The first acting role of each Avenger

The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe has been filled with familiar faces for over a decade. It all started with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and soon, the public will see Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), and others return to their MCU characters.



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But it’s easy to forget that Downey Jr., Larson, and their fellow Avengers weren’t always the superheroes fans know. Now that Phase 4 is complete and Phases 5 and 6 are underway, it’s more than ever time to look at the big names behind The Avengers. Before taking up their hammers, shields, bows, and arrows to save the MCU, many got their start in fantasy children’s films, soap operas, and plays around the world.

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Robert Downey Jr. – “Book” (1970)

In 2008, Iron Man began a decade-long introduction to the MCU. With the recent tragic events of Avengers: Endgame, Iron Man’s sacrifice concluded that same era. The character and the actor become one after years of donning this technical suit and delivering memorable lines like “I am Iron Man.”

Downey Jr. wasn’t always the billionaire playboy philanthropist genius that fans know. In the actor’s first acting role, he played “Puppy” in the 1970 fantasy comedy film Book. And the character’s name isn’t too far off either, as Downey Jr. was just five years old when he made his film debut, directed by his father, Robert Downey Sr..

Elizabeth Olsen – ‘How the West Was Fun’ (1994)

Before her first appearance as Wanda Maximoff in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Elizabeth Olsen had built a whole portfolio of accredited film and television roles. She received critical acclaim with her first major role as a lead character in Martha Marcy Marlene (2011).

RELATED: 9 Captivating Representations Of Elizabeth Olsen Movies Outside The MCU

But the actress’ first acting jobs put her next to those other the famous Olsens, her older sisters, Mary Kate Olsen and Ashley Olson. By age four, Olsen had small roles in children’s films How the West Was Fun and The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashleyboth released in 1994.


Chris Evans — ‘Biodiversity: Wild About Life!’ (1997)

Throughout the early years, Chris Evans was a favorite choice for teen comedy-dramas like Not another teen movie and Scott Pilgrim vs the world. But her first (credited) role was a bit less glamorous and more educational; Biodiversity: Wild about Life!

The 16-year-old starred in a 1997 short documentary “about four teenagers who discover the value of variety in life on earth”. It turns out Captain America isn’t the only character Evans plays who hopes to save the world.

Chris Hemsworth – “Neighbors” (2002)

Years before playing the MCU’s God of Thunder, Chris Hemsworth followed the path taken by many aspiring actors – a small role in a soap opera. In 2002, Hemsworth landed the role of Jamie Kane in the Australian soap opera Neighbors.

It wouldn’t be the first melodrama he’s starred in, however, and he joins the cast of At home and away For four years. A few years later, Hemsworth burst onto the American acting scene (eventually wielding Thor’s mighty hammer in 2011).

Jeremy Renner – “National Lampoon Senior Trip” (1995)

Teamwork is key to being an Avenger, as evidenced by the ever-growing cast across the MCU. Hawk Eye star Jeremy Renner is no stranger to ensemble casts; he led a ragtag crew of high school kids in the 1995 comedy National Lampoon Senior Travel.

RELATED: Jeremy Renner’s Best Performances That Aren’t Hawkeye

Although the film was a notable flop among critics — scoring 0% for Rotten Tomatoes — Renner’s career was just getting started. He even appeared in the music video for P!nkthe 2003 hit song “Trouble” – although it’s hard to imagine his arrow-wielding counterpart doing so.


Scarlett Johansson – ‘North’ (1994)

Like many of his Marvel colleagues, Scarlett Johansson got his start in the industry at a young age. Although she originally appeared onstage in an off-broadway play, Johansson’s first credit was in the 1994 fantasy film North. She was only nine years old at the time.

Considered a critical and commercial bombshell, Johansson’s small role put her on screen with the star of the day. Elijah Wood (playing the main character), Bruce Willis, Julia Louis Dreyfus, and more. Within just a few years, Johansson began garnering numerous awards and nominations for his work in more acclaimed films, including some for his work with The Avengers.

Tom Holland – “Billy Elliot” on Broadway (2009)

Tom Holland’Quick-witted boyish charms are a staple of his portrayal of Spider-Man and a reason for the character’s continued fan base. These same traits helped Holland break into the world of acting nearly a decade before.

