Superheroes Marvel Studios can't use

So far, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been as unstoppable as a juggernaut. Of course, that has to be spelled with a lowercase "j," because the mutant villain Juggernaut is one of many characters the company doesn't currently own the rights to include in their Marvel Cinematic Universe. If all of the weird licensing and distribution issues surrounding superhero cinema aren't already making you dizzy, the constant output of superhero movies from other studios certainly will. Fortunately, you don't need to go get a legal degree like Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson in order to figure out who belongs to whom—we're here to help sort it all out with this handy guide.

Professor X

Professor Charles Xavier is one of Marvel's biggest characters, and—like the rest of the X-Men—he remains out of the MCU's grasp. So far, he's been played memorably by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the Fox X-Men movies, but there's so much potential the character has for the MCU as a whole.

Xavier's Marvel Comics incarnation has intersected with the Avengers quite a bit over the years. Xavier is the go-to guy whenever characters like Scarlet Witch are suffering from mental breakdowns that may affect their powers. He also served as part of the Illuminati, a Marvel comics riff on the notion of a secret cabal of heroes (including Iron Man and Doctor Strange) that influence the world. On the other side, Xavier could serve as quite the antagonist, too. He has dark side, manifested as a monstrous character named Onslaught, who's threatened the world, and even when he's in his right mind, he doesn't always see eye-to-eye with the Avengers. Alas, unless Hugh Jackman can jump back in time and change some key contract deals, it looks like Xavier will never be able to play in the MCU sandbox.

Deadpool

Deadpool has had a cult following for years now. Despite the fact that he started as a simple parody of the DC Comics character Deathstroke (right down to real names—Deadpool is Wade Wilson and Deathstroke is Slade Wilson), Deadpool has grown into his own particularly strange brand. He's known for breaking the fourth wall, healing from almost anything, and being absolutely nuts, which was all captured amazingly well in his movie premiere. Among its many other accomplishments, the Deadpool adaptation proved the world was ready for R-rated superhero movies again—but it left many sad that Wade would never come to the MCU as, like the X-Men he fights alongside, he belongs to Fox.

In the comics, Deadpool has had some interesting interactions with the Avengers and other heroes. He helped fight off a superpowered Red Skull, for instance, and eventually joined the Avengers Unity Squad, a group that helps showcase humans and mutants working together for the greater good. Granted, Deadpool is mostly in it for the fame and fortune, but the comic book precedent of wisecracking Wade Wilson working alongside characters like Captain America to punch evil in the face leaves many movie fans sighing wistfully over how Deadpool could have potentially impacted the MCU.

Wolverine

While Fox certainly knew what they were doing when they first cast Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, there's no way they could have known how much his portrayal would eventually be adored worldwide. Like the character of Wolverine, Jackman has become a brand unto himself, and audiences get just as excited about solo outings like Logan as they do for more traditional X-Men movies. Sadly, Wolverine's unique brand of claw-slashing and ass-kicking will never grace the MCU—doubly unfortunate because Jackman himself has expressed an interest in making an Avengers cameo, and Wolverine has become such an integral part of the Marvel Comics universe.

As Wolverine became more and more popular over the years, he popped up in a slew of titles. He eventually became a member of the Avengers, and helped them fight off threats like ancient Asgardian foes and Ultron. He's also had some memorable comic confrontations with characters like Thanos, though that particular confrontation initially ended in an easy win for Thanos. Still, fans all over the world would love to see these two duke it out in Avengers 3.

Mr. Fantastic

Mr. Fantastic (also known as Dr. Reed Richards) is a man of science. The character doesn't have a lot of faith in superstition, but it certainly seems like some kind of curse has fallen on the cinematic Fantastic Four. After two relatively lackluster films from Fox, the team received a cinematic reboot in 2015 that was both a critical and commercial bomb. Rights issues keep Mr. Fantastic away from the MCU—and Fox is likely to reboot the series yet again, so there isn't even an actor playing the character who could easily cameo in a movie.

This is truly a shame. While Mr. Fantastic's stretchy powers are impressive in their own right, he's mostly known for his superior intellect. Just as it's fun to watch Tony Stark and Bruce Banner talk shop, it'd be great to throw Reed Richards into the mix. In the comics, the character has been instrumental in fighting countless potentially universe-destroying threats; seeing him use his array of increasingly weird inventions against foes like Thanos would be amazingly epic.

