The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a titanic franchise that, to date, spans nine years, fifteen films, six television series, and serves as a flourishing employment agency for guys named Chris. It has launched numerous careers and lined Robert Downey Jr.‘s already bulging pockets with untold millions, given Hollywood an excuse to dress Scarlett Johansson in really tight leather, and divulged important life lessons, like maybe just don’t go to New York.
A steady stream of various well-known celebrities have paraded through the MCU’s many productions over the years, some notables being Samuel L. Jackson, whom you may recognize as having been in literally every movie ever, Natalie Portman, whose name is just really sort of serving as a bookend between Marvel’s endless flood of dudes, Benedict Cumberbatch, who supplements his acting career by moonlighting as an only kind of convincing human impersonator, and the aforementioned Robert Downey Jr., who was already cutting his teeth in television and movies back in the 70s. However, these are just some of the more prominent faces of the franchise. The Marvel universe has actually featured numerous celebrities who are just as accomplished in roles that you probably missed because no matter how riveting blowing up stuff will always be, you do need to blink every once in a while.
Iconic comic inventor Stan Lee is the most enthusiastic about randomly popping up in bit roles nobody notices/cares about, with dozens of cameos spanning every major production, but several A-listers have put their own tiny marks on the franchise. They might be overshadowed by their similarly famous co-stars who snagged the central roles of films like Captain America: First Avenger and the trilogy of Iron Man movies, but if you look closely enough, you can still spot these stars.
15. Jenna Coleman
Jenna Coleman has a long line of British cinema under her belt, her most notable role being that of Clara Oswald, the companion to the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors in the long-running science fiction series, Dr. Who. Born in Blackpool, Lancashire, she got her early start in theatre productions before being snapped up by the BBC. Coleman also slipped her foot briefly in through Hollywood’s exclusive door with a role in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. If you are right now scratching your head and squinting a little at this picture trying to figure out where she factors in between an exposed Chris Evans and laser gun Nazis, that’s probably because Coleman has an absolutely minuscule role as the unnamed date who accompanies Bucky Barnes to the Stark Invention Expo.
14. Paul Bettany
Another British star, Paul Bettany has a credit list liberally peppered with well-known films like A Knight’s Tale, The Da Vinci Code, and The Tourist. He’s been nominated for multiple awards and is married to the stunning Jennifer Connelly. He’s also even harder to spot than Coleman, despite the fact that he’s co-starred in the entire Iron Man trilogy, both Avengers movies, and Captain America: Civil War. You might have trouble noticing him because for the majority of his screen time he acts as the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S, Tony Stark’s gazillion dollar disembodied robot friend who acts as personal confidante and general servant. In Civil War and Age of Ultron, Bettany finally actually steps out in front of the cameras to play another robot, but this time a cool time-travelling one who gets screen time and everything.
13. Olivia Munn
American actress and model Olivia Munn in her early career worked as a sideline reporter for college football and women’s basketball, but was unsatisfied and quit for the allure of Hollywood’s bright lights. While one of her first parts was a small bit role in a straight-to-video horror film called Scarecrow Gone Wild, which sounds like the kind of film everyone immediately needs to see, she eventually moved on to bigger and better as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, and later guest starred in NBC’s comedy-drama Chuck as well as taking a leading role in The Babymakers. While rumors circulated that she was going to be cast as Iron Maiden, in 2010 she snagged only a minor role in Iron Man 2 as Chess Roberts, a news reporter who presents a segment about the opening ceremonies of the Stark Expo.
12. Richard Armitage
Another Brit, this time hailing from Leicester, Richard Armitage has racked up a long and varied career spanning multiple blockbusters including the Hobbit movies, as well as a six-episode stint in the television series Hannibal where he goes really enthusiastically overboard with his appreciation for red dragons and then kills a bunch of people because, well, you have to find some way to pass the time. He carried over his mad murder skills from Captain America: The First Avenger, where he dons a German accent to play Heinz Kruger, Nazi spy and HYDRA assassin, slayer of Dr. Abraham Erskine and the guy who had to watch former dancer Chris Evans pretend like he can’t manage basic motor skills such as not running into store window fronts as a newly beefed up Captain America tries to get the hang of his new body and bring the doctor’s killer to justice. Even with a kicka*s submarine, Heinz manages to die, because it’s Captain America’s movie and he gets to win, thus ending Armitage’s brief cameo.
