Comic book fans know how the tiers of characters work. There are the heroes and the villain, always the two most needed ingredients. Then there are close allies, often key characters in their own right who aid either side. Then there are a variety of supporting characters, small roles but they may end up becoming important down the road. The creators of the MCU are smart to keep to that formula and it’s proven to be a huge success. Quite often, they can throw in supporting characters that turn out pretty major down the road. Hope Van Dyne was a supporting player in Ant-Man but then became the co-lead in the sequel as the Wasp. Likewise, Black Widow and Hawkeye had smaller roles in early MCU movies before becoming Avengers.
Even the TV shows do it with supporting characters who soon grow nicely. A few of these heroes were never meant to be a big deal but thanks to the actors cast in the parts, they became major scene-stealers. That led to them growing in prominence and soon becoming major fan favorites. A few of them would grow even bigger than the leads to the point that some fans contend they should be stars of their own movies. Even some great heroes can be outshined by a terrific supporting player. Here is a whole list of the characters that have outshined their main character, and made the movie their own.
25 WINTER SOLDIER
Sebastian Stan was already a good standout in Captain America as Bucky Barnes. The idea was Bucky was always there to defend the weaker Steve Rogers and the two best friends. When Steve became Captain America, Bucky backed him up in combat only to seemingly perish. He then became the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed HYDRA operative pulling dirty jobs. Stan was great in the part to showcase Bucky as a fighter who could give Cap a good run for the money in battle.
What was even better was the emotional storyline of Bucky trying to regain his past memories and put his life together again. That bond with Steve remains and was showcased in Infinity War. In the comics, Bucky has a run as Captain America himself and Stan has proven he could do the same if the MCU calls for it.
24 NICK FURY
It’s the cameo that began a cinematic revolution. In 2008, after-credit scenes weren’t as huge a deal as they are today. Thus, it took time for the word to get out how Iron Man ended. Which, as most of us remember perfectly, it ended with Tony confronted by Nick Fury to talk about “the Avenger Initiative.” It was artist Bryan Hitch who imagined Fury as Samuel L. Jackson and thus the casting was brilliant. Soon, Jackson was dominating in his cameos. He was always there to lend a hilarious encouraging word for his team, and played the tough guy perfectly.
That came up majorly when SHIELD was taken down by HYDRA and Fury went off the grid. In brief cameos in other movies (and Agents of SHIELD), Fury could still steal the show and put these super-heroes in their place.
23 COLLEEN WING
It’s well known that Iron Fist was seen as a major disappointment in its first season. Much of the complaints were centered around Finn Jones. As the title character, he was not very engaging in his scenes. This led to people thinking that Colleen Wing should have been the star. She is the expert martial artist who aids Danny in his quest against the Hand. It became a big deal when she revealed she’d been in the Hand herself before turning on them. She proved her worth to Danny in several fights.
The second season has shown Colleen stepping into the limelight majorly. It builds to a major twist that puts Colleen front and center of the saga. Thus, it looks like Marvel listened to fans to realize Colleen, not Danny, is the Iron Fist character fans enjoy watching.
22 OLD LACE
As soon as Hulu announced they were bringing Runaways to the screen, fans were eager for one character in particular. A few worried it could never work, not on the limitations of a streaming TV service. But they were rewarded as, while going around a house, Gert and Molly accidentally awaken a living dinosaur. It turns out it was genetically engineered by Gert’s scientist parents who kept it quiet from their friends in the Pride. Gert was then astonished to find she could control the dinosaur, who she nicknamed Old Lace.
The CGI is fantastic, and the dinosaur is a success in both that and being an active member of the team. More than a pet, Lace is willing to fight for his charges and protect them well. Given the bickering the Runaways do so much, the dinosaur may be the one member of the group with a steady mind.
21 THE ANCIENT ONE
There was major controversy when Tilda Swinton was cast in this role. While the Oscar-winner is a capable actress, she was taking on a part long presented as an elderly Asian male. However, Swinton did prove very good in the part. Her Ancient One is wise and mostly stoic but also holds a dry wit. She enjoys a “tough love” approach to training Strange (such as dropping him off on a frozen mountain). She’s also very capable of using her own magical abilities to take on hordes of attackers with ease.
A big part of the film is the Ancient One using the Darkforce Dimension’s powers to extend her lifespan. She defends it on helping the world and is willing to sacrifice much of herself for the planet. The Ancient One is fully aware of her fate and accepts it in order for Strange to take her position. That showcases how even Strange is second-best in magic compared to this master.
