The internet has been buzzing in recent weeks over news concerning the upcoming two Avengers movies, Infinity War and an as-yet-untitled follow-up. First, it was confirmed by Vin Diesel that the Guardians of the Galaxy would be involved. Then we learned that Steve Rogers has left the mantle of Captain America behind after the events in Civil War. Yesterday, we got one more little gem from directors Joe and Anthony Russo: Josh Brolin on set as Thanos.
A cosmic supervillain in the Marvel comic universe, Thanos first appeared (silently) in a mid-credits scene in the first Avengers movie. After showing up again in Guardians of the Galaxy (again, without much to say), we finally heard Brolin’s voice coming from the character during a mid-credits scene in Age of Ultron. Now, at long last, the mad king of Titan is here to face off against Earth’s mightiest heroes.
While Infinity War looks to be the culmination of what the MCU has been leading up to, here’s a look back at some of the one-off actors who made memorable appearances, as well as the likelihood that we might be seeing them in action once again.
Jeff Bridges – Iron Man
An actor who can shift seamlessly between genres, Jeff Bridges was an ideal choice for the MCU’s first supervillain, industrialist Obadiah Stane in 2008’s Iron Man. Filmed during the writers’ strike of 2007, which meant “they had no script, man,” Bridges still managed to craft a convincing portrayal of a cold-hearted magnate bent on destroying his partner, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr). By the end of the film, Stane had donned the Iron Monger armor and engaged Tony in battle, eventually meeting his fate when he falls into a reactor at Stark Industries.
Chance he’ll return: It could happen. It turns out, Bridges was supposed to survive that final battle, and Marvel had plans to write him into future installments before changing course and killing off his character. In a Facebook Q&A given by Bridges in 2015, the studio reassured him by saying “It’s a comic-fantasy, so who knows, your character could come back.”
Tim Roth – The Incredible Hulk
The esteemed British actor played Royal Marine-turned-Abomination Emil Bronsky in The Incredible Hulk, released the same summer as Iron Man. He approached the part with his usual gusto, portraying a character with enormous moxie who, after his first taste of Gamma radiation, wasn’t afraid to stand up to the Hulk. Of course, by the time he is fully transformed he proves to be a terrifying adversary for the Hulk, and the two end up leveling most of Harlem in their final showdown.
Chance he’ll return: Possible. While Hulk definitely wins the fight, there was, according to Roth and director Louis Leterrier, they also shot an unused post-credits scene that showed Bronsky chained inside a tiny metal cell. Later, there was a plan to have Abomination return as a villain in the sequel to The Avengers, which were eventually scrapped as well. Although, given that another Hulk stand-alone has yet to materialize, we might not be hearing much from Abomination in the near future.
Mickey Rourke – Iron Man 2
One of the more bizarre additions to the MCU roster was Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko, the cockatoo-owning tech rival who has a vendetta against Tony Stark’s father, who, with the help of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) develops his own suit, hoping to enact his revenge under his new persona, Whiplash.
Chance he’ll return: Doubtful. Not only did he appear to commit suicide by way of his suit’s self-destruct function, but Iron Man 2 wasn’t exactly a high-point for the MCU, which was still in its infancy at the time. Rourke’s performance, along with the outlandish demands he made on behalf of his character (like the cockatoo favored by Whiplash), bordered on the cartoonish.
Hugo Weaving – Captain America: The First Avenger
Best known as the evil computer program Agent Smith from The Matrix trilogy, Weaving chewed the scenery in the 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger as German officer Johann Schmidt, who eventually reveals his true mantle to be that of iconic Cap villain The Red Skull. Weaving had to endure a significant prosthetics process akin to what Lon Chaney used to put himself through just in order to convincingly play Cap’s main adversary.
Chances he’ll return: It’s quite possible. One one hand, Schmidt appeared to disintegrate when he grabbed the Tesseract near the end of the film. On the other hand, we’re talking about the Tesseract here, which makes it possible for his return in some form for the upcoming two Avengers movies. Though Weaving himself might not be too keen on the idea.
Harry Dean Stanton – The Avengers
In the calm before the storm that brought The Avengers to a close, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) wakes up in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere after being dropped from the SHIELD helicarrier. While still in a daze, he has a brief chat with a warehouse security guard, played by Harry Dean Stanton, who is delightfully unaffected by everything he just witnessed.
Chances he’ll return: Doubtful. Stanton’s nameless character served his purpose perfectly, and the chances of any of The Avengers’ rank and file returning to that specific warehouse for any reason seems pretty unlikely. Although it’s not impossible, given the MCU’s sense of humor, making it an outside chance he’ll pop back up.
