This article contains minor spoilers
We all love Captain America and Iron Man. Those shining icons made the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the powerhouse franchise that we know, and that at least some of us continue to love. But the MCU has never been just about the guys in the suits. Kevin Feige and his collaborators built the franchise on the regular people around those with cool costumes and code names, the normal folks who trade witty barbs and give Spider-Man and Captain Marvel something to fight for.
These heroes deserve their day in the sun. So here are fifteen of the greatest non-superpowered heroes of the MCU!
We all know that one guy who can never shut up, but who is just so charming about it that we don’t care. That’s Luis, Scott Lang’s affable ex-con pal and business partner, played by Michael Peña. On a plot level, Luis helps Scott find his grounding after his release from prison in the first Ant-Man and sets up the job that leads Scott to the Pym residence. But Luis serves a larger purpose as a constant source of good-natured energy for the movie.
Nothing demonstrates Luis’ contributions better than his storytelling sequences, in which he relates information via convoluted storytelling chains. Drawing from his expertise working on sitcoms such as New Girl, director Payton Reed visualizes the stories by having his performers act out Luis’s stories, with exaggeration to match the narrator’s exuberance. Honestly, if Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opened with Luis recounting all of the events of the Infinity Saga, then that movie would have earned at least one more star.
Played by esteemed British actor Sir Ben Kingsley, Trevor Slattery may be the most controversial character in the MCU. Fans first met him as the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, in which he portrayed a villain immersed in racist Yellow Peril tropes. However, writer/director Shane Black had something much more clever in mind, using the Mandarin to satirize the American military-industrial complex. Instead of a powerful terrorist, the Mandarin was just a character played by doofus actor Trevor Slattery.
The character allows Kingsley to show off the full range of his skills. As the Mandarin, he speaks in a Southern preacher drawl, making grave pronouncements about the sins of the United States. As Trevor, he bumbles through situations and brags about his performance as King Lear (“the toast of Croydon”). Trevor’s returns in the one-shot Hail to the King and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings only cement his position as one of the best supporting characters in the MCU.
The MCU would not have happened without Pepper Potts. Yes, the first Iron Man features an undeniable performance from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. But all of that ad-libbing and charm would fall flat if he didn’t have the right sparring partner, something he has in spades with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. Just look at the arc reactor change scene, in which the two exchange screwball comedy banter while performing ridiculous sci-fi action.
Over the years, Pepper has only grown in importance. She lights up the screen when she shows up at the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming. She sells the stakes of the time travel gambit in Avengers: Endgame by simply putting her hand on Tony’s shoulder and telling him “We got really lucky.” More than any other person on this list, Pepper Potts grounded the MCU with human stakes, helping the heroes remember why they needed to save the world in the first place.
In the comics, Happy Hogan just drives Tony Stark around, a pretty unnecessary job for a guy who can fly. That’s why it was the perfect role for director Jon Favreau to give himself in the first Iron Man, where he brought a little bit of spark to the proceedings. As the movies continue and Hogan appears in other films, he becomes a constant source of comic relief. Whether he’s falling for Aunt May or enforcing security tags on employees, Happy makes everyone happy when he’s on screen.
Sure, people loved the reveal of Thanos at the end of The Avengers. But the cool kids know that the movie’s best cameo came at the end of the second act, when Bruce Banner chatted with the MCU’s breakout character, Security Guard. Of course, it helps that the Security Guard is played by the legendary Harry Dean Stanton, a man whose distinctive drawl puts a sparkle on the line, “Son, you’ve got a condition.”
The Security Guard serves a rather minor role in the epic battle of New York, simply reassuring Banner after he Hulks out during Loki’s attack on the Triskelion. But, as always, Stanton doesn’t miss. He plays the truth of every line, bringing The Avengers back to Earth in the best possible way.
With Black Panther, Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole not only introduce the fantastic world of Wakanda, but also fill it with amazing characters, including M’Baku, Nakia, and Okoye. Any one of these characters could have stepped in for T’Challa after Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death, not just Shuri.
Even among this stellar supporting cast, the great Angela Bassett stands out as T’Challa’s mother Queen Ramonda. While T’Challa struggled with his father’s legacy, Ramonda maintained a regal dignity, undiminished by Wakanda’s mistakes. That’s even more true of Bassett’s Academy-Award nominated turn in the sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Bassett embodies the character’s pride and justified anger, without ever undermining her sorrow and love for her family.
Although Flash Thompson only played a minor part in the two previous live-action Spider-Man franchises, Tony Revolori had big shoes to fill when he took on the role for Spider-Man: Homecoming. Traditionally, Flash is a jock who bullies Peter Parker, teaching him an early lesson in the way power can so easily corrupt. Instead of trying to replicate, say, 25-year-old Joe Manganiello in Spider-Man, Revolori gives us Flash as a smart, snotty rich kid. This take better fits the high school milieu of the MCU version of Midtown High, without making him any less of a bully or a Spider-Man fan.
