The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with 2008's Iron Man, spans 22 films -- six in Phase One, six in Phase Two and 10 in Phase Three, including Avengers 4, which will wrap up the saga. Phase 4 promises to be a springboard to a new MCU. But the question looms: which actors and characters will carry over into Phase 4? Some of these stars have been around since the beginning and played their characters both in solo films and in ensemble projects. Not only that, one of the fun aspects of the MCU is seeing a favorite character pop up in unexpected cameos in sister films.
But with a decade behind them, some of these stars are ready to move on to other creative challenges, possibly behind the camera or with ventures that have nothing to do with acting. Other actors are fairly new to the MCU, and are happy, even eager to do more and show off their stuff. And there are all kinds of untold story possibilities yet to be tapped; for instance, several MCU actresses would love for there to be a movie teaming up its female leads. But which actors plan to keep on going? Who feels ready to pass on the baton? CBR takes a look. Here are 10 actors leaving the MCU, and 10 who will remain after Avengers 4.
20 BRIE LARSON -- STAYING
We can certainly expect Brie Larson to be part of the post-Phase 4 Marvel Cinematic Universe, since she plays the title character in Captain Marvel. The post-credits scene in Avengers 3 has Maria Hill and Nick Fury witnessing the wave of destruction that wipes out half the life in the universe -- including them. Just before they disintegrate, Fury is able to send a distress signal -- and we see Captain Marvel's emblem on the communicator.
That's the only hint of Captain Marvel in Avengers 3, but we'll see her in her own film, slated for release March 8, 2019. Larson teased the movie with an Instagram photo of the director's slate on a calendar marking June 6, the last day of filming.
19 ROBERT DOWNEY JR. -- LEAVING
Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, led by Robert Downey Jr. in the title role. He went on to play the character in the two Iron Man sequels, a cameo in Incredible Hulk, all three Avengers movies and prominently in the third Captain America film and in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
With a decade-plus as Tony Stark, Downey has indicated that he can't do it forever. The actor told News Corp. Australia Network in 2017, "I just never want to blow it for the last six or seven (MCU movies) I have done by dropping the ball because I decided to go do it one more time. I just want to hang up my jersey before it's embarrassing."
18 PAUL RUDD -- STAYING
Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd, is a relatively recent addition to the MCU. The character first appeared in 2015's Ant-Man. He then showed up in the third Captain America movie in 2016, siding with Captain America against Iron Man as the leaders fought over whether superheroes had autonomy or had to operate under United Nations sanction.
Feige told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that Rudd's contract covers a minimum of three films but is "three-plus-plus to appear in other things." Rudd's third MCU film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, opened July 6 and has grossed $191 million domestically and $403 million worldwide. And it ended with in a precarious situation -- which we hope he'll get out of by Avengers 4.
17 CHRIS EVANS -- LEAVING
Another longtime player is Chris Evans, who was in 2005's Fantastic Four and its 2007 sequel before joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger. He followed that with two sequels, the three Avengers movies, and cameos in Thor: The Dark World, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man.
Evans' six-picture contract only took him through the third Avengers movie; the cameos didn't count. Evans agreed to do Avengers 4 after it was decided to split it into two parts, because "it made sense. It's going to wrap things up," he told The Telegraph in 2017. But he has expressed a desire to move into directing, having helmed the indie film Before We Go in 2014.
16 TOM HOLLAND -- STAYING
As Spider-Man, Tom Holland is a fresh face in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was glad to have the character in the fold after the successful Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and the less-well-received Amazing Spider-Man series starring Andrew Garfield, which all were done for Sony.
Sony and Marvel made a licensing arrangement that brought Spider-Man into the MCU. Holland first appeared as Spider-Man in 2016 in the third Captain America film, and graduated to headlining Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017. He then appeared in the third Avengers film and, despite its ending, is slated to be in Avengers 4 and in Spider-Man: Far From Home, which has a July 5, 2019 release date. Holland told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 he's contracted for six films.
15 CHRIS HEMSWORTH -- LEAVING
Chris Hemsworth starred in the three Thor movies and the three Avengers movies. But USA Today reported in January that his deal with Marvel ends when Avengers 4 is released May 3, 2019. "Contractually, right now -- yeah, this is it. I'm done. I won't be playing the character again. It's sort of a scary thought. This really seemed like this never-ending thing. And now it's potentially finishing."
He did sound interested in a possible Thor 4 if it follows the status quo established in Thor: Ragnarok. He said he spent New Year's Eve kicking around story ideas with Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi. "I feel like we re-invented (Thor). There is a bigger platform now to continue if we want to."
