"I am Iron Man."
With those words, billionaire genius Tony Stark changed the world and the Marvel Cinematic Universe took off at top speed, never looking back. Soon, heroes from the past, present, and outer-space would unite to protect Earth from all sorts of vile villainy – like evil A.I.s determined to wipe out humanity, Asgardian princes out to conquer and rule, diabolical Nazi plots that were hidden in plain sight, and alien madmen looking to decimate half of all life in the universe.
With heroes ranging from super-spies to super-soldiers to space raccoons, the MCU has gifted us with some of the most memorable champions in movie history. Made up of noble kings, genius scientists, crafty SHIELD agents, and working-class lawyers and P.I.s, the following list of the 25 best MCU heroes shows us that anyone can be a champion for justice.
As for how this list was created, a group of IGN editorial staff voted for their favorite MCU characters. The results of that vote were then calculated to create this ranking. The criteria we considered when voting included character development, performance by the actor playing the role, overall contribution to the shared universe narrative of the MCU, diversity, and, of course, the just plain cool factor of the character.
That said, these are the best of the best – the top superheroes you'd want protecting you from evildoers everywhere. And for more on the MCU, check out the most powerful Marvel characters and our list of the new and upcoming Marvel movies.
The 25 Best MCU Heroes
25. Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)
Sokovian war orphan Wanda Maximoff eagerly signed up, along with her brother Pietro, for Wolfgang von Strucker's Mind Stone experiments, which unleashed her unequaled psionic powers. As arguably the most powerful hero in all of the MCU, Wanda's full wrath of abilities began to reveal themselves while battling Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, during the Battle of Earth, and then in the reality-altering series WandaVision. (As for Vision, he just missed making our list.)
Let's face it. Wanda would be way higher on this list after the events of WandaVision… if it weren't for the events of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which put her status as a hero in serious question.
24. Brunnhilde (Valkyrie)
As the sole surviving Asgardian Valkyrie, Brunnhilde self-exiled herself to Sakaar, where she worked as a hard-drinking bounty hunter, after her entire squadron was killed trying to defeat Odin's daughter, Hela. When Hela was released from Hel following Odin's death, Brunnhilde joined Thor and Loki in the Ragnarok rumpus to save their people. Once a fallen hero, Valkyrie is now a redeemed champion, mostly recently named Queen (or is that King?) of the earthly Asgardian settlement in Norway.
A child genius whose intellect just might surpass that of Tony Stark, Wakanda's Princess Shuri is a technological wunderkind whose inventions, and incorporation of vibranium, helped transform Wakanda into the world's most advanced civilization. Whether she's working to de-brainwash Bucky Barnes or suiting up to help her brother King T'Challa and the Dora Milaje to defeat insurgents and cosmic armies, Shuri is a battle-tested shining star in the MCU. That's even more true now that she's officially inherited the Black Panther mantle from her late brother… if not the throne of Wakanda.
22. Clint Barton (Hawkeye)
If anyone knows he's probably the lowest rung on the ladder, powers-wise, amongst the Avengers, it's SHIELD agent and expert marksman Clint Barton. But devoted family man Barton's okay with that. Not that he won't risk his life or put his freedom on the line to protect the world or side with his friends during moments of Avengers infighting, but Barton's "bigger picture" is always his wife and kids. Which is why he turned into a murderous vigilante known as Ronin after they fell victim to Thanos' snap. Loyal and lethal, our love for Barton only increased when he teamed with Kate Bishop in the Hawkeye Disney+ series.
Genetically-enhanced space creature (which resembles that of a raccoon to us earthlings) Rocket is a sassy, stubborn super-soldier with a love of high-powered weaponry and a penchant for pilfering shiny tech that catches his eye (bonus points if it's attached to someone's body). As the punchy pilot of Star-Lord's Milano (and later, Benatar) craft, Rocket is prickly to strangers but will unleash hell if you attack his surrogate, misfit family. With his best bud Groot (who at times has literally been a bud) by his side, Rocket has waged war against Ronan, Ego, Thanos and other titans of MCU villainy. And with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 giving Rocket both a new mission and the origin story he deserves, he's even more of a rising star in the MCU.
20. Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier)
Admittedly, James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes has spent most of his existence as a brainwashed HYDRA assassin, and then followed that up by becoming a pawn in Helmut Zemo's scheme to conquer the Avengers, but this childhood friend of Steve Rogers began as an exemplary soldier in World War II and one of the Howling Commandos that took the fight directly to the Red Skull and HYDRA. After lending his ace acumen to the fight against Thanos in Infinity War and Endgame, Barnes now must find his footing as a man-out-of-time in a post-Captain America world. Which is exactly what we see him begin to do in the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
19. Sam Wilson (Falcon/Captain America)
Once former pararescue airman Sam Wilson became fast friends with Steve Rogers, he never left his side. Though an Avenger, Wilson was loyal to Rogers above all else and by the time the dust settled in Endgame, Wilson was Rogers' pick to carry the Captain America shield after Cap retired to a past timeline. Donning the EXO-7 Falcon winged harness, Wilson provides stunning support while soaring, aiding with artillery attacks from above in ways only rivaled by Iron Man and War Machine. And in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series, we finally did see Sam take up the Captain America mantle. Next up is a starring role in Captain America: New World Order.
The MCU loves a good redemption story and cybernetically-enhanced (and perpetually tortured) "Daughter of Thanos" Nebula represents one of the franchise's very best "180s." Violently resentful of favored child Gamora, and constantly seeking Thanos' approval, Nebula did the Mad Titan's bidding without question. Eventually, Nebula came to recognize Thanos' "love" as abuse, and Gamora as a true sister. By the time Endgame rolled around, she literally executed the past version of herself to save her new comrades. Nebula's emotional journey continued in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, capping off one of the MCU's most significant character arcs.
17. Jessica Jones
Hardscrabble P.I. Jessica Jones, who developed super strength when a genetic research corporation saved her life as a child after a car crash, is a surly, no-nonsense defender of the downtrodden. With Hell's Kitchen as her haunt, Jones battled her way back from brainwashed sexual slavery and defeated the malicious mind-controller known as Kilgrave. After this, she was a key collaborator – teaming with Matt Murdock, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand – in the toppling of The Hand and then later besting brutal serial killer Gregory Sallinger. Jones can be a bit of a bad-tempered champion, but she's someone you definitely want on your side when the chips are down. (As for the question of whether or not the Netflix characters count as part of the MCU, that's a whole other debate — but we're living in a multiverse now no matter how you slice it.)
Deadly "adopted" daughter of Thanos Gamora turned against the lessons of her father and joined the crusade against him when she found a new surrogate family and helped form the Guardians of the Galaxy, saving the planet Xandar from annihilation. Before Thanos sacrificed her life to obtain the Soul Stone in Infinity War, Gamora reconciled with her sister Nebula, formed a romantic bond with Star-Lord, and helped save the galaxy – twice. Now a different version of Gamora circa 2014 is running around the MCU, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 leaves her story wide open.
15. Phil Coulson
Ace SHIELD agent, and Captain America superfan, Phil Coulson was Director Nick Fury's right-hand man for the Avengers Initiative. Coulson's death, at the hands of Loki, worked to galvanize the Avengers and unite them in a last-ditch effort to fend off the Chitauri invasion of New York. Secretly resurrected by Fury, using the blood from a preserved Kree corpse, Coulson lived on, leading his own SHIELD team on many adventures through virtual realities and alternate futures. Eventually dying again, Coulson went on to exist in Life Model Decoy form where he continued doing what he does best: Recruit the best operatives and inspire goodness in others.
14. Nick Fury
After discovering that large-scale alien threats exist, super-spy and SHIELD Agent Nick Fury got hard to work on the Avengers Initiative – an operation that would seek out powerful individuals to help protect the Earth from extraterrestrial invaders in Captain Marvel's absence. Over the next decade, Fury compiled data on several individuals, though it would be Tony Stark's Iron Man suit that would serve as the catalyst for active recruitment. After bringing the Avengers together, Fury's expertise, resources, and righteousness would help avert galactic assaults, HYDRA infiltrations, and other global dangers. He is the ultimate glue of the MCU. We're psyched to see Fury finally becoming the star of the show in Secret Invasion.
13. Dr. Stephen Strange (Doctor Strange)
Doctor Strange, you have come so far. After being a pretty unlikable character in his first solo movie (even after his accident), Dr. Stephen Strange's dealings with the Avengers in Infinity War and Endgame seemed to have tempered his 'tude just a bit. Well, that and dealing with the incomprehensible evil of Dormammu in the climax of his first film. Sure, he probably could still stand to learn some patience (see the whole Peter Parker spell gone awry situation in No Way Home), but also, he's got a lot on his mind. He is, after all, one of the most powerful beings in the multiverse it turns out. And yet he couldn't quite hold onto the job of Sorcerer Supreme…
A subordinate to Doctor Strange in the comics, Wong became Sorcerer Supreme when Strange got snapped and disappeared for five years along with half the population of the universe. And you know, Wong is the more experienced sorcerer when compared to Stephen Strange. So while the "rules" of comics and storytelling in general sort of demand that he give back the job to Strange, so far at least the MCU is keeping Wong in the role. Maybe that's because he's really good at it! He also apparently has time, despite the job requirements, to get involved in cage matches against the Abomination and binge The Sopranos with his new BFF Madisynn. Wong's all about that work/life balance!
