The Marvel Cinematic Universe might be the most ambitious film project ever. It’s a series of movies and TV shows that are all meant to stand on their own in terms of quality but also add up to be part of a larger whole. It takes a small army of creators and awesome ideas to keep this ambitious ship afloat! Of course, not every great idea makes it to the big screen. Some scenes and characters are shot and then cut from the final film, while others never make it past the story and scripting stage. Each one of these discarded ideas represents the Marvel Cinematic Universe that could have been.
However, some of these discarded ideals are truly amazing. They would have changed the face of the MCU as we know it, but it would definitely be for the better. And finding out what could have been is pretty awesome on its own -- like an MCU version of Marvel’s classic What If? line of comics. Not every discarded idea is a winner, though. Some of these would have destroyed some of your favorite characters and movies. And a few of them would have destroyed the MCU just when it was trying to get off the ground! How can you tell the good ideas from the bad ideas? You don’t need to contact Uatu the Watcher to figure this out. Read on to see all the ideas we think would've improved the MCU, as well as the ones that we think would have made it much worse.
20 MADE BETTER: IRON MONGER LIVES
In 2008, Marvel kicked off the MCU with Iron Man. In turn, that movie kicked off many MCU traditions, including how the bad guy almost always meets his demise at the very end. And while seeing Iron Man and Pepper defeat Iron Monger was a cheer-worthy moment, did you know he was originally supposed to survive?
In an earlier draft of the script, our heroes would go over to the Iron Monger suit and find it empty, implying the villain had escaped. We loved Jeff Bridges as the villain so much, we can’t help but think his eventual return (maybe as a Hydra agent) would have been awesome!
19 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: COULSON NO MORE
In his own way, Agent Coulson quickly became one of the most important parts of the MCU. He put a real face to S.H.I.E.L.D., he served as a fanboy stand-in for the Avengers, and after his demise at Loki’s hand, he was resurrected to headline the awesome Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. However, we almost had no Coulson at all!
In earlier Iron Man scripts, actor Clark Gregg was simply playing an unnamed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with no lines of dialogue. His charm led to Coulson getting dialogue, a name, and an increasingly important role in the MCU. We can hardly imagine the MCU without Coulson, so we’re glad for the changes that brought us Coulson!
18 MADE BETTER: FEMALE VILLAIN
Iron Man 3 is a divisive film for many reasons. One of these is the choice of villain, as the “Mandarin” ended up being unlike anything that fans had expected. However, there was originally going to be a villain twist we would have preferred: Doctor Maya Hansen would have been the Big Bad instead of Killian Aldrich.
The plan was nixed because the studio felt a female villain wouldn’t sell enough toys. However, we would have loved to see a bigger role for Rebecca Hall, as her Maya Hansen was a highlight of the movie. Plus, it only seems appropriate that womanizer Tony Stark would nearly have his life destroyed thanks to a forgotten fling from his past.
17 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: DOWNER HULK
The Hulk movie occupies a weird space in the MCU. It’s an entertaining film and better than what came before, but having Edward Norton as Bruce Banner instead of Mark Ruffalo feels a little weird now. However, there was originally going to be a weird connection between these two performers.
In the Avengers, Bruce Banner reveals that he cannot end it himself and that he tried to do it at one time and he transformed into Hulk before he could perish. In an Edward Norton rewrite of Hulk, the movie would have opened with that scene. We’re glad it didn’t, though -- that would have been a bleak note for an otherwise fun (if occasionally mindless) action movie.
16 MADE BETTER: TOBEY MAGUIRE?!?
Marvel fans lost their minds with excitement when they saw Spider-Man join the MCU in Captain America: Civil War. Tom Holland does a great job playing the role, but there was a chance the MCU Spider-Man would not have been Tom Holland. It would have been Tobey Maguire!
Understandably, Marvel has wanted to get Spider-Man back into the MCU at the wrong time. And in an original script for Hulk, there were plans to have Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man join Hulk near the end of the movie. Obviously, this fell through due to rights negotiations with Sony, but we would do anything to see Maguire kicking butt in the MCU alongside other Marvel icons!
15 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: DEMON IN A BOTTLE
For the most part, the MCU has done an awesome job of translating our favorite Marvel characters to the big screen. And since these characters have decades of comic history, fans often wonder when certain famous stories will be translated. And in the case of Tony Stark's infamous problem, we came very close to seeing it!