Forget Tony, forget Cap. Roger Harrington has the best arc in the MCU. We first meet Roger as a student at Culver University, where it takes only a pizza for Bruce Banner to sneak past him in The Incredible Hulk. Despite this inauspicious event, Roger managed to graduate and become a committed teacher at Midtown High. Throughout Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, we see Mr. Harrington doing his best to support his students, even welcoming Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Way Home after Mysterio reveals his secret identity. Even better, Martin Starr captures the pathetic humor of the character, letting us laugh at him as a lovable buffoon.
I know I’m not alone in thinking the best parts of The Marvels involved not Nick Fury, Dar-Benn, or any of the space-faring derring-do, but a visit to the living room of Yusuf and Muneeba Khan. Played by Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff, Mr. and Mrs. Khan (along with their older son Amir, played by Saagar Shaikh) are the perfect superhero supporting cast. They love their daughter without reservation and do their best to understand the weird world into which they’re thrown.
Both Ms. Marvel and The Marvels contain powerful scenes of the Khans teaching Kamala important lessons about her history and her responsibility towards others. As Ms. Marvel continues to be the most exciting hero in the post-Endgame MCU, it’s clear that her family has made her into the hero the franchise needs.
In Shang-Chi, Katy serves one of the most basic plot functions in genre storytelling, playing the role of audience surrogate who ushers the viewers into the fantastic world of super kung fu and mystical dragons. And without question, Awkwafina has played irritating versions of this character, filling every single empty space with unnecessary asides.
But as Katy Chen, Awkwafina brings an earned sense of wonder and irritation when she discovers that her best friend Shaun is not another underachiever, but is the scion of an immortal warlord and martial arts expert. Sure, the film bumbles the character a bit when she becomes a master archer overnight, but outside of that problem, she’s a welcome bit of humanity in a fantastical film.
Darcy Lewis has it all: brains, looks, and a best friend who starts dating a Norse god. Okay, that last point might sound like a bit of a downer, because she’s not the one who gets face time with a six-foot-tall, ripped blond, but Darcy takes it all in stride. Whether bossing around her handsome intern in Thor: The Dark World or breaking through Wanda’s hex to save Westville in WandaVision, Darcy’s exasperated sense of humor puts the proceedings in perspective without undercutting the stakes. Darcy is the ideal Marvel supporting character, ready with a quip but never becoming too annoying.
In the comics, Jimmy Woo is an early SHIELD agent who leads a proto-Avengers in Agents of Atlas. Randall Park doesn’t play the edge of the comic book character, but rather makes someone who better fits the madcap worlds of Ant-Man and WandaVision. Jimmy shows a superhuman level of patience dealing with Scott Lang and S.W.O.R.D., acknowledging how annoying these characters can be without ever turning the audience against them. Jimmy is one of the rare characters who gets irritated at people we love and still gets us to love him.
Mobius M. Mobius
It was something of a minor miracle that in 2020, Marvel could still pull off a casting coup. But playing Mobius M. Mobius in Loki, Owen Wilson fit perfectly in the MCU, his laid back charm making the ideal foil to Tom Hiddelston’s manic and megalomaniacal God. With anyone else in the role, the late season two reveal that Loki wants to protect his friends would feel empty and cloying. But with Wilson in the part, we completely believe that the two would bond so quickly, in part because we want him to be our friend too.
Dum Dum Dugan
“One of these days, I’m gonna be the one with the stick, Fritz.” Comic book fans know Dum Dum Dugan as Nick Fury’s right-hand man, a guy who keeps his signature derby and old-school guff, even when wearing a skin-tight blue costume in the 21st century. Sadly, Dum Dum hasn’t made an equally significant jump to the big screen, appearing only in Captain America: The First Avenger and a few episodes of Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD.
However, every single appearance of Dum Dum stands out, thanks to actor Neal McDonough. A B-movie veteran, McDonough knows how to deliver silly lines with a welcoming wink. Whether he’s talking smack about Hydra or about bikinis with Howard Stark, Dum Dum brings old-school charm to the modern MCU.
I don’t care what people say, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a great movie, and part of its greatness comes from the sequence on the Barton farm. Age of Ultron serves as a testament to the greatness of Clint Barton, and Laura plays a key part in it. She greets the Avengers without being awed or intimidated and even works with Nick Fury to set up Tony Stark. Laura is more than Clint’s significant other. She’s his link to humanity, and his reason for joining the Avengers in the first place.
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