While DC Comics might have had a head start and legitimized the super hero film early on, it was Marvel’s heroes that became more iconic on the big screen as a whole and today are among the most iconic super heroes to ever hit the big screen. To start off Marvel Month I decided to honor the legacy of Marvel at the movies by focusing first on the most iconic heroes they have brought to the big screen. Some have shined outside of the barriers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while others have become the faces of one of the most powerful film franchises ever conceived. So to kick off a month of Marvel celebration these are my picks for the Top 10 Iconic Big Screen Marvel Heroes.
For this list I’m only looking at the most memorable and iconic heroes with origins in Marvel Comics who have been featured in big screen films. This list covers all heroes whether they were part of the MCU or featured in their own films and franchises. It doesn’t matter how many films these heroes were featured in as long as their appearances in film effectively made them more than just comic book icons. These are the marvel heroes and anti-heroes that became big screen sensations and earned a whole new legion of fans from their successful big screen adventures, establishing themselves solidly as icons in pop culture and cinema.
Who is your favorite iconic cinematic Marvel hero? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list. Look out for new Marvel-themed lists every week leading up to one of the biggest cinematic events of the year, “Avengers: Infinity War”.
This shape shifting mutant has always been a staple of X-Men lore, but she certainly left a memorable mark on more casual fans and moviegoers when she was featured in the first “X-Men” movie, a film that many feel helped legitimize the superhero movie as a true genre in itself. However, despite her significance and memorable contributions to the first three (okay first two) movies, it wasn’t until the series was rebooted with a prequel series that Mystique came into her own. Played by Jennifer Lawrence, this new Mystique was a major player and a friend and love interest for Professor Xavier. She played important roles in the storylines of all three prequel films to date and became the reboot series’ most iconic character to the point where she’s borderline required to be a part of the newer films. As the only woman on this list, Mystique transformed from a minion to the star of the show and even an actual plot devise (especially in “Days of Future Past”) and is the most recognizable aspect of the newer “X-Men” series, which is probably why the first priority with every sequel seems to be re-upping Lawrence’s contract.
The star of three of his owns movies and, as a result, forever associated with Wesley Snipes, Blade did for Marvel what Batman and Superman did for DC by showing that the company’s heroes could make it on the big screen with the right touch. Considered more an antihero than a full-fledged hero depending on who you ask, Blade, a half-human-half-vampire that can walk around in sunlight and hunts fellow vampires, is often overlooked in favor of more recent movie heroes, many of which are on this list, but his reputation as a cinematic superhero legend still exists. His popularity and anti-hero reputation has experienced resurgence in recent years thanks to the debate about whether “Black Panther” is Marvel’s first true African American led superhero film, but considering his adventures racked up $415 million in a trilogy of films and there have been calls to add him to the MCU I’d say that Blade remains among Marvel’s most beloved movie heroes and one that started the surge of success for the company in the years following his big-screen debut. Without him there may not have even been the idea of an MCU.
8. Black Panther
The only reason T’Challa is not higher on this list is because, let’s face it, his popularity only spiked this year due to the massive MCU hit named after his superhero alter ego. The King of Wakanda and a skilled warrior with the combined talents of his predecessors the Black Panther made waves in 2018 by becoming the first African American led superhero movie in the MCU, the first black core superhero in the MCU’s Avengers lineup (considering that Falcon and War machine were seen as sidekicks), and, if you DO consider Blade an antihero instead of a full-fledged hero, the first true African American superhero in Marvel’s lineup to get his own theatrical film. Pick your praise but no matter how you swing in Black Panther became a household name virtually overnight. His popularity started to grow after his memorable appearance in “Captain America: Civil War”, but in the past three years the character has taken his place at the top of Marvel’s pantheon of iconic cinematic heroes as an icon and barrier-breaking figure sparking merchandise, costumes, and a whole new legion of fans. He’s only this low on the list because his popularity as a film figure is still in its infancy, but I don’t see the fire lit from this heroes spectacular portrayal on screen being doused anytime soon.
In 2016 Deadpool was the MAN and even before that the fourth-wall-breaking Merc with the Mouth had a legion of diehard fans literally begging for a proper big screen version of the character…especially after the train wreck that was “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. However, when Ryan Reynolds finally got to do the character justice Deadpool became a phenomenon and his standalone debut on the big screen quickly became the highest grossing R-rated comedy ever. The first stand-alone Deadpool movie was an action-comedy-superhero hybrid of epic proportions and made Deadpool an immediate go-to favorite for casual and committed comic book movie fans. Even today, two years later with a sequel on the way, “Deadpool” remains a popular hit and the titular heroes logo is now stamped on countless products. This is all helped by Ryan Reynolds commitment to the character and the continuous operation of a Facebook page that engages fans and makes them feel like they can actually interact with and follow the antihero in real life. The jury is still out as to whether Deadpool will be a one hit wonder with his fitting and amazing cinematic debut, but regardless the hero has become as iconic as he is quirky cementing himself his cinematic history with box office numbers alone.
Often seen as the red-headed stepchild of the core Avengers, Thor is one of the few characters in the MCU to receive not only a sequel, but a trilogy although it wasn’t until his third film in 2017 that the God of Thunder truly shined on his own which is why he misses out on the top five here. Thor was one of those heroes that for a while many thought could never be made “cool” with a big-screen adaptation. However when he joined the MCU with his first solo film in 2011 the world came to realize that the hammer-wielding God could hold his own. He took a step backward in his post-“Avengers” sequel “The Dark World” which remains the lowest rated MCU film to date, but still remains the go-to hero for those who don’t want to join the factions of Iron Man and Captain America in the MCU community. His third film, “Ragnarok”, was the defining adventure for the god and was one of the biggest hits of 2017. Thor is immensely popular in his own right, with his hammer and design making him a popular Halloween costume and the subject of much merch. Every franchise needs that third option for those who want to buck the system, and Thor does that for the MCU. There’s a reason he remains a staple in the series and has brought in nearly $2 billion at the box office over the course of three films.