11. Natalie Dormer
Queen of cable historical dramas like Game of Thrones and The Tudors, Natalie Dormer is famous for her impressive acting skills and also the signature smirk that inspires impassioned pleas from social media users who would like her to don her highest heels and step on all their intimate parts. Yet another British actor since no one in America is interested in being famous and Hollywood is forced to import all their talent, Dormer trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London and scored her first film debut fresh out of it. In 2007 and 2008 she played Anne Boleyn to ecstatic reviews, and then in 2011 she too took her crack at Captain America: First Avenger as the secretary to Colonel Chester Phillips, Private Lorraine, who decides to thank Steve Rogers on behalf of all women by making out with him.
10. Miley Cyrus
Wait… Miley Cyrus? The former Disney star who rode a wrecking ball sans pants into adulthood? Yes, indeed. Cyrus added “member of the MCU family” to her illustrious resumé which includes being engaged to Liam Hemsworth, and that one Nicholas Sparks movie no one can ever remember because they’re all about the same attractive white person kissing the other attractive white person anyway. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is already rife with cameos, something apparently was missing, and I guess that something was Miley Cyrus. The singer/actor voices the CGI character of Mainframe in one of the film’s five post-credit scenes. Comic fans might recognize Mainframe as another android created by Tony Stark (who really needs to stop making robots after what happened with that Ultron guy), although the movie version is slightly altered from robot warrior to robotic alien warrior. Everything’s better with aliens.
9. Ty Burrell
Ty Burrell is an actor and comedian who got his start in several Broadway and off-Broadway productions before snagging his first credited role in Black Hawk Down. He has also appeared in Dawn of the Dead and voiced several characters for a variety of animated films, among them Finding Dory. Today he is probably best known for his role as Phil Dunphy on the ABC sitcom Modern Family, which has snagged him multiple awards, including a Primetime Emmy Award and five Screen Actors Guild Awards. Back in 2008, he popped into that one Hulk movie none of us remembers, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, where he serves a brief stint as Dr. Leonard Samson, Bruce Banner’s friend and psychiatrist, two things you should never, ever combine. If you can’t recall him in this role, that’s okay. Disney hypnotized you to forget this entire movie. This is not the Bruce Banner you’re looking for.
8. Kate Mara
Kate Mara plays Zoe Barnes in the Netflix political drama House of Cards and appeared on the Fox series 24 as computer analyst Shari Rothenberg. She has guest starred on numerous television series, starting with Law and Order, where she landed her first television role in 1997. Her first film role took place opposite Harrison Ford in 1999’s Random Hearts; subsequent roles included parts in Joe the King, Brokeback Mountain, and We Are Marshall. It’s no surprise, then, that rumors indicated she might be in the running to play Tony Stark’s comic book girlfriend Bethany Cabe in the 2010 Iron Man 2. Instead, Mara snagged only a tiny role as the U.S. Marshal who subpoenas Tony Stark to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee and who, alas, isn’t even granted the short-lived stardom of getting an actual name. She’s like Hot Girl #2 in every generic party scene ever.
7. Harry Dean Stanton
If you at first don’t recognize this name, that’s probably because Harry Dean Stanton was 91 when he recently passed in September of this year, and long past the days when his scandals and wardrobe malfunctions were of any interest to us, the breathless reading public. However, chances are you’ve seen him in something, since his career kicked off in the 50s and never really let up. Having made appearances in The Green Mile, The Godfather: Part II, Alien, and numerous other iconic films, Stanton appeared in the first Avengers as an unnamed security guard who ought to get incredible credit for having the brass you-know-whats to casually chat with a guy who could at any moment get really shirtless, really green, and really angry. It is the unholy trifecta of everything you never wanted in a casual small talk partner.