Galactus

There's an inherent storytelling challenge when it comes to groups of superheroes. Take the Avengers, for example. Audiences have seen most of them save people, cities, and even the entire world in their own solo movies, so when a group of such stellar heroes gather together, it's important to give them a threat worthy of their power. The first Avengers movie hit the ground running by giving them a rogue god to fight, and the second had them fight an army of killer robots. Soon, they'll be tackling Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet. Who could possibly top that? The obvious answer is someone who eats entire worlds: Galactus. Unfortunately, he belongs firmly to Fox, along with the other Fantastic Four-adjacent characters.

This is a shame because, in many ways, Galactus is the ultimate bad guy. There is an old, never confirmed story about Galactus that hearkens back to the days when Marvel artists drew entire comics based on a basic idea, and then writers added dialogue later. Allegedly, Stan Lee told Jack Kirby to draw the Fantastic Four fighting God, and Galactus was the result. He consumes entire planets, has nearly unstoppable cosmic powers, and would be a foe far beyond what the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy have yet faced in the MCU. The cinematic fight would be nothing short of amazing. Unfortunately, not even the mighty Galactus can eat licensing disputes.

Dr. Doom

Dr. Doom is another character primarily associated with the Fantastic Four, and thus unable to come out and play in the MCU. Like the onscreen members of the Fantastic Four themselves, the character has been cast multiple times, and since Fox is unlikely to continue with the actors from the disastrous 2015 Fantastic Four reboot, there isn't an existing cinematic Doctor Doom that could easily integrate into the MCU. Which is too bad, because the character serves as the intersection of several of the core concepts that fuel Marvel movies.

Doctor Doom is a powerful scientist who uses complex and impressive armor to fight against his foes. In this way, he's very similar to Iron Man and War Machine. At the same time, he has knowledge of the mystic arts and draws upon various magical forces to bend the world to his will, much like Doctor Strange. Dr. Doom even serves as a kind of refutation of Captain America, as he runs his tiny country of Latveria with an iron fist even as his people (who, admittedly, know they'll die if they step out of line) enjoy a country free of crime, disease, and poverty. Dr. Doom is on par with almost any hero or villain in the MCU, and it would be just as entertaining to see him debate the ethics and morality of the Avengers as it would be to see him in an epic, armored showdown with them.

Silver Surfer

As filmgoers saw in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the Silver Surfer is an alien who's been empowered by Galactus and served as his herald. In fact, his job was to help find planets for the big guy to eat. However, once liberated by the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer became more of a free agent and chose to be a hero. Unlike most of the Fantastic Four-related characters, Silver Surfer would be easy to place into the MCU via some creative CGI—and he'd be a pretty natural fit for the MCU's cosmic side.

Looking at the horizon, Marvel's got some rather big cosmic plans for their movies. In addition to the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, Captain Marvel is around the corner, and her movie will likely extend and expand the cosmic corners of the MCU. Silver Surfer is someone who literally travels through space on a surfboard, which means he's already weird enough to hang with the Guardians. And his wide range of powers (ranging from telepathy to healing to super-tough skin) means he can hold his own against galactic thugs like Ronan and Thanos. However, until Fox and Marvel work out a deal, the Surfer will have to be continue catching cosmic waves far from the MCU.

Magneto

The casting of Magneto has been another huge boon to the X-Men film franchise. Played first by Ian McKellan and later by Michael Fassbender, Magneto is that rare villain with genuine pathos; a Holocaust survivor, he's more invested than most mutants in protecting those who are hated and feared for being different. Like the rest of the characters associated with The X-Men, the rights to Magneto belong to Fox, even though he'd fit perfectly into the MCU as either an antagonist or antihero.

As the Age of Apocalypse movie illustrated, Magneto's ability to manipulate metal makes him a threat to the entire Earth, as he can pretty much shake every single city down to its foundations. And in the comics, Magneto has fought the Avengers on more than one occasion, and it sometimes takes the combined might of both the Avengers and the X-Men to take him down. More interesting, though, is the possibility of Magneto as an ally of sorts to the heroes of the MCU. In the comics, he's served in roles such as the Headmaster of Xavier's School and also been a member of different versions of the X-Men. It'd be fascinating to see him interact with other characters who have shady pasts, such as Black Widow—not to mention see him interact with Scarlet Witch and be acknowledged as her father.