11. Peter Quill (Star-Lord)
Half-human, half-celestial Peter Quill was stolen from Earth as a boy, after losing his mother, by a Ravager crew led by Yondu Udonta. After Yondu refused to hand Quill over to his father Ego, he raised Quill as his own, though in a mostly-abusive Ravager-like fashion. Quill would eventually leave the Ravagers and head off on his own with no true purpose as an untethered treasure hunter, until forming a new family as part of the Guardians of the Galaxy. A cavalier, wise-cracking warrior who's easily provoked and hard to keep down, the immensely powerful Quill is often underestimated and always overconfident. Now, after being brought back to life following Thanos' snap and leading the Guardians into a bold new era, Peter is learning to finally take a step back and get back in touch with his Earthling roots. At least, that is, until he's inevitably called back into action in Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.
10. Matt Murdock (Daredevil)
Bruiserweight lawyer Matt Murdock, legal pitbull for the poor and pushed aside, has been battling the odds since he was a boy. The scandalous son of a salty boxer and a would-be nun, Matt was blinded at a young age and given the gift of ultra-sensitive sonar-like hearing thanks to the toxic sludge that coated him. Attorney by day and masked vigilante by night, this "Devil of Hell's Kitchen" takes a beating in the name of justice like no other. Putting it all on the line against the likes of the Russian mob, Wilson Fisk, the Hand, and even Frank Castle, Murdock will go down swinging in the name of ridding his city of corruption and evil.
Even though Daredevil's Netflix series has long since ended, Spider-Man: No Way Home did confirm that Matt Murdock does exist in the MCU (and with powers no less). We're going to see a lot more of our favorite superhero lawyer in shows like Echo and Daredevil: Born Again.
9. Peggy Carter
Shattering formidably glass ceilings, Margaret "Peggy" Carter went from code-breaker to SSR agent to, after World War II, becoming one of the founders of SHIELD. A doggedly determined champion for peace and equality, Peggy would find herself drawn to Steve Rogers, both before and after he took Abraham Erskine's Super Soldier Serum. After Steve's apparent death, Peggy would thwart multiple threats to the world alongside Howard Stark, his butler Edwin Jarvis, the remaining Howling Commandoes, and fellow agent Daniel Sousa. Like Nick Fury, Peggy is an absolute MCU through-line, acting as a constant moral inspiration for Captain America while appearing in five films, her own Marvel One-Shot, and a two-season network TV series. Plus, now we've also got the alternate-universe Captain Carter too!
8. Scott Lang (Ant-Man)
The MCU loves an "unlikely" hero and they don't come more unassuming than flakey former thief Scott Lang. In the midst of trying to turn his life around after a stint in prison, Lang was recruited by scientist Hank Pym and asked to don Pym's old Ant-Man suit while working up a heist that would stop HYDRA from getting its hands on shrinking technology. Finding a new sense of purpose while wearing the suit, Scott would later survive Thanos' snap while in the Quantum Realm and thereby helping to discover that the micro-universe held the answers to recovering the Infinity Stones and restoring the countless lives lost. He even succeeded where so many have failed in defeating Kang the Conqueror (for now, at least). Whether incredibly small or 80-feet tall, Lang is the true wild card of the MCU. Always surprising his foes with – well – close-up magic.
7. Bruce Banner (Hulk)
"We have a Hulk."
Those words may have caused Loki to scoff at the time, but the God of Mischief wasn't smirking a few minutes later when he found his body thrashed to a pulp by scientist Bruce Banner's "always angry" alter-ego, the Hulk. Sure, Banner's unhinged green goliath, the result of a gamma radiation overload, may sometimes work against the Avengers, as there's rarely a reliable method on hand to stop the Hulk once he ramps up into rampage mode (unless you're Black Widow). But there's no arguing that Banner, as both genius and brute, is a bonafide double-threat. And now that he's fully merged the warring sides of himself into one form, he's near-unstoppable. In the aftermath of She-Hulk: Season 1, Hulk now confronts the ultimate challenge – fatherhood.
