Every year we see some many actors come and go, never to be heard of again. Making it big in Hollywood is no easy task and it requires talent, hard work, but also luck. Actors know that breakthroughs and worldwide recognition don’t come easy and if you do get a chance, you’d better use it. For many actors getting on the so-called Hollywood A-List came after a superhero movie. Over the years, there have been plenty of movies based on Marvel comics, including but not limited to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. So many different actors went through these movies with some becoming huge stars and others being mostly forgotten.
The MCU actors are currently among the biggest starts and highest-paid actors. However, before they signed with Marvel most of these stars were B-List actors. It’s not to say that they were bad, they just didn’t get big roles, tons of money and awards. And by joining the MCU they became A-Listers. But, this is far from being an “MCU effect.” Franchises such as X-Men and Spider-Man have done the same thing for a number of actors. We here at CBR decided to take a look at the 19 B-List stars who became A-List thanks to Marvel.
19. CHRIS HEMSWORTH
Prior to 2011, not many people were familiar with Thor or the actor who portrays him Chris Hemsworth. However, thanks to the MCU, both the comic book character and the Aussie actor have been getting a lot of attention. If you had no idea who Chris Hemsworth was before he was cast as the God of Thunder in Thor, don’t sweat it, you were not alone.
Before he took on the role of Thor, Hemsworth had only appeared on Australian television series and a total of three movies.
By joining the MCU, Hemsworth became an A-Lister and started getting roles in movies such as Rush, Blackhat, Ghostbusters and Snow White and the Huntsman. In 2015, he moved back to his home country because he no longer needed to be in LA to secure work
18. PAUL RUDD
Paul Rudd, whom most of us remember from Friends, Anchorman and a plethora of comedy and romantic comedy movies, was probably the last guy you’d expect to become the next big action star. Yet, here we are in 2018 and Rudd is about to star in two superhero movies this year alone.
While Paul Rudd was pretty successful without the MCU, he was almost exclusively doing comedy. Ant-Man was Rudd’s chance to prove that he can do much more than just be funny. Although, Ant-Man had a fair amount of humor, Rudd certainly showed everyone that he has the chops for more than just comedy. In 2018, Rudd is set to appear in the biographical spy thriller The Catcher Was A Spy and the sci-fi mystery Mute.
17. GWYNETH PALTROW
Gwyneth Paltrow is quite possibly one of the most hated celebrities at the moment. In her glory days during the late ’90s she starred in successful movies such as Shakespeare In Love, Seven and The Talented Mr. Ripley. However, Paltrow was on a real downward spiral during the ’00s and her status in Hollywood was gravely damaged. Luckily for her, Marvel came knocking at the right moment.
In 2008, Paltrow started her run in the MCU as Tony Stark’s assistant and love interest, Pepper Potts. And while a whole bunch of people still can’t stand Paltrow, for reasons that mostly have little to do with her acting, Paltrow’s career has been revived by Marvel. In 2011, Paltrow co-starred in the critically acclaimed disaster movie Contagion alongside Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law.
16. CHRIS EVANS
Chris Evans is one of those actors with multiple superhero roles. Evans played two Marvel heroes — the Human Torch in Fantastic Four and Captain America in the MCU. While the Fantastic Four movies did give him a push in the right direction, they didn’t exactly make him one of Hollywood’s biggest stars overnight. However, Evans had much better luck second time around. In 2011, Evans finally made it into the major leagues by starring in MCU’s Captain America: The First Avenger.
Being part of the MCU opened up a lot of opportunities for Evans who went on to star in a variety of films — including the critically acclaimed Snowpiercer, the romantic comedy What’s Your Number? and the biographical crime thriller The Iceman. Plus, his MCU roles have earned him numerous award nominations.
15. JEREMY RENNER
Actors like Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Hiddleston enjoy the most attention among the MCU actors, with Jeremy Renner often being marginalized much like his character. However, Renner was actually a bigger star than both Evans and Hemsworth when he signed with Marvel.
With two Academy Award nominations, Renner was shaping up to be one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
However, it was his role in the MCU that gave him the push he needed to end up on Hollywood’s so-called A-List. Although his part as Hawkeye is rather small when compared to that of RDJ or Scarlett Johansson, Renner managed to capitalize on the success of the MCU and land roles in critically acclaimed and financially successful movies such as The Bourne Legacy, Arrival, American Hustle and the Mission Impossible franchise.
14. KIRSTEN DUNST
The Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy launched the careers of four young and promising actors Tobey Maguire, James Franco, Kirsten Dunst and Bryce Dallas Howard. Kirsten Dunst’s breakthrough came with her role in Neil Jordan’s 1994 movie Interview with the Vampire. However, mainstream success came in the early ’00s with Spider-Man. Kirsten Dunst portrayed Peter Parker’s sweetheart Mary Jane Watson in all three movies and gained worldwide recognition and critical acclaim for her performance.
