Tony Stark, the millionaire genius, revolutionised the world with those words, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe took off at full speed, never looking back. Soon, heroes from the past, present, and beyond would band together to protect Earth from a slew of heinous villains, including evil A.I.s out to wipe out humanity, Asgardian princes out to conquer and rule, diabolical Nazi plots hidden in plain sight, and alien madmen out to wipe out half of all life in the universe.
The MCU has given us some of the most famous champions in film history, with heroes ranging from super-spies to super-soldiers to space raccoons. The following list of the 15 best MCU heroes, which includes noble rulers, brilliant scientists, cunning SHIELD operatives, and working-class lawyers and P.I.s, demonstrates that anyone may be a champion for justice.
In order to compile this list, a group of IGN editorial staff members voted on their favourite MCU characters.
The outcome of the vote was then tabulated to get this ranking. Character development, performance by the actor performing the role, overall contribution to the MCU’s shared universe narrative, diversity, and, of course, the character’s cool factor were all factors we considered when voting.
That being said, these are the best of the best – the top superheroes you’d want to protect you from evildoers everywhere.
15. Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)
Wanda Maximoff, a Sokovian war orphan, eagerly signed up for Wolfgang von Strucker’s Mind Stone experiments, which granted her unrivalled psychic powers, along with her brother Pietro. Wanda, arguably the most powerful hero in the MCU, only recently unleashed the full extent of her abilities while battling Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, during the Battle of Earth, and then in the reality-altering series WandaVision, in which she and Vision are married in a world of rotating TV sitcoms. (As for Vision, he just missed our list, but we can’t properly explain why without revealing WandaVision spoilers…)
14. Brunnhilde (Valkyrie)
Brunnhilde, the single surviving Asgardian Valkyrie, self-exiled to Sakaar, where she worked as a hard-drinking bounty hunter, after her whole squadron was destroyed fighting Odin’s daughter, Hela. Brunnhilde joined Thor and Loki in the Ragnarok saga to save their people after Hela was liberated from Hel following Odin’s death.
Valkyrie, once a fallen hero, is now a redeemed champion, having lately been named Queen (or is it King?) of the terrestrial Asgardian settlement in Norway.
Wakanda’s Princess Shuri is a technological wunderkind whose inventions and assimilation of vibranium helped convert Wakanda into the world’s most advanced civilization. Shuri is a battle-tested shining star in the MCU, whether she’s striving to de-brainwash Bucky Barnes or gearing up to help her brother King T’Challa and the Dora Milaje face terrorists and intergalactic armies.
12. Clint Barton (Hawkeye)
Clint Barton, a SHIELD agent and excellent marksman, is well aware that he is arguably the lowest rung on the Avengers’ power ladder. But that’s fine with devoted family man Barton. Not that he won’t risk his life or freedom to save the world or side with his pals during Avengers feuds, but Barton’s “larger picture” is always his wife and children. That’s why, after they were killed by Thanos’ snap, he transformed into a deadly vigilante known as Ronin. Loyal and deadly, Barton will also appear on Disney+ in a series that will introduce Kate Bishop to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
11. Karen Page
Karen Page’s drive to atone for her past transgressions converted her into New York’s most relentless truth-seeker, first as Matt Murdock’s office manager and subsequently as an investigative journalist for the New York Bulletin, despite the fact that she lacked abilities. Karen fights for justice in ways that crusading superheroes with great supernatural talents cannot. She was instrumental in taking down Wilson Fisk – twice – and is an active member of Frank Castle’s criminal defense team.
Rocket is a feisty, stubborn super-soldier with a penchant for pilfering shiny tech that catches his eye (extra points if it’s tied to someone’s body). He’s a genetically-enhanced space creature (which resembles that of a raccoon to us earthlings). Rocket, the brash pilot of Star-Milano Lord’s (and subsequently, Benatar) craft, is irritable to outsiders but will unleash hell if you assault his surrogate, oddball family. Rocket has waged war against Ronan, Ego, Thanos, and other MCU villains with the help of his best friend Groot (who has literally been a bud at times).
9. Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier)
Although James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes has spent the majority of his life as a brainwashed HYDRA assassin, and then as a pawn in Helmut Zemo’s plot to conquer the Avengers, this childhood friend of Steve Rogers began as an exemplary solider in World War II and one of the Howling Commandos that took the fight directly to the Red Skull and HYDRA. Barnes must now regain his feet as a man-out-of-time in a post-Captain America reality after providing his ace wits to Thanos’ struggle in Infinity War and Endgame. That is precisely what the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will go into.
