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MCU Actors Who Made Surprising Comebacks

In the vast, interconnected world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nothing is ever truly certain — not even when or where you might next see your favorite characters and the actors who play them. Some stars may be expected to return for a sequel or spin-off, only to go curiously missing, with no explanation. In reality, it might be because of a scheduling conflict or even a falling out with the studio, and other times their characters are simply written out of the action to make room for someone new. 

But thanks to the vast scope of the MCU, some of them can burst back onto the scene with an unexpected return, arriving in places you might least expect. From the depths of the Quantum realm to the farthest reaches of outer space, we've seen some shocking reappearances from our favorite Marvel actors. Whether they're villains we thought we'd never see again, or heroes resurrected from canceled TV shows, they're living proof that Marvel never can say goodbye forever. So suit up, true believers, because we're looking back at some of the best MCU actors who made surprising comebacks.

William Hurt as General Ross

In "The Incredible Hulk" back in 2008, Bruce Banner's supporting cast was filled out by a talented array of stars, including William Hurt as General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. A ruthless military man, Ross was obsessed with hunting down the Hulk, but as the MCU unfolded, Hurt was left behind, even after a post-credits scene in "The Incredible Hulk" implied that he might have a major role to play in assembling the super-team in "The Avengers."

With barely a mention, it seemed like General Ross was all but forgotten by the MCU, and audiences assumed we'd seen the last of him. But in 2016 came "Captain America: Civil War," a story kickstarted by the U.S. government enacting the Sokovia Accords, which put the Avengers under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. Representing them was Ross, now the U.S. Secretary of State, who returned to the MCU for the first time in nearly a decade, once again played by William Hurt.

In 2024, Ross will return once more in "Captain America: New World Order," though because of Hurt's untimely passing in 2022, he'll be played by Harrison Ford.

Djimon Hounsou as Korath

Marvel went fully cosmic for the first time in "Guardians of the Galaxy," introducing a whole host of interstellar heroes and villains. In addition to Star-Lord, Drax, and Gamora, there were the cosmic tyrant Ronan the Accuser and his enforcer, Korath the Pursuer, played by Lee Pace and Djimon Hounsou, respectively. Both baddies were killed in their battle with the Guardians of the Galaxy, seemingly putting an end to their time in the MCU. But five years later, despite their deaths, they made an unexpected return in the 2019 film "Captain Marvel."

Both Pace and Hounsou appeared, thanks to the film being set decades before the events of "Guardians of the Galaxy." But perhaps the biggest surprise was that Korath was not even a villain this time around: In his earlier days, he was a member of Starforce, a highly-trained group of Kree military soldiers. Of course, it's later revealed that Starforce wasn't quite as noble as they seemed, as the Kree were the aggressors in their war with the Skrulls, and were attempting to wipe out the entire race of shapeshifting aliens.

Tim Roth as Abomination

Among the many criticisms leveled at Marvel, especially in the MCU's early days, were setups that failed to pay off, and "The Incredible Hulk" has quite a few of them. One is Emil Blonsky aka Abomination, the monstrously mutated villain played by Tim Roth who is apprehended at the film's finale, and teased as a possible future threat. But like General Ross, the Abomination seemed to be left behind as the ever-expanding MCU continued. 

In 2021 that all changed, however, with the release of "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." Here, we see the Abomination taking part in cage matches in China, but Roth wouldn't be back in action to tell his side of the story for another year. In 2022, the Disney+ series "She-Hulk" debuted, and in addition to seeing Mark Ruffalo guest star as the Hulk, Tim Roth reprised his role as Emil Blonsky after a 14-year absence. The series reveals that Blonsky has been in a supermax prison for the past decade. During that time, Blonsky underwent intensive rehabilitation, becoming a more laid-back, zen-like figure who has learned to control his bestial Abomination personality.