At only 11 years old, the young actor took on the main role in the play “Billy Elliot”. He stayed there for two years and developed impressive acting, singing and dancing skills. It wasn’t long before Holland landed his first role in a disaster movie, The impossible. And soon enough, he was preparing to become the MCU’s teenage Spider-Man.

Marc Ruffalo— CBS Summer Playhouse (1989)

Fans will remember Hulk looked a little different before Marc Ruffalo signed as The Hulk. In 2010, Marvel announced that despite Sam Rockwellof the Incredible Hulk, they were looking for “an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of [his] other talented cast members. So while he doesn’t have his own standalone movie canon in the MCU, Ruffalo’s Hulk is a beloved member of the Avengers with credits throughout the various phases.

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Likewise, Ruffalo’s early roles were small but mighty, beginning with a guest role on CBS Summer Playhouse in 1989. Over the next decade, Ruffalo’s growing portfolio of roles included slasher films, crime dramas, westerns, and several stage plays.

Anthony Mackie – “8 Miles” (2002)

Whether he’s known as Sam Wilson, the Falcon, or the new Captain America, Anthony Macky is an integral part of The Avengers. That being said, he’s worked closely with his fellow team members throughout the MCU.

Just getting started, Mackie was cast as an understudy for fellow Avenger Don Cheadle in the 2002 play “Topdog/Underdog”. That same year, he burst onto the film scene as Papa Doc in 8 milesplaying an antagonist of rapper Jimmy “B-Rabbit” (Eminem). Mackie certainly found success with his Marvel persona, but the actor dominated the industry from the start.


Paul Rudd – ‘Sisters’ (1992)

When director Edgar Wright originally planned the first The ant Man movie, he wanted to keep it as a simple, self-contained story. This never happened, of course, since Ant-Man (Rudd) was going to help the Avengers retrieve the Infinity Stones after the events of Avengers: Endgame — making him an official member.

RELATED: Paul Rudd’s Best Performances, Ranked From ‘Ant-Man’ to ‘This is 40’

Rudd’s natural charisma and comic relief are often shown in the MCU, but his first role was quite the opposite. In 1992, he was a recurring guest on the drama series Sisters as Kirby, an aspiring filmmaker who runs into trouble along the way. Rudd eventually joined the main cast a few years later, however, true fans know his name really gained popularity while playing opposite. Alicia Silverstone in clueless (1995).


Paul Bettany – ‘Gangster No. 1’ (2000)

Marvel Fans Know Best Paul Bettany like Vision. But long before becoming the all-knowing synthezoid of the MCU, Bettany was a well-known stage actor.

Aged just 19, Bettany made her London West End debut, performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Perhaps those early Shakespearean roles inspired Bettany’s portrayal of Vision, which offers a level of philosophical contemplation for his fellow Avengers. Offstage, he had small roles in many British films, but gained attention for playing the lead role in the British crime drama. Mobster #1.

Don Cheadle – “Moving Violations” (1985)

Since his recast as James Rhodes in iron man 2, Cheadle has appeared in character throughout the MCU — seven films to be exact. With a small part in The Falcon and the Winter Soldierhe will return as War Machine in the upcoming Disney+ series, Armor Wars.

RELATED: Best MCU Superhero Movies That Aren’t Marvel

However, twelve years of being an Avenger have nothing to do with Cheadle’s long career. Best known for starring in Devil in blue dress (1995) and Rwanda Hotel (2004), he first came on stage in a small role for the 1985 comedy,Displacement of Violations — and that was just the beginning for this seasoned actor.

Brie Larson—Raising Daddy’ (2001)

film for Wonders is now underway, and Brie Larson prepares to take back Captain America’s costume and bracelet. Larson made history playing Carol Danvers in the MCU’s first female-led film and once said the role was worth it if [she] can bring understanding and confidence to young women.

When she was a young woman, Larson acted alongside Bob Saget as his daughter in the short-lived series Raising Dad. What if the Marvel Universe couldn’t get any smaller, Kat Dennings (aka Darcy Lewis) played Larson’s sister on the show.

KEEP READING: The MCU’s Phase 4 Needs A Quick Endgame

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