Here’s the all the Marvel characters that the MCU has recast over the years for various reasons. The superhero franchise is known for building an interconnected franchise while doing fairly well in preserving its continuity. Most of its core cast has stuck with them for years, partly because their contracts involve commitment to multiple films spread out for a number of years.
Founding characters like Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America were played by Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans multiple times over the course of the last decade. Looking forward, it’s widely expected we’ll see many more appearances from the likes of Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, who can help push through the next phase of the MCU.
Sometimes, however, Marvel Studios tend to switch actors for different reasons. There have been multiple recasting involving different types of characters throughout the years – from prominent heroes to supporting players. Some of them were publicized, while others were quietly done behind-the-scenes. These are all the MCU characters who were recast in the franchise.
James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine
The first ever recast in the MCU took place very early on. Terrence Howard was part of Iron Man‘s cast, joining Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts) as Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. In fact, he was the first actor to board the project and had the largest salary among the film’s cast. But while his co-stars continued to be an integral part of the MCU a decade after the Jon Favreau-directed film was released, Howard was quietly replaced by Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2.
It was evident in Iron Man that there’s a clear intention of bringing back Howard for Iron Man 2, with a tease of him officially donning his own metal armor and becoming War Machine. Sadly, this was never realized as he was replaced by Cheadle who got the opportunity to wear the suit – something that he had the privilege of doing almost a decade after he first joined the MCU. = It’s unclear what prompted the recast, but Howard came out understandably frustrated. Rumor had it that it had something to do with pay dispute as Downey’s salary got significantly larger in Iron Man 2, but there was never an official statement regarding the matter.
Bruce Banner/The Hulk
Edward Norton was the second headlining actor to be cast in the franchise following Downey in Iron Man. He played Bruce Banner in Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk. While the film wasn’t as well received as its MCU predecessor, it was an improvement from 2003’s Hulk. Norton’s performance was also well-received, leaving no indication that Marvel Studios was looking to replace him. However, things were apparently chaotic behind-the-scenes resulting in Mark Ruffalo taking over the gig in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
Initially, Norton was expected to reprise the role as the Hulk in the 2012 ensemble flick, but things changed right before filming when Marvel Studios released a statement about recasting the part. In the press release, they explained that they’re looking for “an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members.” Over the years, fans learned about the creative conflict between Norton and Marvel behind-the-scenes.
Things are bit more complicated with the actors who played Fandral – one of the members of the trio of elite Asgardians the Warriors Three. Despite Zachary Levi originally being hired to portray the character in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, Josh Dallas ultimately landed the gig. Unfortunately, Levi he had to pull out after production posed some scheduling conflicts with his TV series, Chuck. Things made an interesting turn when it was about time to start principal photography for Thor: The Dark World as Dallas was the one unable to continue to reprise his role because of his work with ABC’s Once Upon A Time. This paved the way for Levi to reclaim his original role.
After Levi’s stint in The Dark World, his small part was cut in Thor: Ragnarok. In the end, it didn’t even matter since the Warriors Three met their end at the hands of Hela (Cate Blanchett) in the Taika Waititi’s film.
Technically, there were three actors who played Howard Stark in the MCU. Gerard Sanders debuted the character in Iron Man, but without any actual lines, so there wasn’t that much of a commotion when John Slattery was brought in to play the character in Iron Man 2, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame. It’s unknown why Marvel Studios had to switch actors at that point in time. The addition of Dominic Cooper in the pool of actors playing Tony Stark’s dad, on the other hand, was justified. The MCU needed a much younger version of the character as he appeared in period projects such as Captain America: The First Avenger and Hayley Atwell’s Marvel’s Agent Carter on ABC.