Marvel took a HUGE chance when they added the B-level superhero group the Guardians of the Galaxy to the MCU, but it was a success and spawned a sequel in 2017. From the original came one character specifically that stood out so much that he earned his own fan base and overshadowed not only every one of his fellow Guardians, but many other Marvel heroes as well. That character was Groot, a living tree played by Vin Diesel who only spoke by saying “I am Groot”. His unique nature, adorable personality, spectacular design and simplicity made him the runaway star of the film and, soon after, he became the subject of countless merchandise items including the famed dancing Baby Groot toys. In fact one of the selling points of the second “Guardians” film was the opportunity to see Baby Groot in action. This is a true rags to riches kind of story for a character as Groot quickly evolved from just a simple sidekick in a rag-tag team to a certified pop-culture phenomenon. While each of the Guardians has earned their place in pop culture and as inspirations for comic book fans young and old, Groot remains the most relevant and has managed to usurp many better know heroes in terms of fandom.
4. Iron Man
The man who started it all! Can you believe that back in 2008 people actually considered Iron Man to be a B-level superhero? Well that’s the truth and it makes his success as the leading character of the Marvel Cinematic Universe all the more fascinating. With Robert Downey, Jr. perfectly cast as Tony Stark, Iron Man quickly became a fixture in pop culture and it wasn’t just because his movie teased bigger things to come. The attitude, vibrato and personality of Stark made him a fan favorite immediately and his technologically advanced suit became nearly as iconic as Batman’s cape and cowl. When the second film premiered his popularity got even bigger and the third movie in his trilogy topped off at over $1.2 billion at the box office. His popularity became so huge that Iron Man became the face of the MCU, present in more films than any hero in the series and a connecting thread between nearly every film and hero within its continuity. Surprisingly however, he’s not the most popular, iconic, or even marketable hero of the MCU. That title belongs to a different hero, one whose symbolic weapon made him probably THE most universally recognizable hero in the MCU.
3. Captain America
Chris Evans took on the role as the shield-wielding symbol of freedom in 2011 and that shield alone has become the most recognized symbol of any character in the MCU, maybe even more beloved than the Avengers logo. The star of three films, including the billion-dollar grossing “Civil War” in 2017 which pitted him against Iron Man, Captain America’s story is one of the most recognized and beloved in all of Marvel’s superhero movies and his trilogy is one of the most complete ever to feature a Marvel property. Top that off with t-shirts, watches, keychains, bumper stickers, and *insert cliché product here* and you have an iconic hero that has produced more than just a fan base. Captain America is borderline worshiped by those who have chosen to make him their personal favorite and his endlessly quotable dialogue and pitch-perfect portrayal on the big screen has justified the hype. Steve Rogers’ adventures as Captain America may be over and his time in the MCU is drawing to a close, but he will forever be among the most recognizable of heroes within or outside of the MCU. There are few big screen heroes who have gained as much attention and praise from fans as this one right here.
The unquestionable star of the original “X-Men” films, Wolverine, also known as Logan, was the part that kick started the superstar career of Hugh Jackman. Wolverine is the only character on this list that earned his own standalone trilogy AFTER he became the breakout star of another film series prior. His own trilogy has its blunders (“X-Men Origins” anyone) but overall even his standalone adventures have become big hits. Wolverine is so iconic and beloved as a hero he was even shoehorned into two of the three prequel movies while he became the main character of “Days of Future Past”. Wolverine’s legacy on the big screen hit its highest point in 2017 when “Logan” completed Hugh Jackman’s legendary take on the character and gave us a broken, aged Wolverine in an R-rated film way overdue. Now featured in nine films (ten if you count the indirect references in “Deadpool”) Wolverine is seen in more movies than any character on this list. Even Iron Man has only been in eight movies if you count post-credit scenes. Still this iconic mutant was beat out by a different superhero for the top spot, one who remains so marketable he has been rebooted twice and is still a fan favorite to this day.
Now I said that Captain America is the most recognizable hero in the MCU, but Spider-Man is not just associated with the MCU. You can’t reboot a character twice successfully and not call him iconic for his ability to remain not only relevant, but celebrated as part of the superhero genre. The original “Spider-Man” movie helped make superhero movies THE thing of the 2000s and 2010s and sparked a trilogy of films that even at the worst were still better than many others before them. After the third film was a misfire a new series was born with two movies under “The Amazing Spider-Man” banner. Finally Sony and Marvel struck a long-awaited and fan-demanded deal to bring Spider-Man to the MCU, making his debut in “Captain America: Civil War” and then getting his own MCU film with “Spider-Man Homecoming”. Through all that time Spider-Man has remained not only a fan favorite, but possibly the most marketable hero on this list with toys, merchandise, cloths, costumes and more all playing into his lasting popularity. Not one Spider-Man live action movie (including “Civil War”) has made less than $700 million at the box office making him one of the most successful heroes in terms of standalone projects at over $5 billion in box office gross. This is impressive even if you take out “Civil War”, which brings that total to the $4 billion department. Spider-Man defines what it means to be an iconic superhero and is as inseparable from Marvel as Batman and Superman are from DC. When fans will line up to see a hero over and over again through three iterations and never get tired of what that hero has to offer, that’s what I call the most iconic hero in a studio’s lineup and Spider-Man has earned that title in droves.