After the events of WandaVision, as more heroes are introduced to the MCU and a new Avengers team assembles, we got to thinking: Which superhero has had the best introduction in the Marvel Universe to date? Now obviously, that question is subjective. It depends on which team member you favor, what kind of action movie you’re looking for, and whether you prefer the films to stick to their comic counterparts or branch out and try something new. There’s nuance here to be sure. But we’re going to avoid all that by giving fans a simple ranking to fight over in the comments section instead.
We sorted our favorite superheroes in order of which Avenger had the best intro into the MCU. Disagree with these rankings or don’t, what’s done is done.
We hate to do this to Eric Bana… and Edward Norton… and Mark Ruffalo, but Marvel struggled in its early days to not only define who Bruce Banner was but also give fans a cohesive origin story for the MCU’s greenest Avenger. It wasn’t until the eventual superhero team-up that Ruffalo gave this monstrosity some personality, and it would take director Taika Waititi’s influence to mine the comedy from this Jekyll and Hyde creation. That’s too long of a build-up, even if the payoff is Captain America shouting, “Hulk, smash.”
16. Black Widow
Again, it gives us no pleasure to relive how dirty Marvel did Black Widow in her early iterations. Though the Iron Man sequel was a fun romp, introducing this super-spy as a piece of eye-candy for an increasingly suicidal Tony Stark is a cinematic choice that just doesn’t age well. The Avengers gave Natasha Romanoff more agency and pushed beyond the superficial “strong female character” label that she repped in Iron Man 2. Plus, all of those sexual harassment jokes? Not a good look, even for a billionaire playboy philanthropist.
15. The Falcon
We’ve no doubt that the upcoming Disney+ series is going to give Sam Wilson his due, but his first look in the MCU fell a bit flat. It’s not the character’s fault. After all, it’s hard to establish yourself as the new bestie of Captain America when that pesky, brainwashed super-soldier is wreaking havoc all over Washington D.C. We learned the tiniest bit about Wilson’s service record and how he’s adjusting to civilian life before Cap pulls him into a different war but here’s hoping The Falcon and The Winter Soldier tells us more about him than just his taste in music.
14. Winter Soldier
Speaking of Avengers in desperate need of therapy, technically we met Bucky Barnes in the first Captain America outing, but the Winter Soldier feels like a totally different character — all that cryo sleep and mind-f*ckery will do that to a person. We met the Winter Soldier during a difficult period in his Hydra service as he was tasked with eliminating his former best friend only to have his memories jogged just enough to cause him to fail his mission, crash a floating helicarrier into the Potomac, and escape to Bucharest to munch on plums and take stock of his life.
Valkyrie was always going to be a kick-ass character — she’s an elite warrior trained to protect literal gods — but Tessa Thompson took the hero to a different level, leaning into her trauma and her unintentional comedic side. Again, we have Waititi to thank for revamping the Asgardian universe as a whole with his take on Ragnarok, but let’s give Thompson her credit. It takes guts and talent to confidently stroll down a spaceship ramp, drunkenly fall off into a pile of space trash, then dust yourself off and kill some scavengers so you can take your king hostage.
12. The Maximoff Twins
So technically, Scarlet Witch’s true intro came during WandaVision’s terrific finale but that show also taught us that Wanda Maximoff had her powers all along — they were just amplified by the Mind Stone and Hydra’s experiments. And, if that’s true, then the first look we have at the Maximoff twins is their villainous origin story in Age of Ultron. We’re not mad at it. After all, the film tried to hold Tony Stark accountable for his pretty shady past, and both Wanda and Pietro had very intimate knowledge of his failures as a human being. Pietro was the wise-cracking, irreverent speedster we hoped he’d be, and Wanda really leaned into her emo-goth vibes as she single-handedly broke every member of the Avengers squad — save Clint Barton. Eventually, the two join the good guys and Pietro sacrifices himself to save a kid from Ultron’s destruction of his hometown. It’s one of the few superhero intros that break the tradition of “good-guy-made-better-with-powers” that the MCU had mostly been following up until this point.
One of the best bits of casting Marvel ever produced — aside from Robert Downey Jr as a fast-talking egomaniac with a heart of electromagnetic palladium — was Paul Rudd as the affable insect-whisperer known as Ant-Man. It is an accepted fact that Rudd just does not age, so realistically, he can inhabit this role for another century at least, but more than that, the leading man has the charisma and likability to play someone like Scott Lang. Lang, a failed thief who’s given a second chance thanks to a job gone wrong, is an unlikely hero, a character who needs to be able to laugh at himself because really, is there anything more bizarre than shrinking your body to the size of an ant and then actually communicating with the creatures? No, no there is not. Luckily, Rudd understood the comedy inherent in the character’s origin story from the beginning and his intro into the MCU is one of the better comedic ventures the studio has produced.
10. Captain America
There’s really nothing funny about Steve Rogers’ origin story, so while it’s well done and a worthy entry in the MCU, we just can’t in good conscience, rank it higher on this list. Captain America: The First Avenger is a little too self-serious at times, but then again, it packs a lot of comic lore and superhero exposition in its short run-time, introducing us to the skinny, sickly underdog who’s chosen to receive a super-soldier-serum injection and ends up becoming a patriotic symbol of hope for a world at war. Don’t get us wrong, Chris Evans absolutely nails this part, playing Rogers as a righteous do-gooder without ever making that desire to help feel disingenuous. We just wish this movie would’ve let Cap smile a bit more. And, you know, not killed off his best friend before putting him on ice for almost a century.