That’s right, we would have had a cinematic version of the “Demon in a Bottle” story in an earlier script of Iron Man 3. However, we’re glad that it got dropped. We love to see Robert Downey, Jr., having immense fun with the role, and a grim and too-serious plot would not be fun for anyone.
14 MADE BETTER: EMILY BLUNT AS BLACK WIDOW?
Most of the items on this list are basically script changes. They focus on the various scenes and dialogue that we almost had but now will never see. However, equally fascinating are the casting decisions that almost occurred. For instance, we almost had Emily Blunt as Black Widow!
She was offered the role in Iron Man 2, but turned it down because she allegedly wasn’t impressed with the character as portrayed in the movie. This was also the reason that she turned down playing Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. As much as we love Scarlett Johansson and Hayley Atwell in the MCU, we think Emily Blunt would have been a strong and nuanced addition to the universe.
13 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: “JIM” AS CAPTAIN AMERICA?
Emily Blunt is not the only actor who almost joined the MCU. As it turns out, her husband and Office alumni John Krasinksi was up for the role of Captain America! He actually made it far into the process, including the costumed audition. That’s where things get interesting.
To hear him tell it, he was putting on the Captain America suit when he saw Chris Hemsworth as Thor walking by. He instantly compared himself to the hyper-muscled actor and decided “I’m not Captain America,” voluntarily declining the role. Now, we love Krasinksi for his humor, and he’s proven his action chops in later roles, but we’re so glad he paved the way for Chris Evans to play Cap so unforgettably.
12 MADE BETTER: WASP IN AVENGERS
We finally got to see Wasp in the MCU in the first Ant-Man, and more prominently in the sequel. However, Marvel fans with a long memory know that her comics incarnation was a founding Avenger. And, as it turns out, the MCU version was almost a founding Avenger as well!
When Joss Whedon was writing the first Avengers movie, he was unsure Marvel would be able to lure Scarlett Johansson back for the role of Black Widow. Instead, he ended up writing scenes to introduce and feature Wasp instead. Obviously, Black Widow came back and Wasp was nixed, but we think she would have been a great addition to the movie. Just imagine her aerial battles with the Chitauri!
11 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: MANDARIN AS FIRST VILLAIN
As we said earlier, one of the most controversial things about Iron Man 3 was the Mandarin. Instead of being the iconic bad guy from the comics, the character ended up being a drunken actor whose terrorist Mandarin was simply a distracting performance to distract the good guys.
We actually came close to seeing this character earlier. In original scripts for Iron Man, Mandarin was going to be the Big Bad for the film. We’re glad this didn’t happen -- if they went with the Iron Man 3 plan and disappointed fans, the MCU might have faded in its infancy. And a comics accurate Mandarin might have been dismissed as an insensitive caricature. It always seemed like a lose-lose situation.
10 MADE BETTER: HULK AS VILLAIN
Loki ended up being one of the MCU’s most iconic villains. He was good in Thor and then amazing in Avengers. However, he wasn’t always the star villain for that first ensemble get together. In early drafts ideas for the script, the heroes would fight someone closer to home in The Hulk.
In this way, the movie would be an homage to the original Avengers comic, in which Loki manipulated the Hulk and caused our heroes to fight him. While this would have drastically altered the MCU landscape, we can’t help but think it would be downright amazing to see all of the Avengers versus one out of control Hulk!
9 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: COULSON AS HYDRA AGENT
Captain America: Winter Soldier was one of those rare sequels that ended up surpassing the original film. It was filled with plenty of cool twists, including the biggest revelation of all in that Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. long ago, and many characters we trusted are actually secret villains. This was an awesome twist, but it almost went a little too far.
Originally, there was a plan that Coulson would be revealed as a Hydra agent in the movie. However, Whedon’s plan to off the character in Avengers ruined this twist. We’re glad it did, though: Coulson is too lovable to be an agent of evil, and this plan would have destroyed the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show.
8 MADE BETTER: PATTY JENKINS’ THOR
Fans like to fight among themselves about which Marvel movies are the best. And while debate is strong, there’s one thing we can agree on: Thor: The Dark World is one of the absolute worst. However, in an alternate world, it could have been one of the greats!
