The Marvel Cinematic Universe has undergone its fair share of criticism from the wider film community, but one universally praised aspect of the films are their capabilities for sending relatively unknown actors back into the spotlight. Having spanned the course of five distinct phases, the Marvel movie timeline is constantly bringing in new actors into the fold, from household names to relative unknowns. Due to the franchise’s popularity, many members of Marvel’s star-studded cast have gone from the former to the latter.

The exposure of appearing in a Marvel film can have wonderful effects on an actor or actresses career, and future MCU releases will be proving ground for even more emerging actors. Being part in such a long-running series of films with a large built-in fanbase means other projects are much more likely to take on Marvel alumni due to the star power the films can bring. It’s safe to say that Marvel studios has revitalized or jump started the careers of many, from local celebrities who had yet to have international acclaim to forgotten stars whose legacies were thought to be long-over.

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10 Dave Bautista

Thanks to his success in taking an obscure character like Drax and turning him into a household name, Dave Bautista’s icon status has only increased over the years. Prior to starring as Drax, however, Dave Bautista claimed to be broke (via, making his role in James Gunn’s action sci-fi romp a pivotal moment in his career. Getting his start in professional wrestling in WWE, Bautista did have a sizable fanbase going into the first Guardians of the Galaxy, but his status as a major screen-actor awarded him with a whole new legion of fans.

Bautista’s charm in capturing Drax’s slow, yet endearing personality while looking the part of an intergalactic warrior was key to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. Since then, he has gone on to star in other blockbuster films, including Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Blad Runner: 2049, and Spectre. Despite these impressive roles, Bautista has stated he hopes to avoid being typecast for his muscles in the future, going so far as to say he doesn’t want Drax to be his legacy (via

9 Tom Hiddleston

Few can claim to have ridden the MCU into stardom quite as fiercely as Tom Hiddleston. Outside his home country of the United Kingdom, Hiddleston was a complete unknown in Hollywood. Having the honor of playing the first villain the Avengers had to band together to defeat, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki quickly propelled him into star status, taking his place as one of the greatest villains and anti-heroes the franchise has ever seen. His exposure to worldwide audiences also landed him something of a reputation as a hearthrob as well.

Tom Hiddleston certainly isn’t done as Loki, taking center stage as a protagonist in his own series, Loki, on Disney+, being one of the few programs thus far to have earned a second season. Beyond the scope of the MCU, Tom Hiddleston also got to play a leading role in a big franchise with Kong: Skull Island. Additionally, his character in mini-series The Night Manager was good enough to spark rumors of Hiddleston becoming the next James Bond.

8 Sebastian Stan

While certainly a working actor, Romanian-born actor Sebastian Stan was far from a household name before his work in Marvel Studios. Before playing Bucky Barnes in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, he had a few appearances in standout films like Black Swan and Hot Tub Time Machine, as well as appearances on TV with Law & Order and Gossip Girl. Yet it wasn’t until he was brought back into Marvel cannon with Captain America: The Winter Soldier that he was truly catapulted from character actor status.

Sebastian Stan is still working within his contracts for Marvel, returning as Bucky in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier series and many more Marvel projects. Outside of his time with a metal arm, however, he’s enjoyed success in highly-praised films like Logan Lucky and I, Tonya. Stan has managed to strike a fantastic balance between his serious, more dramatic work and his time in the MCU.

7 Tom Holland

Stepping into the role of Spider-Man is a daunting task for any actor, especially one as young as Tom Holland. Making his debut as one of Marvel’s most important heroes is no easy task, let alone playing Spider-Man at the age of 18. Still, the young actor had some impressive work under his belt going into his first appearance in Civil War, having worked with fellow Marvel alum Chris Hemsworth in In The Heart Of The Sea.

Though he wasn’t yet a widely-known name, his lovingly faithful rendition of Peter Parker quickly ascended Tom Holland into Hollywood’s top names. It’s safe to say that without his work in Marvel, Holland might not have landed top billing in his following films, including Cherry, The Devil Of All Time, and Onward. Tom Holland has delivered audiences some of the best-received Spider-Man films, and certainly deserves his recognition for his work with the character.

Related: 10 Best Superhero Performances In Marvel Movies

6 Hayley Atwell

Before joining the ranks of the MCU as Peggy Carter, Hayley Atwell had her origins on the stage. Gaining acclaim for her performances in several West End productions, the British-American actress got her first real start in screen acting with her roles in the miniseries Pillars of the Earth and the 2008 film The Duchess. However, her portrayal of Peggy Carter beginning with Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011 was the first to truly establish her screen presence.

Hayley Atwell went on to reprise the role of Agent Carter in a surprising number of other Marvel projects, including her own short film, Agent Carter. Beyond that, she found herself starring in further big-name films, such as Christopher Robin, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, and Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One. It’s safe to say that Atwell’s role as Peggy Carter proved to studios she was capable of carrying larger franchises.