20 TRISH WALKER
Jessica Jones is a broken woman who is driven by her demons. Her life would be far worse without the help of Trish Walker. Pushed by her stage mom to become an actress and singer, Trish had starred in a cheesy 1990s sitcom, but when the show starts, she’s trying to make it work as a radio hostess. She shows her own strength as she calls out the mind-controlling Kilgrave on the air, ignoring Jessica’s warnings of the man’s powers. That shows a courage that even Jessica can lack.
True, the second season has Trish go on a dark path. She becomes obsessed with a substance that gives her powers and makes some bad choices Jessica has to call her out on. But the season ends with Trish trying to redeem herself. It also shows she may still have some fun abilities of her own. Whatever the case, Trish shows that while she’s a bit rough, she’s still better put together than her super-strong friend.
The gatekeeper of Asgard is a serious and imposing figure. Idris Elba was a great casting choice, as he really took Heimdall and made the character his own. He’s all about duty, but he has shown that he doesn't mind breaking the rules if it is the right thing to do. While he is a skilled fighter, he is more well known for the fact that he can see all, thanks to his magical eyes.
Thor Ragnarok really let Heimdall shine. He’s exiled when he realizes Loki is posing as Odin and forced to go on the run. When Hela attacks, Heimdall proves he’s a terrific warrior as he takes down her forces and helps the Asgardians to safety. Even his end is epic, as he uses his power to send the Hulk to Earth.
Casting Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o was a great way to make this character stand out. Nakia is T’Challa’s childhood friend who’s now a very effective undercover agent for Wakanda. She comes back to help him when he takes the throne and it’s obvious there’s an attraction between them. They don’t act on it as each has their duties. However, Nakia is a good presence for the king, as she is the person who originally plants the idea in his head of helping out the world with their resources.
She’s also a terrific fighter, and she showed that off easily when she was battling Kilmonger’s forces. Nakia is willing to put her life on the line for T’Challa. She has an amazing fighting style and an even bigger heart.
17 SHARON CARTER
Her role has been small compared to the comics. But Sharon Carter has showcased a great skill and style to make her stand out. She pops up in Captain America: Winter Soldier as Steve’s next-door neighbor who seems attracted to him. It turns out she’s an undercover SHIELD agent sent to keep watch on him. When Steve exposes how HYDRA has infiltrated SHIELD, Sharon is the first one to stand up to the enemy agents and fight back quite well.
Civil War reveals that Sharon is the grand-niece of Steve’s old love Peggy Carter. It’s her speech at Peggy’s funeral that inspires Steve to fight back against the government’s wishes to control the Avengers. She also aids Steve and company in fighting back and even shares a kiss with him. The character may not have much to do on screen but does show serious potential in matching Steve’s own heroism.
16 CLAIRE TEMPLE
She doesn’t wear a costume or have powers, but Claire Temple is critical to the success of Netflix’s MCU shows. It begins when she treats Daredevil after a fight and shows her skill as a doctor. Then, she becomes close to Luke Cage and helps him when he suffers a rare injury. Claire then falls in with Danny Rand and soon embarks on a quest to aid him in China. Finally, she meets with Jessica Jones to give some advice. In each series, Claire is a warm presence thanks to Rosario Dawson’s good acting.
She’s able to get these Defenders to see how they’re on the same side and remind them what they’re fighting for. Claire can also put them in their place which is impressive given she’s talking back to people with super-strength and kung-fu skills. It’s Clare who keeps the Defenders running as a dysfunctional, but effective, unit.
15 FOGGY NELSON
While a sharp and capable lawyer, Foggy Nelson has long been in the shadow of Matt Murdock. The Netflix series give him a much better chance to shine. The TV Foggy isn’t the bumbling overeater of the comics but a nice guy who helps Matt out majorly. A major turn was his discovery of Matt’s identity as Daredevil and angry he’d never told Foggy. Foggy is a much needed balance to Matt, pointing out how insane this life as a crime fighter is and putting people in danger. He’s also very sharp in a courtroom and willing to go out of his way to defend those in need. Foggy is the grounding presence Matt needs to shine a light in the world of Daredevil.
No one expected this character to become so loved. That’s mostly due to how, in the comic, the Man-Ape is one of Black Panther’s greatest enemies. The movie seems to follow the same path as M’Baku challenges T’Challa for the throne, claiming the young man isn’t worthy of it. T’Challa’s victory seems to end that. But later in the movie, M’Baku saves T’Challa’s life and shows himself as a man of honor with a great sense of humor. He then aids T’Challa in the big battle to prove that he is also a terrific warrior.
