Throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, personal growth is a recurring theme that is intriguing as viewers follow these characters through the films. This growth extends beyond personality to include qualities distinctive to an individual. The feelings, actions and behaviors of each character dictate a part of what and why they do what they do.

However, these qualities are dynamic as characters change and grow over time. Some went from villains to heroes, selfish characters grew selfless, and some learned valuable lessons and evolved over time. These characters underwent the biggest shifts during their time in the MCU, growing and proving that no one is incapable of change, even if they do their best to resist it.

10 Star-Lord

First Appearance: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014)

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Throughout the films, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) confronts what he was running from, coming to terms with and resolving his past. In the first film, he was still reeling from the grief of losing his mom, resentful that he didn’t hold her hand in her last moments. However, he revisits that moment while holding the Power Stone and finally overcomes his trauma. Similarly, Peter’s reluctance to bond with others changes after he meets the Guardians, allowing himself to be vulnerable with them.

Another minor aspect through which Quill’s character evolved is by becoming more thoughtful. In both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, Quill is impulsive and lets his emotions get the better of him as he attacks both Ego and Thanos without thinking of potential consequences. However, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Quill has strategic planning when it comes to saving Rocket, understanding what’s at stake, and actually planning ahead.

Guardians of the Galaxy

A group of intergalactic criminals must pull together to stop a fanatical warrior with plans to purge the universe.

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9 Loki

First Appearance: ‘Thor’ (2011)

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Despite being introduced as a villain in the making, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) paved his way to that of a hero. Loki was initially shown to be impulsive and reckless, embodying his title as the God of Mischief to a tee. However, in the TV show, Loki witnesses first-hand how his life plays out, leading him to question himself.

His progress throughout the franchise is remarkable, starting as a bitter brother who only wanted the throne. On the other hand, Loki is selfless and genuinely concerned for the greater good in his most recent appearance. Furthermore, despite spending his life in a desperate pursuit of power, he feared the consequences of killing He Who Remains. Tom Hiddleston is among the MCU’s most versatile performers, and his character journey with Loki remains a masterclass that few other actors have been able to match.


The powerful but arrogant god Thor is cast out of Asgard to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth), where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.

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8 Thor

First Appearance: ‘Thor’ (2011)

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Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) was introduced as a vain and greedy prince. Being raised as the future king, Thor grew arrogant over what he believed he deserved. After reprimanding Thor for his misguided ways, Odin realizes that “pride and vanity are speaking, not leadership.” When his father banishes him after revoking his powers, Thor is forced to re-evaluate his way of thinking and is consequently humbled by his experiences.

What follows is a long yet rewarding journey as Thor matures by finding love in Jane Foster, communion with his fellow Avengers, and camaraderie with characters like Bruce Banner and Valkyrie. He soon learned the responsibilities that came with being a leader, realizing the crown and the throne would ill-suit him. Eventually, Thor became the embodiment of his father’s teachings and discovered himself in the process: he was no king but rather a warrior and, as it turns out, a father.

7 Rocket Raccoon

First Appearance: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014)

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Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) is sarcastic and impetuous, often quick to anger upon being called a raccoon. Rocket refused to see himself as a lower life form and hid his considerable pain behind a wall of insults and slight bitterness. Rocket takes center stage in Guardians 3, as his tragic backstory is revealed, adding more depth to one of the MCU’s most complicated characters.

Although Rocket struggled with his place in the universe, he grew to understand his purpose. Not only did he embrace his identity as a raccoon, he still maintained his individuality, demonstrating he grew to love his uniqueness. Arguably, Rocket is one of the best-written characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; each movie revealed a new aspect of his persona without depriving him of the gruff humor that made him a star in the first place.

6 Tony Stark

First Appearance: ‘Iron Man’ (2008)

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Genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was the acting CEO of Stark Industries after his father’s demise, leading a life of comfort, debauchery, and luxury. When Tony is kidnapped by the Ten Rings, he witnesses the destruction of his weaponry. However, he also understands that he can repurpose his technology to do some good, thus giving birth to the idea of Iron Man.

Tony’s story is all about legacy—reconciling with it, repurposing it, and living up to it. He could have easily turned a blind eye to what he witnessed during his captivity and continued enjoying his extremely comfortable lifestyle. Instead, Tony not only reevaluated his role in the situation but aimed to rectify the situation on a larger scale. His journey leads him to make the ultimate sacrifice in one of the franchise’s most powerful moments. And while the MCU could always bring Tony Stark back, his death was the perfect ending to the story that began the whole thing.