14 CHADWICK BOSEMAN -- STAYING
Chadwick Boseman made an electrifying introduction as the Black Panther in the third Captain America movie in 2016. The Panther seeks to avenge the attack that claimed the life of his father, King T'Chaka, and finds that the culprit, Helmut Zemo, acted to splinter the Avengers apart. Headlining his own film, 2018's Black Panther was a smash, with a domestic gross of $700 million and $1.3 billion worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
Despite what happened to T'Challa at the end of Avengers 3, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige told Entertainment Weekly there will be a Black Panther sequel: "Nothing specific to reveal, other than to say we absolutely will do that." Changes in Marvel's release schedule indicate it might hit theaters Feb. 12, 2021.
13 MICHAEL DOUGLAS -- LEAVING?
Veteran actor Michael Douglass brought some old Hollywood star power to the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he was selected to play Hank Pym in 2015's Ant-Man. Instead of making Pym a contemporary of the MCU's superheroes, he was shown as being retired, mentoring Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to take over for him as Ant-Man.
While many of the leading actors in the MCU signed multi-picture deals, Douglas didn't. He told Yahoo Movies in 2015 that "I'm not signed up to anything more," but enjoyed the experience and hoped to be asked back. Happily, Douglas returned for 2018's Ant-Man and the Wasp, although the ending leaves people wondering how Pym might return.
12 SCARLETT JOHANSSON -- STAYING
Ever since Scarlett Johansson made a splash in 2010's Iron Man 2, fans have wanted the Black Widow to appear in a solo film. Instead, they've had to be content with her subsequent appearances in all three Avengers movies and the second and third Captain America movies. Oddly, there was little movement on Marvel's part to make it happen, even after Johansson displayed her box-office prowess with 2014's Lucy, a science-fiction thriller that grossed $463 million worldwide according to Box Office Mojo.
Happilly, Jac Schaeffer was tapped to write a script for a solo Black Widow film, with Cate Shortland slated to direct -- the first woman to be solo director of an MCU film. Daily Mail indicates the movie may be released in 2020.
11 MICHAEL B. JORDAN -- LEAVING?
As Erik Killmonger in 2018's Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan won rave reviews for his performance and nearly stole the movie from lead Chadwick Boseman. Not only that, he wiped away the bad taste left in people's mouths from the lackluster Fantastic Four film produced by Fox in 2015, in which he starred as the Human Torch in the face of loud fan opposition.
But Killmonger's fate in Black Panther -- he and T'Challa battled to the end, and Killmonger refused to accept aid that might have saved his life -- would seem to conclude his story. But at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in June, Jordan said he would be willing to reprise the character if there was a story that called for it.
10 BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH -- STAYING
Benedict Cumberbatch headlined 2016's Doctor Strange as the title character -- arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, who seeks a cure for his damaged hands and becomes Sorcerer Supreme of the Earth. Cumberbatch followed with a guest appearance in 2017's Thor: Ragnarok, and featured prominently in the third Avengers movie.
Going forward, Doctor Strange is sure to be featured in Avengers 4, since leaked photos from the set show him, Captain America, Thor and Iron Man. And Marvel President Kevin Feige told CinemaBlend in July, "Sometimes it's where do those characters pop up? [Doctor] Strange, you know, whenever we do another Strange [movie], which we will do, it will be a number of years from the first Strange."
9 GWYNETH PALTROW -- LEAVING
Gwyneth Paltrow was Tony Stark's go-to person in 2008's Iron Man. In 2010's Iron Man 2 he promotes Potts to CEO of Stark Industries and they also become romantic partners. Potts is an action hero in her own right in 2013's Iron Man 3, which was the last film on Paltrow's original three-picture contract.
Paltrow does not appear in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, nor the third Captain America movie in 2016; in that one, we learn Potts and Stark have separated. They're back together in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and in the third Avengers movie (2018), but those were just cameos. Paltrow told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 she's in Avengers 4 but is concentrating less on acting and more on her lifestyle brand Goop.
8 SEBASTIAN STAN -- STAYING
In 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, Sebastian Stan appeared as Bucky Barnes. Departing from the comics, Barnes was an older brother figure to the scrawny Steve Rogers, but before the story concludes, he falls from a railroad trestle and is into seen again. Barnes returns in the second Captain America film in 2014, as a brainwashed Hydra operative who survives to the present day thanks to cryogenic suspension.
Stan told Newsarama in 2014 that he had a nine-picture deal. With major roles in the three Captain America movies, post-credit appearances in Ant-Man and Black Panther and a significant presence in Avengers 3, and Avengers 4, Stan still has a couple more movies to go.