The movie was originally slated to be directed by Patty Jenkins, who would go on to blow us away with her Wonder Woman movie. Furthermore, her Thor movie would have focused strongly on the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster. We prefer this to the reality in where Marvel basically forgot about Jane Foster and gave us a silly villain with no personality.
7 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: NO YONDU
Guardians of the Galaxy ended up surprising everyone by being so damned good. Like Star-Lord’s eclectic music, the ensemble cast ended up being a truly “awesome mix.” And the blue bad guy turned good guy Yondu ended up being so popular that he had a much beefier role in the sequel film.
That wasn’t always the case, though. In early drafts of the script, Yondu was not in the movie at all. We’re glad he ultimately got added, as Michael Rooker’s performance is hypnotically good, and his character’s heroic demise may be the MCU’s top “I’m not crying, you’re crying” moment of them all.
6 MADE BETTER: DAVID BOWIE CAMEO
Many of the changes on this list were simply creative decisions. Scripts change and evolve over time, and not every good (or bad) idea stays around forever. Sometimes, though, life gets in the way, which is why we never ended up having David Bowie in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Originally, the musician (whose Ziggy Stardust character was no stranger to space) was going to be part of the menagerie of Ravagers. However, when he tragically passed away, it was impossible to include him. Instead, we can only speculate how cool it would be to see the best musician alongside the best heroes in the galaxy!
5 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: DANNY DEVITO AS ROCKET
Even in a cast full of hilarious characters, Rocket Raccoon quickly distinguished himself as one of the funnest not-quite-people in the MCU. That is largely because of the charm of Bradley Cooper, the actor who voices the irate trash panda behind the scenes. That wasn’t always going to be the case, though.
At one point, Danny DeVito was being considered as the voice of Rocket Raccoon. And while we love DeVito and think he is a national treasure, it’s kind of impossible to imagine him voicing Rocket. We’d be stuck with Batman Returns flashbacks every time the character said any of his lines!
4 MADE BETTER: BETA RAY BILL
If you have eagle eyes (or are just really quick with the pause button), you can spot Marvel character Beta Ray Bill as a decoration on the Grand Master’s palace in Thor: Ragnarok. While this made for a cool easter egg, the character was originally slated to have a more substantial role.
In some early brainstorming sessions for the movie, Marvel considered using Beta Ray Bill in the role Hulk would come to play. When that idea was dismissed, he was still going to have an actual character cameo, but it was cut. We’re a bit sad about this as the innate weirdness of Beta Ray Bill would have fit right in with Thor: Ragnarok!
3 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: ORGANIC WEB SHOOTERS 2.0
Spider-Man was one of the biggest hit Marvel characters on the big screen long before the MCU began. While that version was mostly a faithful adaptation, it had one big distinction in that Spidey had organic web shooters instead of mechanical ones -- and history came very close to repeating itself.
When Spider-Man was added to the MCU, there were plans to have him have organic web shooters as well. This was eventually ditched so that we could better appreciate Peter Parker’s genius in creating them. We’re glad they ditched this idea -- we can only deal with so many web shooter arguments in one lifetime!
2 MADE BETTER: INFINITY WAR CAMEOS
Longtime MCU fans are persistently salty about the divide between movies and television. Each Marvel property is awesome in its own right, but we almost never get crossover between movies and TV. Many fans, though, had hoped to see some TV MCU heroes pop up in Avengers: Infinity War.
That almost happened, with the directors strongly considering it. They ditched the plan, though, both because the characters could confuse a casual audience and the Thanos snap could ruin upcoming TV seasons. With all that being said, though, we would have loved to see things like Luke Cage punching Thanos, a Coulson cameo... really, we’ll take anything at this point!
1 GLAD THEY AVOIDED: NO PEPPER POTTS IN AVENGERS
Believe it or not, Marvel really does take that “don’t confuse the casual audience” thing pretty seriously. For this reason, they originally did not want Pepper Potts to appear in Avengers, just in case some audience members had not seen the Iron Man movies. Robert Downey, Jr., had to fight for her to be included!
Ultimately, we’re glad he did. He explained to Joss Whedon and others how she helped add actual human drama and stakes to the movie. Otherwise, it’s just our heroes punching giant CGI monsters: all style, no substance. And her character went on to dramatically shape Tony Stark and the MCU itself in subsequent films.