Is Marvel Really Wasting A-List Actors in ‘Mediocre Villains’?

Marvel took a break from churning out box office hits in 2020, but if their 2021 slate is as strong as their past offerings, they’ll rebound quickly.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe combines great action films with compelling characters played by talented performers. But some fans believe that some MCU roles aren’t as great as others. They even think that some A-List talent Marvel has recruited is wasted as “mediocre villains.”

Let’s take a closer look at whether this is accurate. 

Why the actors in the MCU help dictate its success

Michael Keaton
Michael Keaton | JB Lacroix/ WireImage

The MCU is a cinematic achievement unlike any other in movie history. There have been other successful blockbusters and even other successful franchises with high-performing sequels. But no film series has ever been able to weave so many interconnected franchises into one larger universe over the span of more than a decade. The last to come this close was Harry Potter, and Star Wars is attempting to do the same now (with variable results). 

So how does the MCU do it? Well, Marvel’s superior production and planning certainly play a massive role. But they’ve also hit it out of the park in terms of casting. In some cases, that meant taking chances on talented actors who weren’t big box office names at the time of their hiring.

Robert Downey, Jr. wasn’t nearly the star he was today when initially cast as Iron Man. The same could be said for Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, or Mark Ruffalo. Marvel promoted talented actors and allowed them to shine in starring roles. 

That also gave them the ability to put bigger name actors in supporting roles, particularly as the franchise became more successful. 

How many Academy Award winners are in the MCU? 

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Marvel and Disney have built a box office juggernaut with the MCU. That gives them license to cast just about anyone they want. There is no franchise as sure to generate high profits as the MCU. 

Business Insider reported that the MCU features 17 Academy Award-winning actors. Some of those include: 

  • Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok)
  • Anthony Hopkins (The entire Thor series)
  • Angelina Jolie (2021’s The Eternals)
  • Jeff Bridges (Iron Man)
  • Brie Larson (Captain Marvel)

This trend of casting award winners in starring and supporting roles isn’t likely to change. Marvel’s been able to stock their roster of villains with some incredibly talented names. But some fans think those roles may actually be beneath the performers cast in them. 

Is Marvel wasting A-List actors on ‘mediocre villains?’ 

A recent Reddit thread pointed out that some of Marvel’s villain roles have been underwhelming even with great actors playing the parts: 

“You got powerhouse actors like Mads Mikkelsen and Christopher Eccleston and barely have them even talk. Like what’s the point lol?

Either they are trying to hype up the films on the names of the actors and they are scared that the rest of the cast won’t stack up to them. Because let’s be honest could you imagine Chris Hemsworth against Christopher Eccleston in a serious villain role?”

Is this a legitimate argument? Possibly, but it’s important to keep the MCU’s accomplishments in perspective before judging the creative team behind it too harshly. When pursuing a project as ambitious as the MCU, not every film is going to be a critical success.

While all of them have been hits commercially speaking, it’s nearly impossible to have every entry in the series be excellent. That means some films are going to be better than others, and that some roles may not be as well drawn out. 

The bottom line is that when you assemble this talented of a cast in so many movies, some films (and roles) are going to fall flat. Marvel’s issue is related to volume, not quality.