After the enormous success of the Spider-Man movies, Dunst went on to star in critically acclaimed movies such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Melancholia as well as the romantic comedy Wimbledon. Kirsten Dunst may not be considered an A-Lister at the time, but back when she was doing Spider-Man she most certainly was.
13. ZOE SALDANA
Chances are you were already familiar with the name Zoe Saldana when the actress was cast in the role of Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. Prior to turning into the green-skinned alien assassin, Saldana was best known for playing Neytiri in the number one box office movie of all time — James Cameron’s Avatar, as well as Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek reboot movies.
After her 2009 breakthrough with two box office hits — Avatar and Star Trek — Saldana needed just one big role to secure her status among the biggest stars of Hollywood. The role of Gamora came at the perfect moment, launching Saldana’s career in the right direction. Currently, Zoe Saldana is part of three huge movie franchises — the MCU, Avatar and Star Trek.
12. MARK RUFFALO
In 2012, the MCU released its first big team-up superhero flick The Avengers with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo. While the rest of the main cast had already made their MCU debuts, this was the first appearance for Ruffalo’s Hulk.
While Ruffalo was in no way an unknown actor before he joined the MCU, he certainly wasn’t among Hollywood’s biggest names. Prior to hulking out with the Avengers, Ruffalo was best known for romantic comedies such as 13 Going On 30 and numerous supporting roles. After his big break in the MCU, Ruffalo went on to star in successful movies such as Now You See Me, Foxcatcher and the Academy Award winning biographical drama, Spotlight. In 2017, Forbs listed Ruffalo as the 20th highest-paid actor of the year.
11. TOM HIDDLESTON
In 2015, Empire Magazine ranked Hiddleston’s portrayal as Loki the 19th greatest movie character of all time. But both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston were relative nobodies before starring in Thor. However, their lives have changed immensely since 2011. Hiddleston was previously best known for his work on television series such as Wallander and landing the part of Loki was a real breakthrough for him.
Originally, Hiddleston was considered for the part of Thor and auditioned for that part. However, Marvel went with Hemsworth as the God of Thunder and gave Hiddleston six weeks to put on some muscle to portray the antagonist Loki. And the rest, as they say, is history. Hiddleston went on to become one of the most popular MCU actors and one of the biggest Hollywood stars, attaching his name to movies such as High-Rise and Kong: Skull Island.
10. ROBERT DOWNEY JR.
The fifth highest-grossing domestic box office star of all time and the sixth highest-paid actor of 2017, Robert Downey Jr. is one of those stars who got off to a great start but hit a couple of bumps on the road to success due to substance abuse. In the early ’00s, RDJ pretty much lost everything after two drug arrests. Upon his last stay in the court-ordered drug treatment program, Robert Downey Jr. sobered up and went on to become the star we all know and love today.
His role as the face of the most successful movie franchise was of crucial importance in his rise to fame.
9. RYAN REYNOLDS
Reynolds’ first appearance as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine will probably go down in history as one of the worst live-action adaptations of a comic book character. However, Reynolds’ second outing as the wisecracking mercenary Wade Wilson in the 2016 box office hit Deadpool made him an A-List star. The movie broke numerous records and became the highest-grossing R-rated film, as well as the highest-grossing X-Men film. And after three unsuccessful superhero movies for Reynolds, we say it was a bout damn time.
Deadpool brought critical and commercial success to the Canadian actor, who will reprise his role in the upcoming Deadpool 2 set to premiere in June 2018. After the success of Deadpool, Reynolds has starred in movies such as Life and the Hitman’s Bodyguard and he’s set to star in the upcoming Detective Pikachu movie.
8. EMMA STONE
Academy Award winner Emma Stone is often listed among her generation’s most talented actresses, the most beautiful women in the world, as well as the highest-paid actors. Stone is best known for her roles in La La Land, The Help, Birdman, but also The Amazing Spider-Man franchise. The year 2010 was the breakthrough year for Emma Stone with the success of the teen comedy movie Easy A. However, with a gross of $757 million and generally positive reviews, the Spider-Man reboot was the movie that launched Emma Stone’s career.
The critics found Stone charming and her performance was met with high praise. Since then, Stone’s career has been one success after another. Most recently, Emma Stone starred in the critically acclaimed biographical sports movie Battle of the Sexes, where she portrayed former World No.1 tennis player Billie Jean King.