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock

In 2013, Netflix and Marvel signed a deal for the streaming giant to create four original shows based on some of their darker superheroes, including Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones. British actor Charlie Cox snagged the coveted role of Matt Murdock and quickly became a beloved mainstay of Marvel television. He starred in three seasons of "Daredevil", which became a critically acclaimed hit among critics and fans alike. But in 2018, Cox seemingly hung up the red boots for good as Netflix wound down its Marvel shows.

Many, including Cox himself, seemed resigned to never seeing the character again. That is, until Marvel regained control of the character officially after the expiration of their deal with Netflix. In addition to the streaming shows being added to Disney+, Marvel inked Cox to a new contract that saw him return as Murdock and Daredevil, with his first appearance in "Spider-Man: No Way Home." Though his cameo was one of the worst-kept secrets of the film full of surprises, Cox's comeback in the film was followed by an appearance in the Disney+ series "She-Hulk," while his new series, "Daredevil: Born Again," was announced shortly thereafter.

Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery

Sir Ben Kingsley starred in "Iron Man 3" in 2013, ostensibly playing the hero's most iconic comic book villain, the Mandarin. But many fans were upset when it was revealed that his character was merely Trevor Slattery, a British actor hired to play the part of a menacing supervillain. Still others criticized Kingsley's casting as a white-washing of one of Marvel's few Asian characters, but eight years later, Kinglsey came back to make amends in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." 

In that film, we meet the real Mandarin, played by Tony Leung in his American film debut, and he is everything that the fans had been hoping for. But we also get Kingsley in a surprising cameo, who appears as Slattery — imprisoned by the Mandarin — and makes a literal apology for his impersonation. According to the film's director Destin Daniel Cretton, Kingsley's return was crucial. "The idea of the Mandarin was a setup to a very clear stereotype," he told Variety. "I think it's hard to imagine who the Mandarin is — this mysterious, really evil Asian dude somewhere out there — and not have some type of stereotype in your brain. So to be able to have Trevor just come in just straight-up apologize for giving a terrible impersonation of their father just felt like the perfect way to say sorry."

Natalie Portman as Jane Foster

Natalie Portman starred in "Thor" as the Asgardian's love interest Jane Foster, and she returned for the film's sequel a few years later. But after a reported falling out with the studio over their choice of director on "Thor: The Dark World," Portman was said to be uninterested in working with Marvel, and she was nowhere to be seen in "Thor: Ragnarok." As a result, everyone was surprised when at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, it was announced she would be returning to the franchise.

"Thor: Love and Thunder" — based on a popular comic book storyline — saw Portman back as Jane Foster, this time with the powers of Thor himself, as she wielded the hammer Mjolnir. According to Marvel's head honcho, it was a meeting between Taika Waititi and Portman that paved the way for her comeback, as the director was able to smooth things over between the star and the studio and convince her to return. For Portman's part, though, it wasn't a tough decision.

"[Taika Waititi] came with the comic books where Jane becomes the Mighty Thor and was like, 'What do you think about this?'" Portman told IndieWire upon her return. "So it was this kind of a twofold opportunity, one to work with [Taika] and the other to get to have Jane evolve into this superhero, which was really exciting."

Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis

Supporting Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in 2011's "Thor" was Kat Dennings, who played university student Darcy Lewis. The quirky, offbeat assistant to Jane Foster, Darcy returned for the 2013 sequel but, like Portman, was absent for "Thor: Ragnarok," seemingly putting her time in the MCU in the rearview mirror. Nearly a decade later, however, Darcy made an unexpected re-emergence when Dennings joined the cast of the very first Marvel original series on Disney+.

In "WandaVision," Darcy Lewis pops up as a scientist working for S.W.O.R.D., a group involved in the ongoing investigation into a strange anomaly in Westview, New Jersey. As the situation unfolds and develops into a full-blown crisis, Lewis begins working with FBI agents Jimmy Woo and Monica Rambeau to stop S.W.O.R.D. director Tyler Hayward from orchestrating a sinister cover-up. But Dennings wasn't just back for just a single cameo: Darcy turned up again in "Thor: Love and Thunder" a year later.