Venom

Sony kept Venom off the big screen for years following his underwhelming debut in Spider-Man 3, but he'll soon return in a standalone feature that's reportedly meant to launch the studio's own Marvel universe. Which is a shame, really. Getting the rights to Venom would give the MCU the rights to the symbiote, too, which means very versatile storytelling potential.

Many casual fans think of Venom as Eddie Brock, the journalist-turned-villain who sometimes takes a turn as an antihero. But the symbiote has also bonded with Mac Gargan, also known as the Scorpion (another Spidey villain), who's worked with the Avengers as part of the Thunderbolts (pretty much Marvel's version of the Suicide Squad). Later, the symbiote bonded to Peter Parker's old frenemy Flash Thompson, and he used it to help the military—and, eventually, the Guardians of the Galaxy—in various adventures. Venom has gained greater prominence in the comics over the years, but it looks like we'll never get to see his collaborations with our favorite heroes and villains onscreen.

Sabretooth

At best, Wolverine: Origins was a missed opportunity. While Hugh Jackman did the best he could as Wolverine with an awful script, the movie is infamous for the way it mishandled a number of crucial characters. Ryan Reynolds made his first appearance as Deadpool, for instance, but they completely changed his powers and literally sewed his mouth shut, robbing us of that trademark Reynolds humor. Venerable X-Men villain the Blob is presented as nothing more than a prolonged fat joke, and Gambit is all-around forgettable. Like a diamond in the rough, though, the movie featured Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth.

Schreiber is an award-winning actor, and he brought his trademark intensity to the role—a character that had previously been portrayed as a brainless, wordless thug by Tyler Mane. Schreiber presented a Sabretooth that was a fierce fighter but also a cunning serial killer and and astute student of human (and mutant) psychology.

It's fun to imagine how this character would fit into the MCU—given how long his life has been, Sabretooth would have been alive during every major MCU moment, and according to the flashbacks of Wolverine: Origins, would even have fought in World War II just like Captain America. Later comics even had Sabretooth joining the Avengers when a magical spell turned him into a hero, and we can only imagine how fun it would be to see Sabretooth fighting Thanos and his goons on the big screen. Alas, as long as Marvel doesn't own the film rights, the best we can do is hope he pops up in another X-Men movie.

Other villains in Spidey limbo

A few years back, Sony had big plans for a Spidey-free Sinister Six film that might have featured Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, and other villains (remember how all of those cameos were shoehorned into the end of Amazing Spider-Man 2?). With the solo, non-MCU Venom movie on the horizon, as well as Sony's plans for a Black Cat and Silver Sable movie, it's entirely possible that Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin will be kept out of the MCU indefinitely so they can shine in a Sinister Six movie instead.

Which is too bad, as both of these are characters that would be great in the MCU. Doctor Octopus and his Sinister Six, for instance, have been world-league threats in the comics, often clashing with powerful teams like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Doc Ock also has a weird heroic streak, as evidenced by the time he swapped his brain from his own dying body into Spider-Man's body and then dedicated his life to being a "superior" Spider-Man. That's right—he became a hero out sheer, petty spite.

Meanwhile, Green Goblin once gained an indescribable amount of power when he inexplicably became the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. In this role, he was able to bring almost unlimited resources to bear on his superhero grudges, and it eventually took an alliance between the Avengers and many other heroes to defeat him—yet another powerful Marvel story that we're unlikely to ever see on the big screen.

William Stryker

The character of William Stryker has taken on an increasingly more prominent role in the X-Men cinematic universe. He first popped up in the second X-Men movie as a character with information about Wolverine's mysterious past and a small army at his disposal. His younger version popped up in the Wolverine: Origins prequel, and he resurfaced again (albeit briefly) in X-Men: First Class. His younger incarnation played a more prominent role in Days of Future Past, and by the time X-Men: Apocalypse rolled around, we got to see him at his scuzzy best as he kidnapped our heroes and brought them to the Weapon X program.

Like the other X-Men villains, Stryker's film rights belong quite firmly to 20th Century Fox, which deprives the Avengers and other MCU heroes of a fairly formidable foe. With his knowledge of super-powered beings, he could find weaknesses in our heroes that other villains couldn't. And as the comics have illustrated, Weapon X produced a number of enhanced beings, so Stryker could always unleash new horrors for the heroes to face. Alternately, the MCU could take a page from his comics incarnation: in the comics, Stryker isn't associated with Weapon X, but is instead a religious fanatic who leads a band of villains called the Purifiers that believe mutants are an abomination in God's eyes. It's easy to imagine an MCU Stryker who foments public opposition against heroes he thinks angers God (such as Thor, for example, or even alien creatures such as Rocket Raccoon or Groot).