7 DON CHEADLE -- LEAVING?
James Rhodes got a new face in 2010's Iron Man 2, when Golden Globe winner Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard as the Air Force officer and got his own suit of armor. Cheadle went on to play Rhodes in 2013's Iron Man 3 and in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron. But Rhodes suffers a devastating injury in the third Captain America movie and loses the use of his legs.
The next Avengers movie showed Rhodes using an exoskelton to get around the Avengers Compound. Cheadle is known to be in Avengers 4 -- Gywneth Paltrow told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 he and Robert Downey Jr. made her "laugh hysterically" on set -- but there's no word on his status after that.
6 MARK RUFFALO -- STAYING
Mark Ruffalo is the third actor to play the Hulk on the big screen, after Eric Bana in 2003's Hulk and Ed Norton in 2008's The Incredible Hulk, although only the latter is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ruffalo appeared in 2012's The Avengers, and has been a utility player in other MCU flicks: the other two Avengers movies, a cameo in 2013's Iron Man 3, and a partnership with the Thunder God in 2017's Thor: Ragnarok.
Ruffalo told Collider in 2012 that he signed a six-picture deal. He still has one left after Avengers 4; the Iron Man 3 cameo doesn't count. Unfortunately, it won't be a solo Hulk movie; he told Variety in 2017 that rights issues with Universal prevent it.
5 TOM HIDDLESTON -- LEAVING
As Loki, Tom Hiddleston has been the personification of mischief and villany in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever since 2011's Thor. That year, Hiddleston told the Italian site Comicus, "When I signed my contract, I signed to play Loki in five more Marvel movies, but they were unspecified." Since then, he's done 2012's The Avengers, 2013's Thor: The Dark World, 2017's Thor: Ragnarok and the third Avengers film in 2018.
Loki was slated to meet his end in Thor: The Dark World, but test audiences thought it was a fake out, so it was undone in Thor: Ragnarok. It seemed Loki met his final fate in the last Avengers movie, but he's slated to be in Avengers 4 -- the last one on Hiddleston's contract.
4 EVANGELINE LILLY -- STAYING?
Hope van Dyne, as played by Evangeline Lilly in 2015's Ant-Man, was so capable, she almost made Scott Lang superfluous, and even more so when she suited up in Ant-Man and the Wasp this year. According to Zap2It, Lilly's contract is for "two full Marvel films and a cameo"; she posted on Instagram, "I will appear in 'Avengers 4' ... not very much so don't get your hopes up. Not going to be a ton. But I'm in there! And I'm proud to be in there. And I'm stoked to be in there."
Lilly wants to do more; she's pushing for an MCU film with an all-female cast. She told Comicbook.com it could feature the Wasp, Valkyrie, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Okoye.
3 JEREMY RENNER -- LEAVING
Hawkeye the Archer popped up in 2011's Thor. Renner told The Daily Beast in 2014, "I signed on to The Avengers 1-3 and then Hawkeye, in case they want to do a Hawkeye spinoff." Renner also appeared as Hawkeye in the third Captain America movie, siding with Captain America against Iron Man's faction of Avengers.
Renner wasn't in the third Avengers movie; Hawkeye's absence was explained as him being under house arrest because of his siding with Captain America. As for a solo Hawkeye movie, it might not feature Renner, indicated news and gossip site MCU Cosmic in June. During April's Produced by 2018 conference, Digital LA tweeted that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige is working on "different incarnations of characters you know."
2 ZENDAYA -- STAYING
Disney star Zendaya brought a lot of buzz when she was cast for a mystery role in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming. The company was tightlipped about who her character was supposed to be, prompting lots of fan speculation. Eventually, Marvel let slip that the character's initials were "M.J." -- which seemed a clear sign she would be Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker's longtime love in the comics.
But M.J. was revealed to be Michelle Jones, a high-school classmate with a quirky personality and a dry sense of humor. Zendaya is confirmed to appear in the sequel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is scheduled for release on July 5, 2019.
1 SAMUEL L. JACKSON -- LEAVING STAYING
Marvel's Ultimates comics line retooled Nick Fury in 2002, making him resemble actor Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson took note and struck a deal with Marvel to play the character in any movies. Jackson went on to play Fury in eight Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"I'm sort of the glue that holds all these guys together," Jackson told A.V. Club in January. "I got them into the organization, into S.H.I.E.L.D., and every now and then I show up to remind them that S.H.I.E.L.D. has a purpose. It's been a good job. It was a nine-picture deal. I did it. It was good." That deal seemed over with Captain Marvel, but Vulture reported Jackson will be in Spider-Man: Far From Home.