Georges St. Pierre as Batroc

For 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," Marvel reimagined the goofy '60s villain Batroc the Leaper into a French mercenary who seeks to hijack a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel at sea. Roundly rousted by Captain America himself in a hand-to-hand melee, Batroc was the subject of inspired casting, with real-life MMA fighter Georges St. Pierre taking on the role in his brief appearance at the start of the film. For fans of the character, though, it was an all-too-brief part, and especially wasteful because of how good Pierre was in his scenes. But while it took some time, Pierre was unexpectedly called back into service as Batroc in 2021.

That year, Disney+ saw the release of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," a small-screen spin-off of the "Captain America" films that pits Steve Rogers' two sidekicks against a newly emerged terrorist group called the Flag Smashers. Aiding them is Batroc, who in the aftermath of the Blip — when half the world's population disappeared — is working to take advantage of the chaos. After being beaten by Falcon during a kidnapping plot, he teams up with the Flag Smashers in an attempt to exact revenge. Unfortunately, we may not see Pierre return, as Batroc was shot and killed by turncoat hero Sharon Carter, who had become the sinister Power Broker.

Corey Stoll as M.O.D.O.K.

In the 2015 film "Ant-Man," actor Corey Stoll played Darren Cross, a business rival who steals Hank Pym's shrinking technology to become the villain known as Yellowjacket. But in the end, Stoll's baddie is forced into a microscopic world called the Quantum Realm, where he's said to be trapped forever. There was no mention of whether he'd survived there when the sequel came around, and many probably just assumed we'd never see him again. Oh, ye of little faith — Marvel is always full of surprises.

Following Ant-Man's heroic return in "Avengers: Endgame," he returned in a solo sequel, the trilogy capper "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania." In the film, Scott Lang and his family inadvertently travel to the Quantum Realm, where they meet time-traveling despot Kang the Conqueror. But they also find Cross, having been malformed during his trip into the tiny dimension, and saved by Kang, where he's become something else entirely. Now little more than a floating head with tiny arms and legs, Cross has become M.O.D.O.K., an iconic villain from Marvel Comics, in a plot twist that nobody saw coming.

Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk

In spite of the cancelation of Netflix's "Daredevil" series in 2018, Marvel fans remained hopeful that it wouldn't be the last time they'd see the character in action. They got their wish in "Spider-Man: No Way Home" with the reappearance of Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, but it remained to be seen if Vincent D'Onofrio — who played Daredevil's arch nemesis Wilson Fisk — would return to continue the battle against him. But while many fans held out hope that he would, few ever anticipated his return coming where it did.

Released in 2021 on Disney+, "Hawkeye" was a limited series that saw Jeremy Renner finally take the spotlight. In the series, he trains a teenager named Kate Bishop who takes it upon herself to battle the New York mafia. But as the series progresses, it teases a greater threat, and all clues point to Wilson Fisk. Arguably one of the most highly-anticipated MC reveals, his debut in the fifth episode saw Vincent D'Onofrio back in the role.

Liv Tyler as Betty Ross

In 2024, actor Liv Tyler will set the record for the longest length of time between MCU projects, thanks to her return in "Captain America: New World Order" a whopping 16 years after her debut. First showing up back in the MCU's second entry, 2008's "The Incredible Hulk," Liv Tyler played Betty Ross, love interest to hero Bruce Banner — played by Ed Norton — and daughter of General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. 

Unfortunately, when the Hulk and Banner returned for 2012's "The Avengers" team-up, Norton had been replaced by Mark Ruffalo, and Betty was nowhere to be found. Thanks to complicated legal issues, no further Hulk films were produced. His later appearances in "Avengers" films and "Thor: Ragnarok" saw most of Banner's supporting cast absent, and it seemed like "The Incredible Hulk" was being entirely forgotten. 

But with the return of William Hurt as General Ross in "Civil War" and Tim Roth as the Abomination in "She-Hulk," Marvel is finally embracing one of its original films. In 2023 it was announced that Tyler would return in "New World Order," though there's been no word on how big a role she'll have.

