The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been around for some time now. Over the course of eight years and over a dozen movies released in multiple phases, the Marvel Cinematic Universe cast has grown quite large.
So who are the real stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe then? Which characters are the ones most frequently featured in Marvel Studios films?
This article takes a look and compiles the list. The feature only takes into account feature film appearances, lest television casts dominate the list on a per episode basis.
The list also only counts appearances up through those confirmed for Thor: Ragnarok. Stopping short of Avengers: Infinity War means not having to slog through the many rumors, some confirmed and some not, but since it seems like every Marvel Cinematic Universe character will have some role in Avengers: Infinity War it should all be a wash in the end.
Honorable Mention: The Four Appearance Crowd
When ComicBook.com was putting together this feature, we realized there was a sharp cutoff between characters that have appeared five times and those that have appeared only four. Five appearances is the threshold of the elite it would seem.
However, there are a lot of important characters who have appeared only four times and so this is their honorable mention.
The four-appearance club includes Avengers Hawkeye, Falcon, and the Hulk (not counting Bruce Banner's cameo in Iron Man 3, in which there was no hulk).
The list also includes Marvel Television stars Phil Coulson and Peggy Carter, antagonists and sometimes allies the Winter Soldier and Loki, and important supporting characters like Erik Selvig, Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan and Howard Stark.
War Machine & Black Widow
War Machine and Black Widow are perennial team players. They've been frequently featured in supporting roles, but have never been given movies of their own.
Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, debuted as an undercover SHIELD agent keeping an eye on Tony Stark for Nick Fury in Iron Man 2. She then joined the Avengers in Marvel's the Avengers and worked alongside Captain America in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She returned with the rest of the Avengers in Avengers: Age of Ultron and tried to play the middle ground of the conflict in Captain America: Civil War for five total appearances.
War Machine has been Iron Man's wingman since the first Iron Man movie when he was played by Terrance Howard. Don Cheadle replaced Howard in the Role for Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3. War Machine returned in Avengers: Age of Ultron and fought on the side of his friend, and paid a price for it, in Captain America: Civil War for five total appearances.
Captain America & Thor
Thor and Captain America are just as vital to the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Iron Man, but Tony Stark did have a head start. Iron Man 2 was already in theaters before either Thor or Cap's first film was released. Since then, both Avengers have racked up a steady list of appearances.
Christ Hemsworth debuted as Thor in Thor and returned to join the Avengers in Marvel's the Avengers. He followed that up with Thor: The Dark World and returned to Midgard again for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Add in Thor's appearance in Doctor Strange and the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok and that's six total appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Captain America also has six appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chris Evans debuted in the role in Captain America: The First Avenger, then returned for Marvel's the Avengers. Cap fought Hydra's infiltration of SHIELD in Captain America: The First Avenger, and then fought Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Most recently, Captain America fought his friend Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War. He was also featured in the mid-credits scene of Ant-Man.
Samuel L. Jackson was destined to play Nick Sury, the Director of SHIELD, ever since Bryan Hitch used him as the model for his version of the character in Marvel Comics The Ultimates.
As the head of SHIELD, Fury had good reason to get involved in a lot of the happenings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially in the Phase One movies. Make sense since he's the once who had the idea to put the Avengers together in the first place.
Fury showed up in Iron Man and Iron Man 2 to set Tony Stark on his path. He also appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger to welcome Steve Rogers to the 21st Century, and was a major player in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He popped up in the post-credits scene of Thor, and he's also the man who brought the Avengers together in Marvel's The Avengers and returned with a new vision for SHIELD in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
That's seven total appearances for Nick Fury.
It should come as no surprise that it is Tony Stark's world and everyone else is just living in it.
Since Robert Downey Jr. first inhabited the character of Tony Stark in the original Iron Man movie, he's been the poster boy for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Eight years later, Tony Stark has been showing up in movie theaters at a rate of once a year.
Of course, Downey starred as Tony Stark in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Iron Man 3. He was also part of the ensemble cast of both Marvel's the Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. He then returned to challenge Captain America in Captain America: Civil War. Add in his confirmed role in Spider-Man: Homecoming and that's eight total appearances for Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.