The Ancient One first appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2016, in Doctor Strange’s first solo movie. She held the title of “Sorcerer Supreme” before he did, and so she played a pretty pivotal role in the story as she relinquished the title to Stephen Strange. She’d also appeared on a number of lists of characters rumored to return to the MCU in Avengers: Endgame, but it was still surprising when her scene came up.
The Ancient One is one of the most mysterious and intricate and powerful characters in the Marvel Comics universe, so there's a lot you may not know about her. Hopefully, we can help you there. Watch out for Endgame spoilers ahead, if you're still not up to speed.
10 How did the Ancient One bring Bruce Banner out of his Hulk body?
When the Ancient One made a surprise reappearance in Avengers: Endgame as the Hulk went to get the Time Stone from her, she tapped his chest and his spirit suddenly came out of his body and his body slumped down. One of the Ancient One’s powers is something called astral projection, which is a fancy word for being able to will out-of-body experiences to happen.
Since Bruce Banner is Bruce Banner at his core and not the Hulk, or the weird “Professor Hulk” hybrid that he became in Endgame, that was the astral spirit that appeared when she brought him out of his body.
9 Is the Ancient One female in the comics?
No. In the comics, the Ancient One is a male from the Himalayas. However, for the movies, Tilda Swinton was cast and the character was swapped to a Celtic female. But it’s not a typically feminine character. Swinton shaved her head and was made to look androgynous for the role, leading Kevin Feige to say that due to this, the character’s gender “doesn’t matter.”
This wasn’t the first (or last) time that a male role from the comics was switched to a female role for the movies. Morgan Stark is male in the comics, whereas Endgame introduced us to a female Morgan Stark. Jeri Hogarth, Ghost, and Mar-Vell are all male in the comics and female in the MCU, too.
8 Have there been other Ancient Ones?
Based on the name “Ancient One,” you might expect there to only be one. However, according to producer Kevin Feige, there have been a few Ancient Ones throughout history (at least in the MCU interpretation of the character:
“As we were developing this film, we looked at the Ancient One as a mantle more than a specific person. The sorcerers have been around for millennia, protecting us from things we didn’t know about until this story. There have been multiple [Ancient Ones]. Even if this one has been around for 500 years, there were others. This is a mantle, and therefore felt we had leeway to cast in interesting ways.”
7 Is the Ancient One a Celestial?
A lot of casual fans think that due to the Ancient One’s incredible abilities and her control of the environments around her, she is a Celestial. But she isn’t. She’s the leader of the Masters of the Mystic Arts, which means that she can conjure up pretty much any illusion you can think of. This is a little like a Celestial, except with a Celestial, it’s real stuff, and with a sorcerer, it’s all make-believe.
Another common misconception is that Dormammu – the primary villain in the first Doctor Strange movie – is a Celestial. Dormammu is actually a demonic entity occupying his own dimension called the Dark Dimension. He’s extremely powerful, but he’s not a Celestial.
6 Where was the Ancient One born?
In the comics, the Asian male version of the Ancient One was born in a fictional place called Kamar-Taj, which he has described as being hidden somewhere in the heights of the Himalayas. He was born over 500 years ago and lived a peaceful life as a farmer until his friend Kaluu introduced him to the mystical arts.
The female version from the movies has never mentioned her place of birth, but is said to have spent a fair amount of time in Kamar-Taj. Although she was of Celtic descent, she spent a great deal of her life healing the sick in Kamar-Taj before heading to New York to keep tabs on her successor, Stephen Strange.
5 How old is the Ancient One?
Age is an interesting thing in the Marvel universe. Due to all the alien species and time travel, these characters are rarely the same age as the actors who play them. For example, the Ancient One was 700 years old when she died. By comparison, Thanos was recently revealed by Joe Russo to be 1,000 years old.
The director used this to demonstrate that the Mad Titan is “the Genghis Khan of the universe.” But to be fair to the Ancient One, she wasn’t far behind with 700. She’s less than half the age of Thor, though, who told Rocket in Infinity War that he was 1,500 years old.
4 How has she managed to live that long?
If the Ancient One is just a regular human who happens to have impeccable magical powers, then how did she manage to live for 700 years? Well, as it turns out, she actually could’ve lived for a lot longer if she hadn’t been killed. By drawing power and energy from the Dark Dimension, she was able to prolong her lifespan indefinitely. If she’d kept out of danger, she would’ve been technically immortal.
In the end, though, she accepted her fate: “We don’t get to choose our time. Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered and your time is short. You’d think, after all this time, I’d be ready. But look at me, stretching one moment out into a thousand...just so that I can watch the snow.”
3 Why did she give Bruce Banner the Time Stone?
The Ancient One’s surprise reappearance in Avengers: Endgame had to be set in 2012, because in the MCU canon, she’s technically dead. Bruce Banner rushed over to her house and asked for the Time Stone. Initially, she was reluctant to give it to him, because it’s one of the six most powerful objects in the universe and it’s responsible for a lot of her powers.
So, why did she end up giving it to him? As soon as he mentioned that Stephen Strange – whose tenure as Sorcerer Supreme she knew was looming – gave the Stone to Thanos intentionally. She knew he’d seen the future and had some grand plan to save the world, so she gave the Stone to Banner on the condition that he would return it.
2 Is the Ancient One stronger than Thanos?
In Doctor Strange, we saw the Ancient One pass on the mantle of “Sorcerer Supreme” to an arrogant neurosurgeon named Stephen Strange. Strange picked up a lot of neat tricks from the Ancient One before she died and he took over from her. However, he’s still a few centuries away from mastering his powers in the way that she did.
She’s one of the few MCU characters that could’ve defeated Thanos on their own. Thanos struggled in combat with Strange, but he really would’ve struggled with the Ancient One – even if he had the Infinity Gauntlet on. Unfortunately, she died about a year before he showed up. Rats!
1 What is the Ancient One’s real name?
In the comics, the Ancient One’s real name is Yao. After he died, Yao relinquished the titles of “Ancient One” and “Sorcerer Supreme” and crossed over from our plane of existence into the next, where he became one of Marvel Comics’ lesser-known cosmic entities. But while we know a lot about Yao and his backstory from decades of comics, we don’t know an awful lot about the MCU’s Ancient One from her two cinematic appearances.
She's known to be very guarded, coy about discussing her private life or her upbringing, so we’ll probably never get to learn her real name.