durability is such that he can fall from a helicopter and emerge unscathed, fight against the likes of Thor and Abomination and not be permanently damaged, and even survive a gunshot in a suicide attempt in the form of Bruce Banner. His strength enables him to take out giant Chitauri Leviathans in one punch and tear through hordes of generic foes.
3 Scarlet Witch
Scarlet Witch is the epitome of a glass cannon - someone with immense offensive power but who has no notable durability to speak of. That being said, such is the level of her offensive power that she is still up there with the most powerful characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Having been experimented on by Baron Strucker using Loki's staff, she developed a number of unique and esoteric abilities. She can manipulate the minds of beings as powerful as Thor and the Hulk, she can use telekinesis to move and obliterate objects - and opponents - without touching them. She was able to stop a train and rip out Ultron's power source, and she can also use this power to form shields and simulate flight. Finally, she can fire powerful energy blasts.
The first android member of the Avengers has a whole lot going for him by way of power and, as such, he's the second most powerful hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Created by Helen Cho - at the behest of Ultron to be the perfect body for his consciousness to inhabit - Vision is made from synthetic tissue and vibranium - the incredibly durable material from which Captain America's shield is made. That alone gives him a good basis to start with, but the fact is he also holds an Infinity Stone - the Mind Gem used by Loki to control people's minds - which grants him incredibly powerful energy blasts.
Functioning with the consciousness of Tony Stark's A.I. (J.A.R.V.I.S.), Vision is also extremely intelligent, super-strong, able to hack into technology, able to instantly generate new synthetic cells, is able to fly and can alter his density to make himself intangible (he can also lift Mjolnir, incidentally).
It's actually surprisingly close between Vision and this guy when it comes to vying for the title of most powerful hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the Asgardian wins it. Only just, though.
Thor is extremely powerful in a number of ways - not least in his basic physical strength, durability and prowess (he was able to tangle with the Hulk and take big hits from the big green guy) - and that's thanks largely to his incredibly powerful enchanted war hammer; Mjolnir.
Mjolnir enables Thor to summon massively powerful blasts of lightning that were able to destroy multiple Chitauri Leviathans, he can create powerful tornadoes that are capable of defeating the Asgardian Destroyer, he can fly and Mjolnir's basic physical attacks destroy giant rock monsters, take out multiple Frost Giants, Ultron drones and Chitauri soldiers in single blows.
Sources: Marvel Cinematic Universe Wikia