6. Rob Zombie
Better known as a musician and producer, Rob Zombie has nevertheless toyed with all sorts of brief stints as a performer on shows like CSI: Miami, Californication, and So You Think You Can Dance. He also wrote for an episode of the long-running hit Supernatural, the crime show Psych, and Daredevil (the movie, not the current Netflix series; I know it hurts to remember, but if there’s any consolation, we had Jennifer Garner as Elektra). You may not have spotted him in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 because his scraggly beard itself never puts in an actual appearance. Rather, Zombie lends his voice to the spaceship Ravager. That is pretty cool because, “So this one time when I was a spaceship…” has to be a great way to break the ice at any party.
5. Seth Green
Seth Green is the size of my big toenail, but he doesn’t care because it’s not like he doesn’t have the money to buy a variety of stepladders in varying shades and states of diamond encrustation. While shortness can hinder an actor’s aspirations for leading man roles, Seth Green’s height hasn’t put much of a dent in his wallet following a career that kicked off with numerous commercials and film roles as a child, including the original It and later a recurring role on Joss Whedon‘s cult hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He might have been relegated to a lot of nerdy sidekick roles, but nevertheless he’s carved out a lucrative niche for himself as a notable comedian with his work on Adult Swim and shows like Family Guy. Two biographical entries you may have skipped over: he’s been in both Iron Man 2, in which he plays an uncredited fanboy at the Stark expo, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, where he voices Howard the Duck’s cameo.
4. Gary Sinise
Gary Sinise is another name you might not recognize right off the bat, but you’ll definitely rub your chin and nod sagely along to his biography, which includes works like Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Criminal Minds, and CSI: NY, in which he plays detective Mac Taylor and detective Mac Taylor’s sunglasses, an important character in his own right. In 2014, Gary Sinise took a brief break from clenching his jaw and getting typecast as a stoic law enforcement official to appear in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Where, you ask, and why didn’t he and his sunglasses help take down the Winter Soldier? Well, because “appear” might be too strong of a word for his role in the second movie of the Captain America trilogy. You know that time Steve Rogers goes to the Smithsonian Exhibition on the Howling Commandos so he can have a proper cry about his fallen comrades? The voice you hear briefly narrating the objects in the exhibit belongs to Sinise.
3. Michael K. Williams
Michael K. Williams came to acting after being discovered by Tupac and became known for his portrayal of villain Omar Little in the HBO series The Wire. He also played racketeer Chalky White for the entire four year run of Boardwalk Empire, recipient of a whopping 57 Primetime Emmy Award nominations. As well as a brief recurring role on J.J. Abrams’ spy drama Alias, Williams managed a small role in another action franchise, The Incredible Hulk, where the recipient of multiple award nominations played the esteemed “Harlem bystander.” While Williams’ role was originally supposed to be a bit longer, it was cut down to about five seconds of hand flapping and making a scared face after he becomes caught up in the fight between the Hulk and Abomination.
2. Josh Dallas
Josh Dallas was, until his exit from the show earlier this year, the somewhat ironically-cast Prince Charming of ABC’s hit Once Upon a Time, considering the fact that his announcement that he was separating from his first wife appeared sketchily close to his hook-up with co-star Ginnifer Goodwin… and then he went on to brag to the press about how he’d never really found love until Ginnifer. Before faking his way through being a swell guy on Once Upon a Time, Josh joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and took on various roles at several different theatres in London. Prior to his breakout role in Once Upon a Time, Dallas was cast in 2011’s Thor as a last minute replacement for Irish actor Stuart Townsend, who withdrew mere days before filming was supposed to start. Dallas appears on-screen in the role of Fandral, Asgardian warrior and member of the Warriors Three. He was replaced in the following two Thor films by Zachary Levi.
1. Nathan Fillion
Star of the still-lamented Whedon cult hit Firefly, Nathan Fillion, the saltiest of all its cast members, and title character of the crime-comedy Castle, has a filmography that dates back to the early 90s and covers a wide array of media. One role you may have missed him in is his turn in Guardians of the Galaxy as the pec-drumming prisoner who decides to start things with a group of intergalactic superheroes, because every movie has to have that guy. Technically, Fillion doesn’t appear in the film at all, but merely voices the monstrous inmate who tells Peter Quill, “Check out the new meat! I’m gonna slather you up in Gunavian jelly and go to town!” That is what I’ll be using as a pick-up line from now on.
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