5 Chris Pratt

He may not have been a total unknown before his time at Marvel, but few can understand the transformative effects the MCU can have on one’s career quite like Christ Pratt. Making a name for himself playing the lovable, but dim-witted Andy in Parks and Rec, it would’ve been easy to see Chris Pratt’s career continue to follow suit with the string of dramatic comedies he found himself in during the mid 2000s. But Pratt’s filmography would change forever thanks to his introduction as Star Lord.

Transforming his physique, Chris Pratt helped establish Guardians of the Galaxy as one of Marvel’s premiere franchises, honing his trademark charm while giving himself more of an edge with his excellent work as Peter Quill. Pratt has gone on to be the head of countless staple franchises, taking flagship roles in Jurassic World, The Lego Movie, The Magnificent Seven and The Super Mario Bros. Movie. All of these opportunities were the direct result of his demonstrative capability to act as a leading man in Guardians of the Galaxy.

4 Chadwick Boseman

Another actor with his roots in theater, the late Chadwick Boseman was most prominent for his work in the stage play Deep Azure. He didn’t dive in to the deep end starting his screen appearances with a Marvel role, becoming known for his depictions of Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up. His breakout success as the first black superhero with a leading role in the MCU with Black Panther truly certified him as a crowd-pleasing screen actor.

Tragically, Boseman succumbed to a terminal illness before he could further explore his work as T’Challa, leaving an astounding legacy and huge shoes to fill. Amazingly, he went on to star in several feature films after Black Panther, such as Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, and 21 Bridges, battling cancer all the while. His iconic portrayal of Black Panther forever cemented his legacy as one of the most important superhero actors of all time.

3 Jeremy Renner

Jeremy Renner was an impressive working actor before entering the MCU. Colloquially known as the guy from The Hurt Locker, the Academy-Award-Nominated actor was given a more supporting role by Marvel Studios with his character, Hawkeye. This gave him precious little screen time to prove himself to audiences in his first few appearances. However, he stuck with it, and by Avengers: Age of Ultron, Renner’s version of Clint Barton had endeared himself audiences and studios alike.

Hawkeye is alive and well in the MCU, having finally been given the chance to star in a self-titled project, Disney+’s Hawkeye series. Beyond that, Jeremy Renner’s newfound notoriety thanks to the character has given him the chance to star in major productions such as the Mission Impossible series, period-piece drama American Hustle, and the thought-provoking sci-fi film Arrival.

2 Chris Hemsworth

One of the MCU’s longest-running characters, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor needs little introduction. As one of the Avenger’s strongest members and such a pivotal hero in Marvel canon, it’s hard to imagine Marvel Studios casting directors would’ve given the role to anything less than a proven action film star. Yet before Thor, Chris Hemsworth only enjoyed moderate fame from his soap opera performance in Home and Away in his home country of Australia.

Immediately after the first Thor film, Hemsworth enjoyed casting in big-budget films like The Cabin in the Woods, Red Dawn, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Although his career in the MCU has been lengthy, he’s managed to put in performances in other big franchises since, including reboots of Men In Black and Ghostbusters. There’s no denying Chris Hemsworth’s charm, acting skill, and dashing good looks might’ve never went much further than the continent of Australia were it not for Thor way back in 2011.

1 Robert Downey Jr.

Before Robert Downey Jr. essentially brought the MCU to life with 2008’s Iron Man, he was certainly a famous actor. Having been acting since the age of five due to his father’s own star status, Robert Downey Jr. had big shoes to fill, rising to prominence in the 80s with films like Less Than Zero, Weird Science, and Johnny Be Good. Yet by the 90s, the actor was suffering from a very public battle with drug abuse and addiction, making his casting as the fledgling Marvel Studios’ flagship character, considered a B-Lister at the time, a huge risk, according to Kevin Feige.

This successful gamble would essentially go on to serve as the foundation for the franchise, Robert Downey Jr.’s perfect blend of cynicism, charm, and snarky humor as Tony Stark being one of the most iconic castings ever. The character more than revitalized the actor’s career, helping him find roles in other big franchises like Sherlock Holmes and weighty, Oscar-worthy dramas like Oppenheimer. Of all the actors the Marvel Cinematic Universe has employed, it’s safe to say that the franchise has changed no one’s career and life quite like Robert Downey Jr.

Key Release Dates

The Marvels

Deadpool 3

Captain America: Brave New World

Marvel’s Thunderbolts

Blade (2025)

Marvel’s Fantastic Four

Avengers: The Kang Dynasty

Avengers: Secret Wars

 Being an actor in the MCU often leads to more opportunities.  Read More