The character returned in Infinity War and showed that he and T’Challa are now good friends. It’s speculated that M’Baku is now ruling Wakanda following Thanos’ actions and should prove himself a worthy successor for the man who had been his rival.
Here’s another case of a character shifted from the comics for the better. The comic book Korg is a stiff and serious warrior who is tied to his sense of honor. Thor Ragnarok imagines him as more of a laid-back and goofball guy. The friendly voice by Takia Waititi offsets his rocky appearance and brings a nice charm to the part.
He keeps talking about “starting a revolution” and ends up being a very good aid to Thor on this planet. Yet the fact he’s a nice guy under that rocky hide is what fans love and makes him a bigger deal. That he’s willing to risk it all for a guy he just met shows Korg’s inner heroism and makes him an easy fan favorite.
12 PEGGY CARTER
The key to the success of this character was the casting of Haley Atwell. The British actress looked gorgeous as the special agent who helps Steve Rogers when he becomes Captain America. However, Peggy is also a hardened soldier as well as someone who is willing to charge into battle right alongside the men and risk her life. The character was so popular that she was given her own ABC series. There, Peggy faces threats like a young HYDRA and a vast conspiracy. But the bigger battle is proving herself in a society that refuses to admit a woman can be good at her job.
That fight is one even Captain America has never had to face. The fact that Peggy is victorious in it proves her worth. While the character has passed on, her legacy proves that Peggy was an even greater hero than most of the Avengers.
Not just the typical comic relief sidekick, Luis is a good addition to the world of Ant-Man. Scott Lang’s former cellmate, he’s now running with a pack of minor crooks pulling small jobs. Scott recruits him to help out his own work and Luis shows that under his fast-talking is a very smart and capable thief. Indeed, in his own way, he’s better than Scott at getting away with a robbery.
The sequel has him now running his own security business but he is far better at helping Scott then he is at his business. Again, his humor is great (see him under truth serum in the sequel) but it’s his friendship and willingness to do anything for Scott that makes Luis one of the more valuable supporting players in the MCU.
The comic book character has long been a classic fair-skinned and blonde-haired beauty. Tessa Thompson doesn’t match that but she definitely brings the same fighting energy to the role. Driven by a past tragedy, Valkyrie is a top-notch warrior who enjoys a good drink after her work. She easily takes down Thor and shows no intimidation of him being a prince. Her snide sarcasm can put Thor, Loki and the Hulk in their places and she’s probably smarter than all three of them.
However, in the end, Valkyrie dons her old armor to fight for Asgard and handles herself in battle even better than Thor. The character is hopefully returning for the next Avengers movie to show how even the God of Thunder can’t match her own fire.
9 PEPPER POTTS
The first time we meet Pepper Potts, she’s telling Tony’s one-night stand how to handle the day after. It’s clear she has done this so many times before and that she’s the reason Tony is so successful. Not just an assistant, Pepper oversees a lot of the company and Tony basically says that he’d be lost without her. No wonder he lets her in on his armored identity before anyone else. Pepper proves herself as no damsel in distress, fighting back herself and making sure Tony doesn’t get into too much trouble.
It reached a good height in Iron Man 3 as it’s Pepper, not Tony, who takes down the villain of the film. They’re now engaged but Pepper still shows she’s the one person who never takes any of Tony’s garbage and put him in his place. She briefly wore an armored suit in the third film and a lot of fans wouldn’t mind seeing her be an Iron Maiden to match (or even beat) Tony.
It’s long established that the Black Panther has his cadre of female bodyguards. Rather than “eye candy,” each is a hardened warrior willing to fight for their king. Danai Gurira was a great choice for the role, showcasing a hard edge and she was very capable in a fight. Okoye also has a dry humor and fun bits such as complaining about the wig she has to wear for an undercover mission. Her relief at tearing it off for a fight just made audiences love her more.
Okoye also shows inner conflict as she realizes her loyalty must be to Wakanda, not whoever holds the throne. She’s even willing to take on her own love to do what’s right. The character was just as great in Infinity War as she teamed up with Black Widow to protect Scarlet Witch.
