Top 10: Performances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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Over the course of about 3000 minutes worth of run time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given the world scores of memorable moments. Armed with a cadre of A-list talent, Marvel literally changed the superhero game. A large part of that success, without question, must go to the cast members that have been amassed, singling out certain performances in particular.

With “Spider-Man: Far From Home” hitting theaters and wrapping up Phase Three, what better time is there to look at the best performances to emerge from the MCU so far? Honorable mentions here include Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther,” Bradley Cooper in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Tom Hiddleston in “The Avengers,” Ben Kingsley in “Iron Man 3,” Brie Larson in “Captain Marvel,” and Tessa Thompson in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Plus, a special citation needs be made for Samuel L. Jackson, who has represented the marrow of the MCU since its inception. One element to note for this list, only one performance from a character is eligible, so one actor/actress won’t be able to take up half the slots.

10Ben Mendelsohn in “Captain Marvel” (2019)
dir: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Marvel delights in confounding expectations, especially in regard to perceived villains. In “Captain Marvel,” not only did Ben Mendelsohn wind up not playing the bad guy marketing materials made him out to be, he eanred all of the film’s funniest moments as well. Mendelsohn had previously displayed an ability to be an antagonist. And he’d already shown a capability for sympathetic turns as well. Mixing them together, with large doses of humor? That’s new, and not only made for some of his best work, but one of the MCU’s most unexpectedly delightful performances.

9Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)
dir: Jon Watts

Not only the best Peter Parker but the best Spidey as well, Tom Holland brilliantly portrays the youthful exuberance of the character. A new Spider-Man could easily have been the least necessary addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. However, due in large part to how strongly Holland leans in and embraces the character’s age, he became a lynchpin in short order. There’s more heart in this performance than anyone else in the MCU. He’s truly a hero, learning to come to grips with his responsibility/powers, but also an awkward high school student at his core. The balance in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (as well as in “Spider-Man: Far From Home“) is perfection.

8Scarlett Johansson in “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)
dir: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Given a chance in “Avengers: Endgame” to carry the weight of her survival, Scarlett Johansson shined. A tried and true supporting player throughout the MCU, Johansson’s Black Widow received a tragic ending in this series capper. Knowing how adept she is at drama, this was a perfect opportunity for Johansson to spread her wings. Especially during her sequence being shown as the de facto head of The Avengers, the pathos she displays is incredibly moving.

7Michael Pena in “Ant-Man” (2015)
dir: Peyton Reed

The most random yet delightful addition to the MCU, Michael Pena brought fast talking comedy to the comic book world. His moments in “Ant-Man” are absolute bastions of belly laughs. Much more than a sidekick, Pena turns seemingly dopey or random digressions into performance art. His sheer enthusiasm is infectious, rubbing off on the entire production whenever he’s on the screen.

6Josh Brolin in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
dir: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

After a decade of building him up, Thanos needed to not disappoint. Armed with an engaged Josh Brolin performance, that was hardly the case. “Avengers: Infinity War” positions the Mad Titan as its true antagonist, letting Brolin really dig into a character that had never been given any room to breathe previously. Not only is the character a CGI achievement, the authoritative yet mellow intonations of Brolin help to set this villain apart. He was worth the wait.

5Jake Gyllenhaal in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019)
dir: Jon Watts

Marvel’s newest A-lister, Jake Gyllenhaal takes Mysterio and makes the character his own. One can’t talk much about what Gyllenhaal does here without venturing into spoiler territory, but he manages to thread a very tough needle. Not only does he give the comic book character a top notch cinematic introduction, he does it in a wholly unique manner. It’s safe to say that the MCU has never quite had this kind of a player on their field. More soon on this one, but he’s at the top of his game here in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

4Chris Evans in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
dir: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Consider this basically a tie with Chris Evans‘ turn in “Captain America: Civil War,” as they represent the best of Captain America/Steve Rogers. In “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Evans is plunked down in a conspiracy thriller and shows himself more than up to the task. Steve is the ultimate good guy, so when he’s plagued with doubts of any kind, not only does the character come to even more vivid life, so too does Evans. Here, he not only wows with action, but with emotional intelligence as well.

3Chris Hemsworth in “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)
dir: Taika Waititi

The funniest performance in the MCU help to reinvigorate a stale character. Until this third outing, Thor was quickly becoming rote and tiresome. However, “Thor: Ragnarok” reimagined the God of Thunder as a beacon of humor and good nature. Armed with filmmaker Taika Waititi‘s distinctive wryness, Chris Hemsworth evolved a character he’s admitted to becoming bored with. No longer, as this new Thor was a riot, clearly tickling Hemsworth in the process. In terms of pure fun, nothing beats this performance.

2Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther” (2018)
dir: Ryan Coogler

This is Marvel’s best and most complex villain, hands down. Thanos might be bigger and badder, but Kilmonger arguably has the high ground in his argument about the future of Wakanda. Considered Academy Award worthy last year, Michael B. Jordan‘s portrait of righteous anger in “Black Panther” is riveting. Jordan’s turn was snubbed by Oscar, but stands tall within the MCU. His final speech at the film’s end remains one of 2018’s crowning sequences.

1Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man” (2008)
dir: Jon Favreau

Throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. has delivered one memorable turn after the next. Though one could easily cite “Captain America: Civil War” or “Avengers: Endgame” here for Downey’s, “Iron Man” is where it all began. Mixing quick wit, snark, and a one of a kind persona, Downey Jr. turned Tony Stark into more than just Iron Man. He turned him into an iconic pop culture figure. Not just the best of the MCU, this is one of the landmark performances in modern cinema.

Which Marvel Cinematic Universe performances are your favorite? Comment below and share!

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