Apocalypse

As far as X-Men movies go, Apocalypse is a relatively recent villain. He made a big splash, however, disarming the world's nuclear weapons before utilizing his Horsemen (including powerful mutant Magneto) to very nearly destroy the world. He was eventually defeated by the X-Men, but it's plain to see Apocalypse would be an amazing villain in the MCU. He's powerful enough to threaten the entire world, and as a functionally immortal being, he's the king of long-term planners.

Longtime comics readers know one epic series has already proved Apocalypse might be the ultimate foe for the Avengers and other heroes. In the original Age of Apocalypse storyline, Charles Xavier was accidentally killed when his son traveled into the past. Apocalypse witnessed this and decided there was no better time for him to take over the Earth, and without the X-Men around to stop him, he quickly took over the United States, soon posing a threat to all life on Earth. Marvel devoted three months to all of their mutant-related titles showcasing life in this altered reality, allowing us to see the full scope of the terror Apocalypse and his henchmen unleashed. Considering that Apocalypse pretty much achieved what even Loki couldn't do, he's clearly a villain that would do well in the MCU.

Dark Phoenix

Arguably, the greatest villain the MCU will never get to use starts out as a hero: Dark Phoenix. In the original X-Men comics, this is the name given to the corrupted Jean Grey when she absorbs the impossibly powerful cosmic energy known as The Phoenix Force. While Jean had lucid moments when she was able to regain control, Dark Phoenix in its wrath was a threat on a galactic level—which she demonstrated by casually wiping out an entire alien race.

All of which goes to show why she'd be an amazing MCU villain. To put it mildly, Dark Phoenix is able to do the kinds of insane things that Thanos merely hopes to accomplish by getting his hands on the Infinity Stones. Fighting her would be an amazing excuse to bring a lot of heroes together, too. It's natural that the Guardians of the Galaxy would be involved, as would the Avengers. And Dark Phoenix (as well as the Phoenix Force in general) has had some great clashes with other heroes in the comics. For example, the recent arc Avengers vs. X-Men started over a clash between the two teams prompted by the Force's looming return to Earth. Considering Phoenix's ability to destroy planets, hop bodies, and generally make the toughest heroes wet themselves, it's sad to know she'll probably never pop up in the MCU.

Characters in Limbo

In the Marvel Comics universe, Limbo is a demonic realm periodically inhabited by the kid sister of Colossus, the mutant known as Magik. In the real world, "Limbo" is a pretty good description for where a lot of Marvel's characters are when it comes to film rights. The most obvious right now is Spider-Man. While fans rejoiced to finally see their friendly neighborhood wall-crawler alongside Captain America and Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War, it came at a weird price: Sony and Marvel effectively co-own those rights, with profits from his MCU team-up appearances going to Marvel and profits from his solo movies going to Sony. So, while it's easy enough now to bring Spider-Man himself over to play in the MCU, it's still not entirely clear how much the events in his solo movies will be reflected in the larger Marvel picture.

The Hulk is another interesting case. The character (in his Bruce Banner form) was famously portrayed by Ed Norton in his most recent solo film before Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. He was popular enough in his Avengers appearances that many fans were left wondering why we never got another solo Hulk film. It turns out that while Marvel can legally produce Hulk films, they don't have the distribution rights—those still belong to the original distributor, Universal, who has no interesting in selling them back. Universal wants to make money from any Hulk films made later by Marvel, and Disney-owned Marvel has no interest in making another studio money, so Hulk is relegated to team-ups in the Avengers movies and Thor: Ragnarok.

Finally, there's Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Many fans were happily surprised to see these two pop up in Avengers: Age of Ultron. After all, they're mutants—hell, they're Magneto's kids—so it seemed impossible for them to escape Fox's clutches. However, the characters have appeared as Avengers for literally decades, so Marvel had the rights to use them…although those rights aren't exclusive, which is why Quicksilver can be in Age of Ultron while stealing the show in X-Men movies. Moreover, Fox still has a chokehold on anything having to do with mutants, so Marvel can't mention their father Magneto's name in the Avengers movies, or even call them mutants—instead, they're products of Hydra enhancement. As it turns out, Fox has Scarlet Witch-type powers, as they can continue to definitively tell Marvel "no more mutants."