Fans Have Chris Hemsworth’s First ‘Thor’ Movie to Thank for the MCU’s Success

Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man is often credited as the sole reason for everything that followed. After all, the 2008 movie did serve as the foundation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it’s certainly not the only one responsible for its long-term success. In fact, 2011’s Thor might be just as — if not more — pivotal to the MCU.

Chris Hemsworth
Chris Hemsworth | Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

‘Thor’ proved Marvel didn’t need big names to succeed

The first Thor was only the fourth MCU movie to hit theaters. But it was also the first with a completely unproven actor in the lead. Downey was already an acclaimed, Oscar-nominated actor before Iron Man and its sequel. Ditto for The Incredible Hulk’s Edward Norton.

Then came Thor. Prior to its release, Chris Hemsworth was only really known for his brief role as Captain Kirk’s father in 2009’s Star Trek. Even horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods — which Hemsworth had shot first — didn’t hit theaters until the following year.

Yet, Hemsworth carried the movie with ease, winning over fans with his good looks and comic timing. Likewise, Thor introduced audiences to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. The character is still considered one of the biggest fan favorites in the MCU and a high watermark for the series’ villains.

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Chris Hemsworth was the MCU’s first cosmic hero

MCU fans like to credit Guardians of the Galaxy for taking the franchise into the cosmic realm. But James Gunn’s 2014 hit actually wasn’t the first time the MCU looked to the stars. As much as Star-Lord would hate to admit it, Thor got there first.

To make the comic book mythology work on screen, 2011’s Thor reframed the hero and his Asgardian homeworld as aliens rather than living gods. This approach grounded characters like Odin, Thor, and Loki — all prominent figures in Norse mythology — in our own world.

To make The Avengers possible, Thor needs to plausibly exist in the same universe as less fantastical heroes like Iron Man. The God of Thunder is the first MCU hero whose origin is not based on science or technology. And as Nick Fury points out, his arrival on Earth changes everything.

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Director Kenneth Branagh left room for character growth

Of the many superheroes in the MCU, Thor is among the ones to undergo the most change. Just look at how far he’s come from the brash, arrogant prince of that first film. Director Kenneth Branagh always intended for the original 2011 movie to set the stage for a deeper dive into the character, he told ComicBook.com.

In a way, I think we put in some emotional ballast at the front of the story that means he could bounce around and develop in the way that he has and rather like all of the extraordinary ways that the Thor comics do. There’s an amazing diversity of story and character development inside 50-odd years of comics. The films are now doing it with the character.

Certainly, the character continues to change dramatically from one film to the next. Director Taika Waititi brought him even closer in line with the interstellar wackiness of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. And he has teased an “even more crazy” ride in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder. We can only imagine where Hemsworth will take him next.