Iron Man

After being held captive in an Afghan cave, billionaire engineer Tony Stark creates a unique weaponized suit of armor to fight evil.

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First Appearance: ‘The Avengers’ (2012)

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Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) initially despised the big green monster within, even if The Hulk was indeed the strongest Avenger. To Bruce, the Hulk represented chaos, destruction, and a lack of control. He has seen not only the fear in people’s eyes but has experienced the destruction and death at his own hands. As a result, he resented the Hulk for often taking over his usually meek persona.

However, throughout the films, Bruce recognizes the value of the Hulk’s brute strength and begins to value the Hulk’s presence. Eventually, he makes peace with the Hulk, coming to terms with the fact Banner and the monster are now two parts of a whole. Not only does Bruce embrace the Hulk, but he also acknowledges that the Hulk doesn’t have to take away from his identity as Bruce Banner.

The Avengers

When an unexpected enemy threatens global safety and security, Nick Fury, Director of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. Spanning the globe, a daring recruitment effort begins.

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4 Nebula

First Appearance: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014)

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Despite working for the bad guy at one point, it was evident that all Nebula (Karen Gillian) was doing was trying to survive and live up to her adoptive father’s impossible standards. After all, Thanos might have called Nebula his daughter, but he never treated her like one. Instead, he tortured and weaponized her, leading her to grow bitter and vengeful.

Even with her rough upbringing and strained relationships, Nebula found a family with her adoptive sister, Gamora, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. She eventually rises to the role of leader, finally accepting her past and realizing it doesn’t have to define her future. Guardians of the Galaxy 3 ends with a new start for Nebula as she works to create a home for the children they rescued from the High Evolutionary. Additionally, Nebula learns to laugh and actually live her life, finally understanding there’s still plenty to enjoy despite the pain that permanently scarred her.

3 Natasha Romanoff

First Appearance: ‘Iron Man 2’ (2010)

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Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) spent most of her childhood unwillingly training to become an assassin. After coming across Clint Barton, she joins SHIELD, changing her ways and beginning a long and painful journey to clean the red off her ledger.

For years, Natasha kept people at a distance, slowly forming bonds with her fellow Avengers to the point where they became her family. Avengers: Endgame sees her sacrificing her life to retrieve the Soul Stone, a somewhat fitting yet still largely unsatisfying ending to her journey. Her backstory receives some welcome attention in 2021’s Black Widow, but there’s still so much the MCU could’ve done with her character. Even so, Natasha’s transition from assassin to Avenger is a remarkable demonstration of her progression and one of the MCU’s most satisfying character growths.

Iron Man 2

With the world now aware of his identity as Iron Man, Tony Stark must contend with both his declining health and a vengeful mad man with ties to his father’s legacy.

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2 Peter Parker

First Appearance: ‘Captain America: Civil War’ (2016)

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Peter Parker (Tom Holland) was introduced as an overeager superhero in the making. While Peter did truly want to help people, he didn’t quite understand the responsibility that came with his power. Throughout the films, Peter suffers great loss, and while his intent to do the right thing never changes, he learns how to become a hero on his own.

Spider-Man’s character arc comes a full circle in Spider-Man: No Way Home as he learns that “with great power comes great responsibility.”In the end, Peter paid the ultimate price, sacrificing his identity as Peter Parker to save the world. Peter’s journey is one of understanding and acceptance; by the end, he might be alone, but he’s at peace regarding his place in the world. It’s a painful lesson but one that many coming-of-age movies deal with.

Captain America: Civil War

Political involvement in the Avengers’ affairs causes a rift between Captain America and Iron Man.

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1 Wanda Maximoff

First Appearance: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (2015)

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The mighty Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) was introduced as a villain working alongside Ultron due to a long-lasting grudge against Tony Stark. While Wanda has often been misguided, the grief and agony of losing her loved ones dictated her actions more than she actually did. Indeed, few characters in the MCU have lost or sacrificed more than Wanda.

Wanda is among the only figures in the MCU that can truly be considered an antihero. She switches sides and is equally capable of doing great good and inflicting even greater damage. Still, she keeps learning, even if she easily succumbs to her worst instincts. What’s interesting about Wanda is that her character journey is still going, meaning there’s still plenty of room for her to grow.

Next: Marvel vs. DC – 10 Characters That Are Copycats of Each Other

 Many of the MCU’s greatest characters went through challenging yet rewarding journeys, including heavy hitters like Tony Stark and Wanda Maximoff.  Read More