It’s really difficult to separate the first intro fans had of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man — in the closing seconds of that Civil War trailer — from the character’s first appearance on screen in a feature-length film. So, we’re not going to. Whether you geeked out over Robert Downey Jr. calling him “Underoos” in the trailer or got hyped when alt-J’s “Left Hand Free” started playing the moment a panoramic of Queens popped up, it makes no difference. Spider-Man’s introduction to the MCU marked one of the more light-hearted, wholesome moments of the series — and not just because Aunt May fed walnut date loaves to Tony Stark during their first meeting.
Sure, Thor: Ragnarok is the best entry into the Asgardian hero’s journey thus far. And yes, we’ve erased that disastrous sequel from our minds because we all need to practice more self-care right now. But neither of these truths negate how good the original Thor film was. After all, it had a lot of heavy-lifting to do. Not only did fans demand an entertaining introduction into the completely foreign world of Asgard — a first look that would eventually set up Marvel’s expansion into more adventures set in space — but it needed to bridge the gap between the Norse mythology that inspired the character’s creation and his current superhero journey. What better way to do that than with a classic fish-out-of-water comedy romp in the desert with a shirtless Chris Hemsworth, a brainy Natalie Portman, and the delightful sarcastic commentary of Kat Dennings?
7. Monica Rambeau
Now, when we first meet Monica Rambeau she’s a bold, take-no-sh*t pre-teen who has to remind her Auntie Carol why Earth is worth saving. She continues that tradition (of correcting angry white women too powerful to be all up in their feels) in WandaVision, which is how she gains her own abilities. We’re not completely sure just what those powers are as of now (though we know she can see electromagnetic energy waves and absorb bullets) but it’s not her superhero antics that rank Rambeau so high on this list. Yes, there are problematic plot points in Monica’s origin story — having a Black woman sacrifice herself multiple times to save a superpowered white woman who can’t grieve properly, and that white woman’s fake children is an odd choice — but there’s also something incredibly empowering and refreshingly new about how Marvel gave it’s latest Avenger agency over herself, her own grief, and her choices in WandaVision. Monica Rambeau taught us a lot more about moving on from loss than Wanda ever could.
6. Iron Man
On the one hand, we meet Tony Stark as he’s wheeling and dealing in weapons of mass destruction for his own monetary gain. So, yeah not cool. On the other hand, watching Robert Downey Jr down a scotch in the back of a humvee while he chats up his track record with Maxim cover models to a trio of military escorts as AC/DC plays in the background is BIME — Big Iron Man Energy. Seriously, the film’s first five minutes completely captured the character, gave us a brief overview of his personality and flaws, and set up future action sequences in a way that just can’t be beaten. It’s one of the coolest intros on this list, but then again, with Tony Stark, would you expect anything less?
When the two most intelligent Avengers code your brain and the team’s god-like member wields literal lightning to Frankenstein you to life, you really don’t have to do much to earn a spot on this list. But Paul Bettany made Vision’s “birth” infinitely more interesting by playing him as an all-knowing, all-powerful creature just trying to figure his sh*t out after seeing his reflection in the glass of Stark Tower for the first time, and we’ll always thank him for that.
4. Doctor Strange
Is Stephen Strange an egotistical asshole with a debilitating God-complex and troubling narcissistic tendencies? Yes, but his origin story in the MCU was also one of the more nuanced hero journeys that we’ve been given over the past decade. A brilliant surgeon who loses his ability to practice and goes in search of a healing miracle ends up becoming the Sorcerer Supreme and inheriting a terrible responsibility he may not be ready for. The only thing that could make this any better would be the addition of time-travel or teleportation or kick-ass capes or something…
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
We know, Peter Quill is played by the Worst Chris. But dammit, how good was James Gunn’s first Marvel effort? The music. The flippant comedy. The refusal to take itself seriously as a superhero movie. The bizarre characters and complicated group dynamics and unexpected climactic dance battles. What’s not to love here?
2. Captain Marvel
Chronologically speaking, Captain Marvel should’ve gotten her origin story after Captain America’s World War II tour, but fans had to wait much longer to see Brie Larson play the Air-Force-ace-turned-Kree-warrior in her own solo film. It was worth it though, not just for the Nine Inch Nails tees and Skrull comedy and cat appreciation but because this film introduced us to new alien worlds while giving us a wholly unique hero’s provenance. Having Carol Danvers confront the gaps in her memory to remember her humanity and the true source of her power put a spin on the expected superhero formula.
1. Black Panther
Sure, we knew who Chadwick Boseman was as soon as T’Challa made an appearance during the ratification of the Sokovian Accords. Sure, the solo Black Panther film remains one of the best MCU entries and, by far, the richest, most complex look at a comic book world the franchise has ever given us. But come on, that car chase scene? That Captain America highway standoff. That helmet removal reaction? It doesn’t get any better.