Hugo Weaving boarded the MCU through Captain America: The First Avenger as Johann Schmidt and became Steve Rogers first true nemesis. The character eventually transformed to the Red Skull after using an imperfect replica of the Super Soldier Serum and is known as the first one in the currently MCU canon to pursue an Infinity Stone via the Tesseract/Space Stone. Fans haven’t seen the Red Skull since he was teleported to an unknown place after attempting to tap the power of the elemental crystal in the 2011 film. That’s until his re-emergence in last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, where we learned that he was forced to become Vormir’s gatekeeper where the Soul Stone was.
Marvel Studios wasn’t able to cajole Weaving to reprise the role in both Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, so they tapped the services of Ross Marquand, who is a brilliant impersonator, to play the part. The switch wasn’t as blatant compared to the other ones in the list considering that the character is mostly in prosthetics, and perhaps because Marquand did a great job replicating what his predecessor did in The First Avenger.
Josh Brolin may have owned Thanos, but he wasn’t the only character to play the role. Actor and stuntman Damion Poitier was actually the first one to portray the purple villain in the end-credits scene for The Avengers. Brolin didn’t join the MCU until 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 where he had a small part as the villain – a year after he was officially announced to be playing the big bad for Marvel Studios’ Infinity Saga. He then reprised the role three more times in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
There’s no drama behind the actor switch between Poltier and Brolin, in fact, Poltier even appeared in Captain America: Civil War. It was simply because Marvel Studios had yet to cast Thanos at the time of The Avengers‘ release, but they decided to already tease his arrival. Through the years, the character’s design also changed, although it always remained somehow faithful to his comic book appearance. Like Red Skull, however, it wasn’t as blatant unless one looks really closely because both actors’ facial features were significantly changed via prosthetics or CGI based on Thanos’ looks in print.
Cassie Lang had already been recast once for Avengers: Endgame, thanks to the five year jump, which saw Abby Ryder Fortson replaced by Emma Fuhrmann. But then for Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania, Fuhrmann herself was replaced by Kathryn Newton. Newton’s rising star on the back of roles in Freaky, Big Little Lies, The Society, and Blockers may be behind the move, particularly as she already had blockbuster experience on Detective Pikachu.
Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow & More – What If…?
Iron Man/ Tony Stark – Having been killed off in Endgame, Tony Stark returned in What If…? but was played by long-time Robert Downey Jr animated stand-in Mick Wingert.
Captain America/Steve Rogers – Captain America returned after his Endgame exit, but as Skinny Steve Rogers in What If…? and played by Josh Keaton in place of Chris Evans.
Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers – While she returned to the MCU for The Marvels, Brie Larson was replaced in What If…? by Alexandra Daniels.
Spider-Man/Peter Parker – The Web Head may have No Way Home in Phase 4, but Tom Holland didn’t return to voice Spidey in What If…? leaving it to Hudson Thames to step in.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff – It may sound like Scarlett Johansson is in What If…? but it’s actually sound-alike Lake Bell in her place.
Drax The Destroyer – Dave Bautista was very vocal about not being invited to play Drax in What If…? Instead he was played by veteran voice actor Fred Tatasciore.
General Ross – Despite appearing in Black Widow, William Hurt did not return as Thunderbolt Ross in What If…? Instead, Michael Patrick McGill took on the vocal performance.
Betty Ross – A surprise addition to What If…?, The Incredible Hulk’s Betty Ross was played not by Liv Tyler, but by Stephanie Panisello.
Obadiah Stane – Iron Man’s first MCU villain returned for Killmonger’s What If…? episode, played by Kiff VandenHeuvel in place of Jeff Bridges.
Pepper Potts – Tony Stark’s wife returned for the Killmonger episode of What If…? but Gwyneth Paltrow stood aside for Beth Hoyt.
Peter Quill – The MCU’s first Star-Lord was voiced by Brian T Delaney and not Chris Pratt in T’Challa’s What If…? episode.
Shuri – Having been played by Letitia Wright in Black Panther and elsewhere in the MCU, T’Challa’s sister is played in What If…? by Ozioma Akagha.