Marvel’s 5 Best Characters in Film and TV, Ranked

It’s hard to imagine this now, but there was a time when Marvel Comics had zero presence in film or live-action television. That all changed 25 years ago with “Blade,” released by New Line Cinema. Then came “X-Men” in 2000 from 20th Century Fox, then “Spider-Man” in 2002 from Sony Pictures, and then, in 2008, Marvel launched its own independent film company, Marvel Studios, with “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.” By the 2010s, the Marvel superhero revolution began trickling onto TV.

To date, the major studios have released at least 68 feature films based on Marvel comics, plus another 21 TV shows on linear and streaming. They’ve given diehard fans hundreds of characters, quotes and fight scenes to, ahem, marvel at, and Variety has taken on the nearly impossible challenge of ranking the 40 best characters in the Marvel universe in film and on television.

For this list, nothing is off limits: the MCU, Sony’s “Spider-Man” series, Fox’s “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four” movies, New Line’s “Blade” trilogy, and Netflix’s mini TV universe of street-level heroes—they all count. The criteria hinged on the actor’s performance and the character’s powers, pop culture popularity, story arc and overall importance to the past, present and future of the greater Marvel universe.

That means a lot of MCU characters will pop up in this list, but there are also many representatives from “Spider-Man,” “X-Men” and beyond. But our list does not take into account the Marvel comics themselves or any upcoming appearances — apologies in advance to the Fantastic Four, who did not make the cut after several lackluster films in the 2000s and 2010s, even though they’re set to appear again in the MCU in 2025. Also, this is the multiverse, so multiple versions of a character are fair game, so long as they are distinctive individuals (as opposed to younger or older versions of pre-established characters).

In descending order, here are all of the Avengers, web-slingers, mutants and more who are in the top 40 Marvel film and TV characters of all time.

Eddie Brock / Venom

Played by: Tom Hardy

First appearance: “Venom” (2018)

Most recent appearance: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021)

We are Venom! Tom Hardy’s super-sized symbiote is a worthy portrayal of the Spider-Man villain, complete with black, gooey tendrils and a slobbering tongue. Hardy’s hilarious physical performance and rough growl give Eddie Brock and Venom a slapstick, buddy-cop quality to the lethal protector. Put him in a movie with Spider-Man, and then you’ve got a real showdown.

Jennifer Walters / She-Hulk

Played by: Tatiana Maslany

First appearance: “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” (2022)

Most recent appearance: “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” (2022)

She-Hulk didn’t just break the fourth wall, she obliterated it in her lighthearted legal drama – the K.E.V.I.N. scene alone would give Deadpool a run for his money. In the lawyer and superhero worlds, both dominated by men, She-Hulk shows the everyday struggles of being a woman, without compromising her strength, sexuality, humor or intelligence.


Played by: Benedict Wong

First appearance: “Doctor Strange” (2016)

Most recent appearance: “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” (2022)

When we first meet Wong, he’s the officious librarian at Kamar-Taj with no patience for Dr. Stephen Strange’s shenanigans. But Wong is also a fearsome warrior, battling alongside Strange with tenacity and not a small amount of style. By the time he shows up on “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” binging episodes of “This Is Us,” Wong’s become one of the MCU’s true stealth MVPs.

Clint Barton / Hawkeye

Played by: Jeremy Renner

First appearance: “Thor” (2011)

Most recent appearance: “Hawkeye” (2021)

Clint is no longer just the “arrow guy.” After getting the short end of the bow in the first “Avengers” movies, he finally gets some character development in “Endgame” as the vigilante Ronin and some well-deserved screen time in “Hawkeye,” when he confronts the demons of his past and reconciled with being an aging hero with hearing loss. We see a vulnerable parental figure making the tough decision to hang up the bow and arrow and pass down his wisdom to the next generation.

Phil Coulson

Played by: Clark Gregg

First appearance: “Iron Man” (2008)

Most recent appearance: “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 7 (2020)

In the earliest days of Marvel Studios, Agent Coulson was no less than the common thread that connected the MCU together. When Loki kills him in 2012’s “The Avengers,” the loss of the affable, dogged S.H.I.E.L.D. operative is the catalyst that finally brings the titular superhero team together — he means so much to them (and to us), they want to avenge him. Coulson’s literal resurrection for the ABC series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” could’ve been a disaster, but instead, the show ran for seven seasons and 136 episodes, thanks in part to Gregg’s shrewdly understated performance and Coulson’s winning pluck as a character.

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