6. King T'Challa (Black Panther)
After the death of his father, King T'Chaka, at the hands of terrorist Helmut Zemo, Prince T'Challa was forced to not only take over as ruler of Wakanda, but also take up the mantle of Black Panther, the superhuman protector of his people. With enhanced strength and speed gifted to him by his land's Heart-Shaped Herb and a high-tech suit made of vibranium, T'Challa is both an irresistible force and indestructible object, always ready to defend his country against ruthless smugglers, violent insurgents, and alien armies. A compassionate crusader, a noble monarch, T'Challa's legacy will never be forgotten. And neither will the life and career of the late Chadwick Boseman.
5. Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow)
Natalia "Natasha" Romanoff, once an enemy KGB agent who trained to be an expert assassin at a young age as part of the Black Widow Program, found herself disavowing her old life – and country – and joining SHIELD at the urging and encouragement of Clint Barton. As Nick Fury's top covert operative, Romanoff helped keep tabs on Tony Stark and eventually joined the ranks of the Avengers when Loki launched an alien invasion on New York. Seeking redemption for her past misdeeds, and eventually sacrificing her life to help bring back all those lost in Thanos' decimation, Romanoff was devoted to her friends, dedicated to her missions, and deadly to a T.
4. Peter Parker (Spider-Man)
Gifted high-school student Peter Parker had barely ever stepped outside of Queens before being recruited by Tony Stark to help stop Captain America and his allies from protecting wanted fugitive Bucky Barnes. And with that, Parker, and his surrogate son-style relationship with Tony, became the beating heart of the MCU's Phase 3. As a child "thwipping" about in the deadly affairs of grown-ups (and Mad Titans), young Parker has defeated Vulture, Shocker, disgruntled Stark Industries technician Mysterio, and his own fears about asking MJ out on a date. But it was Parker's death during The Snap that hit Tony the hardest, and eventually convinced the Armored Avenger to join the others in a "time heist" to retrieve the Stones. Parker's wide-eyed optimism and eagerness to do good was exactly what the MCU needed, and exactly what the Avengers needed to undo all of Thanos' damage.
Most recently, Peter was reminded of the great power/great responsibility motto that is core to his character as he lost his Aunt May and gave up all of his friends for the betterment of those around him.
Once the arrogant heir to all of Asgard, and then an exiled brat in need of absolution, Thor watched as his fallen adopted brother Loki waged war on a planet the God of Thunder had come to love and appreciate: Earth. Emotional, and often temperamental, Thor would continue to help out on Earth, vanquishing dark elves, HYDRA soldiers, Ultron drones, and more while trying to carve out his own path and destiny. One that didn't involve ruling over Asgard. Whether he's pining over his lost love, Jane Foster, bickering with Loki, getting into friendly scrapes with Hulk, or eating a ton of carbs out of guilt, Thor is the entertainingly excitable member of the Avengers.
2. Tony Stark (Iron Man)
There is no Avengers without Iron Man, and there is no Iron Man without a traumatized and terrorized Tony Stark having a change of heart and transforming from an arrogant womanizing weapons dealer into a (still arrogant) armored hero who helps Nick Fury spearhead, and mold, the Avengers. Tony's story came ferociously full circle when he gave his life to snap Thanos and his entire army out of existence using the Infinity Gauntlet, fulfilling a promise he'd made to, essentially, create (or, in this case, become) a "suit of armor around the world." And just from a franchise standpoint, it was Robert Downey, Jr.'s pitch-perfect performance as Tony, and Jon Favreau's comedy-drama blueprint for the first Iron Man movie, that laid the foundation for all the MCU films that followed.
1. Steve Rogers (Captain America)
When creating America's first-ever Super Soldier, you have to consider the character of the man first and foremost. Courage, honor, and honesty are paramount, and that's why undersized, emaciated bully-basher Steve Rogers was the right choice to become the world's pioneering (and, as it would turn out, only) perfect Serum specimen. The world surely mourns the loss of Iron Man, but what of the giant void left behind by Captain America's overdue retirement? Rogers saved the world from both the Nazis and HYDRA in the '40s and then, after being frozen for decades, returned to help stop global incursions from all sides and fronts as a member of the Avengers, always acting as the team's stubborn conscience. Which meant wanting to do right, all the time, even if it meant losing. A born leader, a devout best friend, and an unparalleled hero, Cap is the paragon of virtue at the heart of the MCU.
Note: This story originally ran in March of 2021. It was updated on May 17, 2023, with the latest information about these characters.