7 WAR MACHINE
One weakness of the first Iron Man movie was Terrance Howard as Jim Rhodes. Howard just seemed bored by it all and was not able to keep up with Tony's snark. Thankfully, the sequels recast the role with Don Cheadle, who was much better. His Rhodey isn’t at all afraid to get in Tony’s face and tell him point blank when he’s wrong. That includes seeing Tony getting drunk at a party and putting on a suit of armor to fight him.
This leads to Rhodey becoming the Iron Patriot. He then switches to War Machine and backs Tony up in Age of Ultron. His military background gives him more skills than Tony and he is able to hold his own during a fight against aliens. He suffered a back injury in Civil War but that didn't stop him from standing up against the government to aid the Avengers in Infinity War. There’s more than one guy in the MCU worthy of being Iron Man.
In the comics, this alien archer is a stoic warrior who almost never smiles. Guardians of the Galaxy transforms him into a rough and tumble crook with a twisted mouth. While Yondu is sneaky and conniving, he’s driven by the guilt of his past and how it cost him his standing with the other Ravagers. He does possess the amazing ability to control his arrow with whistles and use it as a powerful weapon. The highlight of GOTG Vol 2 is Yondu taking out dozens of crooks with ease and to a song.
He truly cares about Peter Quill and regrets not telling him how much. His sacrifice just wins fans over to him more to show how deep down, this crook had a heart of gold. Even the Guardians have to admit he was more of a hero than they could ever hope to be.
A sour and dour man, Wong shows up as the librarian for the mystical land Doctor Strange trains in. He’s obviously not impressed by Strange and warns him of the dangers that misusing magic can bring. Benedict Wong was well cast in the role (not just because of his name) by showing the mystic side to his work as well as being a capable fighter.
While not matching Strange’s own power, Wong has his own set of skills and is always ready to back Strange up in various battles. He also educates Strange about the importance of his position. Strange may be the Sorcerer Supreme but it’s Wong who makes sure he knows the stakes of what they’re fighting for.
A lot of the hype on Black Panther was about the various warrior ladies in the film. However, the best female character turned out to be the tech genius instead. Shuri is basically the Queen of the MCU, coming up with devices that Tony Stark can’t even match. It helps that she was raised in Wakanda, a society that’s a century ahead of the rest of the world in technology. Shuri is also a genius who loves showing off her work. Letitia Wright was a brilliant casting choice, bringing a terrific humor to the role and gives a modern touch most Wakandans don’t possess.
She’s no lab geek either as proven when she dons her own armor and gauntlets for the climactic battle. Shuri popped up in Infinity War, wowing even Bruce Banner with her smarts. T’Challa himself will admit that without Shuri, his work as the Panther might fail.
Jaimie Alexander was wonderfully cast as this feisty Asgardian warrior. With her beauty and lush hair, she looked amazing. She was totally convincing as a warrior who proved her doubters wrong, because not only could she wield a weapon, she was actually a better fighter than any of the men.
She proved herself in the first two movies as a terrific warrior and stole much of the films. She also had a few appearances on Agents of SHIELD to showcase her great skills, and combined with her dry humor, she won fans over. Alexander has been busy with her TV show Blindspot and so, for now, she has been unable to return to the role. However, she still showed how Sif could give Thor a run for the money in terms of fighting ability.
2 DARCY LEWIS
A few fans complain that Natalie Portman was miscast in Thor as Jane Foster. She was talented but couldn’t quite bring the right energy needed for the role. Thankfully, that energy was provided by Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis. The unpaid intern aided Jane in her work and handled the wild encounters with Thor. With a quirky sense of humor, sharp mouth and fun style, Darcy enlivened her scenes nicely. Her banter with Jane and Thor provided some good fun and brought a lot of enjoyment to her scenes.
She returned in the sequel, getting more into the action and even finding a bit of romance. While the character hasn’t popped up since, she remains a favorite for the great human touch the Thor movie needed.
1 PHIL COULSON
Here’s a character who was meant to be nothing but a side guy and ended up turning into a star. Clark Gregg was just a minor character in the first Iron Man movie as Coulson, who was an agent of a shadowy organization. It’s at the end that he tells Tony to, “just call us SHIELD.” He popped up again in the sequel and then again in Thor with a dry humor that won fans over. He was always meant to be the sacrificial lamb in Avengers with his death driving the team to work together.
However, fans had come to love the character with his wit, skills, and from the courage he had to face Loki on his own. So ABC resurrected him as the star of Agents of SHIELD. Since then, Coulson has become a huge supporting character in the MCU. He has handled various deadly threats with that same bravery.