7. PATRICK STEWART
Sir Patrick Stewart is one of the most renowned actors of today. This beloved British actor gained an enormous fanbase with his portrayal of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the critically acclaimed TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, the success of Star Trek typecast Stewart as Picard and finding new roles became difficult. In the late ’90s, Stewart signed on for a multiple picture deal to portray Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise.
He has since played the character in seven movies with Logan being his last appearance as the iconic comic book character.
X-Men pretty much secured Patrick Stewart’s status in Hollywood and he’s been doing a wide variety of projects including voice acting in video games, cartoons and anime. In 2010, Stewart was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to drama.
6. BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD
When you hear the name Bryce Dallas Howard your mind probably immediately goes to the 2015 box office hit Jurassic World. However, way before she and Chris Pratt broke box office records in the sequel to the Jurassic Park trilogy, Howard played Gwen Stacey in Spider-Man 3. The 2007 Spider-Man 3 was Howard’s first blockbuster, grossing a total of $370 million. The movie may not have been received well by the critics, but it did advance Howard’s career.
Part of the critics and the fans liked Howard so much that they began posing the question why wasn’t she, a natural redhead, cast as MJ, since she was obviously a better fit. Afterwards, Howard started getting roles in critically acclaimed movies such as The Help, 50/50, Pete’s Dragon and of course the Jurassic World franchise. Recently, the actress has expressed the desire to join the MCU.
5. HUGH JACKMAN
After almost two decades and nine X-Men movies, Hugh Jackman hung up his claws. Appearing as the mutant Wolverine for the last time in the critically acclaimed 2017 movie Logan, Jackman, who enjoys an A-List star status in Hollywood and owes much of his success to Marvel, closed this chapter of his professional life.
The 2000 X-Men movie was Jackman’s third film and it quite literally put him on the map. Over the years, Jackman’s performance in the X-Men movies undoubtedly led him to countless important movie roles. Jackman starred in a number of critically acclaimed and financially successful movies, including the Academy Award winning Les Miserable, for which Jackman too earned a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
4. JAMES FRANCO
Nowadays, James Franco is best known for the Planet of the Apes franchise, award winning 127 Hours and Netflix series 11.22.63 based on Stephen King’s book. However, just like so many other actors, Franco started his career with TV roles in shows such as Freaks and Geeks and romantic comedies like Whatever It Takes. Franco’s big break came with the Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy where he portrayed Harry Osborn.
Franco achieved worldwide fame with the 2002 Spider-Man movie, which grossed a total of $822 million and received wide critical acclaim.
Reprising his role in the sequel movies, Franco further established his status in Hollywood. After successfully making a great impression with three blockbusters, Franco went on to star in a number of critically acclaimed and financially successful movies.
3. ANDREW GARFIELD
2010 was a breakthrough year for Andrew Garfield who starred in the Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network and the dystopian drama Never Let Me Go. The success from 2010 led Garfield to land other important roles in big motion pictures, including Marc Webb’s Spider-Man reboot The Amazing Spider-Man. Garfield was set to play the character in future Spider-Man movies, but the plans were cancelled after the second movie failed to meet expectations.
However, Garfield’s career didn’t suffer from the cancellation of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise. If anything, this British-American actor benefited from Marvel in a big way. After he hung up his Spidey suit, Garfield went on to star in critically acclaimed movies such as 99 Homes and the biographical war drama Hacksaw Ridge.
2. MICHAEL FASSBENDER
Michael Fassbender is one of those actors who tend to shine even in movies undeserving of his talents, such as the 2016 video game adaptation Assassin’s Creed. Fassbender’s breakthrough came after starring in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, after which he continued getting roles in big successful movies, including X-Men: First Class.
After joining the X-Men franchise, Michael Fassbender’s filmography started brimming with critically acclaimed and box office hit movies such as 12 Years a Slave, Macbeth, Steve Jobs and Alien: Covenant. Fassbender’s performance is almost always well-received by the critics and he’s even been nominated for two Academy Awards for his work in Steve Jobs and 12 Years a Slave. With such an impressive list of films and a net worth of $30 million Fassbender is most certainly among the elite Hollywood actors.
1. CHRIS PRATT
Today, Chris Pratt is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors with a number of blockbusters to his name. However, not so long ago, Pratt was best known for his TV roles. Most of us remember him as Andy from the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. At the time, Pratt weighed about 60 pounds more than he does now and didn’t quite have the build for a superhero.
After first passing down on the role of Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt changed his mind and signed a multi-picture deal with Marvel.
Since then, Pratt has become one of the most popular and well-liked actors in Hollywood and keeps getting roles in movies such as Jurassic World and The Magnificent Seven. Thanks to Marvel, Pratt is now one of the highest-grossing actors.
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