James D'Arcy as Jarvis

The very first MCU film "Iron Man" introduced a new character to the MCU, an A.I. assistant to the Armored Avenger, named after the team's butler in the comics. It was soon revealed that the A.I. was named — in-universe — for the butler who worked for the Stark family when Tony was a child. We didn't meet him until 2015, though, in the ABC series "Agent Carter." Set in the 1940s, the series' main cast includes James D'Arcy as Edwin Jarvis, who aids the titular heroine in her adventures. There didn't seem to be any room for the MCU to feature him on the big screen, however, and with the series ending in 2015, a return for D'Arcy seemed highly unlikely.

But all that changed when the Avengers found themselves jumping through time in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame." Sure enough, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark hop back to 1970, and arrive at Camp Lehigh at the same time that Tony's father — played by John Slattery — is arriving on some business of his own. With him is D'Arcy back in the role of Edwin Jarvis, who is a little older and grayer than when we last saw him.

Peter Billingsley as William Ginter Riva

Some may not have even noticed our next returning MCU actor if it weren't for a quick flashback, but he might be one of the most clever returns in the history of the MCU. The actor is Peter Billingsley — best known for playing Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" — and he first appeared in a very minor role in the first "Iron Man" film. There he played William Ginter Riva, a Stark Industries employee who is tasked by Obadiah Stane with replicating the Iron Man armor. 

On the receiving end of one of the film's iconic lines, Billingsley had little dialogue of his own and was thus barely a blip on most fans' radar. So when he was dug up for a cameo in "Spider-Man: Far From Home," the film had to do a quick flashback to remind fans of just who he was: The technician who Stane berates, screaming that Stark built a suit with just a box of scraps. Though he again gets very little screen time, it's a fun nod to the past, and the perfect example of how the MCU rewards long-time viewers.

Anson Mount as Black Bolt

Probably the most unlikely return in the history of the MCU, actor Anson Mount showed up in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" as Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans, much to the delight of fans. But that delight was once thought impossible, as Mount had entered the pantheon of Marvel heroes years earlier in the ill-fated — and frankly ill-conceived — small screen series "The Inhumans" back in 2017. Launched to much fanfare, the series premiere debuted in IMAX theaters, but never came close to meeting its lofty expectations.

Savaged by both critics and fans, the series — led by Mount as Inhuman leader Black Bolt — was a boring, cheap-looking mistake, and everyone seemed happy when it was canned not long after its first eight episodes had aired. So bad was the series that few ever could have expected to see the MCU acknowledge its existence, let alone have any of its stars return. But return Mount did in the multiverse "Doctor Strange" sequel, with a new look and a chance to atone for the past. Fans were flummoxed, but they were also happy to see Mount mounting a comeback in the role, perhaps portending a better version of the Inhumans somewhere down the line.

Jamie Alexander as Sif

The first "Thor" film introduced several iconic Asgardians from the comics, including the Warriors Three — Fandral, Volstagg, and Hogun — and warrior woman Lady Sif, played by Jaimie Alexander. All four appeared again in the follow-up, "Thor: The Dark World," but in "Thor: Ragnarok," the Warriors Three were unceremoniously killed off by the film's villain Hela. Sif was spared that fate, however, perhaps owed to a well-timed scheduling conflict that prevented her from joining the production, and it might be that odd bit of fortune that allowed for her return years later.

As it happens, while fans were wondering if Marvel had forgotten all about her — also leaving her out of scenes set on New Asgard in "Avengers: Endgame" — the studio actually had other plans for Sif. In 2021, after being noticeably M.I.A. for years, Alexander and Lady Sif showed up in "Loki," the Disney+ series starring Tom Hiddleston, in a flashback to his days as a young prince on Asgard. But that wouldn't be the end for her, either, as she returned once more the following year in "Thor: Love and Thunder," where she is tasked with helping Thor battle Gorr the God Butcher. Thankfully, director Taika Waititi was kind enough to spare her character a grim fate, leaving open the possibility of yet another return.