Ben Kingsley – Iron Man 3
Not the first major controversy about casting choices for the MCU (Samuel L. Jackson drew ire when he was cast as Nick Fury), there was some backlash when it was announced that Ben Kingsley would be playing The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Of course, the movie eventually revealed something else entirely when The Mandarin turned out to be an actor hired by actual bad guy Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), yet another character who felt slighted by the Stark family to the point they took great means to try and take revenge.
Chances he’ll return: Next to none. Kingsley’s character wasn’t much more than a struggling thespian with substance abuse issues, though he does his best to redeem himself once he’s found out. It’s also doubtful that Marvel would hire an actor the stature of Ben Kingsley to return for a part that was merely a plot twist that ended up causing some backlash of its own.
Christopher Eccleston – Thor: The Dark World
Another well-known British actor, Eccleston was barely recognizable under his prosthetics when he played the dark elf Malekith in 2013’s Thor sequel The Dark World. Still, Eccleston managed to bring some depth to his character, depicting Malekith as someone who was twisted by revenge, but with an underlying sense of nobility — though much of this nuance was lost due to his backstory being cut from the film.
Chance he’ll return: Extremely low. Not only was he crushed under his ship in The Dark World, but any sequel will likely have to focus on the fact that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) currently sits on Asgard’s throne while disguised as Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
Robert Redford – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
One of the highest-profile actors the MCU has managed to wrangle for a one-off role, Robert Redford portrayed Senator Alexander Pierce in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo told Birth.Movies.Death that Redford’s role in Three Days of the Condor was a source of inspiration for their spy-tinged installment. Redford said that he took the part out of a curiosity he had for what he described to Entertainment Weekly as “a product of high technology playing a major role in the new order of filmmaking.”
Chance he’ll return: Zero. After it was revealed he was actually a secret agent of HYDRA, he’s brought down by his former partner Nick Fury. Dying in the film’s final moments, he lets out one last “Hail Hydra,” effectively concluding his character’s arc, and most likely satisfying Redford’s curiosity as to the inner workings of the MCU.
Karen Gillan – Guardians of the Galaxy
The Scottish-born Karen Gillan studied Spartan warfare and shaved her head before taking on the role of Thanos’ daughter in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Nebula’s been programmed to eradicate all that’s weak throughout the galaxy, and Gillan told Comic Book Resources that she saw her character was a bit of a sadist, a trait that she described as “fun.”
Chance she’ll return: Guaranteed. Gillan herself tweeted a couple of photos of her bright blue hand while filming the sequel to Guardians, which comes out in theaters next summer. Given her character’s substantial backstory (and really messed up childhood), and her contentious relationship with her half-sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana), there could be a lot at stake when these two cross paths again.
Andy Serkis – Avengers: Age of Ultron
It’s seemed like Andy Serkis has been involved with every major effects-driven blockbuster this century, so of course the MCU is no exception. Stripping off his motion-capture suit, Serkis played the small role of black-market munitions dealer Dr. Ulysses Klaue in the already packed Age of Ultron.
Chance he’ll return: Almost certain. Black Panther is getting his own self-titled solo film in 2018, and given his interest in Wakandan vibranium, Klaue will almost certainly return as the film’s antagonist. In fact he might even get the chance to live up to his name, considering Ultron (James Spader) accidentally rips his arm off at one point before laughing off the fragility of the human body. If that happens, it could make Klaue a much more formidable opponent.
Michael Douglas – Ant-Man
Maybe they should have called it Ant-Men: While Paul Rudd played Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man, Hollywood heavyweight Michael Douglas played Hank Pym, the original shrunken superhero. Bits of Pym’s backstory were scattered throughout the film while he acted as a mentor to Lang. Douglas told Reuters that he took the part because he wanted to “surprise people,” and that acting in a Marvel movie was something he “wanted to do for so long.”
Chance he’ll return: Almost certain. The character of Hank Pym is a huge presence in Marvel Comics, so it was unlikely that they were going to limit his character to a single movie. Even though Douglas’ contract 0nly required him to appear in Ant-Man, he’s currently being courted for the sequel, Ant-Man and The Wasp, scheduled for release in 2018. Though if it does happen, Douglas will definitely not be wearing the Ant-Man suit.
Martin Freeman – Captain America: Civil War
After weeks of speculation, it was eventually revealed that the star of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy would be playing government bureaucrat Everett K. Ross in Captain America: Civil War. That confirmation led to even more speculation as to Freeman’s future involvement with the MCU. Considering that Ross’ main interest was to “tame those with superpowers,” and movies like Doctor Strange and The Inhumans on the horizon, there’s no shortage of work for his character to do.
Chance he’ll return: Absolute certainty. Ross is a major character in the Black Panther comics, and producer Kevin Feige more or less confirmed to Entertainment Weekly a few weeks ago that his introduction in Civil War was to pave the way for his appearance in future Marvel movies (which includes the upcoming Black Panther). So, it looks like Freeman will be a player in the MCU for the foreseeable future.