8. Sam Wilson (Falcon)
Sam Wilson, a former pararescue airman, became good friends with Steve Rogers and never left his side. Despite being an Avenger, Wilson was above all loyal to Rogers, and by the end of Endgame, Wilson was Rogers’ choice to carry the Captain America shield after Cap retired to a previous universe. Wilson, with the EXO-7 Falcon winged harness, provides amazing assistance while soaring, assisting with artillery attacks from above in ways only Iron Man and War Machine can match. Wilson’s next appearance will be in Phase 4’s The Falcon and the Winter Solider, which will go deeper into his views about taking on the Captain America mantle.
The MCU likes a good redemption narrative, and the cybernetically-enhanced (and continuously tortured) “Daughter of Thanos” Nebula is one of the franchise’s best “180s.” Nebula executed Thanos’ bidding without hesitation while being violently resentful of favored child Gamora and constantly seeking Thanos’ approval. Nebula eventually recognized Thanos’ “love” as abuse and Gamora as a true sister. By the time Endgame arrived, she had physically executed the past version of herself in order to save her new allies.
6. James Rhodes (War Machine)
Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Tony Stark’s put-upon pal and former military liaison to Stark Industries, took Tony’s Mark II suit when the billionaire genius began acting recklessly (while being poisoned by palladium), and he’s been an invaluable aid in the fight against madmen, terrorists, aliens, and even other Avengers ever since.
Rhodes has gone through various armor upgrades as War Machine (and briefly Iron Patriot) to ensure his ariel onslaught can equal Tony’s. Still, this technology wasn’t enough to keep Rhodes from being tragically (and unintentionally) crippled from the waist down during a Civil War combat with his friends.
5. Jessica Jones
P.I. Jessica Jones, a surly, no-nonsense defender of the oppressed who obtained super strength after a genetic research organization rescued her life as a youngster following a car crash, is a surly, no-nonsense defender of the oppressed. Jones battled her way back from indoctrinated sexual servitude, defeating the malevolent mind-controller known as Kilgrave, using Hell’s Kitchen as her haunt. Following this, she was a vital partner in toppling The Hand and subsequently defeating vicious serial killer Gregory Sallinger, joining up with Matt Murdock, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand. Jones can be a sourpuss of a champion, but she’s someone you want on your side when the chips are down.
Gamora, Thanos’s deadly “adopted” daughter, rebelled against her father’s lessons and joined the crusade against him when she discovered a new surrogate family and helped form the Guardians of the Galaxy, rescuing the planet Xandar from catastrophe. Gamora reconnected with her sister Nebula, forged a loving bond with Star-Lord, and helped save the galaxy twice before Thanos sacrificed her life to obtain the Soul Stone in Infinity War.
A previous version of Gamora, who isn’t as kind, exists in the contemporary MCU timeline, and Star-Lord is desperately attempting to find her.
3. Phil Coulson
Phil Coulson, an ace SHIELD agent, and Captain America enthusiast was Director Nick Fury’s right-hand man during the Avengers Initiative. Coulson’s death at the hands of Loki galvanized the Avengers and brought them together in a last-ditch effort to stop the Chitauri invasion of New York. Coulson lived on after being secretly resurrected by Fury using the blood of a preserved Kree corpse, leading his own SHIELD squad on many adventures across virtual realities and various timelines. Coulson eventually died again, and he now exists as a Life Model Decoy, doing what he does best: recruiting the best operatives and inspiring kindness in others.
2. Nick Fury
After uncovering the existence of large-scale alien threats, super-spy and SHIELD Agent Nick Fury set to work on the Avengers Initiative, a program that would seek out powerful individuals to assist in the protection of Earth from extraterrestrial invaders in Captain Marvel’s absence. Fury gathered information on various people over the next decade, but it was Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor that sparked aggressive recruitment. Fury’s skills, resources, and righteousness would assist in averting interstellar attacks, HYDRA infiltrations, and other worldwide threats after bringing the Avengers together. He is the MCU’s ultimate adhesive.
1. Peter Quill (Star-Lord)
After losing his mother, half-human, half-celestial Peter Quill was kidnapped from Earth as a child by a Ravager crew led by Yondu Udonta. After refusing to return Quill to his father Ego, Yondu reared Quill as his own, albeit in a generally abusive Ravager-like manner. Quill would eventually leave the Ravagers and strike off on his own as an untethered treasure hunter until he found a new family as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The tremendously powerful Quill is often underestimated and always overconfident. He is a cavalier, wise-cracking warrior who is easily irritated and difficult to keep down. Now that he has been resurrected as a result of Thanos’ snap, Quill is looking for his love, Gamora.